Juliet Lubega


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The Return

19th December 2012.The tall and big rectangular white billboard among numerous small ones, zoomed in front of us as we approached the muram (earth) feeder road off the Kampala-Masaka highway; ’King’s College Budo, Budo Junior School-Gakyali Mabaga’ the red letters stood bold and firm against the white background like an older brother protecting a young one.
I smiled at the same old address P.O. Box 1712 Kampala. An address that was at the fore front of my memory as I wrote letters to my parents complaining of hunger, the bad school food of the 1970’s and reminding them of the visiting days. I turned to my mother, who was sitting behind me in the car and said, “I think you remember the address well”. She smiled and nodded in agreement.
My daughter asked her “Jajja how did you send Mum to a school so far from Masaka?”
“It is one of the best schools” she answered.
“Didn’t you miss her?” she continued.
“Off course I did but it was what was best for her”
“Mum, would you have wanted to send me to boarding school in England?” she asked me.”
“Well, I wouldn’t for two reasons. First, I can’t afford it; boarding schools in England are very expensive. It is not the sums of money we are talking about here in Uganda. Most important; and one of the main reasons I am taking you to see my school is: in the time I have lived in England I have had to be defensive about attending a boarding school so young. I learnt quite early on that I shouldn’t talk about it. If I am being honest, I feel cheated that I should be made to feel ashamed of that part of my upbringing, a background I should be incredibly proud of and what made me the person I am today. The place of boarding schools in Ugandan society is very different from England. Jajja did not take me to boarding because she ‘didn’t want responsibility’ and I don’t feel ‘unloved’ or ‘neglected’ as a child.”
There was absolute silence while I poured out my explanation. My voice croaking and breaking as my impaired speech struggled to contain the emotion. I recalled the struggles and sacrifices my parents had made to bring me here in their quest for my education: no holidays, no days out or luxuries, my mother only bought a new dress probably once a year, she saved her teachers’ salary to pay my fees.
”What?” Isa, our driver asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
” Apparently so” I replied.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2018)

 

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Moving on my son?

‘Look after Tom and the home’ those were the last words, she closed her eyes and took the last breath. I took a step forward, towards the hospital bed and placed my sweaty palm over her fore head. I felt a one part cold an another warm as my emotions got mixed up too; hot and cold. She was gone, lifeless and breathless. I looked at the meaningless tubes inserted in her arm. The oxygen mask hanging upside down on the wall, but I knew nothing could have saved her
That was 10 years ago now and nothing seemed different. Every year on this day I heard those same words in my ears, see her face and remember when we met as giggling teenagers at a school disco. I had been staring at her across the hall for about half an hour before I picked up the courage to go and ask her to dance with me. She had felt light and tender in my arms as we swayed from left to right to the gentle sounds of Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature’. The aroma from her perfume filled my nostrils and I felt my stomach turning as her body pressed against mine.
When Tom was born, my life became complete. I had married my dream girl and we had the perfect baby. It fell apart on that dreaded Thursday afternoon March 19th.I was left to raise Tom alone.
‘Dad dinner is ready’ he stood in the door way of my bedroom. I raised my head and attempted a smile
‘Okay, I am coming’.
‘Are you alright’
‘Yes, I am son’
I always tried to hide my sadness from Tom since his mother died but he could read me like a book. The 8-old boy who wept in my arms at his mother’s funeral was now towering above my head. Tall and elegant, cultured beyond his years. As time went by, he wanted to make it more of a celebration and had offered to make the dinner that night, we would have a quiet reflection and look at the family albums later. I listened as he told me the day’s plan.
‘Dad’
‘Yes’
‘Have you thought….’ His voice trailed off like a train wagon in the distance.
There was silence. The knives and forks talked as I cut my chicken quarter leg in half.
‘Thought about what?’
‘Maybe you could…’ he stopped again mid- sentence.
I looked at him, his dark velvet skin shimmered under the light, and that questioning look in his eyes, just like his mother stared at me at the school disco when I asked her to dance all those years ago.
‘Go on tell me’
‘I was just saying’
‘I am listening’
‘About you trying to find another wife’ he paused. ‘I am sure Mum would want you to be happy’
I broke into a smile. He smiled back.

©Juliet.Lubega (unpublished 2018)


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Behind S3

‘Find me behind the S3 block after classes’. The words stared back at him. The black ink dazzled on the white back ground of the black sheet of paper. His hands trembled a little and the pen shook. He wasn’t sure if he was making the right move, but he couldn’t bare it anymore. The night had been sleepless, he had no idea if he had slept at all. Through the darkness of his closed eye lids, he could see her dimples dig deep into her cheeks when she smiled. The long braids hang loosely on her shoulders. Her tiny waist cut through her skirt. He imagined what it would be like to get his hands behind those soft buttocks and whisper into her ear.
He looked at the classroom clock, they had 10 minutes to the end of the lesson. Miss Acan had just handed out the Maths home work but he hadn’t written anything down. It didn’t matter now because, he would ask her what it was and then slot the note under her book while she explained.
Miss Acan had a habit of standing in the door way to see all the students exit the room, he had to be quick. Stella sat two rows in-front of him. He drew a picture in his head of the action he would take to reach her as soon as the lesson was over. The right leg first, stretched as far as possible and by the time he added the left leg to the stride he would be there.
She had hardly noticed him since morning. He was already at his desk sorting his books when she came in. He stared at her, but her face was expressionless towards him. He tried to shout, ‘good morning’ but shut his mouth as soon as he opened it. Every step she took towards her desk, he took a deep breath.
He looked through the window, it had stopped raining and the sun had come out. The grass in the football pitch looked like a dark green blanket, its wetness shimmering below the rays. The goal posts looked like two white squares held together by the earth at either side end of the field. He often wondered why they had no nets and who ever played cricket in the middle murram patch. This was no ordinary pitch, it was a multi sports ground with full blown athletics on sports days.100 and 200 metre lanes were drawn in it during the season as well as high jump and long jump sandy pitches at adjacent corners.
They were both in yellow school teams and he wondered whether Stella ever watched him play football.
Behind S3 there was a quiet corner. Lukwago in S4 had told him, he had kissed Anna there two weeks ago.
‘End of lesson’ Miss Acan announced. The class erupted into noise and the silence seemed like a lid being lifted off a boiling saucepan enabling the steam to escape. as the girls and boys packed away their books. Miss Acan walked towards the door and stood there silent. Her eyes bright white against her velvet dark northern complexion.
He put away his books inside his desk as quickly as possible. He held the note in grip in his left hand, and in swift motion, he stretched his right leg. Soon he was standing at Stella’s desk who was putting pencils and pens in her geometry set. ‘What?’ Stella asked, surprised to see him. His tall frame towering over her head. ‘You have nice hands’ he said sliding the note under the open book in-front of her.
Stella raised her head slowly and their eyes met.

 

© Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2018)

 


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My ancestral home

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The drops of rain hit my window on this cold and dark January morning. I long for them to clear the snow which had been falling over the last few days. I turn to face the wall thinking of the summer months, hot, like in the land of my ancestors. It was the home of my grand father, where my father grew up and, I was born there in 1964.

The elegant banana trees tower below the sky, and their ever dark green leaves spread out like cobwebs. They shield the drying beans, wrapped in their shrinking pods from the scorching sun at this time of year. They protect the secrets of a family too. It is the final resting place of our fallen.

Some graves are un- marked; others are names with stories told by those who met them. In my mind, I can touch the faces of my three sisters while I walk through the plantation. Their laughter echoes through my ears. The good and sad times we shared are memories I hold on to in my sleep.

I shut my eyes and stop to greet Alice, the youngest. Eighteen years was too soon to go. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. Where would she be living? What would be her job? Would she be married? What about her children? It wasn’t to be.

I arrive at the tall palm tree. I know it is the place where our house used to be. I sat here playing with my dolls made of dry banana stems, ebyayi, their square heads without hair or eyes, with straight arms and no legs. I was oblivious to the world I now live in, where they walk and talk.

My mother was usually seated yards away, and often glanced her watchful eyes over my play. Weaving her bright coloured wool thread into patterns of artistic crotchet, her hands moved in rhythmical strides.

Whilst I lie in bed, thousands of miles away, across the seas and no earth road besides a matooke plantation. My ancestral home, Bubango village is forever in my heart.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)

 


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It is 7 pm in Uganda

Around 7pm it was getting dark and the temperatures plummeting. I was sitting outside trying to keep warm in front on the burning charcoal stove. My son sat next to me observing how my niece was cooking sauce in a pan over the hostile flames.
The chicken appeared from the corner of the house walking towards us. He jumped up from his stool.
“Sit down” I told him.
“The chicken is coming” he replied.
“It just needs to pass to go to bed” I said.
“Where is it its bed?” he asked
“In the indoor kitchen” I replied.
“Do they all have beds?” he asked.
“Yes, at 7 pm every day, they all stop running around and go home?” I replied.
I explained that every chicken is trained by its owner to know its home. When we brought this one from the village, it was tied using a banana fibre by one leg, to a post near the house for 3 days to enable it to learn its surroundings. Then it was let to run freely around the neighbourhood during the day, pecking for food.
“When you see the chicken coming home, then you know it is 7 pm” I told him.
He looked at me in astonishment.
“Do you mean all the chicken know their homes?” He asked
“Yes they do” I replied.
He remained standing looking at the chicken as it walked past us; its head straight ahead towards the door, gliding like a ship on water, it went through two entrances and passed all the shopping we had brought earlier and settled down in its corner in the kitchen for the night.
My son shortly went in the kitchen to see if it was there. He came back with a big smile on his face.
“It will wake up at dawn” I told him.
“How will it get out of the house?” he asked
I explained to him that it will walk up to this back door, where it will wait and may crow or make chuckling noises until someone wakes up to let it out of the house for

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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It is time for School

“Wake up”
“Huh?”
“I said wake up?’
“What is the time”
“It is ten minutes to eight”
“I wake up at eight”
“I know”
“ Why are you waking me up before eight?”
“We need an extra ten minutes this morning”
“Why?”
“To make your packed lunch”
“Do we have to take packed lunch for the trip?”
“In the letter for the trip it said it is an option”
“Why don’t you just give me money?”
“I haven’t got enough money”
“Do you have spending money to give me?”
“Yes I do”
“Can it cover my lunch?”
“It will not be enough for both lunch and spending?”
“I don’t eat much at lunch anyway”
“It is important you eat enough on a day you are out of school”
“What do you want me to do now?”
“I want you to wake up, brush your teeth, wash up, put on your uniform and come down stairs to choose your sandwich filler and type of bread”
“Am I making the sandwich as well?”
“No”
“Why do I need to come down then?”
“If I chose for you, you might not like it and not eat, as you do sometimes”
“What are the options?”
“Tuna and sweet corn, ham, cheese and bacon”
“What type of ham?”
“Cooked ham”
“Is there mayonnaise?”
“Off course there is.”
“What about lettuce?”
“There is lettuce” she replied.
“What type of bread do you have?”
“Both brown and white bread”
“Let me first think about it”
“There isn’t much time to think, you need to get ready for school”
“By the time I finish brushing my teeth I would have decided”
“Get out of bed then and go and brush your teeth”
“My jumper got dirty yesterday.”
“Where did you put it?”
“In the laundry basket”
“I will get a clean one for you while you are in the bathroom”
“You can make the sandwich without me?”
“It seems I will have to, because we have spent time talking and you will be late”
“Cool”
“What did you just say?”
“Cool”
“Make your choices. Here is your clean jumper. I want to go downstairs to make the packed lunch”
“I will have bacon, lettuce and mayonnaise with white bread”

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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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)