Saturday, 27 September 2008

One Shot, One Man

Mood: Snipin' mood
[Toot!] Index: 0.1
Communism Bit: Off
Location: Entebbe


The boy was shot. The girl was terrified. And the soldier was angry that this shot hadn't been perfect. That's what happened on that Sunday night.
A lover crouches among the shrubs that make the hedge. This is back in the September of 1998, by the way, on that road that leads to the Fire Quarters in Entebbe. That road where the army families live. And the lover should have been smart enough to know that you shouldn't pay visits to a soldier's daughter. —At night!
So, the lover squats at the fence, waiting for the torch to come on and draw arcs on the curtains. (This was the signal the girl used to alert him that he could come to the window.) Everybody else is asleep, the signal would say. But this time, when the signal flashed, it was wrong. Because, you see, a man was holding a gun in another room, waiting to bore a hole in the lover's head. One shot, one man was the soldier's way of doing business.

But first, some 1986. You remember the day the Okello men stopped a phalanx of Museveni men at Kigungu, in the January of that year? The stalemate was broken, as you've certainly already heard, by the sniper who hid in the rocks up there. One shot, one man is how that battle ended. A left-handed sniper of the Museveni side sat up among the crags and started switching off one soldier for each shot he fired. He descended the chain of command, one-shot-one-man. (In the beginning, the shooting instructor had told him he was holding the gun the wrong way, because the left hand “just looked wrong”. By the end of his very first day with the gun, he had destroyed the improvised practice target—because, you know, unlike other soldiers, he actually hit the thing.)
It's a bit sad that the best sharp-shooter the NRA ever had ended up in an obscure neighbourhood in Entebbe. The legend in the Bush War was that if he so much as saw you, you were pretty much fucked. “If he sees it, he can shoot it. With one shot.” The story was true of his having darkened an ambushed base by shooting at an electricity wire.
And now, he held a Russian gun, and, with a closed right eye, pointed the muzzle at the hedge where the lover squatted.

At the wedding last Saturday (where this story was resurrected), the soldier explained why he had been too protective of his daughter. The logic was sound: When you have one child, whose mother is dead, you certainly will be extreme in keeping her from wrong choices. All I ever did, I did in the hope that it was the best thing for my only child, my daughter seated among us today, the apple of my eye. When she holds her own child—I hope for a boy in nine months, starting today—she will know what it feels like.
That thing about a countdown-to-the-baby-boy made the crowd roar. The bride smiled a coy smile and raised a slow sidelong kick to the groom.

Anyway, so the torch flashes. A China-made torch spits rays at the curtains. A lover is grateful to end the uncomfortable crouch. He gets up and ignores the shouts in his legs, tries to pull a majestic walk. A window should fly open in a short while, and a story is to be read out in the smoothest voice he can fake.
About the same time, a soldier stirs. A finger leaves its comrades with a quick jerk, like an Afghan mujahid rushing to his position. The index finger kisses a cold trigger. An advancing head slides into the target. The soldier curses his fading clarity of sight, but feels it won't hamper his aim.
And a gentle tug sends a bullet running towards its target, the only bullet in the gun, the only bullet necessary. The bullet cuts a pore in the glass and flies. The soldier clucks his tongue the way them people from Western Uganda do. A lover falls onto the dew. One shot, one man. The lights come on. Still with no shoes on, with the Kalashnikov still in his left hand, a half-naked soldier opens the door to examine his work on the grass outside.

After the Bush War, the soldier's contribution had been recognised. It was hard to ignore, as it were. He became a target instructor, and then, very soon, his sight started a quick descent. By that time, in 1998, he had stopped training soldiers. He could still see and shoot and all, but it was no longer as clear as it had been. You know the thing about perfectionists like him is that if they can't do it perfectly, they'd rather stop. And yet he was still pretty much a perfect shooter. He no longer went to practice, but he was still enviable. And when the army brought proper sniper guns (he had been using an AK-47 all that time), he was the one to break them in, as an honour. Then the lecture he gave the soldiers who were to use them was about how easy things are these days. Telescopic sight? My God, who can't split an enemy's hair these days? In our days, you had to snipe with an AK-47 that didn't have this shoulder nankani! With a Tommy gun, you boys!
Anyway, he had receded to the Fire Quarters by 1998, after his wife died, so that he could raise his only child without encumbrances.
It was then that the lover paid the visits. He had noticed the lover on the third visit, and prepared to take him out on the fourth.

And now he stands over a bleeding lover. The young man has just noticed that his leg isn't going to respond because it is bleeding because it has been shot because the soldier standing over him has fired at him because he wants those grubby wee fingers off his daughter. The soldier squats over the wound in the thigh, and complains, It's two entire metres—my God!—from the head! He blames the deflection that the glass has caused on the bullet, before he returns, like a real perfectionist, to blaming himself. (Two metres really is a large distance to miss by, especially if the range was close enough. I think he under-estimated how bad his eyesight had become. That's what I think.)
Now a shocked daughter creeps out of the house with an open mouth. Now she is kneeling next to her bleeding lover, and the Tiger Head torch is still in her hand (left hand, like her father). Now her nighties are kissed by the dew. Now she whispers to her lover. Now she tells her father: Let's get him to hospital! His thigh is bleeding! The bullet made an exit hole! YOU WANTED TO KILL MY BOYFRIEND!. The boy groans at the first time the girl acknowledges him as “boyfriend”, then the pain wipes his smiles in short order. Now the soldier, not used to upsetting his daughter, asks why he was sneaking in. Now the girl says, He was coming to read me a story! You kill story-tellers? Now she pulls the story out of his shirt pocket, and hands it to her father.
The soldier goes indoors, picks up the shell of the bullet with his toes, and grabs a shirt and picks the car keys. He drove to the hospital with no shoes on.

On the wedding, the soldier had risen from his seat and told his side of the story. His sight is almost totally gone. An unenviable ending for a sharp-shooter, you'll have to agree. He walked to the microphone wagging that cane of the visually-impaired, until he whacked the microphone's stem about three strokes. Then he reached out with splayed hands and grabbed. He spoke into the mic, I'll tell you a story. And he recounted this. Now he said that stuff about why he was such a jerk to the guys who so much as looked at his daughter. That's when he mentioned the countdown-to-the-baby-boy. And then he reached into his coat and said he had something to show the guests. He pulled out a middle-book leaf of an exercise book. He pulled from the pocket another item, the shell of a bullet. The groom rose to pick the two things, a slight limp in his leg. After all, it's your story and your bullet shell. The crowd roared, hahaha.
We are allowed to assume the lover did, after all, read the story to the girl. Exactly ten years to the day after he first tried to (and got shot in his attempt). Ten bloody years, people! To the very day, my God!

12 comments:

Spartakuss said...

am such a sucker for tears and happy endings and sweet sweet socks!!

you are are ranked as one of my most favouritest story tellers of the week!

Princess said...

Beautiful, Rev.
I will not say a single word more. :-)

y.z said...

Too wierd! Home is in between mugula and bulume, two or three streets up. I remember hearing that story, standing with our house girl when I tagged along to buy charcoal. They ended up together? Too beautiful

Esquire of the mountain said...

Been a while since i walked these revolutionary fields but suffice it to say am still pleased everytime i return. And how are you?

DeTamble said...

I don't care how lovely your story is, that soldier deserves a slap in the face.

That is what is wrong with the world. Violence instead of words.

...Though he did sort of make it up by taking him to hospital etc. etc.

leos child said...

if i where the guy i doubt i would have married that gal after her father shoots the living lights out of my leg hell no!

Minty said...

You're such a terrific story teller. Ebbs stories always sounded like movies, and this is just so fairy tale ending. If they got married, I can only say wow!

DeTamble said...

If some girls father shot me in the leg I'd probably marry her too.

lulu said...

i swear ive laughed at the way you wrote it out... very beautifully! 'wacked the microphone stick three times!'
'you kill a story teller!' read a bedtime story for real?

Carlo said...

That man reminds me so much of my own father! How come no boy that some soldier harassed at my house has asked for my hand in marriage yet? Yeah, daddy knows best.

Emi's said...

Great movie, it ended so quickly

31337 said...

comrade. what, what?