Miria is already awake when the sun peeks over the eastern horizon and all that has been hidden in the cloak of darkness begins to take shape. Her eyes are open and staring at the now empty corner where she was sure others had slept the night before. They must have crept out quietly while darkness still ruled. Or perhaps there hadn’t been anyone there at all. Just her imagination.
She pushes herself upright and leans back against the wall, yawning and stretching her arms overhead to alleviate the cramps in her left side. The fingers on her left-hand tingle as proper blood flow returns and she giggles at the tickling sensation. The hard ground had not made a very good bed, but she is thankful for the rest and the modest shelter her old school has provided.
She stands and brushes the dust from her arms and tries to run her fingers through her tangled and dirty hair. A good bath is long overdue. She picks her blanket up off the ground, shakes it and flips it up and over her shoulder. It’s time to go. She takes in a deep breath and sighs as she exits the old school, looking left and right down empty streets. She turns left out of the building, knowing she has several miles to walk before she reaches her home. Well, her uncle’s home now she supposes, the latter fact making the bitter-sweet proposition even more bitter. It’s going to be a long day and already she is feeling the familiar pangs of hunger in her empty belly. Maybe she will get to eat today…just maybe.
Nearly 20 miles away Isaac Mugulu is also awake. He is staring at the ceiling fan above him as it travels in a slow, lazy circle. He notices it has a slight wobble and thinks he should ask his landlord to fix it. After all, he pays good money for this place.
He is warm and comfortable in a soft bed and the desire to just close his eyes and go back to sleep is strong. But he has a busy day ahead of him. Orders to fill. So, he throws back the covers and swings his feet off the bed and onto the soft carpet, stretches and makes his way through the small, but well-appointed apartment, the kitchen his first destination. There, he pours himself a glass of water and starts the coffee pot, smiling as he does so, happy with his latest purchase.
Growing up on the streets as an orphan, he never dreamed that one day he would have such luxuries. His life had been hard to say the least. A struggle just to survive. But, that was before he met his benefactor. The man who is now his business partner.
He had been at a low point in his life. The lowest of the low. He had been nearly starved and was on the run from the authorities when a man in a shiny, black car had pulled up beside him on the street. That was the day that everything changed! He had been just 14 years old at the time…seven long years ago. He had started out as a runner for drug sales. His job was simple. One person would hand him cash which he delivered to a fellow employee a couple blocks away. That employee handed him the drugs which he then returned to the customer. Easy money, or actually as it was back then, easy food and easy shelter.
Over time he had been given greater responsibility…and a car. Well, it wasn’t exactly his car, but it was his to use. His job had morphed from runner to pick up and transport of drugs and other assets. Assets consisted of cold, hard cash sometimes. Other times it was prostitutes, both male and female. He delivered them from one place to another and picked them up again later on. And he was no longer simply paid in the form of food and shelter. He was paid in cash!
But the big promotion and the big money had started rolling in about a year ago. That’s when his benefactor had become a business partner. It had been decided that his life on the street as an orphan was a valuable bullet point on his resume’ and it was going to be put to use.
While the organization he worked for dabbled in anything and everything that generated cash, it’s two primary commodities were drugs and people. Of the two, the most lucrative was the people for obvious reasons. The overhead was nothing more than gas and time. The demand was as high if not higher than that of the drugs. From labor to prostitution, to cannon fodder for rebel militias, the demand for young boys and girls had grown to the point where they couldn’t hardly keep up on the supply side. Which was the one and only reason he was up this early in the morning. He had orders to fill. Two orders. One teenage boy and one teenage girl. Where they were going and what they would be used for had not been disclosed, but then he didn’t really care. Did he? He had done what he had to in order to survive…and so would they.
He showered and dressed quickly, grabbing a cup of coffee and a pastry on the way out the door. Destination: Bwaise…slums filled with desperate street children, ripe for the picking.
Just three miles east Grace Atubo sits at a small table sipping coffee and flipping through the pages of a multipage, stapled document lying on the right side of an open, manila folder. She stops on page three of the document, and taps on one word with the long nail on her index finger.
“Miria. That’s right. Her name is Miria. I must be getting old!”
At only thirty-two years of age, Grace knows she isn’t that old, but there are often times that her job as a social-worker makes her feel that way. Her particular duties are related specifically to the welfare of children in the region and the vast volume of children she has dealt with has left her mind jumbled with hundreds of names. So many names. So many faces.
On this day, the name at the tip of her nail will likely consume her entire day. Miria is the name of a child who has been on her mind off and on for more than three weeks. It was then that her office had received a call from a concerned citizen telling her that Miria hadn’t been seen in the neighborhood for some time. Then she had received another call from yet another concerned party who told them that she had witnessed Miria being beaten by her uncle, the individual who had recently become her legal caretaker.
Grace had been at this home before. She had been assigned the case when the Uncle had contacted the authorities and informed them that he was unable to care for the two youngest siblings that had become orphaned when his sister died. Those two young boys were now in a privately-run children’s home just outside of Kampala. But Miria was another issue and Grace was deeply troubled that she had just yesterday received approval from her supervisor to investigate the allegations of abuse and the fact that Miria might have gone missing.
Grace looks up at a clock on the wall, takes one last sip of coffee and grimaces. It is cold and bitter. She closes the file, stuffs it into a worn, brown, leather satchel and heads for the front door. Her destination: Bwaise. For somewhere in those slums she will find Miria…she hopes. Then she prays that she is not too late.
At that very moment, deep in the heart of Bwaise, Miria trudges along the edge of a dirty street. She has only been walking for around an hour and already she is tired. Her stomach is cramping with hunger and her body screams at her to just stop! As if that isn’t enough, she is now also questioning whether or not going home is such a good idea. In her heart, she knows it will mean more beatings…more verbal attacks, taunting and teasing from her cousins. Cousins that she will have to serve. She knows she will only get the scraps left over from each meal, but then scraps are better than nothing. And nothing is what she has now. She lowers her eyes to the ground and marches on.
Just a few miles away, Isaac Mugulu’s black sedan enters the edges of Bwaise. Isaac slows the vehicle to an idle and begins to scan the streets with a keen eye. He has decided he will find a girl and fill that order first. He is running a little low on cash and it’s just simple math…girls are worth more.
To be continued