Her Generous Body

Always, the light from the holes in the aluminum roof woke Namanya. After a moment of nothingness, she felt the ache in her back, turned in bed, and came to herself. Her back was urging her to stop bending over mounds of used clothing, haggling over prices, breathing in their sharp medicinal odor, the sun beating her forehead, the gravel sharp under her worn soles. Three days away this week had helped, but she had to get back today. Did the mouth take a rest from eating? She would carry her aching body all the way back to Owino market. Dwelling on it didn’t help; she had to move. 

Namanya clambered out of bed and wrapped her lesu around her; she needed a harder mattress. Restituta, one of the clothes-sellers, told her to sleep on the floor, that it would be best for her back. Did that woman know who Namanya was, where she came from: the land of a thousand hills? She pulled off her sheets and shook them out with irritation, and felt her upper arms flapping. Making her bed in the tight space behind the curtain that divided her room in half was not an easy maneuver for her generous body, however familiar. Done, she took her keys from the nail, unlocked the door’s two padlocks, up and down, and the metal door creaked open with an angry sound. Piercing light stopped her thoughts, and she blinked, shaded her eyes with a hand, looked straight into the Nubian family’s open door opposite, smelled their frying onions, heard their latest baby’s hiccupy cry. Today was yesterday and the day before and tomorrow too; when would she move away?

Just inside her door, she emptied a yellow jerry can of water into a basin, got her soap and sponge, pushed her feet into red slippers and carried the basin two doors down to the shared bathrooms, and paid her five hundred shillings coin. The cleaner, his hands gray from disinfectant, unlocked one of them. There was no line today, thank God. It was seven a.m.; she was already late. Those who worked regular jobs had left already. Those who worked at night were still asleep, as were those without work. The trick was to bathe while making sure not an inch of skin touched the walls, but she had had enough practice making her elbows stay close, wide hips and buttocks behave. At night: no power, no bathing, full stop. 

Right now, bathing was a small, cool pleasure: scrubbing her curves and crevices let her pretend she was becoming new. Protex smelled strong, purifying. Namanya could not lie: she liked her body, this warm thing that carried her and she carried in turn. Her narrow, sloping shoulders; breasts that now swung low with weary joy; the rounding of belly and buttocks and solid thighs: she had become her mother and her sisters. As a very small child, she had enjoyed watching them lumber up the hill to home with their lazy luxurious gait. She had their deep black royal coloring. Sometimes, in the mirror, she saw her aunt Nkwanzi for a moment, and her eyes became full of what once was.

Last night’s dream—or was it a memory? Her mother and aunties, all as big and dark as she was now, sitting on a mat in a dim cloistered room with two candles, watching her. Why? They were silent, the candlelight burning in their row of eyes, their small hands clasped together in their laps. They were not smiling, simply watching and waiting. For what? She was very small and did not like sadness. She tried to make them laugh, telling them of a grasshopper that had landed on her arm, tickling her, so she slapped it dead and ate it raw, and they shushed her. They did not smile. Then it dawned on her: their mother, long left behind in the land of the hills, had gone even further. They had not said goodbye. She closed her eyes, and the silent group was watching her still. 

Ah! She flung open her eyelids: wasn’t she here, right now, scrubbing herself clean for this new day? Back in her room, she patted herself dry, took her time spreading Eva body cream all over, moving extra-gently over the cesarian scar below her belly, the fold of keloid skin that was the only sign that she was a mother. Tendo, now twenty-three, was God-knows-where, off and running before he could barely walk, hopefully surviving somewhere like she was.

New bales were to be opened today: she had saved enough money for some top-end stuff. Exercise clothes were her specialty, and she knew where to take them: up to the gyms of tree-filled Kololo. Diva Women’s Gym and Spa was her favorite, with ladies who were unafraid to spend and Solo, the security guard, with time on his hands to flirt.

Hot tea with the last bit of sugar. It cost almost as much as fuel these days, said those who drove. At least she ’d be able to buy more today. She stirred to the sound of her mother’s voice: Stop that scraping noise! A spoon should not touch the sides or bottom. Are you a mukopi?! That was her mother’s tune, that they were not commoners, they were royalty. How did that help her now? Eh, but her head was too full of other people today. She better drink up and get going. The body moves because it has to eat; let the mind wander where it will. 

Her door’s rusty bolts’ scraping resistance heralded the noisy day outside; on cue, the baby next door wailed back, its mouth opening to a tiny black tunnel. Namanya headed up the path as though guided by the city traffic’s roar, dodging dirty water on which gray, black, and green discarded plastic bags floated as if on parade. The usual skinny sandy-colored dog followed her briefly, sniffing and searching in her wake, then veering off. Its bowed back legs were like Tendo’s, like her father’s: today, she could see them both clearly, like they were walking ahead of her. She tried to shake them off, sweeping her hand over her headscarf repeatedly in vain.

Greetings left and right, on automatic: there was no need to look at everyday faces as familiar, forlorn, or fake as their ware that was squashed in ungainly wooden kiosks that sold sugar, salt, onions, matchboxes, and gossip. As she carried her weight up the hill, eyes on her feet to balance over rolling stones and rubbish, her mind carried on: she would be able to send money to her boy tonight. Somehow, his friend Kato seemed to know how to reach Tendo when she had money. When she didn’t, his rat face became as blank as a piece of wood, his lips flat, thin, closed. 

The main road out of Wandegeya was a river of chaotic noise, pressing flesh, hot dusty rushes of wind. At least there was the sky: wide and blindly blue. No clouds, thank God. It had better not rain today. 

Namanya heaved her body up and into the minibus taxi, sliding sideways into a seat, her hips pressed against her neighbor, who didn’t bother to shift away. Matatu rides made her happy; other people’s voices were louder than the one in her head, took her out of it and into their problems. They shared them like how their shoulders and arms and thighs sliced along each other with each bump and swerve of the minibus. Today it was about the price of sugar. The conductor and driver mocked each other and everyone else as if they were paid to entertain.

“Pay up, ssebo! One thousand to the Old Park. You think I also don’t want to drink sugar? You think I did not grow up drinking sugar like you? Pay up, nyabo! Nothing is free. Not even water. Soon, even babies will have to pay for their mother’s milk! Just wait and see!” 

“Can you believe sugar was once almost the same price as salt? Yes, that cheap! Nanti you, you were born just the other day. I’m talking about before Idi Amin. Sugar disappeared with the Indians. Eh! It became as rare as virgins in this Kampala of ours. We had to put salt in our porridge instead of sugar, can you imagine?”

“You’re lying! Salt, which is as bitter as ntula? If you wanted to torture yourselves, why didn’t you just use chili pepper?”

“You can laugh now, but we’re going back to those days, even though the Indians are back. You watch. Me, I’ve told you. Black tea with no sugar. No milk, of course, even though all our big men love cows and have thousands. Tea as bitter as a death itself.”

“Like you know death. Can you drink it?”

Right then, a motorbike swerved across the street, and the minibus shrieked to a stop. They were all thrown forward, and their voices rose angrily like the desperate flutter of chickens in a cage. The driver was the loudest, brandishing an arm out of his window.

“You fool! Komanyoko! Are you begging for death?”

They got to the human sea of Owino, alive with its sweltering smells, swirling dust, and shouting colors, its squawks, shrieks, and calls of a human zoo let loose, its mass of flesh pressed so close, it was a conjoined mockery of privacy. The ground itself was precarious: broken, decades-old tarmac hacked into sharp stones amid gulley of rain-rivers, black plastic bags like dead crows a slippery menace, discarded juice packets, yellow-black banana skins, rusty nails, rushing feet: the daily walk through did not get easier. She let her feet maneuver mindlessly on a day like today, when her mind felt borrowed.

Her hips added to the sweaty squeeze and sway of the crowds, her red headscarf and skirt added to the bouncing color, while she clutched her handbag in front of her belly with both hands, its straps wrapped tight under one arm, and slung her empty plastic China bags, light and hot, over her shoulders. Sweat dampened the veil of dust over her face, collected under her fold of breasts, slid down her back to the tender crevices below. It was all on her, in her: cars rumbling, humid puffs of dusty air, shocks and shakes of music, whining, and laughter: the whole world, including its starving stray dogs, trying to burst in and clog up her brain. 

To block out the sun storm for a moment, Namanya shut her eyes tight. There it was again in the faraway space in her head: the dark room where her mother and aunties sat on the floor, wide hips and thighs spread out, legs tucked under, silent in the candlelight, staring at her, waiting. She flung her eyelids open, wiped sweat off her brow. She was here, right now, and had to get to the center of Owino, behind the first stalls with shiny, new, cheap Chinese stuff that didn’t last a week. She had to get through, between and beyond stall-walls high with anything one could want or need or didn’t, tunnel behind the flash and shine of breaking plastic to the inner, darker, wooden slatted area where the noise was cloistered, and dark figures sat among their ware as though they too were for sale: eating or drinking porridge, small radios fixed to some ears, phones to others. Here she greeted familiar faces—“you’re there?” and moved on through to the other sunny side where new bales were opened.

Namanya got there, stepped out, and there was—nothing. A gap. Not nothing; a massive, gaping rectangular pit with walls and deep floor of almost black soil as wide and deep as a building. As if in explanation, beside it sat a gigantic bright-orange monster with wheels as big as her room, an arm as thick and tall as the Sheraton, with a metal hand with the huge claws of a nightmare. Suddenly, her inside did not oppose this outside world: right there was a space as wide, open, and blank as her mind, and all the rushing noise of life behind her receded. And there were her aunties, sitting at the bottom of the wide pit. Wouldn’t their clothes get soiled? She blinked, and they shrank back into her head.

“You, woman, what’s wrong with you? Move and we pass!”

“Bambi, she must have just arrived in the city: she’s never seen a bulldozer. Forgive her.”

Cackles all around.

She turned to them: “What happened?”

“Where’ve you been? Didn’t you hear? The mayor and his people have sent us away. It seems like they want us to all go back to the village. To leave Kampala for them.”

“Ha! They’re joking. We came here just like how they came here. Some of us were here before them. Who was born in Kampala? We’re going nowhere! Let them bury us in their holes.”

She stepped back from the wide brown pit, before she was tempted to slide down into it. What was frightening was not how it was somehow familiar, like it had been in the back of her mind all along, but that it was so orderly: it was evenly deep, evenly flat at the bottom, the soil a rich, even brown, creating an open and empty space like clarity. Still, she had to step back into the mocking voices and defeated laughter, turning with a fast swerve that hurt her ankles. 

“Where are they opening the bales, then?”

“Kyoka you! You’re asking this late? They must have finished by now. Go back how you came, then cross the road, pass through the Total station; they’re now behind it near the New Park.”

She found the leftover crowd, found Restituta, found the exercise clothes her friend had saved for her. Gym things were not as popular as nice dresses, blouses, and handbags, unless, like her, you took them directly to the customers. Ignoring her quarrelling back, she bent over, legs wide, and sorted through the smelly heap: shaking each piece out and tossing the worn ones aside, picking others, holding each up high and inspecting it, head back, stretching it to see if the elastic still held, scrutinizing it inside out for holes, torn seams and frayed edges, and discarding the shapeless and those with obvious stains, the faded and listless ones; she would not waste her time with anything even slightly old-looking for the fancy gym women of Kololo. They would grab at the ones with known labels: Adidas, Nike, Puma. The twenty-five pieces she found—tops, long and short pants, and sports bras of all makes, shapes, and sizes—would do, thank God. 

Now came the tougher part. She settled down on the woven reed mat beside Restituta to haggle for each. Her friend knew where she took them, which didn’t help, nor did the fact that she was late today. Afterward, she worked on making the clothes presentable. To offset the chemical smell, she shook out each piece and then sprayed it with La Diana perfume on the days she could afford it, air freshener when she couldn’t, and then smoothed out each piece on the ground with an open palm, folded it carefully, and, finally, packed the neat piles away. The repeated movements toward order were a soothing, familiar, ritualized dance of the hands and arms.

She would go up to Kololo and make money today, even though her mind was not quite with her, even though her aunties were crowding it, distracting her. Why not buy a nice lunch now, in anticipation? Matooke and fresh bean stew. From her perch on Restituta’s mat, Namanya called out to a young serving girl weaving through the crowd balancing a pile of plates, her face as hot and orange as the matooke she served. The food arrived in minutes.

Namanya refused to eat matooke with a fork; the soft yellow mash had to be repeatedly squeezed between fingers and palm to taste right before being dipped in the stew. Her father, the proclaimed Muganda, had insisted that her mother learn to cook matooke properly: peeling off the hard, green skin swiftly and elegantly; wrapping it into a mountain of banana leaves; letting it steam; kneading it into a yellow softness that the Baganda simply called “food”—emmerre. Her mother passed the skill quickly to Namanya, saying, “My hands are too soft for this hot work. We lived off meat, milk, and blood for generations, why is that not enough?” As she bent over the saucepan kneading, each press was an angry word. “Your father’s confused, calling himself a Muganda, and trying to force us all to be Baganda. Just because we moved here? Does moving change blood? Mine is Tutsi and that’s that. He says he was welcomed and given a clan. So what? Did that make his past disappear? So why then did he go back to Rwanda to look for a wife? But me, why did I even agree to leave?” She pressed and pressed her small palms into the hot wet leaves, making the matooke hot and sweet with her anger. 

Once done, she would turn and find Namanya staring up at her as if she were watching a play. This was her cue to wave her hands in her daughter’s face: “See these small wrists and hands? You have them too. They’re made to fit into a gourd to churn milk into eshabwe. Milk from the precious cows our family had before that war. Milk is why we have smooth soft skin and strong white teeth. What is matooke good for? It fills the tummy, that’s all.”

“Are you staying here all day?” Restituta raised her eyebrows at Namanya.

“My dear, let me sit with you a bit. Who knows what will be here tomorrow? You saw what they’ve dug. Will you keep coming back?”

“Of course; what can I do? We’ll see what to do next. Doesn’t the sun rise every day?” Restituta shrugged her shoulders.

Yes, another day would come. This temporary stall or another, this work or any other, this part of Kampala or another, this country or another.

Namanya shrugged her shoulders too and presented her hands to the serving girl, who held a small jerry can of water and soap. As she heaved her body off the ground, her mind swept back to the empty brown expanse that had been full of concrete and bricks, people, players, thieves, mountains of merchandise and ambition and sweat. And now, nothing? She was tempted to go back and check. But no, no need to go back to that open grave; she carried her aunties within her, and she had the journey to Kololo. She straightened her long skirt, pulled her hanky out of her bra, wiped her wet hands, wiped her face and mouth, and tucked it back in. She gathered up her stuffed China bag. 

“Okay, I’ll be back.” A Kiganda farewell was a look back with a polite lie. Perhaps not; they were settlers who always came back to their matooke plantations that survived generations. Her mother’s people, nomads, said Go well. 

There were no matatus that went up Kololo; the riff-raff had to be kept out. She would have to take a boda motorbike. There were more than five of them at the Total station. She chose an older-looking man. Older was safer; they didn’t try to show off by riding recklessly. Wasn’t Mulago Hospital full of young men with broken limbs? Up she clambered on it, moving her buttocks back and forth to settle in. 

“Are you okay now?” the driver said over his shoulder, chuckling.

“Why, you think I can’t fit on a boda?”

“I was simply asking, nyabo. If you’re ready, we go. I want you to be comfortable.”

She ignored him. She wasn’t in the mood for smooth talk that could quickly turn into slimy abuse. She hugged her China bag like it would save her from falling into that wide grave in her mind. The sun had moved from the center of the sky and was glancing over her shoulders, which was better. Early evening was the best time to catch the gym ladies; she would wait at their gym.

Curving in and out around cars and bicycles and traffic police in fading white was a tricky dance, now vigorous and rough like a tambourine shaken by a child, or smooth and winding, like a snake creeping through grass. They swung out of the armpit of Kampala, but got trapped in the traffic jam below the Queen’s Clock, where they merged into a herd of revving motorbikes like an invasion of giant screeching cockroaches. She wanted to shut them out, as well as the fading billboards that leered overhead, all promising the best phone service, cooking oil, beer, Pentecostal preacher, and on and on, but she dared not shut her eyes—it was too dangerous. They swerved up Entebbe Road, onto Kampala Road, crawled through the center of town, and finally turned away from the mainstream chaos onto Wampewo Avenue, where lush green trees welcomed them up Kololo. At last, she breathed in deeply as cool air caressed her cheeks and bare arms as they took the hill’s gentle incline. 

A far different city emerged, with smooth roads weaving through high stone-and-brick walls carpeted in green vines. Immense trees thick with foliage were reminders of the lush forest this once had been. Hardly any people passed by on foot; this was a place to hide in one’s car or behind electrified walls. They wound on up past embassies, diplomats’ residences, a few secluded company offices, and colonial houses converted into restaurants of Korean, Greek, Indian, and other strange food. As the hill got steeper, she felt herself sliding back and grabbed onto the boda guy’s slippery jacket. His smell did not belong here. Neither did hers, no doubt.

Her mother told her they came from the land of a thousand hills. A place that was greener and bluer than this. She couldn’t quite remember, but had seen newspaper photos: peaks hidden in clouds of mist. The pictures whispered about a faraway, long-ago, longed-for past. Was it that perfect? Her hand had caressed the paper but could not touch the hills. Could she call them hers? But she was here now. Kampala: the city of seven hills. Or it used to be; not any more. Nothing stayed the way it was. Her father, however much he said he was a Muganda, couldn’t claim this hill. The name “Kololo” wasn’t even a Kiganda word: it was Acholi. So, whose hill was it?

As they went higher, she had to hold more tightly onto the driver, her back a taut wire of pain. Her whole body dragged her down as though it wanted to go back to the familiar chaos below. What a relief it was to arrive and climb off. diva women’s gym and spa in red racy letters sparkled energetically. Solo, the security guard, peeped through a small latch, and his gruff face loosened into a grin. The metal gate slid open to reveal an expanse of neatly cut lawn, triumphant trees, well-placed shrubs, and waving flowers as if they each knew their role to play, all surrounding a squat wide colonial bungalow painted brick brown. Next to it was large canvas roofing under which about fifteen women of various sizes jumped around and swung their arms to loud Afro-beat. A short man with muscles like tennis balls moved among them, urging them on, sweating and shouting, his yellow tank top and shorts clinging to his body. Further back was the flat blue glint of a swimming pool.

Namanya settled down on the veranda at the front of the building, opened her bag, and laid out the clothes. She was not allowed inside “for security reasons”; it had taken some of the members begging the owner to let her into the compound, and only once a month. Her used clothing was of better quality than the new stuff in the shops. Most shopped abroad at least once a year, of course, but an additional bargain didn’t hurt. 

Namanya braced herself for the act to follow. After their aerobics, with sweat still running down their faces, the women would crowd around her, full of cheerful energy, and encase her in their collective smell of sweat, perfume, hair oils, and damp weaves. Either the women didn’t really see her, or they tried too hard to see her, and she found herself playing the woman they wanted her to be: needy, ignorant, envious, dumb yet wily. She heard herself praising them when they tried on the clothes: “That was made for you and you only! Honestly! And how have you got so small, don’t you eat? Teach me?” 

“You should join us. Exercise.”

“Ah, but leave me, Auntie; what will my husband say if I lose weight? He likes these.” Namanya would slap her hips spread out on each side to make them laugh.

How much did this effort cost her? More or less than her profits? The ones who ignored her were more honest, she felt, like the tall coffee-colored quiet one with a gold watch, gold rings, gold bracelets; she didn’t even bother to greet Namanya. With pursed lips, she sorted through the clothes like they were rags, tossing aside the ones she didn’t want, rarely finding anything she fancied. But when she did, she pounced on it, and held it out to Namanya, say a purple top with multiple straps and lace edges, and asked abruptly, “How much?” She kept her eyes on the garment, didn’t bargain, simply held out the money and that was that. In turn, Namanya didn’t thank her; after all, she did not exist, the purple top did. That was fine. Sometimes. Anyway, they would meet in heaven. 

This quiet one could have been Namanya’s sister: she had a nose as small and pointy as her own, and the same umbrella hips and elephant thighs; it was impossible to get leggings in her size. Her coffee color blended with Namanya’s charcoal. Her Luganda was like Namanya’s father’s, with that thick accent mocked in radio ads. There was no way she could say that she was not Tutsi. But maybe she didn’t have to look back to anywhere else: she was doing very well here.

She, Namanya, should stick to smiling, complimenting, and selling. For now, she let them pick through her ware like children over toys, watched them as they quickly lost interest and wandered off into the gym or jumped into their monstrous shiny cars, dangling their jewelry, car keys, handbags, gym bags, computer bags, and bottles, human-hair weaves dangling, everything about them dangling choice and comfort and security. Home. 

She gathered the scattered clothes that were left, packed them, gave Solo a tip, and walked out, her China bag lighter. She would have to walk down the hill until she found a boda, if she was lucky. She didn’t mind, it was a nice walk and the evening was cool, the road wide and smooth, and her purse full. Maybe the walk would loosen her body, untie the knots in her back. The rhythm of her sandals slapping the ground led her mind to wander off again. How many hills had her women walked? Why didn’t she walk right back to those hills?

As the air turned to dusk, she heard a motorbike growing louder behind her as it came down the hill. She stopped it, but did not look too closely at the driver’s face; they were one and the same. Also, it was better not to acknowledge these men; they used any narrow opening to get too familiar.

“How much to Wandegeya?”

“Three thousand.”

She climbed onto it. The journey down was much faster, windier, and as they turned the next corner, a huge solid noise rushed by. The boda guy jerked his bike out of the way, and she swung off the seat and landed heavily and hard. A blazing black car with black windows screeched to a stop. A window rolled down and a woman inside screamed at them. The boda guy shouted back, waving his arms as he approached her window. She quickly rolled it up again, revved her car and sped off up the hill with a roar. As it diminished, Namanya remained on the road, lying limp, her body as heavy as a wet mattress.

“Nyabo, are you hurt?”

The boda guy’s worn sneakers, blue and white-turned-brown, were right there at her face. He moved away, picked up her China bag and her handbag, which had fallen on the grass further away. How had she let it go? 

“These women drivers are crazy. Couldn’t she see? Nyabo, let me help you up. Here, hold my hand, come on.”

Namanya pulled herself up to sitting, brushing away his hand. “I’m okay.”

In the dark blue his face was a silhouette. He was holding her handbag.

“Give me my things. You can go. I’m fine.”

“But nyabo, are you going to just sit here?”

“I said, give me my bags. Don’t you have ears?”

He stared down at her, then dropped her bags at her feet, and shaking his head, went to his fallen bike. He pulled it up and inspected it, all the while muttering, “Women of these days? Have they all gone mad? First, the other one tried to kill us. Then this one: you try and help, they refuse. You don’t help, they abuse you. So, what can we do? Eh!”

He climbed onto the bike, looked back at her once, a huddled hill on the ground, and drove off, the boda making short farting sounds.

As if I was born with him, Namanya thought. The spreading silence was as welcome as the growing dark. She brushed loose stones off her arm and skirt. She had grazed the skin on her forearm and legs, but there was no blood, just stinging. She picked up her handbag and shuffled on all fours to the side of the road and settled on the grass. Her mind needed to return to her; to sit properly with her body. The shock of landing had jolted her backache away, it seemed. For now. How quickly the ground had pulled her to itself, and with what force. It wanted her generous body. She belonged to it. It now let her sit still. 

The grass was cool and soft and quiet. The sky was quiet too, wide and alert. Now and then, the tree leaves above whooshed soothingly. She remembered the boda guy holding her bag. She reached for it; its zip was open. There was empty space where a thick bundle of notes tied with a rubber band had been. She flung the bag down with disgust, and it landed, of course: the ground never failed to catch whatever fell. Wherever it fell. Just like she had been thrown onto this hill.

Clouds crept across the sky slowly, unperturbed. The ground at Owino had moved instead of keeping still. How can firm ground disappear just like that? It was now in the past, where it had gone. Owino remained in their heads only. Namanya closed her eyes and, deliberately this time, welcomed her mother and aunties. Many more women slowly joined them, sitting in that wide new open grave. Not surprisingly, the quiet gym woman, her look-alike, was there. Restituta too? And others. All of them sitting neatly, legs folded with resignation, staring at her. They had followed their families, their men, walking and walking, swaying like their cows, forever looking for fresh pasture. Funny, that they had ended up in the city. 

The air was turning chilly. A dog barked, and she remembered: they let out dogs at night here. A car droned by at a steady pace. The driver looked down at her, then back at the road. She looked like someone’s maid; harmless. Her back began its throbbing ache again, it wanted a place to lay her body down; a dark room lit by a candle, a home. 

Why couldn’t this wide cool silence and dark green hill be home too? Was it only those thousand hills, long ago and far away in her head? Home was that wide pit full of women. That open womb.

Home was in her mother’s womb, who was in her mother’s womb, and on and on, in and in, to nothingness. No, home was Buganda and his new clan, her father said. Here and now. Settled.

No, her son said. Home was where you disappeared. Home was searching by lorry ride to Mombasa and back, across Kenya, across Uganda, across Congo and back. And back again. Home was nightclubs and women’s cunts.

No, she said. Home was the place that gave you food: Owino market. Maybe home was gold rings, gold bracelets, gold earrings, and monster cars.

No. Home was something you never had: a looking back. Home was the old aunties forever calling her. Home was a wide grave slowly filling with family. 

No, home was the sky, cupped over everything.

No, home was this large body that carried her everywhere. Her pillowed front and behind; her breasts and belly and buttocks. She straightened out her legs and stretched them, circled her feet to ease them, opened her arms and palms and looked at them, turned them over, and observed her dirty fingernails. She was hungry. Home was a constant hunger. Palms on the ground, she pushed herself up, gathered her bags, but refused to slip on her sandals. The grass felt cool beneath her feet. 


Doreen Baingana’s short-story collection Tropical Fish (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005) won a Grace Paley Prize and a Commonwealth Prize. Her other awards include a Miles Morland scholarship, a Rockefeller Bellagio residency, a Sustainable Arts Foundation grant, and three nominations for the Caine Prize. She has also published two children’s books as well as stories and essays in numerous journals, including AGNI, Callaloo, Glimmer Train, the Guardian, Kwani?, Ibua, and Evergreen Review. She has adapted her stories for the stage, and they have been performed in Uganda and Germany.