Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Miserable Past

“I am just tired of the pain Lindsey and I no longer think that the only way out is through it. The way out is away. Like Kate, I’m going to divorce my family. Quietly, amicably, without undue drama. I’m just going to leave and never return to this country.”

Lindsey sat down and quietly cried with me. We had been here countless times before. I knew, some part of her believed that this was another of those countless time. We would sit and cry. She would be genuinely sad that another year had rolled down and I still hadn’t found the one thing I most insisted on wanting — my mother’s love. But she must have thought that I would go over the bump once again and continue pursuing it. I knew different. I knew that this time I had arrived at sad acceptance. That is why I hadn’t come to her before buying the air ticket. Not before securing a job in a country five nations north of my homeland. It is why I wasn’t telling her any of these details either. My mother may never have come to love me in 32 years of having me but Lindsey had loved me within months of meeting me. She would fight me if she knew how seriously I meant my threat of flight. That’s the last thing I wanted. A fight with my best friend as the last memory of home. 

Several hours later, we were back to gossiping about the men in our lives. Hers, the artistic kind was apparently now searching for himself in new found habits: chain smoking and groping waitresses. He was always a piece of work, that vain man! No amount of failure had dissuaded him of the notion that the world must revolve around his sorry little ass. For the umpteenth time I wondered out loud, why Lindsey put up with him. But I knew why. She held many beliefs that I didn’t share — like the idea that once a man sired your children, you owed him accommodation for all things short of beating you. Her own answer though was, “and who are you to pass judgement, my dear?” And indeed who was I? My man and I were in our seventh year of him being married to somebody who cared slightly more about his shit than I did. We had been lovers before he met her but he had always been loud about his perception that I would never make the kind of wife he was raised to expect. You know, the one that accommodates all of you once you sire her kids? When she first came along, I thought he was only using her as a bargaining chirp. Why else would he have left her love notes lying around for me to read? Bad grammar and a lot of talk about brooding! He was trying to show me that he would leave if I didn’t start leaning towards commitment and family. Not that we weren’t family. We already had an accidental one. Well, it is a long story but he married her and I guess, I just could not be bothered to find a new sexual mate so we kept going after the initial drama regarding his marriage. I wondered quietly, if I would miss him when I disappeared into the world. Probably a little. Most definitely not enough. We went on and on, expressing the same dissatisfactions with our lives that we had never had enough incentive to leave behind. For a while, it felt like I had gone over the bump. Like life would be boring normal again the next day. So much that I started to wonder if I had been melodramatic in the first place. You tell me. Was I being melodramatic? Here’s the story: 

It was a Saturday afternoon. As I sat in my childhood bedroom, a relative of my stepfather came visiting. One of the important ones — a leader in the clan, in some capacity. At family gatherings, people literally line up to introduce their children to him. I only knew him from having distantly observed him at those family gatherings. I had never quite been introduced. In fact, I had never joined the line of family members being introduced. I suspected I wasn’t allowed to. That Saturday, he must have come unannounced. I’m pretty sure my mother would not have invited me over that same afternoon, had the visit been planned. This will all become clear in a second. 

When I heard the hullabaloo of welcoming a guest, I got out of the bedroom to join in. Soon enough, we were taking turns greeting him, with my mother providing introductory context. “That is Nick, your eldest son in this compound. Joshua, he follows Andy whose graduation you came to last year.” Then, “that is Angela. Angela Nambi. She works at Bank of Uganda.” Yes, my mother introduced me as they do when I sit on panels at workshops.

You want to know what that meant? Well, I can explain; I have decades of experience in the nuances of being a bastard child. It meant that in that context, as in the majority of contexts in my mother’s good wife life, I could not be owned up to. I was the illegitimate child, born of sin and shame. Certainly not the child one claims out loud with the same mouth that sings hymns on Sunday. Definitely, not one you own up to before your most respected in-law.

Now you think I am being melodramatic but maybe you should have been there when, at 11, I was asked to stay away from two family wedding receptions for the same reasons. Look here; when I was 12, I sang a solo at the national schools’  festival and caught the eye of a newspaper reporter. As he led me away, Maama stopped us, took me aside and instructed, “if they ask for the names of your parents, don’t answer. The people of Papa’s side will read it and know.” What will they know? That the mysterious child who lives at his house is actually his wife’s child not an orphan benefitting from her charity, as they surely must have assumed. I didn’t give the interview. I was crying too hard to speak. 

Well, maybe you are right. I am as melodramatic as an artist is wont to be. After all, at the time I was introduced as Angela Nambi who works for Bank of Uganda, it was in fact a thing. My country had just come out of a civil war. Nearly everybody was unemployed and I was a woman with a job. A job at Bank of Uganda. But then again, in the very next breath, she introduced Tom as, “our youngest.”  

Still, I was 32 and trotting towards more success than had been seen by any of my family members (legitimate and illegitimate) in generations. I was a professional woman in an economy so crippled it didn’t even produce soap. Perhaps, not belonging with a family should not have been enough to drive me to north Africa. It turned out, Lindsey certainly thought so. In the months after I left the country, she wrote me a five-page letter detailing all the ways in which I was “narcissistic and emotionally retarded.”

Oh well, think whatever you might of me. I barely wrote to my mother in the years after I left but when she was gravely ill three years ago, Joshua and I started talking again. We've became very closer since. It is profound that he had seen things as I had all those years. He understood my staying away. But now, Lindsey lies in a coffin at the cargo end of this airport. I dragged her away from here when she started talking to me again. But I had to bring her back home. Joshua said I could but it is really, really complicated. I’ll tell you more but first, let me go fetch my love who is cargo now.