She raised her head upwards, looked straight into my eyes and said “Where did you buy these my daughter?”.”At the Ugandan shop in West Green Road” I replied softly. “How do they get here still fresh? She asked as she twisted the green kikuta in which the beans lay. Five pink beans lying there like sleeping beauties. From a garden somewhere in Uganda they had been confined to these pods throughout the eight hour flight to London, before she unceremoniously plucked them out and dropped them into a pan to be cooked.
“I actually don’t know. I seldom see the fresh beans” I replied as I sat down next to her. Mama Ahebwa was a formidable woman. She was tall and huge with very wide hips. A typical Hima, light skinned, beautiful, a large smile and dark gums. Ahebwa was Daudi’s youngest brother, she dotted on him and it earned her the name Mama Ahebwa.
Daudi and I had been married for two years. The wedding took place in Uganda because of the low cost and convenience of carrying out all the traditional marriage customs with our families. We had three weeks annual leave which was spent bogged down in ceremonies and did not get enough time to get to know each other’s families. So when he suggested that his mother comes to London to visit and get to know me better, I had no reservations.
Mama Ahebwa had been with us for two weeks now. She learnt her way around the kitchen very quickly and was active in cooking. She insisted that as long as she was here, there was enough time, and her son had to eat ‘proper’ food. Therefore, we will not eat pasta and sandwiches.
”Do they sell Ugandan millet flour here” she had asked on her first day. “Yes” I replied. “Do you have any in the house?” she continued.”I don’t buy or cook it. We leave very early for work, and have no time to make bushera for breakfast” I replied.
She was silent. Did she expect me to cook breakfast for her son? I wondered. As much as I would like, and maybe even my own mother expected me to, work schedules and life in London was too fast to allow it.
“So what happens in the morning my daughter?” she said with a sinister smile.”We each make our own cereal, tea and toast” I said. There was a feel of honesty in my voice and I hoped she would understand because that was what was going to happen the next day.”I will buy millet flour tomorrow for you Mama” I assured her.
Within two weeks our lives had turned upside down. Mama Ahebwa woke up earlier than us every day and by the time I was ready to come down , the bushera was ready. “My daughter, your breakfast is ready” she always said without a smile. I sensed she wasn’t happy but let it pass.
I did the cooking as much as she allowed me too, silently and patiently, and bought what she wanted to cook and eat.; matooke,cassava,millet,sweetpotatoes,groundnuts sauce, tilapia fish, cat fish,beans,ugali you name it. Our shopping budget went through the roof.
“For how long are we going to go on?” I asked Daudi. “She is not going to live here for ever” he replied dismissively.”I understand that, we only eat Ugandan food occasionally because it is imported and expensive.” I said. Daudi just looked at me. “Maybe you should have a word with her” I suggested.
Daudi came back from work just as we finished the beans and Mama Ahebwa followed him upstairs. On my way to the bathroom shortly afterwards, I passed by her bedroom, he was in there.
“What sort of wife is this? It is two years and she hasn’t given you a child. She can’t even wake up to make you breakfast .We paid a lot of cows and heavy dowry my son. You should have married Kajuna’s daughter”. Mama Ahebwa said in a serious voice.
“You are right Mama.I regret marrying her. I should have listened to you.” Daudi replied
His words stung like a bee. Fighting back tears I tiptoed down stairs.”I can never be her real daughter. I thought they were talking about food” I murmured under my breath.
©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2013)