Short Story: The Kintu saga
Posted Thursday, August 1 2013 at 15:09
There was a knock. Kamu’s woman woke up and climbed over him to get the door. She wrapped a kanga around her naked body with the irritation of a proper wife. When she unbolted the door, night was beginning to depart, leaving the sky dawn grey.
The woman considered herself Kamu’s wife because she had moved in with him two years earlier and he had not thrown her out yet. Every night, after work, he came home to her, brought shopping, ate her cooking and he was always ravenous.
When she visited her parents, Kamu gave her money so she wouldn’t go empty-handed. That was more than what many certified wives got. Besides, she had not heard rumours of another woman.
Maybe Kamu banged some girl once in a while — sometimes sex is a punch bag — but at least he did not flaunt it in her face. The only glitch in her quest to become Kamu’s full wife was that he still wore a condom with her. With his seed locked away, she had not grown roots deep enough to secure her against future storms.
A child was far more secure than waddling down the aisle with a wedding ring and piece of paper. Nonetheless, she would bide her time — condoms have been known to rip. Besides, sex with a condom is like sucking a sweet in its wrap: Kamu would one day give it up.
Hence, when the woman pulled back the door that morning she wore the stern wearing the look of a disturbed wife whose husband was at home.
Below the veranda stood four men, their breath steaming into the morning. Their greeting was clipped and their eyes avoided hers. This thawed the woman’s irritation and she moistened her lips. The men asked for Kamu and she turned to go back to the inner room. By this time, the sky was faintly streaked by white clouds.
The woman and Kamu lived in a two roomed terraced hovel in Bwaise, a swamp beneath Kampala’s backside. Kampala perches, precariously, on numerous hills. Bwaise and other wetlands are nature’s floodplains below the hills. But because of urban migrants like Kamu and his woman, the swamps are slums.
In colonial times, educated Ugandans lived on the floodplains while Europeans lived up in the hills. When the Europeans left, educated Ugandan climbed out of the swamps, shook off the mud and took the hills while raw Ugandans flooded the swamps. Up in the hills, educated Ugandans assumed the same contempt as Europeans had for them: All swamp dwellers were thieves.
On her way to the inner room, the woman stumbled on some rolled mats that had slid to the floor. She picked them up and saw, to her dismay, that the bright greens, reds and purples had melted into messy patches obliterating the intricate patterns her mother had weaved.
In spite of tons and tons of soil compacted to choke the swamp, Bwaise carried on as if its residents were still fish, frogs and yams of pre-colonial times. In the dry season, the floor wept and the damp ate everything lying on it. In the rainy season, the woman carried everything of value on her head. Sometimes, however, it rained both from the sky and from the ground: then Kamu and his woman swam. From the look of her mats, it had rained in the night.
As the woman laid the discoloured mats on top of a skinny Johnson sofa, she felt a film of dust on her smart white chair-backs. The culprit was the gleaming 5 CD Sonny stereo (fake Sony made in Taiwan), squeezed into a corner. She glanced at it and pride flooded her heart. Since its arrival just before Christmas, Kamu played it at top volume to the torment of their neighbours. Unfortunately, the booming shook the fragile walls, sprinkling dust on her chair backs.
The woman stretched to touch the wooden box on which a tiny Pansonic TV (fake Panasonic made in Taiwan) sat. The box was damp. If the moisture got into the TV, there would be sparks. She thought of shifting the TV, but there was no space for its detached screen. This screen, striped in blue, amber and green, turned the black & white pictures into colour, almost.
Unfortunately, the TV and stereo had arrived after a spate of armed robberies in the suburban homes up in Makerere hill. Two educated family men had been murdered. Naturally, suspicion from up in the hills fell on the slums in the swamps.
The woman squeezed between the sofas and went into the inner room. Kamu was still asleep. She shook him gently,
“Kamu, Kamu? Some men at the door want you.”