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)



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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


Then what else?

I like you


I said, I like you

He is walking in


Ryan,  your best mate.


©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)


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‘To my Daddy’


She lifted up the mattress, her hand slid to tuck in bottom bed sheet and her fingers touched its edges. It felt foreign to be under the mattress as she couldn’t recall putting or seeing anything there before. She pushed her hand further beneath and it felt, smooth and straight. Her fingers quivered at the sharpness. The surface appeared small with a flap, so she pulled out the small blue envelope and it flipped open.

A lined paper was folded and a picture of a young girl inserted inside. She pulled out the picture. The girl looked about 5 years old, same as her own Maria. She was dark skinned, her hair was in single plaits with yellow, red and white beads scattered at the edges. The eyes were deep and large. Her white dress matched with her smile and sandals. She turned to the back, the words ‘Meme 5 years old’ were written in red ink. She felt her knees weaken below the skirt and sat down on the bed. Her hands trembled as she opened the paper.

She started reading, her eyes quickly skipped from word to word as the warm liquid filled their sockets. Soon tears were streaming down her face. It was to her Kaku, the husband of 15 years and 3 children.

The assignment to Uganda had been full of excitement. In the 5 years, Kaku was the Director of Operations in the East African region, they had lived in the up market Kololo suburb of Kampala. They had spent their holidays touring the National Parks and admiring the landscape from the savannah plains in the North to the cascading hills of Kabale, in the South West .The Rwenzori mountain range on the western boarder, to the Elgon mountains  on its boarder with Kenya.  They had a team of dedicated staff, from drivers to home helpers. Life was perfect.

She turned her eyes to the bottom of the page. It was signed by Birungi. There was no picture but recalled her as one of the 6 home helpers she had employed with special duties to look after the children. She had not stayed long, and terminated her contract after 6 months. To her surprise, Birungi hadn’t complained when she reduced her pay for breaching her terms of employment. She didn’t think any thing of it until now that she was holding a letter to her husband.

In the letter, Birungi said, she hadn’t heard from Kaku for 6 months, and her housing contract was coming to an end. She needed to pay the landlord and was struggling with the upkeep of his daughter after clearing all her school fees.

Tears continued to stream down her face as she realised that caring for children in her house gave home helpers access to most of the bedrooms. She stuck out her tongue and tasted the bitterness of the truth with the salty liquid. A picture of Kaku and Birungi lying naked in hers, or their children’s beds clouded her head. “No!”, she squealed at the betrayal and deceit.

A tear dropped on the smaller letter splattering on the words; ‘To my Daddy’


©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017





Only Once


Lusse put his hand on the silver plated handle and pressed it down slowly. It stopped and squeaked,  it was locked. With a squint in his left eye, he bent his head to look into the key hole, the key was sitting there, quiet like a stubborn child on a naughty step and oblivious to what had just happened. It stood between them.

He just wanted that opportunity to look into her eyes and say “sorry”. He knew it was just a word but he had to say it before he proved it. Sweat trickled down behind his right ear. He felt like his world had collapsed around him.

“Open the door please, Regina let me explain”, he shouted. He usually called her Reggie ,but today was not the day.

He pulled out a bunch of keys from his left trouser pocket. His bedroom ,office and car keys bundled up and hanging on football key ring .They stared back at him, blank and useless.


“We will continue this story tomorrow Anika” as she closed the book. She tucked Anika into her bed. Checked on Tomasi and Tayira, they were fast asleep. She walked to the bedroom window, separated the dolphin patterned curtains and looked outside. The sky was clear and stars twinkling brightly. She looked at her garden, all the flowers and bushes neatly arranged around the grass centre. She wished her life was as neat.

She had spent the whole day planning how she was going to confront him. She will not tell him as soon as he came home. At dinner she will pretend that everything was alright. Once the children were asleep, then she will ask him in a soft voice.

She remembered the  anger in the  woman’s voice on the phone. ”I am sorry to tell you that your husband made my 16 year old daughter pregnant. I will make sure he meets all his responsibilities”.

She glanced at Anika drifting off to sleep, her thumb in her mouth sucking for comfort. After closing the door slowly, she walked down the stair case, negotiating every step carefully to avoid making noise.



In the lounge she sat in grey armed chair and looked intently at her husband, who was watching a wildlife programme on TV. The tall, elegant giraffes were eating leaves on top of a tree. Their brown patterned bodies looked like floor tiles. Unlike them, the man she once adored now looked like log in front of her.

 “Do you want me to change the channel darling? Lusse asked.

Feeling the warmth of the liquid as her eyes filled up with tears, she bit her lips and shook her head.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“So is the baby yours?” she asked.

“Which baby, what are you talking about? He replied

“I am not having a row with you .Just tell me the truth. Her mother phoned me today”

He looked on speechless, his mouth parting slowly to say something only to close it moments later. It had not occurred to him that, the one time he cheated on his wife would result into a pregnancy.

“I have only slept with one girl, once”

“Therefore that makes it alright”

“No it doesn’t, but considering that our neighbour Kizito has three children from other women outside his marriage. I haven’t done too badly” he replied laughing.

She stood up and tightened her wrapper around her waist.

“Did you listen to yourself saying that?” pointing her index finger to his face.

His eyes dropped, “Sorry”

“She is sixteen, you fool” Regina shouted as she made her way up the stairs into their bedroom.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2013)