I Watch You
I watch you, my sister, sitting in the same
spot you have always sat for the last ten years. Even as we went
through the throes of a terrible war in this country, you never
abandoned your place. Even as everything was razed to the ground,
everything looted from the stores, everything except books; you
never deserted your favourite spot.
Even when everyone ran in disarray; even as
the bullets flew above your head, you still sat head held high,
unmoving, in your abode. Even as the fair-skinned tall men dressed
in camouflaged fatigues roamed the city at night, arresting anyone
breaking the curfew, you still sat in the same spot.
I watch you, my sister, clutching your little treasures around you:
an empty, dirty, rusty, 'Kimbo' tinyour safe; two wooden legs
safely tucked away under your tattered blankets and your two little
ones, their faces a mask of bewildered empty stares, their shoulders
haggard. I watch you, my sister, stretching your thin arms to receive
your hastily proffered gifts whilst murmuring a prayer to your deaf
God. I listen to you as you sing your well-rehearsed anthem, with
your little ones chorusing along. The only change I see is in your
surroundings. Just near your throne, stands the newly refurbished,
imposing Grand Imperial Hotel, the Speke Hotel and The Sheraton
Hotel. I watch you as you let your misty eyes feast on the sparkling,
multicoloured, dancing neon lights emanating from these grand structures.
What a hefty meal for your eyes!
I watch you as you stare and salivate at the bigger neon lights
that announce great and delicious world cuisine: Chinese Food, Indian
Curry, Italian Ice Cream, and American Pizza. I wonder why they
never announce the African delicacies?
I watch you as your next bait approaches.
A policeman, eeeh...a traffic policeman! He looks tired, my sister,
and I wonder if he will hear your memorised song or see your outstretched
"Baba, Baba, mpayo akokulya (give me something small
to eat)", you still intone anyway.
Without turning to look at you, he dips his tired hand in his pocket
and brings out crumpled, hastily folded notes. But he puts them
back and comes out with a more suitable gift for you: a shining
two hundred-shilling coin, which he carelessly throws in your open
safe. Alas, it misses the safe and falls right in the latrine of
the little ones.
I see them scurrying excitedly to retrieve
the family's lost treasure. The little one does not see the taxidriver,
who is driving insanely and hooting madly trying to attract his
own baits. He runs straight into her.
How you scream, my sister, how you cry, how
you weep! How you implore your deaf God! How I wish both your legs
were not wooden stumps tucked away in your blankets!
I watch you, my sister, once again with your little treasures around
you, only this time, there is only one little one.
Aaah, here comes another bait. What bait! What a mountain of a woman!
She parks her mammoth of a car, which occupies two parking spaces
and one tyre comes to sit on your wooden legs.
"Mama, Mama, mpayo akokulya..."
The huge lady is wiggling her fat behind
out of the car, clutching her leather handbag more tightly. She
is now walking towards you and I can see lots of smiles hidden behind
your tears. She is swinging her buttocks carelessly, clicking her
high heels on the tarmac pavement noisily. The strong January wind
blows her slit-skirt this way and that way, revealing pink knickers.
She stops to remove her shades, then dips a meticulously manicured
hand, with fingers littered with gold rings, into her leather handbag
and comes out with a blue handkerchief.
"Oh these beggars!" She screws up
her nose and quickly scurries past you. She is late for a meeting,
my sister. She has to attend that important meeting the huge banner
is announcing at the Sheraton Hotel: 'Laying Strategies For the
Plan of Action and Celebrating the Achievements of the Fair Gender
in the New Millennium'.
I watch you, my sister, as your final bait for the day approaches.
Eeeh, a white man, this time. Once again, your eyes are full of
those bottomless smiles, your song louder...
"Muzungu, Muzungu, mpayo akokulya..."
The Muzungu looks at you, that plastic
crack-of-a-smile face. He tightens the hold on the papers under
his arm and almost breaks into a run. But the little one is on his
heels, tugging at his white trousers and this time, he actually
runs, and keeps on running until he is in the safety of the Grand
What a world, my sister! I wonder what keeps you going. What keeps
you so alert, my sister? I need not ask, for the answer is in your
eyes: the smells. The strange floating smells from the world's cuisine,
mixed with the stench from the little one's latrine, mingling with
the strong smells of the contents of the disposed rubbers strewn
carelessly near your home by impatient night lovers...
Goretti Kyomuhendo's has completed
her third novel, Whispers from Vera. Kyomuhendo is the coordinator
of Uganda Women Writers' Association, Femrite, and is an Honorary
Fellow of Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, USA.