A good title is like a good pick-up line and from the first I read the title of a movie called Midnight Cowboy, that title picked me up so bad that I knew the day I ever found Midnight Cowboy, no matter on which crowded Kampala sidewalk, even if it meant footing home after with my phone traded in, impatient shoulder brushing in the evening rush, I would HAVE to have that movie tucked in my blue backpack homeward bound. My title obsession then beyond control, possessing even a hard cover Paperline notebook written full with titles and phrases that read like literal snatches of Mozart music; the more obscure the better, Saturday night in Makerere University library Pastor Sempa’s salvation concerts booming somewhere, copying them down.
It’s been years since and many things have changed but not the hunger to watch Midnight Cowboy which never went away just like the relentless need to read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter which always had me once a month Aristoc Booklex browsing, Owino Market late afternoon mud puddle jumping, ignoring the bargain Physics Abbott text books, until Carson McCullers came home, I would never rest until I found Midnight Cowboy. And yesterday, I finally found that movie! I did.
When I was a kid, I used to believe that there was an answer to everything, I used to think that there is a certain age you reach and in one instant, like a Rimbaud illumination, you know everything and life is no longer elsewhere. If not, at least like Keats, you figure out what is more important to you like all you need to know in this life is beauty, and you can live the rest of your life not like Thoreau through a life of quiet desperation but can get up 6am every morning to go to work and on Friday, the prospect of two days of doing nothing does not appall you and you’re glad when Sunday comes around. Because after church, after greeting your priest at the tall wooden doors as you leave when the mass is over, there is a lunch on the table waiting, all the chefs in the world and Serena Hotel can never conjure with a woman with smiling eyes at the other side of the table, watching all of you, and maybe two kids who can’t sit still for all the joy inside them.
Then afterwards, with hands smelling soapy clean the dishes drying, shirts unbuttoning and buckles loosened, go to the beach and lie down in the cattle munched grass among the trees while your little boy and girl shriek up and down in the water at the lapping edge shore of the lake. She would be reading a birding book and I would be keeping an eye on them through half open slits. All in a river town or a town with a lake.
I have got some of that life and before this year is down most of the mast will be up. But what is this that makes it impossible, stumbling in the dark in the night for my blue cigarette lighter when the electricity is gone, to go to sleep still? 2Pac is this is what you meant when, you, through breathed puffs that smoke-screened your sighs said, inside my mind I couldn’t find a place to rest? Is this why Leonardo Da Vinci dying, arm-embraced by a vain king who thought he was trying to rise for one more hug, knew I have not done enough, and the world marvels 400 years later still at scribblings and sketches in notebooks that were not enough. Is this why Dylan Thomas, in sickbed, miles away, far from green leafed Swansea and a broken father dead, mumbling about whiskey records, could still like the Ludwig van Beethoven dying legend, shake his fist in the storm and rail, do not go gentle into that good night? Will there always be no final answers? Is this why on your tombstone, cremated ashes jar, all the florid emblazoned grief is expressed in three muted initials: R.I.P, because we hope that after lost years of wandering in these Nibelung halls of life, across the dark night river, there’s peace?
Baz was right tag-lining I Saw It On TV before Sedition was an Art, my education used to be on TV, and I had forgotten how much I learned even from Hollywood movies until this early morning with the rain pouring outside like the earth is not burning up, when I saw Midnight Cowboy with the forgotten Voight, at least I don’t remember him, and the pre-The Graduate Hoffman, at least I hope, don’t ruin my illusion. Electricity on when it shouldn’t have been and I forgot to send an SMS I really should have because I got 99 problems and sadly she might be one of them, Midnight Cowboy was that good.
All the answers do not come because you’re an adult. Watch Midnight Cowboy’s death scene.
It’s about the penalties of a life lived. The wages of sin. You have got to be ready to pay the final price for the kind of life you choose to live. It's all there. I’m not making any sense but it’s the scenes that make sense that weaken the Midnight Cowboy. Pop in Jimi Hendrix’s Woke Up this Morning and Found Myself Dead, it’s not only the title that’s witty, though so little wit is whittled down to wisdom. Ask Oscar Wilde. I think Philly Bongeley Lutaya was a misguided genius who came into his own too late, I have been listening to Entebbe Wala, the aching longing in that man’s voice is like a salty lump in the throat, but my God could he sing! Entebbe Wala is Entebbe; walk in that provincial town in the afternoon and in the corner after Orient bank in town is Philly. And that is what Midnight Cowboy is about: longing. That is what life seems to be about. Longing. Ah Fitzgerald, tomorrow we’ll run faster, stretch out our arms further, write better, maybe one day we’ll be able to make them see why, Entebbe in the rain at 11am, standing on Hajjati’s grocery store porch, in the morning, Sunday, is the most beautiful town in the world.
You’ll have to work to picture this. Or maybe not. Maybe you have been where I have been. Like me, the sun is going down (at least I think it is, the window curtains here are always drawn), the working day is done and you should be in a taxi on the way home, slumped in the jump over seat because you were among the last ones to get in. You should not be here. You should not still be in this room alone at this computer, with nothing to do, looking for something to do, with nothing on the whole wide web you want to find. You should not be here, at this computer. This computer especially. Because it all started here and it looks like it will all end here. At this computer.
Back then, the year was sprinting to a close and you were one of a hundred forehead-wrinkling faces you used to meet when you walked instead of taking a taxi or hitching a ride. When you walked out of your house, on a Saturday morning when you had stayed home and now you were walking into the little trading center to try and find something eat. You were one in a hundred faces you used to meet with a face that told your story so well you never had need to speak of your trouble. Because the woman collected on a three-legged stool wrapped in a yellow flower patterned kitenge could look up at you in the morning market, haggling for a better price for her bananas and know your story. The folded ashy wrinkles on her fingers counting the coins of your balance telling you she knew, she knew, you did not have to tell her.
That year, the end of that year, was like the last sun burnt leaf dropping from the diseased guava tree whose fruit you never ate, dropping, dropping but never reaching the cracked dry ground that for months had had no rain and it was never going to reach the earth. Blowing in the swirling dust the afternoon wind was whistling tunes that made no sense. That year, the end of that year. That year, the end of that year when it all begun and you were seated at this computer, the last here, with nothing to do, nothing to care about, not caring you were not caring, all that gone but a bed with a three year old blanket waiting, a bottle of half drunk Richot on the bedside table, and the radio bought from the steps of the Old Taxi Park on a night of candle-lighting wonder that needed new National cells, the unsealed packet of Benson & Hedges, with two cigarettes mouldering in the dust under the bed, waiting.
That year, that year when it all begun when you wanted everything to end at this computer, with a simple email received 7:47pm Saturday. That year, that year when you decided instead of ‘Delete’ to move the key to ‘Reply.’ That year, that year when your Sade heart “I have already paid for all my future sins,” bandaged, a child in Kisenyi unseen kept without asking the one passion fruit that from the bunch had rolled away, replied. That year. That year when you replied, in the tail end, when September was October was November was December, that year.
That year, that year of walking everywhere, that year. That year of Kampala road phone shops shacks at the back with your next phone and the last one distended on two legged tables for your inspection, that year. That year, that year of Thursday Comedy Nights, last Monday of the month Jam on the Green 2am Caesar singing walking home, that year. That year, that year when blog was a fog, that year, when you decided not to ‘Delete’ and replied, that year. It begun that year. That year. Sitting at this very computer and all the voices are in your head. It begun here. Now it is ending here.
Quote Byron and look at the feet of clay of your heroes because we’ll go no more a rovingso late into the nightthough the night was made for loving, Undo standing still. It ends here. Brian, I have never been here though this place is near my home I’m glad you have brought me, beer at 1 in the noon, DVD magic flopped on the carpet later Mum gone till tomorrow, it ends here. Savage candor Landor Busingye now I know why Herbert was such a friend, in the silent passageway rehearsing lines well I have loved you well as much I knew how, it ends here.
Room 202, morning, can’t you hear the people rushing past outside no only silence here and the sound in our throats of beating hearts and water dripping in the sink in the bathroom of the red topped tap you did not wind to the end, it ends here. Stars Pub, plush seats, Saturday 9pm, what did Kaiza say will you remember, yes you can call on my phone the office just loaded my phone Celtel is cheap, it ends here. I need a drink.
She said: “Shall I keep on my shift?” I said: “Never can a woman make a lovelier gift. Than utter nakedness.” O! short-lived days of Spring! That start with laughter, and end in pandering. Joy! Ashtaroth unmasked: Ecstasy, Isis bare. Have you at times looked at a rising star? A gorgeous spectacle! “Well, here I am!” said she And thus did Venus stand for Adonis to see. Victor Hugo (Nuda)