You walk around the house stark naked, it’s morning. The bright kind where the sun argues with your walls and throws up on them bright yellow shards of light.
A kettle of water boils from the kitchen, a slice of incomplete bread is hardening with grief on a plate. You didn’t eat it the last night so it’s pissed and ready to leave your life. It will go to the garbage bin and thereafter call you it’s ‘ex’. It will gossip about you with other abandoned bread types. It will catch the eye of an evening crow that will show it, love. A true and deserving love. A love to look forward to. And you will remain grumpy and be left by many more slices of bread and die alone.
But this morning you won’t die.
You will lazily open your eyes. The light pouring right into them shading down your drawn eye bags and you’ll think of her. The muse. The nook of your existence. She has charming eyes and twigs of hair streaming down both her protruding cheeks. She laughs with a pause and has soft fingers that hold you better than you hold bread.
You will send her a message; ‘Yo!’
An hour, two more. She must be busy. It must be all the morning work. She works at an export company. They export African craft to Europe and USA. She must be busy handling orders.
A day goes by. You start to worry.
You call, she doesn’t pick. Text again; another ‘Yo!’
A ‘yo’ that finds comfort below the first one you sent.
Then, five days later, waking up to another morning of fighting sunshine and abandoned bread in your kitchen. You will receive a call.
“Hey, can we meet?”
It’s a short call. Straight to the point. You have questions but you keep them. You wait for the meeting.
The meeting happens at a top Kampala restaurant. Shrubs of garden guard you and your lover. You whisper sweet-nothings, as you eat up a large size pizza and then, in that moment she pauses;
“The pizza?” you ask. “There’s still a slice, you can have it”
Of course, you’re generous with leavened pastry. Remember you don’t already eat all your bread in the morning. Certainly, a slice of pizza won’t hurt.
“No” she insists.
“It’s over between us”.
The pizza is also between you but that’s not what she means. It’s the relationship she is about.
“It’s not you” she adds “It’s me”
You circle back to where you got it wrong. Was yesterday her birthday? Certainly not. Was it my shorthand text ‘Yo’?
She loves long texts every time she messages you. That must be it. Should I have sent a long text?
How’s your morning
I’m thinking about you more than the bread in my kitchen
Text back when you wake
Or maybe she expected an email that morning; The kind that opens with, I hope this email finds you well – except she isn’t well.
It’s her. She hasn’t had enough sleep and the bags under her eyes show it. She’s been waking up depressed and in tears. For nothing, in particular, she can point to. Her sister – and roommate – has tried everything from wishing her good days to sitting up with her in the night but the crying and depression haven’t stopped. At work, she pressed an extra zero and sent a lucky shopper 40 crafts – they’d ordered 4. Her bosses called her in. Masks on. In muffled conversation, they asked her what’s wrong but it is nothing she could point to. They dressed her down. It dug deep into the hole. She remembered all the love her parents gave her as a child – caring for each step she took and throwing large parties in Makindye for her birthday. She remembers the smile that her mother had on good days. A bright smile. A smile that conveyed her affection. She remembers how at 3 – or a hazy 4 – her father started to appear less and less. Only showing up in voice on a phone that sat in the house living room.
“I’d ask him, Daddy will you come home today and the answer would be a cold ‘no’”
Her father had found a new wife – and with her a whole new country. He cared – in monetary terms. Paid fees. Paid bills. But that was it. She wanted a father whose arms wrapped around her in the evenings. Hands that had braved the day of work. But he wasn’t there.
So she grew up hating him – and the entire gender, and, if I may add here, people who text in shorthand.
In the depths of her mental illness, she became desperate. Wishing, for once, to end it all. Bed posts became good places to hit her head. Scissors and blades weren’t for hair knitting alone, she saw them as tools of relief. Tools that would end her suffering. She contemplated suicide everyday.
“Why did you choose to stay?” I ask her.
“Because I believe in heaven,” “If I took myself I wouldn’t go there. Also, I still wanted to see my mum a little more. See her happy”
I ask about her Dad again.
I ask her what she saved him as in her phone.
“Dad” but if she could alter it; “I’d call him Money-giver”. Money giver is more accurate for our relationship. He sends all my fees, pays all the bills and even cares for my grades. At university, he asked her to go to Law school. She had the grades for it. He paid the pre-entry fees and she went to Makerere, the country’s oldest university. A long pathway of tarmac led her up the hill to the senate building which teemed of excited and eager students. They sat in rows one behind another and answered pointless questions. She didn’t pass it. On purpose. Her father mooted the idea of taking her to another country to pursue law. She wasn’t having any of it.
Eventually, she wound up at the Makerere University Business school and excelled at her studies but not after going out and dancing.
“Eh, I went to a lot of parties in my first year,” she says. “Room parties, house parties, club parties, parking lot parties”.
She met many boys at these parties, the good and the bad kind. She distanced herself from the good kind.
“If a good guy started things that I saw were leading to something serious, I would bail out and run”
“Was it because of your Dad leaving Mum?” I ask her
“See” she wags a finger in my face
“I would hear those conversations he had with mum. She would be begging him over the phone and she would cry. Cry so much that it hurt”
In the eyes of her children, everything, however, remained perfect. She urged them to love him. She pretended the marriage still worked. She often called him and put the kids on the line and asked them to say nice things. Things like; “We love you Dad”
“I wasn’t going to say those things. I knew he had another woman he was caring for and had other kids”
One evening, after the phone call, she retreated to her room and started a small Facebook search. Through wades of photos of his father. Then she saw a name that commented on almost all of them. She sent a friend request and waited. She was hoping it wasn’t what she thought it was.
“You know they say never go looking because you will find what you are looking for”
In the deep of the night, a notification lit up on her phone. She was in. Her request had been accepted. She braved for whatever lay on the other side of the phone. First, she said a prayer. Then she opened the account and went straight to the photos. There was a child – a beautiful looking child.
“She had good eyes,” she tells me “Eyes that my father had”
“There were also photos of a wedding” she looks away into an angry sun throwing at her face. “He had married that other woman”
“Did you ever meet her?” I ask her
“Much later at a party with her child”
“I liked the child and I had no problem with her” she adds.
“I just worried about my Mum. What didn’t she have that this lady had?”
“Why did Dad have to leave?”
The time they met, her aunties, also at the party, asked that she refers to her step-mom as her mother.
“That was never going to happen”
When our interview was done, I asked whether she had overcome her mental health challenge.
“What does that look like?” she asked back.
“You know, brighter days” I mumble back.
“Some hours are good others aren’t. I am happy now in this conversation but I’m not sure I will be when I go back home and see Mum”
I ask her what name I should call her in the blog and she says; “Think of something that won’t lead back to me”
Dear friend, I have thought and thought and I think ‘Girl in the Red Coat’ won’t lead back to you – unless, of course, you choose to wear it every day.
I ask her finally what her relationship with her Dad looks like now.
“Money-giver” she responds
Their relationship is on the rocks. Like a chilled whiskey rubbing the edges of glass but never staying long enough.
When she walks off, my plate of lunch arrives. It has everything on it but bread. Leavened bread.
I’m telling stories of people whom the pandemic has dealt its bad hand. If you have a story, reach out to [email protected]