I promised a little while ago that if I got to 100 facebook page likes then I would publish a ‘nugget’ of fiction here on the blog. I wrote this flash fiction piece about 18 months ago, while I was at Circle of Missé. A goal this year is to maintain a steady stream of submissions of short fiction and non-fiction to competitions or magazines, but I might as well have something out there in front of readers in the meantime. It’s interesting that even though this went through what I thought at the time was a pretty rigorous editing process, a few months and lots of words later, there were tweaks to be made that today seemed glaringly obvious – the clear benefit of a fresh eye and more experience. All feedback gratefully received…*squeezes eyes shut and hits publish*
The car door’s soft thud enclosed her in the air-conditioned back seat, and she tried to ease into its cushioned comfort. She leaned forward to be heard by the driver, ‘Alright, Simon, let’s go,’ but didn’t sit back again, unable to stop herself perching.
They rolled down the hill and out the gate to the usual salute from the guard. As it closed behind them she realised too late that she hadn’t given the apartment a parting glance.
The traffic flowed at first but a couple of minutes later they found it already backed up from the Jinja Road junction to the Golf Course roundabout. She sighed and tried again to settle back into the seat, closing her eyes. No point fretting, this would just take time. Opening her eyes again, her head tipped back, the torn-down billboards assaulted her vision. When she’d returned to Kampala two weeks before to ‘settle things’, Simon had explained that ‘they’ had ripped all the adverts out of their hoardings, because a bill hadn’t been paid. The implication was that a palm had not been greased, and indeed the removal of the ads looked like an angry act, not an official one.
The frames were not completely empty, but had left-over fragments of hastily ripped images clinging to them, flapping in the breeze, trailing in the red dust. None of the hoardings in this part of town had been passed over. It was a disconcerting sight to return to: eerie, disturbing, making the city itself feel torn up and suggesting violence looming on every corner.
At least she was leaving all that behind now, or would be when the traffic eased. They couldn’t have travelled much more than a kilometre yet. She craned forward to try and discern some movement ahead. “Sorry, miss, it’s going to take a while.” Simon smiled ruefully.
With a lurch of the stomach came the shocking idea that at the next roundabout she could just turn back. Well, why not? She could just say to Simon, take me back to the apartment please, then unload her cases, take them inside, and take back everything that she’d said. Would it really be so hard to put it all behind them and move on? Had it really not occurred to them to try that? Heart thumping with the possibility, she craned forward again. She estimated she’d have around five minutes before the next roundabout. Five minutes to decide.
She sat back again, looked out the side window, taking it all in, looking for clarity. They were hemmed in by boda-bodas, jostling each other to gain a metre here, a metre there. None of the drivers were wearing helmets. There was a boda just ahead with a whole family of passengers, the mother with a baby on her back, a slightly older boy nestled in front of her and clutching the driver’s sides, his eyes darting from vehicle to vehicle. The boda just behind had crates of live chickens stacked up behind him, tightly secured, but still, precarious.
On the opposite carriageway dozens of police officers filled the back of a truck, some sitting, most of them holding or hanging on, limbs swaying. People on these roads were exposed; soft bodies, uncovered heads vulnerable to hard objects and surfaces. Yet she always felt safe in the elevated privilege of their modern SUV.
Something suddenly cleared, the traffic was moving. What if she did go back…what if? What if she stood in front of him, said it all? What if he listened, looked steadily back, and said…what? What if?
The chaos in her mind evaporated as quickly as it had come. Of course she wasn’t going back. This journey had already begun two months ago. Everything had been said, suggested, tried. Decisions had been made. Safer to stick to them. With relief she eased into the leather seat, as they skirted the roundabout and flowed into the traffic heading for the airport.