A few metres from Nateete Junction, off Masaka Road in Nalukolongo, Rubaga Division, is a seemingly deserted house enclosed in a perimeter wall.
Behind the fence is an almost dead silence only interrupted by birds chirping and distant noise from trucks on the highway.
This is Mapeera Bakateyamba’s Home where more than 90 people, mostly the disabled and elderly, converge to live again.
In the spacious, well-manicured green lawn stands a monumental statue of Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga.
At the corner of one of the blocks is Room 37, William, named after William Ssejjoba—who has occupied it for 31 years.
Ssejjoba, now 62, came here on June 22, 1987, on his 31st birthday. Inside the dimly lit room is a small two-seater sofa in front of a flat TV screen hanging on the wall.
In one corner stands an off-white bookshelf to which I point as I ask. “Do you read all these books?” Looking into Ssejjoba’s bright bespectacled eyes.
THE DIVERTED HOPE
“I read but not all of them. And, one over there…” he replies, as he points to the one titled The Diverted Hope.
“I wrote it.”
I discover that it chronicles his story since the accident that quashed his dreams.
On that fateful day, February 14, 1978, you would expect lovers to be exchanging gifts and promises but it was not the case for Ssejjoba.
Maybe because Valentine’s Day was not yet big business in Uganda. It was one of his worst days.
The previous night Ssejjoba had a nightmare — he did not want to go to work till his girlfriend began insulting him.
He was unhappy about how she had wasted the only money he had intended for their week’s budget. She quarrelled, and reminded him of the many unfulfilled promises.
He opted to join his boss who had an appointment on Entebbe Road that evening. His girlfriend was unhappy. Ssejjoba had to force his way out.
“She grasped both sides of the door frame and said she wasn’t going to let me pass… except after killing her,” reads his book in part.
Ssejjoba says he “easily but lovingly” lifted her from the doorway. And before he left, she said: “I curse you, go! I wish the car knocks you down and never come back here!”
It could have been a premonition he did not heed.
Ssejjoba and his boss did not see the person they wanted to. On return, they stopped by Arizona, a nightclub near Kibuye roundabout. They chatted as they sipped soft drinks.
Soon a stranger walked in, straight to the counter where they were. He furiously asked in Swahili: “choo iko wapi?” (where are the loos?)
The bartender ignored him but Ssejjoba, who was here for his first time did the needful.
From there, things happened so fast: another man, who looked like a friend to the stranger joined in. The two dragged Ssejjoba and his boss to another club across the road. The strangers said this was appreciation for Ssejjoba’s hospitality.
But the latter and his colleague wanted out. They had also began doubting the strangers’ motive. There was rampant kidnap of young men “who were accused of playing with girlfriends of people in power.”
Ssejjoba and his boss sneaked out. But like a warder watching prisoners, the strangers caught them. They dragged them into their Mercedes Benz, grilling them for ‘suspicious’ behaviour.
One of the strangers started the car like a maniac, he knocked a few cars in the parking yard as he sped off.
“It was enough for us to start praying for God’s protection,” Ssejjoba narrates.
He drove thrice at a terrible speed round the Kibuye roundabout before taking the Nateete direction. The girls in the car screamed for help.
Reaching Nateete, they narrowly survived a head-on collision. The crazy driver had to deal with an oncoming cyclist and Land Rover. The cyclist wanted to dodge a pothole and the Land Rover to avoid the cyclist.
The Mercedes Benz driver could only land between the Land Rover and an electric pole. They were safe but not for long. A few metres after they restarted, a police patrol truck was chasing after them.
Then a boy joined the road, as if from nowhere. Stranded in the middle of the road and caught between two speeding vehicles from opposite ends, Ssejjoba says as the Mercedes driver used all his skills to scrape through. He braked hard, the vehicle skidded and overturned.
Unfortunately, the driver flew through the window, the girls and Ssejjoba’s boss got minor injuries, the second stranger a fractured arm, the boy died instantly.
And Ssejjoba, 21, injured his spinal cord, never to recover.
First, he used a wheelchair but soon it was painful to use. Only his hands and head can move. The countless trips to hospital did not help matters.
He is 62. He gave up or diverted his hope.
Born June 1956, Ssejjoba is the first born of 13 children. His poor family had high hopes in him.
“It remains a challenge because my siblings and my parents looked up to me to provide the best example in the family,” he says.
Some of his siblings are doing well but without his input. Ssejjoba’s family could not fund his education and he dropped out after Primary Seven. He did tailoring, using his mother’s sewing machine.
“I had grown up seeing my mother make different [clothing] designs. So it was easy for me to learn,” he relates.
Working with his uncle, the 15-year-old then did not receive any pay but this did not stop him from dreaming big. By early 1970s Ssejjoba had got a tailoring job in one of the stores in Mengo.
“I worked on a number of remarkable outfits expanding my clientele, something that earned me my boss’ trust.”
When the store shifted to Kampala Road, Ssejjoba met many famous people such as Gen Mustafa Adrisi [Amin’s vice president].
“I made his wife’s wedding gown,” he recalls. “He was so happy and gave us recommendation letters to buy cars at government subsidised prices.”
Still harbouring an academic dream, Ssejjoba with two friends hired a private tutor.
Life seemed fine for the young man and one of his clients, a wife of an ambassador, had introduced him to a study opportunity in one of the European countries [details withheld], before everything turned upside down.
After the accident, Ssejjoba was rushed to Mulago hospital, unconscious. He says he did not suffer serious visible injuries such as fractures.
He thought the few bruises would not keep him long in hospital since he had to process his travel documents. However, results read otherwise.
His condition was worse than he expected and before the doctors revealed the scan results Ssejjoba was taken through a counselling session to prepare him for the sad news.
“The X-ray showed that my spinal cord was injured on the upper backbone between the fourth and fifth vertebrae; meaning my lower body, including the four limbs, could not respond to any commands from the central nervous system,” he explains.
Still, the doctors did not tell him that his condition would be permanent and he hoped to leave soon.