In two weeks’ time, Phirimoni Mwesigwa’s dad would be returning from The Congo for the Christmas holiday. For three months his sons, Phirimoni and Noweri, had missed the excitement of having a father in a home. They missed waking up in the night to dance whenever he returned with happy glazed eyes and fermented breath. They missed eating meat, a delicacy for special holidays like Christmas.
It was the last day of school at Bukunga Universal Primary Education Centre where Phirimoni was a Primary Three pupil. That morning he’d woken up earlier than he usually did. His mother was still sleeping and the cock had only crowed twice; first time at three o’clock and then at five o’clock.
He anticipated a good report from school and it was one of the things he hoped to tell his father about as soon as he returned home. The boy had worked hard during the term and he hoped to be among the few pupils in Division Two. Mr. Mugume, the headmaster, had promised a rabbit to any child who would make it to Division One but since Phirimoni joined the school, no child had claimed the prize. Phirimoni knew he could not make it to Division One because he had never met any child with such brains. Who was he to imagine that he could reach such heights?
At the third ko-ko-li-lo-ko of the cock accompanied with the varied clucking of the hens, Phirimoni sprung to his feet. Noweri, his little brother, was still asleep. It was finally six o’clock and the fear of being outdoors during the hours of the night dancers was gone. The Bachechezi were spiritual vessels through whom evil could travel. They would dance naked around your house at night and put a curse upon you if you saw them. A 12-year-old would not dare be outdoors before six in the morning. The cocks’ chorus meant that the Bachechezi were gone.
Phirimoni skipped across the room to the red-brick wall on the other side and went for the window. He snapped the latch and a fresh breeze with soft dashes of mist flooded the room. Little Noweri pulled the covers over his head.
“Close the window Phiri,” the four-year-old said, his voice muffled under the thin covers. He was sleeping on a thin mattress placed above a papyrus-reed mat that was their bed.
“So that you urinate on the mattress? Get up and susu outside!” As Phirimoni spoke, he pulled the covers off Noweri.
Noweri dragged himself along the brick wall and with eyes closed, made his way to the back door and stood ready to hold out his little willy to pee. Phirimoni, who was following behind, unlocked the metallic bolts and the loud squeak of the door forced Noweri to open his big, round eyes.
Noweri took three drunken steps forward and peed onto red earth while Phirimoni ran out to the kitchen across the yard with all the energy he could master. He was ready to start his day although his brother was probably ready to go back to bed.
First, the hens and cocks had to be set free. If the early worms went back into hiding within the soil, the birds would scratch, and scratch, and scratch the ground until they found one or two buried beneath then Phirimoni would have too much work to do while sweeping the compound.
He opened the wooden door to the kitchen and the birds that had been waiting eagerly scurried out. One mother hen remained nested in one of the papyrus reed baskets filled with dry banana leaves, brooding over her eggs in the corner.
Phirimoni saw that one of the birds had left behind stinking grey-black droppings on the surface of orubingo (grinding stone for millet grains, sorghum grains and cassava) in the other corner. He scooped the droppings using some of the dried banana leaves and tossed the mess toward the three cooking stones which were in the middle of the room.
Phirimoni had to sweep the compound and fetch water before going to school. As he run down the hill to the spring, through the banana plantation below their house, he heard the roaring of a plane up in the sky. He remembered how, as a little boy, he would join the other children to chant loudly, ‘bye Museveni, bye Museveni’, whenever a plane flew above their hills.
On Gwibaare Hill you were more likely to hear planes than see cars. Phirimoni always thought he would board a plane first before boarding a car. He had never been inside a car except the one time he accompanied his father to fell trees and helped to load timber on a parked Fuso Truck which had not even moved. He decided to race ahead of the plane, scampering past banana trunks like a swift wind, sure of where the ditches were and the spots with creeping plants that might trip him. When he got to the end of the plantation, he was out of breath and he had been outcompeted by the aircraft which was now a tiny insect in the blue sky.
He cleaned his mud laden feet in the wet grass and resumed his run downhill. At the spring, fresh water gushed out of a silver pipe sticking out of a cemented wall and children waited in line for their turn to fill their jerrycans. Phirimoni saw Boyi at the front of the line and went over to say hello. The two boys talked about the previous day’s football match and how the Gwibaare Hill boys had beaten the Kigarama Hill boys. They laughed and the line for water moved forward. Phirimoni fetched before Boyi and all the others he had found waiting at the spring.
Phirimoni covered the top of the twenty litre jerrycan using a green banana and placed the flat side of the jerrycan on his head. When he got home his shorts were covered with spiky seeds of the Black Jack plant that grew in the banana plantation. He changed into his black shorts and a yellow shirt that had faded to a subtle cream colour. The school was lenient and allowed its students to come dressed in Black shorts and white or cream shirts if they did not own a school uniform.
“Iwe Phirimoni, I want you to collect more firewood before you come home after school,” his mother said, screaming her instructions from her bedroom where she was dressing up.
Mrs. Turyahikayo was a skinny woman of about thirty and her face had red patches at the cheek bones below her eyes. Her Carrot facial Crème had slowly bleached the melanin out of her black skin. She wore a long floral skirt with dull blue and green patterns. Instead of a blouse she had on a white silk petticoat which was pulled over her breasts and held there by its elastic waist band.
“Okay, maama,” Phirimoni replied. “Kandi Noweri? What work is he going to do today?” the boy asked about his younger brother.
“You want him to come with you? You would have helped me keep an eye on him. I want to go to Nyakabungo market to buy us clothes for Christmas before everything becomes expensive.”
The two brothers smiled at the news that they would be getting new clothes for Christmas.
Their mother continued, “Whenever I leave him with the neighbours, they complain that he is troublesome.”
“I will drop him at your school on my way to the market and you can collect firewood together,” she said while pouring brown porridge onto green plastic plates.
“Do you hear, Noweri? You get to go to school today,” Mrs Turyahikayo said, poking the four-year-old playfully.
Noweri beamed eagerly and his eyes lit up when he heard his mother say that he would not be left at the neighbours’. Noweri and Phirimoni then sat down to eat their millet porridge accompanied with steamed sweet potatoes that were left over from the previous night’s supper.
Not much happened at school on 11th December, 2012. The pupils had returned to school after a week of not studying to collect their end-of-year academic reports. Phirimoni usually got to school before his classmates but that day he found Sharoni, Reyimondi and Kadogo seated quietly on a bench on the front row of the class.
“Eh Kadogo! We beat your Kigarama Hill boys yesterday. Where were you?” Phirimoni asked as he squeezed in next to Kadogo.
“Shsss! Master is around,” replied Kadogo in a hushed voice. “He has gone to the staffroom to get a pen for signing our reports,” he whispered.
The morning passed in whispered conversations and no pupil in Phirimoni’s class suffered the wrath of a teacher’s canes for making noise. The children were extraordinarily disciplined that day, tamed by the anxiety of discovering whether they had been promoted to the next class or not.
Phirimoni stared at the pink and blue charts pinned to the brick walls of the classroom. Under his breath, he recited the lifecycle of a cockroach drawn on a pink chart from the egg stage to the nymph to the adult stage. He remembered that he had failed the question in the science paper because he could not remember the second stage.
Nymph. N. Y. M. P.H. He went over the letters and shook his head in surrender. He would never get that spelling correct. Why wasn’t it spelled N.I.N.F? That made more sense than N.Y.M.P.H.
When the class was dismissed, Phirimoni walked out with his academic report folded into a small square he could cramp in his palm. Noweri, who was already waiting under a guava tree, ran towards Phirimoni when he saw his older brother approaching.
“Did mother cook lunch?” Phirimoni asked his brother.
“Come. Come. We are going to collect firewood,” Noweri responded excitedly.
“Urgh! I want to eat first.”
“Niwe Phiri, maama said we should collect firewood.”
Phirimoni shook his head in disapproval. Noweri pulled his lower lip in a scowl and ran back to the spot he had been seated at under the tree.
Phirimoni walked on ahead, sure that Noweri would catch up eventually. He was deeply disappointed with his report. With 24 aggregates, he had missed the second grade by just one point. If only he had scored 23 points. It must be that nymph word, he thought.
“Taata is coming back tomorrow,” Noweri said when he caught up with Phirimoni.
“Kyo! Konka Noweri! I know you miss him but he is coming back next week.”
“Taata said he is going to bring me bread like this…” Noweri raised his left hand above his head to demonstrate how tall the loaf of bread would be.
Phirimoni laughed and said, “Oh yes. It is going to be too much bread that we will not be able to finish it all.”
Noweri was looking at his elder brother with dreamy large eyes, believing all words that flowed out of Phiri’s mouth like they were a prayer. He imagined walking around in a stupour, tall bread in his hands, staggering left and right as the other village kids drooled at him saying, “Noweri, Noweri, give us some bread.”
Daphine Arinda is a writer and lawyer. Three tenets guide her writing; strip off any inhibitions and write as nakedly as you can, do not sacrifice intricacy for readability, write from a point of knowledge. Arinda writes because it is fulfilling to capture LIFE in words and translate it to art so that posterity may behold authentic Ugandan literature. Her Blog Evabella is a manifestation of the art, thoughts and experiences of a Fearless, Dynamic and Revolutionary writer. She is also a Member of the Advisory Committee of Network of Public Interest Lawyers (NETPIL), a member of the Youth for Policy Think Tank and a social justice blogger at KWEETA Uganda.
#AmateurNight stories were submitted by writers during our previous #MEiREAD Amateur Nights. During Amateur Night, writers share unpublished work and receive feedback from member of the book club. Tell us what your thoughts are in the comments section.