Saturday, October 28, 2006

Tell me your story

I’m a book addict, reading anyway and everywhere because books save me. Books have saved me. Again and again. And I know I will go the afternoon I don’t pick up a book. Because this has happened before. Books pulling me back. Always books. Books. Even as truant junior Casanovas going out to practice in skills that took us far, in odysseys that ended after ten minutes, docked, panting on mats on muddy floors in incomplete bungalows next to hostels with weeping, sighing ‘virgins’ that became only another form of a drug to be more feverishly sought. Heart snatchers, boasting, fatally, of being angel faced heart killers. Of the four, two dead, one dying and I still here to tell their story, saved on an afternoon by a book. This is our story, a part of it anyway. Beginning in the Aga Khan High School library, there for Nina, the librarian’s student assistant, unbeknownst to me then that afternoon, evening and night, after pizzas beers chips and chicken, singing with raised legs another man’s name in a room in Hotel Equatorial. Discovering...

The book: Reader’s Digest Family Treasure of Great Painters and Great Paintings, instead of Nina, getting more cynical about women, a long time before I could bring my heart to any, years, timidly before I could finally even bring it to one only. Witness how it went down for this child. Former poet at 15, a year sworn off rhymes, the writing finger twitches refusing to cease, Prefect, after the changes, where I hardly ever ventured, for Nina going back and never finding her. Never to. On that unmarked shelf standing before a revelation.

Often unsure about what I wanted in this life but definite in the silent afternoon rooms of my mind about what I did not want, I remember poring page over page, absorbed in awe in the intricacies of Vermeer’s craftsmanship, Caravaggio’s wild lusts connecting, empathizing with Cezanne’s wordless fury, frightened by glimpsed vistas of me in van Gogh’s trials, knowing for the first time I was in the presence of something close to what on 26-4-’80, 12:30am, I had, mewling, been pushed into this world for. Remembering the reasons why.

My hands shaking, like how Catherine Blake shook seeing William for the first time, in the furthest end of that library, the roar of the rain outside unable to dull the dawning realization of the terrible path I was setting my sandaless feet on, already cracked and bleeding from futile rebellion races. Set apart without my consent. The lives of Gauguin, Degas, Monet, Rembrandt offering not consolation but confirmation of the pain and living purgatory ahead every single breathing moment from now on that would not end until I was laid in my cheap wood coffin with a frowning caretaker counting the coins in the bereaved basket.

The heart weeps, I know, because mine did with joy as flicking breathlessly through the whole book disbelievingly. I remember reading, warm and fuzzy all inside me and outside me the way only wine in Sheraton Hotel on an Africa Big Brother launch night when I did not have taxi fare and I was going to walk all the way home after my work assignment and kwete in Kisenyi drinking with the owner has made me feel. I remember reading and getting lost in that book, forgetting myself as only one other book has made me feel. I remember hearing rain, rushing pouring windy rain I could not see because the library had no windows but rain only I could hear. I remember chuckling happily that my friends truancy was ruined, pleased with my wisdom, not a bit regretful at all. I remember the rain making me feel that everything else was closed off to me was pushing me towards this book and I remember being so happy about that.

My faith faltered by knocks that seemed like Everests’ before, I remember sitting on the edge of that chair knowing that no matter what, no matter how many sellouts I met and knew, I would be the one to hold out, refusing to barter this thing inside me for any price in the world, holding on as I was holding onto that book because my life depended on it. Finding my faith again Friday, 28 February 2000, six years away from hearing 2Pac sing my life, "I was born not to make it but I did, the tribulations of a ghetto kid. Still I rise." Alone but not frightened anymore.

For years till that afternoon, since I was a 13 year old Buganda Road Primary School kid filling two 48-paged Visa exercise books with scribblings in between bottle top football games and Scooby Doo cartoons on UTV that made my favourite English teacher take off his spects and look at me in wonder; I had been impersonating courage, a mirage in my own life. That afternoon after, like a long trekking 17th century Timbuktu pilgrim back from Mecca, becoming myself again.

Unafraid to hug Martin, the librarian and only man who for a few fleeting hours in pure mad joy I ever felt physically comfortable with, when in exuberance at my inchoate ravings and near tears, declared I could take the book and keep it forever because only someone who wanted that book as much as I desired it deserved to own it. He could get another to replace it.

I remember sleeping in my bed with this book for a week nearly, incredulous, unable to believe it was mine forever. A kid who had lost more than any kid that age should lose and battling unnamable demons, waking many times many nights my sweaty palm gripping tightly to reassure myself this book was not another dream from which in the cold air morning I would awake empty handed.

The first thing in years, I did not want to throw away. All these years later still owning that book which never leaves the table on which sits Betsey. Next to Betsey (hard earned baby), my most prized possession. Strange, after all these years, still unable to let it go.

All Night On: It Ain't Easy by 2Pac

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

My New Religion

With the pain in my brain dulled, I sit down before the computer

Trying to remember what life was like, the day before you came. Trying to reconstruct from the bombed out remains of this city that was once my life, how I lived, before you came. Before there were mornings when I woke up to eyes glowing in the morning on the pillow next to mine with a softly whispered, “Good morning, how was your night?” I try to remember, mornings before this morning, mornings when I did not have to murmur back, “Oh, it was…” sweetly slipping back into a dream to wake again, ten, twenty minutes later to eggs frying with an aroma that makes me sit up suddenly in bed, stomach growling. I try to remember mornings before this morning, the day before you came.

I shouldn’t be doing this, I shouldn’t be doing this

I know I had a life before you! I know I was not dead! I just can’t seem to remember my life before you, my life before the day you came. It wasn’t at all bad. It wasn’t at all sad. Heck, I had my John Keats, I had my job, and I had a black notebook with numbers that in the night I opened to dial and I did not have to be alone, the day before you came. When I did not go home before 10pm and met quite a number of mice in my pantry with tears in their eyes on Monday morning when I returned after a roistering weekend that took me in speeding death merchants into towns that were blurs from behind the car windows behind the beer glasses, slurping droplets, laughing, the day before you came.

This tea just doesn’t do it, I know you said no more coffee

The day before you came, I had my life planned out; I’m trying to remember what those plans were. Crazy, strange, deranged, another wild child stuck up in the game, the day before you came. Betsey up in my crib, that account opened and the M7s piling up, no steadier eye on that promotion trained, studying pictures of the type of potbelly I wanted at home, squinting in the dark in the candlelight over rehearsed budgets, the day before you came.

They say there are two deaths and one birth

But nothing makes any sense but you and it's like I was non existent before you, before the day you came and I’m so gone with you, I think I can hardly breathe and now I don’t know what to do about it. I'm lost for words. Speechless. In love with you.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

10 Things

i want...

1. my weekends back. Saturday afternoon slumped in the couch in front of the tv, fan whirling somewhere, bored, happy.

2. sunday morning in bed, sleeping five minutes more, before Church, Mum banging on my door.

3. friday evening in Wandegeya at Neolite with Michael, K promising his on his way traffic held up, to talk about the love of his life, his vintage white landrover, before everything changed.

4. to be in Bulaga again, in the last taxi there, past the foul fish smelling swamp, after 10, on the verandah, Royal Vodkha in hand, plateful of Michael's special pork in the other, the undead puppy rolling with a bone in the moonlight, Biggie blasting from Michael's room, the weekend coming on.

5. my house again. Monday morning waking at 4am, in a cold sweat, sheets drenched, phone green light flashing, Ronnie "I'm on my way and I got two twin sisters with me," dashing out to buy a whole pack, pictures disappearing out of photo frames and that jingly air freshner getting a good futile shake.

6. to be able to sit down and watch a movie and not fast forward, because tomorrow i got a million things to do and 24 hours is hardly enough and this movie sucks and i got to think of new ways to say it sucks without dropping off to sleep before i say it.

7. i want to be able to sit down and watch a recently released movie and be surprised.

8. buy a book on Kampala road or in Owino Market on the spur, walking with Brian or Lil Cease, in the morning, an hour before lunch, headed down to Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road, our day done...thinking of the afternoon's pleasures.

9. talk to Lovely Amphibian and ask him how he knew she was the right one, the one he is going to marry, because sometimes i wonder and i wonder if sometimes, in the bathroom alone knotting his tie, listening to her talk in the other room about the scarf her friend bought, he too sometimes still wonders.

10. be young again, be able to walk away from anything again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Back Tonight for the First time I Get…oh hell Blog Again Step-Child!

A true story

I’m not a guy who asks me too much of this life. All I need is a room and peace of mind to write, two daughters and maybe a son with the good woman who gave them to me, and for their sakes to not be poor but neither either offensively wealthy. Only to be rich enough to provide them with the kind of life that enables a frame of mind with which each of them can believe and know they can do and be anything in this world of their choosing. Simple wishes then. But it’s the simplest dreams that struggle hardest to come true.

In my world there are malevolent forces always primed to squat hard on these simple entertained musings. Once it was the daemon of laziness in me, an attitude of mind that celebrated short-term pleasures over enduring long-term gains, an inner back alley Molotov wielding anarchist torching the stores of my own dreams, before she came into my life. Unexpectedly it was in school too from the sneering lips of thwarted stunted lives with quarts of Uganda waragi bottles peeping from worn trousers in front of classrooms with dull-minded deskmates who couldn’t understand why I got it before the teacher explained it. Too many times too, it was the people I worked for who spoke of their workshop as a “family” but paid too little to keep the family fed. Sometimes too, painfully, it was a friend become blood brother. But never before, in my own life, was Judas the bank. Like Nile Bank that out and out robbed me last week.

One of the rules in my life, after witnessing the tragedy of a family friend and the others I see around me everyday like end of the week bus wreck in the process of unfolding, is to never let money and the hunger for money rule my life, “Cause money's like a strong prescription drug, it's got me addicted to the pleasure and the pain it inflicted Somethin bout the paper wit the pictures of the president's, head Damn, it's like a motherfuckin plague!” And yet from time to time in the temple of Mammon, for my loved ones, I worship too.

Lately because of my big November plans, my ardour has been more intense than a Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine pilgrim who won’t be distracted. And frowning annoyance at petty amounts of shs. 5000 and shs. 10,000 that always seemed to be missing from my Nile Bank ATM account from time to time has turned into saliva frothing rage because the nibbler at my account this time bit off a whole chunk.

On the evening of Friday (I know, how clich├ęd) 13th October, I went to my Nile ATM account all geared for a roistering weekend, backpack slung over my shoulder to discover that shs. 120,000 is missing from my account! The bank claims the impossible, that either I withdrew the money off the ATM or someone used my card on the 10th October at 12:30pm. A finicky lifelong habit of retaining for at least a month all kinds of receipts I receive disproves I may have withdrawn that money and forgotten all about it because I have all my month’s receipts for deposits and withdrawals and there’s not a date in them that I don’t remember ever, itchy-fingered, going there. My ATM card never left my wallet unless it was to be slotted into the ATM machine by myself all this time. But the bank insists the money was withdrawn using my card and it is I who withdrew it. There is nothing they can do for me. I’m still in shock.

Head Bobbing To: If I Had by Eminem

On My Wall Hangs a Poem That Reminds Me

The outside world pressures you into a mold,
but if you don't accept that-- gamble with life.
Call it gambling.

You know when I decided to become professional--
that means to expose yourself naked to the world
with the other creative minds,

I said, "I'm going into areas I don't know
I might just fall right down to hell and kill myself."

And I said, "Well, who cares?
I'd rather do it and see what it's all about."
I don't want the safe way.

The safe way limits you."

Louis Nevelson

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


What will it be like on the day I die?

Will I have a presentiment that the end is behind that door and that beyond when I turn that gnarled, heavy silver knob I can never come back? Will I falter, will my legs fail me and will I plead for more time? Will I try to make a bargain with fate and wager for one hour more?

What will it be like on the day I die? Will I be dressed appropriately? Will I wonder if my unruly hair needs the comb one more time and before I walk into the room where I will die, see in my mind’s eye her frown that I do not care about these things, on the day I die?

Will I be thinking of lunch or the first time I stood lost on a road looking for the Omo sign post she said pointed the way to the road that led to her home that warm afternoon on a Sunday? Will I be thinking of how her cheeks dimple when she smiles and how oooh so much I love them and she cooks the best fried spaghetti I have ever eaten and how I want all this to be finished so that I can seated on the floor with her under the window back when were young and poor and used to insist we took tea suppers with buns because it was novel and exciting by candlelight and she used to laugh, will I be thinking of this on the day I die? What will it be like on the day I die?

Will I die instantly with help seconds too late and the doctor still struggling into his surgery gloves or will it be a slow, lonely death in our country house two days before our grandchildren come over for holidays and I’m alone waiting at the back of the house, crumpled on the stairs remembering my father’s eyes and the day I first saw him as a man and cried? What will it be like on the day I die?

What will it be like on the day I die? Will it be sudden, something I did not expect, looking up from my reading Keats poems to see the driver swerve into the way of a speeding timber truck and think, “Here it comes and I’m not ready. Here it comes?” What will it be like on the day I die? Will it be on the hour of my choosing, unopened Bond 7 bottle on my bedside table, loaded magnum in my trembling hand sorry that I have to stain these white silk hotel bed sheets on the day I die? What will it be like on the day I die?

Will I be sinning, in the act of my final betrayal, caught, stunned like deer in headlights, keeling over another blank sheet of paper like Flaubert, remembering as my eyes glaze at my tin of never-used- expensive pens Austin Bukenya’s sad whispered confession all those years ago in the British Council Uganda offices at Rwenzori Courts, “I have not written as much as I should have,” when I was still young and promising on a starry, chilly night that seemed to go on forever? What will it be like on the day I die?

What will it be like on the day I die?

OFF THA HOOK: Suicidal Thoughts by The Notorious B.I.G/ I Seen A Man Die by Scarface