It was one of those days when the road feels good under your tyres and you go a bot further than you should on a fast murram road… And you have to turn off in Zziru. On a scale of national importance Zziru is a place that would be called Ziru but luckily some old Muganda teacher (probably) decided to give it importance by painting the words on the schoolpost and doing the double consonant to up the ante. So the place became known as Zziru and to be sure, became known on this right side of Nakawuka road but asking anywhere else, you’d have a problem getting any directions whatsoever.
I drove through Zziru. It is so unimportant that immediately, as you leave the Expressway, you bounce onto the road full of potholes that get deeper and angrier with every passing metre. It was a lonely drive for a bit, until I stumbled onto a brick truck but even then, my company branched off before I could see the first roofs of Zziru peeping quietly and modestly beneath the banana trees.
I thought this was going to be a quiet, ordinary drive with a quick stop at the fish-woman’s stall where you get fried fish pieces tasting of fish gall, crisp and bitter, for 500 a piece. But soon I saw a crowd by the road and some trucks parked there, I thought Besigye or someone like that had discovered voters and came to Zziru to campaign, so I approached with caution.
Someone died at Zziru. I saw the chairs. And chairs follow either weddings or the funerals. Quick scan of randomly parked trucks, not limos, and the absence of funny ribbons and decorations told the sad story. We had a dead body somewhere there and people were gathering to pay respects. I drove by ever so carefully and slowly and what embedded itself in my mind was the important guy who looked like Aggrey Awori but wasn’t the one, standing there with an envelope in his hand, giving instructions as if he was Aggrey Awori. And the lady who knelt on the road in front of another man dressed in a suit.
Faces passed by my window slowly and I could register a whole range of emotions but I didn’t really think of that till now. I just knew that someone died at Zziru and people were there, at the house, ready for the vigil. I wondered if they were going to sing a “Balokole” version of “Oh my darling Clementine” as they always did during lumbes, but I pushed that thought as a ‘none of my business’ as I drove on.
And then I started really thinking about the dead person in Zziru. I drove downhill, on the most pathetic road I’ve seen in a long time. I had so many boda-bodas coming towards me. Carrying as many people and more. Ladies dressed in their best busuutis. Then an old man with his grandson sandwiched safely between him and boda guy. A lady with two girls hanging out of each arm. Another busuuti lady. A shariati lady with a headscarf made with dangling large gold sequins. A lady with pop-art black & white long dress that looked like a geometrical illusion of sorts. A man who had an air of the village politician, holding papers and brown envelopes in his left arm while talking hurriedly on the phone. And so many more, hanging for their dear lives on that miserable Zziru road. All going to pay respects, all wanting to do so, not to complete some bizarre form but sincerely making an effort to see off this dead person while themselves looking their very best, being their very best.
I felt it. The summary of life. It didn’t matter who it was, it certainly was someone torn from the very fabric of Zziru in a hard way, creating a large hole that can be filled only by togetherness of remaining people, their extended hands, hugs, wailing, swollen teary eyes. Warmth of people was melting that fabric and weaving it again, making it complete again, delivering the gap into the arms of the soil, into the wings of the spirits of the ancestors, while the living reorganised and took their new places in the family and village hierarchy without even wondering why or who’s next.
One day, we will all be chief guests at our own funerals. I drove off, slowly sliding downhill through the gullies of Zziru. An insignificant place, not on any map, spewed my car out like you’d spit out a jambula stone when no one is watching. It remained behind me, a place holding the keys to life’s mysteries, full of powerful lessons and explanations.