It is after 10pm and the ATM is out of order; just my kind of luck. As I turn to walk out of the bank building into the night, I am mentally calculating the distance to the next ATM while castigating myself for coming out this far into town so late, with so little cash. To clear my head, I decide to take a stroll up Lower Luwum Street in downtown Kampala. While it is not exactly the sightseer’s dream, tonight, this lane of little shops and malls will have to do.
Up the deserted section of street I walk, dodging the occasional KCCA sweeper going about their work and keeping neither right nor left but going for the safety of the middle of the road. It is during this walk that I begin to reflect on the people of the night.
When all the campaign rallies have closed down and the people who have a home to go to, have returned to their place of abode, what remains? It is the constituency of the night; the people who exist in a drug-induced haze in an attempt to beat their demons; the ones who should get education and alternative employment to persuade them out of a risky trade, the ones that many candidates’ election manifestos may only hint at in passing. These are the people who come alive at night.
Activity at the intersection of Luwum Street and Market Street interrupts my thoughts. A woman in a red mini dress grabs a young man by the hand and tries unsuccessfully to negotiate a deal. The only kind of deal going down at this deserted spot between a man and a woman would have to be something of a sexual nature. The woman’s attempt comes to nothing as the man pulls away and walks down the street. Although I am not close enough to hear the exchange, there is no guessing what the transaction is about. A woman is selling and the man is not buying.
Further down towards Nakasero Market, there is more life on the street. As I walk past a confectionery shop and wonder why it is still open at this odd hour, I begin to notice a line of people, in various positions of rest along the veranda. And no, this is not your typical homeless person seeking refuge on the street. It is the elderly woman with stockings on her feet, settling in for the night so she can take part in the early morning trade of farm produce. Money must be made and families must survive; hook or crook.
I make my way down to the old taxi park. There is more life closer to the park. Vehicles and passengers are still very much in transit. It is just approaching 11pm. The music is booming from the darkened Indigo Bar, which occupies a corner balcony one of the nearby buildings. As I contemplate calling my regular boda guy to the rescue, I look up at the hotel windows across the road, noting the light that can be seen through them, and wondering if they are occupied, what type of people are staying there and how much it might cost to rent a room in this part of town.
From a street verandah as I wait for my transport to arrive, I see a boy in his tattered daytime clothes curled up on a piece of cardboard, barely long enough to accommodate his little body. The street child is another fixture of the night. I shiver and think of my warm bed that waits at home but mine is a temporary condition unlike these poor and desperate people who must endure the biting cold and hunger, night after night.