Greg opened his eyes, then quickly shut them again. The bright light shining through the open window hurt them. A sharp pain that penetrated to the back of his head. He couldn’t move it. His head was heavy. He was on fire!
He was lying on a frayed old sofa, standing on three legs in one corner of the student’s common room. Its cushions were so stained you could hardly tell their original colour. May be red; or maroon; or brown; or even purple.
The smell of last night’s alcohol permeated the air around Greg. A pungent, stale smell. He’d drunk himself senseless and blacked out.
“Gwe!” A voice ripe with malice shouted in his ear. Greg squeezed his eyes open; half scowling, and slowly lifted his head. He knew this place, he had been here before.
Standing beside him was Kamoga, the hostel’s study group leader. The know-it-all.
Here we go again, Greg thought.
“Oja zukukka! You will wake up!” Kamoga shouted.
Kamoga had a penchant for suits. He wore them everyday, including weekends, and used law jokes (which he Googled and customised, with himself as the star actor) to impress the girls. He drank only Black Ice.
To call him the log in Greg’s eye was to understate things.
“Did you even know that we have Rugunda today?” he said, half growling. “Do you even care?!”
Greg leaned over and emptied about half a pint’s worth of vomit onto Kamoga’s polished shoes.
“No thanks, I am going to stay here and get drunk,” he announced unapologetically over Kamoga’s curses and the whoops of second-year students taking breakfast before the common room TV.
He slipped back into sleep, mumbling something close to wishing Kamoga the best of luck with his shoes.
He was woken up by the cleaner, a wiry man in his 50s with hair like steel wool, who’d more or less kicked him out for the mess he had made on the floor. Outside the hostel, a light breeze blew the leaves on the compound. His headache lifted, it was a beautiful morning.
As he walked down to the trading centre, he remembered Kamoga’s words and cursed inwardly. Three assignments were due next Monday. He would have to work through the weekend with little sleep, to get them out of the way.
At the centre, he stopped at Buleega’s shop to buy samosas and cigarettes. Digging into his pockets, he fetched out an assortment of coins and a crumpled note then threw them on the counter in an untidy clump.
“A half packet of Sportsman and samosas for the balance,” he ordered.
He liked Buleega‘s shop because its owner, a chubby middle-aged man, kept everyone’s change, even 100 shillings, if you left it behind. But nonetheless, there was a certain air of conman-ism about him.
“Buleega,” he said.
“Why do you burn a candle in your shop even during the day?” Greg asked, gesturing with a matchstick at a candle burning in the murky back of the shop. Day or night, the candle was always there.
“But, chief,” Buleega said, a broad smile on his light baby face, “That is my business, why do you want to know my business?”
Greg laughed. Buleega was right, he didn’t want to know.
Back at the hostel, Greg passed by Room 12 to see if the “Teacher” was in. Activities in Room 12 were among the few pleasures of Greg’s life.
Herbert was playing reggae music from the collection of CDs on the floor next to his bed; Majid was up on his bunker reading the Good News Bible.
Empty Beckham Gin sachets were strewn like leaves all over the table. The Teacher wasn’t in.
Herbert acknowledged Greg’s arrival with a short nod. Greg threw himself onto the plastic chair by the door. He lit up a cigarette and started to zone out to the music.
Alecoo’s stocky Mukiga frame burst through the door a few minutes later. He was the Teacher.
“I am sorry, gentlemen, I was delayed by a chance encounter with Kamoga, who, I have been forced to conclude, is an idiot.”
He threw a fresh bag of Beckhams onto the table, knocking the ashtray to the ground.
“Sorry,” he said, and hastily bent down to gather up the ashes. “It beats my understanding how someone with such unbounded promise can allow himself to degenerate to such a level! The young man is too engrossed in his books. He is becoming a problem for our dear hostel.”
“Those are people without a proper foundation,” Herbert said shaking his head. “It’s the dark side. Greg, please pass me the glasses behind you as we prepare to partake of this very refreshing drink.”
“When you fight with yourself, sooner or later, you drown in yourself,” said Majid closing his Bible decisively. “Greg that guy is in your class, you should talk to him.”
“My good man,” answered Greg with a befitting degree of outrage in his voice, “I have tried many times without success. This morning alone I wasted valuable minutes that should have better been invested in meditation and thought, trying to correct him. Herbert, where is the other glass?”
“In the cabinet above your head.” Herbert turned the music low and sat upright to accord the ritual it’s due respect.
“You know, it is said that in the great epic of life, such a calamity as you describe could perhaps serve as fuel to a disciplined mind. Maybe not all is doom and gloom for unfortunate Kamoga.”
“We can only hope,” Teacher said with a heavy sigh. “We can only hope.” They sat around the table for a few seconds, contemplating the clear liquid as it dribbled into their glasses, calming their souls.
“Gentlemen,” Majid said, “the ritual.”
They then lifted their glasses in unison and chanted with gusto:
“O Great Spirit, whose voice I hold in my palm Prostrate I am
Where you bid me I shall go
What you require I shall do.
May I walk in goodness and fairness always
Your heights given to me, wisdom in them, a question mark for me
Some search for answers in order to know the step
We say and proclaim all three,
The answer, the step, the Spirit in-between
And say it all in one breath.”
They emptied their glasses to the last drop, without pausing. Then one by one, they reached for a refill.