This is a work of fiction
Copyright © Nakisanze Segawa
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by the way of trade or otherwise, be linked, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulate without the author’s prior written consent in any form other than that in which it is published.
For Nabukala Milly
For all the love and pride
Kalinda could hear the drums echoing beyond Mengo Hill. He stared at his opponent, a short man with a shiny bald head and red swollen eyes, from Singo County. He wondered whether the man had lost a relative. Bereaved opponents, he had heard, sometimes made winning easy.
Singo was famous for its great wrestlers. Kalinda had faced one whose wrestling history he had heard about before he took him on the pitch. But he had never heard of this man – a fact that made him feel as though he had been taken hunting with a bow, but no arrow. He turned and glared at Sekitto, the master of the drummers with impatience; the game was taking long to start.
Sekitto raised his hand and brought it down onto the Embuutu, the commander of the drums. With just one vigorous slap, the other drums turned to whispers. The game started.
Kalinda grabbed his opponent by the waist, his hands locking behind the opponent’s back. The two men interlocked. Kalinda’s feet slipped backwards at the weight of the man; he attempted to lift him up and throw him down, but failed. Usually, he started by pushing at the contender’s shoulders. This time, he had gone for the waist because he wanted the game to end as soon as possible so he would gather the energy to walk back home the next day and either celebrate with, or be consoled by his family. He had never gone to his parents defeated, but there was a first time for everything.
The man pulled at Kalinda’s legs, his head pushing into Kalinda’s stomach. Kalinda lifted his arms from the opponent’s waist, and in a swift move, clutched the man’s head, imprisoning it under his arm so the opponent wriggled his neck. His other hand firmly gripped the entangling hand at the wrist. Kalinda could hear both his and the opponent’s hard breathing. For a moment he thought their breathing could be heard by the nearest spectators. His armpits smelt of fresh sweat, and felt slippery. He did not want to lose. He could not allow this short man to put him down – not when his supporters from Bulemezi County were cheering, not when his father was watching, and most importantly, not in Kabaka Mwanga’s presence. He was gripped by an overwhelming fear. His legs shivered.
The drums continued to whisper. The spectators cheered and sang, shouting, ‘Kalinda…Kalinda.’
Some sat on branches of trees, some on dry grass, while others stood.
Atamukutte y’agamba… yaaayeee…
Kwatira ddala onyweeze… yaaayeee…
The man jerked his head into Kalinda’s chin. A sharp pain cut across Kalinda’s jaw and he let out a low cry, sounding almost like a sigh, but the pain had gone deeper, beyond his jaw line, up to his eye. He felt dizzy.
His legs hurt where the man gripped him. Pain moved up to his back. His spine ached. Sweat dripped down his face. His breathing hardened; his energy was running low. For the first time in his wrestling life, Kalinda felt his muscles relax against his will. He was tired; tired of the game, of entertaining people who just looked on and cheered as air slowly left his lungs.
Then that familiar feeling came. A feeling he got when much hope was gone. He could feel his body start to slowly give into the might of the man. He freed the man’s neck and quickly guided his arm between the legs of the man, just underneath the groin, and forced his opponent’s torso under his arms. He attempted to lift the man up, but failed again. The man’s feet remained firm on the ground. When he glanced at the crowd, he saw some people opening their mouths in uproar, but the words could not reach his ears.
Kalinda could sense Kabaka Mwanga, who sat on a chair in front of the crowd frowning, probably burning inside. Before the match, the Kabaka had been soft and sweet when saying the encouraging words to Kalinda, ‘‘I want you to win that cow. I want to watch you push that man’s head onto the ground.’’ Kalinda had wanted to hug the Kabaka in gratitude. But he knew he dare not. No one hugged the Kabaka, not even his own mother, at least not in the sight of everyone. Mwanga’s face, graced with a budding beard and wide-eyes that softly talked when the two were together, was now a picture of concentration.
There was no way he was letting the Kabaka down.
A new strength ran through Kalinda’s muscles. He switched tactics. He pushed his leg between the man’s; their chests touched. Feeling the man’s heart calm next to his, Kalinda, with all his might, pressed the man’s back hard, causing a terrified cry out of his mouth. He lifted the man up, and then brought him down. They both fell on the ground with Kalinda on top.
Kalinda lifted himself off the man, but did not stand up straight. He was too exhausted. Instead, he rested his hands on his knees, his mouth opening like that of a panting dog, his nose letting out hot air that parched the skin underneath it.
The Embuutu commanded, the other drums resumed their loudness.
‘Ani atunula Bulemezi mukamwa?’
‘Tewali atunula Bulemezi mu kamwa,’ were the chants, praising Bulemezi County in celebration.
Kalinda looked at Mwanga. Although he could read nothing from the Kabaka’s face, he was content that the Kabaka knew he had won. Tonight the two would celebrate his victory in a way none of the spectators anticipated. Then tomorrow, he would go to his father’s home with his prize. He would add the cow to the two he had won in the previous games. And when the time came for him to marry, he would take the three to his own home.
But even as these thoughts danced in his mind, he wondered whether he wanted to marry. He had duties at the royal courts and meek interests to please his Mwanga. To him, that was fulfilling, at least for the moment. He straightened up and shook hands with the man, who was now standing before him. ‘You are a man of strong bones,’ he said.
‘But you are stronger,’ the man smiled. Kalinda felt good. He could not wait to see his mother. Mwanga had given him permission to visit his family if he won the game.
‘That was a tough fight,’ said Mukwaya, Sekitto’s father and Chief Executioner for the Kabaka. Kalinda had not seen him approach. Standing behind Mukwaya and smiling was Reverend Clement, an Anglican missionary whose church Kalinda went to as often as he could. He went there not to study the white man’s religion as most pages in the palace did, but to discover things that the Reverend and his other Anglican white colleagues did not want Mwanga and the rest of the world to know they possessed. Today as always, Kalinda was certain, judging by the smile that pulled Reverend Clement’s mouth up at one end, that the white man had enjoyed the match. He never missed one.
‘Thank you for supporting me,’ said Kalinda as more people came to congratulate him. He looked around, searching for his father, but could not see him. His heart sunk. Usually his father was the first to come and congratulate him. Perhaps the old man had gone home to tell his wife that their son had won again.
The thought of seeing his mother quickened Kalinda’s heartbeat as he approached her home the following day. He was certain she was going to scream aloud and dance and run to her co-wife to announce his arrival and victory. She’d done that after his previous two wins. She would do it again and again if he kept on winning, acting as though he was a war hero.
He hoped she would not go to her co wife this time because he wanted all her attention on himself, to spend the little time he had there only with her, so they could talk about everything and anything, including his two cows and how fat they’d become. He felt guilty for not seeing her as often as he should, since Namungoona village, where she lived, was not far away from Mengo. But again, he served in the palace, a place he could not just walk in and out of as he wished.
He stood in the middle of the path that led to his parents’ home when he saw no one within the home’s compound. Usually, the homestead was filled with life in the evening, with everyone moving up and down. But now, it was empty and silent, a silence that caused the back of his head to ache. Hadn’t they expected him? But no, that could not be. His father had been at the wrestling match. He must have let everyone at home know that his son was coming home today.
For the first time he questioned whether his mother still loved him. He was adopted, and maybe the family was getting weary of him. Could everyone’s absence at his arrival mean he was no longer welcome to the only family he knew? Even the Jambula tree three feet away from his parents’ house stood still and docile. It was as though it too had forsaken him, forgotten the times he had climbed it as a child and shook its smaller branches, forcing juicy Jambula to fall on the spread mat his mother had given him.
Kalinda felt a lump swell in his throat. Suddenly, he heard a scream that awakened him from his thoughts. His mother appeared from behind the house. She carried a pot on her head which she quickly put down and ran towards him. His throat cleared. He smiled, but stayed still. His mother embraced him. She smelt of the sun. She smelt of happiness. She smelt of home. Her slim body felt tight against his. He had almost forgotten how skinny she was. The warmth of her small arms around his back reminded him how much he had wanted to see her.
No one spoke. Her heart beat next to his, and for a moment he felt a wave of guilt run through him over his recent thoughts. Why had he even doubted her love for him? She was the most loving person he had ever known.
‘Forgive me Maama,’ he said, knowing very well that she would not understand what he was apologising for. It was unbelievable that this wonderful woman, who was not his real mother, was the reason for his adoption.
It had all happened many years ago. Kalinda’s real mother had died giving birth to him, so he was raised under the care of his paternal grandmother. But when he was still a toddler, before he even had a tooth in his gums, he was adopted by his current family after his current mother, an already married woman, was caught in the bush sleeping with a man who was not her husband. Following tradition, the other man was forced as punishment to let go of his only son to be raised in the offended man’s home as that man’s own son.
Now, looking at the only mother he had ever known, he wondered whether her actions had placed him in the right place. He never knew his real parents, and he was content, but sometimes, especially when with his current father, he wished to meet his real father.
His mother let go of him. And with a concerned expression on her face, asked, ‘What are you apologising for?’
‘For taking long without visiting.’
She laughed, took his hand in hers. She turned to walk and gently pulled him along. ‘I understand your duties at Mengo. Come to Maama’s house. You are earlier than I had anticipated. Come and tell me about your fight. I am positive that my strong son won. Your father didn’t feed us well on the action when he returned home yesterday. Did he see you batter that man to the ground, bee ddu?’ She demonstrated her last words with the gesture of throwing something heavy and it hitting the ground.
‘Where is Taata?’ Kalinda asked when she offered him drinking water. They were inside her house. She sat on a mat she had laid on the floor after giving him a stool.
‘He went to Mwami Kimbugwe’s home. He will be back soon.’ Her eyes brightened. ‘How was the fight? I want to know everything. Are you hurting? Should I bring a cold rag and put it where it hurts? How long did it take to put that man down? How did he look? Was he short or tall? Who was there apart from the Kabaka? Was the Kabaka happy with you?’
Later, Kalinda’s father came home. His mother left the two alone after bringing her husband a seat. She too, thought Kalinda, had seen the unsettled look on his father’s face. He looked disturbed, as if he had bitten the insides of his mouth and tasted blood. Even long after father and son had sat down together and Kalinda expected to talk with his father about anything, nothing was being said. His father, with his overbearing stare, made him feel inadequate.
Kalinda coughed and swung his legs. He wondered why his father was not saying anything. He hated the silence between them, and wanted to get out of his father’s imposing presence.
‘Yesterday you did not fight like a man,’ said his father. His voice carried a core of hardness.
Kalinda stared at his father in shock. He did not expect such inconsiderate words from a man who had never risked a finger in a simple fight. His triumph had not come easily, but he had won. He mused at how in his father’s eyes, a single slip could fracture all the good he had done. Did the old man equate winning with eating matooke on one of those precious china plates given to him by his Arab friends? Perhaps he should as well get his old bones into the arena and feel how tough it was to put a short, muscular man down.
Kalinda wanted to leave immediately. After all, he dare not get back to the courts late. No one dared keep the Kabaka waiting. When he stood up, his father said, ‘We found you a wife.’
The words cut hard into Kalinda’s thoughts, and he sat back. For a split second he thought he had not heard correctly. The old man’s face was as plain as the tone in which he was communicating. ‘Whose daughter is she?’
‘Aren’t you happy?’
‘Of course I am,’ said Kalinda though he felt uncertainty. He felt his heart expand. He appreciated his parents’ efforts to get him a wife, didn’t he? He wanted to get married and have children – as many as possible, probably more than his father had, didn’t he? He was old enough to be a little one’s father.
Yet he felt his heart react strangely in a way he could not describe, as though it had run out of blood supply. Every young man his age would be thrilled at his father’s news. Where, then, had this fear inside him come from? Perhaps his father should have warned him before shocking him with such big news. He trusted that his parents would pick the right wife for him, but he just was not ready to start a family of his own.
‘I will have to talk to my brothers and other family members about the right time to talk to the girl’s family, and then a date will be set for the official visit,’ his father said.
‘May I please know which clan my would-be first wife belongs to?’ All Kalinda could think about was how he could not wait to get back to the courts. He looked at the door edge and realised that by adding a little clay to it, he could limit the excessive light from entering the house.
‘Are you supposed to know everything? Just trust the elders on this,’ his father said in a dismissive way. Kalinda stood up and went to his mother to tell her he was leaving.
It was dark when he returned to Mengo. He decided not to see Kabaka Mwanga. He could not handle the routine of being questioned by the Abambowa, Mwanga’s security men, about why he wanted to meet the Kabaka. And, even if they let him see the Kabaka, the Kabaka might not want to see him. So he just went to sleep in a house he shared with Bukenya, the master of all pages, who was away to the south of Lake Nalubaale. Kalinda did not understand, however much Bukenya had tried explaining to him, what Bukenya was doing to find out more about the Catholics’ influence on the other side of Nalubaale. To Kalinda, these matters were irrelevant. He thought it would be better for Bukenya to serve the Kabaka rather than move to strange places to learn about the foreigners’ influence there. He felt Kabaka Mwanga had made a mistake allowing Bukenya to go.
Nagawa felt that her wooden sandals were slowing her down. She thought of removing them and walking barefoot, but she felt that would be a commoner’s conduct, not fit for a Kabaka’s wife. Her heart beat so fast that she could hear its rhythm in her ears. She and her siblings were walking along the broad main road to Mengo Palace. She usually hated silence while in their company, but today she embraced it and was glad that Sentongo’s overactive mouth had run out of words.
She thought it important that she reach the palace before the Kabaka. It would be improper not to be found at her home when he returned from Lake Nalubaale where he had gone to hunt hippos. She increased her pace and walked ahead of her siblings. This time she wanted the Kabaka to come to her home alone. But chances were he would again come with that page Kalinda, who would, like a dog, wait for his master outside her house while Mwanga made quick thrusts inside her, and when through, put on his clothes and walk out without a word, leaving her yearning to be with him a little longer, for him to talk to her, for her to touch him, for her fingers to feel the roughness of his skin.
Several times she had wondered why Mwanga usually came to her place with that page Kalinda. She had asked Kaddulubaale, her co-wife and Mwanga’s first wife, whether he ever came to her place with that page too. Kaddulubaale’s response had caused Nagawa’s heart to halt; she said she had never seen Kalinda close to her house, not even once.
Deciding not to worry about Kalinda, she thought of the urgency in her life. She had to get pregnant, and tonight was just perfect. Today, perhaps the white man’s God would answer her prayer.
Her parents had been strict, and so was Ssenga Nakibuule, who taught her lovemaking skills to apply while with the Kabaka. ‘‘You have to be calm while with the Kabaka,’ Ssenga Nakibuule had said. “Twist your waist round and round when he is in your bed. Follow his pace. Sing him the sex song. Don’t scream, just moan – not a grieving moan, but the love-making moan. You know, it’s not every day that you will have him in your bed. Remember you have to bear a child,” she had added with the naughty wink of an old woman who knows the secrets of taming a lion.
These words, still strongly ringing in her ears, made Nagawa panic and increase her pace again. She had to get to her house early, bathe and have time to assemble the new special beads for her waist, the ones Ssenga Nakibuule had said would please his eyes. ‘‘He will play with them; they add a little spice to what you both are giving and receiving from each other. The sounds they make will complement your singing,’’ Ssenga had concluded while handing her the new set of beads she was carrying now.
Nagawa lifted her hand to look at the bark-cloth bag containing the new set of beads, and then lowered it. She felt the bag touch her thigh with every step she took. She would exercise all the skills she had learned, she thought, hoping that this time she would unlock Mwanga’s mystique. She liked to think of him as Mwanga. Not even Ssabasajja, the commonest of his titles, appealed to her. Mwanga would love the new special swamp beads around her waist; they would reflect the half-moon in her eyes during their meeting tonight. Ssenga Nakibuule had convinced her of that. Ssenga Nakibuule had also said that women become pregnant during the half moon. She might conceive the future heir of Buganda Kingdom.
However, Nagawa also felt that Ssenga’s words alone would not guarantee Mwanga’s change of attitude towards her. She knew that she had to do something to make him need her, but could not find out what, however much she tried to think creatively. She yearned to bring pride to her family, and only motherhood would guarantee that.
‘Can we please be a little faster; we need not be late to the palace,’ she said to her siblings who were walking right behind her.
‘We are almost there, why the rush?’ asked Sentongo.
Nagawa looked up. It was almost midday. The sun had taken its spot in the sky filled with clear white clouds. Half of the moon was strangely still stuck up in the clouds. She felt the sun warm on her upper back, where the bark cloth, which was wrapped around her body, did not cover.
The Twekobe, Mwanga’s official residence, came into view. The very large hut-house stood on Mengo hill in an enclosure containing other houses of administration, including Mwanga’s private quarters, to which she had never been invited. The circular house was built with mud applied to a scrupulously woven wattle of reeds. In the middle of its thatched roof, a pole stuck out prominently; she could clearly see it from a distance. From the roof, the thatch flowed majestically down to the ground, covering the rest of the Twekobe, except its face, which was also its entrance. The Twekobe’s entrance was low. Nagawa sometimes wondered if Mwanga ever thought of having it reconstructed, made a bit higher so he wouldn’t have to bend his tall frame when entering. A wide arch flanking both sides of its veranda, Nagawa felt, was the most striking part of the house. It was regal, smooth; she worried the heavy rains may in the near future damage its flawlessness. Inside were fifty thick, fine woven concentric rings that ran around its weighty roof; they were supported by five straight poles.
A high fence of vertical untrimmed reeds circled the palace, protecting it from external threat. The trees that grew outside the fence cast shadows inside the enclosure. When strong winds swept across, she sometimes heard smaller trees branches make low, but powerful hisses.
Her heart beat faster as she neared Wankaki, the main entrance to the palace. A fantasy she re-lived every time she reached this point rushed back to mind. Once again, she imagined the wooden gates opening for her, welcoming her home to a whole new life: a life dreamt about by most of the girls, a life of being married to the most supreme man. She would see him there, standing right next to the gate, waiting for her with a broad smile. His hands spreading out, ready to embrace her and take her into the Twekobe where together they would make ten beautiful children.
But it was a fantasy. In reality, she had entered a life she never imagined would be so full of emptiness, longing and displeasure. She thought Mwanga was spending most of his time in the company of those pages. She needed to see him more often; that would increase her chances of getting pregnant. More than thirteen moons in a marriage without conception was a long time. She had been patient. Her family had no history of a barren woman, not one she’d ever heard of. What was wrong with her? Her two elder sisters had become pregnant in their first two moons of marriage. Her childhood close friend, Lunkukireerize, was in the bush pregnant with her first child. Nagawa wondered if someone was bewitching her. But who could that be?
She felt a heavy load inside her chest when she passed Wankaki and entered the palace. Her heart pounded faster. She felt her breath getting scarce, as though someone had come and inhaled most of the air so she was left with too little to support her normal heart beat. The palace was full of activity. Men moved around the compound. Nagawa saw a few pages that served at the royal courts. One never failed to recognize them. They were young men who moved gracefully even when off duty, and behaved like ants when commanded to perform. They were always neat and regularly dressed in their page attire, white pieces of cloth wrapped around their bodies, and knots tied over their right shoulders. They were amongst the few commoners who owned such cloths.
Women moved in and out of their houses. A frowning woman carried a crying baby on her back, swaying her body from side to side in an attempt to stop the child from crying. Suddenly, the woman stopped walking and started to stomp lightly on the ground. Her lips moved, but Nagawa could not hear a sound, and the child’s mouth never seemed to cease moving either. Nagawa’s eyes shifted to see a naked baby seated on the ground put one hand down, collect soil and carry it to its mouth. No one else noticed, not even the elder children who were running after one another. One child slapped her playmate on the back after catching up with her. The beaten one started crying. Another woman, whom Nagawa thought was cooking for the pages because of the large amount of wood she carried on her head, walked towards a small house, the kitchen, stopped at its door-less entry, and let the wood fall down off her head.
Turning her head, Nagawa looked ahead and decided to hurry. Her house stood at the far north end from the Twekobe. She had to get there soon.
She had hardly reached her door when she got startled by her maid’s sudden embrace from the back. She had neither seen nor heard Babirye approach them. And now the maid’s arms held her so tightly she felt pain at the back.
‘You frightened me,’ she complained, turning to look at Babirye, who had now let go. Her maid had an incredibly joyful expression, as though Babirye had not at all registered the harshness in Nagawa’s tone, nor read the hard expression on her face.
‘Are you not happy to see me?’ said Babirye, her face turning into a silly frown.
‘I am tired.’ Nagawa said, smiling. She liked to smile when she wanted to avoid tension between her and the maid. Of course she was glad to see her. Who would not want to have Babirye by her side? But she had not at all prepared for the assertive welcome she just received, especially when she felt no strength in her bones.
Sometimes Nagawa reviled her maid’s ever jolly traits, but she envied the girl too. Babirye seemed to live on a perfect earth: she never seemed to worry about anything. Babirye’s life seemed to be composed entirely of that big smile that never left her dark face. Babirye did things to please others. She never seemed to worry, and when angered, she forgot easily and forgave equally. Sometimes Nagawa wondered what would have happened if Babirye was in her position. Would Babirye continue to carry that smile all the time when she failed to conceive?
‘I am so glad to see you,’ said Babirye, a smile reasserting itself on her face. She then looked at Sentongo and Ntongo. The smile widened, exposing a set of short, white, even teeth.
‘Glad to see you too,’ Nagawa greeted back as her hands rested on her flat stomach. She recalled Ssenga’s advice. “No man likes a thin woman for a wife. You should gain more meat to cover up your bones!”
‘We are glad to find you home,’ greeted Sentongo and Ntongo in unison.
‘Please let’s go inside,’ said Babirye, directing them with both her hands into Nagawa’s house, a small spherical hut.
Nagawa sighed loudly once they entered her house, and realised she was thirsty, dishevelled and sweaty even though it was cold inside.
‘Do you need water, Nyabo?’
‘Please,’ said Nagawa.
‘Is she always like this?’ Sentongo asked when Babirye left.
‘Who? Babirye?’ Nagawa asked absentmindedly. She picked up a mat that was leaning amongst others on the wall just next to a pot containing drinking water, and handed it to her brother. She then picked another for herself and Ntongo. ‘She is always a happy girl.’
Nagawa was surprised a moment later to see Babirye entering the house with six small white clay cups. She held them tightly in her hands as if they were new born babies.
‘I cleaned them today; they had a lot of dust.’
Nagawa nodded. She was glad that Babirye explained herself before being asked why the precious cups were not inside the house where she had left them. They were presents from her father when she married Mwanga, and she did not want them anywhere outside her house.
Babirye knelt down as she poured water she collected from the pot.
‘This water has an aroma,’ complimented Sentongo after drinking.
‘I smoked the pot two days ago.’ explained Babirye. There was pride in Babirye’s tone.
Nagawa unfolded and straightened her brown legs out on the mat. Her joints felt stiff, as though she had travelled for days. Her legs felt so heavy that for a moment she feared she might get paralyzed if she stretched them for long. She looked at her dusty feet and wondered what would happen if Mwanga just walked in and saw her looking that way, with sweat still not cleaned off her face.
‘When do you think our husband will be back?’ she asked Babirye who was now sitting next to her.
‘Word about is that he might be back in the dark.’
‘And where did you hear that from?’
‘Sekitto, one of the royal pages.’
Sekitto? Nagawa considered the name but could not picture the page’s face. Perhaps she did not know him. The Kabaka had a great number of pages serving him. Every now and then he recruited new ones when others left the royal courts, especially those who’d grown old enough to marry. So Sekitto must be new. ‘For how long has he been serving in the courts?’
‘It’s about a moon now.’
‘Who’s his father?’ Nagawa asked, wondering at her own inquisitiveness.
‘Why are you being so curious about this Sekitto?’ asked Ntongo. ‘The Kabaka can have all the servants he wants and you will never be able to get to know all of them. You aren’t supposed to know everything.’
‘How are things here?’ asked Nagawa, suddenly desperate to change the subject. She would ask her questions later when she and Babirye were alone. Her maid would not be intimidated with her questioning the way her sister and brother were. But now she needed to relax and prepare herself for Mwanga. She would rely on Babirye to help her get ready.
Mwanga did not come to her house. Frustrated, Nagawa decided to tend to her own garden the next morning though that was unusual for a wife of the Kabaka. But the garden was the only place she could find the peace and calm she much needed.
The morning air was chilly. As she made a strong incision into the soils with a hoe, she felt no desire to talk to anyone, not even to hear Babirye’s assurances although words of comfort would make her feel better. Even the sound of a humming bird on a tree in the eastern side of the garden did nothing to ease her mind this morning. For the first time she thought of running away, but where would she go? She would never be welcomed back into her father’s home.
She straightened her back slightly, lifted the hoe in both hands, swung it a few inches above her head and then brought it down with all her might. She could not help but blame the man she knew could do no wrong. It was his fault that she, instead of her servants, was at the garden this morning. He had done it to her again, for the fourth time.
Babirye had helped her get ready for Mwanga. To add glitter to her skin, Nagawa had smeared it with cow butter. Her hair had been washed with oil given to her father by the Arab traders, giving it a rare shine; it appeared supple. Then she had waited impatiently for the Kabaka’s arrival, recalling all the coaching and lessons of lovemaking that Ssenga taught her. “You have to give your man all that you have, make things easy for him. No rules should be made, remember, he should always carry the memory of your lovemaking to the beds of the other women. Your scent should never leave his nostrils, and that can only happen when you give him what no other woman can, something unique to you. And always remember to be neat.”
But as time passed by and day transformed into night with no sight of Mwanga, her desperation had turned into anger. The final insult had come when she found Sekitto at her doorway. The fair skinned and youngest royal page, whose beauty frightened Nagawa for reasons she could not understand, had introduced him self first. Then she had felt the colour of her own skin turn pale when he informed her about the cancellation of Mwanga’s visit. She had felt the cow butter melt off her skin, only to be replaced by a certain hardness she’d never experienced before. It was as if something was constricting her throat. Although she was disappointed, Mwanga’s manner did not surprise her. What had shocked her was her body’s reaction, as if it was the first time she had experienced this. She’d suspected that Mwanga was with his pages. It baffled her that he found his pages’ company more pleasant than that of his wives after spending days hunting in the lake or sometimes in the bush for wild meat. She now felt a twinge of jealousy as Sekitto’s face crossed her mind. Even Mwanga’s dog, Magujja, received his affection more than she did.
So here she was, sweating it all out, listening to the sounds of the hoe as it cut deep into the soil, wondering why the peace of mind she had longed for during the night and then on this morning only came now when all she was doing was wasting her energy. Perhaps it was the dewy grass of the morning moistening her legs. Perhaps it was the heavy fertile soil that stuck to her bare feet. Perhaps it was the rising sun that tenderly caressed her skin with a new freshness that made breathing easier, a new freshness that lingered in the air. Perhaps it was the sight of the large green leaves of the big matooke plantation she was digging that promised she would never starve. Perhaps it was the sounds of singing birds, praising the Creator of earth and thanking Him for sparing them the pain she had gone through.
Suddenly she heard heavy sounds coming from a distance. Then they were closer, heavier, stomping. Thinking somebody was being chased; she struck her final cast of the hoe into the soil and put it down as her ears registered the source of movement. She saw a group of young men; some were running after cattle while others walked fast. Those who were walking carried goats on their shoulders: they talked and laughed at the same time.
She identified one face. It was Kalinda. He carried a goat on his shoulders. Even from a distance she could see his muscular arms. She had watched him wrestle a couple of times before, but had missed his last match because she had gone to Ssenga Nakibuule’s home for more sex education. From Ssenga Nakibuule’s home, she’d gone to her parent’s on a one-day visit and then returned to Mengo. Babirye had told her that he had won the last match too.
Strangely, despite the distance, her eyes met Kalinda’s gaze and she felt unexpected shivers run through her. When the two first met, Kalinda had fixed her with a hard stare. At first she had thought he was attracted to her, but as time went by, she realised it was scorn and not lust. One moment he seemed to express pity for her, but in the next, his face would soften with a tiny, empty smile, stretching each corner of his mouth. She could not understand how a mere servant could look down upon her as if she was one of them. But most of all, she could not understand why a page would hate her so. At one time she’d been tempted to approach him and ask why he acted ill towards her, but she was stopped by Babirye, who warned her that it would be disrespectful and inappropriate for the Kabaka’s wife to act in that way. Every day a growing resentment towards the page found a space in her heart. Perhaps she should complain to Mwanga about Kalinda’s behaviour towards her. Kalinda was about the same age as the Kabaka. It was time he got married and left the courts.
16th July 1885. Reverend Clement MacDonald wrote in his journal. He jumped off the stool and hurried to open the brown wooden box at the foot of his bed. He picked a brown letter from the top of a pile papers. He unfolded the letter, and read it again.
Dear Reverend Clement, This news will certainly be unpleasant, but it’s important that you are aware. Bishop Hannington has gone against your warning and insisted on using the eastern route to enter Buganda. I too tried warning him, but he insisted that the eastern route would be shorter and promised he would reach Buganda safely.
I put my trust in God to protect him so he can reach you unharmed.
Reverend Clement folded the letter, and threw it back into the box. He stood and paced around, trying to figure out why Bishop Hannington had acted stupidly and ignored all the warnings, wondering what was too hard for Bishop Hannington to understand in the letter he had written, warning him against using the eastern route to enter Buganda.
He went to his bed and lay down, closed his eyes and prayed silently that Bishop Hannington would abandon his plan. When his eyes opened, he looked at the roof, and noted how it had been weakened by the heavy September rains, especially at the corner above his box where the thatch had thinned. He thought of the many things that had happened in the past few months since Mwanga ascended to the throne. There was the dismemberment and burning of three Anglican converts at Nateete. Then there was the return of his fellow Christian rivals, the Catholics, on Mwanga’s invitation. Those cowards! He preferred they stayed where they had run to, at the south of Lake Nalubaale where they thought their lives would be out of danger after they had fallen out with Mwanga’s predecessor.
He recalled how he had smiled in their absence. His work was much easier now that Anglicans were the only Christian sect present. There had been no need for him to explain to Mwanga’s father, and later to Mwanga himself, why Anglicanism and Catholicism preached Christ as their saviour, yet sometimes differed in conduct and execution of Jesus’ message. The debates had made the Reverend irritable.
But now the Catholics were back, and things were harder, and he would again be called to Mwanga’s presence together with the French Catholics to each explain their differences.
He had been preaching in Buganda for quite some time with a growing number of converts every day, but he was not satisfied. Until he could use his fingers to draw a cross on Mwanga’s forehead, he would never consider himself a successful preacher. But this boy Mwanga was proving to be too difficult for him – too tough for his age, too young to rule a Kingdom. But he was the Kabaka all the same, and his people loved him and believed in him. If he could persuade the Kabaka to become Anglican, he was convinced, thousands of Baganda would convert. Then his religion would have the biggest following in the country. And, he was certain, Mwanga wouldn’t act irrationally when he heard of Bishop Hannington’s arrival through the east. The body of a limbless Bishop in this dark part of the world would be scary. Hannington’s support for efforts to expand Anglicanism in Buganda was very much needed.
He had never known competition this stiff in the five years of his career as God’s messenger in this land. New converts came to his church every day, but it was hard for him not to notice the much greater numbers going to the Catholics mission. Most of them were young men serving at the royal courts. They were men close to the Kabaka. If they succeeded in persuading the Kabaka to adopt the religion of his competitors, it would be a nightmare.
The Church of England had arrived first in Buganda. It would be reprehensible of him to let the French Catholics share the biggest part of the cake. Until the Kabaka was baptised under the Anglican Church of England, he was not ready to give the Catholics time to breathe, and he was sure they felt the same about him.
The Arabs did not worry him. He did not consider them a threat. Their demand that men get circumcised to be fully converted to Islam was asking for too much from a culture that had other religious options. The Arabs had not taken advantage of being the first outsiders to reach Buganda. It was too late for them to claim a significant role in helping a majority of the Baganda abandon their barbaric practices.
Christianity was soft, flexible. Perhaps that was the reason the Baganda found it more acceptable. It did not demand fasting; staying half a day hungry for a whole month every year was something a body could not stand.
He looked at his cloak hugging on the wall. He had to prepare for tomorrow’s church service. A few people might register for baptism.
After church service the following morning, the Reverend closed the church’s door and decided to go to see Richard, an Irish explorer. Before the service, he had not known how he would lead the day’s service without Graham, his fellow Scottish missionary. But he had managed. Lately, Graham had been weakened by illness that kept him indoors. The Reverend worried that he was not getting any better. Malaria had taken its toll on him. This morning, before the communion service, they had decided together that Graham rest in bed all day again.
The service had been precise, the congregation modest. Mwanga’s sister, Ndibassa, had sounded beautiful in her usual soprano tone. Kalinda had walked in late even though the Reverend had seen him at the mission before the service started. There was something about that page that made him uneasy.
He had baptised two women, mother and daughter. He had also noticed a newcomer, a fair boy, whose beauty was so feminine, almost shocking, Reverend worried it would only appeal to men. Women would find it repelling. The newcomer’s skin was so light the Reverend feared it would turn red if the boy stayed out in the afternoon sun for long; his nose was small and pointed that most women would look at the boy with envy. His pink lips were delicate, his eyes lazy in their darkness. The boy refused to stand up when the Reverend asked those who had come for the first time to stand up for recognition. At first the Reverend had worried that his Luganda, spoken with an English accent, was not clear to the boy. But even after he asked Kalinda to repeat his words, the boy had stayed seated on a bench.
And now, as he walked the narrow dusty road to Richard’s place, which was a small distance away from the mission, he wondered where he had seen the boy before. He now remembered that he had seen the boy at Kalinda’s last match; he was the one beating the Embuutu.
Reverend was going to Richard’s place to learn about the urgent matter that Richard had told Semwogerere, Reverend’s servant. Richard had demanded that the Reverend see him as soon as possible. He wondered what the urgent matter was. He hoped it did not involve the Bishop.
It had been long since Reverend Clement and Richard talked. It was as though Richard was avoiding him by overly indulging in exploring, drawing and writing his discoveries in Buganda and Bunyoro, a neighbouring country, as though that was all the meaning he could find in life.
Richard’s place smelt of newness. He likes a beautiful home, thought the Reverend as he stepped into Richard’s compound, his eyes taking in the lilies, hibiscus, and sun flowers that surrounded the round house.
The Reverend turned to see James, Richard’s servant, approaching. He’d baptised the young man a few years back, and had personally chosen the name for its simplicity, certain that the Baganda would not mispronounce it as they did with most names, especially those that started with R, which they pronounced as L. He had demanded that James renounce one of his birth names. So James had thrown Musoke away, saying it belonged to the Baganda god of rain. Since he was no longer associated with the pagan beliefs, James had decided he did not need it anymore. Now the servant’s full name was Kalyesubula James. ‘Is your master in?’
Reverend Clement knocked on the reed door.
‘Come in,’ Richard’s voice called from inside the house. Reverend pushed the reed door open. Richard, seated on his bed, was writing on a piece of paper, and did not raise his head.
Reverend sat on a stool next to the bed, thinking how some norms, like waiting to be granted a seat, were practiced better in Europe. He kept silent and waited for Richard to finish writing.
‘I wasn’t expecting you this early,’ said Richard. He looked at the Reverend. ‘Usually after church you are with Graham.’
Reverend Clement met Richard’s green gaze. They’d turned greener than he remembered. ‘Semwogerere told me you came to my house last night. I understand you had an urgent matter to share.’
‘I expected to see you last night….’
‘I was too weary to come.’
‘Is everything going alright at the church?’
‘What was the urgent matter?’ He could not understand why Richard was asking much as if he cared about him or the church.
Richard looked away. Instead of answering, he started to rifle through the papers he had spread on the bed. Apparently failing to find what he was looking for, he called James, but there was no response. He looked at the Reverend, but remained silent.
Reverend Clement fixed his eyes on the ceiling. He was tired of staring at Richard’s sun-burnt face. For his house’s interior, Richard had tried to replicate Muzibuazaalampanga Tomb, which housed the body of Mwanga’s father. But his failure to imitate the craftsmanship of its architects showed he should never have bothered to try in the first place. Muzibuazaalampanga’s roof was made of rings that held firm it’s thatching. The forty plus rings that represented the clans that comprised the people of Buganda were incomparable to Richard’s badly copied eight ones. The shabby bark covering walls and the dirty mats laid on the floor were a total mess. Richard’s bed, permanently fixed into the soil, was the only beautifully made thing.
‘Would you like to have a cup of tea?’
‘No thank you…’
‘I insist, a cup of tea you should have. Coming from church, you must be hungry. You know what people here say when a visitor rejects anything offered to them,’ Richard lowered his voice and whispered, ‘They think it’s rude, now you cannot be rude to me.’
‘I didn’t want to bother your cook, especially on this hot afternoon,’ said the Reverend. He felt he needed to ease the tension. Richard had not even greeted him. Such arrogance!
‘You are not bothering any one; James’s wife is preparing tea. As a matter of fact, you have arrived at the right time,’ Richard’s voice gained its mistrusting tone. ‘I had wanted to talk to you about Bishop Hannington.’
‘Any news about him changing his mind?’ the Reverend could hear the excitement in his own voice.
Richard did not respond immediately. It was as if he was waiting to hear more, something that the Reverend had overlooked. ‘Your question leads me to what I had wanted to ask you yesterday. Are you in no doubt truly certain – that you warned Bishop Hannington about the Busoga route?’
Reverend Clement stared at Richard. If the word “detest” was not as sinful as it sounded, he could have used it to describe his feelings towards Richard. But because the holy Bible guided him to be humble, he preferred to have only peaceful thoughts of the man seated opposite him. ‘If I had not given you the right directions you wouldn’t be here.’
‘I followed Stanley’s directions, and got some help from Zanzibar,’ said Richard. ‘I am not certain how you interpreted my question, but I will definitely do anything I can to help our Bishop,’ he sighed. ‘I came to your home last night to tell you that,’ he broke off for a moment before he continued in an undertone. ‘The Bishop is already in Busoga.’
Silence clouded the room before the Reverend asked, ‘Is Kabaka Mwanga aware of this?’ He felt his body weaken. ‘How about the messengers and the boats we sent to Kavirondo to pick the Bishop?’ And where did you get this from anyway? He wanted to lash the last words out, but he knew that he could not contest Richard’s source of information just as Richard could not question his either.
‘You received the letter about the Bishop’s planned journey two weeks too late.’
Kalinda heard the burst of Mukwaya’s voice and at once knew that Mukwaya’s son Sekitto was in trouble. Mukwaya’s fury was evident in his eyes, which blazed like those of a female chimpanzee looking for a lost baby. His forehead drenched with sweat. It was obvious that he had been looking everywhere for his son. Kalinda turned to look at Sekitto who was standing besides Ssekamaanya. Sekitto glared at his father. The three of them were walking back to the palace after attending prayers at Reverend Clement’s church when Mukwaya pounced upon them.
‘I am talking to you, Sekitto. Answer me.’
Sekitto remained silent.
Kalinda could not understand where Sekitto had gotten the courage to look at Mukwaya like that. The boy could be punished for glaring at his father.
‘I don’t like your behaviour these days. You abandon your duties and you go wherever you please without informing anyone. That’s intolerable. I am not going to let you continue doing that! You may not be aware of your luck to be serving at the Kabaka’s courts, but I am.’
Kalinda nodded slightly. He was in total agreement with what Mukwaya was saying. Serving at the royal courts was a privilege. In fact, for him it was a position he would have killed for had he not been presented to the Kabaka by Ndugwa, the Lugave clan leader, who was a good friend of his father. Some parents did not want their sons to serve as pages at the courts for fear that they would be killed if they offended the Kabaka. But Kalinda knew that serving at the royal courts was not as risky as people alleged. He had come to know that a page at the courts could stretch his political muscles and influence; with some combination of luck and leadership skills, a page might become a village Chief or county governor anointed by the Kabaka.
‘Ovaawa?’ Mukwaya repeated himself.
If there was anything that Kalinda knew angered Mukwaya, it was not being answered when he asked a question, and he thought Sekitto should know better. Sekitto should just tell his father where he has been so they could continue to Mengo.
‘Are you deaf?’ Mukwaya slapped Sekitto across the cheek.
‘Are you from the white-man’s place of teaching? Answer me or I will hit you again.’
‘Yes Taata, I am coming from the white-man’s place of teaching.’
‘And who gave you permission to go there?’
Sekitto stayed silent.
Mukwaya shook his head. ‘What have you been learning at the white man’s place? And who did you leave to attend to your duties, you dim-witted son of mine?’
‘Kabaka gave me permission.’
‘Rush back to the palace. Now!’
Kalinda watched as Sekitto straightened his back and walked away. He imagined Mukwaya’s heart cry out in anguish. He joined Ssekamaanya and they followed Sekitto.
The sun scorched as they neared Mengo Palace. Sweat covered every part of Kalinda’s body. It soaked the hair on his scalp, and then ran from his forehead down to his chin. He felt the heat in his crotch too. He couldn’t wait for the rain to come next moon. He was glad that he was about to see the Kabaka, but he also had some misgivings. Would the Kabaka be disappointed in him for failing to report any new discoveries about the Anglican missionaries? Reverend Clement had locked his house and store before entering the church for service. Reverend Graham had been stuck in his house, still healing from fever. So to justify his presence at the mission, Kalinda had wasted his time listening to Clement’s teachings about Christianity. He found the teachings of Anglicanism boring, too demanding of righteousness, as if that could even be possible, as if those preaching it were themselves the angels they talked about in the bible, as if their God had no flaw in his artistry. If this were true, how could he have decided that some people would be born blind and miss out the beauty of the world he had created – of rivers, lakes, mountains and clouds?
But he had to attend the service anyway.
The last time he went to the mission he gained access into Reverend Clement’s house without anyone noticing him. He looked for something unusual, but at first found nothing. Ready to give up, he opened the door and was about to walk out when a voice within him told him to check under the Reverend’s bed. There he saw six rifles. Immediately, he rushed to Mengo and informed the Kabaka.
‘Your father, he is very tough,’ said Ssekamaanya.
Kalinda looked at Sekitto. He hoped Sekitto did not respond to Ssekamaanya.
‘Sometimes I hate him,’ said Sekitto. He looked ahead.
Something landed on Kalinda’s shoulder. He stopped and turned his head to see what it was. It was a grasshopper; one of the remnants of the season. He picked it off his shoulder, held it by its transparent wings and scrutinised it, taking in its small body and tiny legs. He wondered how something that looked so unappetizing up close could turn out to be tasty when cooked. He pictured a plate full of cooked grasshoppers and felt saliva gather in his mouth. His eyes turned to find Sekitto staring at the grasshopper as its hind legs brushed against each other in protest. Kalinda freed it and watched it fly away, wondering how long it would stay alive. Probably another day. Spitting, he walked on, his steps deliberate and slow. There was no rush; it still was a long time before evening when he would have to meet the Kabaka. He always met Mwanga in the evening.
When evening came, Kalinda headed for the Kabaka’s private quarters. He liked attending to the Kabaka as, and how he was required. The services brought him close to the Kabaka, his favourite moments being when he and the Kabaka were left alone and Mwanga confided in him.
His pulse quickened as he approached the private quarters, a homestead made up of only one house named Muzibu. It was surrounded by a small fence of well-trimmed reeds tied together with dry banana fibre that made it almost impossible to see beyond the fence even at a close range.
He could barely wait to see the Kabaka.
At the entrance he almost collided with Sekitto, who was rushing out. Sekitto seemed frightened, as though he’d been bitten by a snake. But Kalinda did not have the time to ask what the matter was, or what Sekitto was running from. Everything else would have to wait. Inside Muzibu, Kalinda found Kabaka Mwanga seated on one of the stools imported from England, that country ruled by a woman! A woman ruling a country? The reality would never stop to amuse him. Where were the men when she seized power?
Mwanga’s face was relaxed. Two pimples had emerged on one cheek. A familiar scent of burnt leaves filled the air. Kalinda’s stomach tightened in suspense. Had he missed something? The sight of Mwanga lifting a wooden smoking pipe to his slightly parted lips without him was strange. They smoked dagga together. He could not understand why the Kabaka decided to have this routinely shared moment without him.
Kalinda watched with intensity as smoke curled out of the Kabaka’s nostrils and felt his throat suddenly dry up. He looked down, took another step towards the Kabaka and sat on a mat. Then he raised his head and looked straight into Mwanga’s eyes. They glittered with an inner amusement, a satisfaction so rare Kalinda marvelled where it came from. Mwanga’s eyes were as red as fire, the same fire he saw when the Kabaka was excited with pleasure. But what had caused the thrill?
‘You are late,’ said Kabaka Mwanga.
‘I waited for the time you commanded me to your audience, Ssabasajja,’ said Kalinda, wondering for how long the Kabaka had been waiting. His eyes lowered to the mats covering the floor.
‘You kept me waiting.’ Mwanga’s voice had an edge.
Kalinda resented the manner in which the Kabaka spoke to him. Mwanga had seemed relaxed when he entered. He could not understand what had triggered this mood he was being subjected to.
‘What are you thinking about?’ asked Kabaka Mwanga after taking another long puff at his pipe.
‘It’s my fault for keeping you waiting long, Ssabasajja,’ said Kalinda.
A smirk appeared on Mwanga’s face, giving Kalinda the impression that his apology had been accepted.
‘I wasn’t able to gather anything from the white Anglicans, Ssabasajja. They locked all their houses.’
‘And the other one, the sick one, how is he?’
‘He stayed in his house.’
‘Did I ever tell you how I like the feeling I get whenever I sit on this chair?’ Kabaka Mwanga changed the subject to Kalinda’s relief, his fingers touching the two legs of the chair on which he sat.
Kalinda looked at the Kabaka. It was not the first time he was hearing Kabaka Mwanga confess his fondness for the chairs inherited from his predecessor, and he was quite fed up with it. He did not find them amazing. They were just two pieces of arranged wood sent from overseas by an unacquainted England woman ruler who had no idea that the Kabaka of Buganda had more than one wife. ‘Yes, Ssabasajja.’
‘Come get the other one and sit on it,’ Mwanga waved his hand towards the other stool.
Kalinda went and sat on the stool. His buttocks felt its hardness. Nothing unusual, he thought. He had sometimes been tempted to sit on the stools after he had cleaned the house during Mwanga’s absence, but that longing, he now felt it melt away.
‘How does it feel?’
‘Quite comfortable, Ssabasajja.’
‘You know it’s just wood, I can have my men make some.’
‘Yes, Ssabasajja?’ Kalinda reached out for the hind legs and felt their smoothness. Mwanga’s men would surely make one with a similar size and shape, but would never achieve such shine.
‘The men in that country. Don’t you think they are pathetic because of witchcraft? The magic charm must have washed them of their wit, and the women there must sit on top of their husbands’ heads.’
Kalinda wanted to say that maybe the white men had come because they wanted to conquer new territories to rule. But he thought that would be saying too much for a page.
‘Bunnya, my war hero, reported back to me today. He has killed many of Kabalega’s men and chased them out of my Buwekula County. Next time I want him to go deep into the land of Bugangayizi and capture many of them and steal many of their cattle and goats – and also bring their women here.
‘That wouldn’t be your first victory, Ssabasajja.’
‘It wouldn’t be Buganda’s last either.’
There was another moment of silence, but this time it took a little longer than Kalinda anticipated. Mwanga’s face suddenly registered sadness. Kalinda worried he’d offended the Kabaka.
‘Do you think I make a good Kabaka?’
Kalinda blinked. He could not believe his ears. Such sensitive questions were preserved for men of importance, not a page. ‘Your father made a great ruler. I am certain you take after him.’ He hoped he sounded wise.
‘One of the Chiefs was here, advising me not to be so harsh to the Arabs.’
‘But you are supposed to finish what your father didn’t. Before he died, he had decided to stop selling his people to the Arabs. He could not stand the mistreatment they suffered in foreign countries…’
‘But he was never able to stop a few of his Chiefs from going ahead with the trade.’
‘That was because he never reached all his people in this great land, Ssabasajja.’ Kalinda’s confidence grew. Perhaps the Kabaka liked him more than he had imagined.
‘Do you think he trusted the white men more than the Arabs?’
‘According to the words of my father, your father trusted the white man first. That is why he wrote to their woman ruler, asking her to let her people come and teach his people knowledge of reading and writing, of making guns,’ said Kalinda while getting off the chair to sit on the floor. He preferred to sit down so he could see the expression on Mwanga’s face clearly. ‘But your father later became suspicious and perhaps threatened their lives. That is why the French Catholics ran away to Bukumbi, and Bukenya had to continue with their duties.’
‘Bukenya!’ Mwanga enunciated the name reluctantly as though it had thorns that pricked at his tongue. ‘The leading follower of the white man’s religion and a master of all my pages. I sometimes have doubts about him. It feels as though he is more interested in serving the white men than serving this country.’ He lifted the pipe to his mouth again, took one long puff and exhaled the smoke, accompanying it with a question as if he’d just noticed. ‘Are you tired of the stool?’
‘It’s hard on the behind, Ssabasajja.’
‘You will get used to it eventually, just as I did,’ the Kabaka said before he added in a soft tone. ‘I have been thinking of something,’ he then paused briefly, probably indulging in his thoughts, ‘I am going to excavate a lake near my palace.’
Kalinda grimaced at Mwanga’s idea, and was positive that the Kabaka had noticed. He bent his head but it was already too late.
‘You think my idea is extreme?’ Kabaka Mwanga asked.
‘There is no way I can think of my Kabaka as extreme.’
‘You think my dream is absurd!’
Kalinda scratched the back of his head. He feared that if he said anything, his response would upset Mwanga even more. He desperately wanted the conversation to change.
‘You can go now!’
Kalinda bent his head, stood up and walked backwards until he was out of Mwanga’s presence.
The distance from the Kabaka’s private quarters to the house he shared with Bukenya inside the royal courts enclosure was short, thought Kalinda as he walked hastily, passing two tall trees on both sides of the road. He felt strange, but could not understand why. Perhaps he was disappointed that the Kabaka had not touched him as he had wanted and expected. Or perhaps it was because Mwanga had seemed unbothered with his report on the Anglican mission.
He took in a whole lungful of air, and felt his body weaken at the scary thought that Mwanga was getting weary of him. He had wanted to tell Mwanga that he had seen princess Ndibassa in the church. That would confirm the rumour that the Kabaka’s sister was now an Anglican converted from Islam. He had sensed something odd with Mwanga’s attitude, and decided to keep his mouth shut until the next day when he would see the Kabaka alone. He hoped to tell Mwanga everything.
Kalinda knew that many pages expected him to be assigned one of the most significant page positions at the courts because of the numerous times he visited Muzibu, but he was given none. He was not made treasurer, nor caretaker of the guns in Mwanga’s courts. But he was not bothered. To him, being close to Mwanga was enough. But if Mwanga pushed him away, he would have nothing.
His steps quickened. He was glad that he was not going to find Bukenya at the house they shared. With Bukenya around, he would be forced to listen to unending biblical stories. He wished that Bukenya would stay in Bukumbi at the south of Lake Nalubaale a little longer.
The inside of their hut smelt like rotting bark, Kalinda thought as he sat down on his bed. He saw Bukenya’s black leather bag, a gift from Father Leonardo, hanging on a wall. It must be the calabash. He turned and saw a browning, long-necked, round-bottomed plant on the floor next to the door. He had removed the plant’s insides to create space and then put it out in the sun to dry, hoping to keep Kwete liquor in it. Three days should have been enough for it to dry. Tomorrow would be the last day he put it out in the sun. If it failed to dry properly, he would have to throw it away.
He waited for the sun to fall, the moon to rise, and the sun to rise the next day. Then, a while before it fell again, he would go to Muzibu. He closed his eyes and hoped that Mwanga’s attitude would have changed by then.
His eyes lit up and his heart got filled with bliss as he walked towards Muzibu the next evening. He had waited a little while to be summoned by Mwanga, but when no one came for him, he decided to go. He did not want to keep Mwanga waiting as he had done the previous day. He wiped his face with the back of his hand. It was almost dark, but he felt warm.
A strong wind swept across the small path he was taking. Suddenly he felt strange – the sense one gets when he suspects he is being followed by a cannibal in the night. But this was the palace. Access to it was controlled. His eyelids fluttered when he reached Muzibu’s entrance. He stopped before he could announce his presence. From inside Muzibu, he could hear a mixture of sounds – loud moans, soft cries and dry laughter. He took a step back and then forth, brought his head next to the door’s edge and listened. What was happening? Who did the soft cries belong to? Was the Kabaka with someone? Who was that person? Before he could figure it all out, he heard a familiar groan. It was the sound made when Mwanga climaxed. Kalinda’s heart missed a beat when he realised what was going on. It was a moment beggaring no description, unimaginable and to him unthinkable.
His head spun. Pain crowded his thoughts, anger tore his chest apart. He felt his body weaken and his lungs tighten. He staggered when he turned. He wanted to run away – away to wherever his long legs could carry him. But when he took a step forward, he stumbled. He held his head in his hands. He wanted to stop the sharp, painful sparks inside. He did not want to be found outside. Tonight, he decided, he would not stay at the courts. He did not care if the Kabaka found him missing in the morning; he had to go back to maama’s house. While there, he would continue his conversation with his father about the parents of the wife they had found him.
Finally, he managed to move. For the first time he felt the immensity of his bones. He looked at the royal guards standing a distance away, and wondered if they too knew about it, if they knew what went on inside the private house whenever Mwanga was alone with a page. The orange sun hung up in the cloud, lighting the long, wide road he was walking. The frogs croaked the same tedious ugly tune, their voices superseding the crickets. It was a sharp, confusing tune; it brought more pain in his head. He wished he could disappear in the empty space.
The next morning he found no strength to get out of his bed. His head hurt terribly. His mother, not able to ease his suffering, had spent a wakeful night. She was now resting on a mat she’d spread near his bed, fussing about him, desperately trying to find out what was wrong with him.
‘Are you feeling any better?’ she asked. Kalinda wished she would leave him alone. He would never tell her what was troubling him. She loved him dearly, that he knew, but he needed her out of his house. Now! He felt the back of her hand on his forehead.
‘You still have a fever,’ she whispered. ‘Perhaps you are hurting because you were hit hard by the other wrestler and the effect is just surfacing.’
‘I will be fine,’ he said.
‘But you are not improving at all,’ she removed her hands from his head. ‘Are you certain you’ve been taking all the medicine I have been giving you?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Will you be able to go back to the palace today?
‘I will have to wait till tomorrow.’
Nagawa sat on a mat in front of her house. It was a strategic spot for her to see people pass by. On this warm morning, children of royal servants played around the front of her house. They had formed a small circle, singing a song about Lubaale Ddungu, the legend of hunting. It was Nagawa’s favourite folk song.
The children’s voices echoed into space. They combined the singing with jumping, holding each other’s hands as they rotated in a circle. Continuously, they lifted their tiny feet up and then brought them back to the ground. Incredible how days pass by, thought Nagawa. She recalled the game she’d played with her friends, and how it had all ended the night Lunkukireerize, had informed her about blood between Nagawa’s legs. Nagawa had screamed loud at the sight of her own blood, and immediately rushed to her mother, who then banned her from playing again with her friends. Her mother had explained to her that she had matured and would no longer play childish games. The next day Nagawa was sent to Ssenga Nakibuule’s home for sex and marriage education. After a number of days, she was taken back to her parents’ home. She would then sit on a mat she’d laid in front of the house with her back touching the wall, her legs folded on one side, and watch her friends play. They would call her to join them on several occasions, but she always hesitated.
‘Maama says she had me first before your Maama had you,’ Lunkukireerize had objected. ‘But she has never stopped me from playing.’
‘I don’t understand,’ Nagawa had replied in sadness.
‘Have your parents found you a husband?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Then we should continue with Okwepena.’
Nagawa’s spirit had lifted up at the mention of her favourite game, but after a second thought, the brightness in her eyes disappeared. ‘Won’t Maama punish me?’
‘My elder sister says she continued with Okwepena in her marriage.’
‘Uhh!’ Nagawa’s eyes had popped up. She had then gone to her mother, and explained what Lunkukireerize had shared with her. She had asked for permission to continue with Okwepena. Her wish was not granted. But stealthily, she went to play again, at least for a few more days.
Then one day, while playing Okwepena with her friends behind the main house of Lunkukireerize’s home, she’d heard her mother call her, hurrying as she approached them. She had grabbed Nagawa’s hand and pulled her. With tears in her eyes, Nagawa had waved at her friends, leaving them behind. At home, Nagawa was informed of the visitors waiting for her. She had not understood why her mother referred to the visitors as hers. Normally, visitors were for her parents, not her. Why would anyone come to visit a girl?
She’d been commanded to clean up, and was later presented to the guests. In the presence of her father and Ssenga Nakibuule, she’d greeted the three visitors seated on the stools. Days later she was summoned to Mwanga’s presence at Mengo. Her eyes had met his stare when she looked up from the ground. His unsmiling face had forced her to look down immediately. When they returned home the following day, Nagawa had rushed to Lunkukireerize’s home. But her mother had immediately come for her. Nagawa’s hand was clutched into her mother’s arm and she was pulled towards home. She had found Ssenga Nakibuule waiting to talk to her. Ssenga Nakibuule had reminded her of how she had already grown into a woman and that Kabaka Mwanga had chosen her to be his second wife.
‘How did you sleep Nyabo?’ Babirye’s words echoed in Nagawa’s ears, bringing her back to the present. Babirye was on her knees.
‘I didn’t have a bad dream,’ said Nagawa, her gaze still focused on the children. ‘Don’t they look beautiful?’
‘Someday you will get your own.’
‘Take me to Lunkukireerize.’
Babirye frowned in confusion.
‘Take me now.’ Nagawa stood up. ‘I will get ready in a little while, so should you.’ She knew it was insane visiting Lunkukireerize. It would be disrespectful of her to break Mukwaya’s rules, but she had to see her friend. It had been a while since the two last looked each other in the eye, thirteen moons to be precise. Mukwaya would never do anything to her if he found her. She was a wife to the Kabaka.
It was almost noon when they reached the end of Mukwaya’s garden. As they approached the Muwafu tree, Nagawa felt her heart beat so fast she feared it might pop out of her chest. From Babirye, she’d heard about Mukwaya’s rage when he found out about his daughter’s pregnancy, and how he’d sworn to kill her. ‘I do not care if you get attacked in the middle of the night by a lion,’ he had screamed at Lunkukireerize, and then ordered the rest of his family that she should be left to live at the end of the garden in isolation as punishment, never to be visited.
Next to the Muwafu tree stood Lunkukireerize’ house. Surrounded by tall grass, the house was small and it had so little thatch at the roof that Nagawa wondered whether the rain did not pour inside. One side of its round wall was cracked, and would give away soon. The place smelt of dry wood and urine.
Nagawa heard movements from inside the house when she lifted her arm to knock at the reed door. She wondered whether Lunkukireerize had heard them approach. Suddenly the door opened, and Lunkukireerize appeared in the doorway. Her eyes were sunk in their sockets, and appeared whiter than Nagawa remembered them. Her cheeks had become hollow as though she had lost some teeth. Her face was darker than dusk. Her hands were two smooth reeds, exposing veins that lay beneath the skin. She had grown thinner, except for her belly that had expanded. Nagawa’s heart pulled inside her chest. Lunkukireerize was going to be a mother, and she wasn’t.
‘Nsanyuse okubalaba,’ Lunkukireerize smiled, welcoming them. Her eyes lowered to Nagawa’s stomach, and Nagawa thought they gained some glitter before they lifted to her face. ‘Muyingire’ she added, inviting them inside without moving aside. Her voice had lost its warmth.
‘No, thank you,’ said Nagawa. ‘We just escaped from my home. I wanted to see how you are doing. ‘Have this,’ she offered Lunkukireerize a folded banana leaf. ‘They are ants.’
‘Thank you so much,’ said Lunkukireerize. Her voice was flat.
Nagawa peeped into the house. It was dusty. A few leaves and two pots lay on the floor. She wondered how many days Lunkukireerize had spent without sweeping inside. Short grass had grown in the house and at the door. There was no sign of a kitchen outside. Was Lunkukireerize cooking inside the house? ‘How do you feel?’
No, everything is bad. Nagawa wanted to say. You are weak and lonely. ‘When are you getting out of here?’
‘I am due any day. Maama will pick me up soon.’
‘That’s good to hear. We will pray for you.’
‘Have a safe journey.’
Nagawa wanted to hug Lunkukireerize, but sensed that would not be welcomed. She and Babirye turned and left.
‘I should have come earlier,’ she said to Babirye as they walked back to the palace. ‘She was angry at me.’
Babirye said nothing.
Staring at Babirye’s dark profile, Nagawa imagined the thoughts running through her maid’s mind. She knew Babirye thought her the most beautiful yet saddest married woman she had ever seen. She could notice pity in Babirye’s eyes. She hated it when people pitied her. ‘I don’t need you feeling sorry for me,’ she said in a cold tone. She hadn’t meant to sound cruel to her maid, but she just needed to be understood. She was aware of her beauty and good manners, but lately she’d come to question whether beauty and good manners alone were enough to secure a happy marriage.
There was silence, and then Babirye said, ‘Have you heard about the thefts?’
‘Of people’s food and animals.’
‘Whose food has been stolen?’
‘People outside the palace,’ Babirye whispered to Nagawa.
‘Where do you get such news?
‘It is said that people recognised some of these thieves, but can do nothing about it since some of the notorious ones serve in the royal courts.’
‘From the royal courts?’
‘Yes, pages from the courts.’
Nagawa stared at Babirye. Now she became pensive. She was not certain whether to absorb every bit of gossip that came from her maid’s mouth. Sometimes Babirye’s stories sounded so bizarre she doubted her maid’s source of information, though she also knew that most times Babirye’s gossip turned out to be true. Then Kalinda’s image flashed in Nagawa’s mind. She recalled how he’d given her that derisive gaze on the day she’d tended her garden after Mwanga’s failure to visit her home. ‘Is Kalinda part of the thieving pages?’
‘I am not aware.’
‘Where did you get this news?’
‘I overheard one person say….’
‘Kalinda certainly is part of this group,’ concluded Nagawa. The page had an outlandish manner. He walked like a young girl whose breasts had just sprung on the chest. He moved with his arms slightly parted away from his torso the way war heroes did. If one came from the direction he was going and the two happened to meet, she would fear being swept off her feet and thrown a hundred feet away from him. His manner and unwavering stare at first had not bothered her on the day they first met before his wrestling match. She had thought he was just appreciating her looks the way most people did. But then, after he had won, she’d met his cutting glare, a glare that seemed to insinuate things she could not quite understand. He had continued to look down at her as though she was disgusting, a rotten rat. She had sniffed for any unpleasant smell on her body and stealthily lifted her arm up and smelt her armpits, but hadn’t detected a stink. She also noticed that whenever the two crossed paths, she could feel her blood boiling underneath her skin as if it would splatter out of her body.
An aura of pride about him made her feel small. His derisive ogle made her feel stripped, as if he alone knew something about her, something she wished to keep secret. The low-toned response she received from him when she took the initiative to greet him made her feel non-existent in his presence. He evoked in her sentiments she could never understand. Sometimes she worried Mwanga had told Kalinda that she could not conceive however much he poured his seeds inside her. But she always immediately pushed the thought away, to the back of her mind. Kabaka Mwanga would never do such a thing; he would never discuss his bed life with a mere page.
‘Have I offended you in any way?’ asked Babirye.
Realising how her thoughts had taken the best of her, perhaps leading to the wrinkling of her face which must have prompted Babirye’s concern, Nagawa smiled. ‘No, not at all. Any more news?’
‘I am not certain about this news, but I heard that a white man is coming here through Busoga.’
Nagawa frowned. It was impossible, an abomination, for a white man to dare come through the east. It has never happened. It would never happen. She valued Babirye’s information, but this was absurd. These days, she thought, she should go out more instead of staying home the whole day.
‘Bishop Hannington has been arrested.’
Reverend Clement did not blink at Richard’s news. He stayed still, his hands lifted up, holding a long stick he had been using to hit mangoes off a tree. His heart continued to beat at its normal pace. He was shocked by the scantiness of his emotions. He then put the stick down and turned to face Richard.
‘Why aren’t you saying anything?’ asked Richard.
‘What did you expect to hear?’
‘I am shocked by your tranquillity.’
‘Let’s just say…I am not stunned by the news.’ The Reverend bent down and collected the mangoes he had managed to pick. He stood up and looked at Richard. He knew it was inappropriate of him to act in a casual manner at such a moment, but the irritated look on Richard’s face gave him a sense of satisfaction.
‘Did you expect this to happen?’
‘I have been in Buganda long enough to understand her traditions.’
‘So you knew this would happen?’
‘He is under whose custody?’
‘A certain Chief called Luba. We should go to Mengo and talk to Mwanga before it’s too late.’ Richard turned and walked away.
Reverend Clement walked back to the mission. He entered Reverend Graham’s house and placed the mangoes he carried in the only remaining part of a pot his adopted daughter, ,Esther, had broken a week ago.
‘Are they ripe enough?’ Reverend Graham asked. He sat down, his back leaning against the wall.
‘Only two. The rest are raw,’ said Reverend Clement. He wondered if he should tell Graham about Bishop Hannington’s arrest. ‘Your skin is regaining its normal colour.’ He also noticed that Graham’s eyes were still weak, with a whiteness that showed that he lacked adequate blood. His legs had become small and fragile. But there was regained energy in his voice.
‘I noticed that when I went out in the sun.’
‘When did that happen?’ smiled Reverend Clement.
‘The moment you went to pick mangoes.’
There was silence before Reverend Clement murmured, ‘I have very sad news to deliver to you.’ Graham stared with anxiety. ‘Bishop Hannington has been arrested in Busoga.’ Even as he said this, he knew the journey they would be making to Mengo the next day held little hope.
The wide entrance of the Twekobe appeared as though it had been closed for centuries, noticed Reverend Clement as he approached Mwanga’s official house the next morning. He wondered if Richard, who was walking besides him, thought the same. Four strong timber polls held up a small section of the roof’s exterior, while two large erect reed polls were bent slightly to support the walls of the house’s reed decorated face. A large ebony bark cloth curtain covered the entrance. Two large permanent wood benches were fixed at the entrance. The place was silent as was the case on the numerous times he had visited. Pages just stared at them, which was strange because every time he came to the palace, a page would walk to him, welcome him and inquire what he’d come for.
Kalinda emerged from behind the Twekobe. His eyes widened in shock when he saw them. He approached them, smiling. ‘We are glad to see you. Is the Kabaka expecting you?’
‘We are glad to see you too, Kalinda,’ answered Reverend Clement. He wondered what could have gone wrong with his teachings. He could not understand why this page, standing stalwartly before them, was not yet baptised. Yet he had on several occasions seen Kalinda amongst his congregation at the mission. ‘No, the Kabaka isn’t expecting us.’
Kalinda frowned. ‘I will have to let the Chief responsible for the Kabaka’s visitors come to you. Wait here.’ He did not offer them a seat, to the Reverend’s disappointment. He just walked away. Minutes later, Nganda, the Chief responsible for the Kabaka’s visitors, walked up to them. Behind him followed the fair page, the drummer who’d looked so sad in church service.
‘Next time don’t announce your presence abruptly,’ snapped Chief Nganda. ‘The Kabaka has to want to see you.’ Then his tone became low as if he’d realised the coldness in his voice. ‘He isn’t feeling well. Tomorrow you will know if he wants to meet you.’
‘We need to see him. It’s an urgent matter,’ Richard beseeched before he was interrupted by Chief Nganda.
‘Come back some other time,’ said Chief Nganda with a persistence people used when tired of repeating themselves.
Reverend Clement nodded. He looked at the fair page and felt the need to talk to him, but decided against it. Perhaps whatever had bothered the page was resolved, and his questions might awake repressed bad memories. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Sekitto,’ replied the fair page.
The Reverend nodded again. ‘Thank you,’ he said to Chief Nganda, and walked away. Mwanga did not wish to see them. It wasn’t the first time.
As they walked in silence on their way back to the mission, Reverend Clement heard a familiar voice call his name. He stopped and turned. Sekitto was running towards them. They were now outside the palace, a short distance away from Wankaki.
‘Why do you think he is following us?’ asked Richard.
‘Perhaps Mwanga has agreed to see us.’ Reverend Clement’s head ached at the sound of the page’s first words.
‘He lied to you, the Kabaka is feeling fine,’ Sekitto breathed out the words. Panting, he bent his head and rested both hands on his knees as sweat dripped down his face. ‘He was just fine at night and I served him tea this morning. He was fine.’
‘Why do you think he refused to see us?’ asked Richard.
‘I am not aware of any reason, munange.’
‘We should go back to him,’ said Richard.
‘Let’s wait for another day,’ said the Reverend. He then looked at Sekitto, and thought converting the page to Anglicanism would be great. ‘Would you like to become baptised and accept Christ as your saviour?’
‘Yee munange,’ agreed Sekitto.
‘Alright. Where is Bukenya?’
‘He was sent to the south of the Lake Nalubaale by the Catholic mission.’
‘And when do you expect him to be back?’
‘Any day from tonight.’
‘Let me know when he gets back.’
Two days later, Reverend Clement woke up at dawn to prepare for his journey to Mengo, and was surprised to find Reverend Graham standing outside his house. ‘You are earlier than I anticipated.’
‘I could not sleep, not after everything you told me.’
‘Neither could I. Are you certain you can walk the distance?
‘Very certain. Where is Richard?’
Reverend Clement turned and saw Richard walking towards them.
‘Are you taking the Kabaka any presents?’ asked Richard.
‘What for?’ asked Reverend Graham.
‘Everyone likes presents.’
‘Which gifts can we take him?’ asked Reverend Clement, loving Richard’s idea. Why hadn’t he thought of that?
‘Ones he would appreciate most,’ said Richard.
‘How about your bicycle?’ asked Richard. He shrugged in response to Reverend Clement’s angry stare. ‘Perhaps some biscuits.’
‘We cannot do that that,’ said Reverend Clement. He turned to Graham, and said, ‘We will take some of my finished furniture.’
Reverend Clement folded his arms across the chest moments later. He could hear his soft steps as he walked alongside Richard and Reverend Graham. They kept silent; it was as though they had agreed not to prey on each other’s thoughts. Richard’s servant followed them. He carried a brown wooden box on his head.
As they walked the wide road that hacked through the tall grass, Reverend Clement was reminded of the coach-roads back home in Scotland. From the time he first arrived in this country, he had been struck by the similarities between the two road networks. Most of Buganda’s major roads to the palaces and counties were broad, if not more extensive than the widest streets in the Scottish capital, though the Scottish ones, especially the major roads, were tarmacked. He’d also noticed that the traits of the roads were similar to that of the Baganda. In the roads, just like Kabaka Mwanga and his subjects, was an obstinacy of pride and belief in superiority as they sailed through the country, hard-pressing, crossing enormous natural barriers. The roads seemed to take no notice of the hills, the valleys, the forests and the swamps. In their pursuit for adventure; they seemed to imagine that they could inflict their will on the thick grasses.
The Reverend turned, looked back and reflected on where they had been. He realised that they had covered most of the journey, but he did not feel as drained as he had during his previous visits to Mengo. He glanced at the sky. The sun shone brilliantly. His heart beat when they reached the palace. He was reminded of the reception he had gotten on the first day of his arrival in Buganda. Like then, today the place was decorated with animal skins, and he felt as though he was being forced to glare at the parched leopard and lion skins laid on top of the reed floor. He thought it sad that animals were killed for their hides, and hoped that he wouldn’t be conducted to sit where he would be compelled to step on the skins. Yet, he couldn’t deny the craftsmanship of the people who had, with small bark cloth thread, sawed the hides into one large fitted carpet, giving it an exotic look. The leopard skins, in their colourful brown and yellow spots, made the biggest part of the carpet, while the lions’ made a big middle row, giving the rug a rare uniqueness. This would have been considered an exquisite rug in Scotland, just like the ones made there out of bear hides.
Kalinda emerged from behind the Twekobe entrance, and walked to them. He welcomed them and directed them to sit on one of the two benches at the front of the Twekobe. The other, which the Reverend thought was reserved for the Kabaka, was covered with a red blanket. ‘Please place that box between the benches,’ Kalinda said to Richard’s servant. After putting the box down carefully, James walked away and sat amongst the Kabaka’s subjects.
The subjects, many of whom were pages dressed in white pieces of clothes worn Tonga-wise, sat on the ground. The other subjects, who were from the nearby villages, were neatly dressed in bark cloth.
A loud ovation and welcoming sounds of the royal drums announced the arrival of the Kabaka. All the subjects stood up as Mwanga made his entry from behind the bark cloth curtain. He sat on a vacant bench and faced his subjects. Men, young and old, lay down flat on the ground, their bellies touching the soils, their hands straightened out front as they turned their heads from one side to another, over and over again, showering him with praise.
‘Ayiii Ssabasajja, wangaala,’ screamed one male subject who was joined by the others, wishing Kabaka Mwanga long years of reign, courage, determination and wisdom. They ended each sentence with, ‘‘the lion of Buganda’’. Two men, each holding a spear in one hand, lifted their hands, piercing the air. Playfully, they jumped back and forth as though in battle, fighting the enemy. And like the Kabaka he was, Mwanga waved his right hand, causing much louder screams from his subjects. The drums continued to beat until the screams stopped. Then all the subjects sat on the ground. Once again, the air was filled with silence.
Looking at the Kabaka, Reverend Clement saw a tall and well-figured boy with a dark complexion. But his face betrayed his age, perhaps because of his fast growing beard. He had a slightly big nose, square jaw line and wide eyes that now appeared unusually red and a little swollen. His hair was short but straightened out into a high point on top. He was dressed in bark cloth, and his neck was circled by a large ring of small, well-arranged beads of various colours. One of his arms was decorated with handsomely devised blue and white bead bangle, while on the other was a wooden one that matched the colour of his skin. On his fingers and toes, he had alternate brass and copper rings, and above each ankle, half way up to the calf, he wore stockings of various beautiful beads. Mwanga was the ultimate attraction of the moment; no white skin, who normally would draw attention, could out-do him.
Reverend Clement found the Kabaka looking at him when his eyes lifted. He wondered why Mwanga had decided to receive them in the presence of his subjects but without the premier, his Chief adviser.
‘I am glad to see you, my friends,’ said Kabaka Mwanga.
‘The pleasure is ours, Ssabbasarrja,’ said Reverend Clement. Richard and Graham bent their heads slightly without saying a word.
Mwanga’s eyebrows lifted, forcing two lines to emerge on his forehead. ‘So what brings you to the Kabaka?’
‘Could we talk privately, Ssabbasarrja?’ suggested Richard.
Reverend Clement glared at Richard. He wanted to tell Richard that he should have consulted with him and Graham first before speaking. But now he could not. It wasn’t the place to disagree with the Irish. Mwanga was staring angrily at Richard. ‘It’s alright that we have this meeting here, Ssabbasarrja,’ said the Reverend. ‘But before we continue, we thought that we would bring you these presents.’ Without any signal from Mwanga, he stood up, took a step towards the brown box and opened it. ‘And here they are.’
‘What brings you here?’ asked Mwanga without giving as much as a glance at the presents.
‘We are here to discuss Bishop Hannington’s situation, Ssabbasarrja,’ said Richard.
‘What about him?’
‘We heard about his arrest, Ssabbasarrja,’ said Richard in his beseeching tone. ‘And we are here to plead with you to spare his life. He is a man of good intentions, and carries with him no threat to the people of Buganda…’
‘Do you read the book of your religion?’ asked Mwanga.
Reverend Clement was shocked. In the first month of Mwanga’s Kabakaship, the Reverend had tried to teach Mwanga all about Christianity when the Kabaka had at first showed interest in learning about the Bible. But later, the interest had died, and so he had believed that his efforts had gone to waste. Now, despite the pending Hannington issue, he was pleased to know that his teachings had stuck in Mwanga’s head. He thought of answering the question when Richard took long to respond. To him, Richard was an adventurer and an all-encompassing character who cared little about the Bible. The Reverend opened his mouth to answer the question, only to stop half way when Richard replied,
‘Yes…yes of course I read the book…the Bible.’
‘What happens to disobedient characters?’
‘They are punished.’
‘The same applies here,’ Mwanga’s voice broke off the usual way the voice of a boy growing into a man did, ‘Except that my hands can stretch further if my sovereignty is under threat.’
‘But this is different, Ssabbasarrja,’ said Reverend Clement. ‘Bishop Hannington is like the rest of us, a man of God. He is coming here to work with us…’
‘Did you warn him about what would befall him if he tried to enter Buganda from the east?’
A smirk appeared on Mwanga’s face.
Reverend Clement wanted to sweep the grin off Mwanga’s face. And for the first time in the Kabaka’s presence, Reverend Clement felt uncomfortable. He was doubtful of himself, doubtful of his ability to persuade the Kabaka to free Hannington. Perhaps they had taken Mwanga for granted and had not thought carefully what the Kabaka’s response would be when they presented their plea.
‘It’s complicated,’ Reverend Graham started to say but was interrupted by Mwanga.
‘Amazing! Isn’t it? That you three did the right thing, yet your very good friend had no respect for our customs.’
Mwanga stood up. Before he moved, Reverend Clement said,
‘Please,’ but he recognised the weakness of his own voice as it tailed off. The contemptuous gaze from the Kabaka made him realise for the first time that he wasn’t as bold as he’d always thought himself to be. ‘Don’t let anything bad happen to him,’ he said, watching Mwanga walk away, disappearing behind the bark cloth curtain. It’s after the Kabaka had left that the Reverend realised he had not explained to Mwanga why Bishop Hannington had used Busoga on his way to Buganda. He had planned to tell Mwanga that disrespecting Buganda’s traditions was never Hannington’s intention, that he took the eastern route because he’d thought it could save him the long distance of travelling on the lake.
Four days later, after he had finished planting two guava and four mango trees in his garden at the mission, Reverend Clement walked to a spot by the mission, and sat on a vacant stool next to one already occupied by Bukenya, Kalinda’s house mate. He had welcomed Bukenya earlier upon seeing him walking towards the mission, offered him a stool and asked to be excused for a minute to finish planting the remaining plant.
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It is a time of upheaval in Buganda, an African kingdom on the verge of losing its independence. Anglican and Catholic missionaries are rapidly converting people to Christianity, in the process stirring conflict with their kinsmen who have embraced Islam. Three main characters – Nagawa, a young but unhappy bride to the king; Kalinda, a servant in the royal courts; and Reverend Clement, a Scottish missionary, are swept up in forces that will change their lives and reshape the future of their nation. All too often, African history has been told by Westerners rather than Africans themselves. Ugandan writer Nakisanze Segawa helps correct the imbalance. Meticulously researched, her novel examines a critical moment in African history, and offers a surprising and fresh perspective on Africa in the days just before colonialism. “…A masterful work. This epic story of palace intrigue and conflict seen through the eyes of three very different individuals, offers an unflinching view of a kingdom about fall to colonialism. Describing complex social changes set against Uganda’s overpoweringly beautiful landscape, Segawa describes how divisions within her own kingdom helped set the stage for a foreign take-over. In the process, she offers a nuanced view of the land that would become today’s Uganda.”(Christopher Conte, editor of “Crossroads: Women Coming of Age in Today’s Uganda”) Nakisanze Segawa is a Ugandan writer and performance poet. Her poetry and short stories have been published by Jalada and Femrite. She is a contributor to the Daily Monitor newspaper in Kampala and to Global Press Journal. The Triangle is her first novel.