Juliet Lubega


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She couldn’t sleep

The night seemed long, very long and tiring. She turned and faced the wall, pulled the covers over her head and her middle finger on the right hand got stuck in a hole. She had noticed the hole when she washed her bedsheets last week. It hadn’t bothered her that much, but tonight her mind was wide awake, more than usual “I need to ask Mama for new bedsheets” she said out loud.
A tiny ray of light pierced through the window curtains and she stretched her arm to read her watch. The time was 2 am, three hours since Rosa got in bed. She had lost count of how many times she had turned in bed looking for sleep. At one point she sat up staring at the ceiling to tire her body, the cloudy white pearl bulb hanging in the middle looked down on her, it had no light and had tired for the night. She longed to be switched off as well, so that she doesn’t have to endure the agonising wait.
She laid on the pillow and pulled the covers over her head, her legs curled together, and her knees raised in a squatting position below. The hole in the sheets reminded her that she hadn’t seen Mama Kokwenda since the war ended. She sold second hand clothes and Mama had bought these floral cotton sheets from her.
Mama Koku as they called her, was a tall, big woman and wore ankle length skirts. She always had a multi coloured kanga scarf tied over her head like an upright haystack and her big lips covered in bright red lipstick. She lived a short distance away from them, near the coffee processing plant, and went around houses with a big red bag full of second hand shoes, dresses, shirts, trousers and bed sheets acquired from whole sellers in Masaka town. They were discarded or donated clothing from far away countries like England, America, Italy and France and arrived in big bales ‘endiboota’ which were then retailed to people like Mama Koku and market traders. It was big business.
Rosa closed her eyes and through the darkness of the eye lids and imagined Mama Koku, with her bag sat on the kanga, balancing on her head talking to her mother in a Tanzanian accent, and struggling to construct Luganda sentences;
“Mama Rosa, I have first class bed sheets, America”
“I don’t have money today” Mama would reply
“You will pay me when you get”
“I don’t know if the children need any bedsheets”
“I have other things”
“Rosa, Kintu” Mama would call us
Kintu, Rosa’s 18year old brother was only interested in anything Nike or Adidas from Mama Koku’s bag.
“I don’t have anything for Kintu today”
Mama Koku would get into the kitchen where her mother would be cooking or washing up or in the lounge if she was sewing her table clothes. She didn’t ever want to break what she was doing when Mama Koku came around because she never stopped talking. She would empty her bag, showing Mama each item, one by one.

“This dress will fit Rosa, it is from Italy. These are my last Hawaii shirts; the boys will like them”

Before Rosa arrived, a pile of dresses and shoes would be waiting for her from all the exotic countries she had studied in Geography lessons at school. She knew where France, America and all the others were on the map and that all these clothes and shoes were worn in the Summer months as Uganda is very hot throughout the year.

Next time she only needed bed sheets from Mama Koku. She was most interested in American sheets for their colourful patterns, they were durable, flat and large, not boxed to fit a mattress. The Vitafoam mattresses did not size up the bed sheets from England.

Her holed pair had lasted nearly 4years.She used them at home in the holidays and never took them to school as she was afraid of gossip behind her back that she had second hand market bed sheets. She was happy with her Jinja material sheets, new and locally made, even school uniform was made of Jinja.
Now in first year at university she had upgraded to the less durable but cheap cotton bed sheets from China which had flooded Kampala shops with the return of the Ugandan Asians on the high street since they had been expelled by Amin in 1972.
Gun fire sounded in the far distance, Rosa jerked, and realised she had drifted off to sleep. Her thoughts turned to the soldier she met earlier in the bar. She remembered the day the National Resistance Army (NRA) came into the town nearly three weeks ago. The single file of soldiers, matching with their guns strapped to their backs and singing. The first time she saw a woman soldier, how new and exciting that was to Uganda and she was speaking her language, Luganda.
“Where are you from?” Rosa asked
“Luwero” she replied
Most of these NRA were from Luwero, where the war had started five years ago; ‘The Luwero Triangle’.
The site of child soldiers (Kadogos) was heart breaking, and their stories of joining the NRA, as abandoned unaccompanied orphans after their villages had been burned down by government forces in the Triangle were chilling.
She felt cold as she recalled her first encounter with a child soldier who wasn’t forthcoming with information about himself. She had not bothered to ask his name because he seemed extremely angry, his face pale and eyes bloodshot. Instead she had offered him a sugar cane, Mama had just bought from Siragye, the hawker as life was beginning to get back to normal
Then there was this soldier she met earlier that day. There was something about him, he said he was not from Luwero. He was not like the others she had met before and didn’t want to see her tomorrow.
“Did he answer my last question?” Rosa spoke out loud and her words echoed through the silent night.
“No, he didn’t” she replied herself.
Her emotions were running high and she felt a headache and her forehead was sweaty.
She closed her eyes to try and get some sleep, but she couldn’t shake him off. She mulled over the events of the evening and could see his face, his smile and that pistol stuck under his belt through the darkness.
What was his name? She didn’t ask him and didn’t know why.
The soldier she served had called him Afande but that is a tittle. She still didn’t know his name.
The cock’s crow outside hit her ears, followed by the birds twittering. It was 6 am and she hadn’t slept

 

© Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)

 

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Breaking news.

How is Kenny? Sharon asked Jo.
He is fine, starting to walk. She replied
Where have you left him?
He is at my mother’s house.
What can I get for you? The tall blonde waitress asked, her blue eyes darting between the girls.
She was holding a small white pad in one hand and silver tray in another.
She was new in this pub, covering for Kelly while she was on maternity leave .Although she was always polite and kind, she had not lived in the village long and the girls didn’t know her that well.
Lager, for me. Said Jo
A bottle of Stout and a glass, please. Sharon said

You can’t believe what I am going to say.
What? Jo asked
Spill the beans. Maria added
Can you guess? Sharon looked at the perplexed faces of her girl friends.
She didn’t know how to approach the news. These were her mates; they shared each other’s joys and sorrows as children, adolescents and now young mothers in this close knit community.
Since they turned 18, the village pub had become their meeting place where they let their hair down exchanging stories about their boyfriends.
Sharon’s heart skipped a beat as she realised the worry on Maria’s face. The contours looked anxious.
She stood up and straightened her skirt. Her drink sat in its glass patiently waiting for the announcement.
Are you ready to tell? Jo looked at her friend’s face folded with a frown.
Yes. I am moving to London.
The glass slipped from Maria’s hand but she gripped it before it hit the ground, splashing the drink in all directions. She had never been to London.

 

©Juliet.Lubega (unpublished 2015)


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The storm

The storm is brewing in the sky
The wind hurls and leaves sway
Thunder rumbles
And grumbles away

Lightning flashes
Straight into my heart
My heart beats like the nankasa drum
Sweat trickles down my cheek

Dark clouds march on
Chasing the time
The sun drifts away
Like the times we shared

The storm is brewing in my heart
I feel the pain like it is yesterday
Why you left is not for me to say
Such is life is all I can say

©Juliet.Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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Through the dark.

 

My head felt heavy. The wind was blowing and rustling against the long dark green banana leaves. I felt the chills against my ear and pulled the blanket over. I heard footsteps thundering behind me. As they got closer they became heavier. I turned to look behind but my neck hurt.

I took a glimpse of the shadowy figure, a tall man walking in long rhythmical strides. His face was blurred with only a set of white teeth shinning through a wide smile. He was holding a big stick in his right hand.

With my feet feeling heavy and unbalanced, I staggered to the twin banana trees on my left. My foot sunk in the soft and muddy ground. I slipped and grabbed the stem of the tree, looking up to the large leaves spreading out like protective arms. Drops of water scattered over my face. The footsteps were getting nearer and heavier. I could hear heavy gulps of breath behind me.

The plantation consisted of rows and columns of banana trees. A ray of sun penetrated through the dark green blanket of leaves. My families’ graves lying below them, serene. I looked at them. “Dad was never buried. He is not here”

The attendant was chopping wood at the far end. The noise cutting through the still and silent atmosphere. I tried to scream but felt a lump in my throat.

I held my bed sheets tight and felt my palms sweating as I jumped onto my sister’s grave. I stopped and turned around, and stood akimbo, ready to face him. The man came closer and his face became clear.”Dad I thought you were dead. You look smart. I never saw you wearing jeans”

He grimaced, and raised the stick in front of my face.

 “Dad please, don’t hit me”

I opened my eyes to the sound of rain outside my bedroom window and wiped my fore head.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpblished 2013)