Imagine darkness. Then, see the light.

Short Stories

A Man Drowned In Memory

by on May.09, 2016, under Short Stories

It is still hard for me to write this but I suppose one has to. Someone has to write his story or else his life would be for nothing. Never mentioned, never talked about anyone outside his fishing village. A short and uneventful life, until the day he drowned.

As it were, everyone around here owns something that someone else wants to own. But in fishing villages, as life revolves mostly around fishing, eating, boozing and procreating (or practicing for it)  it makes a lot of difference whether you own a boat or just the desire to own it. Same goes for oars, nets, even boots. And hoes. Whatever you want – you pay to use it, unless you have enough money to buy it.

If a guy owns a fishing net, he can lease it to one crew in the morning, another crew in the afternoon and third crew for the night. That’s a handsome sum in fishermen terms as he is now the boss, he does not need to stand in cold water up to his waist, pulling the nets and praying hard that there is some miserable fish caught in them, while also praying that his external organs remain in place and don’t fall off in the cold. He’s the boss now, others do the prayers, he sits under the tree by the roadside and waits for his net to be returned so he hands over to the next ball-freezing lot.

These small guys, they suffer. Rowing the boats day in, day out, pulling the nets day in, day out. Sometimes a great catch wiggles in the net, sometimes a clever fish jumps over the net floating in the murky water, sometimes all that work is for nothing, just plain nothing, not even the remnants of a fish or a bird or a jerrycan, plain nothing.

This guy never owned a thing that’s useful for fishing. Mulokole, they say. I saw him many times walking up and down the beach by our house. I just never registered who he was. I never had a conversation with him. I probably said hello a few times but I can’t recall his face. When they tried to explain who he was, they described him and the description fits just about any of the fishermen. He was somebody I never took notice of.

On the faithful day, he and his buddy leased a net, two oars and a leaky boat. It was a gray day with no indications that anything was going to happen. Just another day, very plain and ordinary. They went out a few times and the catch was a waste of time. But they paid for the gear and weren’t going to let go so easily. Yet when you have a feeling that things are not going in the right direction, you should pause. Stop insisting. Let go.

They weren’t even that far away from the shore when the boat gave in. The hole no one attended to just let all the lake come into the boat at once. Mulokole sank like a block of lead. He couldn’t swim. His buddy held onto the boat and was rescued shortly after by the guys from the fish farm who figured there was an accident since it’s seldom that they find people screaming in the water.

So the village officials mounted a search and were just having a break when I came back from town. “We were searching the whole day” LC1 Chairman told me. “He will turn up tomorrow” I assured him.

True enough, the following day, despite continuous search in the area where he sunk, Mulokole’s lifeless body emerged gently lulling in the water, in the corner of our beach, right by the gap in the fence he cut while alive, for his easy access to our beach where he liked to work from. He was there, drowned, and I was in Kampala, seeing his body, face-down in the lake, water glimmering over his naked back and limbs.

Tonight, the waves are a bit stronger, hitting against the sand – it is the rainy season after all and it’s often stormy and windy at night. He came to me to ask for this story to be written or else no one will ever know about him. He said it did not matter if I didn’t know his name, his tribe, his anything. He said he just wants to be remembered by anyone who cares to remember him, and he knew I can help if only I will write this down. And so I did.

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Of Language and Love

by on Nov.19, 2015, under Interesting Words on Love, Observations, Short Stories

It is a small thing, to learn a language. Hard for some, easier for some. Importantly small and hugely important. The words that roll off our tongues are the same but mostly with a different meaning. To learn the language of the same, is not a small thing.

When you give me a sentence I am supposed to take it in, for its exact value, no more, no less. I am supposed to know the exact weight of your words and put that exact weight on my brain to weigh my words that will come out as a response. Do we still do this? And when did we forget?

I want to greet your mother in her language. Not your father. Your mother.

Woman to woman with an age gap produce different conversations. Warmer or colder, depending. More engaging even if they are superficial. Words are used in milligrams. Every word is weighed. Some lightly said – become way too heavy.

I never greeted your mother. I never had a chance to meet her. She left you to this world and to me. There is no regret and no joy. You came to me without your North Star. And now I am that.

That a woman must be the thread that holds it all together, by design of nicety or of force. That our hands must do more than hands do. Must tell words in languages forgotten and unspoken. This is why the language of the freshly baked bread speaks more than a handful of useless words in 12 Times New Roman.

Say little, love much.

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Remebering Tumusiime Rushegye

by on Nov.11, 2015, under 1996-1998, Short Stories

We met way back, in 1996 or 1997, somewhere around the New Vision offices. I suspect it was a sunny day because you had to meet people like Old Fox on a sunny day for even if it was gloomy they created their own sunshine. He was old and funny and witty and he had a very strong, husky voice that spoke many interesting and clever things, sometimes many of them at once.

I wrote a little column called The Robbing Hood in Sunday Vision and he wrote his Old Fox escapades in the Sunday Magazine, plus did all the crossword puzzles and Ekanya, and God knows what else. Our deadlines were the same so we met every week with our pieces of paper, going to the editorial room.

He asked me to visit him in Entebbe and I did. I was allowed to enter the home and the kingdom of this special man. Shaded by the tree in front of the house, was the covered verandah with so many books and papers, strewn all over, covering tables, chairs, sofas. Tom was always somewhere in the back room, next to the kitchen, behind a funny-looking computer that produced templates for his crosswords.

He could hear my car but wouldn’t come to the front door and I would walk in, trying to adjust to the semi-darkness of his home, and he would call out from inside the house. The house was this old colonial bungalow, manned by a few quiet ladies who made coffee and took care of him.

He would be bending over that machine, printing his latest concoctions of words that I’d recognise again in the newspaper a few days later, and cuss for not peeping into solutions page while trying to conquer another one of his impossible words and clues.

Then, he’d stand up and say: “Let’s do the words!” so we’d move to the veranda, newspaper on the table between us with that game consisting of a set of ten letters, and we competed who will make more words. I was always behind but not so badly, and he’d always tell me how it’s admirable, a girl from Titoland to speak English so well.

I’d have two cups of coffee and head back to Kampala.

Then Alan died. And he was sad. Then he fell sick. I saw him at Entebbe Hospital. He was improving, so he said. Yep. And not for too long.

Life shuts down. Then a memory springs up and revives those good old days when happiness was a simple thing to achieve, wisdom was close at hand and shared without any reservations. Tom was one of the people who shaped me. Those days were tough for me. He chose the role of a father who’s his daughter’s best friend and ally. My own father was far away but had they ever met (even in heaven) they would have made a great team, those two.

Here. This is my memory of this very special man. Bent over that funny computer and shouting: “Kyakwera! Come in! Someone make coffee!” from the darkness of that room, in the peaceful corner of Entebbe. We will never have a man like that among us again.

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Born of a Rock

by on Oct.22, 2015, under Interesting Words on Love, Observations, Poems, Short Stories

When they give birth to you in a wrong place.

I was supposed to be born in Peru, where my dad was offered a job but he declined, due to the fact that my mom was pregnant with me.

I was their ‘ooops’ moment, eight years after my middle sister.

When I realised people have walked on the Moon – it took me four days to internalise – I decided it is time for me to step out into the world. Way premature, nearly costed me my life. But here I am.

I was born into the right kind of a rocky landscape. As harsh as the one on the Moon. Goats would be tied to rocks because rocks had loops and handles to tie animals to. Rocks were sharp. Rocks had my blood on them.

Rocks built and roofed houses, built walls and roads and bridges, or just gave sitting and chilling space. Some rough, some polished. Some slippery like death. Some hiding snakes. Some, underwater, hiding crayfish.

Rocks knew me. There is no point in hiding it. Rocks made me. In that sun, through those summers, hilltops blazing with forest fires. Rocks craved me and saved me.

A crack on the rock is a part of the whole.

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The other day I drove through Zziru

by on Sep.28, 2015, under Observations, Short Stories, Uncategorized

It was one of those days when the road feels good under your tyres and you go a bot further than you should on a fast murram road… And you have to turn off in Zziru. On a scale of national importance Zziru is a place that would be called Ziru but luckily some old Muganda teacher (probably) decided to give it importance by painting the words on the schoolpost and doing the double consonant to up the ante. So the place became known as Zziru and to be sure, became known on this right side of Nakawuka road but asking anywhere else, you’d have a problem getting any directions whatsoever.

I drove through Zziru. It is so unimportant that immediately, as you leave the Expressway, you bounce onto the road full of potholes that get deeper and angrier with every passing metre. It was a lonely drive for a bit, until I stumbled onto a brick truck but even then, my company branched off before I could see the first roofs of Zziru peeping quietly and modestly beneath the banana trees.

I thought this was going to be a quiet, ordinary drive with a quick stop at the fish-woman’s stall where you get fried fish pieces tasting of fish gall, crisp and bitter, for 500 a piece. But soon I saw a crowd by the road and some trucks parked there, I thought Besigye or someone like that had discovered voters and came to Zziru to campaign, so I approached with caution.

Someone died at Zziru. I saw the chairs. And chairs follow either weddings or the funerals. Quick scan of randomly parked trucks, not limos, and the absence of funny ribbons and decorations told the sad story. We had a dead body somewhere there and people were gathering to pay respects. I drove by ever so carefully and slowly and what embedded itself in my mind was the important guy who looked like Aggrey Awori but wasn’t the one, standing there with an envelope in his hand, giving instructions as if he was Aggrey Awori. And the lady who knelt on the road in front of another man dressed in a suit.

Faces passed by my window slowly and I could register a whole range of emotions but I didn’t really think of that till now. I just knew that someone died at Zziru and people were there, at the house, ready for the vigil. I wondered if they were going to sing a “Balokole” version of “Oh my darling Clementine” as they always did during lumbes, but I pushed that thought as a ‘none of my business’ as I drove on.

And then I started really thinking about the dead person in Zziru. I drove downhill, on the most pathetic road I’ve seen in a long time. I had so many boda-bodas coming towards me. Carrying as many people and more. Ladies dressed in their best busuutis. Then an old man with his grandson sandwiched safely between him and boda guy. A lady with two girls hanging out of each arm. Another busuuti lady. A shariati lady with a headscarf made with dangling large gold sequins. A lady with pop-art black & white long dress that looked like a geometrical illusion of sorts. A man who had an air of the village politician, holding papers and brown envelopes in his left arm while talking hurriedly on the phone. And so many more, hanging for their dear lives on that miserable Zziru road. All going to pay respects, all wanting to do so, not to complete some bizarre form but sincerely making an effort to see off this dead person while themselves looking their very best, being their very best.

I felt it. The summary of life. It didn’t matter who it was, it certainly was someone torn from the very fabric of Zziru in a hard way, creating a large hole that can be filled only by togetherness of remaining people, their extended hands, hugs, wailing, swollen teary eyes. Warmth of people was melting that fabric and weaving it again, making it complete again, delivering the gap into the arms of the soil, into the wings of the spirits of the ancestors, while the living reorganised and took their new places in the family and village hierarchy without even wondering why or who’s next.

One day, we will all be chief guests at our own funerals. I drove off, slowly sliding downhill through the gullies of Zziru. An insignificant place, not on any map, spewed my car out like you’d spit out a jambula stone when no one is watching. It remained behind me, a place holding the keys to life’s mysteries, full of powerful lessons and explanations.

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Advertising Wife

by on Sep.21, 2015, under Advertising, Observations, Short Stories

Here comes cruelty. And I beg all advertising wives in Uganda to forgive me right now. But here comes reality too.

She is lucky, or not, because she is married to a great guy, or not. I met a few of them. The wives. Many more wives than great advertising guys, please note.

She is clever, jolly, positively charged, positive influence. She is beautiful as the sunset over the ocean of a distant African country, or ugly as hell but in return, generously gifted with intelligence and good humour.

She is broody. For a reason. She married a child of sorts, a man that doesn’t quite grow up – so she must be broody and willing to reproduce the husband in many different varieties.

She loves her man, immensely. She is as smitten today, after several kids and a number of difficult situations, as she was on their first date. She is all butterflies in the stomach and soft, creamy and tasty like butter on the outside.

There is an immense amount of trust. She has no other option but to trust him. To trust the late nights at the office, the pitch nights that convert into weeks of absence from home, client events, client drink-ups, client schmoozing, female client schmoozing, female colleagues who call late at night stranded without transport, all that work and teamwork! She trusts that strange late night calls are client complaints about a crooked billboard or a misplaced advert. She trusts that the female voice that answered his phone was a colleague who answered because she saw “Wifey” flashing on the phone and didn’t want the wifey to get worried…

She also waits a lot. Those extra days on an upcountry trip. That long return home to take her to the maternity ward when the water broke and she was all in panic and all alone for that one hour. All the campaign breaks that delayed Christmas dinners at her parents’ place, baby showers, birthdays and anniversaries. Sometimes the wait is intolerable, it gets dark, then the Moon even rises, it strikes midnight and she’s still waiting.

But she gets her rewards. A new perfume every time there is a rumour that a new flame had been employed in his department. Flirty diners with female clients result in Spa treatment with mani, pedi and new synthetic hair for the wife. That Diana ring is hers! He was just waiting for the right occasion, of course. A new fatherless baby dropped by a former junior colleague is usually rewarded by a new car. So life of an advertising wife isn’t that bad, at all.

It takes a lot of sacrifice though. She gives up her career. She raises his children to look up to their father and because kids know first, she raises them to become copies of him. She gives up her principles and values as he makes the money. She gives up her dignity in a way, because she knows who they are laughing quietly at when she turns up at those dreadful Christmas events; she tolerates all the cheap floozies who come to air-kiss her man – and her – at those events, keeping the distance from her but squeezing themselves a touch too close to her husband.

She risks her life quite a few times driving with him home, after all the parties where drinks were sponsored and plenty. She risks her face more often, dragging him out of bars when he gets spectacularly sloshed after winning or losing the pitch, either way.

She gives up her friends or so she thinks. What else can she do when everyone close to her was only telling her what an idiot her husband is, how he cheats on her and has all these other women and kids… But she knows that is just plain idle malicious talk. He is never like that. She will never call those ex-friends again. The remaining two are his friends too, they give her processed information and everyone feels better that way, there is a certain peace and clarity with that.

She sacrifices her youth and her hips for this man, only to find herself years later surrounded by grown up kids, tired parents, wrinkles on her face…  and she wonders. Was it worth it? What was her net gain? Four kids, huge hips, crow feet around her eyes, no sex for months on end, no friends and even worse – no enemies because everyone pities her.

You guessed well, this was the unlucky wife. The one who clicks at the end.

The lucky one is either happily married to a truly great guy, or, she simply and blissfully hasn’t got a clue.

 

 

 

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Thus Flied Away Life

by on Sep.03, 2015, under Short Stories, Uncategorized

It happened, I suspect, on 8th July this year.

I was thinking about her lately and in my mind I was making promises to give her a call when I get to Belgrade. I knew my mom will have some news, at least the neighbourhood rumours, and I was going to look for her phone number via Yellow Pages, and make a call.

It was like a cold shower when, instead, I heard what followed my sister’s question “Did you hear about Maya?”

When you hear a question like that, your mind plays endless scenarios in a milisecond in preparation for good or bad news. But nothing prepares you for the news of your highschool friend committing suicide by jumping through the fifth floor living room window.

We were huge friends then. Inseparable. We shared secrets and cigarettes. We knew everything about each other. I didn’t see this coming.

Maya stayed in my Belgrade life. I don’t want to describe her because it is difficult to go back to our joint history now that she’s gone. I was hoping we were going to be meeting into our old age to talk about our escapades over decaf (as doctors would prohibit two geriatrics to have real coffee).

She broke to pieces. She was a judge who lost her job in the restructuring of Serbian justice system. She was jobless for six years. She used up all her resources and in the process, she lost her health. Her son, a fifteen year old, stopped her from jumping a couple of times before.

Not this time.

Her long blond hair must have waved the world that one last goodbye.

She died in the ER a couple of hours later. Thus flied away life.

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I Am Vince

by on Aug.16, 2015, under Short Stories

My mother named me. In protest.

My mother was a charcoal-seller. When she met my father, she was a charcoal seller. When she is about to meet her death, I will not be surprised if she asks to be cremated, charcoal is all there is to her life.

My mother’s name was Sarah and she was the third wife to Musa, my father and the local butcher. She was conveniently named to pass as Muslim, even though she was a staunch Catholic till her death. After marrying Musa and giving him five children including me, she became a bigger Catholic than the Pope himself, though looking at the way this new Pope is, it seems not to be a stiff competition today.

My mother was in favour for a few years because she produced three sons in a row, while wife number one and wife number two popped girls in a devastating sequence. So my three brothers were welcomed into this world as kings and my mother was showered with gifts of land and houses for the boys. Then, she gave birth to a daughter and the situation chilled.

Wife number one soon died in childbirth, giving birth to her seventh daughter and Musa found consolation in twin daughters of a fellow butcher from a village nearby. And I was a sort-of goodbye event, conceived on the last night my father ever spent with my mother.

So mother named me Vincent. Just to spite my father, who insisted on proper Muslim names and upbringing for all his children. He got so angry that he came to my mother’s house and picked Irfan, Adnan, Imran and Hadija and left me behind, still a question-mark of life, clinging onto my mother’s breast and fighting for dear life as I was born so small and hopeless that there was little chance I was going to make it.

Mother was promptly kicked out with me in her arms and a few personal belongings she was allowed to take with her to her charcoal shop. Life fell back to her old ways of making a living in the blackness of the small room and the bleakness of our joint future.

I was growing up on the street in front of our charcoal shop. By the age of five I was perfectly capable of selling the charcoal myself, as mother needed more and more time to rest, due to her freshly developing lung illness that will eventually take her ten years later.

I saw some school in those years, in fact I managed to do the primary school with reasonably good grades and just when I was hoping to be sent off to a boarding school as I could see mother suffering and me unable to help, she died. I was left alone on this world since my father and siblings decided to deny me completely, even though we resemble so much I get called their names on occasion by some senile village elders.

So I sat with mother, dead on her bed, in our charred room so near to my father’s butcher shop, and I did not know what to do. I just sat there for a very long time. Until our neighbour woke me up from that feeling of loss by barging in, wanting to buy charcoal and ending up wailing and calling the whole village to come for an impromptu vigil.

Everyone came. I listened to the stories about my mother, how kind she was, how eager to help others, how devoted in church… I was probably for the first time understanding the depth of her faith and struggle, the scope of her rebellion against my father and the pain of being rejected, abandoned, disowned, alone. I began seeing how much she expected of me, how she put all her love and resources into me, all her beliefs and dreams. I received her praise, I received donations, I collected so much money from the mourners, money I never saw before in one place was now actually in my pocket, and it kept pouring in.

I was told that mother will be buried by the church since everyone knew we had no burial ground anywhere. I wasn’t even able to think that far but the villagers had already agreed with the parish priest and she was given a decent place in the far corner of the churchyard, and villagers planted flowers on the grave.

I survived her death and many attempts by the older boys and men to get the money out of me in the name of investing it for my future. I bought a bike. I decided to become a boda-boda. I was fifteen but a bit taller then my agemates, and a bit stronger from offloading all those bags of charcoal. I was quickly taken through the basics of riding by the boda-boda who sold the bike to me, and I was stupid enough and lucky enough to ride the bike all the way home, some thirty kilometres from town where I had gone to buy it.

Following day, I was ready to start my new life. The whole village was in utter shock seeing me at the stage. Everyone was full of admiration for my brave and bold move. I was soon taking my first ride, then the other, and another. by the end of the day my pockets were full. I have arrived.

Five years down the road, I have seen it all, done it all. Life had started way too early for me. Innocence gone way too early. Too much money and too little wisdom is a bad combination. I wish mother lived longer, no matter how poor we were because with all the money I am making I have remained green and stupid. Mother would have saved me from what I’m going through now.

My two girlfriends are pregnant. I know life will go on but when they find out, I’m in real trouble. But mother used to say that I am Vincent, the invincible, and no matter what obstacles Satan puts in my way, I shall conquer and carry on. So let me see how this one goes for me.

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Fishermen on Lake Victoria

by on Aug.09, 2015, under Short Stories

This is a shit life. I’m standing in the water, knee-deep, my trouser is wet and I can feel the wetness creeping up to my balls, and it’s cold. I’m pulling this net in for the fifteenth time today and all we got to show is four small, miserable Tilapia fish. Life sucks.
Must be the curse of Ssalongo who still thinks I fucked his wife. Maybe I did. I don’t remember. I fucked many wives, other people’s wives, down at Gerenge. On a lucky day when I get a couple of big Nile Perches in my net, man, a few hundred thousand shillings in the pocket, I’m the fucking village king for the night. Anything that moves… Everyone wants the share. And women get it, I promise you, they get it.
Why he cursed me, I don’t know; his wife has been all over the place. She has been through all of Gerenge several times over, anyone with a few thousand shillings and a cup of booze can have her. I remember guys saying she also gives some itchy discomfort which gets worse for us who stand in the water long time, that’s how I remembered to actually stay away from her. Why he cursed me, I don’t know.
I must save some money to buy my own net. This bloody net is too heavy and too costly to rent, especially when you catch fuck-all like today. And unless I get something big quick, I don’t know how I’m going to eat today. Not good to be hungry. Maybe Nansubuga will give me food on credit, even though last time I took long to pay her. Maybe. But I better get something quick.
And if I can buy my own net I will make sure it is even smaller than this one. I feel all the time that fish is passing through. I know even this size is illegal, but I will get myself a net that will net even the fish eggs, I tell you. Do you think it’s easy to row for an hour to spread the net in the water, then to pull for an hour only to find these four miserable shits, and we’ve been on the job since yesterday? I have no more strength left in me, I’m like a zombie standing here, I have no idea what power commands my hungry movements now and I’m on my last sachet of Waragi so soon, even the little fuel I have is finished.
And this boat needs fixing, holes everywhere. It is really depressing. If you don’t freeze your balls on the shore, you will freese them rowing while sitting on the boat floor in all this stinky water because the sitting bench broke off and I have not time to plug the holes. Not that they can be plugged, local canoe will always leak, but at least I should reduce this inflow because as I’m rowing, Katende is scooping the water with the bottom of the jerrycan and it’s a full time job, I tell you.
I was thinking of letting this life go but then, what is there for me? I have no land, my father chased my mother and has two other wives who have drunk and fucked everything we used to have at the village, my siblings are village drunkards and fools and anyway, they always hated me for being a free fucking spirit as they called me. Look at me, where this free spirit brought me. Fat chance of a happy life.
I should wisen up to start saving. Really, each time I get a hundred thousand, I should aim to save, like, ten. MAybe, one day, I can save enough to buy the net, fix this canoe, buy a new pair of oars – Katende should be rowing too – and build myself a hut instead of renting that concoction of planks and iron sheets that I sublet to village hookers while I’m away at work.
Aha! What’s that jumping in the net? Man! Katende! Katende!!! This is BIG!!! Oh man, this is big! This is the biggest motherfucker Nile Pearch I have seen this year! This is it! My money! Katende!!! Come we get this out!
Prayers answered! Just let it not get away! So here comes rent, net, food money, booze money, bitch money, oh man, here comes everything at once! Done for the day! Done for the rest of the weekend! Man. I’m going to eat pork tonight.

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Sequence of seven in 140 characters

by on Jul.02, 2015, under 1996-1998, Interesting Words on Love, Short Stories

You hold me and lift me at the same time with one arm, then wait. That wait consists of million thoughts and leaves me weak in my knees.

You don’t let go. You hold me too close. Seconds pass. When you finally make up your mind to kiss me, I’m weak, I’m lost, I surrender.

And for all the times I was walking away you mastered that one move, that right arm hold that made me feel like a queen, made me stay.

…………….

Standing by the graveside, i still feel the grip of your arm around my waist. The hold is choking me. Someone puts petals in my palm.

Rain is cruel. It makes breathing difficult. I drop the petals and the key. It makes a very awkward sound on the coffin. Sound of the end.

I try walking to the car. Mud is holding onto me. Your last attempt to keep me. Yet this time, you left. My feet are heavy. I fall. I die.

Someone pulls me out of that mud. I convince him I’m OK to drive. I’m not. I just buried my world. I play strong. I always play strong.

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