Dancing Under The Sun

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


james joins university in high hopes of freedom from his strict father and a fresh start of a new life with the beautiful first-day crush audrey. trevor, his high school buddy, reunites with him
only briefly before he departs in pain and disappointment. a child of the universe he is...

Submitted: August 07, 2018

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Submitted: August 07, 2018

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DANCING UNDER THE SUN By Alex Ssali

Prologue You are a child of the universe, No less than the trees and the stars; You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should Max Ehrmann - Desiderata

Throwback I had left Kampala soon after my high school. My parents had relocated to Nelson, British Columbia in western Canada, and I had to complete my college education there. I had adjusted to the changes in weather- especially the very cold winters- and the open-mindedness of the people here. I was coping quite well. In as much as I enjoyed the very wide streets, brightly lit with lights at night, the city parks tended to as though they were babies; and the fountains, I missed Uganda a great deal. I missed the hot steamed matooke cake, with steamed groundnut paste. The fresh steamed banana leaves added an irresistible aroma to the food. Such delicacies were not easy to come by in this town. And my friends too. How I missed the solidarity and fun we had in our final year at St. Henry’s College. We had somehow managed to keep up on how we were dealing with our lives on groups on social media. They always took me back in time and oh, I loved it. We’d almost got expelled from school on our final day of exams. We tore up all the pages from our books and flew them in the air in frenzy, dancing away and singing. The floors of our classrooms and the lawns in the school quadrangle were all covered in white. “As we go on, we remember…”James yelled out as he turned the trash can upside down and started drumming. He was quite the cheerleader. He’d always made noise in class but was never caught. And he was the funny charming guy. I sometimes told myself I was lucky to have him as my best friend because he always got my back in the usual verbal ‘bullfights’ we had in the dormitory. He never failed to find a fitting word for any moment, whatsoever. I was a bit different from him- not very good with words, and a bit of a quieter person. But whenever we had time, he had his way of making me say things I’d not expected myself to say. In fact, you just couldn’t stay quiet around him, unless it was one of those unusual moments when he was slightly indisposed. “Come on, Trevor,” screamed the guy who was seated next to me in the now heated class. All the boys were sweating and shouting on top of their lungs. “Can you not be brooding for once? It’s the final day of school. Get your ass up and join in the fun…” he went on, pulling me by my right hand up on top of the desk. “And as our lives change…we’ll still be friends forever.” The singing went on for another thirty minutes or so before we got interrupted by the Deputy Head teacher. He made a few threats before ordering us to restore order to ‘the college’ or else blah blah… I can’t recall for sure. I knew they were just threats and we weren’t the first class to get super excited on the day we completed our finals, so there wasn’t much they were going to do to punish us. That night, a good number of boys in my class were planning to ‘fly’ out of the school. That was the term we used to mean escape from school. Every year that graduated had boys fly before leaving school. Now that I think about it, I think it was one of the most ridiculous things we did in high school, considering that we would be going home the following day for a very long vacation. But we still did, anyway. The most popular landing avenue was club ambiance, or the chapel, as we preferred to call it. The biggest prayer would be that no teacher had made an appearance on such a day, or that you would only meet the ‘chiller’ ones who would even go an extra mile to buy you a bottle of beer and toss to ‘new beginnings’. The cowards, or ‘coilers’, like me only got to know about these things in the middle of the night when our comrades returned to give a report of their escapades. The evening was frigid. I could see all the hairs on my arms erect. I wrapped my thick cotton scarf around my neck and threw the duvet over my freezing legs. My hands tightly held a pair of earphones in one pocket and an iPod in the other. I had impounded it from an O-level student during a routine prefects’ search through students’ belongings. I was waiting for majority of the students to leave the dormitory so I could travel places with a bit of Chris Brown and Whitney Houston. While the rest of the continuing students were heading to class for night prep, the finalists were joyfully marching to the TV room for movies. And of course, those who were planning to fly were also finalizing with their preparations. As I moved towards the switch to turn out the lights, James stopped me with a little smack on my back. “What the heck, Jimmy?” “The devil in blue jeans and red sandals. Here I am.” He grinned, moving towards my decker. “If you’re planning to…” “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” He rapped before I could finish my sentence. “If you’re planning to talk me into going out with you, you know what my answer will be. A no. I get it, Saint Peter. In fact, today I’m here to share from some of your sainthood.” “Are you making fun of me?” “Trust me, if I were to make fun of you, I’d start with your chopstick legs…” mumbled he, squinting his right eye. “All right, funny man. So, what’s the deal?” James had decided that he was not going out that night. He knew well enough that my parents and I were soon flying out of the country and that we’d not have enough time together as friends. A lot would soon change, and maybe we would outgrow each other’s company. I was myself already feeling nostalgic about everything. But my dad had been posted to the Canada branch of the company he was working for and all arrangements for us to leave the country had been made. “I can’t believe this is how the six years are going to come to an end,” said James. And then we went on over several topics, mostly reminding ourselves how we had lived. Memories of how he had bullied me on our first day at college and he took the bed I had booked. Of how I wrote his name for refusing to clean the class so he could get a beating. Of the fights that eventually made us the closest friends ever. I was sad it was coming to a pause, but even more glad that he had given up his ‘flight’ just so we could have a more decent farewell. We only stopped talking at about three in the morning when the other finalists surreptitiously found their way back in. That was the last time James and I had a happy physical interaction. When I returned three years later, things were different. Well, we’d kept in touch on socials and over the phone. And we got to know a lot about each other’s life. But there’s a story he had not shared with me. There are details he deemed important to pen, particularly to me, and every time I see this letter my face runs ashen, and my mind static with questions I can’t answer. I got a job at St. Andrews Medical after completing my degree in biomedical sciences. I was taking a lunch break one Friday when I received a text from James. Fridays were my favourite. There was less work and I got to amble by the beach and watch the skaters. The summer was hot enough for me to unbutton my shirt and cool off in the gardens. James: Yo, Skinny, how’s life without me? Me: More awesome than yours, funny man. James: Yeah, I guess it is. The joke’s on me, man. Me: This is so unlike you, Jimmy. James: Yet it is the person that I have become. Me: Is this a move to scare me? James: As cruel as life has become, I’ve been blessed with a little angel. And I’d wish that a saint be my little angel’s dad when I’m finally no more. Promise? I could definitely feel there was something awry. The usual excitement we always had in our conversations was lacking. As I stared blankly at the four point five inch screen in my palm, the phone buzzed to notify me of another set of texts that I had received. James: Please promise me you’ll be daddy to Angelo. I have too much to ask, I know, but please grant this one. Will be coming to Canada this year. Would love to spend my last days in a different part of the world. Promise? Me: Anything you ask man. (I replied, not knowing what to say next. My heart was pounding raggedly, and I started sweating over my face.) James: Late-stage colorectal cancer. The curtain shall fall in a few months. I did not type anymore replies. My phone slipped out of my clammy palms and fell onto the park floor. I pouted to lick off a few teardrops as I picked up my phone. A sudden shiver ran down my spine and I buttoned my shirt to walk away.

Four weeks later, I was passively resting on the couch at home when the doorbell rang. I constricted my eyes in wonder of who it might be. I walked up to the door. “Good afternoon, Sir. Are you Mr. Trevor, Kukiriza?” asked the embonpoint round-faced delivery guy who wore a grey coat, looking at the writing on the parcel he carried in his hands. I nodded in agreement. “Sign here.” He handed me a clipboard and a pen. I recognized the handwriting on the brown envelope. The italic-style t and k’s were definitely James’. He was supposed to be flying in the following weekend for his vacation. I had been extremely vexed by the news in the preceding weeks. I remember I had dissolved into tears the entire week after, and pushed away some of my colleagues at work. But I had come to terms with it. Or so I told myself every time I strolled along the lakeshore, whenever I had conversations with myself in my mind. My hand trembled as I tore away the seal. In the envelope were a number of foolscaps stapled together at the left upper corner and folded twice. I sat down as I unfolded the letter to read.

The letter Dear Trevor, I hope this finds you well. I did not know a moment would come when I would have to write you a letter like this. Remember when I was instructed to write you an apology for throwing your chemistry book in the urinal? I thought that would be my last time to write you such things. I hope you forgave me. I was very adamant then. In fact, it’s been a while since I wrote a letter to someone. The last time I did was in my form six, when I wrote to Samantha in Gayaza Girls. Heavens! That girl’s handwriting was so sweet I always wanted to keep reading her letters. But I guess the words we said to each other before you left were stronger than we thought. You became my chosen family. And since I don’t actually have a male sibling, I have always considered you a brother. I’m talking to paper now, because these bars and walls can’t answer any of my questions. Yet I already feel like I’m talking to you. Welcome to the last four years of my life, brother. My form six vacation was quite uneventful. I spent most of the time at home watching television and only went out a few days a week to learn to drive. My father was mostly responsible for my boring vacation. He said I was being grounded for spoiling his motorcycle. Anyhow, I promised myself I would make up for all that time once I joined university. I am very glad I did. When I joined Makerere University, I was very excited. I knew I had finally got the freedom to do everything I had always wanted to. I was finally free from the school rules. I was free from the curfew at father’s house. I was free from school bells. I was free from the four a.m. classes. I was free from the school uniform. And what’s more, I was coming to a place where girls were not only restricted to special events such as prom. On the eve of my first day at School of Business, my roommate Sam and I had quite a long chat about how we thought things were done here. We wanted to avoid any form of embarrassment, of course. But we were simply two naive freshmen trying to show each other the way around. I was merely reproducing information I had read from a site on the internet: Campus Diaries. Not much of that knowledge was actually helpful. I had made sure the barber gave my head the design and look that were a-la-date: prickly brush shave on the sides and lawn flat-top French cut. At least the reflection in my mirror suggested so and I nodded in accord before I left my room that morning. Attired in a white fitting Gucci t-shirt, blue jeans and my favourite grey moccasins I made out for my first day at School Of Business. I pocketed both my hands as I moved towards the classrooms. “Hey, would you please direct me to McLain Lecture theatre,” I inquired from a group of four girls that were standing in the Hallway. “Over there, to the left,” replied one of them, pointing toward the entrance. I thanked them as I swiftly walked off. I heard them laugh out loud shortly later and I’m very sure I heard a word that sounded like fresher. I knew I had failed the first rule but I shruggingly grinned and walked into the almost full auditorium. The room was choking with buzzing from students whose attention was divided between swiping their screens and chatting with their friends. I saw a little free space between a strikingly light-skinned missy with adorable dark hair and walked over to seat myself. “Excuse me, is this space free?” “No!” she blurted and immediately went back to her phone. “I’m James, by the way.” I looked into her direction, trying so hard not to sneeze from her penetrating perfume. “Oh, it’s nice to meet you, James,” she enunciated, rolling her eyes over and then proceeded with chewing her gum. As I was starting to wonder whether or not I should find another place, a tall dark man slouching in black suit with a big, long maroon British-knotted cravat hanging over his pumpkin-like belly waltzed into the room. He wore goggles with a black thread hanging from each of the temples round the back of his neck and carried a brown leather case that seemed to be weighing down his right shoulder. He scribbled his name with a piece of chalk on the blackboard in the corner. “Smith Bakooya is my name,” he started and everyone went silent. As he lowered his glasses at the bridge with his index finger, he went on. “Welcome to MUB101 Ethics… Phones in silent. It is okay to move out of my class as long as you do not come back in…” He continued to give his instructions, his voice weakening each time. By the end of the lecture I was already cursing my neighbour and the old man speaking to himself. But the following session, in my tutorial, totally reawakened my hope. “Hey you, James, right?” asked the guy who was seated next to me. “Hey,” said I, trying to recall where I’d seen him, “I am. Did we meet at…?” “HL Driving School,” said he, almost instantly. It was Paul. We both laughed about my poor memory and settled at the table. Seated across from my side was a small, jolly-faced light-skinned girl. I could not keep myself from stealing glances at her adorable upturned almond-shaped eyes with perfectly knitted thick brows. The only other female in the room was a much older lady, most likely in her thirty’s and she gave a motherly feel to the class. “Your eyes will give you away, James,” Paul wrote on a piece of paper and slid it to my side. “Is it so clear?” I wrote back. “Manifestly.” She must have noticed I was gazing at her. She shyly bent her head into her book. “You’ll need to sweet talk me. I could give in a word for you.” “Did I say I’m interested?” The smile on my face was saying something completely different. I was already smitten by the dazzling lulu across the table. “Her name is Audrey. That’s all for now. Lunch is on you if you want more.” I did not say a word to her as we walked out of the tutorial room.

I struggled through that night as I thought through the things Paul had told me about Audrey. I could hear him say to me again and again: “She broke up with her boyfriend a few weeks back.” That brought an evil sense of joy in me. Then as I turned to the other side of the bed, I could see Sam fast asleep on his bed, breathing loudly through his nose. I wished I could be as free as he was, but a part of me assured me that I was enjoying the feeling of restlessness that I got whenever a picture of Audrey got painted in my mind. I dialled the number Paul had given me. But as soon as she picked up, words got stuck in my throat and I hung up. Soon I was slumbering.

The Dream girl Three weeks later, we had become quite good friends with Audrey. Of course my heart still raced up every time I saw her come closer, and sometimes I wetted my shirt in the under-arms, but it was not as intense as it had been before. I spoke with minimal tension, even on the phone, but I wanted something more. That Monday I was very active in class. I found business mathematics quite enjoyable. However, I could see Audrey grimace as the lecturer went on to scribble signs and figures on the board. She frequently bit the lid of her pen whenever a concept seemed elusive. “Hey, Jimmy, would you mind if I came over to your place for some coaching?” she asked after the lesson. “Of course not.” Said I, instantly. “What time would it be?” “Seven-thirty will do,” I assured her. I did not engage in the usual chit-chat with the boys after classes that evening. I rushed back to my room to set tidy the bed I’d left rumpled up in the morning and to wash the dishes. I instructed Sam to do the same. “Are we expecting a visitor, roomie?” he enquired, smiling mockingly. “More than a visitor, maybe.” I said as I picked up the cluttered clothes from the floor. “Maybe? Did you finally mumble with words? To her, of course…” “Just shut up and throw your filthy stockings into the basket.” “And how long will I be thrown out of my room, Sir?” “Long enough to drown you in your medical books and return to just snore.” “Hunh! This is not fair.” He grumbled. “And most probably it’s just the beginning…” He kicked my left foot and I fell to the floor. “Just don’t play your music,” he shouted as he moved to the shower, “Or she may never return.” “How many has your enjoyable playlist gotten you, dear Sam?” He simply laughed it off. Moments later, a tap on the door signalled to me that she had arrived. Sam laughed at me as I checked myself in the mirror. “Take a deep breath, bro,” he whispered, “this isn’t a battle!” I opened the door and invited in my guest. I tried my best to feel comfortable. “I like your room, it’s very neat,” she complimented. I smiled in return and introduced them to each other. I gesticulated to Sam to leave through a wink. He packed his books in his backpack and made for the door. “You’re leaving, Sam?” Audrey asked. “Got to catch up with some reading, see you later.” What followed was the longest three hours I’d ever lived. The room was getting hot even with windows open. A moment on the paper I was writing calculations on was almost always followed by two moments on that smooth skin. Teaching had never been harder than when you have to look into those tempting eyes without getting lost in awe and wonder. She innocently kept returning the Soon my face was glistening with a little sweat. As I walked her back to her hostel I was contemplating taking the burden off my shoulder but I could not gather enough courage. There seemed to be some sort of gravity between my lips and they fell shut as soon as I muttered: “I want to say something.” She stood and asked if she had heard me say something. “Me, oh, I meant to say…” I stuttered. “Yes…” We walked on. “I love – your – hair.” I sighed. “Oh, wow! Thank you.” The wind was howling wildly in the trees along the walkway as we approached her hostel building. It was about to rain. We hugged and wished each other goodnight. I watched painfully as she disappeared into the entrance to the building. I pocketed and walked away, disappointed and angry with myself. I found Sam eating at fries and chapattis and I hungrily devoured a huge portion of my roommate’s supper. “Slowly, man,” he complained between chewing and swallowing. I did not say a word. “How did your date go?” “It ended with me hungry and angry without supper, having spent my last pocket money on entertaining the guest…” “And…?” “And my stupid lips said nothing.” I shouted, downing another big piece of chapatti. “I must say your eyes are good at selection. She’s a fine one, roomie.” “One that’s about to be grabbed by some other random guy…” “Well, looking on the brighter side of things, it wasn’t really a date, teacher!” He tapped my shoulder and played Dancing Shoes. I went to bed hoping for another turn.

Kisses by the pool The annual college fresher’s dinner was fast approaching. As the rest of my classmates were looking for party dates, my mind was fixed on Audrey. I was on my best behaviour to avoid a no for a response from her. In the beginning, I was merely obsessed with the idea of being with her. Now it had turned into something more than that: I craved her presence; I wanted her to be my girlfriend. If only I could get the right moment to say that out loud. If only this time my lips did not betray me. And what better time would it be than a moment at a dinner- I thought to myself. Albeit the confidence I got from stories and rumours going around school that we were already in love, I was afraid the boys in higher classes might crush my hopes in no time. I walked in on her singing absent-mindedly in the tea room one Friday afternoon. Majority of the students had left school. Her angelic voice would first pierce deep into the ears before taming them to want more of that sweet sound. She swayed her head left and right as she sang on. “Wow! You could win yourself many awards with that singing,” I interrupted her. “Oh, is it that good?” “Not as bad as the dancing.” “Hunh, you could teach me that, too.” “If you could let me, I think I’m better,” I bragged. “By all means…” “Saturday next week, at African Royal Hotel.” “Did you just ask me to be your date at the dinner? You con-man…” she smiled. “And you just said yes, my lady,” I smiled back. “Practise on.” I walked away beaming with happiness. For the first time in a long time I hadn’t let myself down. *********** As it was the tradition, the gentlemen stood outside the hotel, waiting for the ladies, to lead them on the red carpet and into the ballroom. I was chic myself in the black suit, white shirt and black bowtie. But not as elegant as the prize that stepped out of the grey Mercedes in a royal style- long blue dress with golden embroidery in the neck, high slit, black high heels, golden earrings, sky-blue clutch bag and her dark hair perfectly drawn to one side. “How sparkling you look today, miss!” I whispered as l offered her my hand. “As do you, Jimmy” she winked. “Not even close. You belong to the sky, tonight.” “I’m flattered. I hope you will aid in my flight to the sky.” “With pleasure.” We marched away into the building. Shortly into the dance power went off in the room. She asked me if we could walk out of the room. The gardens were a perfect alternative. It was quiet outside, and the moon lit the water in the pool into a glittering grey gem. She sat by the water, her feet oscillating from within in it. I sat close by as I unrolled my bowtie and took off my jacket. “I was enjoying the dance.” “It was lovely, but it’s better here, just us two,” she calmly said, piercing her eyes into mine. I went silent for a moment as I leaned forward in her direction. She did not move at all. As my face met hers, she shut her eyes and our lips intertwined. I savoured those gloriously lush red lips with passion and excitement. I wanted that moment to freeze for the entire night. She opened her eyes stared at me longingly before asking: “Why didn’t you say a word that night you first called my number?” I smiled blushingly. “Do you remember that?” “Of course. Plus the day you soiled your shirt with food in the dining hall. All too well,” she emphasized. “And you were to blame too, for stealing our attention.” “Your attention, you mean…” “It’s not just me, surely. I guess I’m simply the lucky one. I must be having a few enemies right now for winning the college mantrap.” “Will you shut up and kiss me again, this time less nervous.” We were startled by the sound of some feet on the ground and we fell into the pool. “The lights are back on, you lovebirds,” Paul remarked and walked back in. I covered her back and shoulders with my jacket and we walked away. ************** When I walked into class the following Monday they all giggled and made a buzz of silly excitement. “Jaudrey. Jaudrey,” some said amidst laughter and noise. I simply smiled and walked towards my seat. I had not expected this kind of public awareness about my relationship with Audrey, and I always glowered whenever they made such statements, but I inwardly liked it. It gave me a sense of pride and satisfaction. It seemed like I had finally won a battle after fighting for years. “Finally, your lips did something productive,” Sam mocked when I told him about how our diner had gone. “To room less days,” I said as I raised my wine glass. “To room less days, roomie.” He raised his too and we made a toast.

Fast forward The three years at College flew past fascinatingly. I can’t say I did a lot of the wild things like I had promised myself. Maybe Audrey was a big force in keeping me in line. Maybe I had outgrown the thoughts of spending nights in clubs, drowning on the drink and meeting random girls. I was happy, nevertheless. Soon we graduated from university. I did not want to go back to father’s house, however. I wanted to start over on my own. Besides, I wanted to prove to him that I was no longer the irresponsible boy he always scorned at home. He was happy to give me a start with rent as I searched for a job. I found myself a comfortable self-contained double-room apartment in a flat in the outskirts of town. Audrey had joined me, and our parents had all agreed that we could live together as long as we waited to have children. Audrey had not shown me any reason to doubt her love for me until just a few months into our apartment. She became nit-picky, even when there clearly no reason for it. Suddenly, to her, the apartment became too small for the two of us. On other occasions, she pointed out that we were spending a lot of money on it. She pointed out to me that maybe it was best for us to spend some time apart until we made enough money to first get married and have a home of our own. Perhaps she had a point, so I thought, but this was not my Audrey. I could feel a widening ditch growing between us, and my old Audrey was fast disappearing in the dark. “The air is refreshing, isn’t it?” I said to her one evening as we sauntered along Colville Street. “It is,” she sobbed. “And you used to love the leisurely walks. Remember the promises?” “Now and in the after-life. Smooth skin and wrinkled ones. Strong and weary. Dark and grey. Yes. I remember it all,” she snapped, pushed my hand away and stood there, aloof. “Any chance we could go back to that time?” “We are nineteen no more,” she said, nonchalantly as she looked away, “Things have changed, can’t you see?” She wiped her face and walked away. I stood there, watching her take the taxi until it disappeared in the traffic. The noisy streets distracted me as I found my way back to my strange apartment.

I deemed it more than necessary to seek a bit of advice from Paul. They had become even closer over the past few years. “Maybe you need to understand her. Maybe you need to give her a bit of time like she said. Girls need these things sometimes,” advised my friend. I composed myself and hoped for my little Audi to return, some day. She actually did return. I found her seated on the couch a week later as I returned from my job interview. She stood up and swung across the room to me. She hugged me so tightly I almost lost balance. “I’m sorry, Jimmy,” she whimpered. She let go of me and walked over to the window. “You will soon be a dad. In about eight months,” she broke out. For a moment I did not know what to feel. I shed a tear and held my lover tightly as we watched the busy world outside through the window. Joy was returning with the gleaming beams of sunlight that shone over the cream walls in the room. I sighed with relief.

Over the proceeding few weeks I became extremely infirm. My body was losing all its strength and my flesh was disappearing tremendously. I could feel my life vanishing in tiny bits every morning that I woke. I overheard some of the secretaries at the accounting firm I worked for say: “AIDS has eaten him young. Such a handsome boy!” The old ladies were good at spreading word at office. Soon many of my colleagues were approaching to talk about my health. My boss advised that I take a few weeks off to consult the doctors. Of course he implied that I was unfit to work for him anymore. I felt it too, however much I wanted to hold on to make a good start, especially now that I was expecting to start a family soon. The doctors told me I had colorectal carcinoma, and that I had very few months to live. Three in the most. Nothing had ever been more vexing than such news. I could see my whole life flash across my face. Every night that came filled my heart with utmost fear: I felt like it would never break into day. My heart beat ruggedly fast as I covered my body in those sheets. Sometimes I did not even want to sleep- what if it robbed me of the little time I might have had to see some light? Such was the dread that drove me from the city, back to my dear mother in Masaka. I wanted to spend part of my last days with her and my family. The poor lady roared like a wounded animal when, after a long period of denial, confirmed that I was seriously ill. “My poor boy. See how he’s lost his healthy body in no time. Heavens, why not take me instead?” That’s all she kept saying. It broke my heart to see my mom and sisters go through this kind of pain, treating me like they were almost completely sure one morning they were going to wake up to a cold body of me. I came to terms with it, however painfully. I smiled every time I got a chance to. I laughed. I went dancing. Dear Trevor, I chose the last month to be with you. In a place worlds away from here. To show you a part of me that could perhaps be a good story to tell my little angel. I was willing to try, at least in the end. I was planning to travel with Audrey. I knew how much she loved Canada. I wanted to surprise her. I moved back into the apartment the afternoon after booking our flight. When I pushed the door open, I wished my sight was the first thing I had lost: Audrey and Paul were rolling in the hay on my couch. The bag I was holding slipped out of my palms. My face flushed and my hands got wet. Yet I froze like a statue. “Is this the kind of space you two meant?” I finally screamed my lungs out. The two of them were standing there, silent like a tomb-yard. Audrey’s lips were beating up and down as she tried hard not to look into my face. Paul’s face of indifference even raged me the more as he stood motionless in his boxer briefs. I walked over to the dining table and hurled a jerry can of cooking oil at him. The oil spilled on the floor. “These idiots won’t even say a word to me. They both wanted me dead,” I shouted again. I could hear my echo sounding off. As I reached over for the mingling stick, Paul was struggling through the oil. He wanted to run away. He slid over and fell onto the knife in a cup on the table. Audrey started screaming. Blood spouted out of Paul’s abdomen and soon there was blood all over the floor. I panicked. My eyes widened in fear. I tried to help Paul, but there were crowds outside shouting: “Murderer!” My hands and feet were covered in blood. Soon there were men in uniform asking me to give over my hands to cuff them. I did as I had been told. Everyone outside my apartment looked at me scornfully. Some of them went on to call me murderer. But I did not feel anything. I turned around to see if Audrey was anywhere. She was gone. That was the last time I saw her. She and Paul gave were key witnesses in my case. Her face was as plain as a statue’s as she swore she was telling nothing but the whole truth. I do not know how Audrey is. As much as I loathe her name and face, I wish she is well with my little angel. The floor is getting cold. This cell is even colder. These bars are only opened when they want to push me a plate of watery beans and posho. I only get out of here to see my doctor, although I wish his prediction could come sooner. I can’t stand the sight my mother’s tears every time she walks into this corridor. Attempted murder- that’s what the judge said. I was told Paul has been hospitalized since. I could have so many regrets, but I have chosen to accept what life has brought me. Whenever he- or she- comes to life, please be my little angel’s guardian and father. With love, James Suubi. Finding peace I sneezed as the first drop of tears broke free; the rest flowed down in an endless stream, wetting the papers I was holding. I threw the letter on the table and dashed into the bedroom. I lay on my bed for close to an hour gazing at the white ceiling until my face was dry and gummy. The hooting of my neighbour’s car woke me up at nine o’clock in the dark. When I eventually managed to travel back to Uganda, at year’s end, I got in touch with James’ family to help me find justice for my friend. “The case would be much simpler if Paul could change the story in court,” advised their lawyer. Paul had undergone a few surgical procedures to correct his cut injury. “I’m feeling much better,” he said to me in a weak voice on his sick bed. “Thank heavens,” I replied. “The doctors said he’d be walking out of here anytime soon,” added the young lady who was taking care of him at the moment. She introduced herself as Audrey. She was seated in a chair with a cute little child on her laps. “It has an adorable gummy smile,” I said, stroking the baby’s cheek. “She’s called Angela. The father wanted that,” she said, fixing her gaze on the child’s face. Her face was turned pale as she looked on. She seemed to want to smile, but a weary look concealed that emotion. “He used to say a lot about you,” she said, with her face bent still. “He’d be happy to hold her first from you.” Her voice was as calm as a summer sea. “You’ll find me at the apartment.” She placed the child in my arms and walked out of the room, spiritless. “I have something to say to you,” said Paul, raising his chest forward. “He did not do this. It was an accident. I’m so- ,” he stammered and fell back on the bed. He did not say another word. I shouted out for intervention but the doctor said it was too late. As I walked out of Nsambya Medical where Paul was being treated, my phone buzzed. It was a message from James. He wanted me to buy him a phone that I’d deliver during my visit that afternoon. James had definitely emaciated. His cheekbones made clear tiny hills beneath his this skin. Little furrows dug between his eyelids and on his cheeks even as he smiled. His hair stood in small brown cornrows on his scalp. “Is that my little angel?” he cried out when I showed up in the visitors’ common area. I held out the baby to him. He held her close to his chest and kissed her forehead. His lips were tightly pressed against each other, showing the furrow lines on his face. He raised his eyebrows and looked over to me. “Angela,” I said. He smiled and placed the child back in my arms. “That’s your new daddy, little one,” he said, before placing another kiss on her right cheek. He then sat down on the opposite side of the table and passed out his arm under it, opening his hand. I placed the mobile phone in his palm and he immediately walked away. At the end of the corridor, I saw him hand over the phone to another man in the yellow prison uniform, who in turn rolled out something I could not see clearly. James swallowed it at the instant before disappearing away in the corridor. My fixed attention to the corridor was shortly interrupted by a police officer who told me my time was up. I headed back to the apartment. The door was shut but unlocked. The bedroom door was gaping and I could see Audrey lying flat on the floor. Her white eyes protruded like they were about to fall out of their sockets. A mixture of froth and blood covered her mouth and neck to the floor. A white piece of paper was folded tightly in her left palm that hung onto her swollen abdomen. Beside her was an empty blue three litre jerry can. I lay the baby on the bed and pulled out the note from her hand. It read thus:

I lived my whole life searching for happiness But a warm hallelujah I found In a man so gentle and kind Yet my heart yearned for something more I fled the beauty and lived in the wild Now the poison is eating away every drop of my peace…

The greater hallelujah comes from something deeper Not this broken, frosty one That little angel deserves not this beast This is my gift to her

Audrey

********** My phone rang. The voice on the other end told me that a man named James Suubi was found lying dead on his bed in the cell.


© Copyright 2018 alequ. All rights reserved.

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