Written by Mauryn Okunga
Ma was buried two days after was picked from school by the strange visitor. With nothing more than a greeting, he took me home to face Ma’s dead body. I tried to cry but I couldn’t. I knew what death meant. I knew why she had died but I still hated her for it.
She should have waited for me, held on a little longer for me to return from school and take care of her. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to boarding school. Damn this AIDS!
Grandma kept by my side all through, and when most of the mourners left, she took me to greet a man who was sitting by himself in one of the make shift tents.
“Hallo Daphine,” he said, as soon as I was before him. I offered a dry response, anxious for what more will follow.
“I am your father,” he added, and when I didn’t say anything, he continued, “I am sorry about the death of your mother.”
I am ten years old, mister! Ten years old! Why are you here? Do you also have AIDS? Why didn’t you take care of my mother? You have never bought me anything. You have never visited me. Where do you come from?
My head span from anger and words I wished I could tell this man.
“You are welcome to our home,” I finally said.
“I would like to take you back to school but first, you’ll come with me to my home in Kampala today. You will visit your grandmother during school holidays but most of the time, you will be staying with me.
Grandma, please don’t let him take me! I don’t know him. I don’t want his home! I want my Ma.
For the first time since being picked from school, I cried. Everything was happening too fast. It seemed like the decisions had already been made as Grandma hadn’t said anything contrary to what this man, my father, was saying.
We set off for Kampala that afternoon. My father’s house was bigger than what Ma stayed in and there were two children, the older of whom was barely up on his feet. They were introduced to me as my brother and sister. Their mother smiled warmly at me and offered me a seat on the mat. She picked the kaveera which had my school uniform and underwear and took it to one of the rooms.
This was to be my home for a long time.
School terms came and went. My father did his best to get me to school on time and teach me everything he did at his work place. By the time I sat my Primary Leaving Examinations, I could change a car tyre and fix a light bulb. I could dismantle and re-assemble a radio and bake cookies for my new mother’s church sale. I often overheard her brag to her friends, whenever she thought I was out playing, about how I was the best daughter anyone could ever have. Her only complaint to her friends and her husband was that she had never heard me call her “mummy” or my father, “daddy”. She didn’t know how to address the issue but her friends always told her to let me be.
Grandma always visited me at school and she told me stories about my former playmates in Mukono. Some had dropped out of school. Mrs. Ssendegeya’s first born daughter was pregnant. A few of my favourite neighbours had died of silimu. Grandma’s gardens were doing fine and she wanted to plant this or the other for the next rainy season. She always brought me eats wrapped in kaveera – roasted potatoes, groundnuts, maize... I loved her for it and I missed my life in the village with her.
I missed Ma. I had read and learnt so much about HIV/AIDS that I wanted to finish school and work in a hospital that cared for people living with the disease. So when I completed secondary school and got admitted to study medicine at university, I was overjoyed.
But two years into university, my father and step mother were killed by thugs one night as they returned from overnight prayers. Death again! And this time, I had two dependants. My brother and sister were taken up by an uncle whose wife advised me to find a job and start looking after myself since I was now an adult!
One evening, I mastered enough courage to open up to my study group about my situation. They showed me with hugs and promised to help me get through school. At the end of our group discussion that day, Eric offered to escort me home. I couldn’t possibly take him home because there was no electricity (it had become a luxury), no food and I hadn’t cleaned the house in a long time. Besides, I always walked home.
He looked at the emotions fleeting through my eyes and calmly said he would pay the transport fare home. He insisted he just wanted to see where I stayed.
Eric became my pillar of strength.
Look out for Part IV of the series next week on Friday.