A Taxi Driver on his Death
When with prophetic eye I peer into the future
I see that I shall perish upon this road
Driving men that I do not know.
This metallic monster that now I dictate,
This docile elaborate horse,
That in silence seems to simmer and strain,
Shall surely revolt some tempting day.
Thus I shall die; not that I care
For any man’s journey,
Nor for proprietor’s gain,
Nor yet for love of my own.
Not for these do I attempt the forbidden limits,
For these defy the traffic-man and the cold cell,
Risking everything for the little, little more.
They shall say, I know, who pick up my bones,
“Poor chap, another victim to the ruthless machine”—
Concealing my blood under the metal.
-Timothy Wangusa, A Pattern of Dust: Selected Poems 1965-1990
Mr. Wangusa speaks of the unfortunate commonality of traffic accidents in Uganda (as well as other developing countries). Though drivers have licenses, they often speed (here called ‘overspeeding’), get too close to motorcycles and pedestrians, or drive too harshly on very badly maintained roads. They pack entirely too many people/chickens/bags into their cars to get as much money as possible. And they do not really make enough money to have a decent living.
Taxi drivers are a necessity in a country with no public transportation and a dearth of people who know how to drive. A taxi in this sense is a car/van which has been licensed to get people back and forth. Rurally, they operate between smaller towns/trading centers. In larger cities, they can be there just to transport you around the town. This is most commonly seen in the capital city, Kampala.
I have not seen a single woman taxi driver, though I have seen women driving private cars. My guess is that it’s a traditionally male occupation, like many other things, and in rural areas it would be unthinkable for men to be driven around by women.
The end of this poem is really sad to me, because what is he even driving the taxi for? If not money or love of driving, he’s maybe just doing it for something to do. To make the time go by. And when he dies he is just another cog in the machine, his sacrifice of a life concealed by the metal. It reminds me of how we treat service workers in America - they are just faces in the larger machine, without lives of their own.
You can read more about Timothy Wangusa here:
you can listen to him here:
and you can buy one of his books here:
Upon This Mountain - his novel
He released another poetry collection, Africa's New Brood: 1985-2003, which I've been unable to find online, so my guess is it's only in local presses.
The book I'm using, A Pattern of Dust, retails for around $200 in all the places I could find (possibly out of print??) so I'm not going to recommend you buy that one. I honestly have no idea how I got it so cheap.
NOTE: I am making no money or profit from the posting of this work and will comply if Mr. Wangusa does not wish it to remain here.