The night before John Jackson proposed, he sat at his balcony in silence. He sat facing the cold and dark blanket of Kiwatule that was disturbed by flickers of lights from homes. He sat by himself. With a Martini. On the rocks. There was a playlist shuffling songs inside the house and parts of the lyrics got to him but in the dark trance of Kiwatule, by himself, and his thoughts, and a Martini on the rocks he asked himself the all-important question;
“Is she the right one?”
The ‘she’ wasn’t a misplaced one. It wasn’t out in the cold with him. It wasn’t a ‘she’ that lacked company or that adored loneliness. The ‘she’ belonged to Bellinda, a pretty lass with, in his own words, a ‘body to die for’.
When John thought of Bellinda, he thought of many things but first, her body. He thought about other things thereafter but mostly her body. He imagined nights and remembered others that they’d spent together. He imagined her curves a lot. At office, when he was photocopying tax orders, he imagined stroking her into the night and her dancing wildly drunk at 4am to Beyoncé’s ‘Rocket’. At the bar as he downed pints with the boys he always checked on his watch. She finished her gig at a marketing firm at 9pm – but his gig ended a little early at 5pm. He’d stay in town, at a bar counter, ordering rounds of shots as she slaved away her time.
In that time, the boys always had girls around them. Beautiful girls. Girls that had bodies too. Girls that spoke good English. Girls that laughed loud at jokes and occasionally put up their phones to record snapchat videos. He knew some of them by name. He had phone contacts of others saved in his phone. And watched their ratchet Whatsapp videos. Some knew he had a girl. Others didn’t. He knew some more than the make-up they put on and the stories they told. He knew how they moaned. To get engaged, for him, was his way of running away from all of them – and settling. He had, after all, met Bellinda, at the same bar, five years ago, dead drunk on shots and dancing on top of a table. She gave him a phone number that night.
He called it the next day in the afternoon. He scrolled down the phone, dialed and held it to his ear.
A brief minute of silence passed by.
And then a lady came up on the other end.
“The telephone number you have called does not exist on the network”.
He wasn’t even mad. He let off a sly smile.
“You know I was actually a fool” he tells me, “How did I imagine a gorgeous girl would easily give her number to a stranger in the bar?”
I want to ask if he called the number a second time but now he is holding up his vodka, on the rocks, to his mouth. It’s 7 pm, a few hours before curfew time and I am seated with him on a pavement bar in Kisementi.
He’s wearing one of those beach shirts with flowers on them and white shorts. He has a tattoo on each side of his arms. One of a scarface and on other end a crucifix.
“Do they allow these at work” I ask him.
“The tattoos?” he asks back.
No one sees them. He says. At work he wears nice long shirts and a jacket. Always. He sits high up in the Revenue clearing offices and his office stares down a tattered Kampala. He clears cars and goods for a living. Examining how much each should pay. People are always in a line to bribe him to lower their tax bill but he is drunk on patriotism. He charges all of them like Zacchaeus the tax collector and takes each penny back to the national coffers. After then, he doesn’t care what anyone does with it.
“So, this Bellinda” I ask him.
“Ah man” he sighs.
I went back to the bar after then. Hoping she would walk through the door one more time and I see her.
“Were you going to ask her out or ask her why she gave you a wrong number” I ask.
When I saw her again – after almost three months, I had even forgotten about the phone number incident. I went to her and reminded her of the night. She didn’t remember a whiff of it. She didn’t even remember me. So I asked if I could buy her a shot and she agreed. Ten shots. Tequila. She gobbled them right before me. And asked me what it is I wanted.
I just wanted her company. I wanted to talk with her, around her and over her at that bar. We started small and eventually hooked up. I took her out. Not to a bar this time. To a proper dinner. We ate. And talked. She told me about her life. She’d scored really high grades in school and her parents chose for her a law career path but her passion was in selling dreams to people [Hint. Hint]
She did marketing as a passion and studied the law for her parents. Then after graduation she got a good gig at a marketing firm that paid really well but took all her hours. She went in at 8 am when the sun was still struggling against the clouds and came out when it had lost at 9pm. Her drinking habit helped her cushion the stress.
After almost a year of talking, one day, she left a suit at his place and returned in the night. She wore it to work and returned home with another. She re-organized the glasses in his Kiwatule apartment. Putting the juice glasses in a row and the whisky ones on a glass carrier she’d bought for the house. She re-arranged his laundry and gave it structure.
He found neatly pressed shirts every morning when he opened the drawers and tea at the table with a small lovely note. His landlord even left a slot in the parking for her car. The hints were too loud. John Jackson then called up a lady friend and asked her the price of engagement rings. They both laughed about it. She knew he was kidding but she told him nonetheless and he went and bought one and kept it.
“Man, I wanted to be true to this one” he says. “There was something I felt for her man” – he gobbles the vodka – “I just knew she was the one”.
At that night in Kiwatule staring into the night, he worried about his decision. Weighing pros and cons. “It’s like a tax bill man” he rationalizes “You levy it once and that’s it – you can’t revisit”
In the middle of that night, impatient about the next day. He woke her up. She was deep in slumber. Crossing into a seventh dream possibly a nightmare of a marketing campaign. She woke. A little disgusted. “Let me sleep” she mumbled.
“It’s serious” he said.
“Will you be my wife” he asked.
Without any speech. Without any hesitations. She was still back-facing him so he didn’t know if she’d heard him. But he stayed on one knee. Then she turned and with a quick answer said;
“Man” he gobbles vodka again.
“I wanted the ground to swallow me”
I had prepared a lot for it. I had read all the signs. I knew she wanted to marry me. But now I was confused. Had I proposed too early? Wasn’t I worth it? I tried recalling what parts of me were not pretty. I sat back on the floor, back to the laundry drawers. I was confused. I wanted to cry.
I wondered whether she had actually even noticed I was on one knee or if she had even seen the ring.
I was devastated. I didn’t sleep. I went back to the balcony. Poured out all the alcohol and got drunk. I didn’t want to face her rejection when she woke in the morning. I didn’t want to share a bed with her rejection.
The next morning, he was woken by streaming cars that were honking down the apartment road. He had woken from a terrible nightmare. He looked around and the empty whisky bottles were still on the table. Inside the house was clean though. She had cleaned up after him, made tea and left a small note under the cup.
“Yo” He pauses “I didn’t want to read that note”
I went and showered. My laundry was still neatly pressed, she had left a shirt I should wear, Khakis and a jacket. It confused me further. What was she saying? Was the ‘No’ I heard last night made up?
He checked his phone. She’d not left any message there.
It all now boiled down to the note under the tea.
Was this the last time I was going to ever see her. How would I live with myself? The last image I have of her is her ‘No’ deep in the dead of the night. A ‘No’ she didn’t even look at me to give.
He showered, nursed his hangover with the cup of tea. And held the note in his hands, folding it further and staring at it. He knew it had the fate.
“I opened that note bruh”
“My heart wasn’t with me”
I opened it as a step mother opens a will. Knowing nothing in it truly belongs to them.
‘IF YOU’RE GOING TO GET MY HAND, DO A BETTER PROPOSAL”
He sighed. It hadn’t been a ‘No’. It was the way he asked. Bellinda was particular about optics. She was particular about neatness. She was particular about focus. Was she not, after all, a leading marketer?
He hired out a room in the Sheraton. Had it decorated and days after then surprised her to it. She said ‘yes’. They’ve been married two years now.
John Jackson takes a look at his watch. It’s now 9:12pm. The curfew hours have started.
“She will be here anytime now” he tells me.
He still waits up for her in town. Today, he’d left home to just meet me. He’s on leave. And she’s still slaving till 9pm.
“Should I mention your name on the blog?” I ask.
“Haaaaaa” he pauses. “Just call me anything”
I figured to call him John Jackson because I am writing this listening to Fabulous, the rapper. Have you googled his name recently? Go on, give it a try!