RED AND GREEN WRAPS: PART ONE
Based on a True Story!
BY ARINDA DAPHINE
Phirimoni Mwesigwa’s dad was returning from The Congo in two week’s time for the Christmas Holiday. For three months his two sons; Phirimoni and Noweri, had missed the excitement of having a father in a home: they missed how he woke them up in the night to dance whenever he returned with happy glazed eyes and fermented breath, they missed eating meat.
This 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 for 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-yo-ko of the cock accompanied with the varied singing of the hens, Phirimoni sprung to his feet. Noweri, his little brother, was still asleepIt 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 twelve-year-old would not dare be outdoors before Six in the morning. So Phirimoni had waited to hear the cocks’ chorus as it meant that the Bachechezi were gone. There was still no sound from the next bedroom so Phirimoni decided that his mother had overslept.
The boy gaily trotted to the red-brick wall opposite the one at whose feet beddings were sprawled. He snapped a wooden square that served the role of a latch and flung open the wooden window on the wall. A fresh breeze with soft dashes of mist flooded the room and little Noweri pulled himself deeper under the covers.
“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 on the doorand the loud squeak as he pulled it open forced Noweri to open his big, round eyes.
Noweri took three drunken steps forward and peed onto red earth while the 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 a one or two buried beneath thenPhirimoni 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 eagerlyscurried 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. This is where the hens laid and hatched their eggs.
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 towards the three cooking stones which were in the middle of the room.
The kitchen was a mud and wattle bungalow with a small store within. Phirimoni had to wash the previous night’s dirty dishes, sweep the compound and fetch water before going to school. He entered the store where food, dishes and pans were kept on a rack and locked up away from the birds. . .
As Phirimoni run down the hill to fetch some water, 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 the aircraft 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 mother was preparing millet porridge for breakfast. Noweri was sweeping the compound and chasing the birds playfully. Phirimoni’s shorts were covered with spiky seeds of the Black Jack plant that grew in the banana plantation. He took the jerrycan into the store and hurried to his room to prepare for school.
He changed into his black shorts and a yellow shirt that had faded to a subtle cream colour. He wore these clothes to school because his parents could not afford to buy the actual uniform. 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.
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 melanine out of her black skin. She wore a long floral shirt 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.”
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.”
“Noweri! Noweri! Always breaking things and chasing any animal he is not scared of,” Phirimoni said while tagging at his little brother’s cheeks.
“I will drop him at your school on my way to the market and you can collect firewood together,” she said while pouring the 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. He has scored 24 Aggregates and therefore missed the second grade by just one point. If only he had scored 23 points. It must have been that nymph word. He had been promoted to Primary.Four but that alone was not good enough. He knew his father would not be excited that his son had been graded in Division three.
That day Abu did not go to school, just like all the days since he was of school-going age. Abu stayed on Kigarama Hill with his grandmother, Kaaka, and his Taata, Mr. Brayuhanga. Before Abu’s father left home that morning, Kaaka had asked him for money to buy pineapples for Abu but the man had declined saying that those who do not work have no idea how hard it is to get money for luxuries like pineapples.
Why did Abu need pineapples, he had asked, quietly thinking to himself that the old woman was only using Abu as bait to trick him into buying her pineapples. There were passion fruits in the family garden and if the boy wanted sweet fruit, he could pick those. Mr. Byaruhanga had added before leaving for work at the Pentecostal Churches headquarters in Rugyeyo Sub-county.
Those who do not work! Kaka recalled her son’s words and sucked air between clenched teeth in a long jeer. Now that he was a man, Byaruhanga thought he could talk to her disrespectfully, forgetting that she had raised him and bought him all the sweet nothings he desired as a child. She hated that now she had to beg money from him because she was too old at eighty to be selling surplus food harvests at the market like before, in her more useful youthfulness.
When Abu woke up that morning and did not see a motorcycle parked in the corridor between his bedroom and his father’s, he knew that Taata had already left home. He exited the house through the backdoor to find his grandmother seated outside, slumped on a mat woven in patterns of pink and green.
“Eh, Aburaahamu, come and sit with me,” Kaaka said while patting a spot on the mat signaling. “Maybe we can do something useful today before your father returns,” she continued. “He is always condemning us because we can’t work.” Tsk! “As though he is God himself.” Tsk!
There was a heap of bean pods to her left and a saucepan containing a few red beans to her right. Abu sat to the right of Kaaka and put the saucepan on his laps.
“Your father has gone to meet his fellow criminals,” Kaaka added.
Mr. Byaruhanga was one of the few Pentecostals in Bukunga village. Kaaka regarded all Pentecostals criminals because she believed they were behind the Kanungu inferno of the year 2000 which claimed the life of her sister, Muzarire. Kibwetere, a Pentecostal leader, had preached that the world would end that year and some people like Muzarire had been convinced to give up their worldly wealth and dedicate the last days of their earthly lives to prayer. As the converts prayed, they were torched and burned alive. By who? No one knows. The putrid smell of burning human flesh hovered over Kanungu for days. Kaaka could still smell the bowl-wrenching stench every time she remembered her sister, Muzarire.
Since then Kaaka believed that all Pentecostals had knowledge of Kibwetere’s whereabouts but chose to withhold this information from the Government and Police. Although twelve years had passed, all criminal investigations on the Kanungu inferno had been futile and Kibwetere was still at large.
Abu and his Kaaka sat together taking out beans from pods until there was enough in the saucepan to prepare a meal.
“Abu, bring me matooke from the store and a knife to peel, then make the fire quickly,” Kaaka said. Abu.
Abu split a thick piece of wood using an axe so that he could get thin strandsthat could light easily. As he lifted the axe above his head and brought it down steadily to chop the wood, his arms contracted into a mould of hard muscle. When he finished, he used the chopped pieces to make a small heap in the centre of the hearth, between three cooking stones. He stacked dry leaves and twigs between the heap and set them on fire using a matchstick. He blew into the heap to augment the flames. As the fire spread from the leaves and twigs to the wood, Abu’s dark-skinned face lit up above the golden flames. Abu’s body was beginning to bud into that of a stoic fifteen-year-old adolescent and he delighted in his muscular strength that many boys his age had not yet attained.
The firewood crackled and outside, Kaaka hummed a church song in her elderly shaky voice that sounded melodic nonetheless. She was peeling the matooke that would be cooked together with the beans to make katoogo.
Abu sat with Kaaka as they had the katoogo and, observing how hurriedly he ate his food, she knew that after the meal he wouldn’t be staying long at home.
“Abu, bring me bushera,” she said to him.
The boy run to the house and in a flash was back with a pink plastic mug filled with the brown millet and sorghum drink.
“I know you can’t wait to go to the forest and that is why you were swallowing the food like if you chewed it first, it might escape and fly out of your mouth,” she said and paused to drink from her cup.
Abu laughed and shook his head. He mumbled loudly and said that if the matooke flew out of his mouth, he would fly after it with his tongue sticking out and like a Monitor-Lizard, he would pull the food back into his mouth in one tongue swirl.
Kaaka smiled as she listened to her grandson and watched him flail his arms to demonstrate what he was communicating. She could not make out the exact words he said but she was grateful he had understood her joke about flying food. She had small fragmented sorghum husks stuck to her gums and teeth creating a rather unpleasant sight for Abu.
Kaaka loved Abu so dearly and although everyone else referred to him as ‘ekilagi’ to mean that he was daft, she knew he would grow to be a rich successful young man. He had been burning charcoal for sale in the family forest in Kyabihambe for three years now. With his savings, he had bought kids that had grown into goats and 10 of the goats in the family kraal were his own. How many fifteen year olds were that innovative? How many village children were as smart as her Abu?
Abu left home immediately after the meal and took with him a panga wrapped in green Banana leaves and bound by brown strings of banana fibre. Since the first week of December he had been felling trees that he intended to burn into charcoal. All he had to do that afternoon was collect green branches and fresh grass whose roots were still heavy with soil to lay over the heap of stems that he was going to burn into charcoal. The ground had been dug and layered with small dry twigs and dry grass that he would torch to ignite a fire. Heavy stems had been heaped one over the other while they were fresh and moist. A mountain of wood had been erected and today he would cover the heap in red soil and green grass and green branches until the only crevices left uncovered were the outlets for smoke.
***PLEASE COME BACK FOR PART TWO***
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