Short Story: Dying to live - a tribute to Tupac Shakur

Friday September 04 2015

Caesar lifted his hoodie over his shoulders. He lifted his head up slightly and shoved his hand inside his jacket, mimicking the image on the giant, black and white poster on the wall above the bed. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH |

Who is that?”

Caesar turned around from where he was standing by the window, to see a little boy standing next to him. He’d been drifting again. He must have left the door open. Caesar didn’t know the little boy but it didn’t matter. He liked the children. It was the adults he couldn’t stand.

“Did you hear me?”

The little boy’s face was the picture of solemn innocence.

“Yes I heard you.”

“Why didn’t you answer me?”


He smiled.

“I was absent-minded. But you could ask your question again…”

“Who is that on the wall?”

Caesar looked at where the boy was pointing.

“That is Tupac.”

“Is he a thug?”

“He is a thug.”

“Why is his picture on your wall?”

“Because he is the only thug who has ever gone to heaven. And I also want to go to heaven.”

Caesar waited.

“So, are you a thug?”

Caesar lifted his hoodie over his shoulders. He lifted his head up slightly and shoved his hand inside his jacket, mimicking the image on the giant, black and white poster on the wall above the bed. The little boy giggled delightedly.

“Your mother and her friends, do they think I am a thug?”

The boy’s mouth turned down at the corners. He looked down.


“And you. What do you think? Do you think I am a thug?”

The boy’s eyes flicked uneasily to the poster on the wall then back to Caesar’s face.

“Y-Yes.” he said hesitantly.

Caesar lifted his forefinger to his lips. “Shssh!! Don’t tell anyone.” And winked.


A short, light skinned woman with huge breasts and a red and white leso wrapped round her waist appeared at the doorway.

“What are you doing here?”

She looked at Caesar. Then up at the poster on the wall. Her lips tightened. “Marvin, come here.”

The little boy ran to her. “Go and play with your friends.”

Caesar exchanged the forefinger for a middle finger and blew a kiss at her.

Her nostrils flared with anger.

“Stay away from my children!” She shouted, then turned and fled.

Caesar closed his eyes and felt darkness swarm over his heart.

“I see death around the corner,” he whispered.


It was early morning. Caesar moved like a grey-hooded ghost down the stairs of the housing block. Eyes glittered at him from behind living room curtains. Conversations buzzed on every floor he passed. Even now, he found himself hoping his departure would go unnoticed. But he knew it wouldn’t.

People talk. People were people, his father had often said.

Nothing to do. People were people.

And he was not a person. Not any more.

Cars sped by in the street outside. People hurried and jostled to work, averting their heads if he looked them directly in the eyes. Something about his gaze always made people flinch. Usually he found it amusing but today the appeal was gone.

He walked slowly, noticing the smells, the sounds, the tiny, nondescript details.

Kampala in the early morning sun was intricate and detailed. He wondered if each tiny miracle that went unseen by the eyes of men, became a tiny tragedy. Somehow the question seemed very important. But he let it go. A zen-like indifference swirled around him.


Caesar’s face congealed instantly into a cold, guarded mask. He spun round, ready for whatever.

City Square hummed on unconcerned.


A familiar head was craned out of the back window of a slow-moving taxi, an arm waving furiously.


Caesar’s expression eased.

“Pac!” Her eyes brimmed with joy. No longer was she the dirty-haired, scrawny, bandana wearing feline of their glory days. She’d put on a lot of weight. And she was much lighter than she used to be.

Bleaching cream.

They hugged.

Perfume, expensive perfume.

“My god Pac! Where have you been? I haven’t seen you since the days of Strait Souljaz.” She twisted her fingers gaily in the old S-S gang sign.

“That’s like what, 10 years ago?” Her eyes travelled up and down his body. Her face registered concern. His appearance probably shocked her.

“What have you been up to?”

“You know, hustling.”

“Still doing music?”

“Hardly. I sell imported Chinese drugs. Pills, cocaine, heroin too… I have killed men Infie. Would you still be as happy to see me if you knew that?”

“Yes. I have a little studio out in Makindye.”

“That is nice.”

“And you? Do you still rap?”

“Me?” She laughed. “No. I gave that up long ago. I work in a bank now.”

She pulled out her wallet and turned to show him a little studio picture of two little boys and a stiff, stern-faced man that Caesar assumed was her husband.

“My darlings.” She sighed. “Yeah, that’s my life now. I bet you think I sold out. Thug till I die and all that.”

Her voice trembled slightly.

“No,” he lied. “Of course not.”

“Bambi it’s so good to see you, Pac. We should have a reunion someday. All the old crew. Maybe even spit some free-styles,” she said while laughing. A happy, guilt-free laugh.

“That’s a good idea.”

“Hey, Infidel. I have to run…”

“Gosh! No one calls me Infidel these days.”

“Sorry. It’s just that,” she shrugged helplessly. “You are going to say it’s silly, but I was sure I’d never see you again. Yet here you are. Unchanged. Still Pac. Makes all the stuff we used to do seem worth it… that’s all.”

He let her talk. Not that there had been any doubt before. But, he had to go through with it now. This was a sign.

Caesar kept on walking. Past Cairo Bank, Bata, MTN, Africell onto Cham Towers. He was about to cross the road, when another sign made him freeze, one foot in mid-air, half lifted off the pavement.

On the dirty concrete, oblivious to the noisy morning traffic and rushing feet, a scrawny young street artist with a twisted leg was finishing his first piece of the day: A large drawing of Tupac rendered in charcoal on white manila. With loving care, in graffiti style capitals the boy worked on the legend.

Though the drawing was faultless his spelling was atrocious, but not to Caesar. He saw it as a sign of heaven paying respect to a life of angst, torment, rebellion, misunderstanding, violence, and unfulfilled passion. A tribute that granted in death, the only thing that had eluded him in life — peace.

Warm tears formed in Caesar’s eyes, the first in years.

Caesar emptied his pockets of a dirty 2,000 bob note and a handful of change, the last of his worldly possessions, and dropped them at the boy’s feet.

“My nigga. You’re the last one left.”

With those last words, Caesar got up and ran. Past a blur of faces, in through the Worker’s House entrance in a flash. Up the stairs. Three at a time.

“He’s going to jump!” A woman screamed.

But, Caesar had everything he needed now. He kept running, then leapt.


One last touch and it was done. The scrawny boy grunted, then placed his piece of charcoal on the ground and held his picture up to the light.