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While descending the road, our hearts pounded with exhaustion and our feet lagged behind us. The noise itself and the blazing sun further agitated our fatigued bodies. But as we stood by the roadside waiting for relief and recalling the long hunt, a mini bus came hurtling down the street, out of the maze of cars that had been climbing all over the busy road. We sighed and tramped to the stage, towards the rest of the eager people and together, we squeezed into the small bus.
Nobody minded the mingled sweat or the blazing sun. I pushed to the interior, followed closely by my sister and once inside, I pressed in to the back, to the last seat, tired and dripping. It smelt like sweat inside anyway, I could smell it with my nostrils, but that was until I set my eyes on my seatmate! All hell broke loose! He was a young man with a badly bruised, swollen face and arms with his clothes soaked in blood and mud. His eyes were half closed because they were swollen but they lacked any kind of remorse. Instead they were playful, though obviously pained. He was thrown carelessly in the old seat, his body bent towards the window. I started in alarm and hesitation. But the people were pushing in, they wanted to close the door and drive on, even the conductor was reflecting this very scuttling manner.
In the sweltering heat, I regarded my options, which I found, were none, instead I slumped into the seat and tried to slither as far from him as I possibly could without crashing the other passenger, which meant of course that his knees were touching mine. I crooked my body the other side and looked him all over with hooded eyes; I avoided his playful eyes and my eyes fell down to the papers in his hands, they were from the hospital, detailing the nature of his injuries. I tried to ignore the fear in my heart, the insecurity and the anxiety that came from being so close to him, I felt agitated. All our lives could have been in danger if he was violent. Why had they stopped to take him? I covered my nose and tried to think, tried to connect with all the back turned faces which too, regarded him with disdain.
I turned to my side and tried to close my eyes, folding my body and I remembered back then how it was always hard to make proper diagnosis of sick people due to lack of technology, sometimes symptoms were just read and a relief determined. It was kind of like looking at the top of a book and determining its inside. How then was there ever a place for good Samaritans? And why were we not being good Samaritans? Had we read or misread the book? The answer was simple; he was a thief, thieves usually got beaten up in the streets and left to die or killed. Did we need to help the guilty?
The other passengers kept turning around, looking curiously at him, looking angrily at the driver and at the conductor; I sat on the edge of the seat waiting for the bus to empty up. It did after an eternity, the people did trickle out and I moved to the front, occasionally glancing at him, my sister looking as afraid as I was. But the bus seemed to drive on forever in the silence caused by the offloaded passengers. We still shared the same anxious glances with the other two passengers throughout the journey, until it stopped by an open field. The conductor urged the bloodied man to get up and out, but he was not budging. Was he dead? We were all looking at him anxiously. He got up and went to shake him awake. “It is time to leave now.” He nudged him.
After an episode of shaking, the man stumbled up and out, as if he had been in a stupor, all bloody and a sorry mess. We watched after him as he staggered away and calmed our hearts. I turned to the driver, trying not to get into an altercation with him, and asked him about the dirty and bloody man but he answered casually.
“Oh, he’s just drunk. He does that all the time and he gets beaten up because he becomes a nuisance.” On hearing his answer, I breathed more calmly and realized how appearances could so easily distort thoughts and images and determine our judgment on so many things.
Kristan Kurora is a Ugandan lawyer and writer.