He stares at the long stretch of elephant grass ahead. Far beyond, he glimpses the hedge where the field connects to the forest. He imagines that point where light switches to darkness. That thick forest: his promising harbour.
Tinkles fill the air as hoes hit stones buried in the ground. The noise is unending because the ground is stony, and an unbent back calls for a whip. His eyes flit from side to side. He sees the bent backs of his fellow prisoners; bare and shinning charcoal black in response to the blazing sun. He glances behind. The guard is seated on a mango tree stump, his rifle slung on his shoulder. Goodness! The guard has already noticed his straight back.
"You!" The guard snaps.
He is aware that ‘you’ is him. He casts a furtive glance at his hoe blade. The stone, his weapon to freedom, is secure. The other two guards are a distance away. His fellow prisoners are no threat. Over his shoulder, he sees the guard saunter towards him. The bowlegs. The protruding stomach threatening to push through the uniform. The round face, hot and grim as he tips his hat brim as if to let the wind cool his forehead.
"The rest go on." The guard is approaching. "I am talking to this fool."
It’s time to act. Time to pave way for his freedom. He takes one look in the direction of his promising harbour. It’s waiting for him. Opening its arms to welcome him. To shelter him. Shut him away from the cruel guards. He swoops down for his weapon and casts it at the approaching guard. Well aimed.
He dashes through the elephant grass blind to thought. He has to get away. He can’t be caught. Never again. He is going home to his wife and child. The child he has never seen. Gunshots fill the air. They mingle with the chorus of voices. The tall elephant grass cuts across his face and bare torso. Thorns pierce his feet and worsen the already existing wounds but he has to get away.
He smells home: Tonto as his wife hands him his gourd. He smells fish smoking on the fireplace. Yes! Home. He races. The harbour seems miles away. He wishes to dive into it, or to duck under the thick undergrowth and be lost to the world.
Noises: pursuing footsteps, bullets perhaps; piercing through the grass, heading for his head or chest. He has to race on. He has to outdo the bullet. He has to outdo light, time yes time. Time ran fast so they said, but he has to disprove the saying. If time ran fast, why would the ten years he spent in prison seem like decades? He has to beat his wings hard. He has to leap into space, soar in the sky like an eagle. He has to get away.
The hedge unfolds ahead of him like the great walls of a prison, high. It seems to grow higher as he approaches. It rises like it would touch the heavens but he has to jump over. He takes a stance and hauls his body in the air. His right leg entangles in the hedge top. As the left leg follows, he charges down the band of thick shrubs. A tingle grabs his left thigh. The foot lands on a broken bottle piece. Blood spurts from the punctured thigh. It flows along his leg and mingles with that from the sole of his foot.
He struggles on. It’s long since he has ever felt physical pain. The years in prison transformed his body into a log. Now, he is inured to physical pain. It’s the emotional pain he was left with. It’s his heart that got ripped and ripped each passing second: the pain of missing his wife and child. The child he has never seen. The pain which started ten years ago, and now as he fights his way through the thicket to his harbour, he can still see himself that fateful night. The gears of time go into reverse. The events unfold in his mind like they happened yesterday.
That fateful night, Edna’s labour pains began at 9.00 p.m. His wife Edna, at sixteen, having their first baby. The traditional birth attendant had advised she delivers in hospital but hospital was twenty miles away. That night he rushed to Mukasa, his neighbour, and borrowed a bicycle. "Take the murram road," Mukasa said, " you will be in time I am sure. Bikira Maria be with you."
Edna’s intensifying pains drove him to take the shortest route through Watta forest: the one Mukasa had advised against. The darkness. The bumpy road. The eerie voice of the forest: crickets chirped and frogs croaked like they were competing, and Edna’s growing pain! In the middle of the forest, she could not keep on the bicycle. She screamed. She trembled. She yelled and got reverberations of her yells.
"Edna, my dear," he said. He raced ahead a few steps then back. "Edna." He was in the cruellest of dilemmas. How would he leave his wife in the forest? And yet, what could he do to help her? "I am calling for help, Edna... Try… to be… calm…" How could she be calm when she was in pain? "One minute, Edna." He grabbed the bicycle and cycled back to fetch the birth attendant. As he struggled his way to the road, he collided with a figure and they thudded down. When he got up, he came face to face with five men. One of them clouted him across the cheek. The force made his head churn like swirling dust. He dropped unconscious.
He never knew what happened next. In the morning, he found himself in prison. Hell. A deep pit: deep down where he could never see Edna again. Convicted for innocence. Taken as a machine for work. Imprisoned to close the world on him: the world of his wife and child. The child he would never see perhaps.
It’s that pain that has held tenaciously and ripped his heart apart day by day. Now, what is physical pain that comes and goes?
The late evening sun welcomes him to his harbour. He’s lost his pursuers. When, he cannot tell. Must have been during the long struggle through the shrubs. As he enters the forest, it dawns on him that it cannot be a harbour. How could he have hoped? It’s the forest that handed him over to five men. To the iron arms of prison! Yet, as he struggles on, he realises it isn’t just a forest. It’s his harbour from the pursuers.
He knows the evening sun will soon say goodbye and hand him over to the grip of darkness. He hates darkness. He hates forests. He hates men. Waves of tiredness wash over him. He’s sure it’s the fatigue due to the long struggle for escape. He approaches a fallen muvule trunk and sits down on the low end. Is Edna still alive? Did she survive the experience of child birth? Did she survive Watta forest? He feels all the strength drain from his body and tears well in his eyes. Edna. If she is dead, what will be the reason for his escape? "She’s alive!" he tells himself, "I am going back to her."
He blinks hard and stares at the wound on his thigh. It’s a deep wound. The blood is congealed and dark but it will heal. Physical wounds always heal. His fingers roam the scars on his legs. He lifts his palm and feels his face. Scars. Results of daily battering and assault. Torture for a crime that will never be told. Anger heats up and transforms his heart into rock. Yet rock that cracks as he thinks of Edna. Will she recognise him? Will she accept him love him again? He is going back to her but is she still single? Isn’t she married again? Dread envelops him. He drowns in it. He sinks deeper and deeper. He is drifting out of himself.
He jolts up. "My wife is not married," he says to himself. "She is waiting for me." He gathers his torn khaki shirt and clutches it around him. He moves on with a determination that overpowers tiredness. Kawule shrubs worsen the tattered khaki shorts. He tears off the lower part of the short to mid-thigh level. He fights his way through the thick undergrowth ignoring pricking thorns. The voice of the dusking forest is so sharp in his ears: chirping crickets and croaking frogs, monkeys jump on and off trees saying goodnight to each other perhaps.
A sudden breeze streams. It wafts along the sweet scent of the wild roses. The scent reminds him of home. Edna had planted red and pink rose patterns in the compound. Roses that sweetened the air they breathed in the evenings.
The night walk is peaceful because he is going home. It’s safe too because wild animals are better than people. If you do not bother them, they do not bother you. If they are satisfied they do not bother you. Definitely they spent the whole day hunting so they cannot be hungry. Besides, animals are friendly and fair. The enemy is a fellow human being, man.
Anger stirs in his heart like foaming turbulence of a waterfall. He hurries on, bracing himself to rise above any obstacles he meets in his way.
An owl hoots nearby. He halts. The owl is just on a tree in front of him. He ignores the sparkling eyes of the owl and moves on. He’s not afraid of the darkness that has encroached on the forest. Not afraid of his surroundings. It’s only the terror of being caught. His feet are sore, legs scratched and pierced. He can feel the blood on his lower legs form into a lake. The lake forms into rivulets along his scarred skin. He breaks into a run. He stumbles over a tree stump and collides with a tree. His left foot gets entangled in a wandering root. He swoons down, face first. He can’t go on.
The early morning sun streams through the treetops. Leaves dance to the tune of the breeze. The dancing leaves perspire and beads of sweat pour to the ground. A droplet spatters on his forehead and he rises from the unknown depths of his sleep. He opens his eyes then squints. Is it moonlight? Daylight? More droplets spatter on his body. He opens his eyes wide. It’s daylight. The treetops are rising high like they intend to meet the sky. The world is smiling down upon him. He is free. He smells a fresh scent of rotten leaves, bird and monkey droplets, and treesap. Yes. It is the scent of freedom, animating. It isn’t the sickening smell of the cell. Not stale cigarettes, sweat, urine, faeces, blood he is free!
The chill of the morning sips through his ragged clothes. He sits up and lowers his eyes along his body. His ashen skin is decorated with clotted blood, dust and humus. His feet are sore. His stomach is rumbling. It’s all okay. He is going home. He closes his eyes as if to shut away the night.
Suddenly, a noise cuts through the silence. He poises his ears. Pounding footsteps. Breaking sticks. Voices! Panic jolts through his body. It grows to fear. Fear paves way for terror. The terror of being caught. "You are going home," he whispers to himself. He creeps backwards and crawls into a thick undergrowth. A stick worsens his punctured wound on the thigh. He lies flat and presses his body against the soft earth. Something under his stomach prods him: a stone perhaps. But it’s all okay. Physical pain doesn’t last long.
The noise gets louder, footsteps nearer. The rustle through the shrubs intensifies. Voices! He can’t make out the exact number of pursuers. What slices his heart is the fact that they have halted near his hiding place. So near that he can smell their familiar odour: the sickening odour of prison. He’s afraid they can smell him too. They spent so much time together that they seemed to be parts of each other. But he has to break loose.
"He must be found," a voice snaps. The voice is familiar. It carries an unusual air of presence and determination. "He is someone who shouldn’t just leave alive. How, for heaven’s sake, did he escape? Find him!"
The commanding voice stirs his own determination. He can’t be taken back. He must go to his wife and child.
"Find that man," another voice sounds, "he should be found. We are not going back with bad news. Find him. Move on all of you. Scatter!"
Later, the sounds drone. He can only hear voices of the birds. They are probably greeting each other or discussing the day ahead: planning to shift into new nests or enlarging their territories. Suddenly, the noise resumes, this time in a distance. He hears multiple movements again. More men seem to have been mustered. The noise gets nearer. Voices again!
"One group to the left. Others that side," the former voice resounds.
"Afande, we need to alert the village locals. Many are already in their gardens. We can alert especially this area where the forest connect to the swamp"
"That’s not your office! Now do what I say. Sweep the forest. Shake it till he drops to the ground. I’ll be here for the next thirty minutes. After that I will be gone. Don’t hesitate to call me as soon as the boil bursts. Now start. Search the forest inside out."
The heavens seem to tumble down on him, furious and avenging. Avenging his innocence. Avenging his escape from torture and hard work. He can see the shrubs opening their mouths to talk, to give him over. Every leaf and stick above is mocking him; telling him they are jumping away any second. That he was a fool to trust their safety. He feels himself melting like a piece of ghee on fire. He shuts his eyes to stifle the welling tears because if they flow, they will carry away hope of seeing his wife and child.
The thought of the child he’s never seen casts a scoop of pepper in his eyes. He has to go home and see his child. He poises his ears again. A crackling sound jars him with a start. Is the Afande getting to him? He has to fight. Luck was with him when the pursuers did not sweep his hiding place. And luck isn’t static. Now, he has to face the Afande! Multiple foot stamps follow, then a scream. As he steals up, he hears a voice say, "damn it!"
It’s the Afande’s voice. He watches as the Afande drops his gun and fidgets to pull off his clothes. Ants! Ants have invaded the Afande. He rises. Luck is knocking on his door. He has to open the door wide. He creeps forward and reaches for a stone that he casts at the Afande. It hits the Afande’s temple and he staggers before tumbling down.
He darts forward and grabs the gun. "Don’t move," he says to the bleeding Afande, "and no noise otherwise I shoot." He is trembling. He has never touched a gun. He has never shot a gun. He hates guns because they are too commanding. Once its mouth faces you, you have to freeze. You have to die to yourself and live for whatever it commands. Guns have been a part of him for ten years but its presence in his hands is enough to make him sweat. He is afraid he can touch the trigger and kill someone or kill himself or alert the rest of his pursuers.
"Head down," he says, lowering his voice as much as he can. He drops the horrible gun, swoops for a bigger stone and hits the Afande unconscious. He then drags the unconscious Afande to his former hideout. He pulls off the Afande’s clothes and puts them on. He dashes, ignoring the boots. His feet are too sore to be in the Afande’s boots. Besides, he’s never been used to shoes his whole life. He races, the hat on his head almost covering his eyes.
A voice startles him from the left saying, "Afande! Anything yet?" Footsteps sound towards him. Not again! In a moment he realises they’ve mistaken him because of the clothes. He halts, thinking fast. He waves them away and pats his crotch. He holds his hands like he is about to unzip his trouser. He hurries behind a huge setaala tree and peeps. The guard is looking away from him. He steals away. This time he is going away. He is saying goodbye to his pursuers. He is saying goodbye to the forest. He extends his thanks to the forest for being a fair harbour. He thanks the birds, snakes, monkeys, worms and all the forest inhabitants as well as trees for loving him, for supporting his cause.
Noises mingle with the continuos croaks in the swamp. First, chiming of the church bell: persistent like the wedding bells. Then the blare of car horns. The scent of freedom overwhelms the odour of the Afande’s clothes. In a distance, he looks at blossoming maize stalks, flowering coffee plants, dancing banana leaves, and houses. Hope whispers to him louder. Loud enough to awaken his ears which seem to have been deaf for ten years. The fair harbour had seemed unending but he is glad to be winding it up. He races on. He is going home!
The late evening welcomes him back to his home Buligi: the farming village. Coffee Shambas shine like the midday sun. They shine so bright that the fog on his eyes clears; fog that has covered his eyes for ten years. He can see the landmarks of Buligi: a maize field here, a cassava field there, a stretch of carpeted sweet potato leaves, and plantations of banana plants. After what seemed like a decade of wrong turns he has finally made it. He scrambled over rocks, taken paths in bushes to avoid any prying eyes, walked uphill and down hill, now he is home.
As he strolls on in silence, his footsteps sound unnaturally loud. He prefers noise to silence. He wishes for a swamp or a forest. There, croaking frogs squabble and the noises occupy his troubled mind. He hates silence because it stirs memories of the past. He wishes the past to be a story that would never be told. He wishes the ten years erased from his mind forever.
Fate, fate and fate! Fate has made him a thief. He hates thieves because they harvest what they didn’t sow. A prisoner meant a thief, that’s why he hated all prisoners. Now, he hates himself too because he has stolen for once. He had to steal a pair of trousers and a shirt which had been spread for drying. He did so because the Afande’s clothes would call for suspicion. But he has been a thief only for once. As he meanders down the path, he promises himself he will take back the clothes the moment he reaches home and changes into his own. Then he will be a thief no more because he is a prisoner no more.
He branches off to another path that borders the Kibo River on the right. The weather is threatening, heavens gloomy. How he wishes for sunshine because then he would tell time by the level of his shadow. At the junction where the river meanders down to Watta forest, he halts and poises his ears. Drum beats. The sounds are coming from in front. He can make out the beat and the tune. It’s a tune he last heard the day his father died, just five days before fate came his way. Yes. The drums are announcing death of a resident. Edna?
The thought jolts through his head like a bullet. Is Edna dead? Why hasn’t she waited for him? He grips a nearby Jackfriut tree for support. "Go on," he tells himself immediately, "Edna survived Watta forest. Edna survived her fist experience of childbirth. How do you expect her to die now?" He lets go of the tree and hurries on. As he rounds the long bend of the river, he realises he is thirsty. He turns back to the Jackfriut tree and plucks a leaf that he uses to draw water from the river. The cold water revives his energy. He scoots round the meander to the main tarmac road.
Homesteads unfold ahead. Night has taken on its duty. He walks on, blessing the full moon because he can tell it’s 9.00 p.m. by the level of his shadow. He has not met anyone on the way; not even the young lovers stealing through plantations. Yes, this is his home, Buligi, always known to be asleep by 9.00 p.m. He is home.
The fact that he is home brings a smile to his lips. The mud-and-wattle houses stand like they did ten years ago, all surrounded by coffee trees and banana plantations. The compounds are so large that they provide enough space for coffee drying. He notices, as he draws near his house, that the drumbeats he heard earlier are no more. It dawns on him that they were hallucinations from with in his brain.
Home is quiet. The sweet scent of flowering coffee plants tells him it’s blooming season. If he hadn’t been in prison, he would have been harvesting coffeebeans in a few months.
His neighbour’s home draws near. He halts, hating the moments ahead. How will he pay back Mukasa’s bicycle which was taken that fateful night? He walks on, surrendering to each moment as it will unfold. He notices a flickering light move across the compound to the house. Mukasa’s family always slept late. Goodness! The ten years of his absence haven’t changed anything.
At the path to the compound he halts. The impulse to branch off and see Mukasa is strong but he fights it. Edna should be the first person in Buligi to see him. He watches two figures enter the house and the door closes.
He walks on, the smile on his lips broadening. He is home. He imagines himself knocking on the door, Edna waking up and asking who it is in a low voice soft and smooth. Edna’s voice is soft and smooth. What will he say that won’t frighten her? He imagines Edna opening the door, his child clinging to Edna’s skirt, Edna reaching for the kerosene lamp and scrutinising his face, blinking her eyes as if make sure what she is seeing is real
He halts suddenly. Where is his house? The house is supposed to be adjacent to Mukasa’s coffee shamba. He turns and stares at the shamba as if to make sure it really exists. Yes it does, with two musizi trees standing tall in the middle. He turns back. His eyes only meet overgrown elephant grass almost towering over a dilapidated building.
He lifts his eyes to the full moon and curses it because it’s only mocking him with a clear view of his desolate home! The house has no roof. He can remember very well how he toiled to build his bride an iron-roofed house. He can remember the wooden doors and windows that cost him a year’s saving, and the mud-bricks he made out of his sweat. Where is that home he built for his bride? Where is his bride? Where is his child? Or is he lost? He walks five meters ahead. He notices that matovu shrubs stand where the fish smoking place used to be.
He lowers himself down and cups his face. He crouches for as long as he can’t tell.
A rustle through the shrubs startles him. He stays still. A sniff cuts through the rustle. He wishes to die. He wishes to surrender to whatever is moving. He wishes it to be a lion because he is better off dead than realising Edna went away married again perhaps.
As the rustle gets closer, he realises he doesn’t want to die. He ducks down and holds his breath. The rustle sounds towards him. His first desperate thought is to rush to Mukasa’s home for shelter. As he gets up, he frightens the approaching creature and it squeaks as it races away. A pig! He jumps up and stares at the dilapidated house again. "Things have changed," he says as he hobbles back to Mukasa’s home.
"It’s me, Kato. Mr Mukasa, it’s Kato." He is in the doorway staring at Mukasa’s startled face. "It’s Kato. I am back." Either Mukasa is dumb or deaf or even blind. The light of the flickering kerosene lamp casts a shadow across Mukasa’s left cheek. He notices that Mukasa is very old. "It’s me, Kato. Don’t you remember me? It’s Kato your neighbour."
"Kato," Mukasa whispers, "Kato is dead. He was killed ten… he disappeared"
"Let me in, Mr Mukasa. I will explain."
Mukasa reaches for the lamp and scrutinises his face. "Kato," he says but his voice is still a whisper. "Is it you? Where…why… how…" He replaces the lamp and turns to his wife who has just emerged from the bedroom. "It’s him. It’s Kato. He is alive. He is back!" He opens the door wide and reaches for a bamboo chair.
"Yes, it’s me." Kato smiles. Mukasa has recognised him. Now, he just needs to know where his wife is. "Tell me, Mr Mukasa, where is my wife?"
"Get him water and food." Mukasa turns to his wife. "No, wait. A gourd of Tonto first. He must be thirsty." He dashes past his wife to the next room saying, "let me do it. Kato is back. He is alive."
"Yes I am alive. I am back." Kato smiles but the smile transforms into a frown as he realises that Mukasa has avoided his question. He stares at Mukasa’s empty chair.
"Now drink, you need this." Mukasa is back.
"Thank you, sir." Kato reaches for the gourd and gulps it down. "My wife…" the brew chokes him and he coughs. He coughs so continuous that he wakes the sleeping children in the next room. "I am sorry," he coughs.
"Here." Mukasa hands him a Tumpeco of drinking water. "Take this too. You need it."
"Thank you, sir." He reaches for the Tumpeco and takes a sip. "My wife…" the water almost chokes him.
"Here.’ Mukasa reaches for the food his wife has brought. " Eat this food. You need it." He turns to the wife. "Leave us alone, Nabalongo. You need your rest now."
"I will eat, Mr Mukasa but please tell me, is my wife… is my wife"
"Your wife is fine. And your son too"
"My son." He sighs like he has never sighed in ten years then jerks off the seat. "My son… can I see him…can I see them? "
"The food, Kato. Eat first."
"Yes." He sits down and attacks the steamed cassava and smoked fish. Halfway between the meal he pauses. His wife is alive but is she still single? "Is my wife single, Mr Mukasa?" he says between a mouthful. Mukasa’s sudden facial transformation stirs an anxiety in his heart. The anxiety borders on hysteria. He jerks up with the plate in his hands then slumps back into the chair and it creaks. He averts his eyes from Mukasa’s face and stares at the half-eaten food.
"Eat, Kato. Finish the food."
He picks a piece of cassava and nibbles on it. He tries to swallow but it is too heavy to go down his throat. He takes a sip of the water. It tastes bitter. "I was kidnapped," he says, staring at the half-full Tumpeco. "I left her helpless. In labour pains! In the middle of Watta forest "
"Kato, you need to eat first. Your wife and son are well, and there is much time for you to tell me everything. For now, eat."
"Where are they, Mr Mukasa? Tell me one thing, is she still single? Will she accept me again? I’ve been in prison. Hell. I missed her. I escaped for her. I managed because my love for her guided me. Those damned men. They kidnapped me. I left her helpless… is she still single? Is she still single?" He places the plate down.
"Kato, things have changed." Mukasa grits his teeth and sighs deep. "Things changed. Children were born, children grew up, people died … people … got married"
"Is my wife married, Mr Mukasa?" The piece of cassava in Kato’s hand drops as he jumps up and kneels before Mukasa. He listens to the silence. It’s frightening. Stinging. Killing. Ripping his heart over and over again. He trembles. His body heats up. Sweat breaks through his skin. His breath quickens. The heart races. "Is Edna married?"
"Not yet, Kato." Mukasa helps him back on the chair. "You see, my son, I wish I could tell you otherwise but you deserve to know. Edna has waited till she could wait no more. Her wedding is pending."
Kato pats his ears. What Mukasa has just said is the loudest phrase he’s ever heard yet he isn’t sure he’s heard it. It has to be repeated before he can believe it but he is not sure he wants to hear it again. He prefers death. He prefers being kidnapped and put in prison: locked up forever. Deafness is better that he can never hear again but he has already heard. Edna. Her wedding is pending. He wants to wake up and realise it’s all a dream but there are no illusions. It is reality. Mukasa is seated right opposite him and he’s just told him his wife’s wedding is pending.
"Pending," he says, "pending." The one word is a machete slicing his heart into two yet truth he has to face. "Pending." He lifts his teary eyes to Mukasa. "Ten years. No communication, no…" Tears overwhelm him. He cries. Immediately, he stifles the tears and says, "I don’t blame her."
"She is the only person who never accepted your assumed death. She always said you would come back. Always," Mukasa says.
"When is her wedding?" Kato asks. Things have really changed. Everything has changed. He is afraid he is also changing because if Edna’s wedding is pending "When is her wedding, Mr Mukasa?"
"Soon. Today is Friday. She is getting married to a rich Moslem in her home area. Her wedding is on Sunday. Kato, my dear son and friend, I wish I could tell you otherwise but it’s the truth."
"Thank you, Mr Mukasa. I needed the truth. I needed it. I need it just like I need to see her. Just to see my wife before her beautiful face is robbed from me forever. To say sorry. To say sorry for a crime I never committed and to tell her I escaped for her. To tell her I missed her. That I love her. That I love both of them. And my son too. That I will always love her. Where is she now? I want to go and see her in the morning."
"Home, her parents’ home. She left a year ago. Not of her own choice. Your relatives chased her from the land but they just left it untended"
"I saw my desolate home already, Mr Mukasa. I saw it. My relatives..." He doesn’t remember when he last thought of his relatives. His relatives had hated him because of the attention he used to give to his wife. They didn’t know what love was. They didn’t know Edna was everything to him. And now, they don’t know he has lost everything except the son he has never seen. "If only I can see her one more time, and my son, it’s all I need. Not my relatives."
"I well, you have a right to see her. Now, you need to rest."
"Rest is the right word." Sleep means nothing in this present condition. "By the way, your bicycle"
"Don’t mention, Kato. The bicycle went, but you are back. It’s all that matters."
Cockcrow finds him on his way. Mukasa’s brown suit is ill -fitting but it will do. He hasn’t forgotten that he has to take back the clothes he stole yesterday. He is aware of his scarred skinny body, shaved head, and ashen skin. The samona jelly he applied hasn’t had the desired effect because when he touches his face, scales peel off. Will Edna set her eyes on him even one second? He is aware of his frail strength but he has to move on. As he treads the hilly path bordered by Matovu shrubs he realises he is not strong enough to let Edna go. In fact, he might drop dead if Edna says goodbye.
The path to Edna’s home unfolds ahead like a burning fire to go through. The early morning sun is breaking. He halts and watches a group of sparrows spiral above him. They cross each other’s path comforting each other perhaps or making sure each is well. He longs to be one of them. Then, he won’t be awaiting a larger crack on his heart because he loves a wife whose wedding is pending. His knees melt. He squats along the path. Why did fate come his way? Why was he ever born? And why did he escape?
A mooing cow brings him back to himself. He gathers his strength and stands up. He walks on. As he approaches the house, he wishes his legs could be firm. He wishes his heart could be stable. He wishes there was no water in his body so he couldn’t sweat. For once. Only and only for once.
The face that first appears in the doorway is old and crinkled. The owner of the face is holding a hoe. Edna’s mother! She stares at him, mouth agape. The hoe in her hands drops. Another face emerges from the kitchen. Edna’s young sister. She is winnowing a basket of fried groundnuts. The basket drops the moment she sets eyes on him. She raves the compound shouting, "ghost. Kato’s ghost!"
He stands still. More faces appear. More voices chorus, "Kato’s ghost." Among the faces that appear there is a boy ten years if he can guess. No mistake, his son! Clinging to his grandmother’s skirt. His son: the child he had never seen. The child has Edna’s round face. "My son, I am your father," he whispers. He wants to rush forward and pick up his son.
Another yell stirs him. He turns. It’s not Edna. It’s Edna’s aunt. It occurs to him that they’ve gathered for the wedding. Like so they did when he was marrying Edna. He watches as more and more people swam in the compound. His eyes roam. No Edna. Or is the wedding over? Maybe Mukasa was mistaken. Maybe he was misinformed. Edna is already gone!
Edna surfaces like an angel who is visible only to him. She is clad in a green kitenge, a matching scarf on her head. Her large eyes roll in their sockets as she looks at him. They gleam a light in his eyes. The light drowns the darkness he’s dwelt in for ten years. Edna. The round face. The welcoming torso. He can only imagine the warmth that lies in her embrace. She smiles: the smile that reveals the gap in her teeth, the smile that mends the crack in his heart, the smile that erases the past ten years from his mind. She is all he can think of. She is all he can see. Edna, his bride, his wife and the mother of his son but her wedding is pending
She is walking towards him, arms open wide. She is coming into his arms. He is going to feel her again. She is going to love him again…
He is in her embrace. His tears dissolve in her kitenge. Her tears dissolve in Mukasa’s suit. He holds her in an everlasting embrace. He can breath again. He can live again. Edna is in his arms. He will never let her go. He will never leave her alone. She lifts her beautiful face and looks in his eyes. She says, "There is only one thing I want to do now. I want to tell the whole world that my proposed wedding is cancelled. My husband is back!"
He wakes up with a ready smile stuck on his lips. The smile fades and overwhelming tears flow. He is lying amid a clutter of prisoners. The rag-like blanket that covers him only goes up to his waist. His legs are chilled. A chesty cough escapes from one corner. It sparkles off multiple coughs. He smells stale cigarettes, tobacco, urine, sweat and yes. The stench from the bucket in the innerroom is unmistakable. The tinkle of the alarm bell jars him. A voice shouts, "Amuka twende kazini!" More and more tears flow.
Was it a dream?
Originally published by Author-me.com
List of publications:
1. A novel, The Deadly Ambition, Mallory international publishers, UK (Mar 2006)
2. A novel, Voice of a Dream, Macmillan publishers, UK,(August 2006): the young adult novel won the 2005/2006 Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa-Senior Prize.
3. A short story, Ojera’s Final Hope, Published in Michael’s Eyes, an anthology of war stories from Northern Uganda, Umea, December 2005
4. A Short Story, And Still Hope Survives, Dreams Miracles and Jazz, Picador Africa 2008, an imprint of Pan Macmillan South Africa
5. A short story, Then Now and Tomorrow, Caine Prize Workshop Stories Jung Frau Anthology, New Internationalist publications UK and Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, South Africa, August 2005
6. A short story, The Second Twin published in I dare to say Anthology, FEMRITE publications, June 2004 ,(This was shortlisted for the Suzie Memorial Prize for HIV/AIDS stories in Oxford, 2005)
7. A short story, The Naked Bones, Gifts of Harvest Anthology, FEMRITE publications 2006
8. A Poem, Yet hope survives, Sable Magazine, UK (short listed for the Ken Sarowiwa Legacy 2004)
9. A Poem, That Place, FEMRITE Word Write Journal 2004, republished in Poetry Poster Project 2008.