On a Sunday afternoon; Eva and Agatha and I were in the sitting room watching John Wick (a highly rated movie that I found numbingly pilotless and predictable) when my landlady appeared behind my kitchen window and started gesturing for me to come. It was weird, because this is not how we discuss the water bill when it comes. In spite of her efforts to look calm and collected, the apprehension on her face was more apparent than she imagined. There was no time for pleasantries, she went straight to the point as soon as I reached the window.
“I need your help.” She spoke softly as she glanced over her shoulder in the direction of her home.
As you would expect, I was a little confused, so I just stared at her in bewilderment. Taking a deep sigh, she bit her lower lip and looked down; like she was embarrassed by what she was about to say or she didn’t know where to start from, or both. She looked back up, straight into my eyes and said words in Luganda that directly translate to say;
“They found bottles of beer behind the latrine. I am going to call you in twenty minutes to ask if they’re yours and I need you to admit that they are. You think you can help me do that?”
“Oh, okay!” I shrugged nonchalantly. The only thought on my mind then was my landlady owes me one now, and that may come in handy when I am late on my rent remissions. She took three steps towards her home and then paused to turn around. “Actually, I think you should call me instead and ask if your beer was wrongly delivered to my home.”
At this moment I got curious, I wanted to ask for details but she seemed to be in a hurry and she hastily got back to her house before I could ask; “who is they?” What I didn’t know at the time is that this was going to be a major breakthrough in demystifying this woman I called landlady.
If you know anything about me, then you should know that minding my own business is not my strongest virtue. From the time I met her 11 months ago, I have always been trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together but nothing seemed to make any sense. I got this lady’s number in January 2014 from Bin Laden—a popular house broker in Kulambiro, who had just given me a tour in and around the house.
We spoke on phone to finalize on the rent before we agreed that I make the deposit the following day. So the following morning, I called to ask where I would meet her so we would exchange cash for a receipt (as opposed to mobile money like she had initially requested) and she suggested Shell Nakulabye.
I gave her a call as soon as I reached Shell Nakulabye, then I saw a fair skinned young lady of western descent walk towards me from across the street. On the other side of the road, she looked like she was in her mid twenties, but as she drew closer; I started to notice she may actually be older than she appears a few meters away but it was not until I met her two teenage kids the following day that I concluded she must be somewhere in her mid-to-late thirties, if not early forties. For a woman her age though, it’s hard to overstate her beauty.
Her breath suggested she was coming from a bar, and the way she kept switching back to Luganda after fighting to stitch together a few English words into a sentence, it was evident she wasn’t very comfortable with the language I was insisting on using. In my defense though, she had struck me as one of those girls who don’t speak vernacular. We sat in her car that was parked at the fuel station and money changed hands. She told me she didn’t have the receipt book with her but she would give me my receipt the following day. However, considering the circumstances under which we met, I thought it prudent to scribble down a small acknowledgement of receipt for her to sign. She studied the content of the paper like it was inscribed in hieroglyphics before she asked me where exactly she was supposed to sign; or in this case, write her name in my grandmother’s handwriting. And no, it wasn’t the alcohol, like I would find out later. This further affirmed my suspicion that she was of a modest literacy level.
For a long time, Eva and I debated about the true owner of the house. It was nothing sexist, but even though the Yaka meters are registered in her names, a lot of things didn’t make sense. This woman had two kids, but I never saw a man set foot in that house. She would leave home around midday and come back past midnight, sometimes drunk and staggering. In her drunken sprees, it wasn’t uncommon to overhear her quarreling with the children, hurling Luganda expletives at them that start with the letter “K.” What kind of mother throws the “k” word at their own child? I would wonder.
It was pretty clear this woman did not have a job to go to, or she had an established business somewhere that didn’t require her daily supervision.I knew so because I was also unemployed at the time, and seeing her around and her seeming not leaving for work wasn’t a comfortable feeling. However, besides inflating the water bill, I never had any serious issues with her, and she always spoke nicely to her tenants, sometime even hosting my neighbor’s toddler at her home whole day.
But what’s this woman’s story, how did/ does she make the money? I kept asking myself. Is she a widow, divorcee, a rich man’s side-dish? Perhaps she spent a few years in bulaya, busting her ass for money that she invested well when she returned.
“Or she is madam!” Eva quipped.
“Yes, like a female pimp. Have you noticed how many women keep entering that house when the children are at school? You be there.”
It was funny, but I didn’t subscribe to that theory. She may dress, make up and have a sleeping pattern you would expect of a madam, but that’s an over stretch, I thought. On many occasions, I wrote about her in my Sunday Monitor column and facebook status updates, but as long as it was in English, I never had to worry about receiving an eviction notice. But the events of these Sunday afternoon were about to bring about a huge limp in solving this intricate puzzle.
I went back to my action packed movie and started counting down the twenty minutes. But less than ten minutes later, we heard a huge bang from the landlady’s.
“Wallahi billahi tallahi they’re taking me to Luzira today for murder. Whose beer is that?” Swore a deep male voice in Luganda, following the slamming sound of a wooden door.
Holly shit! What the fuck am I getting myself into? My mind froze.