It was the Monday after they buried my grandmother. My grandmother, mother of my mother, also mother of my child. For there are no great grandmothers in my culture. She, whose elbow wrinkles are my fondest of childhood memories. How I loved to play my fingers through them as I dozed off in her bed at night. She, who encouraged me to play court assessor at the age of five. When my peers brought cases before her, she allowed me to silence their bickering with my own presentation of the facts of the case. “X started it all by abusing Y. Y retaliated by punching X. That is when the fight broke out. But I think Y is in the wrong because he punched X when X had only abused him.” She would then pronounce her punishment and close court with a serious recommendation to me – “You should be a lawyer when you grow up.” Maybe I will get around to that one day.
She is in nearly every pre-teen school holiday memory. There she is quietly tip-toeing towards a circle of my late teen cousins who are engrossed in a game of Ludo. She holds a stick held behind her. Earlier in the day they committed offenses that needed to be punished but she is far too old to run after them and they definitely wouldn’t volunteer to lie down for the caning. Still, she is going to administer her punishment one way or the other. Perhaps by sneaking a stroke of the cane any time she catches one of them off guard.
I have just turned teenager and again she is there. This time she is tanking down a handful of drugs and nutritional supplements left behind by my uncle who recently died of AIDS. “Why would you do that?” someone asks. “Do you have the same illness he had?”
She sniggers back, “Is there an illness in the world that I don’t have? Every part of my body is in pain.” All those left over drugs somehow found their place in her blood stream and left her no worse for it.
She is there in my adult life too. Old, exhausted and nearly crippled by a bone disease she has battled for more than 30 years. She lies on her bed at my mothers’ home fending off family members who come in to congratulate her for living through the past year. “Leave me alone. Go away. Like I wanted to live into another year!”
In better spirited days, she listens to CBS and Radio Simba, taking mental notes to follow up on later with her those that are more connected with the world. One day she asks me, “In America, there used to live black people called abaniguro. What happened to them?” Eager to inform, I launch into a civic education class using (then presidential candidate) Barack Obama to illustrate that negroes still exist in America. She cuts me short saying, “Not like him. I hear his mother was a mzungu and his father a Kenyan. Abaniguro were black like you and me. Descendants of the slaves from Africa.”
It was the Monday after they buried my grandmother. My grandmother, mother of my mother, the oldest feminist I ever knew. After overcoming the ecstasy of meeting my daughter the very first time, she asked me if I would be marrying the father. I told her I wouldn’t. This woman born sometime around 1916 in a nomadic community out west said to me, “That, if you have thought it out, works, too.” She said she too had entertained the thought for herself and when she did go into marriage, she vowed to herself, “If ever the man beats me even once, I will walk out and never return or marry again.” Thank goodness my grandfather was a progressive, kind and gentle Christian. Otherwise, I would never have come to be.
It was the Monday after they buried my grandmother. My grandmother, mother of my mother, a constant in my life story. I got out of a taxi along Kampala road. Like a heap of shit thrown into my face, the world outside that taxi hit me. The touts were calling on. People were rushing on to their deals. The billboard models were smiling on. The traffic officer was waving on. I wanted to cross the street but couldnt. They would not let me cross the street because traffic was dangerously whizzing on. Life was going on, on the Monday after they buried my grandmother. What shit is that?
Lydia Namubiru blogs at lydianamubiru.blogspot.com if you would like to read more from her