I met my husband on my wedding day. I’m not from the fifties. Not at all. Not even from the sixties. I was born in 1995. My wedding was in 2017, just a month before I could turn twenty-two. Peach rare orchids, lots of roses, golden flowing dresses from the eight girls around me, heavy matte lipstick, a skin that has been scrubbed with aloe vera and all manner of herbs. Smile, you must keep smiling.
My maid of honor, Lulu, told me. She seemed to be happier for me than I was for myself. Her skin smelt of glycerin each time she came close. And Lulu knows I’m allergic to glycerin. I couldn’t stop sneezing.
Come on, babe, smile. It’s not your funeral.
I’m trying, I said, flashing my best smile.
The lace bodice was gripping my apple-like breasts firmly, distinguishing my tiny waist perfectly well. That was probably the only thing that made me want to smile; the lace. Royals get married in lace. But why I had said yes to this marriage, I was still wondering.
In the next two minutes we shall go in, Lulu said excitedly, arranging my veil for the umpteenth time.
And please try to stop sneezing, you’re going to look horrible with red eyes. People might think you were forced.
Maybe I was forced.
“Here comes the bride” was beginning to play. Everyone was standing. My heart was jumping wildly in my chest. The tears were threatening to fall out. Oh God, why? Why was I ever this foolish? How can I walk into the lion’s den eyes wide open?
You look beautiful, Lulu said flashing her large smile..
She was coming closer again. Something, a strand, was out of place. I was sneezing again.
My goodness what will I do with you? I won’t keep passing you the hankie as you say your vows! Stop sneezing! Girls, don’t forget to smile. If any of you catches our dear bride’s eye, make a very funny face at her.
The girls were giggling like little squirrels. I didn’t even know them, apart from one. Kelly. The dumbest of them all. It was a pity Grace was her other name. We were standing at the end of the isle, me with no one to walk me down but Lulu quasi-doing that job walking behind me. My maids were leaving behind them remnants of their ephemeral cheap scents in the air.
Like a lost phantom I stood, my trembling hands clutching the orchids tightly as though they were some magic portion that would lead me to my next world. The first quaver of “Here comes the bride” faded into its dying bars. My legs were stuck deep into the floor not even a grader could uproot me.
Go! Lulu barked, a whispery bark that could not have been heard by anyone one centimeter away.
Come on, Julia, stop wasting time. Move.
Nothing was moving. I could feel a prodding in the small of my back. She was pocking me with the rear side of her bouquet. Soon she had her arm in mine. Pulling at me gently and sweetly. With a sweet smile. The cameras were rolling.
They were all standing; I could see them from the back of my organza veil with lace lining. Aunt Bea, in her brand-new sparkly royal blue gomesi. Aunt Rachel, Aunt Andrea, Uncle Job with his leg that still had a cast from falling on one of his clandestine wanderings. At the farthest end of the isle on the second pew stood my mother, three-quarters in the isle, staring at me like I was about to jump off a sky-scrapper.
Her Turquoise gomesi was brand-new, straight from Magoba plaza. I’d chosen it myself. The red clutch-bag in her left hand was trembling; even from this far I could see it. Her hand was clutching the order-of-service booklet, fanning herself vigorously and rhythmically with it.
Our eyes met for a while, and she commandingly held my eye. It was very severe and threatening, the blaze in her eyes. Get your little but down here, young girl, it screamed.
She suddenly fanned herself a little too hard that the booklet hit her right on the mouth, smudging her bright crimson lipstick onto her right cheek.
Lulu pushed the maids to go on ahead of me, and the guests nodded and smiled, glad the little confusion was over. Everyone silently agreed that they would forget about it. I watched the eight pairs of butts sail their way to the altar and wished those girls had an idea how epitome they were of everything unreal. Brazilian hair, re-drawn eye-brows, fake cheekbones, fake eyelashes. Fake smiles even.
The hardest part is over now, Lulu was saying. Three, two, one, move.
Julia what is wrong? Why are you stuck everyone is looking at you. Move now.
He was right there, wearing a white suit. Then that fitting trouser clinging onto his strong thigh like how a stocking clings onto a foot. His stomach was slightly going over his belt but he was perfectly tall with a perfect haircut that the stomach could be forgiven. His face was a work of art, the jaws carefully chiseled, eyes pristinely crafted. Small and deep, but strong and disconcerting. He was looking at me. Into my eyes. He was smiling.
He reached into his pocket for his phone and soon he had it focused on me. A video, a photo, I don’t know which. Goodness not with this stupid look on my face. I flashed my best smile ever, and he soon showed his thumb as he closed his phone and put it back in his thigh pocket.
Oh my God! Oh my God! OH! MY! GOD! Lulu was screaming. Everyone was screaming and running towards me as I crumbled onto the floor, orchids flying and following me downwards, a little girl in a white sparkly dress running and catching them excitedly. If it was true that the one who caught the bride’s bouquet was the next one to get married, then a wedding desert was really falling upon Kampala.
She fainted! Get away from her! My mum was screaming. The way she ran from that pew at the front would have been great if watched in slow motion. I really hoped the videographer had not focused all his apparels on me.
Fuck! Lulu was muttering right behind me. I knew she would blow it!
Screw you Lulu. I said in my heart.
Drake stood right there, I could smell his perfume, that Paco Rabane that proved to you that he was a man who shopped from Europe. Western Europe, to be exact. For close to a minute I inhaled that woody perfume, until I finally felt his arms carry me, my five meter train sweeping the church floor as we headed out, the entire congregation following us and muttering oh-my-Gods.
Oh, how hard it was to keep my eyes closed. I bet Drake could see my pupils dancing under the mauve eyelids. Maybe he was just focused on where the damn car was and how fast we could get to hospital and how the hell I had fainted on of all days today. I was dying to see his face. There was nothing Drake hated more than carrying a woman.
Thank God for Limousines. I was soon inside, arranged onto one side, drake next to me making my head rest on his lap.
My mother. Lulu. Kelly. Jasmine the wedding planner. Drake’s best man. I couldn’t quite remember his name. They were all packed in the car. Concerned guests were clutching their hands in prayer. In shock. In glee, for my stepmother. And maybe other girls, who knows? A girl has no enemies until she’s a bride.
Lulu suggested that they open up my dress, and I suddenly opened my eyes, really wanting to see the effect of this suggestion on my mother’s face. Eyes of a tigress. Of a viper. Red claws charging. Lulu’s eyes were those of an angry vulture. Oh, please, fight. Please!
Julia! She woke up! Drake was shaking me, placing a thousand wet kisses on my forehead. The very first time his saliva ever touched me. Of course, he had to pull the romantic act in front of everyone.
Oh, my angel you’re up! Thank God! My mom was shedding tears. Thank God we hadn’t yet gone. Get her a glass of water and we shall be back to the church.
I’m sorry mum, I said in my heart. She was the only person I owed this wedding. I clutched my stomach and groaned, squeezing my eyes as hard as I could. I was retching, and something told me that as soon as I was done here I would audition for “The Kampalans in the love.”
Get her some water, mum was yelling as Kelly, Grace Kelly, was expelled from the Limousine.
I don’t feel well mum, please take me to the hospital. I pleaded.
You just have wedding jitters my dear, you’ll be fine after drinking some water.
You don’t want to know what I imagined, but I was able to vomit on Drake’s Italian shoes, and all over my three-meter veil which was then on the car floor. My mother literally run out of the car. Drake attempted to stand up and suppressed a jeer as he kicked off his shoes and sat at the extreme end, squeezing Lulu and Jasmine, who were already giving each other suggestive looks of who should clean up. It ended in Jasmine saying her contract didn’t include mopping vomit. Consequently she jumped out of the car.
The car started. Drake said to go to Case clinic. We went to Case clinic.
Sky blue curtains, large windows and a balcony overlooking the Nakasero part of Kampala, the state house not very far away. A soft comfy bed, air conditioning, wonderful beef, I wanted to be a patient forever. It was a pity that I had to maintain a frown on my face. I had to show that I was in pain. It was equivalent to grimacing while chewing on a chocolate bar.
My mother was pacing about, her heavy garments hissing and rustling, her nose dripping. She kept sniffing and blowing her nose. The desire to laugh was burning relentlessly, but I had to contain it with the resilience of one who’s ever suffered from diarrhea.
The curse, she was muttering, this curse must have been brought by your step-mother. Your step mother is such an evil woman she never wanted you to get married. Oh, Julia, what shall we do now? We must revenge on that woman.
Quit talking nonsense, I finally spoke, glancing at the little needle in my arm. She wouldn’t do anything to me with that drip flowing into me. Too bad all the tests were going to come back negative.
Mum suddenly turned from the corner she was and stood still like a pole, then briskly walked towards me, lips trembling with the strong effort to contain her anger. Her eyes were sparkling with passion, her cheeks twitching. She looked at me, unable to say a word, trembling so much until I could see her clenched teeth, her eyes narrowed as she slowly moved closer and closer. In one sweep of arm she yanked the needle out of my arm, and in the next one her heavy jewel-accentuated hand landed on my face.
Don’t you dare shed a tear, hypocrite! She said as another slap, heavier than the first, landed on the same cheek. Tears were flowing down her cheeks now, her entire body shaking in sync with her cries.
Everything I’ve done for you, you ingrate! This is how you pay me!
How? I wanted to ask. I dared not. She must have read my mind, because more slaps descended down my face. A violent wave was rushing through my being, on the verge of pouring out. My teeth were equally clenched. My eyes bulged. Why the hell was she slapping me?
How will I live with the shame? She spat the words out like some disgusting thing. Her face showed utter disgust.
How about me, mum, don’t I deserve to be happy?
Stupid girl! Just shut up!
He was cheating, mum. He had a girlfriend, some lousy bitch called rat-face. She looked like a rat and rattled like a starting engine when she laughed. Believe me mum. He was cheating.
Mum suddenly stopped trembling and stood still, staring at me with a lopsided smile, eyes filled with contempt. I could read everything she had to say on her face.
When she spoke she spoke very slowly and her voice had gone octaves lower;
Don’t you know that no man has one woman? How could you be so stupid as to do such an unheard of thing? And vomiting on his shoes!
Well you wouldn’t listen to me. I had to get out of there by all means!
My stare was so deep in her eyes that she turned away, lest I force open her soul and reveal its contents. That woman knew exactly how my father had exited. I must have been six or seven, but I remember those sobs like it was yesterday. I can’t stand his infidelity, she would scream into the phone. I can’t stand his coldness. And he beats me.
I can’t stand it anymore! Then one day she came home sobbing, hugging me tight, but not Kelly. Kelly was the only stepchild that my mother had accepted to house. She said most of the others were born from prostitutes. She was hugging me tight and telling me a woman had to do what she had to do, but we would be fine. He was gone but we would be fine.
He was found in a cheap lodge, stabbed in the chest, an animal-print G-string tightly noosed around his neck. Apparently a pair of legs had to be opened several times for several officers and lawyers, and the case suddenly ended without suite.
The more I stared into her now crimson eyes the more she turned away, probably reading what was going on in my mind. At this moment I felt like I was the one slapping her. She suddenly moved to the window and wiped the curtains aside and stared out. She was silent for a long time, twenty minutes about, and then she briskly walked out of the room.
It was that cold Saturday evening suddenly, fourteen months ago. I was holding a bottle of Smirnoff, trying to dance despite the cold. Ofeshe was playing on the loud speakers and girls were screaming. He was behind me, holding me by the hips and crushing me against him. He was bending me over, yelling over to his friends to take a photo of him like that, and one million flashes were clicking away.
Twenty minutes later he was saying he wasn’t such a good dancer after all and could we please sit. More Smirnoffs and Nyama Choma were arriving on our table. We talked about how cold it was and how he hated Nigerian music, what all the hype was and didn’t Eddie Kenzo look Rwandan, what. I was affirmative to everything he said, and didn’t he think we should go home.
His name was Everest. His business card was safely tucked in my purse. A university student must collect as many contacts as she can.
A few weeks after I was sitting on the couch next to him, his hand over my shoulder. There were four other guys in there. One was really large and tall, the others slim. But tall. And they had fancy accents. Definitely not home-grown. They were commenting and causing over a particular player who kept missing goals on TV.
Fred, Skill, Luke and Drake. Everest introduced them. They nodded, swiftly turning back to the match. We ordered from Hellofood, I ate from the bedroom while watching a movie. Alone. Everest preferred the match. I was only too glad to be excused from the soccer.
Four Sundays after I was back. Everest said he needed to run an errand for his dad. I stayed in the house. With Drake.
Drake Musiime. Thirty one years old. Owner of Dm Production Company, responsible for many of the hottest videos around East Africa. In need of a wife, young, very beautiful, outgoing. For his image, and for his parents to see him as a responsible son. They were threatening to leave everything in the will to charity if he didn’t marry within the next two years. I fit his image perfectly, would I mind so much?
Didn’t I belong to Everest?
He’s just a good fuck, nothing more. He won’t remember your name by the end of the year.
My family will ask for a heavy bride price.
I’ll give them fifty million.
Perfect. What’s your birthstone? How many carats?
Amethyst. But I prefer Jade. Green’s my favorite color.
Jade then. And one more thing, no divorce! My lawyer will prepare the prenup.
His parents were thrilled to see me, or let’s say his father. His mother gave me a quick stiff smile and was weighing me with her expensive eye. And then his sister, Dinah, who was always at his apartment no matter what time I went there.
She was nothing close to his handsomeness, she wore cheap lipstick that stunk when you went closer, and a sentence in descent English or Luganda could not come out of her lips. And all that belly folded into three fat rolls! And no neck!
She never smiled at me; neither did she ever have any body contact with me. They often quarreled about me in Rutooro whenever I was around. It was, of course, a big blow to me that Drake’s accent was just cultivated. So he was home-grown, after all. It all ended in Drake saying I shouldn’t go back to his apartment. Me, Julia, his fiancé. The one wearing his 1000 dollars on my finger.
He and his family paid for everything. Venue, cake, gown, maids’ dressing, food, honeymoon, everything. How many carats did I want for the wedding ring?
Any, I don’t really care.
I was the talk of the village. My mother was a peahen. My aunt, Andrea, was suddenly baring down on me, holding me by the waist and literally dragging me to her house. She was lucky I insisted on calling her aunt Andrea until the name stuck; otherwise she would have died with her ugly name. Candida. Whatever her parents had been thinking?
A Muganda girl must “visit the bush”, she was saying.
What is “visit the bush”? And he’s not a Muganda so I won’t.
You know what I mean. Pulling. Whether he’s American or Japanese, a Muganda girl must pull.
Well I won’t
At that moment Abdel Kechiche’s movie was playing through my head. The girl in the movie, Sarah Bartje, had a very large bum and an abnormally elongated labia minora. The British had never seen such a thing and paraded her on shows where people could pay money for her to dance for them naked. They would then put her on a leash or in a cage and people could touch her big bum or poke it with a stick.
She was nicknamed the Black Venus. The Hottentot Venus. She was then taken to France where she was made to lie down during a show and spread her legs so that people can have their fill of her strangeness. The French were equally in shock. They touched and flicked and tasted until she didn’t have anything left in her soul, and even when she died they kept her treasured petals on display in a museum.
Dear Aunt Andrea wanted me to end up like that. A tourist attraction. She was tightening her grip on my wrist, telling me she was not going to let my mother’s enslavement in the name of modernity shame the entire family.
It was all my mother’s fault, she was spitting, refusing to send me unto her earlier on, failing to teach me the principals of a Muganda woman. Did I even know that people come from the corners of the world looking for what Buganda women have?
She must have had the noose ready, in a second my wrist was bound up tightly in rope, and I was fighting like a trapped rat to free myself. I was not about to be mutilated or whatever that is, in this era. Ku mulembe gwa Museveni.
I guess we’ll just have to do this the hard way. She was seething, fighting hard to gain control of my right hand. Who knew such a small substance could be so strong? Of course I didn’t mean to bite her, but I had to. I just had to. My only regret was having to taste the cocktail of her cheap petroleum jelly, sweat and dirt from her skin on my teeth. On my tongue. I also didn’t mean to kick her in the groin but I did. She didn’t feel as much pain as a man would have but she was shaken enough to fall to the ground and I took my escape.
All my aunties, including those in fossil form, cursed and bemoaned the international shame that was befalling them. My mother for once took my side and warned aunt Candida (maybe I should call her by her real name) not to ever lay a finger on me when she finally accessed the story of what I had done. And from that point my mother single handedly arranged the wedding, with the help of Jasmine. And of course Drake’s family.
The wedding that made headlines.
What would have been a “romantic” wedding night in a classy suite at Skyz Hotel with chocolates and wines and slow music ended with me in a thin blue hospital dress, lying in the darkness listening to drunken revelers yelling down the street as they struggled to get to the next bar.
As I lay in my hospital bed, sleepless, the door slightly creaked and for a split second I feared mum was back to turn me into fossil. It was a masculine scent that enveloped me and I feared even more. The figure quietly moved towards me and put its finger onto its lips.
Cuban doctor, that was my first thought. I knew they were good at offering more pleasing services than pelvic exams and brain scans. Oh how cool it would be if I could go back home with an account of a one-on-one session with a Cuban doctor. Maybe they weren’t such a loss to our county after all.
Hola señorita. La mujeras de mi vida. Te quiero. Te amor.
The figure said and I laughed out loud. Nothing is funnier than Spanish spoken in a Luganda accent. (Wola sennoliita. La mugyelasi dde mii viidaa. Te kwiyeelo. Teyamoolo)
The figure said again as he came closer. At that moment I didn’t care whether he was a Mucuba bought to put a full stop to my life, I just couldn’t stop his accent playing in my head. La Mugyelasi? Wola? I hadn’t laughed this hard in years!
He sat on the bed and a large smile appeared on my face. He was the guy from the church. The guy who had taken a picture of me.
Hey, what are you doing here? Who are you?
I burst out laughing again.
Your accent would give Ssebagala a run for his money.
I need to cheer up my favorite patient
You’re a doctor?
No, a journalist.
Oh no! I posed for your photo!
No no no, don’t you worry, that was my private take.
You’re here to get a story. The exclusive, is that it?
No, I mean, I just want to get the story straight. People are saying all sorts of things and I would like you to have the chance to tell the story properly.
Tell the story properly. Never!
I never let that journalist sit on my bed one more second, and I made sure in the next one he was out of my room. Screaming has always been one of my strong points. The entire hospital was scandalized and before the police could ask me many questions I managed to get myself into the dress mum had carried for me and quietly moved out of the hospital. Soon I was among the revelers down the street trying to get to the next bar.
I didn’t make it to the bar. The Mucuba was just round the corner and asked me to get into his car. With his accent I couldn’t say no. A girl surely needed some cheering up. Besides I didn’t have any cash on me and I could really use some company. He probably had a recorder on but I didn’t quite care, I told him the entire thing and he was thrilled.
He asked me a million questions and I answered them all. After we went and took chocolate shots and told each other silly stories. The rising sun found me on his couch and the smell of hot coffee and fried eggs took me back (or rather forward) to my never honeymoon.
What was supposed to be my very first morning as a wife was a surprise breakfast with a stranger who was about to publish every last detail of my life in a deadly tabloid, a fierce writer who twisted every word and made a lizard look like a crocodile. I knew I was ruined and my family was going to disown me, again, so I could as well enjoy every last bit of his currency with which he was buying my story.
I told him it would up his status if he was seen having lunch with me in a fancy restaurant and he bought that. He got me another lovely dress from his wardrobe (talk of strategic exes) and a lovely pair of high-heeled shoes, (very strategic exes these), and off we were. As I crushed the chicken between my jaws and felt the smoothie caress the inside of my throat I thought hard. Where was I going from here? Certainly not home. Mum would slaughter me herself.
After the lunch Ed drove me back to his Kiwatule apartment and said he would be back soon. I took the honor to scrub everything that could be scrubbed and arrange the house to the perfection of a five-star hotel. I cooked some pilau and made an egg salad. I did the over-flowing laundry and even cleared the extra room, laid the bed and fixed the mosquito net. Surely he would feel so guilty hanging me to dry after all this.
He didn’t feel guilty, he felt something else, something a little more than gratitude. Something that makes you hug someone for a little longer and hold them a little tighter than you probably should. Something that makes you destroy what would have been a sizzling hot story, together with everything else left behind by a hopeful bar-hopping slay queen. And now, a year after, we are bound together by a vow so strong no one can believe our beginning.