Saturday, August 29 – Bars, Police and the Covid19 Lockdown

By Aliker David GULU, UGANDA

In March 2020, the President of Uganda declared a countrywide lockdown due to COVID-19.

Most businesses were closed. Social distancing was the new normal. A curfew was also put in place at 7:00 pm and later adjusted to 9:00 pm.

But how did addicts adjust to this new normal?

One morning, Facebook reminded me that it was Becky’s birthday. Becky is a childhood friend who minds my business, and I mind hers. As kids, we took a shower in the rain together and shared bottle tops in our games.

I crafted a message and demonized her about a birthday with no beer. She replied,” It’s beer day in my house.”

A striking thirst for beer hit me hard. I knew I had to calm my nerves from the trauma of COVID-19. So I texted back,” what time?”

Becky replied,” Now.”

It was 10:00 am. I instantly threw my blanket off me, picked a towel, and hit the bathroom room straight for a cold shower.

As I was still in a daze from sleep and a cold shower, I could hear British Broadcasting Services (BBC) reporting on increased death cases in Britain and America from the COVID-19 carnage.

It kind of warned me of the prospects of infection and reminded me of police infiltration as they supervised the lockdown.

My thirst for a cold Bell beer was greater than my fears. All I wanted was to hold a cold beer and spank my mind with loud music.

I hit the road on my Bajaj motorbike and felt the acceleration in my chest as the wind blew my tears to my ears.

The cold breeze of the morning sent shivers through my body, and smoky breath reminded me I had forgotten my mask.

As I bought fuel for my motorbike, I used the change to buy low-cost mask incase I arrived, and everyone had it.

On my last turn to town, I met a group of lazy looking police officers, sluggishly walking along the roadside supervising the Presidential directive. 

They looked hungry and angry as they walked lifelessly in a line without talking to each other.

As I passed them, I wondered if none of them felt like a beer. I imagined if we were ever caught, would they take away the beer as an exhibit or for their consumption?

Becky’s home was 10kms out of town on a terrible road littered with potholes and rainwater from the previous downpour.

I could tell Becky already had guests from the tire marks on the road, and I was already late. Such roads, 10kms out of town, never have this number of tire marks unless there was a funeral in Becky’s neighborhood. In which case, it would be insensitive for Kevin to host a party at her home.

On arrival, Becky’s compound was full to capacity with cars and motorbikes parked from her verandah entrance.

Loud music blared from car hoofers and intoxicated young men and women trafficked in and out of the main house.

It was a house party in full gear; no one minded COVID-19. In every room and corner of the house were friends and family feasting on her birthday.

I was welcomed with the jubilation meant for a politician in a campaign period. A group of young girls dancing to Mc Wang Jok’s Pe Ikwala song gyrated towards me. I temporarily entertained their advance until Becky tapped me on my shoulder.

We stepped aside to the kitchen, and she invaded her fridge for four bottles of sweating bell beers.

I instantly posed a question feeling insecure from the police.

“How are you going to avoid the police?”

“The guy over there in a blue long sleeve shirt is a police officer. He says the government has no money for fuel. So no police officer would risk a car chase nor follow a presidential directive out of town.” She replied.

“How about the social distancing,” I asked.

“We tried last night, and it kind of worked, but as more people got drunk, it turned out impossible. There is nothing I can do,” she replied.

“Where are all these people from?” I implored further

“We had run out of beer last night, so a member tipped us that Pato’s bar went on late in the night. Customers used a code to get in, and they locked themselves in the bar. We reached out, and they followed the beer. That is how we had a sleepover,” answered Becky

“Are you worried?” asked Becky

“Not really. I just don’t want you to get into trouble,” I denied.

“By the way, the only rule is no one takes pictures. Social media is forbidden less we got into trouble,” said Becky

“Please enjoy your beer. You have some catching up to do. Have fun”

“Thanks,” I replied.

I moved out to the compound, holding my beers like a bartender. I met Calvin seated in his car in the company of four skinny and lanky brown ladies and joined them.

Calvin was an old boy in my high school and worked with Becky. He is one never to miss beer in a day.

I placed my beers in the car bonnet and used one to open another using a liver system, tilting a beer between my thumb and fingers to create a pivot point and pressing it down to open my beer top.

In less than 3 minutes, I was done with my first beer. I realized my keen observations were because I was sober. I had some catching up to do like Becky said, less I troubled people with my consciousness.

Feeling ignored, I turned to one of the ladies and introduced myself.

“I am David,” and stretched out my hand for a handshake. Ironically, she turned down my handshake, reasoning about the pandemic.

Calvin noticed the embarrassment and offered to introduce me to his team.

“Hey, meet David. We attended high school together. He is a writer and runs a media company in town.”

“Wow, that’s cool. By the way, I am Diana, a final year student of journalism at the University.”

I finally picked my groove in the team and equally ignored the rest and paid particular attention to the journalism student.

She seemed exciting and pleasant as we spoke of our writings. I let her know my manuscript on infidelity was ready and would get published soon.

“Why write about infidelity?”

“What do you want me to write about?”

“Something trending like COVID-19.”

“Well, everyone is writing about it, and I lost interest. I think infidelity is a great mystery to many. So many people don’t admit it but are burdened by it,” I answered.

“Are you a character in the book?” She asked.

“Not really, but a part of me is in the book. I keep hearing people dealing with issues of infidelity and failing to find answers. So I decided to offer ideas on what it is and how I feel it can be addressed”, I answered.

“I wish I could write a book,” she said.

“I thought you said you are a journalism student.”

“Yes, but I am not sure I can write a book.”

“Well, with time, you will.”

“Hey David, that’s my girl; leave her alone. That writing talk may get me into trouble,” said Calvin jokingly.

“You don’t have to be so protective,” answered Diana with a serious face.

“So, where have you been all this time?” Asked Calvin

“I still hang out. I failed to keep home; it is more like jail for me.” I answered.

“Where do you hang out?” asked Calvin

“At Mike’s bar,” I answered

“But that is by the roadside, won’t police feel obligated?”

“Well, every day, we save 1000 Shs from every customer and send them through mobile money. The police patrol changes its routes never to pass by.”

“That sounds a brilliant idea,” answered Calvin.

“I wonder why they didn’t close deports but closed bars. If the depot is an essential department, so is a bar.”

“I think, they can’t do without the beer taxes since the economy is crumbling”

“So true. I guess these big companies too put the government on pressure not to close out.”

“I think safety too, addicts like Calvin would get hospitalized from instant withdrawal effect if they are denied beer,” charged Diana jokingly.

Everyone burst out laughing aloud.

“I was told police picked up a few friends at St. Andrews bar last week. They had locked themselves in the bar, but Fred had to move out to use the bathrooms; he staggered into them,” said Calvin.

“None of them spent a night; they bribed their way out of jail. No one since has ever been presented to court.” answered Diana

It was 3:00 pm I felt some bitting pain in the stomach and realized I have not had what to eat.

I then moved over to Becky to ask for food. She apologized for the oversight and led me back to the kitchen.

As she looked around for soap to sanitize my hands, she was told it’s over. I was so hungry, so I washed without soap; served myself steamy chicken stew with rice. Becky was a good cook, and everyone knew it.

A few friends planned on leaving and had just signed off with Becky when Bob arrived with a team of girls. His sports car was full to capacity, none had masks, nor observed the social distance rule.

I could see him whisper to a few friends, and it picked my interest. I reached out to find out what was happening.

He said a few friends had tested positive for COVID-19 and have been admitted to the hospital.

A truck driver delivering fuel to a neighboring country’s petrol station invited a few workmates to Mike’s bar. The workmates also invited friends to join them. After he was tested positive at the border today, all his companions had to be quarantined.

The party went on normally, save for a few drunks who occupied both bedrooms. Men and women shared the same bathroom and bedroom.

Hours later, I realized it was getting to 7:00 pm. A few minutes past curfew time. Police at night extorted so much from revelers that I never wanted to be vulnerable.

I never bought the idea of sleeping over at Becky’s place since there were many drunks. I also wanted to write my day’s experience when it was still fresh but would not at Becky’s.

Again, I reached out to Becky and thanked her for hosting me. I could feel my legs buckle and thought it would give in before Becky. 

We hugged, and I left.

Instead of following the main road, I took a path along the railway line. No police would waste his time following paths to observe the Presidential directive. While I thought it would be a clear road, I realized I didn’t own the wisdom. So many others followed the path at the railway line.

Arriving home, I decided to rest a little in the sitting room before showering and then writing out in my diary of the day’s experience.

My body was tired, and it gave in to sleep. I lay wasted on the couch in the sitting room. Only to wake up at 6:42 am next morning, ready to go to work.