My head took a seat in my hands, supported dependably at the meeting of my elbows. It was as though a hammer were striking an anvil at the center of my brain and repeatedly scattering my thoughts. I would not accept any penny to share my thoughts like the old English saying suggests. How was I to share the frustration of being Mzee ’s youngest widow as he was survived by eight children! I was jolted out of my reverie on hearing how his employer, the government had handed over a great condolence recompense which would leave us homeless within a time frame of forty-eight hours. I wondered how it was so grand a way to reward a loyal civil servant! Is it not? Hardworking, optimistic, opulent, and courageous and a man with unbridled bravado were some of the few words used to describe Mzee Mugisha as the man among men.
The morning after the burial of my deceased beloved was different. It was not an electrifying experience to wake up and find Mzee ’s side of the bed unoccupied, which I was accustomed to. Except that unlike other times, he was not returning at all since he now lay six feet under. The sun rays suggested hope beyond this dark holy grim setting. They tenderly pierced through the window seals, diffusing bright beams of light that warmed up my heart that released a smile that wry fully played across my face. I almost inhaled fresh air of liberty when my breath got trapped at my throat as I imagined where were to start to explain this occurrence to my under-age children, particularly the last one who was just three years of age .My ears were further assaulted by the continuous sequence of repeated sorry remarks as well as those who practiced hard-hitting love, “you are neither the first nor the last to lose a husband’’, they recapped for me. Coming to terms with his death was not an easy bullet to overcome because I saw Mzee ’s authentic smile in each beautiful sunrise .Every banana scent triggered profound memories of our regular Sunday dinners. Death occurred to him and he put asunder our cohesion. My soul was weaned of a mate and the time was now for me to ply a father’s task which I barely acquainted with and Google was fresh out of options of how I could replace this relationship that I longed for. I attempted to feel his caress by placing my hand on the cheek where he often fixated his lips as tears rolled down my face just like the Niagara Falls.
Once we were evicted, our temporary address was that of my mother who the children and I bestowed the title, ’Maama’ ’. The impermanent address could not account for the vacuum emotion within me as I was drowning in the shallow waters of unhappiness to survive the deep waters of uncertainty, the epitome of nothingness. I was imprisoned by the pain that constantly demanded to be sensed. I was at a cross roads of being the virtuous mother and dedicated father, imprisoned by the chains of permanent alteration labeled as death. I decided to wander through life and took several wrong turns instead of rights. It was harder than I thought given that I could not subvert the truth after Mzee ’s passing on.
Patty, the last born, had pronounced features similar to those of her late father, those hazel brown eyes under her bushy brows and her love for kabalagala confirmed she was his child. Her affectionate embrace birthed a tenacious spirit within me. The adolescents of the house watered down my toilsome efforts. My disciplinary measures were quite idiosyncratic in the technology era of raising the unmanageable nature of Freda who bullied her siblings to cover up for her on her nights out on the loose in her profligate life style. She enjoyed her fair share of sleeping in the staircases of the flats when she returned in the wee hours of the morning. Patrick resorted to sports betting and substance abuse to feel like the man his father would have desired to see. On the sunny side, Molly’s presence lulled the atmosphere when the storms of mistaken identity and hatred gained momentum between Barbie and Ian. They blamed their behavior on the absence of a father figure. Eseza ’s anger grew when required to fill in paternal details on various registration forms. Her eyes became red-hot and she surely would have burnt the paper to ashes if she had not learnt to fill in the initials N.A.She later signed up for classes with a local kick-boxing club and the she would often practice on Suzie, (who came right after her) as her punching bag. I was often called to her school for disciplinary concern as Suzie reciprocated the actions on her peers who made fun of her status of being fatherless during parental class visits.
I was sick and tired of being sick and tired when things were far from being okay. Yet again these words echoed in my mind,’’ to lose is to gain”, said the priest who presided over Mzee’ s burial. At day break Maama was in the habit of calling all of us for family prayers before we had dinner at nine o’clock, and she concluded with these words, ’It is well with my soul’ ’. Her sermon on moving forward was summarized in that one line. But on one particular evening, she did not call for anyone. Pangs of heaviness and awkwardness feasted on me and I decided to sneak up on her. Lo and behold! There lay her still and lifeless body on her bed and behind the scenes I realized she too like Mzee, had been swallowed down the gullet of the grave. My lips grew numb on seeing her lifeless body. She had been my anchor in my life’s hopeless situations. My dream of hope became my nightmare and once again I paced through dark rooms of depression. She wanted her body to be cremated so we did as she considered necessary and kept her ashes in a special jar that we threw into the Nile River, as we took a boat ride that same weekend of her death. She marveled at how the water was care-free, gently rolling itself into waves before giving off a free land breeze of cool air. Maama also bubbled over savoring the taste of mukene fished from the River Nile. I still do not have the foggiest idea as to why she deemed this location fit for the occasion but the dead shall be left to rest in peace.
We drove back to our home area and once again, depression pitched its tent in my heart. I had forgotten all that Maama had raised me to become in the twinkling of the eye. I still pondered, ‘Lord, I am sorry to question you, but in such a time of desperation, is not the quotient of loss greater than that of a gain?’ In that dark room setting, I contemplated suicide by taking an overdose of toxic drugs. I sought after a feel of realism other than the preaching of the church whose foundation was on an Everlasting Hope. I went on hunger strike for a week and in my mind’s eye I had run my race and it would pay off handsomely to depart from this earth.
Fast forwarding to the present, I expanded my formerly free-lance business and opened up a depot that sold khangas from Mombasa in Kampala as well as African print materials. I signed up for zumba classes to occupy my time after closing the shop. Only after six months in business was I blessed with a ten-year contract with a renowned international fashion designer who is a Ugandan national. My eldest child, Freda focused her energies on being a phenomenal woman and gave up her old ways of life. She affectionately cared for me and got hitched to a Kikuyu man after three years of dating. Patrick and Ivan started up a nongovernmental organization rehabilitate youngsters who struggled with substance abuse and sports betting. Molly has been lying in a comma after she survived a skiing accident in the Alps during her honeymoon. Barbie sprouted in her career as a real estate manager and named her agency after her father, ‘Houses by Mugisha’. Suzie slowly climbed up the ladder of success in the World Bank where she now serves as the Managing director. Eseza is still pursuing her Doctor of Philosophy in Human Medicine. Oh! Little Patty is all grown up! She traded her little frocks and matching ribbons for outstanding ensembles as she serves as the First Lady of Uganda as well as pastor at Eternal love Ministries. I am still Mzee ’s widow and what lingers in my mind is one question. ’Is this all there is to life?’’
After one animated session of zumba class, I posed that same question to the ladies in the changing room when the instructor asked me what my personal story was like. Adrenalin had shot through my veins on hearing a question about my past. I swallowed my saliva hard and pretended like she had tickled my funny bones. I finally found courage to answer when I shared with them my life story in a nutshell. How I the grand chapter originated from getting married to the love of my life, Mzee Mugisha. I had to explain that Mzee was not a title but his actual name as he was baptized after his father who he lost at a tender age of three years. He was from an ethnic group that my family despised as he was from the southern part of Uganda whilst I my roots were from the northern part. Little wonder, how unlike poles attract! My family was humbled by his ability to competently provide and arranged to give him my hand in marriage. We bore eight amazing children. No sooner had we had our last child than he left us to be with the Lord. I pictured myself dying too but I did not. The children and I learned hope in a downright hopeless situation. We resolved to face life with square-faced determination and with godly preparation based on Christ’s good news taught by their late grandmother to find purpose in life. They lead purposeful driven lives just like their grandmother and I,’but ladies,’’ I called their attention, ’’Is that all there is to life? ’I advised them to go home with that as food for thought.
My new reliable comrade, Kirabo closely followed behind me to air out her uninvited opinion to the question that lingered in my mind. She reprimanded me to stop playing the role of the blind ungrateful fool after all the hard-knocks life had presented. In my mind’s eye, was a picture of her making storm in the teacup. As she spoke in a rather authoritative tone, she unknowingly evoked emotions of pronounced annoyance and repugnance within me. She barely knew me and drew conclusions for me in the nick of time, which I learnt is a common tragedy among the human species. We are so close to examining people and yet so far from examining our own lives. It is a naked truth people often dress up as pieces of counsel. I struggled to compose myself when I calmly shared with her a Chinese proverb,’’ some people feel the rain, others just get wet. Let’s not bring up this topic again, please.’ I avoided Kirabo for fear of hurting her with how I was still healing as an emotional casualty and she had aggravated the wounds that had not fully healed. I prayed to the Lord in my closet which I used as my war room after having watched the movie. I asked Him to bring me to peace with my story and with Kirabo who failed to understand that I wanted only quiet when it came to discussing my family life.
It was in that instant; I discovered what I had gained after the death of my beloved husband as the preacher shared on his burial. It did not interest the world for any millisecond that I was the single mother or a young widow that plied the father’s role. It was an ear-splitting narrative to make out of what sustained me in that period of losing a husband and fending for eight children. The examination of how to escape from committing suicide is the world wanted to recognize yet that was the commonest escape route when tribulations cropped up .What I used to glue the pieces together, when my life was falling apart was another mind-provoking inquiry they posed to me. In the world, numerous doses of toxic despair were a dangerous substitute for delicate hope. Utter hopelessness was the daily bread for the consumers to devour. It demanded to see how I could dare to ascend in the air as a core piece of me descended into the ground. The world was attentive to my life lesson and discovered to perceive sound of whispers and silence of hope after the noise elapsed.
It was an unusual prospective to be born anew into an incorruptible inheritance. Especially when the simple prerequisite was for one to believe in a mighty God who none could see. The world could not place a price on how much I had profited in a new life with Christ at the center, where destiny comes with no expiry date. I had gained stewardship of eight amazing children who lead purposeful driven lives. I gained so much pain that I did not have to pretend that it was all going to be okay but dealt with it by the Grace of God. I saw the beauty of each sunrise similar the Mzee’ s luminous smile from which I derived my existence even after he breathed his last. I had studied daily routines of to getting up every morning after crying myself to sleep the previous night, bruised to my soul and still did what needed to be done to provide for the children. It took great bravado to sadden others as I remained steadfast to what I believed and deemed to be true. I become skilled at being patient when various avenues to be impatient presented themselves. I learnt to be lonely and accept that I was never alone .I had gained myself in a circumstance I least expected to survive and this was an achievement I took delight in the most.
All was indeed well until death came knocking again on our family door. Who was next in line?
 Kabalagala is a Ugandan native name for pancakes made out of bananas.
 N.A means Not Applicable.
 Mukene is a native name for silver fish species.
 Khanga is a piece of clothing with African designs as well as African proverbs.