Lillian Tindyebwa holds an MA in Literature from Makerere University. She is a founder member of FEMRITE.
She is also the Executive Director of Uganda Faith Writers Association, a Christian based writing organisation. She is a published author. Her first novel is a story entitled Recipe For Disaster is published by Fountain Publishers and is used as a reader in secondary schools in Uganda.
Lillian is married to Stephen and they have five children. She lives in Kampala, Uganda.
The Secrets of the Journey (novel extract)
He uttered it as if someone had hit him on the back and forced it to come out of his mouth. It was a loaded word, carrying loads of revulsion and disgust. It landed in my ear with a thud and I turned to look. He was sitting on his chair. It was a foldable chair with a canvass like cloth stretching from where his legs folded to where his head rested, and wooden arm rests. A relic from the colonial times, for sure. It was supposed to have cushions but it did not have any more. He sat straight in it, like a chief ready to give instructions to his expectant subject. He had that look that he only had mastered, dark, mask like, unreachable.
That was the first time I heard of that name. He had just uttered it for the first time in my hearing…. My father’s nick name!
It was a Saturday in November of 1979. My father was not around at the time my grandfather referred to him using the nickname. We were at grandmother’s house, as we used to do every weekend. She had served us some matooke cooked in cow ghee and fresh mushrooms that they had picked from the bush on the upper slope of the hill behind the kraal earlier that morning. My cousins Kebi, Nasani and Birunga whose home was near grandma’s, told me that they had woken up that morning to find the mushrooms hand sprouted all over the upper side covering a patch of about thirty metres. I was lucky because I loved their delicious taste.
I must have been about five years old then. Many things I remember seem to date back to that time and not earlier. We used to go to grandma and grandfather every Friday and we would stay there till Sunday. We would walk the ten kilometer, although my mother knew of many shortcuts that would lessen the journey. By then my mother was still teaching as a primary school teacher before my father made a spectacle that led to her decision to quit teaching. A decision she later regretted.
Every Friday afternoon, my mother would come from school at lunchtime and have our lunch quickly and set off, but my father never came with us. In most cases she would then leave us there and go back home and she would pick us again on Sunday. But once in a while she would stay for a night or throughout, the weekend, although this was rare. My grandmother wanted us to be with her. Period. And my mother had to comply. My grandmother was like that. Except when the time for going back home came; I remember she would hold on to us as if she was afraid of letting us go.
One other reason I used to love going to grandmother’s place was because it was near Lake Rweshama. Later when I was older I was allowed to walk the two kilometers, with my cousins and we would swim in shallow side which was more like a swamp but was the lakeside. I learned to swim during those visits to my grandmother’s place.
My grandfather was a dark skinned man, tall with deep dark eyes that seemed to search for something elusive as he never seemed to focus on something for more than a second. He rarely laughed and when he talked it was short and mostly critical of something. He seemed to find fault everywhere. When something was funny he would let off a trace of a smile. Sometimes he would pass us as if he did not see us. Then my grandma would send us to greet him. We would kneel in front of him and greet him and he would answer without looking at us. After the greeting we would just go back to grandmother or go outside to play with our cousins and other children that were always at grandmother’s house. She never tried to explain to us why he was like that until I found out, all about their life together, and that was after her death.
So this particular journey was the first time we had traveled with our father to our grandfather’s house.
Grandfather was suffering from an illness. His stomach could swell at times and when that happened, he would just lie on his bed and groan in pain. They would call a local herbalist to attend to him.
He was not sick this time round but he had just recovered the last attack of the illness and looked more weakened than I had ever seen him. He looked as if he was tired all the time. That was probably why my father had agreed to come because during the last illness, it was believed that he would not pull through, but he had. I and my sister Shemeza overheard him and my mother arguing about his refusal to go and see grandfather. He had got angry and had shouted at my mother to keep away from his family business. But we were surprised to see him join us as we were setting off that afternoon.
We all walked together all the way, but on reaching the Shaho Trading centre , my father stayed there. This was the trading centre that served the villages and was about two kilometers from grandmother’s home. It consisted of two uneven lines of shops with rusted iron sheet roofs; one row on either side of the dirt road. At times, during our visits, grandmother would send my cousin Nasani, who was about eleven years old then, to buy paraffin, matchboxes and tomatoes in the early evening and he would accept to take me and my sister Shemeza along with him. The sand coloured structures when seen in the semi darkness of the night, to my frightened childish eyes, looked like the herds of elephants that once roamed the area, and the ones that my grandmother told us about in her stories.
This excerpt is from the first part of the novel which is still work-in-progress. The working title of the novel is Secrets of the Journey. The narrator is a girl called Shimme. The novel is based on her life as it is affected by family problems and secrets. This particular piece opens when Shimme and her sister and mother are at grand parents’ home. This is when she begins to notice the cold relationship between her father and her grandfather, when she hears the grandfather refer to her father who is his son, using a bad nickname. She also tells us that he never goes to his parents’ home despite the fact that his wife takes the children there every weekend, without fail.
Her grandmother is a matriarch and she has put regulations which are followed without question. And this weekend visit is one of those regulations. She insists on the closeness of her grand children through their mother. When they are going she holds on to them, what is she afraid of? Her own son never comes home and her husband refers to his son with disgust. Her husband does not share her excessive love for the grandchildren.
One of the cultural aspects explored within this section is the family relationship. Despite the fact that their father is alienated from his parents, his children are at home with the grandmother. The children’s relationship to the elders like kneeling to greet their grandfather is an example of the respect; and Shimme’s mother’s commitment to the instructions of her mother in law. Impending death of a parent is regarded with seriousness because it is believed that his anger can transcend the grave. That is why Shimme’s father, after a hot argument with his wife accepts to go home, before his father dies.
Looking for My Mother is published by FEMRITE Publications in an anthology entitled A Woman’s Voice.
Hard Times is also published by FEMRITE in another anthology entitled Stories From the Granary.
One day in the Classroom is a short story published in FEMRITE children anthology entitled The Butterfly Dance.
Dancing with A Wolf is a true story about a woman living with AIDS and published by FEMRITE in an anthology entitled I Dare To Say.
Beyond the Music and the Dance and Mocked by Fate, Beyond the Dance, 2009.
A Time to Remember, Macmillan Publishers, 2008.
Maggie’s Friends, Macmillan Publishers, 2008.
A Will to Win, Macmillan Publishers, 2008.