By David Jr.
In the past month, the government’s drill ferry on Lake Albert had been subject to national and international attention. Creatures from the deep. The stunning video of a mysterious giant black serpent coiling around the white vessel and squeezing it into an unrecognisable piece of junk circulated all over the internet. A few months before, it had intercepted and sunk the Congolese rebel boats that frequently raided fishing canoes of Port Butyaba’s fishermen, but then it was only a sighting from isolated witnesses who were thought of as paranoid by the local papers. The black serpent was on the lips of every Ugandan and every newspaper around the world now. European Scientists flew into the country to look for it around the lake. It had become god Mugizi’s python to locals on port Butyaba. A medium on the lake, an elderly man with small bright eyes and unkempt hair wearing a net of many shells had been shown on national television hailing the return of god Mugizi.
“The god is angry,” he’d said, lifting a finger warningly, “god Mugizi has sent this python to protect his lake from destructive human activity.”
The Ugandan government was having military forces deployed at the port.
Muganzi was with his family as they watched the story running on the television flat screen. They were having plantain and pounded cowpea leaves with a glass of yellow passion fruit juice. Cream drapes with red and purple flower patterns sprawled down the doors and windows. A Portrait of Muganzi in a black graduation gown with his mother at university was on the wall and a shelf of books besides the television flat screen. A white refrigerator with fruit stickers plastered all over it, stood on their right as a basket of old newspapers lay close to the small corridor that led to the kitchen.
“I want you to keep away from that lake,” his mother started.
She was a smartly dressed big dark-skinned elderly woman but the light that flooded into the room made her appear shades lighter. She had an expression on her face that usually had eyebrows constantly fighting to get close to the other. This made her look tough and always angry.
“Ma,” he smiled. “I am a marine conservationist.”
“For me, I have warned you,” she emphasised—slapping the table. “There’s evil on that lake.”
“Muganzi, listen to your mother,” his step father joined in with his deep voice, “Stay away from the Lake.”
His stepfather was a colonel with whom he kept a distance. He was a towering giant of a man who had a big face with tiny lips. Muganzi didn’t like him but did his best to tolerate him and whenever he was around, he felt the compulsion to ask his mother about his father. He felt it a betrayal of his dead father and sometimes wondered at how long he’d hide these feelings. It’s why he’d found his conservation work a good distraction.
“That creature must’ve always been there,” Muganzi theorised. “It’s the mining that has brought this creature out of its depths. Lake Mwitanzige is the deepest……”
“I said stay away from the lake!” Her voice thundered, angrily. “Why don’t you listen?”
Muganzi was visibly shaken. His stepfather too. He could now see a fear and a rage in her eyes. It was this distress that he saw in her when he once asked her about his dad. And the same distress he saw when she had discovered Katama’s ethnicity. There was a tense silence for a moment. She clearly looked upset. Muganzi began playing with his food on the plate without really eating it.
“You don’t know,” she finally said, with a sigh amid the silence, “the things I protect you from, child.”
He wondered if that was about his father.
“I’ve been put in command of the forces on the port, Karungi,” his step father revealed in a deep hollow voice.
Muganzi and Karungi turned to him.
“What?” Karungi asked with her eyes darting wildly.
“I have an order to shoot that creature down,” he said.
“John,” she raised her finger at him warningly, “That creature is evil”
Suddenly the table began to buzz loudly. Muganzi turned to his left and picked up his phone instinctively. He hesitated for a moment as he felt his mother’s eyes on him. He was caught in two minds.
“Who is that?” She asked savagely, “Katama?”
He didn’t know whether to lie to her or tell her the truth. “Yes,” he said.
“Why is she still calling you?” she asked, “I thought I told you to break it off with her.”
“We are not together Ma,” he said, “but she’s still my boss.”
Muganzi had met Katama at Makerere University in his first year as a student. She was a young dark-skinned woman with a trimmed head who often looked self-assured all the time. She had started a conservation organisation back then called Bunyakintu.org which advocated for protection of plant life, animal life, insect life and renaming of Ugandan lakes with indigenous names. Muganzi lifted the phone to his ear.
“Muganzi,” Katama called, sharply.
“I’m not going to be around for a week or so.” He could hear the sound of what he thought sounded like the humming of a machine on Katama’s end. He concluded she was in a vehicle. “Am going to Bukongo to see a friend.” He knew she meant Congo and wasn’t surprised at her unique way of calling various African places, but he understood what she had just told him. Muganzi was going to ask her how she was going to get a boat that was going to take passengers going across the lake especially with the threat of the creature within the waves. Commercial activity had been seized out of fear of the creature at the port. “So, I want you to take over the lake Mwitanzige conservation advocacy project for me.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “I will do that.”
Katama unhooked the receiver from her ear and refocused to the screen. She wore a grey cloak with a golden stripe running around the edges as well as the four other women in the cabin. The cabin was preceded by what looked like an endless tunnel at the back. There was a drawing of a golden snake on the left breast of everyone’s cloak giving them a look of uniforms.
“There’s no mining ship working on the lake tonight,” Katama confirmed. “We will go back to Nyarwizi for repairs.”
She shifted a gear and turned the steering wheel of the mysterious vehicle as it groaned with a twist. Its exterior body was a massive black snake twisting and turning as it swam swiftly to what appeared to be blue lights in the dark depths deep below.