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©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2018)

 

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The Invisible Web

She was chatting to Maggie as they appeared through the door way. I couldn’t hear what she said but Maggie nodded in reply. I knew straight away she was the new girl joining the team. Her tall figure towered up to the ceiling, I looked up and for the first time realised how low the ceiling was. Various fans hanging off its white paint, rotated in swift motion pumping cold air for the staff busy at their desks below. The temperatures were soaring outside, the sky clear blue and cloudless.
As they approached my desk, her dark velvet skin shimmered. Behind her forehead was a scarlet band that held her long braids firmly behind her neck and they dangled onto her back with patience. She was wearing a red sleeveless blouse with a white petal collar that sat on top on the waist band of her long pencil skirt.
I turned back to my computer screen pretending I hadn’t seen them. I laid my right hand on the cursor and then realised that my thumb was trembling. I opened Microsoft Word and started typing ‘To whom it May Concern’ but I could hear their voices and footsteps as they approached me.
Before I could think of another word Maggie said;
‘Can I introduce you to Amooti?’ Graham.
‘Amooti this is Graham, he will show you everything?’
I looked up at Amooti’s face, she had a glint in her eyes.
‘Nice to meet you and welcome to the team’ I said.
‘Nice to meet you too’ she replied, breaking into a large smile revealing her dark gums.
I had been volunteering for a small charity UK based Charity, Grace, for Old People in Western Uganda during my gap year before going to University some years ago and knew about the name ‘Amooti’. A unisex pet name among the Batoro and Banyoro tribes. My colleagues in the Charity had given me a pet name ‘Akiki’ and now that I was back in UK I had never used it again.
Amooti sat down on a desk next to mine clutching her handbag on her lap. I had helped Maggie put up her desk top and wire it to our joint printer.
Her hands looked delicate with red nail polish on her finger nails. I looked at her long legs stretched below the desk.
‘Do you want a cup of coffee? I was about to make one.’ I asked
‘Yes please, thank you’ she replied’
I was starting to gasp for breath talking to her and began to panic at what was happening to me. I felt a loud voice in my head saying ‘no’. No to what? I couldn’t it figure out.
I stood up and started walking towards the pantry and as I took my first step, I turned my head and said.
‘Empako yawe’
She looked at me, eyes lit with excitement and shock. I had taken her to a place she didn’t expect.
‘You speak my language’? she asked.
‘Just a little bit’ I said. Patting my left palm on my chest to signal ‘me’. ‘This muzungu lived in Fort Portal’
‘Amooti, kandi eyaawe?’ she asked
‘Akiki’ I replied
She started shaking her head in amusement and before she could find her words. I turned my back on her and walked towards the pantry, smiling from ear to ear.
I felt like I was being woven in an invisible web of inexplicable emotions.

 

© 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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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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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)

 

 

 


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Listen

Listen

Huh?

I just said, listen

Okay then

Are you listening?

Go on

I need to tell you

Tell me what?

Look at me

I am looking

You have beautiful eyes

Okay, thank you

Are you really listening?

Of course I am

Can we order another drink?

Yes we can

I need you to listen to this

Can you just say it?

How long will Ryan be you think?

Another five minutes maybe

I was just saying

Go ahead

I like the way you did your hair

Thank you

I don’t know how to say this

It must be serious then

Off course it is

Well, let me hear it

Is your drink finished?

Is that all

No

Then what else?

I like you

What?

I said, I like you

He is walking in

Who?

Ryan,  your best mate.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)