When I connect to the public WiFi, I find two missed calls from Larry.
I’m distracted by a baby girl who’s running towards me. She’s about two years old. Her long flowing hair the color of clay is tied into a knot with a ribbon.
“Alena, Alena,” her brother calls out. He’s running after her. She’s giggling and drooling. She looks dote. Because she can’t jump down the thick slab I’m seated on, she turns and crawls, her back in the direction she’s moving to.
She’s a gorgeous little muffin I can’t take my eyes off her. I forget about the missed calls. I beam. I get a flush of having a child of my own. A girl once told me she wanted to have a baby with me. She said it in a tone that was neither confident nor timid. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or joking. I guess all she wanted was a reaction from me.
Alena’s brother catches up with her. And they smile happily thereafter.
I take another glance at my phone. There’s a text from Larry.
“Give me a call when you can talk.”
He is the behind the scenes guy of this blog. The one who clears the trash, fumigates against bugs, wipes the floor, treats illnesses in the backend. He walks here with gloves and masks and sanitizers. When I don’t write, I pulls out knives and razors.
If this page takes ages to load, he takes a whip for it even if he’s got nothing to do with it. If someone can’t receive notifications or is unable to comment, Larry is the guy I run to. He’s a fixer, does the heavy lifting, squints his eye to see that this thing here works. In this space, he’s an essential worker.
His text has no salutation. No Hi’s and Hello’s. No How are you’s. No breaking bread. He isn’t here to serve anyone at tables, asking what they’d like to eat while keeping a smile as he takes their order. He launches straight to business. Why would he dilly-dally anyway? He’s a direct-to-the-point kind of guy.
I sometimes call him the Duke of the Naalya. He’s lived there his entire life. I think he serves on one of those community committees, the one on security, most probably. He’s got the build for it, like a bouncer at a club.
When Larry takes a stroll in the Naalya neighborhood, the paths sweep themselves in honor of his presence. Stray cats and dogs stop by the roadside to give him an ovation. All hidden rodents take up their position. They stand on two feet and shout out loud, “Four legs bad. Two legs good.”
I return the call.
“Yo Tuaps, Wassup!” he says.
We do some small talk. He asks if I have been in lockdown with any deutschefrauen. I tell him, no.
“I’m practicing social distancing.”
“Did I waste my time, Tuaps, sharing all my knowledge with you.”
Before I travelled last year, we had a buddy chat at the office desk. He joked about me finding a girl from a land far away. He referred to Barack Obama’s dad, said I could probably make the future Chancellor. Wouldn’t I want to take that chance? I told him that wasn’t my intention.
He goes silent and shakes his head because he’s Larry. Larry shakes his head.
“By the way, I took time off writing,” I tell him.
I hear a sigh.
“You’re always taking weeks off writing Tuaps. Always on vacation.”
Two men are playing guitar at the extreme edge of the slab. One is painting a Bossa Nova progression. The other is polishing it with an improvisation that makes me turn. It reminds me of the background music at the beginning of Rango before Senor Flan says, “Here in the Mojave Desert, animals have had millions of years to adapt to the harsh environment. But the lizard, he is going to die.”
I know Larry is about to take a jab at me. He always does.
“I’ve told you that as a writer or blogger or whatever you call yourself, you can’t afford to take breaks.”
“I need it,” I fired back.
“No, you don’t.”
“But I wrote for 21 days in a row, man.”
“I need a break.”
Larry didn’t want to hear any of that ish from me.
“I’ll get back to writing soon.”
(If I’d stayed on track and kept my foot on the pedal with the UgBlogMonth Challenge, today would be my 18th post.)
“Tuaps, be serious.”
I change the subject.
“I plan to come home in a few months.”
I get a whiff of nicotine. Someone is smoking. They are more than a meter behind me. I don’t want to turn and seem like I’m judging whoever they are. Smoking is normal here. No one gives two hoots. It isn’t like back home where when someone smokes, they’d be called spoilt or a bad influence or a sinner.
Larry tells me to stay in my Category One country. He says I made a conscious decision to move.
“We’ll decide on when people like you should come back home.”
I want to ask him if he’s President Museveni. But I’d be on the losing end of the stick if I tried that move. Everyone would probably be on his side. He’d win with a knock-out punch. And I’d be on the floor, head spinning, nose bleeding, cheeks aching, lips swollen, eyes drowsy.
I’d black out.