Juliet Lubega


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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©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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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 shoes

The sun rays penetrated the net curtains and reflected on the mirror that stood on their oak dressing table. She looked at him through the corner of her right eye. He was bending over the left side of their king size bed.
She held her knitting needle tight, her fist felt sweaty as she tried to focus on making the beanie hat for their son. She knew the question would come but until then she was determined to keep her lips sealed.

He lifted the floral bedspread off the red carpet and put his head underneath.”They are not here” he said.

“What?” she asked

He looked at her with a blank face.

“What are you looking for?” she asked again.

He felt frozen under her words. He looked at the clock on the wall and could hear it tick against the silence. His head started spinning.

He recalled the events of last night at the office party. How he pressed Rumba against the wall at the end of the corridor next to the stationery cupboard. His hands wandered below her skirt, feeling the warmth between the legs. She put her arms around his neck and her African beaded bangles tickled his skin. Their tongues interlocked as they inhaled each other’s alcoholic smells.

Rumba had slotted a piece of paper with her phone number scribbled on and inserted it into his trouser pocket on her way out.
He had placed it in his shoes and put his trouser in the dirty wash basket before jumping into bed next to his wife.

“Look out of the window” she said.
Without a word, he slowly walked towards the window. He felt the weight of his feet with every step.
His shoes were sitting on the large window sill, looking miserable from the over night rain. The white piece of paper with Rumba’s phone number floating in the water that filled them.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2015)


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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.
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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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Idi Amin ; A legacy or curse?

Idi Amin Dada, Africa’s most notorious dictator of the 1970’s.The 3rd President of Uganda since its independence from Britain in 1962.With virtually no formal education he rose through the ranks of the army from the colonial Kings Rifles through to being trained at Sandhurst (UK), until he seized power in a military coup from a civil government in 1971.He put Uganda and her people on the International stage for all the wrong reasons.
Idi Amin is the greeting that you get on the streets of Tottenham in North London when you introduce yourself as coming from Uganda. Very little tourist information is known about this small African state, the hospitality of its people and sense of community, the richness of its culture and language and its ever green vegetation.
Set at the Equator and nicknamed “the Pearl of Africa”, Uganda is home to the world’s highest mountain range, the Mountains of the Moon in the Ruwenzori National Park. It is the source the River Nile, the second longest river in the world, and it has the highest concentration of primates on earth, including the majestic mountain gorilla, one of the rarest animals on the planet. It is safer to say you are from Kenya or Tanzania, to avoid the reference to Idi Amin.
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Nagawa was born in London in 1991. Idi Amin’s Uganda bears little relevance to her. To this British born young girl, the story of Idi Amin as told in the film ‘The Last King of Scotland’ is the nearest she will ever get to understand.
I was busy typing away the corrections of my story from the creative writing course that I didn’t notice the shadow of Nagawa as she turned to open the front door. She was returning from an overnight stay and her school friend’s house in South London. “Hello Maama?” she said as her light brown face peered through the living room door where I was working. ”Hello, how are you? Did you enjoy the party and how is Kukuwa?” She sat in the brown leather sofa, fiddling with the bunch of keys and staring at me with a blank face. “What is the matter? I asked.
She recited what had happened at the party, at her Ghanaian friend Kukuwa’s house. When she introduced herself as coming from Uganda, the adults at the party wanted to know about Idi Amin. What did you say? I asked. “All I know about Amin is in the Last King of Scotland” she replied
I felt pain in my heart as I realized that the Idi Amin trail had found my daughter as she mixed in the social circles of the UK. I looked her and wondered how she was going to cope with the endless questions about Idi Amin and whether there was any possibility of this chapter in Uganda’s past fading from the world history. I realized how living in another country has brought us closer to this part of life we would rather stay away from, read about in books or watch in films.
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In Uganda, Idi Amin has been forgotten. His existence is firmly placed in the country’s history. During a family holiday in December 2012 I and my children visited the refurbished Mengo Palace, following the airing of the BBC 3 documentary ‘Under Cover Princess’ in 2010 that featured the Buganda Princess Cinderella Nvannungi. Formerly the official residence of the Kabaka of the Buganda Kingdom, it had been turned into the notorious Lubiri military barracks after the abolition of the Kingdoms in 1967.It holds now the derelict Idi Amin torture chambers where more than 300000 Ugandans are believed to have been electrocuted to death and their remains dumped in the nearby man made Lake;Kayanja ka Kabaka to feed crocodiles that were bred there. As the short dark well spoken man, our guide took us on a tour of the site, he informed us that it was a major attraction to tourists and we were shortly joined by 4 Kenyan tourists. He expected a group of German tourists in the coming hours. That was the only brush with the Idi Amin for the month we spent in Uganda.
However, The Last King of Scotland was waiting for us on board a British Airways return flight to London Heathrow in January 2013.A reminder of the inquiries and explanations about Idi Amin, Ugandans of all generations are faced with outside the country.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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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)