A thief is a person who feels more entitled to the fruit of your labor than you are. In their opinion, you are a slave, born to toil with power point and fight with photocopiers, all for their benefit and enjoyment. That bag you bought in Wandegeya? Theirs. That car you tricked your employers into buying, theirs! I’ve met some thieves that I’d like to see again, on more neutral ground of course. Their methods were impressive.
I was three years old when I first encountered thievery. Mother would deliver me to Mango Tree Nursery School Bugoloobi with a container full of fried matooke and boiled eggs. Those were my absolute favorites. I’d enter class dreaming of the wonderful, satisfying pain that would fill my tiny throat a few hours later, when I’d be chewing and swallowing whole eggs in one go. I was very proud of this ability.
Slowly by slowly, break time would arrive. I’d bolt to the back of the class, grab my container, twist it open and find only matooke. Other times, I’d find only eggs. Basically, what I ate depended less on what was packed for me and more on what teacher felt like having with her tea. One day, when I found just one egg sitting in a lake of matooke gravy, I decided to involve the authorities. I was going to report this evil thief to God, to the teacher and to my mother.
Because mummy was at home and God was in the sky, I decided to start with teacher. When I approached her table, I saw my egg and matooke on her plate; so I reported her to herself and she beat me.
This was when I learnt that the world isn’t fair and thieves, especially big, tall ones, can respond to exposure with violence. Indignation doesn’t weigh much when you’re a little person.
Thieves with feelings
My most recent encounter was as I was leaving Mateos after a particularly bland Blogger’s Happy Hour. In its haste to get to me, a taxi (with a woman hanging out of its front passenger door) swept past, narrowly missing my toes, and parked a short distance ahead.
The woman began to gesture and coo in a way I suppose she thought was inviting. Note that she wasn’t the conductor. He too was hanging out of his window, making come hither faces. In their eagerness to add me to their creepy matatu populace, they forgot to tell me their destination. I had to ask.
The people in the back looked as if they’d been scooped of their contents and taxidermied so I opened the front door and asked her to scoot over. She gave me a dirty look and tried to force her way past me, at which point I decided to get another taxi. I wasn’t going to trap myself between the driver and that woman. She began to jeer, “You people of Kampala you pose a lot. Do you susu soda? Do you pupu sweets? Shya! You not rich!” she sounded genuinely hurt about my refusal to board, probably because she wouldn’t be going home with a new handbag and wallet.
Probably because of how helpless I was when I was first stolen from, I can’t stand being cheated. I’m a pro at battling conductors for that extra 200 shillings. Victory is always mine because I enter the arena with all the Luganda and Acholi. They always let me win, either out of amusement or fear.