Rehema (Excerpt) By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange
By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
She had been a child then, but the memories were still fresh. She could still remember the astringent, pungent smell of the hospital room where her mother had been laid. She remembered the cold, chalk-white sheets which covered her mother’s weak, thin body, contrasting sharply with her caramel brown African skin. She could still remember the surreal feelings which had flooded her. It was a bevy of anger, confusion, pain, and all sorts of ill feelings but mostly sadness. She could still remember the lump in her throat and her helplessness. She remembered it all vividly. How could memories be that painful after all these years?
A skinny red haired nurse with freckles came and checked on her mother’s monitor for the millionth time and took her vital statistics. The child remembered lingering in front of the tinted window of the sixteenth floor while she listened to her mothers thin, moaning voice and staring down through the darkness of the night at the tiny cars which sped past several floors below. The streets were softly illuminated by the silver tinge of the pale white moon. Her mother’s voice was usually a soothing comfortable voice to a ten year old but today it was clear that she was suffering and the child wiped back a tear. She remembered the intoxicating fragrance of the wilting red roses which her mother’s best friend had purchased for her mother. Her eyes watered with pain again. How was she supposed to control those tears when she was sad beyond bearing?
For a long time ten year old Rehema had had a gnawing feeling that her mother was not feeling well. It had started very subtly, with her having cold flashes and shivering even when the heater was on in their London apartment. She had thought that it was strange, because sometimes, the heater was raised to a degree that she personally felt it suffocated her. She understood that it was mid winter, however sometimes the central heating in their apartment was just too high for comfort. But she did anything her mother asked her to do, including turning up the heat, even at her own expense. Her mother was the most important person in the world to her and she would do anything that made her happy. She loved her so much and hated seeing her mother work as hard as she did. She hated seeing her mother suffering. But she was a single mother with no support from any man. It had been really tough for the two of them up to now but they had survived.
Then her mother’s illness had escalated and she had started coughing. With time the cough had deepened to the point where it would shake her whole body and she would run out of breath. It almost sounded as if she were coughing and wheezing at the same time. Rehema found it very scary. The thing which scared her most in the world was losing her mother. She was all that she had in the world. Her mother, trying to reassure her, had told her that this meant that she was improving but Rehema had her doubts. It really looked like her mother was worsening and she did not have to be a grown up to see that.
There was not a day which passed when Rehema didn’t wish that she and her mother were rich and she promised herself that when she was grown up, she was going to be rich, in order to take care of her mother. She was going to be a millionaire and buy her mother a beautiful house and put lots of money into her mother’s bank account. Then her mother would never need to work ever again. That was why she made sure that she had the highest grades in her classes. She did so well that her teachers loved her. She was also going to look for her father and bring him home so that they could live happily ever after.
Sadness draped her face like a wet cloth. She had never known who her father was. She always wondered what it would be like to hear the sound of his voice. She wanted to know how it felt to be embraced by her own father, to feel his lips on her cheeks, and to be loved by him. She had always wondered what he looked like. She wondered if he would look down at her and fail to acknowledge her if he ever met her. Just how would he react? Would he be happy and accept her or would he be ashamed of her? Did he even know that she existed? In her mind she imagined that he was a very handsome, rich man who loved her very much. He must have been very special to have captured her mother’s heart. But her mother never talked about it. She always changed the topic whenever Rehema brought it up and there was always a painful strained look in her eyes.
"Some things are better left alone Rehema." Her mother sighed deeply and stroked her daughter’s hair.
"But I want to know mummy." She always insisted.
"Child, some things you just do not understand. You are too young to understand these things. Sometimes it’s better to leave the past in the past. The past can be very painful and it’s better to leave those ghosts in their closets."
"Yes but…" Rehema hated it when she was told that she was too young. She personally thought that she was more mature than most people gave her credit for. She was not a baby anymore. Why couldn’t her mother see that and tell her more about her father?
"Oh Rehema, you ask too many questions. Isn’t my love enough for you? Do you think that I do not love you enough? Do you feel that you need someone else’s love?" Her mother was exasperated.
"Of course it is! Of course your love is enough!" She could see that she had upset her mother and wanted to cry. She wrapped her little arms around her mother’s legs and hugged them. "I am sorry mummy. I did not mean to hurt you. I know you love me and I love you more than any one else in the world."
But inwardly the questions still haunted her. She did not know much about her family. She did not know who her grandparents. Granted, she had seen them in pictures but she had never met them in person. From what she had seen from the tattered aged photos, she did not look like them. After observing the photos, she had discovered that she did not particularly like her grandfather. He had a hard mean look in his eyes. He did not even smile in the photographs! It was as if he had been forced to smile in those photos! In the sepia coloured old photos she had seen that her grandmother had been a long haired beauty when she was younger. She had a very shy, delicate smile but her grandfather was unsmiling and very domineering. He was handsome but very overpowering and tyrannical-looking.
She was not sure if she disliked him because of the horrible way in which he had treated her mother when he had found out that she was pregnant or if it was because of the mean look in his eyes or if it was just a natural dislike. He had thrown her mother out of his house as soon as he had found out that she was pregnant. How cruel was that? Then to make matters worse he had never spoken to her mother since then. Her mother had been hurt by her own father’s rejection and so it was another painful topic in their household.
Rehema knew that he had other wives and other children too and so she wondered what right he had to judge her mother like that. He had not been an angel himself when it came to sticking to one woman. When she thought about him for too long she could feel her dislike turn into hatred and anger. How could he treat his own flesh and blood like that? How could he disown his own grandchild like that? He must have been a cold monster! Her mother had bitterly told her that her grandfather had been disappointed with her grandmother because she had not born him any sons and so he had looked elsewhere. So she had a few step uncles and aunties, all of whom Rehema had never met.
Her grandfather from the limited information that her mother had given her, was a cold man who had never really acknowledged his daughters because they were no better than servants to him. The sons were treated like small demi-gods, her mother told her, but the daughters were treated like dirt except her. He had a weak spot for her in particular because she was his youngest daughter. But he did his duty and educated the daughters at least which was more than many men did. When Rehema heard those stories, she was glad that she lived in England. Things were very different here. She knew that her friends’ fathers loved them to pieces even if they were girls.
One of the biggest disappointments though for her grandfather was that her mother had wasted all the money which he had invested in her by getting pregnant in her first year at the University which she had gone to. She had ruined a chance of getting a decent husband and good dowry for her father. Although they had managed to keep her pregnancy a secret, the prospective rumours and scandal had been too much for him to bear. He had been so angry that he had almost killed his daughter and her baby. So he had done what he thought was the best for all of them and banished her from his home, breaking Rehema’s grandmothers heart. Her grandmother despite all that had secretly kept in touch with her mother but it had been a challenge because her grandfather had forbidden her to. She had secretly provided financial assistance to both of them.
She found the stories about her family very intriguing, sometimes even incredulous. She could not believe for example that her grandfather had decided to have children with her grandmother’s sister. How could that happen? Wouldn’t the sisters be jealous of each other? Rehema did not understand how grown ups reasoned but she wondered how some men could be that insensitive. But her mother had told her that these things often happened back at home in Uganda where she had been born. Many men back home had several wives and Rehema had discovered a new word. They were called concubines. She always wondered if all those women liked the arrangement and lived happily ever after. Grown ups were really weird and she wondered if she would ever understand them. But she would never get the chance to meet her grandparents because they were both dead.
Her mother had obviously inherited her good looks from Rehema’s grandmother. She had beautiful, smooth caramel skin and diminutive pink lips. She had the kind of hauntingly beautiful soft dark brown, almost ebony eyes that people, especially men drowned into and enjoyed drowning into. Her sooty seductive eyelashes were naturally thick and endless. She was slim, well sculptured and toned as though she worked out daily yet she barely had time to. She was relatively tall, standing at five feet seven. At the age of thirty one, she was a young mother who looked like she was in her mid twenties and was often confused for a younger woman. Many times when Rehema walked with her mother though the streets of London, she noticed many men trying to talk to her mother and complimenting her. But her mother always put them off politely. Rehema was so proud that she had such a beautiful mother
The only thing that Rehema had inherited from her mother as far as looks were her slim body, height and her eyes. Otherwise she had a lighter brown skin tone. She had a longer face than her mother and curly long jet black hair that came to her shoulders and was presently done in braids. Her slightly thicker lips were shaped differently from her mothers: her lower lip of a wine red colour. There was a natural dark outline around her lips that looked like she had used eyeliner and she had a small pert nose. Her eyebrows were thin and naturally neat. It was clear that she was blossoming into a beauty to be reckoned with, a fact that worried her mother.
Her mother’s voice brought her back to the present moment, racing her fingers through her daughter’s thick braids.
"Rehema, you are so beautiful, just like your…" Her mother caught herself.
"Just like you mother. I am beautiful just like you mother, right?" Her innocent baby brown eyes looked up with trust.
"Right, but you are far more beautiful than I am. One day you are going to be a knock out and all the guys will come after you. I want you to be careful with them."
"Urgh that’s disgusting. I hate guys!!"
"That may be but when you get older things will change. I also want you to be careful whom you trust. I know that you are young, but I know that you are intelligent and I can tell you these things. Sometimes friends may not turn out to be what you thought they were. Be careful with your heart. Trust your intuition because it will never let you down."
"You need not worry. I only have one best friend and that’s you." She had smacked a hearty kiss on her mother’s thin cheek.
Her mother had laughed softly, and then the laughter had turned into wheezing and then she was gasping for air. Rehema run into the kitchen for a glass of water. This usually helped. She was worried because her mother’s complexion had faded and her lips, which were usually a bright pink, looked dry and colourless. Her cheekbones seemed to protrude more and she looked so thin. Her mother used to be so agile, so graceful and physically active but lately she had been unable to do anything other than work. She would get home totally exhausted and energy less. She no longer played with her and, when Rehema complained that they no longer spent a lot of time together, she would just smile with those glassy eyes and promise her that she was getting better and would make it up to her.
Her mother took a deep breath and held her hands to her chest. She struggled, hobbling to the bathroom and vomited the contents of her stomach into the toilet bowl.
"Mummy, I think you should see a doctor." Rehema insisted, eyes swollen with fear. She had a bad feeling about where this sickness was going.
"No!" She was more flushed than usual. "I’ll be fine."
"Why are you scared of seeing the doctor?"
"There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s just the flu. I’ll be fine." She struggled through her words.
"But you are vomiting."
"Food must have disagreed with my stomach." She got up, flushed the toilet, rinsed her mouth and then brushed her teeth vigorously. But Rehema had noticed that there was some blood in her vomit. She didn’t say anything but she was scared. She wondered how long this had been going on.
"Would you like me to make you some soup?"
It was the only thing she knew how to cook. You took it out of the can, added water, stirred it a bit and waited for it to boil. Sometimes she added vegetables and slices of meat to give it variety.
"No that’s fine. I think that I will rest." She smiled, but she had to use the walls to support herself as she went to her room. Rehema followed her there and once her mother was lying down, she wrapped her with a warm blanket.
"Thank you. You are such a sweet child. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love you kid."
"I love you too."
She fell asleep immediately and Rehema realized that it was the first time in her ten years that her mother had not tucked her in bed.
Two days later, she came back from school and found her mother all flushed and lying in bed. She was shivering as if she were in the artic without any warm clothes on, despite her thick blanket. Rehema had entered the apartment building full of excitement about her day in school, and had been surprised when her mother had not waited for her downstairs as she usually did. She dropped her pink school bag and her art project which she had been dying to show her mother on the floor and rushed into her mother’s room. Once there, she had drawn the curtains so that no sunlight would seep in. She then felt her mother’s forehead.
"Mummy you are burning. You’re getting worse."
"What? Who?" She looked delirious and her eyelids fluttered. She forced red rimmed eyed opened and smiled at her daughter. There was no sign of recognition in her eyes. It was the strangest look that Rehema had ever seen in anyone’s eyes. It almost looked crazed. "Oh, it’s you Rita. You gave me a fright. Please cover my shoulders, they are cold."
Rehema froze in her tracks. Panic seized her heart. Fear buzzed inside her stomach like an angry hive of stinging bees. She felt as though she had been punched in the stomach by a heavyweight boxer. Who was Rita? Why was her mother referring to her with another name? She was filled with a strange feeling of foreboding and strain. She tried to calm down her fears.
"Mummy it’s me." She pleaded with baleful eyes and a shaky voice.
"What did you say? Where is mama? Mama is in the kitchen Rita."
"Mummy, stop playing! It’s me Rehema!" She shook her mother gently as if trying to awake her from a horrible dream. She felt her throat close and tears rushed to her eyes.
"Rehema?" Her mother stared at her, blinking as if she was trying to remember something. But that blank look of non recognition was still there in her eyes. "Oh Rita, I am not in the mood for games. I am tired and I want to sleep. Leave me alone."
Her mother turned around and exposed her shoulder to her. The balloon of happiness inside Rehema was punctured. Rehema started crying silently and then she suddenly remembered that Rita was her mother’s older sister that lived in Canada. She was the only person in the family that she kept in touch with now that her grandmother had died. Once in a while they made long distance calls to each other to exchange gossip about the family. She was her only link in her family. She was a sign of hope. She had to call her. She would know what to do. She heard her mother groan in her sleep. It was as if she were in great pain. She stole a glance at her and noticed that she was now sweating. Time was of the essence.
Panicking, she run to her mother’s closet and looked for her brown leather address book. A string of beads and bracelet dropped from one of her mother’s wooden drawers and clinkered onto the floor as she searched for that book like a crazed person. There were a few personal treasures in there which she came across. Old photos, a pile of documents, coloured files, coins of various denominations, pens, old letters with faded illegible writing, certificates and scarves lined the drawer neatly. There was even an old dog-eared bible in there. Finally she found the elegant brown address book.
She searched frantically for Auntie Rita’s phone number in Montreal, Canada once she found the address book. She looked for one of those international phone cards which her mother used, hoping that there were still some minutes left on them. She was so glad that she knew how to use them. Sometimes her mother allowed her to start making the call using the calling cards and so they were not as scary to read. With trembling fingers, she picked up the phone from the floor and dialled the number. It rang for a long time before someone picked it up. In anticipation her heart thumped a slow heavy whacking that she almost thought that she could actually hear. She closed her eyes, praying that her Auntie on the other side of the ocean would pick up the phone. Finally someone picked up the phone.
"Hello." It was a masculine voice with a French accent.
"Hi, can I please speak to Auntie Rita?" Rehema asked in a panicked voice.
"Auntie Rita?" He sounded confused. "Sorry wrong number."
"It can’t be! Please help me. I am her niece Rehema. I am her sister Ruth’s daughter. I need to speak to her."
"Auntie Rita. Oh, you mean Rita. Sorry, I thought it was one name, Anti-Rita or something. It must be my French." He joked.
"Yes, yes!! It’s her!" Rehema fought through her tears.
"I am her boyfriend, Richard." He pronounced Richard the French way. She had never heard it pronounced that way.
"Where are you calling from and how old are you?"
"England and I am ten."
"Oh, ok. Aren’t you too young to be on the phone and calling internationally? Do your parents know that you are on the phone? Anyway your auntie left for her vacation a few days ago. She is in Kenya right now." He sounded amused.
"No!" She cried out in alarm.
"Is something wrong?"
"Yes, my mother is sick, she does not remember me. She thinks that I am Auntie Rita. She has a high temperature and refuses to see the doctor. I do not know what to do. Please help me."
"Oh dear!" He fumbled, "Let me see if I can find her contact number here. She is supposed to be staying at her auntie Nandawula’s place."
"Who is she?"
"Rita’s auntie. It’s her mother’s sister. She would be your Grand auntie. You really don’t know your family do you?"
"No. They all shunned and abandoned my mother when she was pregnant with me. All except Auntie Rita." She admitted, wondering if she was saying too much.
"I see. I think I remember who you are. Your auntie told me about you." She heard him say, "Ok, I found the number. Here it is…"
He gave it to her as soon as she found a pen. She scribbled down the number in her mother’s address book as quickly as she could.
"Thank you. But I am not sure that I have enough minutes on my calling card to call Kenya. Where is that anyway?"
"It’s in East Africa. Lovely country. I was supposed to go with her but I had a deadline at my job. I am going to give her a call. If you give me your number, I can also get her to call you."
"Ok." She gave it to him.
"So I’ll get her to call you…"
"Doesn’t your mother have any friends there that you call for help?" He quizzed her.
"Um. Yea." She thought of that other Ugandan family that lived on the second floor. Once in a while the mother went shopping with her mother. Then sometimes they babysat for each other. But it was not often. They both led busy lives and the other woman had several children that kept her hands full.
"Call them." He advised her. "I’ll be calling your auntie and telling her to call you. Ok?"
"Ok." She relaxed and started flipping through the address book pages for her neighbours telephone number. "Thanks and bye."
"Bye." She dialled the number right away. She impatiently listened to it ring.
"Hello." Mrs Mugisha picked up the phone jovially.
"Mrs Mugisha it’s me Rehema."
"Rehema. How are you doing?"
Her mother started muttering intelligible words in the background. She was calling out for someone, but it was hard to tell who it was.
"Please help!" She cried out, "My mother is sick and needs to get to the hospital right away. Please help me!"
"Please!" She was frantic, scared that her mother was dying in front of her.
"Ok, I’ll get my husband and we’ll be right there."
The phone went dead, but they were there in less than ten minutes. When Mrs Mugisha saw Rehema’s mother, she gave out a cry of alarm.
"How long has she been sick?"
"I don’t know, but she was never this sick before." Rehema admitted a small flutter of panic stirring in her heart. Was it her fault?
"We have to get her to a hospital." Mr Mugisha announced authoritatively with a worried look in his eyes. "It’s obvious that she cannot walk on her own. I’ll carry her."
Mrs Mugisha started packing a few personal belongings rapidly with Rehemas’s help.
Mr Mugisha was shocked when he tried to get her mother out of her bed, he discovered that he was right and that she could barely walk. She was too weak to get up by herself. She was like a drugged person, barely opening her eyes let alone her weakened limbs. Not only was she delirious but her feet hurt as well. Carefully he lifted her up in his arms. He mentioned that he was alarmed that she barely weighed anything. Through her clothes he could feel her bones. She had lost so much weight! His wife helped him to dress her into a warm coat, socks and shoes. He rushed her to the elevator, which led them to the basement of their apartment building to their car. Rehema grabbed the house keys and followed them all the way to the hospital. She was shaking with worry. She was glad that there were grown ups around.
"Rehema, you’ll have to stay with us until your mother is better." Mrs Mugisha informed her, as they drove to the hospital. "There is no way that we can leave a child your age on your own."
"Ok." She said gratefully.
When they arrived at the hospital they told the emergency room nurse that her mother could not walk on her own. So a hospital attendant rolled out a wheelchair for her and they slowly got her into it. There was a hospital security guard that helped Mr Mugisha get her into it and they took her away.
Nervously they waited in the waiting room for news about her. Rehema stared at the other people in the room. There were a few who thought she was cute and smiled at her but others were wracked with so much worry and pain that they only seemed to look through her. Nurses in green uniforms walked past. There was a strong smell of medicine that made her dizzy and nauseated. Mr Mugisha went to the gift shop where he bought himself and his wife some tea. He bought Rehema some hot chocolate and a small cake. She had not eaten and so was grateful to have them. She munched hungrily on the cake.
About an hour later a doctor came looking for them. She was a young female doctor with long blonde hair and sea blue eyes. Her pale white skin looked like fragile porcelain and her hair was done in a tight bun that exposed her veins on her temple. She was breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly tall. She looked more like a movie star than a doctor.
"Hello, I am Doctor Swansea." She extended her hand and they all shook it, "Are you all related to the patient?"
"I am." Rehema said, "She’s my mother."
"We are her neighbours." Mrs Mugisha offered. "Mr and Mrs Mugisha."
"Glad to meet all of you. Now are there any other family members?"
"No it’s only me." Rehema said.
"How long has she had this cough and the fever?" Dr Swansea asked.
"For a long time but it was on and off," Rehema admitted, "I always asked her to go to
the hospital but she always said that she was getting better. Did I do anything wrong?"
"No. It’s not your fault. But she is gravely ill. Has she been suffering from depression?"
"Depression?" Rehema looked puzzled. That was a new word to her.
"Sorry. Has she been suffering from bouts of sadness? Is there something that makes her really sad?" Dr Swansea explained.
Rehema thought hard. She knew that of late her mother had been incredibly sad, especially when she brought up the topic of her father. She would lock herself up in the room and come out of there with red swollen eyes. It had never occurred to her now but she now realized that her mother had been crying all those times. It was all her fault! She had brought up sad memories. Guiltily she answered the doctor,
"Well she has a very bad case of pneumonia and a weak heart as well. It’s a wonder really that she can breath. It seems that her lungs have been deeply affected Mr and Mrs Mugisha."
"Oh no!" Mrs Mugisha cried out, hand covering her mouth. "Is she going to be alright? We had no idea that she was sick at all. Rehema is her only child."
"That remains to be seen. We shall try our best with her. I have dashed her over to intensive care on the third floor. This is an emergency and we have to be as fast as we can with her. She is also on oxygen and on the drip. I get the impression that she has not been eating much because she looks unnaturally thin. She looks as if she lost a lot of weight."
"Oh!" Rehema was scared. She did not understand what all that meant, but it was clear to her that it was bad news. Her eyes started glossing over. "Can I see her?"
"Well, only for a few minutes. She is extremely exhausted and we cannot tire her further. She is fighting for her life right now." Dr Swansea informed them gravely.
"Please doctor, do everything you can." Mr Mugisha’s words choked, "This child has no one else. All she has is her mother."
"I shall try my best. But the patient is in a very grave condition." She replied pessimistically and walked off towards Rehema’s mother’s room.
They followed her to the elevator. Rehema pressed the number three and it lifted them up a few floors. She was breathing very deeply. The doctor got out and pointed in the direction of her mother. They followed the sign that led them to intensive care and asked for her room. A nurse directed them to her room but warned them that they could only see her one at a time.
There were several couches in the waiting room and glamour magazines on the side tables. There were a few people sitting there. There was a man with a shaggy two-day beard sleeping in one of the seats. An East Indian couple looked at them with interest as their children run about the waiting room. Two middle-aged Philipino nurses walked past them, chatting animatedly in Tagalog.
"Rehema, I will go first." Mrs Mugisha said. She wanted to protect the child in case there was something that she should not see. She came out three minutes later with red eyes. "Go ahead."
She hurried, almost running into the room. Her mother was lying helplessly in an oxygen mask. She looked as though life had been sapped out of her. Rehema had never noticed how emaciated her mother looked until she saw her lying on those vanilla white hospital sheets. Her exhausted eyes lit up when she saw her daughter. She smiled and struggled to reach for her daughter’s hand. Rehema stood as close as she could to the oxygen mask and squeezed her mother’s hand.
"Mummy!" She released a long animal cry of pain.
"I am alright sweetie." She whispered weakly.
"I should have forced you to come to hospital before you were this sick." Rehema sobbed, blaming herself for all this.
"It’s not your fault. Never blame yourself. I should have not been that stubborn." She whispered hoarsely.
"I drew a beautiful picture in my art class for you. I didn’t get a chance to show it to you earlier, but I’ll bring it tomorrow."
"I would like that. You are going to be famous one day." The words burst out and she started coughing.
"Darling." She squeezed her hand and pulled her closer. In between her coughing outbursts, the words were forced out, "It was cruel of me to never tell me who your father is. He is still alive and I know that he would love you. He is a very kind man. I have been wrong in keeping the two of you apart. I should have never done that. In case something happens to me…"
"Nothing will happen to you mummy. You are going to get better, aren’t you?"
"I am dying Rehema. I know that I am dying." She said with a tone of prophetic doom. Her body wracked violently with her coughs. "Heartbreak can do strange things to you. People say that you get over it, but not everyone does."
"Don’t say that mummy!" She said hoarsely, tears choking her. "There is still hope. You cannot leave me alone. Never say anything like that ever again mummy!"
Her mother struggled to continue.
"Rehema, in case something happens, I want you to find him. I know that he will take care of you. He’s a very loving kind man. It’s not his fault that he never knew about you. It’s my fault, I never told him. Please find it in your heart to forgive me." Her voice was a ghost of its former self. She was barely audible.
"Mummy. I don’t care about him right now. If you have to die for me to know him, I’d rather never know him." Rehema’s lower lips trembled. Her tears gushed down her cheeks and she felt her chest hurt as she fought back the tears.
"Tomorrow, I’ll tell you where I hid his address. Then you can write to him."
"Excuse me, your time is up." A nurse said suddenly.
"She needs to rest." The nurse insisted.
When Rehema looked back at her mother, she flopped back onto her pillow. Her eyes were closing shut and her breathing was laboured. She looked like she was in pain. Tears crawled down her little round cheeks. She left the room and walked towards the Mugisha’s car, head downcast. They drove to their home.
That had been the last time that she had spoken to her mother. After that things had only gone downhill. She remembered arriving two days later at the door to the intensive unit with her auntie and grand auntie. Her auntie in Uganda had finally called her and she had told her that she was taking the first available flight out to England. She informed her that she was coming with Rehema’s grand auntie. She had met Auntie Rita when she was really small and she could barely remember that, but she had never met her grand auntie so she looked forward to that. She was so excited that she was going to be surrounded with members of her family. They had just arrived that morning from Kenya and went with her to the hospital. It was uncanny how much her auntie looked like her mother. She was a shorter, slightly less pretty version of her younger sister, but still incredibly beautiful. Mr and Mrs Mugisha had driven them all to the hospital.
It had rained heavily on the way to the hospital. It always rained in London but that day the rain was heavier than usual. The air was heavy and there were dark overwhelming shadows in the sky. The downpour almost sounded like it would flatten the roof of the car and Rehema found it frightening. It came crashing down on the car like boulders that had dropped from a cliff. As the car crawled towards the hospital in the London traffic, she noticed that the wind was rather fierce. She was not sure if she imagined it, but she could hear the wind howling in a threatening way. A few branches flew violently past them. She felt a headache coming and pressed her temples to alleviate the pain. But at some point it became so unbearable that she thought she would pass out. She started seeing stars and feeling nauseous. She was about to ask if anyone had painkillers but the pain subsided all of a sudden and the headache was gone.
Then at the same time the rain subsided as well just as they were arriving at the hospital. The angry heavy drops became thin slashes in the sky and then eventually faded. But the clouds were still large and gray. She overheard her auntie tell her grand auntie Nandawula that she had experienced a strange sharp headache that had escalated to a point where she was afraid that she would pass out and then seconds later had disappeared. Rehema thought that it was a weird coincidence that she and her aunt had experienced the same thing at the same time but never gave it much thought until much later in her life. Mr Mugisha parked the car and they all spilled out.
She had brought some red roses for her mother and was excited as she led them to her mother’s room. The two women struggled to catch up with her as their elegant heels clicked on the ground behind her, listening to her excited chatter. The Mugishas’s were behind them. She knew that her mother would be happy to see them. Although her mother had been delirious and did not recognize anybody, she seemed to be getting physically stronger and the doctor was pleased with her progress.
Rehema was dying for all this to be behind her. She was dying to tell her mother about school and the other art pieces that she had drawn for her. She was dying for all this horrific nightmarish experience to end so that at least, she could laugh about it with her mother and tell her how scared she had been. Scared she had been of losing her mother. Scared she had been of being left all alone in the world. One day they would both laugh about it and she could not wait for that day. One day she would be able to tell her mother that she had given her a good scare and she looked forward to that.
When they arrived at the intensive unit, Doctor Swansea was talking delicately with a nurse in a corner. There were deep shadows of defeat in her eyes that made Rehemas’s heart skip a beat. The doctor suddenly looked a lot older than her years. She looked as though she had not slept for the last ten years and her Hollywood glamour was gone. She walked away from the nurse and approached them, shaking Mr Mugisha’s hand.
"I am sorry," she said apologetically, feeling like a failure. "It was just too late."
"What?’ Mr Mugisha cried out.
"No!" Rehema screamed as the red roses dropped at her feet. She felt her throat close and tears rushed into her eyes. A lump crawled in her chest. It could not be! She felt as though life had been drained from her.
Her auntie and grand auntie looked at each other in alarm.
"Her heart could not take it. It had been under strain for a long time. She had a heart attack and died early this morning. I am really sorry." Dr Swansea looked shattered.
"What?" Mr Mugisha wore an expression of anguish on his face.
"Are you saying that my mother is dead?" Rehema shook her head in disbelief, her brown eyes lit with fury. This could not be happening too her. The world seemed to spin around her and her chest tightened.
"I am afraid so."
"No! It cannot be!" Rehema cried out as the doctor swung her eyes away. Her body tightened and her small fingers rolled into small tight balls of defiance. "You are lying! You are a liar! How dare you say something cruel like that!"
"Rehema..." Her auntie reached for her, tears streaming down her face.
"I am sorry. There’s nothing more that I can do." Dr Swansea said, hating that sentence even more. These were the times that she hated her job.
"I refuse to believe that!" Rehema pushed the doctor aside and headed for her mothers hospital room as fast as her legs could take her.
"Rehema wait!" Mrs Mugisha started.
"Rehema!" Her auntie tried to grab her but her fingers missed her by a fraction.
Rehema forced the door open and was greeted with the shocking image of an empty bed where her mother had been lying. The mattress was stripped empty. She stared at in shock.
"Where is she?" Mr Mugisha asked kindly.
"She’s down there." The doctor pointed to a room that was down the hallway. A nurse led them to the room.
"I am not sure about the little girl seeing her." The nurse warned.
"I want to see her. She’s my mother!"
"Rehema that might not be a good idea." Her auntie suggested.
"I demand to see her!"
"Alright." The nurse opened the door and there was her mother sleeping on her back. She looked peaceful and incredibly beautiful. Rehema had never noticed just how beautiful her mother’s lips were. They were so well defined and had regained their pretty pink lustre. They were small, dainty beautiful lips which should have been on the covers of a fashion magazine advertising lipstick. She did not look at all as if she was dead at all but there was no more coughing and she was free from all pain. She looked very peaceful and so many years younger than when Rehema had last seen her. Rehema tottered towards her mother like a drunkard. See! They were all lying, she was asleep not dead. She was playing a nasty joke on them and she was pretending to sleep just to give them a good scare. When they got up close to her, she would open her eyes and laugh at all of them.
"See! She’s just sleeping." She tried to rationalize, turning around to face them.
"No Rehema. She’s gone." Mrs Mugisha said softly.
Her auntie’s and grand auntie’s tears were flowing freely. Slowly she turned round to face her mother again. That was when she noticed the cotton that was stuffed in her mother’s nose. Trauma raised up its ugly head in her heart and falling to her knees, she started crying. She cried so hard that her chest began hurting. Then everything went black after that and her small body crumpled onto the floor.
Rehema sat in the living room apprehensively, wondering if she would be well received. She had kept her grandmother’s promise and found her way here. She stared at the contents of the room. There was an expensive maroon oval rug on the shiny wooden floor. The wide, long windows were draped with expensive looking burgundy coloured curtains with slightly lighter ties. The walls were painted a soft cream-light fuchsia that gave the room a feminine look. The elegant sofa set matched with the curtains. There was a long, short-legged well-polished mahogany table in the middle of the room with a tall crystal vase in the middle. There were fresh smelling red roses in them. There were tall golden lamps in the four corners of the room that looked like they had been purchased in an antique store. The room was filled with colourful East African batik paintings done by various Ugandan painters. There were statuettes and mahogany figurines of beautiful slender African women in the cupboard with a glass door and the bookshelf was filled with all sorts of neatly arranged thick legal books and encyclopaedias.
Rehema sank into the sofa, clinging to her small bag nervously. Her heart thumped like a race horse in her rib cage. There were a million questions on her mind right now. She wondered what her uncle was like. She wondered what his family was like. Would they be happy to see her or would she be a reminder of painful memories? She was no longer the ten-year-old girl whose mother had died a lonely death in a London hospital. She was no longer that sweet, innocent, trusting little girl whose mother had died without few family members by her side. She was now fourteen years old, but a lot older with her life experiences.
After she had left England, she had moved in with her grandmother’s aged sister in Kenya, where she had lived until now. Her auntie had wanted her to stay with her in Canada but it had been difficult and incredibly potentially a lengthy process to file her immigration papers and so they had settled for the idea of her staying with her grand auntie in Kenya. Besides her auntie was a flight attendant and always on the road and away from home for several days. She did not think that her hectic unpredictable lifestyle could accommodate the kind of stable lifestyle which Rehema needed. But she had visited her as often as she could, which was once a year and she kept in touch, regularly, phoning her once in a while to check on her progress.
Between the two women, they decided that it was better for Rehema to stay by her grand auntie in Kenya. Her grand auntie had treated her as if she were her own daughter, spoiling her rotten and yet balancing it by slowly teaching her the ways, cultures, traditions of Africa. She had even taught her vernacular language, Luganda. Her grand auntie had been a student and later on a teacher at Gayaza High School in Kampala, which was a prestigious girls’ only boarding school which had started out as a school for training kings’ daughters as well as chiefs’ daughters. It was still a prestigious school but it was no longer limited to royalty these days, according to what her grand auntie told her. Because of that educational past, she gave Rehema the best education that she could offer as well as sent her off to a good Kenyan school, and due to that she did not lag behind in her studies.
But even that had come to an end. The old lady could feel her bones creaking more and more each day. She was not getting younger and she knew that although she loved Rehema dearly, the young girl needed to grow up with children her age. She needed to be raised in a stable family where there was a mother and father. She had not talked to her son Katamba for years, ever since he had married that insufferable woman who she had disapproved of, and that had upset her. She hated his wife, preferring the girlfriend that he had before that. The one he had almost married but had jilted at the last minute. She never found out why they had broken up, but she had been very disappointed. The beauty of his wife, as well as her wealthy family background had impressed him but there was something about her that she did not like. She was not sure what it was, she could not put her finger on it, but she had worried then that she would make her son unhappy. However grand auntie Nandawula had decided that she had to let bygones, be bygones and think of the welfare of Rehema who was now a teenager instead of focusing on her differences with her son.
She could not let old grudges get in the way of her beloved Rehema’s welfare. She had to do what she thought was best for her, and she had wisely decided that it was living with her son. She knew that he would treat her as if she were his own child. Ruth, Rehema’s mother and her son Katamba had always been close since they were children. She loved her sister’s children as much as she loved her own children and had been saddened by Ruth’s death. The old lady made Rehema promise that she would go to Uganda look for her uncle. Rehema had been hesitant but her grand auntie had been insistent. So here she was.
"She is in the living room sir," She heard one of the maids say in Luganda a few hours later. She had dozed off in the comfort of the soft sofa seat, and had no idea just how much time had flown by. She woke up quickly and sat up, alert waiting to see her uncle for the first time in her life. She felt her palms sweat. She was nervous. What if he hated her and did not want her to stay?
"Ok." His deep masculine voice boomed.
Suddenly a tall robust middle-aged handsome man in an elegant tailor made grey suit holding a leather briefcase swept into the room. Everything about him screamed wealth and power. His presence loomed large in the living room. He was big like a towering bear, most of it muscle which had not been exercised in a long time. He was not exactly fat, but he was not fit. He was bordering on being overweight. He had a thick moustache and one-day growth stubble on his cheeks. His eyes were the type that looked like they smiled all the time. They were chocolate brown and very warm. They were the kind of eyes that one could trust. His lips were dark brown and sensually thick. There was something boyish and playful about him that made Rehema feel like hugging him and adopting him as her father. She could now see why her grand auntie had insisted that she come here. Rehema was shocked at how much he looked like her mother. There was a look of shock and surprise on his face.
"Hello." He greeted her, his eyes resting on her with interest and drank her in like a wonderful drink.
"Hi," She stood up awkwardly not sure what to do and then suddenly her bag fell on the floor.
A few of her belongings spilled out. What a bad first impression. She did not want him to think that she was clumsy. Embarrassed, she scooped them up quickly, replaced them in the bag and placed it on the sofa behind her. She was not sure what to do. She was not sure whether she should shake his hand or hug him or do anything else. They stared at each other, sizing each other up. Rehema almost wished that he were her dad. His eyes looked so kind. He looked like he liked what he saw. He also narrowed his eyes, his mind seeming to mentally be running a million questions through. She got the feeling that he was trying to remember who she was and was irked that he was failing to remember.
"So she has been waiting for me here all day?" He asked the maid.
"Yes sir." The maid said humbly on her knees by the door. She looked like she was slightly older than Rehema. Her hair was razor-cut short, almost to her scalp, giving her an almost boyish look. She was rakishly thin and her lips looked parched and dry. She had the type of face which would easily disappear in a crowd.
"I hope you gave her something to eat." Her uncle addressed the maid.
"She did." Rehema said with a shaking voice not wanting to get the poor maid in trouble. She looked frightened enough as it was.
"Ok, you can leave us." He told the maid, who scuttled away hurriedly.
"So you came all the way from Kenya?" He looked at her incredulously.
"Yes." She nodded.
A woman came in behind him and stood beside him. She looked like she had once been beautiful but something, most likely the troubles and stresses of life had made her age quickly. Mercifully it had left some of the remnants of beauty on her face. The beauty that her grand auntie had talked about was now faded and the woman had a jaded look on her face. She was slim and slightly shorter than her husband. Her lips were permanently turned downwards unhappily and she had big brown, unfriendly, unhappy eyes. Her long black straight chemically permed hair was stylishly done up elegantly on her head and her long tapered fingers had beautifully painted and manicured fingernails.
Awkwardly wearing an expensive purple and golden busuti, she looked quite the opposite of her jovial husband. Her jewellery was clumsily put on, as if she had been in a rush and the make up left a lot to be desired. She had put on too much mascara and eyeliner, which gave her a cheap look. The lipstick did not suit her at all. It was too dark for her complexion. Rehema correctly figured out that this was his wife. She wondered why he had not told his wife that she was not looking that top notch. Didn’t he feel embarrassed to walk around with her looking like that when he was that dapper looking? There was something hardened and hostile about her that Rehema did not like.
"Who is she honey?" She asked with the most whining voice Rehema had ever heard. Her eyes had narrowed with suspicion as she closed the door behind her.
"She came all the way from Kenya." He beamed, then crossed the room and sat in a sofa in front of Rehema. Then he faced and addressed Rehema. "You can sit down, you know."
Rehema sat down and crossed her legs nervously, not sure what to expect.
"Then how come she has a British accent? Did your mother send her here?" His wife asked her husband sharply with a quirky eyebrow raised. She glared at Rehema angrily.
"I hadn’t yet asked her that yet Edith." He said with a note of irritation, and then he faced Rehema. "Was it my mother who sent you here?"
"Yes your mother, grand auntie Nandawula, sent me here. She said that you would be able to look after me."
"Oh my goodness!" His wife almost lost her step as her hand went to her chest. Her eyes looked like they were swimming in waters if confusion and frustration. "We have not heard from that woman in such a long time and she has the nerve to send this child here! As if we do not have enough mouths to feed! She had better not be some illegal child who you procreated on one of your trips! I bet your mother would love to shove that in my face."
"Edith!" He admonished her.
Rehema wondered why she was still standing by the door and not sitting down like her husband. It was obvious that there was tension in the room and she started wondering if she had made the right decision by coming here.
"I am not your child." Rehema said, looking straight into her uncle’s eyes. "But I am your relative. My name is Rehema. Grand auntie has been looking after me for the past four years but she is really sick and too old to look after me, so she made me promise to come here."
"How did you get here?" Her uncle queried, putting his briefcase down on the seat next to him. "How is it that we never heard of you before?"
"By plane. I flew from Nairobi to Entebbe."
"On your own? As young as you are?" He knitted his eyebrows.
"How old are you?" Her auntie queried rather sharply.
"I am fourteen."
"That’s the boy’s age." Uncle Katamba noted, his thumb and forefinger rubbing his chin pensively, "Where did you get the money to travel here from?"
"From grand auntie."
"I am impressed." He nodded his head in appreciation, amazed at her level of maturity and self-reliance, "I am impressed that you could do all that on your own at your age. That says a lot about you. How did you find out where the house is?"
His wife did not look amused though. It was almost as though she resented her husband’s warmth towards her and Rehema could feel the hostile vibes emanating from her pores. But she decided to focus on her uncle. He was the man of the house and she had been sent to him. He was the one she was related to.
"Grand auntie wrote the instructions clearly for me. I just followed them. I got a taxi from the airport to here, then I waited for you."
"So who are you child? Something about you looks familiar but I cannot quite figure out what it is." Uncle Katamba asked gently.
"I am Beatrice’s daughter." She announced, folding and unfolding her hands nervously.
"What?" Auntie Edith exploded, at the same time as her husband.
"What?" He shifted his eyes to his wife, who looked like she was about to pass out. She closed her eyes dramatically, fluttering them slightly first and then opened them. Her hand flew to her mouth in amazement.
"That woman left this country fourteen years ago and never ever kept in touch with anyone! Now she is sending her daughter here?" Her gaze on Rehema was unflinching and the corner of her mouth lifted in derision.
"That woman is my cousin, Edith." He flashed her a chastising, warning look. Then as he looked back at Rehema, his eyes softened. "Why didn’t your mother come with you?"
"You mean you do not know?" Her eyes were wide like saucers with shock.
"This family has more secrets than the ones that the pyramids hide." Auntie Edith scoffed rapidly. Her husband ignored her. He was obviously used to her sharp insensitive mouth. Rehema was shocked though. She had never been exposed to rude, spiteful people before. She had always been incredibly popular and loved in her past. She wondered if she was making a mistake coming here. She got the feeling that her auntie did not like her. Maybe she should have not come here. But she had promised her grandmother.
"My mother died." She admitted, trying her best to fight back the tears that threatened. Just saying those words brought tears to her eyes. The years had certainly not softened the blow.
"What? That can’t be! Not Beatrice? She was so beautiful and so full of life! How come we were never told? How long ago was that?" His voice shook with emotion.
"When I was ten years old."
"You mean that you have been orphaned for that long and I did not know? Why didn’t anyone contact me?" his eyebrows furrowed.
"Grand auntie thought that it was best for everyone. She did not want to burden any one. She told me that my mother’s departure was riddled with scandal, because of her pregnancy and the fact that she was not married, so she did not want me to suffer because of that." Rehema’s misty eyes were pleading.
"If that is the case, then why is she sending you here now?" Auntie Edith asked coldly, her chin quivering.
"Because she’s too old to look after a teenager. She wants me to grow up among people of my age. Look uncle, I know that you have not been on talking terms for years, but grand auntie is very old now and very lonely. She did not ask me to say this but I know that she misses you. I am sure that she would like to amend her relationship with you. I know that she can be a proud, old lady but she misses you."
"She should have thought of that before she cut us off!" Auntie Edith muttered angrily.
"I did not want to leave her behind but she forced me to come. I was a little frightened of coming here, I almost turned back." Rehema continued.
"I am glad you did not." Her uncle said with a decided look. But the look on his wife’s face said that she was not glad at all.
"Thank you!" Rehema sat up straight excitedly and beamed, liking her uncle even more and wondering about her auntie.
She did not seem to be very nice. She wondered how a man like her uncle could stand her. She looked like the type of woman who nagged, complained and generally irritated a husband. She looked like the kind of woman who all men dreaded and hoped their wife never became. She thought that she now had an inkling of the reason why his mother had objected to the relationship, let alone the wedding. It seemed to her that they were almost incompatible as a couple, although she reminded herself that it was too early to judge. But she could not help it, she thought with a sinking feeling. One was the sun and the other was the moon. One was summer and the other was winter. One was warmth and the other was coldness. They were opposites and she was not sure that she was comfortable with that.
"Your mother Beatrice and her sister, your auntie Rita were my favourite cousins. We used to play together and go to school together when we were children. It was a very unfortunate situation when she got pregnant and your grandfather, my uncle disowned her. I was not here during that tumultuous period. I was in University in the USA. Nobody told me about it until I got back from my university studies in the USA. I wanted to contact her, but her contacts were not available. She cut everybody off."
"I know that she missed her family. Her father never forgave her for disgracing him like that and it saddened her. It broke her heart." Rehema looked down at the carpet, masking the burning tears that threatened.
"He died of a heart attack shortly after. He missed out on seeing his beautiful grandchild. He was a very cruel man though. So nobody was surprised by his reaction." Her uncle Katamba informed her.
"Now that I have met you, I am glad that I have." Rehema stood up abruptly, "But I do not want to be a burden to anyone. I can go back to Kenya…"
"That sounds like a wonderful idea!" Auntie Edith exclaimed, "We can send her money from here and…"
"Don’t be ridiculous Edith!" He shot up angrily, "the girl is practically an orphan! How can I send my own flesh and blood away?"
"But she is a distant relation! It’s not like she is your real sister’s child. She is your cousin’s child." Auntie Edith reasoned craftily.
"I would not call that distant. Her mother and my mother were sisters. Her grandfather is my father’s brother. Blood is blood. It’s sad that her grandmother passed away as well. Besides, we have even more distant relatives than that stay here once in a while. I don’t think that the degree of relationship is important. Money is not a problem for us Edith, nor is lodging. We have enough space and resources to bring her into the family. Besides she will be good company for Mirembe. Mirembe has no sisters."
"What about her Auntie Rita? Can’t she stay with her?" Auntie Edith insisted cruelly.
"The way she gallivants around the world? I do not think so. She cannot look after a child. She is an air hostess and that kind of environment is not stable for a child. I am sure my mother bore that in mind when she took her in. Why do you think that Rita has no children of her own?"
"What about her father? Can’t she go there?" Auntie Edith insisted.
"I don’t know who he is." Rehema emitted softly, somewhat shamefaced.
"I think that fact was pretty obvious Edith. If she knew who he was then she would not be here. She would be with him." His eyes were studying Rehema. "My mother has good judgement. If she believes that Rehema would be better off here with us then I accept that."
"If you trust your mothers judgment, then how come we are married? After all she was against us getting married." Auntie Edith’s eyes were cold and sharp.
Her husband looked at her as if he indeed regretted the decision of marrying her. If looks could kill, the look he sent her would have pierced her heart. Rehema was worried that they were having marital problems and she did not want to cause a bigger rift because of her presence. He chose to ignore his wife’s sharp words though and made the final decision.
"So it’s settled. She’s staying here. Think about it. People will be talking about how Christian you are, what a Good Samaritan you are Edith. At your church, you’ll be held as an exemplar person."
"That is true." She stared at him and then looked at Rehema with new eyes.
"You can teach her all those womanly things that she needs to know." Her uncle suggested convincingly.
"But she looks like she knows nothing about the culture and the traditions here! She is so uncultured!" She complained with her whiny voice. She looked Rehema up and down analytically, taking in every part of her, inspecting every inch of her. Rehema felt uncomfortable.
"She’s young. She can learn."
"She better learn! We cannot have her embarrassing us. I hope that she is not the wild type that is going to get pregnant behind our backs. The last thing we need is to have any boy problems." She commented disdainfully, lips curled up.
"I am not wild." Rehema defended herself, fed up of being treated as if she were a dirty beggar on the street. "My mother brought me up with principles."
"You are going to have to learn not to talk back to your elders dear. I do not know how things worked over there in England, but here in Uganda we are respectful of our elders. And those cloths will have to change. That skirt is too short for my liking."
"I am sure that you can sort all of that out." Her husband said carefully.
"Yes, and she can help the maid with some of the house work so that she can learn to do a woman’s work. We need to make her marriage material."
"With time. Let her settle for now. I am sure you are tired, right Rehema?" He turned round and faced her.
"Yes." She admitted.
"She can take the room next to Mirembe. I am sure Mirembe will be excited about having another female to talk to." Her uncle suggested.
"Talking about Mirembe, what shall we tell the children?" Auntie Edith’s voice sounded mournful and scared.
"The truth. That their cousin Rehema is here to stay."
"But what if they ask awkward questions? You know about her parents? About her father? What if they want details?"
"We just tell them that her mother died and she is now living with us, that’s all. I don’t think it’s that hard of a situation. It’s not rocket science. It’s not her fault that she does not know who her father is." Her uncle shrugged. "As a matter of fact can you call them? I will tell them myself. Can you also get the maid to fix up the room for Rehema?"
"Ok." She gave him a tight smile. He stood up and kissed her on her cheek. She looked like she blossomed from that kiss. Her large eyes lit up and she actually looked prettier when she smiled. Then she left the room. Her departure brought down the tension a few notches.
"Thank you uncle." Rehema relaxed in the seat.
"You do not need to thank me. It’s my duty and I am proud to have you stay here. Your mother and I were close, when we were children. I was a little hurt when she shut everyone out, including me."
"I am sure she had her reasons." Rehema said carefully.
"I am sure she did. Tell me. My mother, how is she doing?" His untrimmed eyebrows lifted slightly with curiosity.
"She’s still strong for her age, but she’s not doing that great. I know that she will love it if you settle your differences and pay her a visit. I think that my mother’s death made her reflect on the wisdom of keeping grudges for so long."
"I think I will go to see her. She is my mother after all." He said softly.
"She loves you very much. She speaks a lot about you." Rehema informed him with a twisted look on her face.
"That old woman always knew how to keep a secret. I cannot believe that she had you there all that time and none of us knew." He shook his head in utter disbelief.
"What do you do uncle for a living?" She asked suddenly. She wanted to know everything about him. She wanted to know everything about her past. Maybe he even knew who her father was. Maybe one day she could ask him who he was.
"Me? I am a lawyer. Your auntie Edith owns her own business. It’s a restaurant."
"You have a lovely house. I didn’t see much, but the little that I saw is beautiful." Her eyes glanced around the room in obvious admiration and then rested back on him.
"Why thanks." He smiled warmly, "It’s refreshing to have someone who appreciates things and that does not take them for granted. You will find your cousins somewhat spoiled unfortunately. Your auntie treats them like little princes and princesses. They take a lot of things for granted."
"I could never take things for granted." She grinned, revealing her beautiful teeth.
"So did you bring other belongings?" His eyes inspected her bags.
"Yes, the maid kept my suitcase in the kitchen."
"So what’s in that bag?" He asked as he relaxed in his armchair.
"Photos and other small things." She replied noncommittally.
"Photos? Do you have any of your mother?" His eyebrows rose.
"Yes. I have mostly photos of me and her together. I have kept them close to me for all these years. " She pulled them out and walking over to him, showed them to him.
He flipped through them slowly as Rehema stood next to him.
"These photos bring back memories. What fun we had as children! I’d love to have some copies made of these." He gave them back to her after looking at them carefully. Memories flooded him and he looked sad. He looked like her was fighting back some tears.
"Ok." She carefully put them back in the bag.
"I am glad you came here." For a small moment, the sorrow in his features was washed over with a genuine happiness.
"Me too. You really look like my mother. You remind me of her."
"Yes, we look like our grandfather. It’s a pity you are all too young to have known him. He was a wonderful man. He was very handsome too. He had many wives. Many of us look just like him. It’s a family trait, which I am surprised you did not get. Even my father and your mother’s father looked like him. But you have a little bit of him in you. I can tell. You know that your mother’s mother and my mother married brothers, right?"
"Yes. Grand auntie told me. She was the younger sister who married the younger brother and my grandmother married the older brother. It sounded a little confusing at first but I am getting the hang of it. I think I have a lot of catching up to do, as far as getting to know my family."
"Yes. It’s a big family." He gave a curt laugh.
"Do people still get married to several women in Uganda?" She queried unexpectedly.
"Not really." He looked uncomfortable, "Except the Muslims and the traditionalists. But you and I will have lots of time to talk about all sorts of things. I am sure you must be exhausted right now. You probably need to bathe, eat something else and sleep."
"I am tired." She admitted, stifling a yawn.
The living room door suddenly burst open and they were interrupted.
"Yes dad." Two identical teenage boys came into the room, followed by a sullen looking, slightly overweight, pretty girl. The boys looked like their dad and the girl was the splitting image of her mother. "Mummy told us that you needed to talk to us."
"Of course. Can you all have seats?" He smiled benevolently.
"This better be good daddy." The girl pursed her lips, "I was on the phone."
But they all obeyed him and sat. They suddenly noticed Rehema. She was staring at them with unfeigned interest. They were the first cousins that she was meeting. She was excited.
"Well Rehema, these are your cousins. The twins are called Wasswa and Kato. Here in Uganda, the older male twin is always called Wasswa and the younger twin is always called Kato. If it is twin girls, the older one is called Babirye and the younger one is called Nakato."
"Oh. I am so glad to meet you." She smiled, rubbing her hands together in excitement.
"Then this is your cousin Mirembe. The twins are your age and Mirembe is one year younger than you."
"I can’t believe I am meeting cousins." She rubbed her hands together gleefully. She was excited beyond belief.
"Wow, she is pretty." Wasswa said, looking her up and down. "She definitely got some of the family genes."
"What’s with the British accent?" Mirembe asked rudely, wiping the smile off Rehema’s face. Mirembe has a scowl on her face that disarmed Rehema.
Mirembe did not appreciate the fact that she now had competition. She had enjoyed being the only girl around the house as well as the centre of attention in the entire neighbourhood. Now she had to contend with this new arrival in her life, who her twin brother dared to call pretty. She was not happy at all. Why couldn’t she be some ugly cousin from some village whose name was hard to pronounce? Why couldn’t she be some distant uneducated, unrefined, non English-speaking relative from some rural place like Nakaseke?
"She used to live in England, but her mother has died and now she is coming to live with us." Uncle Katamba explained.
"With us?" Mirembe asked her fat face grimacing, "Why?"
"Well Mirembe it is because she has nowhere to go." Her father explained patiently.
"What about her father?" Mirembe demanded, sounding strangely like her mother, "Can’t she stay there? I mean where is she going to live? Not in my room! I am not ready to share. I’ve been living there all alone for all these years and that is not about to change."
"Sometimes you can be really selfish Mirembe. Not everyone leads the privileged life that you lead. Unfortunately Rehema was never raised with her father and does not know who he is. She has no one else to go to. But you do not need to worry about sharing rooms. I anticipated that you would want to keep your privacy. She will be staying in the room next to yours."
"In the room next to mine!" She cried out. Her eyes grew dark and intense.
"I thought that you would be happy to have a girl in the house." He frowned, obviously displeased with his daughter. "Is that how you greet your own cousin? Don’t come to me asking for things if that is your attitude."
"I am sorry dad, it’s just that I am shocked." She said through clenched teeth, not sounding sorry at all. She looked liked she was just apologizing so that she could ask him for more things.
"Well then all of you go ahead and hug her and welcome her. Today is her first day in Uganda." He ordered them.
"How come we didn’t know that she was coming?" Wasswa asked as he got up and walked towards Rehema.
"Yea, we usually know about these things in advance." Kato added, his brows crinkling.
"It’s a long story…" Their father said, displeased with their attitudes.
Rehema stood up and hugged them, but she had a bad premonition about all of them. Mirembe hugged her rather quickly, almost as if her skin was diseased and she did not want to get an infection from her.
"Ok. So I will show her to her room them. You can chat with her tomorrow, when she is well rested. Actually Rehema, if you like, we can go for clothes shopping tomorrow. Oh! I forgot, my schedule is full tomorrow, but your auntie can take you shopping because I am busy. I am sure you’ll need new clothes."
"That’s not fair dad!" Mirembe sulked, gloom clouding her eyes, "you had promised me that you would take me shopping, and you never did. Now that Rehema is here she gets everything that she wants right away."
Rehema felt shocked. How could Mirembe say that she got everything that she wanted? She had just arrived. As if reading her thoughts, her uncle said,
"Rehema just got here Mirembe. But both of you can go shopping together. I can drop you off in town and you can take her to the main stores. I think it will give you a chance to bond."
"But is she is going with mummy, I’ll go another day, as long as you remember your promise." Mirembe said, toying with her hair.
"I will remember Mirembe."
She smiled, happy that she had gotten her way.
"Ok, Rehema, I’ll take you to your room." Her uncle announced.
She was trembling with trepidation and excitement as she followed him out of the room. They walked to a winding wooded stairway and went up the stairs. He led her to her new room. It was a beautiful well spaced room. There was a large queen sized bed covered with a soft silky mauve coloured duvet. The pillows looked comfortably large and fluffy. At the side of the bed were two mahogany dark brown nightstands with Japanese looking cream coloured lamps on them. There was a matching dresser and armour but what she liked best was the vanity table with the oval mirror. It had an antique look about it that reminded her of the French history books that she had studied as a child. It looked like the kind of vanity table where Marie Antoinette would have powdered her nose.
She noticed that her suitcase was already in the room and there was an elegant looking pink nightgown on the bed. She went to the window and saw a well-trimmed gigantic lawn and swimming pool in the darkness.
She turned around and hugged her uncle.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you! This is the best room that I have ever had!" Her excitement bubbled over, spreading itself to him.
"I am glad you like it." He rubbed her nose affectionately.
"I do, I love it!"
"I am glad. I also own a furniture importing business. I have always loved furniture, especially antiques right from my university days in the USA. I decided right then what my house would look like once I could afford to buy one."
"So you mean you chose most of the furniture in the house?" Her eyes were wide. Nobody had ever told her that men could be good at interior designing. She had always assumed that it was a woman’s territory. Her uncle was amazing.
"Yes I did. Your auntie was not particularly bothered about decorating the house, unlike most women. I had a friend in university that had studied interior designing, so she gave me some tips. The rest is history."
"But you have wonderful taste uncle. It’s wonderful!" She was dizzy with excitement.
"Thank you Rehema. I shall now leave you to bathe. There are three bathrooms on this floor. One is for us, the parents and you can use any of the other two. Get yourself a nice bath, the maid will bring you something to snack on, and then have a nice rest."
"Thank you." She smiled, stifling a yawn.
Later on when she climbed into her bed, she felt like the most special girl in the world.
All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without written permission of the author
Copyright JMN ã 2006
Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, and some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada. She won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named ‘one of the new voices of Africa’ after reciting one of her poems. In 2004 she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com