Laughter’s End.

“One day, the guns will stop laughing.”
 
The old man leaned back slightly on the wicker chair and sighed softly. He reached over to the small plastic saucer that sat on the table next to him, picked up a few roasted ground-nuts and popped them, one at a time, into his mouth.
 
Behind the hills in the distance, the sun was setting in one last defiant display of magnificent yellows and reds as it sunk below the horizon.
 
He sat in silence, lost in thought and in the un-quietness of mind that came with a life lived far too long. He mumbled to himself, speaking unknown words into the growing dusk.
 
Reaching over again, he picked up a metallic mug and took a few long, slow sips. He winced with each sip; the tea was too strong and there wasn’t any sugar. The mug found its way back to the table and he popped more ground-nuts, munching thoughtfully.
 
The sound of gunfire interrupted his reverie, and the group of children seated in front of him squirmed restlessly, wide-eyed, knowing that each day, the rat-a-tat of the guns drew closer.
 
They whispered amongst each other and then looked back up at him.
 
“Don’t be afraid, my children. Everything is okay. One day, the guns will not laugh anymore.”
 
“Baba.” A small girl – shiny-faced from an extra-cold and extra-quick evening bath and, afterwards, a generous application of Vaseline – spoke up. “What do you mean? How do guns laugh?”
 
The old man smiled at her and leaned forward. The children inched closer, seeking solace and safety in the presence of an adult and yearning for the distraction that came from the stories told every evening on the veranda of their little mabaati house deep in the village.
 
“There are people, my child, who use the guns as an excuse to do things they would never do. So the guns offer themselves as a tool to help the people express themselves bravely. But do you know that the sound the guns make is not the sound of bullets?”
 
“Eh. What?” One of the older boys spoke up, taking a bite from the piece of roast cassava he had in his hand. His frown was intense, and he was not alone; all round him, the children’s faces ranged from confusion to bewilderment. The murmuring increased.
 
“You see, the guns need people. Without the people, they are useless. And so they are happy when they are being used. And happy that the people using them think they are in control. But they are not. And so the guns laugh. And laugh. And laugh.”
 
“Uncle, you have lied! Guns cannot laugh!” the older boy took another bite from the cassava and the children murmured and nodded in agreement, whispering amongst each other as they waited for more clarity, some of them sipping black tea from little plastic cups.
 
The man took another sip of his tea, and shaking his head, handed the mug to the boy, who seemed to be struggling to swallow a particularly large chunk of cassava. The mug was gratefully accepted, and the tea hastily drunk.
 
A cock crowed in the next compound and someone yelled profanities at it, asking, at the same time why it always crowed in the evening instead of in the mornings when they needed it most.
 
Shortly, the night grew quiet once again, and the old man leaned fully back in his chair, muttering voicelessly. A long time passed before the children – still jostling each other and waiting for the rest of the stories – realized he had fallen asleep. Soft giggles filled the evening sky and wafted off on the gentle countryside breeze.
 
A female voice called from inside the house and the children obediently got up, picked up their cups, plates and slippers and found their way inside, closing the door behind them.
 
The night grew darker and the breeze grew stronger. Over the sound of trees rustling and doves cooing on the roof, faint, intermittent gunfire could be heard.
 
On the veranda, a quiet sleepy voice could be heard, whispering into the darkness…
 
“One day.”
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The Ian State – A (Short) Fiction Story

I’m sitting at a nice little cafe somewhere in the center of the town. It’s a small, quaint little town; one of those touristy places that has foreigners walking around in dirty sandals, feet dusty and unwashed, wearing “African print” that can only be the work of some bored Chinese screen-printer who downloads random stuff from the internet and converts it into the kind of kitenge material that impresses the wazungu who come to quaint little towns like this looking for the African experience.

Whatever that means.

In the distance, the hills rise gently, almost encircling the little town; a lush shield of green and brown set against the dazzling blue sky that’s holding a sun hot enough to form a hazy mirage on the narrow streets. The sun’s heat speak of the possibility of an afternoon shower, the kind that’s soft and sunny and filled with childhood tales of animals giving birth.

I sip my tea. African tea. Spicy and strong with just a hint of sugar to mask the taste of the watered down milk. I like this cafe, but sometimes they really test the strength of my patronage.

She walks in.

My bellisima.

The sun has met its equal in radiance.

I smile at how ridiculously corny that thought is and close the book I was reading – a treatise on the macro-economic policies that dictate the true ebb and flow of soft power, specifically in relation to the inter-governmental relations between third-world countries and their more developed counterparts. Or something like that.

“Bellisima…” I say the words as I stand and reach out my hands. She embraces me.

She is everything I needed at this time.

“I thought we agreed that you’d stop with the cheesy names?” She speaks through her dazzling smile, breaking away from the hug and picking up my book. She has the slightest trace of a gap between her teeth. Kazigo, her people call it and it’s the most adorable thing ever. Then again, I am biased as f…

She flips through a few pages and laughs.

“Ian. Are you still reading this rubbish? These neo-colonial theories that you waste your time exploring will be the death of you. There are much better books that I can recommend that will be worth your while. And will definitely be more intellectually stimulating than this pedestrian fare that you lug around in the name of seeking knowledge.”

“Well…” I start mumbling as I sit down. I can never get used to this, as funny as it is. I’m thinking of a witty retort along the lines of “your mama” but she is already gesturing to the waitress and pulling up her chair.

“You look beautiful, Florence.” I put the book back in my backback, along with my other collections of pedestrian fare, tightly zipping the bag and leaning it against the wall behind me. If it were possible, the book would be more embarrassed than I am, mostly because it had been bought to impress her.

“Thank you, Ian.” She smiles and takes my hands in hers, looking into my eyes.

Eternity. In a fraction of a second. All is forgiven.

The waitress arrives, breaking my slice of heaven as she thrusts the tattered and worn single sheet of paper that they call a menu towards Florence, who impatiently waves it away.

“Black tea, no sugar, a slice of lemon and your freshest banana cake.”

The waitress strides off. I can’t tell if she’s in a huff or a puff.

“So.” I look at her expectantly.

“So…” Her response seems hesitant. Worrying even.

A lifetime passes.

The suspense is killing me, but I know she doesn’t like to be rushed. She bites her lower lip and stares off into the distance.

Dammit. Here we go again.

I’ve always believed that time plays tricks on us. And I call it The Ian State and it goes like this: Time is a sneaky, malicious and self-aware bastard. It knows exactly how long to last depending on the situation you’re in and it behaves completely differently for each person. Your time is not my time. And our time is not their time. Time exists in tiny pockets of chaos, structured at the quantum level to piss us off in varying levels. See, time will rush by when you’re having fun, and slow down when you’re doing the most boring thing imaginable, like Monday afternoon in high school, when the teacher always felt the time wasn’t enough during the Agriculture triple class and every single student was absolutely sure that the clock was lying or had stopped working. Except Agnes, who – as other students fled the classroom as soon as the bell rang – stayed behind to consult with the teacher because she felt the time wasn’t enough. When time messes with us like this, I call it the Ian State.

The Ian State is in full effect.

Dammit.

After what seems like ten thousand years (and one), Florence slowly looks back at me.

“Dammit, Flo. Are you going to…”

“I got the job! Ian, I got the bloody job!”

I knocked over my cup of tea.

***

An hour later, we are sitting on one of the outdoor couches in the backyard of the little cafe – did I mention I really like this cafe? – and she’s next to me, her head leaning against my shoulder, legs curled up on the couch, covered with a kikoi.

She smells good. It’s an eclectic mix of shampoos and lotions and oils and soaps that keep finding their way into my bathroom, displacing the one piece of Imperial Lather soap that I own that she claims never seems to get finished and whose smell constantly reminds me of my childhood growing up in the little estates on the fringes of the city where dad was a…

She smells good. The Ian State is in full effect and we are happy.

She got the job. After so much time… she got the job.

A new life awaits us, and tomorrow, we start packing our things, preparing for a journey into a brave new world. A journey to a new city, country and continent. In two weeks, we’ll get onto an airplane, both of us for the very first time, and cross the vastness of the oceans into a world that’s as alien as it is exciting.

Florence, my bellisima, has dreamt of this day since she was a little girl and to see her so excited about finally living her dreams…

I draw her close and kiss her hair.

She smells good. Time slows down.

She looks up and smiles.

Everything else stops and the world ceases to exist.

In that vastness of time, as she slowly falls asleep, I pick up the book from my bag and run my fingers across the cover.

“Foundation Economics of The Global South” by Florence Ninsiima.

She snuggles closer to me, and I wrap my arms around her as I quietly flip to page thirty four.

Our time is ours.

 

For Nev

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I’m stuck at Monday, 5th of February 2018.

We were at Cafe Pap, Parliament Avenue, a few meters away from what used to be Mateos. It was like the beginning and the end were fated to be right next to each other.

We met for the first time at Mateos – if my memory serves me well – and forged a strong friendship during the nascent days of Uganda Blogger Happy Hour, back when blogging was still new and the hobby of a very few group of Ugandans. Mateos was our blogger’s meeting point every last Thursday of the month. We talked about everything. Life, faith, love, writing, art and creativity. We shared dreams amongst friends from all walks of life. We laughed and loved and lived. But, slowly, time marched on and the UBHH meetings of old faded as people grew up, married, got jobs and kids. But we’d made friends and for some, friends for life.

We met for the last time at Cafe Pap, right next door to Mateos.

You had sent me a late night text – Sunday at 1AM – knowing I’d be awake, as I always am.

“King. I need advice.”

“Joel.” I responded, “How can I help?”

You explained the dilemma. And something, only God knows what, prompted me to ask to chat in person, instead of the usual WhatsApp conversations that make you feel like you’re close to people and yet couldn’t be more further apart.

Monday.

I almost failed to make it and asked if you were okay with waiting a while longer as I sorted out something urgent that had popped up at the last minute and that had derailed my afternoon. Ever patient, you said you’d wait.

Thankfully, I made it.

“Jor, son of El.” I liked calling you that, a play on Jor’El. It spoke to our shared geek culture and to me, it was the knowledge that you were stronger than all of us and that you truly were a Superman.

We talked for a while. About love, life, the future and some bit of the past. You shared your hopes, dreams and fears, and as always, I poked and prodded, asking you to look at the thing that was bothering you from multiple perspectives. We laughed and shared about faith, religion and the little trivialities that occupy our waking moments.

It was a wonderful evening conversation – one of the few meaningful ones I’d had in while – and a couple of days later, I checked in and you said all was well with the issue you had, and you would be fine. All would be well.

I’m stuck on Monday, 5th of February 2018.

And yet, the timeless memories won’t stop. From the time we met to the late hours we worked together. At Node Six, Elemental Edge and Proggie. I watched you grow from a friend to a colleague to an online media expert. You helped us lead and grow a brand – Proggie.ug – from nothing to one of Uganda’s most popular websites. You pushed yourself each day to be better and when the illnesses came, you apologized and smiled through the pain. You said over and over that you will be fine. And that the pain would pass.

But Joel…

Above all else, you taught me – and the hundreds of people who are sharing your about your life right now – to live life to the fullest. To stand for what you believed in. To love, unconditionally and to create incessantly.

Your love for life was incredible and your love for love was even more so. And you wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

You connected people, you changed lives, you brought meaning, purpose and hope to thousands like you who lived with Sickle Cell disease and you stood up every day as a beacon to those that might despair, or give up and you always said all will be well.
And that the pain will pass.

Joel… I am heartbroken. I will miss you, terribly, my friend.

Yesterday I broke down as memories of your goofy smile flooded the internet in an outpouring of grief.

I cried for a friend I would never see again. For a friend I admired, and greatly respected For a colleague who stood by me as I struggled through entrepreneurship and for a spiritual role model who showed me every day that salvation is always with us, however far from grace we think we have fallen.

I miss you, Joel, my Pollyanna friend. And I wish I had spent one more minute at Cafe Pap, sharing jokes, movies and stories about live, love and faith.

But… Joel. I’m grateful that finally, the pain is no more.

Rest well. Jor, son of El.

May your spirit soar the cosmos. And may the Father, whose love you sought above all else, welcome you with a smile as bright as your own.

Goodbye, my friend.

Goodbye.

Homecoming – A Short (fiction) Story

I laid my father to rest today.

It wasn’t a big deal.

I mean, it was. My father had died, so, obviously, it was a big deal. For me at least.

But for the rest of the world, it wasn’t.

He was just another village drunk, so his death — and funeral — barely made the village news.

Of course, people came to give their condolences and to say a few kind words. But we all knew why they really came: there was food, free and plenty, and it was rice and goat stew, freshly made, fried even. A delicacy in these parts. It came along with some soda and local brew, enough to reinforce a few ironies.

Liver failure is not pleasant; it’s — apparently — one of the most painful ways to go. At least, that’s what the doctor from the Center IV clinic told me, as she casually prescribed a few drugs two months ago. She told me that she didn’t expect much, as his symptoms were far too advanced. In fact, she had said… Continue reading

“Raw”: An Excerpt from Elijah’s Diary.

[ Fiction ]

Elijah’s Diary. Entry Title “Raw.”

Time: Undated.

There’s a soft, pale moon glowing outside. It’s not quite the full moon we loved so much, but it’s almost the end of the month, so maybe the full moon will come soon enough.

I hope.

I miss rambling. We used to call it that; those moments when we’d lie on the grass, under the blanket of stars and just talk, not a care in the world. Food and drink forgotten as we lost each other in each other’s thoughts; running around aimlessly in our own minds, revelling in the fleeting eternity and vastness of just… being.

The comfortable silences that stretched out into everything, in which – my head on your chest – I could hear your heart beat to the rhythm of infinity for hours on end, while you gently ran your fingers over my really awful uncombed hair and all I wanted, all I ever really wanted, was for that infinity to be… infinite.

… infinite …

The arguments about books and food and wine; my uncultured self playfully dissing your refined elegance, talking about how the Pinot Noir could only be paired with a cheese whose nams I couldn’t even pronounce, because, by God!, I hated cheese. And of course, my mock French accent was an abomination that you said you never ever wanted to hear again and yet kept giggling at like a little girl each time you heard it.

Continue reading

Henry & Ali. 19th Nov. 2016

[ Fiction ]

Saturday, 12th November, 4:06 AM. Undisclosed Location

“Henry. Dude. Shit. You know… if this had gone any other way, we’d both be dead… right?”

Henry looked over at Ali, who was hunched over, hands resting on his knees, breathing in quick, urgent breaths, trying desperately to calm down, while also needing to get the words out. It felt like they had just run a marathon.

“I know,” Henry said, turning his eyes skyward. He laughed a short nervous laugh. “I know.”

Henry was lying down on the grass, just behind a wall fence, looking up at the stars. It was a very, very cold night and his words frosted up in the night air as he spoke, hanging hazily for a few moments before reluctantly disappearing. The grass was sparse, clumped in uneven places and a little wet; it had drizzled slightly just a few hours ago.

“Should we go find the other guys? They may not be alright.”

Ali’s voice was shaky. He was definitely rattled.

Poor kid, Henry thought, his first day at work and it had turned out to be a shitstorm. Continue reading

Zachary. 19th Oct 2016.

[ Fiction ]

1:13 PM. Naguru 

{Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.}

Zachary smiled and started humming along. The music was fitting, the sombre lyrics drifting through his mind with the evanescent familiarity of a song that’s been listened to a thousand times.

He gripped the note tightly in his hand, the soft crunch of paper – whose contents were now burning their way into his memories – was barely audible in the still, quiet night.

He took a sip of vodka, cursing instantly at the bitterness that coursed down his throat. He could never quite get used to the taste of Smirnoff vodka; there was something vulgar and adulterating about it, like a sudden burst of lightning on a cloudless night. You couldn’t quite tell what the bloody hell had just happened, and yet, there it was… quietly, sublimely violent.

It was a beautiful night, though, with a bright, waning moon resting against a twinkling blanket of stars and an eerie silence punctuated only by the soft notes of Disturbed’s rendition of “The Sound of Silence” floating through the house onto the balcony where he sat. Continue reading