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I Watch You My Sister
Goretti Kyomuhendo

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' tin—your 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 hand.

"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 Imperial Hotel.

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.