Column Squad

Taxi Memoirs: A Ride On The Dark Side Of Kampala


A late night taxi ride in Kampala is as different as day from night. During the day, taxis are filled with beautiful young things, smelling good, looking hopeful on their way to work. True there are some grumpy, angry people as well but not to the level of those you meet after dark.

Most people riding taxis at night are not at their best points in life. They are either doing soul crashing jobs that rob them of the right to enjoy the sunlight every day or are on the extra pressure of adult education as a way of escaping their unfulfilling jobs and dead end lives. Whatever their drama, most night taxi passengers are irritable, sullen and potentially dangerous.

Tonight I am riding with this maama whose bus journey from Arua took a whole day and she is now sweaty, smelly, hungry and angry. She keeps calling home and talking gibberish to whoever picks, but even though I don’t know what she is saying I can tell that there is going to be hell and brimstone when she finally gets there.

Next to her is someone who doesn’t need to first commit a crime to be locked up because it is written all over his face. Is this what they call profiling?

Right behind me are two women spewing a rank mixture of cigarettes and alcohol. They are in the process of transforming themselves, changing clothes putting on garish makeup all the while talking about how today they will knock out Nansikombi’s teeth if she insists on stealing all the rich men.

I am even too scared to take a good look at the two guys at the back of the taxi because one of them has fierce, red, glowing eyes as if all they ever see is bloodshed.

If you think you have seen the worst of conductors, try the ones that work the night shift. After all the noise, scuffles of the day, by evening they are dog tired and irritable. They cheat passengers with impunity and pick up fights at the drop of a hat.

But the worst of all is the silence. There is an evil kind of silence in the air. It’s as if everyone in that taxi is thinking the darkest thoughts possible resulting in a thick wave of negative vibration that contaminates every positive thing.

For instance our conductor tonight is one of those cheery souls that refuse to say die. He goes on and on just like the Duracel bunny keeping a solitary running commentary of every town we go through. He informs the largely tired and dozing passengers of every stage until one passenger tells him to shut up.

He keeps quiet but not for long. He starts telling people not to sleep on his taxi. He makes up the most annoying stories to try and keep the passengers awake but they just ignore him and dose on. One of the passengers remarks that he could be a musezi and that’s why he is so awake at such a time when everyone is drooping.

He takes a very close look at the man who made the statement and then bursts out laughing. An extremely irritated woman asks him why he finds that remark funny. Without missing a beat he says that he thought the guy had recognized him but he is sure that they don’t live in the same neighborhood.

Either no one deciphered that statement or they were just too tired to care but the joke makes me chuckle a bit and wakes me up in time to stop the sleeping driver from driving right into a ditch.

Clearly the old man is very tired and is operating on auto pilot. He tried chewing roasted coffee seeds to keep himself awake but he just became drowsier. After the incident he starts a monologue account of his life story. Thanks to that evil air that muffles out sound I hear almost next to nothing of what sounds like a terribly sad tale peppered with blame on the government.

I don’t think I had ever been happier to see my stage approach. Getting off that taxi felt like waking up from a nightmare to the peacefulness and beauty of life. As I climbed into my bed I thanked God for protecting me that day and for my peace of mind’s sake I prayed that the conductor’s statement was truly a joke and he wasn’t a night dancer. Because you know what they say about night dancers and marking potential victims.