Short Story: Whips and tears

Thursday July 09 2015

He has stopped making pacts with himself and no longer stops himself from clicking on her name to see if she is online. WhatsApp still lets him have that. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH |

He thinks about her sometimes.

No, that’s a lie. He thinks about her all the time. How can he not? She is still in his WhatsApp chat list though her icon has not turned green for more than a year. He has many chat contacts in his list but his eyes always go to the bottom of the list looking for her name.

He has stopped making pacts with himself and no longer stops himself from clicking on her name to see if she is online. WhatsApp still lets him have that.

They have been online at the same time many times. But he has never reached out and he does not expect her to do so either.

He checks to see if she has changed her profile picture. Many times he finds she has not. She can keep the same profile photograph for two or three months. She does not change her profile picture two or three times a day like many women in his chat list. When they still talked, they would argue about it.

“You travel all the time and you have a camera on your phone. You also take photographs all the time. Why don’t you change your profile photo more often?” He would ask her.


“Come see me, if you want to see my pictures,” she would reply.

Her status message, which read, “The Lord is my protector and my defender. I fear no man,” had remained what it was when they would chat on Yahoo! Messenger. They had worked in the same building but for different companies, years ago. The status message had made him question whether he really wanted to try to ask her out.

But Kiwanuka, her workmate and their mutual friend, had encouraged him to ask her out, saying “Don’t you know church girls are the best?”

They were on the balcony of Kiwanuka’s office, smoking their evening cigarettes, before walking down into the traffic on Jinja Road to go home.

“You really think I should ask her out?” He had asked, trying to act disinterested.

“Whips and tears could lead to the altar,” Kiwanuka had said while blowing smoke through his nostrils.

They had both laughed. When he got her mobile he had saved her as Whips and Tears. Later, she had told him she had saved him as “Kitchen Guy” in her phone because, “You were in our kitchen more than we were!”

“So were you when you learned I could make a latte out of Star Cafe coffee!” He had told her.

However, she preferred her coffee black and strong, “Like my men,” she had said, while chuckling.

“Aren’t you worried you’ll become sterile?” he had asked her.

“I’ll worry about my ovaries when I have a man,” she had replied.

He had asked her out while they were walking back to their offices after having lunch at Nandos.

More than one person passing by his desk, on catching him smiling to himself, would ask, “What does Ralph’s computer have that ours don’t?”

By chatting on Yahoo! Messenger, they were constantly in communication even when they got to work. They would use a taxi to get to work from his house in Kireka, but she would get off at the Crest House stage and he would continue to Uganda House and then walk back. They did this so that the people in their building would not know they had spent the night together.

He would watch her cross the road from the stage with a sense of pride as other men admired her. He would think to himself, she is mine. But she wasn’t.

“My dad doesn’t know you. When will you come to see my parents?” She would keep asking him. She was relentless. Sometimes he thought about saving her as “When will you marry me?”

He had tried to live without her. But he could not get through a day. He needed her. In the middle of a business meeting with a nervous client who was not sure he could secure the land title fast enough, all he had to do was get her on the phone. She had a friend in the land office who ensured there were no delays. She would calm his client and the deal would be clinched.

“I should be billing you for this,” she would say and they would laugh.

They spent many evenings at Kampala Music School at the YMCA on Bombo Road. He had quickly learned that when Mozart was being played, to have a clean handkerchief on him, because she always cried, shaking silently in the darkness of the hall beside him, his arms around her.

She could play the piano and the instructor at KMC was her old music teacher at Namagunga Girls Secondary School. He would leave her to tutor one or two students while he went to play basketball at the court. He would forget himself once he spotted her in the stands, cheering him on as he went all Michael Jordan on the high school kids who thought Allen Iverson was the greatest player.

She was the morning voice he heard first thing every day before he opened his eyes. She was the last sight he saw, before drifting into sleep with a smile on his lips, her bare back to him through the half open door of the bathroom, as she applied lotion to her face and body.

For four years, she was his Joan and then quite suddenly she wasn’t. It was a while before his acquaintances learned to stop asking, “How is Joan?”

However, Kiwanuka kept probing him to find out what had gone wrong. He thought Ralph did not want to tell him the truth.

“Did you cheat on her?” Kiwanuka would ask him.

“Come on, you know I’m careful. She never caught me.”

“So what did you do?”


But Kiwanuka was right. He was just not ready to tell anyone. He was waiting for her to break first.

A year later, while he was still waiting, he learned that she was getting married in a few months.

He continues to wait for her to call him first.