THE TRAGEDY OF BUNKENKE

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By Wobusobozi Amooti Kangere

Junior was parking his play-tyre in the garage, like his father parked his car each day, when evening was settling upon the quiet little town of Bunkenke. His forehead glistened with perspiration. His chest rose and fell in gentle heaves and his faded grey t-shirt, pasted to his little chest by a large patch of sweat, looked more like a pattern of brown and grey than of plain grey. He had run as fast as his tiny legs would permit, but the moon was already making her leisurely ascent when Junior made it home. It was a few minutes after seven o’clock. He was late.

As he stowed away his tyre in the corner of the garage, Junior pulled out the long sticks with which he ‘drove’ it. Careful not to make a sound, he surreptitiously laid them along the wall, taking great pains to make sure they weren’t in the way of his father’s car. He had been lucky to find the garage open- or so he thought. But as he crept to the door that led from the garage into the main house, his mother’s voice, timing the step of his foot like a burglar alarm, shot through the air from deep inside the house giving him a jumping jolt.

‘Junior?!’ It was hard and sharp- the premonition of a good beating.

His heart pounded hard against his chest, threatening to tear right through his skin, as litres of blood spurted in mad torrents through his veins. The weight of apprehension drove nails through his feet so that he could not move them. His pupils dilated so wide, they nearly filled out the whites of his eyes, and under his breath, he muttered desperate muffled prayers.

‘Junior?!’ came the call again.

This time it was an ominous and commanding hiss. It was not the cajoling tone she liked to use when she called him to pick something for her that was right in front of her. Junior hated that call. He could never, for the life of him, understand why his mother couldn’t pick things up for herself that were right in front of her; but at this moment, he wished that that had been the call. This one filled him with dread. His memories of it were not the kind that put a smile on your face…

The last time his mother had used that tone, Junior had been running playfully round the house with a visiting cousin when he had accidentally run into the coffee table, toppling a BRAND NEW electric sewing machine. It had crashed to the floor with a deafening thud, and Junior was still recovering from the shock when he had heard a scream, and that ominous hard hiss of his name. The machine had just been acquired for her business, and the next thing he knew, his mother’s Bata slippers were raining biting blows all over his body.
He knew that tone all too well-

‘Junior…’

This time it was low and lingering with a threat that seemed to dare him not to answer again. Junior bowed his head, like a dog that knows it has angered its master, and replied, his voice hesitant and barely audible;

‘Wanjji Mummy.’

‘Come here.’

The ultimatum was unmistakable. Junior entered the house.
The lights inside the house were all out save for the one in the kitchen. He walked haltingly past the kitchen through the dining room and into the sitting room, his head bowed like a condemned man walking to his death. In the low light that came from the flickering images on the muted giant Sony TV, Junior could make out the shapes of his parents sitting next to each other in the two-seater right opposite the TV. He was surprised to find his father home.
*****
The Bunkenke District Government Quarters was made up of rows of identical rectangular bungalows. Each house had the same brown rough-cast finishing, green tin-roof, grey wooden door, and a lime green wall that retreated into the block of the structure leaving behind a tiny veranda pegged down with red metallic poles.

There was a great road that ran through the estate dividing it into two wings. It started at the foot of the hill, cutting past a tiny colony of containers which served as the estate’s buffer from the outside world, took a left, and then begun its ascent flanked by giant sycamores on either side. A network of narrow little streets with identical plots sprouted from its stem as it crawled up the hill, and at the very top, sat the District Chairman’s residence.

It was a huge sprawling bungalow with a baked-dirt driveway that led into to a grey-gated garage at the right of the house. It had a well mowed grand lawn that fell in steps at the bottom of which stood a majestic oak that provided shade for a circle of benches carved out of tree stems. If you sat on the veranda in the evening, and gazed upon the horizon, you could catch the sun retreating into the distant hills, or a little lower, the picturesque panorama of its dying rays casting a parting beam on the little town of Bunkenke, encircled by banana plantations in the valley.

Inside, the Chairman and his wife sat solemnly side by side in the two-seater couch facing the TV. The house was empty save for the two of them. Their son had gone missing, and the helps had been sent out to search the estate with instructions not to return until they had found the boy, while the driver had taken the car to comb the town. So there they sat in the silence of their sitting room, the flashing lights of their muted TV illuminating the troubled expressions on their faces. The Chairman lifted his gaze briefly and let it fall on the large plastic clock on the wall. It was a quarter past seven- three hours now since they had sent out the party to search for their son- and still he was not yet home. He tried to think of something that could divert his attention away from his worry; but how could a man think of anything else when his only son was missing?

The Chairman’s wife on her part was torn between despair and rage. Unlike her husband, she had been keeping an eye and ear on the clock, and with each minute that passed, each tick of the second-hand, her spirit banged against the walls of her heart. On the one hand, she despaired that something terrible might have happened to her son, but on the other, a boiling rage grew beneath her skin. Had she not warned him not to wander off the estate? Why was he too stubborn to listen? “If he comes back in one piece,” she thought to herself, “I will kill him myself so that he can learn never to put me through this much fear again.”

By seven o’clock there was still no news of her son. The despair was starting to get the better of her, the rage receding further and further into the recesses of her frantic mind. Without knowing that she was doing it, she reached out for her husband’s hand and squeezed his palms as if their son would materialise if he squeezed them back. The Chairman himself had wandered far off into his own thoughts when he felt the squeeze. He turned to his wife to see what the matter was, but when he saw the torment in her eyes, he gently squeezed her hand back, as if to tell her, ‘It will be okay.’

Just then they heard a barely audible noise in the garage- that was where their son normally kept his play-tyre when he came home from playing. It sounded as if someone was trying to conceal their entry, and leaning forward in their seats, they exchanged a glance that said, ‘that must be him’. But they could not be sure, so they both remained silent, cocking their ears in the direction of the garage to sharpen their discernment.

It was the Chairman’s wife who first decided that it must be their son. She called:

“Junior?!”

There was no response.

“Junior?!” She called out again.

Still no response; but this time she was sure it was him, and the rage that had melted returned in her voice when she called out the third time.

‘Wanjji Mummy,’ he replied, his voice small and quivering.
*****

Junior sidled into the sitting room like an offender approaching a tribunal, his head bowed low. In his nervousness Junior did not see his parents let out a collective sigh of relief, the moment their eyes reported it was him. To him the awkward silence, during which they had inspected every inch of his body for signs of injury, confirmed his worst fear- he was definitely getting it tonight.
His mother was the first to recover, and she shifted her weight in the chair, her elbow bumping into his father’s arm as if she were giving him some sort of cue to speak.

‘Ahem,’ the Chairman cleared his voice.

‘Where have you been Junior?’ he asked. His voice was gentle and bore no laced threat.

‘At..at..at.. at the community centre-’ stuttered the boy.

At first the words hesitated on his tongue; and then without warning, they burst out in incoherent torrents, as if they had become burning coals in his chest. He effused with teary apologies, and chequered explanations and defences, but his mother only shook with relief, while his father remained without expression.

‘Junior,’ she cried. ‘Why don’t you listen? Didn’t I warn you not to play outside the Quarters again?’ ‘What if something had happened to you? What would I do Junior, hmmh? What would I do?’

The questions came in a barrage, her eyes sparkling softly with the reflection of forming tears. And on and on she went, pouring out a deluge of heaving admonition; but it was more the decompressing of bundled worries after hours of tense uncertainty over her son’s safety, than genuine parental rebuke. Junior not knowing how to respond kept his eyes trained on the ground as if it held some cues on what to do. None revealed themselves.

Junior knew he was in the wrong, but there was a certain woeful quality to his mother’s admonition that deepened his remorse, and his young mind felt overburdened with guilt. Feeling the overwhelming need to burrow, Junior drew objects on the tiles with his eyes before absent-mindedly shifting them until they fixed on the blurry reflection of the images on the TV. His mind drifted off shortly, wandering back to the delightful afternoon he had had. The football game he had played earlier came back to him in vivid picture, and Junior could see himself scoring the winning goal…

The game they had played at the community centre was first-to-score-five-wins, and from out the corner of his eye, Junior could see his teammates running to hoist him in the air, the way the football stars they saw on TV did when someone had scored. His teammates were Juma the butcher’s son, and Wasswa and Kato, the twins whose father had a notorious reputation in the town: he owned the lodges that sold women and waragi to trailer-drivers passing through the town. His mother had always warned him not to play with them, but Junior found them too adventurous to resist. So he would sneak out every Friday afternoon, after his father had left to attend to his businesses in the capital and his mother had gone to chair meetings at the women’s SACCO, coming back just in time for his mother to find him showered and watching TV. She had never suspected a thing. The scheme, in the execution of which he had secured the collusion of the doting house helps, was so ingenious that if he had not lost track of the time and overstayed today, he never would have been discovered.
*****
‘Junior’

His father’s voice jounced him from his reverie. There was a sombre quality to his tone that Junior could not quite comprehend. It made his bones heavy and Junior felt himself overwhelmed by an inexplicable sadness.

‘It is not safe for you to play outside the Quarters. It is getting dangerous around here these days, especially with the elections coming…do you understand?’

His voice drifted off, giving no indication that the question needed answering; and an excruciating silence filled the pause.

‘There are people in this town who wish to harm our family, Junior. And you are my only son. It is not safe for you to play outside the Quarters. Okay?’

Junior nodded not knowing what his father was talking about, but something in his voice made a lump grow in his throat and now it threatened to choke him.
But then the Chairman drifted away into his own thoughts. For a fraction of a second, he was anxious about the safety of his two daughters, but a calming wave settled over his spirit when he remembered that they were spending their holiday with their grandmother.

‘It’s these damned parties,’ he thought. ‘Before they brought the parties back things were okay. Now everyone wants power and they will stop at nothing to get it. Today the President says, “Chairman, you are the boss of the district,” and then tomorrow he appoints an RDC, and the next day a CAO. And now all of them want my neck and threaten to finish me off every time I oppose them. I say this, the CAO says that, and the RDC says the other …but I am the people’s elected leader! Am I not the one they voted into office? Who are these people now to come and take over my district, gang up with my enemies, and threaten my family when I resist them?’

‘Were you playing with that butcher’s boy again?’ It was Junior’s mother who broke the silence.

‘Yes.’

‘And those sons of that wicked man who sells women to the truck drivers?’

‘Yes’

Junior had wanted to lie but he couldn’t bring himself to. His mother could always tell when he was lying.

‘Didn’t I tell you not to play with those boys again? What did I say I would do to you if I caught you playing with them again, heh?’ The temper in her voice was now beginning to rise. ‘Do you want me to first knock some sense into that stubborn head of yours so that you can listen?’

Junior lowered his eyes.

‘Mscheeew,’ she jeered. ‘Go and bring your father’s stick. Maybe that’s the only language you will understand. Today I am going to teach you how to listen once and for all!’

There was a hard menace in her voice- like the swinging of a whip cutting through the air. Junior hesitated. His mother had managed to work herself into one of her sudden tempers. His knees begun to tremble: the air around him was ominous. But just then his father broke from his pensive silence. He too had felt the temper in his wife rise. The air was thick with it.

’Let the boy be Beatrice,’ said the Chairman, ‘he was just being a child.’

‘Being a child!’ she exclaimed, clapping her hands together and planting them firmly on her hips before twisting her body to face her husband and firing away. ‘Do you know the little rascals he is running around with, hmm? That butcher’s boy goes around the town beating other people’s children and stealing things from people’s shops. And those twins of that wretched man Katende! They have tongues as dirty as those prostitutes their father brings here. I have seen them hurl unforgivable insults at big people! If they were my children, me I would wash those rotten tongues of theirs with Omo! Pssst’

‘As if it isn’t bad enough that our son should be seen with that evil man’s children, do you know that just the other day I caught the three of them stealing money from Mzee Babu’s shop, heh? The poor old man had dozed off and if I hadn’t appeared in time, they would have robbed him! Are these the kind of children you want your son to be spending his time with?’

‘Don’t get mad Beatrice. The boy doesn’t know any better, he is only ten!’

‘Ho Samson! The tree bends when it is still a shoot. I will not let my son become spoiled in this place because you do not want to antagonise your voters. The Quarters are safe. If he won’t learn to heed my warnings I will beat them into his head.’
*****
Samson knew there was no assuaging his wife. Whenever her temper rose like this it was always best to let it simmer. Soon she would cool down. He knew she was right but his mind had bigger things on it right now. There was still the business of that phone call- that’s what was really gnawing at him. He had received a phone call earlier in the day, a strange voice on the other side telling him that he had tampered with the wrong man, and now he was finished.

The voice had warned that if he did not call off his investigations today they would start with his family: first they would cut off his son’s head, then they would rape his wife and cut off her head too, and him, they would save for last. Seeing his wife’s temper now, Samson was glad that he hadn’t told Beatrice what he had found out later: that the voice belonged to one of Katende’s thugs, and that they had threatened to kill her son…

A few months ago some townspeople had come to Samson with complaints about Katende’s nocturnal goings-on. He hadn’t taken them too seriously at first, reasoning that they were merely reactions to his brothels. He too did not like the idea of Katende running brothels in his town, but the man had protection. He was in bed with Samson’s political enemies and had many friends within the district office. Samson preferred fighting battles he knew he could win, but just for formality, he had called up some contacts in the Internal Security Organisation, the Police’s detective arm, and had them send two operatives to look into the matter.

The operatives had come under the guise of being workers on the district’s model farm; the workers there normally watered their holes at Katende’s bar, and within just two weeks, the information they had uncovered was shocking. Katende was apparently a highly dangerous, wanted criminal, called Black. He had fled the city during Operation Wembley when the Violent Crimes Crackdown Unit (VCCU) had got hot on his tail. He had made one of his men take the fall for him so that he could flee to Bunkunke, where he now clandestinely ran his criminal gang far from the snooping eyes of the authorities.

According to the report, Katende’s gang specialised in armed robbery, prostitution, drug trafficking, and assassination. The operatives had warned Samson that Katende was well connected and that he should be careful; but the moment he had learnt that Katende was also colluding with his political rivals to push him out of office because he figured him ‘not cooperative enough’, Samson had decided to act swiftly.

After making some calls, Samson had reported his findings to some of his contacts in ISO and VCCU. A mere threat on his life would not have rattled him- he got those often enough. Mostly they were just the mad ravings of the more psychotically-inclined of the estate’s disgruntled citizens. At least that’s what his security agents told him, and the fact that nothing ever materialised of these threats seemed proof enough to him that they were right. This one, though, was different. It had come in a few hours after he had made that call to his ISO contacts, just as he was preparing to make his weekly trip to Kampala. Samson had been alarmed by how quickly Katende had gotten wind of his report against him, and the incident had given him instant insight into just what kind of man he had set himself up against.

He had called Bosco, one of the operatives helping with the investigations, but there were no reassurances to be found there. Bosco had said that if Katende was on to him he had no more than 24 hours to get his family out of town.

‘Black kills anyone who can identify him immediately,’ Bosco had said, ‘That is why he is so hard to get. It is even said that he killed his mother when she found out that he was a criminal and threatened to report him to police. If you want your family to be safe, you have to leave Bunkenke!’

‘Do not panic,’ Bosco had added, trying to reassure Samson. ‘Just go home and make sure you and your family do not leave the house until I call you. The way I know Black he cannot attack you in the Quarters- it would bring investigation and police would find out that they have the wrong Black,’ he explained. ‘Black doesn’t want that!’ Bosco had continued cheerfully, ‘Just stay there until I call you. If you panic his men will know you are trying to escape. Just tell everyone in office that you are not going to Kampala today. Tell them you are feeling sick and you are going home to rest.’

But Samson had panicked. He had raced off to pick his wife from her SACCO meeting causing a stir- the Chairman had never been at the women’s meeting before, much less interrupted it by taking its Chairperson away- before racing home only to find their son missing. Although you couldn’t tell it if you had looked at him, his gut had clenched into a tight fist. He simply sunk into the chair, terrified that Katende’s men had his son. But Junior had come back home and his fears had been allayed. His mind had wandered off to the turbulent business of how he would get his family out of this mess. He couldn’t be bothered that Junior had broken a few rules, but Beatrice had that liberty – she did not know what Samson knew.

Samson suddenly rose from the seat; head lowered and back stooped with the weight of his thoughts. He walked in the direction of the dining room, his slippers drumming a soft, solemn beat against the floor tiles. His hand reached for the door knob, but halted the moment it was in his hand. By this time Junior had found himself at his mother’s side, his head turning of its own volition from one parent to another.

Beatrice had followed her husband with her eyes. There was more to this than Samson was letting on. He was a politician, and death threats came with the territory. She didn’t like it, and she had long accepted this reality, but never had she seen her husband so shaken. Suddenly, her eyes were filled with shadows of foreboding, a dark distant terror sketching the beginnings of its own self-portrait in the round features of her face.

‘We must leave for Kampala first thing tomorrow morning,’ said Samson, turning in slow motions to face his wife and son.

‘I will take you and Junior to my sister Margaret’s. He can spend the rest of his holiday there while I make arrangements to move us back into our old house. It is not safe here for us any more…’ Samson’s voice broke, and he paused momentarily to collect himself together. ’Margaret’s house is big enough,’ he resumed, his tone bearing some of its usual resolution, ‘She won’t mind us staying there until we find an alternative.’

‘And do what there Samson?’ Beatrice broke in. ‘And do what there? I am the Chairlady of the women’s association! I can’t simply get up and go as if I’m running away from creditors… that sister of yours does not like me anyway. I don’t think she will be too happy having me in her house.’

‘It’s not safe here, Beatrice. This time it is serious, it’s not like before.’

‘And what about my business? Do you think I can just leave without first informing my customers? This week I received money from the women’s SACCO; I have to notify the committee if I have to leave…..We have procedures, you know. People will think I am a muyaye!’

‘I will call them and explain when we are in Kampala. You know that money can be refunded.’

‘And my customers? What about them? Will their clothes make themselves?’

‘We can pick your machine and go with it. The driver will tell your neighbours he is taking it for repair and no one will suspect a thing.’

Beatrice fell silent. Her protests had been merely perfunctory, shot out in reluctant bewildered tones probing for reassurance that this gruelling fear growing inside her was unfounded.

‘Okay,’ she capitulated finally. ‘I will go, but I must first talk to Mrs Batte. She will know what to do. She is our General Secretary.’

And then as if it had occurred to her as an afterthought, she added, ‘What about our house, the one in Kampala, can’t we get the tenants to move out?’

‘They still have two months left on their rent. We will have to find alternative accommodation until they are out. Margaret is about to complete her flats in Bunga. Maybe I can ask her if she can let us use one of them in the meantime.’
Beatrice was opening her mouth to say something when Samson’s phone rang, cutting her off.
*****
‘Hello’

‘Mr Katalemwa, this is Bosco. I have just received information that they are planning to do it tonight. His men are coming to finish you off tonight. You cannot sleep in town sir. They are coming for you sir. You must leave now-now!’

Samson’s face went limp with horror, his eyes gaining an eerie hollow quality to them.

On the other side of the line all the caller could hear was static. No breathing. No mumbling. Just static:

‘Hello…’ Static: ‘Mr Katalemwa, are you there?’
More static…

‘Mr Katalemwa, can you hear me?’

Samson had heard him. But his insides were trembling from the shock of the news. He tried to compose himself but the dread was just too great and his mouth remained agape. On the other side, Bosco could now hear slow heavy breaths straining through the line. He sighed inwardly with relief.

‘Mr. Katalemwa…’

‘Yes Bosco. I hear you. How long do I have?’

‘A few hours sir, they plan on coming around one o’clock when the estate is dead asleep. If you go now you may escape before they know anything. Make sure you do not use the main road, sir. They have a man watching it- they know you were supposed to go to Kampala for your usual Friday trip’

The phone went dead, and just then, the roar of a heavy engine pulling up into the driveway burst into the room, growing louder and louder as it approached, its bright lights flooding into the house. Suddenly the engine went dead and the lights went out. Samson jerked and turned his head slowly in the direction of the garage. His eyes were filled with dread. Beatrice followed her husband’s gaze to the door and back to his face which was contorted with horror. A cold shiver ran down her spine.

‘Samson, what’s the matter?’ her voice was frantic.
‘They are coming tonight…’
‘Who Samson, who is coming-‘

A car door opened and shut. From inside the house, the soles of a man’s shoes could be heard tapping into the garage, growing louder and sharper as they drew closer to the door. Junior found himself desperately clutching at his mother’s dress. He couldn’t understand what was going on but he felt scared. When it reached the door, the tapping stopped, and there was a little rasp on the door followed by a tiny voice which called out, ‘Abeeno!’

It was the driver’s voice. The house heaved a deep sigh of relief.

‘That is the driver. We must leave now. Go pack your things immediately. We are going to Kampala now.’
*****
The Toyota Hilux double-cabin sped through the bumpy dirt back roads of Bunkenke district. Its driver had been instructed to keep his speed above 130km per hour, and to stop for nothing no matter what. It was a highly unusual order from his boss considering how he always implored him to reduce speed each time he so much as hit 100. Even stranger was the instruction to switch all phones off; but he knew his boss to be a reasonable man so he trusted that whatever his reasons for this peculiar behaviour, they must have been good.

As the car bounced up and down the rough road, its bright headlights cut zigzags in the pitch black canvass of the night. The moon was covered by dark clouds, and a howling wind heralded the coming of a heavy rain. The car’s heater kept the cold air outside at bay as the driver strained his eyes to make out as much road as he possibly could in the bouncing beams of its headlights.
Occasionally the road would even out for a few hundred metres, and the driver’s left arm would unconsciously wander to the crucifix hanging on his chest, gripping it tightly for a lingering second, before returning to the steering wheel. About an hour later, the bouncing headlights picked up tarmac a few metres ahead and the driver was relieved- he had been worried about getting a puncture in those bad roads.

‘Drive as fast you can, Mubiru.’ Samson said the moment they were on the tarmac; ‘we mustn’t stop until we have reached Kampala.’
‘Yes sir’

Mubiru boggled over the unexplained urgency, but revved his gears into five, pressing his foot down on the accelerator until the car started pushing its speed limit. His boss had explained nothing. He had simply gotten into the car with his family and some luggage in tow, issued the instruction not to use the main road until they were clear of the district, and buckled his seat belt. None of it made sense to him but Mubiru asked no questions. He only kept his focus on the road.

Beatrice sat in the back seat clutching her son tightly in her arms in spite of the immobility rendered by the seat belts. Junior hadn’t said a single word since they had left the house. He had simply done whatever he was told, his face wrought in a fixed expression of terror. Occasionally, his furrowed brow would drift its gaze outside- the rain had started falling- but for the most part, he kept his eyes fixed on the road beyond the windscreen, his fingers firmly dug into his mother’s dress.

In the quiet of his seat, Samson made manic calculations. He knew that going to his sister’s place now would put her own family in danger but he couldn’t think of where else to go. All his other siblings were out of the country, and one did not call on one’s friends unannounced in the dead of the night. And so his mind raced in this way, scouring option after option, while their double-cabin cut through the piercing dark of the cold night.

Hotels were out of the question. Bosco had warned that Katende’s network reached into nearly every hotel in the city so hotels were not safe. ‘You have to be unpredictable;’ Bosco had said, ‘these thugs have informers everywhere. They will know where to find you if you go to your usual places.’
Then an idea occurred to him!

‘Beatrice, do you think Tom would mind if we went to his place instead? My man tells me they might be expecting me to go to Margaret’s since I always stay there when I am in town.’
‘Tom?!? Which Tom?’
‘Tom- your brother. The one who stays in Jinja. Isn’t his house big enough to house you and Junior for a while?’

Beatrice thought it was a strange request coming as it had out of the blue. But Samson had a point; Tom’s house was big enough and she would prefer staying with him than with her sister in-law.

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘His house is big enough but you know Tom, he has always been like Bazungu. He doesn’t like it when people come to his house without first calling him.’

‘Mmmh… But you are his sister. He will understand if you explain to him our situation. Besides, I won’t be staying with you. I have to get to the bottom of this mess. My friends in ISO will help me.’

Beatrice didn’t reply. She had wanted to ask her husband exactly what ‘our situation’ was, but Samson’s tone hadn’t given the indication that he wanted her to know any more than she already did, so she let it be. She lowered her head to check on Junior but he was sleeping. She adjusted him so that his head could rest on her breast, and recited a silent prayer for him.

They had been on the road for about two hours now, and there had been no car traffic, except for a red Mercedes-Benz with tinted windows that had sped past them a while ago. It was an old model E-Class, and Mubiru had been amazed at how easily it had overtaken him when he was pushing the limits of his own speedometer. ‘Those Germans,’ Mubiru had thought to himself as it vanished in the horizon, ‘They can really make cars!’

The rain which had been pouring for the past half-hour since the Benz had overtaken them was just beginning to recede as they entered the hilly terrain of Butema. Here the road wound devilishly up and down the rolling hills of Butema. It was wet from the rain and the sharpness of its curves made it impossible to see on-coming traffic so Mubiru eased off the accelerator to avoid slipping off the road. He had just negotiated the sharpest of the corners and was coming out downhill when he saw the red Benz parked across the road at the bottom of the hill. Samson saw it too and got suspicious.

‘Don’t stop Mubiru,’ Samson instructed. ‘Move quickly. They might be dangerous men.’

Mubiru had had the same feeling. He spotted an opening that had not been covered by the Benz and decided that he would make for it. The manoeuver was dangerous for it was on the open side of the hill and the road had no side bars. But with the right amount of speed, Mubiru’s experience calculated that he would have enough momentum to make it safely.

Lowering his gear into number two to give him power, Mubiru muttered a prayer beneath his breath, floored the accelerator, and shot the car forward with a sudden burst of speed that roused Junior from his sleep. In his vision’s peripheral, Mubiru could make out dark figures darting about the Benz and taking cover like soldiers. Just as he was angling to squeeze through the opening, a deafening storm of gunfire ripped through the air suddenly.

Beatrice bent her son into her embrace, while Samson instinctively leapt to shield his family with his body. Mubiru, who had never been this close to gunfire before, was so stunned by the sheer loudness of it that he momentarily lost control of the steering wheel. Next thing he knew, the double-cabin was veering off the road and plunging into the dark belly of the hill at breakneck speed.
*****
Next morning there was a picture of a car crash on the front pages of the dailies with the headline; ‘DISTRICT CHAIRMAN DIES IN FATAL ACCIDENT.’

Beneath the caption, the story told of how an unfortunate accident had claimed the lives of Bunkenke District Chairman Samson Katalemwa, his wife, and his driver, when the vehicle they were travelling in had lost control and veered off the highway in Butema hills. His young son, who was travelling with them, had miraculously survived uninjured, but he had been rushed to hospital to be checked for internal injuries …

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