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By Mildred Kiconco Barya


copyright 2004 Mildred Kiconco Barya


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Nikki and I were at that age when one desperately wants some kind of mischief. We were on holiday. We had completed our primary leaving examination. Father saw it fit to send us to his cradle and have the old woman rocking us.

Within the first few days of village life, rather, upcountry life, as we preferred it, we had done enough gallivanting; enjoying the carefree life and measuring temperature – a term that meant walking barefoot. We were fascinated with the reality that this part of the world, it was natural for kids not to be in the habit of wearing shoes.

We engaged in a little work on the farm; fetching water for the cows and looking after sheep when the shepherd was ill. We had plenty of time to ourselves.

One evening, we were uncontrollably restless. According to our unwritten timetable, we had exhausted every kind of plan we could call ‘proggie.’ We had been to the village well and accidentally broken an old woman’s pot. We had been to the shamba and carried away a young boy’s firewood, after tricking him into playing hide and seek. We had survived a beating from a mad man, whom we provoked into telling us how he got mad.

"Perhaps we should go to the neighbours and see what they are cooking for supper," Nikki said.

"You think they’re boiling frogs? Nosing into people’s pans is rather cheap, think of something more exciting," I challenged.

"You think too, why do you leave the thinking to me."

"Okay, I have a swell idea" I said as I rose from my seat and looked around for sign of some sandals. You never know what you step on at night, along the village paths.

"What’s the swell idea?" Nikki asked.

"Let’s go out and simply look for trouble." I said.

She smiled a well-rehearsed, pleasant smile. Closing the door behind us, we sneaked out as stealthily as cats on mission. Dusk had come and I am sure in our waywardness, we looked like silhouettes against the disappearing sun.

We had not covered much distance when Matayo’s guava fruit trees stood within eyesight, beckoning. Matayo was a mean hypochondriac whose paranoia made him believe that witches were after his life. He locked his wooden gate early, a gate as high as my father’s boots. Any five-year old kid could have jumped it over easily. It was foolery to expect that his gate could block people from going to his house.

Matayo kept a fierce barking dog, which was unchained after dark. It certainly served better than the low gate, especially in scaring off thieves.

Nikki and I were feeling larger than life that evening, so we made our way to Matayo’s gesturing guavas. We had plucked off a few when the dog started growling. We tried to hide under the low branches, and the dog then barked incessantly, drawing Matayo’s footsteps to the garden. A croaky-hoarse voice bellowed;

"Who is there?"

It wasn’t time to yell Porters hell. Fear gripped us. We held on to the branches, not imagining what it would be like to attempt jumping down and running away. Somehow, we knew we would not overtake the dog and Matayo would be waving his panga. Shame!

The further up the branches we tried to reach, the more our butts stuck out. The tree shook with our fright. Then Matayo raised and flashed his torch at us and commanded us to come down.

"First hold down your dog." Said Nikki who found her voice before I could retrieve mine stuck in the chest. It was a perfect imitation of a husky voice that did not belong to a young girl called Nikki. Steadily, we came down thinking fast the way to escape.

With a few guavas stuck in our armpits, I aimed one at Matayo and hit his stomach with full force. The torch fell and Nikki struck the dog, which quickly sprung to the side of its master, thinking perhaps he had mistakenly kicked it. We run as fast as we could back to our house, where we became the good girls we were meant to be. We only revisited the scene as we fell on our beds to sleep.

"That was very close," Nikki whispered.

"We went out looking for trouble and we found it." I replied.

"Gal, it was scary!"

"There’s always scary fun the other side of the world." We both laughed.

Midway into the holiday, Grandma called us to her side. It was usual for her to tell us a folk story or teach us riddles, something she regularly did after supper. On this particular night, she cleared her throat that seemed as rough as a rugby game, and then spat a ball of phlegm in her daily companion called the small tin. We felt something really nasty was following closely, not the sweet Grandma.

Nikki and I winked at each other.

Then Grandma announced that she had called us to tell us that we’re no longer young. She had been observing us, and we had surely become women so could we please start staying at home and leave the village surveying and wandering to the boys?

We were shocked at the decree and the tone of finality with which she spoke. Profoundly, we were shocked at how easy it was to become women. Just roll over one night and the next day in the evening Grandmother tells you, you are a woman!

That aside, Grandma was aging gracefully. Father was her last born who happened to her in her early fifties when she had long given up the thought of another mouth to breastfeed.

Many of her teeth were now gone. She made a phhhhh sound as she passed her tongue over her toothless pink gum, the days she wasn’t chewing tobacco.

Her hair, had turned a milky white, and her forehead was marked with deep lines borrowed from the past. I always thought Grandma’s ears were undersized, they were as small as a large bean, seemingly acknowledging a century gone with the locusts. She was steadily growing into a constricted ball of sisal, knotted with years of yore, now and the future. When she took her ritualistic afternoon nap, you hardly recognised a body on the mat. Grandma was growing into an old baby. And this birth of Grandma into a baby, acquiring a new form but maintaining her memory, sight and strength was something that puzzled me all the time Nikki and I stayed with her.

Daily in the morning, she woke up before any of us tumbled out of bed.

"Peace," she would say, as a greeting to be followed by a toothless beam.

On the night before we left, she stretched her furrowed, elfin hand and held mine. I felt a warm sensation. Then she raised my palm to her lips and brushed my hand with her breath. My whole body tingled with enchantment.

"Grandma, what ritual is this?" I inquired, amused.

"My child," She said calmly, then touching my forehead with her fingers;

"I want you to learn your heritage. Your people."

Like a narrating cassette, she went into the beginning of our beginnings. When the earth had only one being called Ruhanga, (creator) and he had three sons. All sons were called by the same name Kana, (child). When Ruhanga wanted some task done, he would shout, "Kana!" All the three would run to him when he only needed one of them. Sometimes he would call; Kana! And none would run to his request. One day, in the hot after lunch sun, he sat under a big eucalyptus tree and thought. He wanted to get appropriate names for his sons. As darkness approached to cover the nakedness of the sun, an idea dropped into his head.

"Give your sons a task over night," the idea said. "And see how they perform, then you will know what to name them."

Ruhanga prepared three gourds and filled each of them with milk. Then he gave out the gourds to each son to hold overnight.

"Make sure you do not spill any milk." He said.

"We obey you father." They replied.

In the still, wordless night, the youngest son dozed off and spilled some of his milk. As the milk trickled to his feet, he gained wakefulness. Then he began to cry.

His two brothers sympathised with him and decided to pour a little of their milk into his gourd and make it full again. Indebted, he smiled and appreciated their help.

Towards dawn, the eldest son fell into a deep slumber and poured all his milk.

"Please, help me fill my gourd again!" He cried to his young brothers.

"I don’t really think we can do that," The second born son said. "Dawn is already here, father will come in a flash and find that our pots are not full."

True to the prediction, Ruhanga walked into the room where his sons were seated. He inspected their gourds and then gave his sons names, accordingly. He named the eldest Kairu, which means servant. His destiny would be to serve others, always. The second son was named Kahima; he would be a cattle keeper. The youngest was named Kakama; he would be king even over his brothers. He would be a royal, ever to be served.

"Grandma, where do we fall?"

"You will know, you will discover on your own," She said.

I admired her memory, which was like a museum, with every story piece symbolically categorised. I was awed with her enduring courage, which she had not given up with age. She was ageless.

From then on, I wanted to maintain Grandma’s memory but seek visions of my days in a self-discovery journey that no one would take with me. I wanted to seek the face of an African woman who was excluded from the story, whose name was not mentioned at all, whose picture we could not see.

Years have gone with fallen leaves. In my cultural studies, I’ve understood the norms that shape people’s values and the trends that mould their lives. I’ve come to interpret hierarchy from Grandma’s angle. She opened my life to archetypal concepts then, when she sat on my bed and held my hand, when she narrated a myth of a man with sons, and no woman mentioned, no mother.

Now I see a faceless woman, who could be included in the picture, but out of her freewill, prefers not to have a man, and not to bear children. Is she a threat to culture, creation, patriarchy, and hierarchy? Is she failing the future, the promise, or breaking a connection strand meant to remain continuous?

The present world has nothing new on offer. It displays pictures of ‘servants’ who always live among us. We see those faces that have, without having to struggle, and those who sacrifice for others, who serve others and forfeit an inheritance for despised martyrdom.

Before I left Grandma, I hoped to preserve the fabrics of memory with threads of reflection. So I stared at the baskets and mats she had woven. The structures of her art and craft contained in every object in sight. The lines of her stitches suggested a recorded genealogy. The dyed indigo on her wall held a decoration of a child, a man, a woman, and a world. My eyes became full of years as I measured the width, breadth, and height to prove Herstory, History, Ourstory. Expressions of our being. Imitations of our lives woven with care and patterned with speech. Legacy!

When the school results were released, we had to go to secondary school. Father came for us. As we drove slowly back to Kampala, he asked us if there was a remarkable change from what we were, and what we knew then.

"Oh, father, while we’ve been with Grandma, we became women!" Nikki declared with a brass voice like a trombone.

Father looked at us strangely and all talking in the car faded. We felt then it was true and terrible to become women.

Years fell on us with every passing of birthday. We went through Makerere University as undergraduate students. Nikki fell in love. Memory would have stayed right where it belonged, had it not been evoked. Nikki invited me to accompany her on her visit to the fiancé home. I was thrilled with the idea. I would be a good escort, I assured her.

It turned out to be Matayo’s home. And nothing much had changed. He still had a garden of guavas, only this time; we were not interested in grabbing them to ourselves. He had also planted passion fruits in the compound where flowers would have been. The passion fruits were in their harvest season. They dangled and swung in air with heaviness. The old man was proud to take us around, showing what a flourishing gardener he was. There was one passion fruit, the size of a small ripe moon. It had fallen to the ground so I picked it. I complemented the old man on its fatness and proceeded to squeeze the juice right into my mouth. I enjoyed the sweetness of the fruit.

Later in the day when lunch was ready, we sat round the table, and my eyes danced before three glasses of rich, yellow passion juice. But, wait a minute; we were four people at the table. Matayo, in his guttural voice announced that since I had eaten my passion fruit when we were outside, I had no juice to drink.

The old man had not changed! He was still the mean bloke of yesteryears. At that moment, I had the tugging urge to tell him about the guavas. But the look in Nikki’s eyes was a plea to bury the hatchet. A year later, Nikki was married.

Left without my adorable twin and friend, I went back to Makerere University and enrolled for a masters’ program in organisational psychology. I got residence in Dag Hammarskjold, the hall for postgraduate students, and for the first time in a life passed twenty, I was alone.


I saw her. I recognised her immediately. But a lot had changed. She was struggling with two heavy bags and a large leather suitcase. She is a settler now, I thought to myself.

"Let me carry a few of your bags." I volunteered help the way it’s typically offered in Uganda.

"Oh, thank you!"

She responded in a fast, American accent.

"You from America?"

"That’s right."

"Raised there?"

"I’ve grown up in every state in Europe." It was partly true.

"Welcome to Africa!"

"Africa is home".

We climbed the stairs of Dag Hammarskjold up to C floor Room16. She would stay for an indefinite period of time.

She still carried her radiance though, she looked like she ate the African sun for breakfast and basked in the rainbow at her leisure.

She did not recognise me at all.

I happened to be in a restless state so I asked her if she didn’t mind my staying around to help her unpack.

"I am glad there’s a soul I can talk to right now. Is every Ugandan this friendly?"

"Well, well, well…"

"Suffer not to answer that, I’ll find out. I have a whole year to blow."

"What’s your country of origin?"

"My father is Nigerian. As for me, I am rootless."

She was a free talker. Within something like 20 minutes, I had known about her former Japanese boyfriend, two lesbian women that became so close to her it was hard to understand herself away from them. Now she had broken off with an Ethiopian boyfriend she found hard to resist because of his graceful shoulder length dreadlocks. Her mother was undergoing painful chemotherapy treatment in Singapore, and there was a stepbrother who died of AIDS a year ago. She was an only surviving child, and her marriage dream was a wedding reception in a Las Vegas Casino hall.

"Las Vegas is for gambling!"

"Precisely. I would be gambling my life away."

"You are no longer African!" I exclaimed.

"The African is here," She said revealing a tiny, colourless and sparkling stone on her cleavage. She claimed it was cleft from a megalith in the deeper part of Congo. "I just have to touch it to feel part of a larger African, whole." She smiled.

Then she showed me about 400 postcards of European cities she had visited. She brought with her maps of Japan, Bangkok, India, and Islamabad. She showed me a chip of the Berlin wall, which she treasured like some memento.

Before coming to Uganda, she had joined a World Relief Organisation and volunteered in an Israel refuge camp for six months, then moved on to East Timor where she had a terrific affair with a Palestinian soldier. When the soldier was found dead and a bottle of whisky lying next to him in a ditch, she travelled solo to Alexandria purely seeking amusement, facelessness, forgetfulness and another memory.

Her life was in careful suspension of love and brokenness. And a hope she fanned alive to keep her on her toes.

"Your life is so cosmopolitan." I said.

"Cosmopolitan, I know. But there are times I don’t even know how it feels simply to be."

I was quiet for a time. Musing over the depth of her truth. Consciously trying to put pieces of her story together, seeking a face to find connection from the strands of a small past I knew, to the moment.

How she finds the money to blow!

"How long did you say you’re going to be in Uganda?"

"To be honest, I don’t know. May be a year, or less, or more. Who cares?"

"Red Cross and Mother Theresa."

She laughed a deep joyous laugh, and I loved her for that.

"How do you end up here, I am very curious?"

"Instinct. Woke up one morning and my heart screamed Uganda! I replied Yes, for you see, I was once here, and I did not forget it!"

So she remembers!

"By the way, do you have something I can call you, like a name?"

"Heyhey! I am Chima."

"Chima, call me Midi, and I am pleased to meet you."

Chima had only stayed two weeks at Kabira International School located in Bukoto. On her first day she was accompanied by a couple we knew to be South African, so the whole lot of us at school assumed that she was South-African. I do not know why she left our primary school so suddenly. I only had a chance to like her from a distance and not know her name.

She was one class ahead of me. She had long wavy hair, which I envied, because I thought she first stood long in the rain to turn it curly, and anyone can understand how pleasant it is for a young child to stand in the rain.

"How do you sustain yourself financially?" I came back to the present.

"I know how to write a good research proposal that fetches me enough money to survive as I move around. Right now, I’ve got a grant through internet searches, to carry out research on refugee problems in developing countries."

I said I understood. She felt insulted. She pouted her lips and was silent for a while.

I thought she was a true embodiment of refugee problem in the shortsighted way I looked at it.

She wanted to analyse the laws governing citizenship and refugee issues in Uganda, and a few other African countries. I wished her good luck in the research and moved out of her room.

From then on, I kept running into people seeking facelessness, forgetfulness and face of new life.

Books helped a lot to disguise a restlessness possessed by almost all of us at the postgraduate hall. There was the genuine pursuit for knowledge, but also, a relentless drive to be everywhere but then nowhere, and this was characteristic of the informal gatherings in different students rooms way past midnight.

Perhaps our foremothers had something we did not have. When did we start having problems of restlessness?

A good number of us ‘came back’ for a masters’ degree because at the time, it seemed the only logical thing to preserve sanity.

Others were tired of the monotony, and routine at their workplaces. To avoid being stamped in the rut, they chose to study, and hopefully keep the rust away.

But there were those running away from memory; from emotional wastelands; from a pain that knew no other partner other than loneliness.

Travelling to escape…

Seeking a face…

Dag was ‘burning.’ It was a blend of several characters; foreign students who came in and stayed for a while, natives who stayed longer than the period given for study and research. The reverse is also true; there were foreigners who ‘felt at home’ and wanted to become permanent residents in Dag, because they had found a place of connection.

With time, Chima and I flowed together like waters of the same tide. We had a love for coffee, and she injected me with her spontaneous laughter; stubborn laughter that rang out to the seven hills of Kampala, declaring that two young women were alive.

"Laughter is the only thing that remains tax free!" Chima would say, whenever I felt we were being too loud for all the quietude of Dag. Sometimes we laughed at nothing. Sometimes at the silly things we did. Sometimes we only had to look at each other and there, break into raucous and helpless laughter till our eyes shone with large tears.

We never dwelt on the sad stories of our lives for long.

Chima had famous lines.

"Sister, don’t give me a doze of your sad story, you got your troubles, and I got mine."

"It’s nice and safe in the shallow waters, but it’s in the deep where we find the treasures."

We plunged into the deep rivers of life seeking the treasures. Laughing. Loving. Lying awake when the nights were longer than moonshine.

When we were totally stressed out, we went to A Thousand Cups on Buganda Road for good coffee. Chima insisted on a large pot of ground coffee without milk.

"When I am drinking coffee, I want to feel the coffee-ness of the coffee. For that reason I don’t need the milk and even sugar."

Together, we had the coffee-ness of the coffee. We found it at A Thousand Cups, Ban Café on Grand Imperial Hotel, Kokos place at Steers, and the canteen at the Economic Policy Research Centre, Makerere University.

It was there, when feeling the coffee-ness of the coffee, that Chima told me drinking coffee originated in Ethiopia. It was news for me.

"So coffee is African?"


We laughed. We lived.

With Chima I could talk about anything like I was talking to myself. We were very different in principle, yet she seemed an extension of me. She seemed to know me more than I understood myself. I was assured of her generous warmth as I wrote take home exams. I was engrossed in one particular paper for nine days. Trying to explicate and apply qualitative data analysis of Miles and Huberman. Authors that Professor J.C Munene recommended the way a bishop advocates for a creed.

"You must penetrate the book. Don’t let it dominate you. It has rigour, and precision."

On the ninth day of rigour and precision, my mind slipped out of a neutral state. The world became the size of my palm. I became light, weightless like a dry, bean leaf. I rose from the chair, and began to float. Everything in the room floated with me. We orbited the small space we had. Collapsing came much faster, but falling hurt.

In the late-night, Chima came to my room.

"You know what Chima, I floated today."

"Midi, I know you can use language to suit your need, but what do you mean?"

"My feet were not touching the ground, Chima. I was trying to make sense of a causal network and a conceptual framework following Miles and Huberman in my take home exam."

She looked at me once, opened her arms wide and I run into them. She didn’t need a thorough explanation to touch me. To reach my greatest need. We spent the night being people. Being women. The next day, I was whole.

We had the coffee-ness of the coffee when I completed my exam papers for the first semester.

Chima got a call.

She did not wait to finish her research. The ex Ethiopian needed her. To have tracked her is a sign that matched her star.

"Chima please…"

"Midi, no details."


"My time has come. I already feel like I am clasping the sun in my fist and holding the universe in the braid of my hair. If that isn’t happiness, then the stars are mere popcorn in the sky."

From Chima I learn that we never stop loving. We only love silently the people we once loved loudly.

"Midi, I pray there will be someone to hold you, when your turn comes."

She’s in my arms the last time.


Kampala is a desert. Hot and dry. I discover the oasis in a Kenyan named Kituyi. She occupies the room next door. Our conversation is on pleasantries; "Do you love carrots, I have some." "How is reading today?" "Oh, this weather is now terrible, shall we go and swim…?"

Before I know it, Kituyi has become another expansion of me. It’s not clear who drives to the other, who pulls the other. The truth is we’re moving, walking life, seeking a face…and we meet in the middle of a corridor. Life moves in a fast forward then.

Kituyi is a creative writer. She awakens in me disturbing impressions that fight for space in the confines of a mind preoccupied with organisational psychology.

She spends half her time narrating scenarios of stories that threaten to strangle and choke her if she does not write them.

"I think I am possessed with Edgar Allan Poe’s ghost. I must hold a pen or laptop all the time, just in case I have to punch out a story. Violent claws tighten round my oesophagus if I get a story line and do not write it down. It’s such a pain you know."

Pain drives her to write down her skin.

Soon, I discover, Kituyi is an incurable romantic. Literally speaking, she lands and crashes for every ‘gentleman’ in Dag. There’s not even much of a notice to pick up a punctured heart.

"Eeii, look at that guy in C2, I can truly lay down my life for him. He’s everything a woman can want to touch and feel."

"You’re the second messiah sister, saving men’s world with love."

The next day, her love spreads and consumes someone in C17, 18, 19, 20…till all the floors and all the gentlemen in Dag are specially carved in Kituyi’s expansive heart.

"Let’s face it Kituyi," one day I tell her. "Your life overflows with reckless love that spills to every coat you see."

"Midi, you don’t understand."

"The hell I…"

"Ugandan men are…."

"Stop it! Another word and I’ll scream."

It doesn’t take long before Kituyi beholds ‘Destiny.’ She sends him heart-splitting poems for breakfast, nerve-racking journals for lunch and inscriptions of fierce fondness for dinner. Bold and passionate longings that can scare a ghost back into death, rather than putting up a confrontation with life.

Destiny who hasn’t met much poetry in his mechanical engineering background literally flees to the Netherlands for undisturbed study.

"That guy is I, Midi. Without him I cannot breath. He is my promise."

Kituyi’s declarations have courage beyond the battlefront.

I do not argue with her, or try to see things differently. I only look into her eyes for some trace of the familiar. I seek her face. ..Pain. Wounds that are no longer silent. Rising from the deep. Inch by inch. I turn my eyes away.

"What happens now?"

"I’ll pursue him to the end. I just have to because he is me."

And so it’s another suitcase to the airport. Another love and brokenness to another hall.

"I hope you’ll get by where you’re going,"

"Yes, I already have."

A bag of silence sits by our side at the airport lounge. I do not find the words to say to the unstable writer and poet. She writes all the words.

"Midi, thank you."

"Oh, please…"

"I’ll miss you"

"Keep love, hope and faith alive. Remember me in those and you won’t be alone."

She opens her arms and I do not know why I am hesitant to move into them.

I look at her eyes again and see tears pushing forcefully through the lids. Abruptly, I am standing before her, searching for her hands, her body next to mine, my own eyes raining.

With her soft, fingertip, she removes a boulder of a tear that’s going down my chin and drinks it. Voluntarily, I do the same and drink from her eyes.

Up to the time when she reaches the plane, our eyes have not closed to parting. I am at the window, watching her. She looks back and now it’s the eyes of our hearts, the windows of our soul that meet. She takes me with her, and I carry the moment, to be memory.


I get straight to D1. Freeman’s Stakeholder Theory is waiting for me at the table. I look at it and there’s no appetite in me for Freeman. I stare into an empty black mug. I embrace the idea from the empty cup. Coffee. It’s only ten in the night.

I open the table-drawers trying to find a clue of what to do. An air of aimlessness embraces me. There is nothing to fill up the hollow space deep within me. There’s a sound from my ears and before long I am catching dizziness spells. I close my eyes and try to imagine some sleep. Sandbags fill my eyes. My mind is alert. Sharp and stretched like guitar strings. One hour, two hours, three hours…I seem to have made an unconscious pact with sleeplessness. I hold the night in my hands and pray for daybreak to take it way.

It remains.

What shall I do with the fullness of the night upon me?

I plug the kettle back into the switch to make another cup of coffee. I start on a new frisco tin and Nestle Cremora. Then I sit watching the night with the moon. I’ve grown accustomed to wakefulness. I sip off every second of time from the coffee mug.

The sound of vehicles in Wandegeya across brings a new alertness to my mind. I open my window facing the direction where I can look right into Wandegeya, Mulago and Bwaise areas, all at the same time. Its as if I am trying to understand where the vehicles are heading. As if to trace my self in their journey. As if to discover I got someone sharing my lonesomeness without knowing it.

I look at my small table clock for a hundredth time. 4.00am. I move from the window and pace around the room. Nothingness paces with me. I decide to switch on the light bulb. Its brightness magnifies the lonesomeness in the room. Still I see no point in switching off the light. For want of a short call I move outside to the WC.

There he is. Across. Standing outside his room.

"Makhelwane, (Zulu word for neighbour) are you reading?"

"No, I just cannot find sleep."

"Me too."

He tells me he’s on his 19th Courtleigh, since the night began.

"What are you burning your lungs for?"

"I don’t want to live forever on earth. I want to quicken my death, go to heaven and hung out with Jesus!"

It’s a response that silences all my thinking.

"Come and listen to jazz," He says.

Soon, I am in D19. The Beatles’ Things We Said Today is playing softly. He tells me back home in South Africa, jazz is the native’s way of finding connection with one’s roots.

"It’s a way of seeking a face, you know, or facelessness. It’s all about perception." Makhelwane says.


I tell him that back here in Uganda; jazz is so much of a white man’s music. I promise to take him to 7 Coopers, found at a popular place called the Kisimenti, where live jazz is played every Wednesday evening. There’s a bonny Congolese man called Papa D who twangs the bass guitar string with calculated abandon. He wears body-hugging pants of black leather, a white Nike T-shirt and Adidas sneaker shoes. According to the mood of the song, Papa D’s guitar wails and howls with so much emotion. Papa D’s equine face is tight like a rope, knotted with concentration. He has short thick fingers but they pull at the strings with an intense force that grips the listeners and subdues them to a melting point.

"Makhelwane you’re talking about me. I am one of those listeners who, only in jazz I can be truly reborn. Jazz brings tears of joy to my life. I hate it and love it for that, especially when I am reduced to share tears in public."

That explains the copious collection of jazz in his room, which he can play alone, when he does not go out to the public places.

We break into dawn with jazz and talk.

Makhelwane tells me of a time in his life when he stopped going to clubs and bars that played jazz because he felt like one washing his private parts in the open.

"While listening to jazz, you lay down your arms and go wherever it takes you. You forget that you’re in the public, and by the time you ‘come-back’, a face somewhere, has watched you, and you feel naked".

Quickly he explains though, that jazz has the beauty of making you see other faces around you and experiencing what they’re feeling. You give vent to whatever emotions that bind you, or lie deep within you. Jazz is a deeper language than the world of words.

We agree to go to 7 coopers Wednesday evening.

"But let this be a secret makhelwane, if ever you watch me, don’t tell anyone about my eyes."


Later on in the day, he’s helping me with statistics.


Later on in time, he asks me if I am a belief person.

"I am a Christian believer, and Jesus is my Lord." We start going together to church, every Sunday. There’s a population at church.

"Is there a census going on here?"

He’s amazed at the multitude attending the services.

"Jesus Christ, this place must be holy. Back home, you count two men (one of the two being the pastor and the other, probably a visitor) and then thirty women."

We are ready to attend the nine o’clock service and the people in the seven o’clock are struggling to get out. We are queuing to get in. No large building is big enough to contain all of us, and plans to build a huge ‘people centre’ is underway.

"Gosh, and so many men! Most of our men do not bother to go to church. A few women go."

I tell him that God needs a few good men, and later on after the service can he remind me to sing for him a gospel song titled; A Few Good Men.

We make a great effort to get inside the church, and rush to the seats fanning ourselves with the bibles. It makes great sense to begin with confessions and worship songs after the push and elbow ministry at the entrance.


Later on in life, he comes to my morning with a petition.

He knocks and opens the door at the same time. His face is very pale, and I ask him if he has a fever or has he smeared himself with ash? His eyes carry a tale of sadness characteristic of a melancholic person. His whole appearance is a picture of grief climbing a hill. I crane forward to see if the sheet of paper he’s spreading out is some sort of suicide note.

I read the contents. I look at his serious, grief-stricken face. I am struggling to restrain loud laughter from breaking out of me.

So far, there are twenty names on the list, but he needs three hundred. It’s a plea to save the guinea fowls that have been left hanging head down, in a Chinese laboratory for more than eight hours.

"It’s against the animals rights, you know. Besides the hanging, the guinea fowls are going to be sat in tight-fitting boxes with no space to turn or move in any direction. Grave injustice if you ask me."

The petition implores sympathisers to sign up their full names and send the list to the Chinese Science Institute, requesting that the guinea fowls be released.

"Holy Grail, if there’s anyone who needs freedom and release it’s us human beings!"

I am contorting my face, resisting helpless laughter and trying to turn myself into a picture of extreme sorrow.

"Move here, makhelwane," I declare with a force new to me.

We are standing at the window. A slum area called Katanga is enclosed between Wandegeya and Mulago, and its outstretched before our eyes.

"Do you see that place? The people out there need your petition better than the guinea fowls. They’re in tight-fitting boxes of poverty, their lives in careful suspension of illiteracy, sickness and petty crimes. There’s no space to turn, no justice, and much as there’s talk of economic growth and reform, well, what do we really see out there, here, a million other places, and what is Africa’s promise?"

The speech surprises even me. My tongue lashes at a humanity that is cruel, a nationalism that is empty, and a renaissance that is full of wriggling worms. I am shaking and exploding into blurred visions, and dizziness like a whisper comes to my ears.

I am seeking facelessness, forgetfulness that cannot be, but memory…

I do not sign it.

He is very, very angry. His face becomes the size of watermelon. He opens his mouth and hot air flows out. Words die inside him. Words die out of me.

We do not talk anymore. We do not kill sleeplessness with jazz. We do not go to church together. And it’s the end of statistics on my side. We move and live and exercise our being in an atmosphere ruled by unwritten silence sanctions. We do not build bridges. We do not mend fences.

Days die into nights and nights break into days, again.

The end of semester brings a short holiday, away from Dag.


I am in the room where Nikki and I used to sleep.

I begin to remember.

She kept different types of pets at home; a guinea pig that loved being tickled behind the ears. She had a rabbit that used to look at me with kind, misty blue eyes. On cold days it snuggled up to me for warmth. It totally refused to stay in its small, but comfortable hitched-up house. Often times it did not carry a pleasant smell but somehow, I learnt how to put up with that.

Nikki had a dog as well. A scotch terrier named Oscar. Oscar roamed the neighbourhood all the time, as if he had a duty to collect taxes or hand out bill slips. He never had the idea whatsoever how Nikki lived in constant fear that one day; he might get shot for a stray dog. Yet, she could not stand the sight of chaining him, like he had committed some crime. Nikki talked of humane rights for everything that has breath, but dropped her dream of becoming a lawyer. She got married and moved away from me, away from the dreams I knew we had.

There’s a time we had rats in the house. They could have passed for pets since they were always in and around the house, cleaning our dirty plates to ensure no leftovers. They played in the ceiling and we played in the compound. They hid in bean baskets and we hid in the bushes. We found a way of tolerating one another. Some rats came right to our bedroom to smell our feet when we slept. There we were, rats and us, till Nikki borrowed a cat from the neighbours.

It’s not the petition I was against. It’s Nikki I missed.


A new semester began.

Back to Dag, I am immersed in large volumes of books, course assignments, class presentations, part-time news editing, as well as working out fresh ideas for the research topic. Time elapses so rapidly like a running athlete reaching the finish line.

The day I cast my eyes across, he is no longer there. No goodbye.

We called each other Makhelwane. I never even got to know his name. No address, nothing. There’s a cleaning lady drawing and dusting cupboards of his room, removing a once-familiar smell, in preparation for a new occupant.

I approach the paper trashcan to look for something I can carry. I retrieve an empty cigarette pack of Courtleigh where I can smell him and seek his face…


I am beginning to feel dizzy, when my mobile phone rings. Chima! Somewhere in Australia.

"Hey, Midi!" She has her communicable laugh, "You don’t sound like you got sunshine in your blood, and I can tell you haven’t swallowed the full smiling moon".

"Oh, Chima, I’ve got coldness in my blood and bold icicles dripping in my system."

She does not ask for details.

"Is there someone to hold you?"

"Yes, You". It’s a desperate whisper. "And please lend me your fabric of a rainbow".

And so she does. My cheerlessness is swallowed in the expanse of her hope, the largeness of her heart.

Ahead with laughter, I ask about the Ethiopian, the one whose dreadlocks make her swell with life like she’s swallowed a happiness wand, the one who makes her feel like she’s clasping the sun in her fist and holding the universe in the plait of her hair.

There’s a cackle. "He’s been dead for the last two months".

"Whaaaat!" I scream into the phone.

"A car accident."


"Hey,hey,hey, Midi calm down. I didn’t call to tell you how dead he was or has been.

I just wanted to let you know that I love you, and life is very fair.

"Chima, was there someone to hold you?"

"God did hold me, Midi. Hope, love and faith were with me too".

Then she tells me that her mum miraculously recovered from cancer.

"There was this pastor from your place; Robert Kayanja. While he prayed for the sick on Light Channel Television, my mother in Singapore received her healing. Now the doctors cannot trace any cancer in her body".

I realise there’s a reason bigger than life, a time beyond books, a song beyond the now, and miracle of the familiar without being commonplace.

Faith, hope and love become strong in me, again.

"Always believe in God, Midi, and his wonders to perform! Seven doctors have re-examined my mother, including the one who wrote the final, fatalistic report. Now he finds nothing wrong with her. Midi, NOTHING!"

Contemplation touches my tongue. I cannot find the words to say.

The terrace of imagination has no bounds. I go back to the Ethiopian. Realisation hits me for the first time, that he does not have a face, a name, has he? Its never been mentioned. Of all the things that Chima held dear, there wasn’t a picture of the Ethiopian, yet he lived. I know he existed.

I begin to see visions of Grandma. I want to tell her that I have discovered another story. Another myth, and perceptions.

In psychology, the perceived is never real. It’s only an interpretation.

"I’ve got to go Midi, but lets hug like we used to do."

"Ohhhh, Chimaaa!"

With my phone carefully edged between ear and shoulder, I stretch out my arms and Chima does the same. We seek our faces and hug like we used to do when she was still in Dag. I feel her breath on the nape of my neck. I have her arms around me, and the moment becomes a shared memory where we are reborn.





Mildred Barya Kiconco is in her twenties. She was born and raised in Uganda. She studied for a B.A Literature from Makerere University, and is currently studying for a Masters in organizational psychology at the same university. Her publications include a poetry collection titled Men Love Chocolates but they don't say. She has been published in several anthologies and magazines nationally and internationally. Most recently she was one of the winners in the CODESTRIA essay writing prize for Africa. She is currently working on a novel.



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