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.