Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lost Earnest

I have talked about it so many times. Dreamt about it more. But I have never written about it.

“Sing for the song boy
Sing for the song boy”

Could not write about it. Was afraid to write about it. Promised never to utter judgment about it because it was the sacred oath by which I was allowed into the sanctuary, approved to proceed forward into a sanctum where I thought I was going to gaze with morbid curiosity at a relic and instead beheld in my hands, when I had gone home again, page by page, my life in jigsaw puzzles being made sense of before I had lived it, when Ernest let him read the manuscript he called RUN, had been his life for four years. In part would always be.

“And through the haze of the stage can you look back to days
When you used to sing for the song”

Not many people had been allowed to read RUN then and the privilege was greater because Ernest had not known me more than a year. I was just the kid who made it onto a ‘prestigious’ mentoring scheme promoted by the Ugandan arm of the British Council. How I had ended up sitting next to him on our induction night, a weekday I remember because I had arrived sweating and panting, had walked all the way from Makerere University, through Wandegeya because I did not have the taxi fare, I do not know. The shock of finding that I was the youngest on the scheme had not been as bad as arriving there with my heavy rucksack loaded with Makerere University library goodies to find that I was the only one who conducted himself like a schoolboy and that I was the shabbiest in this gathering, my uncombed hair standing out more, the Sure deodorant I was certain not working anymore, finger nails blackened at the edges from riffling through dusty pages of books last borrowed in 1967, with a flue that my one brown handkerchief could not help me much with.

There would be other nights, nights I would never forget at Rwenzori Courts on British Council literary opening nights that I will never forget. Nights like the night when I was asked to make a speech on behalf of my fellow participants on the Crossing Borders programme, nights when I read out an extract from a story I had written an hour ago to coming for this induction, nights when Austin Bukenya came to speak to us and said words of so much wisdom I remember to this day saying them so softly and almost to himself that my heart still cringes when I remember what he said. There have been many nights when I tasted some foods I had never tasted in my life before at the after speech snacks before we were hustled into the Kampala night. There have been many British Council Rwenzori Courts nights and I remember them all. But it is the night that changed my life I want to remember today. The day the events were set in motion when I would read RUN, make Sunday afternoon visits to Ebawu estates in Kireka with no transport back home banging on a gray metallic door to wake a sedated Ernest, desperate for the company and desperate for the return fare if there was any. The day that would lead me to writing for Uganda’s leading daily, making money from something I had never let anyone read because I came from where it is despised. Days. I want to remember the day I first met Ernest to meet RUN, on a Rwenzori Courts British Council night, when somehow, inexplicably, I found myself seated a column behind Ernest, the writer of Bad Idea within arm’s reach. I want to talk about that night because of RUN.

“Sing for the song boy just like you did when you stood on that corner
And didn’t even feel the glow
Sing for the song just like you did before all the flash bulbs
And cocaine and bright things and ladies got hold of your soul”

I never did bring my treasured neatly clipped bits of Sunday Vision Bad Idea and E-Beat for autographing, never betrayed how awed I was when saying something and I chipped in inadvertently he had turned around, not to scowl me into silence, appraise me no more worthy of attention than a worm, but turned to listen to me. I never betrayed the leaning-against a wall for support state my beating heart was in, continuing to argue that what Kinene Vincent had just told him was actually not right. I knew better.

“But you really don’t make too much money and you don’t give much of a show.”

Ernest was never keen on floppy discs and one day I would open my braveworldus yahoo email to find that he had emailed me RUN in its entirety, that he wanted me to read it and answer only one question, had I found it interesting or not. I believed in floppy discs before I met CDs before I ever knew how to use a flash disc and one old SONY floppy disc with red edges I still own contains RUN as I had downloaded it, the entire webpage included because copy&paste were not in my vocabulary then. I still own that floppy disc and I don’t mind if you laugh. Perhaps you even saw me in a masscom lab arguing with the caretaker to let me print 20 pages more, after I had been printing all morning, on the sly, 80 pages, and not going to pay for them. Yeah, don’t stand in my way when I become obsessed. Don’t.

“Sing for the song boy
Sing for the song boy.”

There has only been one other book I have read in one concentrated burst of reading without trying. RUN is the first.