Faking it can kill you

By Russell McGilton

(598 words)

Sometimes pretending can get you a whole lotta trouble of reality as Russell McGilton finds out.

My finger cocked like a gun I jump out from behind a tree and yell ‘BANG!’ only to find myself confronted with real guns, AK-47 machine guns in fact, aimed squarely at my chest. I hear the sharp sounds of safety catches being released.

‘MUZUNGU!’

It had seemed a good idea at the time for myself and a Canadian friend, Rick, to go running around in the dark, ducking from tree to tree, pretending to shoot each other.

The moon had inspired us, its grey white light turning the Ugandan southern town of Kabale into a magical cowboy matinee. Texan accents were adopted, imaginary spurs rattled, guns were drawn.

But this wasn’t a LA back lot anymore. This was once Idi Amin country, and millions shot to death.

‘MUZUNGO (white man) COME HERE!’ yells another voice, more impatient, more menace in it. But instinctively I duck back behind the tree.

I think of running, I think of crying, I think of crapping my pants but in the collision of thoughts I freeze. Who are these people? Bandits? Murderers?

But I am relieved when I see their army fatigues. Well, until I see their guns pointing at me again. They drag me out onto the road.

‘Muzungo. Where is the gun?’

‘What?’

‘I hear a gun, I see you running from car to tree. I hear a sound. I’m sure it is a gun. Where is it?’

But before I can answer, the other soldier starts searching me, his big hands crawling over me like a bony spider.

‘I don’t have a gun. Look,’ I cock my hand like a gun and make an explosion with me mouth.

‘He is drunk.’

‘I haven’t been drinking.’

‘Sit down.’ He seems calmer, more rational than my body searcher. I sit. ‘Put your hands on your head.’ I do. Not to be left out of the power matrix my body searcher, Mr Menace, joins in.

‘What are you doing?’ he hisses. ‘Stand up.’

I do. But the power balance has been upset.

‘What are you doing?’ says the other. ‘Sit down and why do you have your hands off your head? I told you to put them on.’

For the first time in my life I don’t feel like arguing. This goes on for some time, me standing up, sitting down, hands on head until I make a crack that this is just like Simon Says.

‘Who is Simon?’ Mr Menace demands.

‘Simon…ah…he’s-… Look, whatever I’ve done. I’m really, really sorry.’

‘You are stupid!’ barks Mr Menace.

‘Absolutely. Very stupid. I’m really sorry.’

They stop talking in English for a moment till Mr Reasonable says, ‘Get up. Show me your passport.’

I do. He shines his torch on it and hands it back.

‘Listen,’ he says quietly, soothingly even. ‘It is very dangerous for you to be running around like this. Many thief here,’ he puts his hand on my shoulder. ‘You see we have been guarding a bank. We could’ve killed you,’ and just when I think he’s going to make me pay some horrendous bribe he says, ‘Go.’

Further down the road I see Rick, and like myself, is being hassled out by another soldier. ‘You come to my country. You have no respect!’

Mr Reasonable says something to him and he shuts up. We both apologise to each soldier, practically genuflecting and make off into the night, arguing at each other who started this whole mess and get back to our hotel before the urge to shoot each other takes hold yet again.