It was 2008, a Sunday night, early rainy season. I’m sure about the rainy season part.
I was sitting on the floor playing guitar as Natalie bounced around around like a nervous grasshopper. My house was full of people eating and drinking coffee and playing music, just like most every Sunday night.
At about 8 o’clock, Natalie darted over to me, almost bowling me over as she skidded recklessly across the carpet. She plopped down and whispered something in my ear. I glanced at her and nodded slowly. I said something, and she squeaked with excitement. It was time for our weekly cappuccino date.
A moment later, we skipped out into the cool, fresh air and swung up into the absurdly high seats of my family’s large white van (affectionately nicknamed Moby). With all the confidence of the few months I’d been driving a stick shift, I maneuvered deftly in reverse around the cars in our driveway.
We successfully cleared the L-shaped driveway, and I was starting to feel pretty good about my sweet driving skills when I realized that we were quite stuck in the ankle-deep mud outside our gate. Shifting into first just resulted in a dramatic mud-flinging affair, courtesy of spinning tires. Yes, definitely rainy season. We swallowed our pride, and with some help from our smirking fathers, were soon on our way.
Mount Elgon Hotel was less than a kilometre away. We arrived, parked poorly, and walked in with all our teenage mzungu suaveness. At the bar, we ordered cappuccinos with the air of people who knew their coffee. That’s how I remember it, anyway.
The bartender completely ignored us. Unaffected, we tried again in English and then in Swahili. Finally, the bartender glanced up at us. “Sorry please, but the cappuccino machine is even broken and the man who can fix it has gone to Kampala until tomorrow.”
Lesser expatriate teens might have been deterred, but this was not our first mechanical difficulty. We mustered our dignity and primly seated ourselves in the chairs by the window. I pulled out the thermos of piping hot, freshly French-pressed coffee that we’d had the foresight to bring from home. Natalie pulled out a thermos of steamed milk, and we enjoyed our cafés au lait in peace for some few minutes.
There’s no good transition sentence to use in beginning to talk about the Indian men who now enter the story, because their entrance was abrupt and unexpected. They stood uncomfortably close to us, asked if they could buy us drinks and what our phone numbers were and what we were doing in Uganda. They told us that they could take us to their hotel rooms and give us everything we ever wanted. We answered evasively as it became clearer that the men were several beers the drunker of sober.
After a few minutes of this, Natalie subtly picked up the thermoses. I grabbed my purse and car keys. We stood up in tandem and started walking toward the door. I looked back and saw the men walking after us. We walked faster and faster, finally breaking into a run as we hit the parking lot. The men were just coming out the front door as I reached Moby. With one smooth motion, I jabbed the car key into the passenger-side keyhole and unlocked the door. I dived across the seat. Natalie was close behind me. As soon as we were both in, I started the car and roared out of the parking lot. We took a back way home. When we were sure that we weren’t being followed, we collapsed into helpless giggles.
When we got back to my house, the Sunday night party was winding down. We sauntered in without a bit of sheepishness. “How were your cappuccinos?” my mom asked. “Machine was broken,” I said, “but we had fun anyway. Nothing too exciting.”
Some stories must wait five years to be told. Sorry, Mom.