Juliet Lubega


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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©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)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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The Garden Gate

When Ralph proposed to install a small gate to connect the garden with their neighbour, Joyce didn’t think much of it. “That is fine by me” she told him while she scrapped the last bits of food off the blue polka plate and placed it in the dish washer.
“I don’t have to go around to the front door and knock then?” Tammi asked, breaking into a smile and looking at her Mum. Her braids dangling at the back on her neck. Yellow and white beads attached to their edges. She was dressed in her yellow Pudsey onesie and holding the Barbie doll, their neighbour Ronke gave her for Christmas
Her smile revealed gaps in her teeth.
“How much money did the tooth fairy give you last time? Joyce asked as she smiled back at her daughter.
“So can I go through the gate to play with Nia?” Tammi asked again, her brown deep set eyes darting from her Mum to her Dad.
“ Off course, you can go through the garden” Ralph replied
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Joyce wondered why her husband’s car was parked outside the house at mid-day. Her eyes surveyed the black BMW looking peaceful as it sat in the drive. She looked through its class windows and saw just a pile of papers scattered at the back. She thought he had decided to come back home early as he had complained of a feeling un-well in the morning.
She tip toed up to the door balancing her red high heels on the rugged pavement. She slotted the key in its hole and slowly opened the door.
The kettle was boiling, and the noise filled the air through the partly opened door. She walked straight into the kitchen. A partly dressed Ralph, in his white vest and red boxers holding two mugs and a bottle of milk hit her between the eyes. She felt like ice cold water had been thrown all over her body. Frozen on the spot, her fingers felt sweaty as she held her hand bag and keys in a firm grip.
The shock of seeing his wife sent Ralph in a panic, his arm trembled and the mugs fell to the floor with a loud bang. The pieces scattered on the black and lime green tiles. One piece flew towards Joyce and landed on her feet.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Water was flushed in the toilet next to the door that leads into the garden, and they both turned their eyes to that direction. For the first time Joyce realised it was open.
The toilet door opened from inside, and Ronke appeared in the door way, her bare chest standing out on top of tightly tied multi coloured African kitengi.
Joyce turned to her husband as she felt the warmth of the tears welling in her eyes. She felt empty and lost for words.
She looked at toilet door, her gaze pierced through the tense atmosphere straight through Ronke’s stomach.
Ronke slowly walked to the back door, into the garden and through the gate back to her house.
“So Tammi can go through the garden gate to play with Nia”she shouted at Ralph.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2015)

 


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Busted

She flicked her long black eye lashes. Mascara trickled from each corner of her eyes like a double water tap. Her eyes filled with tears. She knew they were crocodile tears. There was no explanation.
He paced up and down. Every step he took his feet hurt. His towering figure nearly touched the ceiling. He felt so dark in a well lit room as his head almost knocked the light bulb from its socket. It swung from side to side .He looked at her with fire in his eyes. She seemed so small underneath his contempt. He couldn’t work out whether it was anger or pity he felt for her. The turmoil of his emotions made his chest hurt.
The phone lay on the soft hairy blue bedroom carpet, the light rays reflected on its face and it glittered. She looked at the small silver case that had carried her secrets for the last ten years. It lay there like a rival who had finally had revenge. The code name and number of the lover she now wished she never met and, the times and laughter they shared in the dark flashed under the light in a text message; “I can’t wait to hold you again in my arms tonight”.
Their eyes met. She felt his gaze penetrating her skin and chills run through her body. She relived the dreaded minutes she had walked to the bathroom without her phone.
His face was blank as he opened his mouth and closed it, lost for words. She turned side ways to face their dressing table. Her make up lay scattered on the table in the same way she had left it before the ill judged trip to the bathroom. The black skin powder case was open, its mirror side dazzled under the bulb light. The sponge was on top of the floral tissue where she left it and the eye shadow compartment in different shades of blue was besides.
She wished he could say something instead of looking at her like a piece of meat ready for the roast.”Pick up your phone” he said with a smirk.”He is waiting for you” he continued.
He then picked up his car keys from the bedside cabinet and walked towards the door. As he placed his palm on the handle he turned back and said “I hope you find what you are looking for”
She just looked in space as a mosquito buzzed next to her ears. The phone rang.

Juliet.Lubega (unpublished 2015)


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Relief

I suddenly raised my head and slowly turned it around the room, it is still, the silence is deafening as if nothing exists. You can almost feel the walls move and the ceiling murmur. The air seems to whistle and the movement of the pen marks every sound like footsteps. The room has large windows, with half pulled blinds through which pops the tops of the houses in the opposite street. The sky is scarlet blue with silver grey clouds and a trail of aircraft lining the flight path.

I can feel my stomach turning, reminding me of my physical needs against my emotions which have occupied me for the last 12 hours. The smell down from the cooking downstairs reminds me of how long I have been working on this story. There is bitterness in my mouth as I pour out my recollection of events on this piece of paper. Reliving my past has never tasted so sour.

I then realised that I haven’t opened the mail of the day. The pile of envelopes rests in the same spot I hastily put it in when I first got into the room. I had spent a restless night debating on how I want the last chapter of my book to shape. It is the book I had my eyes set on to provide income to save my home, that opening mail was bottom of my priority list.

I gently stood up, taking care as if releasing my bottom from glue on the chair seat. After a long yawn and stretch almost with intention of starting an exercise class I walked towards the small wooden circular table to pick the pile of letters.

My hands froze as I looked at this particular white envelope; I turned it on the other side to have an idea where it had been sent from. The post code at the back was very telling. It was from the bank. I clung on to it as if my life depended on it while the rest of the letters tumbled to the floor. I then felt an electric shock through my body, hissing in my ears and my head spinning as I fumbled to open it .It threw back my memory to the day I lost my job, two years ago. The coldness in the voice of the Company manager as he relayed the decision of the Board to me; “You have been made redundant with immediate effect on a 6 months pay in advance”

Life had turned to the worst as I struggled to keep up with my mortgage payments and cost of living. My savings had since dried up and I was falling back of my financial commitments by the month. Having secured a book deal through old acquaintances and almost 15 years experience in publishing, the book I was writing was expected to be my saviour.” If only the mortgage lender could wait a few more weeks everything will be alright”, I found myself loudly speaking to the still air.

As I opened the envelope, my lids began to move uncontrollably. Fearing the worst, my eyes filled with tears. As I had one more glance through the windows, the house tops seemed to be moving away, growing smaller and smaller in the distance. I jerked to keep my feet firm on the ground. The contents of the letter were not as bad as I first thought. The bank had agreed to give me 6 more months of grace from mortgage payments. I took a depth breath to release the tension of the last few minutes which seemed an eternity and slowly walked back to my chair to resume my writing.

© Juliet Lubega (unplublished 2010)


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A visit to Loi

We drove into a murram road leading into Sanje village to see Loi, my cousin and child minder of my pre-school years
I remembered how she used to dig in the matooke plantation or fetch water from the well; her clay pot sat on a flat hat of coiled dry banana stems to protect her head and for balance, whilst I was tied to her back. My legs spread out on both sides of her body and a tight cloth around me firmly tied in 2 big knots below her breasts. Since then I and Loi, now in her late 80’s developed a bond; she is my personal adviser and I phone her regularly from England. She had prepared lunch for us.
Loi lived in a red brick bungalow with glass windows, a heavy wooden brown door and a shinny corrugated iron roof top. Her compound was neat with thick short cut dark green grass and I felt guilty that we had to drive over it.
As we got out of the car, she appeared in the door way. Her dark face littered with wrinkles but with a twinkle in her eyes. She is a short woman, slightly bent with silver grey hair. She was wearing a blue busuuti tied together by a black sash and brown sandals. She can still walk without a stick and my daughter was very amazed at how speedy she was trotting around despite her fragility. Her mobile phone was in a small cloth bag at the end of a string and was hanging over her chest like a necklace.
I gave her a hug, and while I put my arms around her neck I looked at her frail back where I spent most of my pre school years and smiled to my self. She shook hands with my daughter and greeted her in Luganda “Osula otya no?” she responded “bulungi” in her English accent. Then she shook my son’s hand, they couldn’t speak and just nodded their heads.
She welcomed us in the house. Its furniture was a spread of beautifully coloured and stunning patterned mats, made out of dry palm tree leaves that she makes by hand, on a concrete floor. Different shades of yellow and cream mixed with purple, green and blue woven in and out of each other.
The lounge looked very large because there was nothing else apart from her work in progress mat coiled in a corner next to 2 piles of dry palm leaves; one was white and the other dyed blue. The walls were bare and the red bricks uncovered. A plain light green polyester curtain hang in the door way between the lounge and adjoining utility room. Through a side way gap in the curtain I could see a wooden cup board and some sauce pans, their exterior covered in dense black soot created by cooking with firewood.
She is unable to carry out her home chores now; fetch water from the well or plant beans and maize in her plantation and has a home helper. A tall woman with short masadde hair. Both laid out the lunch on cooked banana leaves placed on a kawempe, papyrus mat; matooke, rice, groundnuts sauce and beef stew.

While everyone ate with their hands, she had 3 forks for me and the children. I had thought about buying forks on our way here, but decided not to in order to enable the children to experience real African village life.
©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)