Monday, October 31, 2011

UAL 142D, the taxi that tried to rob me

It was slightly past 10 in the night, just above the railway grounds along Kampala Road, when a taxi with four occupants stopped about 30 metres ahead of me. The conductor waved over, a gesture that is supposed to make an inquiry as to whether I want to take a ride or not. I replied to the affirmative and rushed over to where it was packed.

Apart from the driver and conductor, a man and woman acted as passengers. The woman sat in the back as the man sat in the middle seat at the front, making it look like any other taxi on the road, searching for passengers.

The conductor opened the front door for me, and although my favourite seat in the taxi is the back seat, I was too tired to yield to my tastes. I took my seat, placed my laptop bag on my laps and my phone in between my thighs. The conductor, with his left hand on the external latch of the door, asked me to re-shut the door as it was not well fastened. I am a journalist, and having written about tricks used by taxi thieves here, I should have known right then that I was in thug-territory. But this was past 10 o’clock in the night, after a long day and a long week. My mind’s last thought was to recollect the stories of taxi-theft victims I had written over a year earlier, to what I was experiencing.

But re-shut the door I did. “Ah no. this door is very hard. You will have to use both hands to close it,” the conductor said after my initial attempts at closing the door. Even that did not set my alarm bells off. I thus switched off the Bongo Flavour I was playing on the phone and attempted to close the door with both hands.

But right then, (especially because I had switched off the music), my senses returned to a mild level of normalcy. The whole idea of closing a door with both hands just did not seem feasible. And so although I turned and faced the door, I did not use both hands to close the door. And right at that moment, I felt my laptop bag start to slip away to the right. Suddenly, awakened by an innate alarm system that I just cannot decipher, I sprung from my position on the left, turned right and saw the ‘passenger’ holding my bag, trying to pull it away. I grabbed it from him. I looked straight at the man, unable to comprehend just what on earth he was trying to do.

The man was dark skinned, or at least, he looked dark. He had a dog face, just like mine, with the back of the head sharper than the front, just like mine. He however seemed a little taller, and a little more muscular. (I am not big on that muscular shit. So even if he was chicken bones, I am likely to have seen him as muscular.)

I was caught in a state of disbelief. I seemed to be lost in a land where time simply did not exist. “What was going on?” I wanted to ask myself. But no answers were forthcoming. But one thing stuck out however, these were thieves, and not only was my property on the line, so was my body. I had to get out ASAP.

So I touched my bag, checked to see if my laptop was intact, and the external hard disk too, which I had just filled with an extra 20GB of music, taking the tally to 131GB. Then I checked for my phone, and after assurance that all was safe, I asked to take leave of the taxi. The driver dully stopped.

I jumped out, and engaged the eyes of the woman at the back. She looked young, even beautiful, the kind of girl that in normal circumstances, you know, I could want to give a second look. But she was a thief, a feat that was made all the sterner when after I gave her a long cold stare, she returned it with an even longer colder stare. SIDE NOTE: Women, with a soft appearance on the outside, can be the every example of the saying that nothing is ever as it seems.

After about five seconds, the taxi drove off. And of course I made sure I memorise the registration number. The taxi that was supposed to take me to Wandegeya, (North of Kampala), instead turned left round Cham Towers, (South of Kampala), a sign that passenger-ferrying was none of their business on that Friday evening.

I am naturally slow to react. There are incidences in which I have been wronged, only for the anger to reach its full venom months, even years later on. As I stood outside Cham towers, my anger struggled to rise to its supposed heights. I was almost choking, with my nerves and insides seething and nearly bursting, but with my anger’s mercury taking its time in its ascent. My insides were the sight of an electricity circuit before it has a short circuit. I called a few friends thereafter to share my experience. May be they could re-assure me that I was not dreaming after all.

UAL 142D was like any other taxi. The tactic of using a woman as part of the thuggery is a sneak peek into our society, as one that takes women as innocent on face value, as incapable of committing atrocities, and hence, with their presence in that taxi for instance, as a vindication, a get-out-of-jail card for the men doing the actual stealing.

I called the police a few minutes later, where no doubt, a female officer struggled to pull the sleep out of her voice as she took down my details. I gave them the registration number. I even reported a case of a colleague who recently lost a laptop that way. I called using a cell phone, meaning they can trace the call back to me and call me over to help identify the men, when they are arrested. Whether the men are arrested or not should not be a bother in this day and age. But this is Uganda’s police, and the biggest shock of the year will not be that that very taxi robs somebody else, but the day police will call me back telling me they arrested somebody connected to that car.

As to the thugs who tried to ruin my Friday, you found me a little more awake than you expected. And hey, I pray you attempt to do it again. From today, I will walk along Kampala road in the evening, with my laptop bag more often, with a slight hope that I will run into you again. How I look forward - because on that day, I will not only be in the mood to protect my stuff, I will also be in the mood to kick some ass. 

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