That day, Abu did not go to school, just like all the days since he was of school-going age. Abu stayed on Kigarama Hill with his grandmother, Kaaka and his Taata, Mr. Brayuhanga. Before Abu’s father left home that morning, Kaaka had asked him for money to buy pineapples for Abu but the man had declined saying that those who do not work have no idea how hard it is to get money for luxuries like pineapples. Why did Abu need pineapples, he had asked, thinking that the old woman was only using Abu as bait to trick him into buying her pineapples. There were passion fruits in the family garden and if the boy wanted fruits, he could pick those. Mr. Byaruhanga had added before leaving for work at the Pentecostal Churches headquarters in Rugyeyo Sub-county.
Those who do not work! Kaka recalled her son’s words and sucked air between clenched teeth in a long jeer. Now that he was a man, Byaruhanga thought he could talk to her disrespectfully, forgetting that she had raised him and bought him all the sweet nothings he desired as a child. She hated that now she had to beg for money from him because she was too old to be selling surplus food harvests at the market like she had done before, in her more useful youthfulness.
When Abu woke up and did not see a motorcycle parked in the corridor between his bedroom and his father’s, he knew that Taata had already left home. He exited the house through the backdoor to find his grandmother seated outside, slumped on a mat woven in patterns of pink and green.
“Eh, Aburaahamu, come and sit with me,” Kaaka said while patting a spot on the mat signaling for Abu to join her.
There was a heap of bean pods to her left and a saucepan containing a few red beans to her right. Abu sat to the right of Kaaka and carried the saucepan on his laps. He sat with his Kaaka taking out beans from pods until there was enough in the saucepan for a meal.
“Abu, bring me matooke from the store and a knife to peel, then make the fire quickly,” the old woman said to Abu.
In the kitchen, Abu inserted dry leaves and twigs beneath the wood and set them on fire using a matchstick. He blew into the wood to augment the flames. As the fire spread from the leaves and twigs to the wood, Abu’s dark face lit up above the golden flames. His jaw line formed assertively as he puffed air from his cheeks.
The firewood cackled and outside, Kaaka hummed a hymn in her elderly shaky voice that sounded melodic nonetheless. She was peeling matooke that would be cooked together with the beans to make katogo.
Observing how hurriedly he ate his food, Kaaka knew that after the meal Abu wouldn’t be staying long at home.
“Abu, bring me obushera ,” she said to him.
The boy ran to the house and in a flash he was back with a pink plastic mug filled with a brown millet and sorghum drink.
“I know you can’t wait to go to the forest and that is why you are swallowing the food like if you chewed it first, it might escape and fly out of your mouth,” she said between pauses as she drank from her cup.
Abu laughed and shook his head. He gestured to Kaaka that if the matooke flew out of his mouth, he would fly after it with his tongue sticking out and like a lizard; he would pull the food back into his mouth in one tongue swirl.
Kaaka wore a bright smile as she listened to her grandson and watched him flail about his arms to demonstrate what he was communicating. She had small black fragments of sorghum husks stuck to her gum and teeth. Kaaka could not make out the exact words he said, but she smiled, grateful that Abu had understood her joke about flying food.
She loved Abu so dearly and although everyone else referred to him as ekiragi, that he was daft, she knew he was much more brilliant than most children older than him. He had started making charcoal for sale in the family forest on Kyabihambe. How many 15 year olds could work as hard as he did? How many village children were as quick and fast her Abu?
Abu left home immediately after the meal and he took with him a panga wrapped in green banana leaves and bound by brown strings of banana fibre. He also carried a sac, neatly folded into a compact roll. He had been felling trees since the first week of December that he intended to burn into charcoal. He had dug out a trough and layered it with small dry twigs and dry grass that he would torch to ignite a fire. He had heaped heavy stems, one over the other while they were fresh and moist and erected a mountain of wood. All he had to do that afternoon was collect green branches and fresh grass whose roots were still heavy with soil to put over the heap of stems. Today, I will cover the wood-mountain in red soil, green grass and green branches until the only crevices left uncovered are the outlets for smoke, Abu thought.
On his way to the Kyabihambe forest, he met one of his friends, a tall boy with very wide nostrils carrying a blue paper file returning from school. They shook hands and the tall boy asked if Abu had witnessed Kigarama Hill boys being whooped by Gwibaare boys at the previous day’s match.
Abu smiled. A wide dimple on his right cheek stood out. He lowered his head a little ashamed and shook it vehemently because he was a Kigarama Hill boy and although he had not played with the team, their failure was his failure too.
“Are you going to burn charcoal today?” the tall boy with wide nostrils asked, noticing the panga and sack in Abu’s hand.
Abu nodded and pointed towards the north indicating that he was headed to Kyabihambe Hill. The boys waved farewell to each other and parted ways.
He saw lips move and fingers point to him from little children peering at him as he walked past. He would know when they were insulting him by the way they moved their mouths, the way the upper jaw met with the lower jaw, the way the tongue rose and fell and curled when they mouthed ekitetta or ekiragi. Sometimes these sayings made him want to retreat back home to his grandmother where no one pointed fingers at him, or mouthed words that he could not hear but whose mockery he could feel weighing down his patience. When older children pointed him out to their siblings, he knew they said such things as, look, there goes the village fool who cannot talk or hear – his parents knew better not to send him to school- he is so stupid – that he can’t even be allowed to take sheep grazing.
Abu knew sheep were silly, he saw how the ones at home behaved, sometimes walking into walls yet they had eyes to see, other times walking in the opposite direction yet the herdsman was directing them in another direction with heavy lashes. Abu would not compare himself with silly sheep and he thought that given a chance to attend school, he would be the best in class. Kaaka had taught him how to count and his father had taught him how to write his name. Of course he was smarter than the miserable kids in his neighbourhood; them that sat scratching like mad boys because jiggers had found a home in their toes- laying eggs and producing pus- causing an infuriating itch. Did they not have the sense to take a shower or to pour paraffin over their toes just like his Kaaka had taught him?
Abu was going to make money this Christmas season. If the wood burned well, if the fire was regulated by constantly adding soil and greenery on top of the heap, if the fire only baked the stems from greens and browns to coal black, he would be able to collect at least two sacks of charcoal. Abu hopped to sell the charcoal to rich families that stayed in Kampala and only returned to the village for Christmas. They were the few people who could afford charcoal. He thought that if he sold each sac at 10,000 shillings, he would make good money to buy his Kaaka a new busuti to wear to church on Christmas day.
As he went past the last little town at the foothills of Gwibaare, three naughty children of about four or three years came up to him and moved their mouths in funny ways that he had to stop himself from bursting out in laughter. They pulled their ugly and elastic lips into a pout and slapped them heavily against each other. They looked like little monkeys. He knew they were making fun of how he talks but Abu was in a good mood that afternoon and not likely to take offence from the little children.
Read Part 3
Daphine Arinda is a writer and lawyer. Three tenets guide her writing; strip off any inhibitions and write as nakedly as you can, do not sacrifice intricacy for readability, write from a point of knowledge. Arinda writes because it is fulfilling to capture LIFE in words and translate it to art so that posterity may behold authentic Ugandan literature. Her Blog Evabella is a manifestation of the art, thoughts and experiences of a Fearless, Dynamic and Revolutionary writer. She is also a Member of the Advisory Committee of Network of Public Interest Lawyers (NETPIL), a member of the Youth for Policy Think Tank and a social justice blogger at KWEETA Uganda.
#AmateurNight stories were submitted by writers during our previous #MEiREAD Amateur Nights. During Amateur Night, writers share unpublished work and receive feedback from member of the book club. Tell us what your thoughts are in the comments section.