Tendo: by Esther Mirembe

Lately, your body is always tired. No, no. It is not the walking. You have been walking from the university campus to Kikoni for two years now. Everybody tells you this before you join the great Makerere. It could be a little small town of its own. You will walk a whole lot. If it is not across the vast campus from one college to another in between classes, it is from campus to your hostel. Most days you do both. If you have a class at eight in the morning, you have to start walking at seven, so you can make it in time to catch your breath before the lecture starts. Or get there and find out that it has been cancelled. It is harder when the sun is feeling high and mighty. You need a special kind of determination to take the long walk. And it is not to freedom. Your body soon gets used to the distance.

What your body is not used to though, is cradling an inside that is breaking. You are not dying. Not physically at least. There is a hollowness that at times feels like hunger. At times, a need to stay in bed unable to take the long walk. At times it is a deep longing. But mostly it is deep anger. It is an uncomfortable anger that cannot be expressed in the way anger is expressed. There is no one to shout at. No one to blame. Then you realise you are falling out of love.

***

It is a Saturday night when your body is first attracted to Tendo’s. Not just the body, no. This realization comes much later. But the body, of course, first draws you in.

See, some nights when you go to the club your body wants to dance. Some nights to drink. Others to hook up. Some nights you want to do all of these things. This particular night, your body only wants to feed off the energy of those who want to do one or all of those things without actively joining in. Nobody ever tells you this but when you are a woman, you do not go to the club alone. Even if it is to hook up. You need someone else keeping an eye on your drinks or to stand at a distance with their mouth open like they have just seen Beyoncé live while you twerk. You need someone to come up with imaginary emergencies to save you from men who will not leave you alone. The more companions you have the merrier. You know all this and yet on the night you meet Tendo, the night you want human interaction around you but not with you, you are alone. It is that time of the semester where even your friends who make sure it is happening every weekend are not interested.

Your body is in the corner of the lounge of Sundowners perched on a bar stool right next to the soft cushioned walls where lovers isolate themselves from the party-going crowd. The neon burgundy lights and the somewhat humid air are a little unfamiliar. On a normal night, you would be seated at the bar with your friends drinking God’s greatest gift in punch, Uganda Waragi in coconut flavour with Novida and getting ready to dance till you drop. You are a little uncomfortable because sitting alone heightens your self-consciousness. You do not know most of the songs the DJ plays but the crowd is excited and the bass infectiously vibrates through your body. The couple on the leather couch have been getting closer and are now making out so tenderly that they are oblivious to the upbeat Maleek Berry song playing now. This is the only public place their bodies touch each other without judgement. In downtown Kampala, even just holding hands will get you insulted. You think you are the only one with lovers? The bodaboda men who have not had any customers to ride all day will ask while they jeer. Gasiya. You’ve always wondered what it is about seeing love that makes them so angry. Here, everybody is too busy finding what gets them off.

You look down at the ice cubes in your Bond 7 as the beads of icy water roll down the sides of the glass. The club is getting lit as more Nigerian and Ugandan music is played. Almost everyone is on their feet. The men glance at the overhead TV screens occasionally to catch the score in the ongoing match between Barcelona and some team you would know if you cared enough to find out. Except for the lovers. Oblivious to the madness of the activity around them they touch and talk. You like the rhythm of the beat in sync with your heart. Some people’s mutilation of the art of dance amuses you.

A small man wearing shades dances with his backpack throwing himself all over the place. You feel sorry for the people next to him. Another man dances with a woman who seems shy till Sheebah’s ‘Nkwatako’ plays. He does not need to ask. She starts booty shaking and groin thrusting. Sheebah does that for everyone. She could be singing about the worst ex in the world and you would happily find your rhythm even if heartbroken.

A cold hand lightly touches the open part on your back where your crop top ends and the pants cover your bottom. You want to be left alone. Are you waiting for someone? You have spent the night hopping from place to place with this question being thrown at you. You learn that the easiest thing to do is to completely ignore. Some persist and when you give your most unamused stare, they finally go away with unsatisfied curiosity. It bothers you that they think a woman always wants male company. Your eyes continue to study the contours of your glass like an artist admiring a finished piece.

Your body feels his shadow lurking behind you, unfazed by your lack of response. You sigh and turn. He does not look like he belongs here. It is not the checked blue shirt or the khaki pants that fit his lower body well. No. It is not the specs that give him ‘serious’ look, or maybe it is. He has bottle of water and it is the only thing he drinks all night. People who don’t belong always find each other.

No.

He sits. In the dim light, you can see that he has a small afro and face that looks kind. You talk about many things you won’t remember when you part. You only remember his name. Tendo. Glory. Later you also remember that he drove your drunk self back to Dream World Hostel. Not that it is far. Sundowners is the closest happening place to Kikoni and most student hang out. A bodaboda would cost 3000 shillings. You go out a lot together after that. Sometimes you are the lovers on the leather couch, other times he watches you dance.

***

The first time you do not pick your mother’s phone calls, your body is in Tendo’s bed. His lean figure is sprawled next to you in a way that makes him look beautiful. He always dozes off when he comes. Your mother’s name silently flashes across your phone screen and you imagine her finding out about Tendo from something in your voice. You do not go home for a long time. And then your body gets exhausted and you have to go.

Her face lights up when she sees you but she also makes that knowing hmm sound to mean that you are part of the lost generation referred to as ‘children of these days.’ When you kneel to greet her, she does not respond and asks why you have not been home for so long. After a long uncomfortable silence that feels like she’s waiting for you to say something she’s never heard, anything, she recounts stories of campus girls who have been murdered. If you do not pick her calls, how can she be sure you are not the one in the news?

You want to tell her not to worry but you say sorry and stare at the pattern on the tile as if you are wondering who created it. You promise that you will do better. But she continues and you can hear the anger in the brief silence that follows. She says you have lost the fear of God. Do you pray, she asks. Yes. Yes because it is what you are expected to say. And when your body is not tired but in love, you stay away because love does not entertain all these demands.

***

When you drop on the bed in your Dream World Hostel room after a long day, you want to be kind to your body. You want to make spicy tea and put together a good meal and maybe take a warm shower before drifting off into dreamless sleep. But before you do all this you start scrolling through Twitter and your body starts shutting down.

‘Maybe we are just sad beings looking for happiness in attention.’ A tweet from someone you have never followed catches your attention. You check out their profile. Their last tweet was, ‘Nurse AlabereAdekunle Gold. This song. You search for it on YouTube and you have it on repeat for the next two weeks.

You wonder if this person you are now following also feel a general frustration with the world, a sadness that has gone on for longer than it should. Or if lately, they feel like their heart has been displaced and it is trying to look for where it belongs but the place is occupied by something else they cannot find the energy to move.

At 22:28, your phone beeps. I miss you sooo much. How are you? And then it starts ringing. Tendo’s face lights it up while it vibrates in your hand. You saved his number with a yellow heart, a star and a sunflower back when you just met.

He asks you how your day has been and you tell him about your new favourite professors and the people who stay in the rooms across yours and how grateful you are they exist. They are great cooks and invite you over often. After a long rambling, there is nothing except the tapping on the keyboard on the other end of the line.

Aww. They are so cute, he says absentmindedly.

You go quiet. Two minutes of tapping.

You know you don’t have to call, you say.

What? Why do you say that? More tapping.

Because I feel a lack of interest from you.

He sighs and stops tapping. What do you mean?

You have been here before. It never ends. The hardest thing about falling out of love is trying to figure out which of you is slipping away from the other. You or him? Is there anything you can change? And you realise that maybe not. You no longer have the energy. Everything that once made you happy drains your soul. You hold onto memories and wish for them to come to life, will them to breathe and be the present. But even when you sleep, you can’t will a dream to go on after you wake. You sigh loudly. I’m going to sleep now, you say. Okay my dear, good night. The tapping resumes. You get off the line.

You fall asleep trying to hold onto yellow hearts and sunflowers and memories of three-hour calls when no one ever wanted to say good bye. You were falling in love.

***

When your body has something growing inside it, you want to pretend to be shocked. But see, some things can’t be wished away. A week passes. Two. And you know it. And it is not cancer or a tumour but another human being.

You are seated in a comfortable sofa opposite an evidently busy dark man who makes several phone calls before he turns his attention to you. Dr. Okot, the name on his white overcoat reads, is short and D-shaped in a way that makes his middle bulge out. He is unlike your father whose front is flat like a wall that is not smoothed out. He smells of masculine cologne that stays on everything he touches or leaves a trail where he’s been and makes you sneeze every so often. He turns off the air conditioner when you sneeze.

He asks again whether you are you are okay. You always choose the sofa directly opposite. It seems to be what is expected of you. He takes his time, looking at the notes he made from the last session and after a lengthy silence looks up with a smile on his face like you share some secret you don’t know about yet. How are you today, he asks as though expecting more than the half-hearted okay you always give.

The thing is, you do not want to talk about it. Not yet. But it is part of the services Churchill Road Clinic offers. The only one listed on the poster outside. It says Post Abortion Care. Not the abortion. No one lists that.

***

You never tell Tendo about it because you discover Tendo is a lecturer at the college and what kind of student falls in love with a lecturer if it is not for marks? It does not matter if they are not one of your own lecturers.

What kind of lecturer falls in love with a student if it is not to ‘use’ them especially if they are male? Never mind that you have not met them in a classroom.

Not really.

But this is how you fall out of love.

You don’t want to think about how it happened. He says maybe you should take it slow. What does that mean? Maybe you should be friends again. And your body shrieks with uncontrollable laughter. These things don’t make sense. They just happen. Yes, we shall be friends. Okay. But you delete his number even though you know it front to back.

What matters is that it was glorious. Tendo.

This is how you fall out of love.

 


Esther Mirembe (@subtle_royalty) is an editor at Writivism. She publishes her book reviews at https://subtleroyalty.wordpress.com.

This story was published in collaboration with Writivism. In 2012, the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) based in Kampala, Uganda, launched Writivism – an initiative that identifies, mentors and promotes emerging Africa-based writers, and hosts an annual literary festival in Kampala. In 2017, Writivism celebrated its fifth anniversary and to celebrate this milestone, the initiative, in partnership with the University of Bristol, is publishing an anniversary anthology of short fiction by emerging Ugandan writers. The project involved creative writing workshops which were held in the summer of 2017 in Kampala and Gulu as the basis from which the anthology was developed. The special anthology contains writing by 18 young Ugandan authors and can be purchased HERE.

Related country: Uganda

All rights to this story remain with the author. Please do not repost or reproduce this material without permission.