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)




The Meal

“The guests are arriving in just under two hours”
Rose chops the red peppers on top of the pine board.
Her sharp blade slices through the cover, and swings with ease through the hollow middle.
The sliced red pieces look like flower petals fallen apart.

Birabwa drops the pan covers on the tiled floor
They sound like Church bells on a Sunday morning.
Music echoes in the air, and cuts through the busy atmosphere
Abana ba Afrigo batuuse.

Tom stirs through the beef stew with a wooden spoon
His waist swaying to the beat

Nambi wraps the matooke into foil paper and
Puts it in the heated oven.
She goes to assist Helen stuff the minced meat into the samosa covers.
Its aroma of fresh onion and coriander tickles her nostrils.

Rose puts three big spoons of coconut oil in the pan.
The furious flame under the pan melts it in a few seconds.
She adds onions, tomatoes, and rose coco beans before salt, curry and chilli powder.

The rice simmers in the rice cooker, the yellow sweet potatoes can be seen through the glass as steam permeates their peeled bodies.

While the oil on the frying pan continues to bubble next to him,
Mutebi rolls over the dough into a flat chapatti.

The clock above his head ticks to 1 pm.

Balungi and Rachel are laying the table, the noise from the plates and cutlery gets to Matt’s ears, he is preparing hot water in the pan to make the Ugali.

“Fifteen more minutes” Rose informs everyone. “Start on the Ugali Matt”.


©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)





My ancestral home


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)



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”
“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”
“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?”
“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”
“What did you just say?”
“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
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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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)