Silence is the mother of whatever lives. We sat in close proximity, my mother and I, my heart racing and sweat exiting in multiplied cadence. Darkness, my father, enveloped us with indifferent coldness.
I could still hear the giant orange flames ravaging, devouring anything that had form with dedicated dexterity. Nothing remained. Kimberly’s shrill voice was piercing through the layers of blaze, calling me to help her.
Her lovely eyes, lovely as a freshly baked cake were melting in their sockets, and the lips that had once soothed me were red and yellow blisters licking the lava to their fill. The legs that had warmed me and held me tight as I shuddered to the finish line were charred bones twisted in unnatural angles, their owner screaming over and over again: please save me, Ray. Please save me.
“Why are you walking around the house naked?” asked a voice and I rubbed my eyes open to an equally naked Helen, her tired eyes focusing on a marketing report she was to hand in in about three weeks. Her owlish ways had stuck from years of juggling two jobs and a degree at a go. With the heat in the house and Geranium quietly locked in her bedroom, I was used to her spending hours in nothing but her skin.
I suppressed a yawn as I made myself a rosemary tea, my hand shaking so much I placed the cup a little too hard on the counter. Soon a mahogany liquid was seeping through the crack. Helen’s stare was so hard it made me shake even harder. She came from the side of the table where she was and ran her eyes down my body, her scrutinizing gaze resting for a moment on my expanded steel bar, as she called it when she was happier. Her hand rested on my sweated breast and I shuddered.
“You look very weird, you know?”
“I had a nightmare”
“Which kind? Had I left you?”
“Get dressed. And dress up Gege. We’re getting out of here.”
“Not with my steel bar you’re not.” She rubbed her soft hand down my flanks until she pulled at my already stretched penile skin. Her warm fingers started rubbing my now stiff muscle and gently rotating it round to the left and then to the right. A wave of raw excitement washed over me and I momentarily forgot about my deadly visions.
Distant vagabond dogs howled and howled as I ran my hands through Helen's hair, her lolling tongue setting my entire being on fire. The way her cheek muscles pompadoured me and the back of her throat caressed me, I could do anything for her. And there I was, minutes later, listening to her orgasmic cries which sounded like Kimberly’s, and suddenly I was back. Back to my head.
Gently holding her, trying so hard to resist the mounting pleasure, I pulled away and fled to the bedroom with her at my heels. When she positioned herself on the bed with spread legs and started rubbing her nipples I knew I wouldn’t make it. I pounced on her and didn’t stop until I felt the orgasmic shudders, real ones, go through her body. She looked sated and satisfied. And ready to sleep. I threw on a pair of jeans and a sweater and grabbed the car keys.
“Where are you going?” Helen’s voice was deep with sleep, “It’s two a.m”
“Get dressed, dress up Gege and see what you can put in your car.
For a woman who smells as nice as Kimberly I could do many things, I could forego many comforts to make her comfortable. She discovered my weakness quite early and rode on it till she was a citizen in my life and I could not disentangle from her. A woman of beautiful smells, Kimberly.
I would have loved to see what age does to her beautiful face, how the wrinkles neatly arrange themselves around her soft large amber eyes, masses of folded skin lacing her skull as evidence that she’s been submitted to Queen Sun for a long time. And yeah, I would have loved to taste her again.
Buzzing moths were frantically tapping at her window, desperately hoping, like me, to be let in. For close to twenty minutes I sat in my car, mother not far away, looking at Kimberly’s window and wondering what to do. With my windscreen rolled down and the breeze peacefully caressing me, the mosquitoes had the day’s dinner. The tears slowly slipped out of my skull.
Kimberly had been my girl. My very first girl. We were two broke kids trying so hard to graduate and get jobs to bail our families out of poverty. Often we sat on those benches outside the lecture room after eight p.m with a large book on our laps, her hand in my trousers, mine in her dress. We cooked noodles in her room down Banda slum and bought roadside chicken and told silly jokes about each other. We promised to never leave each other, unless Keith Urban fell in love with her. And after we would get back together.
My phone was ringing furiously, and there were already eight text messages. Helen was demanding to know where I was, what was going on. I switched it off and threw it in the back of the car. As a sign of revolt I stepped out of the car and walked straight to Kimberly’s door. I knocked frantically, my heart pumping like a boy asking his crash out for the very first time.
It then dawned on me how stupid I was banging at a girl’s door in the middle of the night. She must have seen me from her window, because I soon heard light footsteps and a voice clearing on the other side of the door.
“What is the problem, Ray? What are you doing here at this hour?”
Her husky voice took me three years back to when we would compare teeth and sing Cop car off beat and throw bread crumbs all over each other. That voice many times argued with me over betting a lot of money and eating way too much too late.
She opened the curtains and thanks to the glass casement I could make out a form. A long night robe and tousled hair. I could also see a heaving chest. I knew she could see me, and for a moment I stared at the figure that had been and still was a thorn in my flesh, the thorn that I loved more than my flesh.
“There’s a fire” I said, trying hard to contain my heavy heart. The knob clicked as the key turned and the door opened. She drew me into the house and locked it right away. We stood close to each other, me cold, sweaty and bitten, her warm and fresh and comfortable. I could smell the olive oil on her skin and my instinct told me her nipples were hard.
She walked into the kitchen and I followed her. It was larger than mine and smelled of butter. She must have fried some eggs with butter a few hours before, it used to be her favorite meal. She switched on the lights just as the tears overcame me. I tried desperately hard to sniff them back. What was she like now?
“It’s almost three a.m, Ray. What brings you here? What has happened?”
She was even more beautiful than she was three years ago, despite the fear courtailed with desire that she was unsuccessfully trying to mask. Suddenly my arms were holding her tightly to my chest and I was whispering into her ear.
“Mummy where are you?” A soft voice said and Kimberly violently pushed me away and adjusted her nightgown. My heart shattered into a million pieces when a male young version of Kimberly, about two and a half to three years, staggered into the kitchen, the front of his pyjamas wet. Kimberly carried him away, and for five minutes I cursed ever turning my back on her.
“Listen, Ray,” she started when she came back, “I don’t even when know why I let you in. As you can see this is a bad time…”
“There’s a fire Kimberly”
“Yes. A fire is going to break out here, it’s going to burn everything in this town. Everyone”
“You must come with me. Believe me. It sounds weird and s-strange but I promise you a fire is going to break out. Everyone is going to die. You cannot stay here one moment longer. Please pack your bags right away.”
She stared at me for a moment, then scratched her hair unconvincingly. Her eyes then darted about before she crossed her arms on her chest.
“What exactly do you want, Ray?”
“Kim, if you’ve never believed me, believe me this time. A large large fire is coming upon this town. You…”
“Believe you? You promised to never leave me but you did exactly that at the slightest chance. Why would I ever believe you? You didn’t even give me a chance to explain myself. You’re a selfish pig Ray. Showing up here at this time proves that. You abandon me, you haunt me and then you show up at my house in the middle of the night drunk!”
How do you explain to the woman you love that you impregnated a girl the same time you were dating her and that the girl’s military family demanded you marry her? How do you tell a woman who thinks you abandoned her that you dream about her every night and have her photos secretly stashed in your computer?
“I never abandoned you.”
“I love you Kim. And indeed there’s going to be a fire!”
“You’re drunk. Get out of here.”
“I’m not drunk!” I breathed into her. “See? I’m not drunk!”
“I’m calling the police”
“Listen to me, I got a vision. A real vision. The entire town had caught fire and you were burning to death. I wailed and wailed in the vision and as soon as it was done I came to save you. You were begging me to save you. I’m now here. Give me that phone!” I grabbed her mobile phone, removed the battery and threw it in the dustbin.
“Not unless you come with me”
I didn’t see the thermos flask coming, but it landed on my head and she ran and locked herself in the bedroom. I soon heard her make another call from another phone. I stormed out. My car was colder than a tomb.
Mr. Kasibante’s cry sounded more like a bleat. A desperate bleat. It didn’t make matters any better that he didn’t look much different from a goat. As I watched the blade of the flame cut through him I couldn’t help remembering the years he spent poring over Yeats and Cocteau, the wife he battered and publicly humiliated, the daughters he worshipped with undulating devotion.
His multilingual brain was now not any different from ash, his mahogany bed the skewer on which he was served. His wife was a motionless log clamped around another little motionless log. The worshipped daughters were writhing, pleading, praying. Their waist-length weaves and Mary Kay foundation could not help them. All the bottles of Dom Perignom and Moët could not quench their thirst.
Even the villagers who had always lurked, driven by their hatred for anything Kasibante were cheated of their opportunity to loot when the fire surprised them in their fields and workshops, colliding beast and man in desperate search of escape. Mugurusi’s cattle were roasted beyond recognition, beyond recognition that they were roasted meat.
Mugurusi’s wife turned to her lover for one last embrace before she transformed into a ghost, glad to finally have the chance to haunt her husband without the police coming after her. The embraced lover held onto the begrudged wife, breathing in as much of her as possible before his lungs filled up with the entire village’s smoke.
The village bakery was lent a good share of heat to bake all its food in seconds, and the mattress shops boiled and boiled with no one to hear the sound they made.
Sakira, the apparent most beautiful girl in Rwebisenga was screaming like a siren, and the Barbie-like legs which had given warmth to half the village were kicking frantically. The poor thing had spent a fortune bleaching her skin only to end up purple. And now she was the color of coal.
I had something (very small) for Sakira back in high school but per penchant for all trousers turned me off. If she had been as generous to her head as she was with her body, and if she hadn’t treated melanin as an enemy, maybe she would have seen better trousers, from better parts of the world.
As the days of my childhood became chaff before my eyes and everything called home dissolved with all its loves and heartaches, all its memories and joys and pains, I let out a loud bitter cry, wondering why one of the bats flying above couldn’t take me along. Nothing I ever did in my life could help me. Nothing could bring back Kimberly or Sakira or everyone I loved. Nothing could save me.
6 a.m found me at Sakira’s door. I desperately wanted to touch her, just to be sure that she was alive. I don’t like her really but I would participate in negotiations to keep her alive. She’s not entirely a loss to Rwebisenga; her tourist attraction qualities do bring in some revenue.
As expected she was still asleep, but I banged the door until she opened. She was wearing a man’s T-shirt and the blond weave on her head made me think of Sharpay from High school musical. Her eyes had bougies in the corners and the mouth had dried drool on the sides.
“What is it?” she asked without interest.
“There’s going to be a fire here, you must get out now.”
Sakira stretched while yawning, the T-shirt sliding upwards, revealing what looked like a recently waxed crotch and the caramel tip of her long pleasure button. I’m not a prude so I did not pretend to look away, but couldn’t help wondering up to what point she had bleached.
Would a clitoris maintain it’s sensitivity if subjected to years of mercury and hydroquinone? Sakira seemed not to notice me. She yawned again and cleared her eyes. She stared at me like a lost kitten, then realisation dawned.
“Ray! What are you doing here at this time?”
“Sakira you need to dress up and leave this place immediately! There’s going to be a fire!”
“They bought a fire brigade?”
“A fire is going to break out here. Don’t ask me how. If you want to live, you must leave now!”
“Oh, Ray,” she sighed, “Are you starting your movie things again?”
She ran her hand through her plastic hair and again I didn’t pretend to look away. She casually walked in and closed the door behind her. About five minutes later she opened her window and asked:
“You didn’t come for something else Ray?”
The goat -like face stared at me suspiciously, I could even say bitterly. No one appreciates being uprooted from their bedroom by some red-eyed screenwriter claiming strange things.
“What exactly do you want, young man?” Mr. Kasibante asked the question condescendingly, just like he always did with people with lesser zeros on their bank statements. He strongly disapproved of my work, seeing I was the only person here to ever sell a script to a big company and have my film produced in the USA.
He always castigated me for promoting nudity in the African woman and for promoting western culture. And then on he went, how we fell in love with our aggressor. We embraced our rapist and kissed him tenderly like a dedicated virgin bride. I wanted to ask him why he spent years learning French and Russian, and why he is so proud of his impeccable English. And did I teach his daughters to twerk and wear lipstick and dye their hair red? Did I teach them to wear the bikini and crop tops and high heels?
In all honesty it would have been better for everyone if Mr. Kasibante did not survive the fire, but I felt for his poor wife and his rather rotten daughters who seemed like they could be salvaged, and the poor little grandson that one of the rottens had dumped there.
“Sir, I just wanted to warn you that there’s going to be a fire here. It would be better if you left as soon as you can.”
Mr. Kasibante jeered, looking very disgusted by me.
“Young man, after drinking the entire night, the best place to go to is your house. Do not move around vomiting absurdities to respectable people.”
I gave one look at the largest house in Rwebisenga as I walked away and saw Mrs. Kasibante gazing longingly, a sad longing, out the window.
Mugurusi was whistling and staring at the horizon, his cattle grazing peacefully. He too looked at me with suspicion and didn’t respond to a single thing I said. I found his wife at home and she was very offended when I turned down her offer of breakfast. She listened and said she would surely leave the town, she just needed to finish a few things. I knew so well what those “few things” were.
When I reached home it was 8:42a.m. Helen was still in bed, but Geranium was walking around aimlessly, chewing at an orange. She ran to me when she saw me.
“Angel, did you sleep well?” I carried her and held her to my chest, breathing in the coconut oil from her hair.
“Now you’ll do daddy a favor and pack all your clothes.”
“All my clothes?”
“Yes angel, put them all and all your dolls in your suitcase.”
“All my clothes? All of them?”
“Yes, all of them.”
“So how can you be so sure that a fire is breaking out?”
“I had a vision.”
“Do you usually have visions?”
“Yeah, I mean no. I do get visions from time to time and they usually come true.”
I had the lady on the other side say:
“It’s one of these mushrooming prophets.” The line went dead.
NTV thanked me for the call but did not promise to be there. So did NBS and Bukedde. I emailed the BBC and CNN. And every other big media house I could find.
I hope this finds you well. As of now, in the next 24 hours a large fire like none ever seen in history is going to break out in Rwebisenga, western Uganda, East Africa. I thought you might like to get the news in its rawest form, first hand. You might even like to interview some people before the incident.
I’ve attached “before” photos of the village, so that you can see what damage has been done.
I’m not sure how news reporters are contacted in such circumstances but I sent that email to any news house I could find. I called in on many local radio stations and presenters boldly hang up on me or treated me like poor old Jack stuck alone in his house, calling the radio just to hear someone’s voice.
Helen was now eating a yoghurt while watching The Kampalans in Love, totally comfortable in her Nytil mid-thigh T-shirt.
By 1:00pm the engine was revving. Helen was besides me, only because we agreed on a $100 bet should the fire not come through. She was glad to make an extra buck. Geranium was playing Pou on my phone and excited about the whole idea of a fire. Would superman come to save the people? The trunk was full of books and DVDs and our wedding photos, my lucky shirt and Paco Rabanne perfume. Helen’s car was full of the suitcases and Geranium’s toys and books, driven by the driver.
My jaws were grinding and my throat was suddenly tight. The more I looked at Geranium, the more I saw Kimberly and her son. Those eyes were the same as Geranium’s. Even the way he had said “mummy”
Two and a half hours of driving away from impending death and I turned the car in a sudden move that Helen and Geranium hit their heads on the windscreen.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m going back.”
“You dumbass! Idiot! The fire will kill us!!”
“The fire? So now you believe there’s a fire?”
“Don’t be sarcastic! You cannot turn back. Think about Gege!”
As I drove past excited holiday makers heading for the video libraries and farmers transporting the days produce to the markets, I wondered who would eat all that Matooke. No one would be there to watch the stocked up movies. Helen continued to yell and threaten to jump out of the car as Geranium sobbed, clutching her Teddy bear.
Once at Kimberly’s I did not knock. I just broke inside and a spoon of purée froze right in front of a surprised toddler. I picked the little boy from his seat and held him tight to my chest. As he screamed in terror I recognized that scent, the mouth, the way the voice came out of the throat. Kimberly did not deny it.
“Grab your most important documents, this town down yesterday.”
I ran into the car with the screaming boy and a minute later Kimberly ran out of the house, holding a travellers’ bag and a collection of colored panties and bras falling out of her hand as she struggled to keep them there. She didn’t bother to lock, the looter would be charred long before he reached her nest.
It was a vipers’ nest in the car. I could see it in Helen’s face, if the fire didn’t catch up with me Helen surely would. As the sun roasted harder and boiled the sewage in the pipes underneath, melting the rubber band on my wrist and provoking people to undress, I wept for the town that bore me and pleaded with Mother Nature to be kinder.
This was not just Rwebisenga, Mother Nature was angrier than that. As the four voices around me chorused in terrified screams I smiled in spite of myself. I never knew that I would spend my last moment as a human with both the women I love, and with both my children.