He smiled and glowed and peered at the tens of pairs of eyes that now had him as the center of attention. He wore the dreamy expression of a jackpot winner. He tried to mask the excitement but was let down by the occasional wry smile.
On the sweltering afternoon of June 09, 2016, Cosma Jackson Bukenya wore the triumphant smile of an Olympic medal winner. We hugged and he inquired how I felt and whether I had recovered fully. We shook hands and hugged again. Five more times. Or seven. Probably fifteen (I have since lost count). I had finally met my hero of the year.
Seventy (70) days earlier – on April 01, 2016 – I had almost met my creator when the front tyre of my car gave way, making it swerve and veer off the road before coming to a sudden halt, having hit a roadside culvert in a loud bang that attracted the attention of the neighborhood populace at Malongo in Lwengo district (Masaka road).
This account is probably just a figment of what I can recall. I imagine the guy who coined the phrase: "Seeing stars" must have experienced what I was going through. My world shut down. The sun went on a break and took the moon and the stars with it. All I could see was a dark universe filled with swarms of dancing fireflies in vertical leaps as they snaked their way into the dark stratosphere.
What followed was a blitzkrieg of humming sounds and rummaging hands all over my body in apparent act of a treasure hunt. Suddenly, I heard a strong, commanding voice shoot through.
"Ssebo, ssebo. Ompulira? (Sir, sir. Can you hear me?)" I heard the voice but I could not talk. Something seemed to have taken custody of my voice and there was nothing I could do about it however much I tried.
I could tell he had managed to pull me out of the wreckage and called for another car. I managed to respond when he called me again, a little later. He asked me for my names and two people he could contact immediately. My speech hadn’t fully returned, so I still could not spell out a complete telephone number. I could tell he was beginning to sound frustrated.
"Carol 701!!!" I screamed, after three failed attempts at giving him the number off-head. "I have your money and one of your phones. I have contacted your wife and you will be helped shortly. Please feel safe", he said.
I could hear him say the doctor had suggested I am taken to either Mbarara or Kitovu hospital as he could not handle my case, and he was making calls and arrangements and everything else in between.
All this while, everything around me remained pitch dark and the restive fireflies in my dark world went about their business uninterrupted. I could hear people talk but I couldn’t see anything. I imagine I was blacking out and regaining consciousness in intervals.
I was in too much pain. I was hungry. I felt thirsty. And I wanted to piss. I screamed for water but no one was forthcoming (I would later learn that it was a precautionary measure as my abdomen was in bad shape).
He stuck around until plans to evacuate me had been finalized. He travelled with the team up to Nakasero Hospital, only leaving after he had met my wife and handed over the personal effects he had salvaged from the accident scene. I would later learn that his name was Bukenya. Cosma Bukenya, the Good Samaritan as we came to call him.
We would learn, much later, that I was not the first accident victim Bukenya had rescued. A group of friends mooted the idea of honring Bukenya on heroes’ day as mine was one of the few cases where accident victims got help from total strangers. A couple of friends had lost their loved ones on the same road before.
So we chose to remember the departed souls of Eng. Aroni Musoke (2010) and Mrs. Miriam Kiconco, father and wife (respectively) to two of our colleagues who had perished in separate motor accidents on the same road.
On June 09, 2016, the team pooled funds and made the trip to Malongo as we paid a surprise visit to Bukenya. We arrived at about 14:30 hrs before I visited the scene that would easily have been one of my last moments on earth.
In a few minutes, a mini crowd had gathered. Kids. Old women. Youthful women. Drunk men. Sober men. Squalid youths. Some decent ones. People from all walks of (Malongo) life.
Asked if he could recognize any other faces apart from a friend of mine who he had met before, Bukenya glanced around before casting his eyes in my direction: "Sirina mulala gwentegedde, naye ono omwami onfaniddemu Dan (I cannot recognize anyone else, but this gentleman, right here, resembles Dan)." So we exchanged pleasantries before we finally broke the news to him – a small token of 1.5 million UGX that left him both surprised and excited.
The sizeable crowd was as attentive as a curious congregation listening to an apocalyptic church sermon. In a few minutes, the drinks we carried had started making rounds.
So they drank and chatted before the guy doing the serving cheekily shoved a couple of bottles our way. "Kwata, namwe munyweeko. Temuba nga mwatuleetedde obutwa (Here, please partake. That way we’ll tell your drinks are not poisoned)", he said as he handed me one of the bottles.
"Mubutuufu nali simanyi nti ojjakuwona (I honestly did not think you would make it)", said Bukenya, repeating the same statement he had made when I first spoke to him on phone, a couple of weeks earlier. He gave his speech before we headed to his home. It was here that he formally introduced his wife, a humble daughter of Eve with whom he had sired seven children.
Special mention must be made, of the various people that ensured my recovery was a smooth one. Special thanks to the entire team at Nakasero hospital for overseeing my surgery and subsequent treatment. You did a great job (Special shout-out to doctors Mbidde and Mwambu).
To my wife and in-laws that stood by me during this entire period, thank you for being very supportive. To my workmates, I cannot thank you enough for giving me all the support I needed.
And lastly to my friends, relatives and everyone else for the moral, spiritual and financial support rendered to me during this time. May God richly bless your tireless efforts!