In memory of Chriton Atuhwera (c. 1999 – April 2021)
TW: contains reference to violence against queer bodies
I have had a hard time putting these words to paper
Because they are for you and you are an Angel;
That you listen to this from where you are
Even when my mouth is closed and my thin lips pressed
So that any letters that want to escape,
Are held between my teeth. You can hear the wailing
Of the gaping hole in the light that still holds me.
I have been thinking the people
Who still use widened eyes to see this world
Do not deserve to see these words.
But that was not who you were
When you chose to live like a butterfly
Flying in a thriving anthill of a hunters’ savannah.
I am a coward, Atuhwera.
But I am not the only coward.
Abomuka nibatina kugamba Izinya ryawe
They fear saying your name
Atuhwera, but I will say it. There are things
I still fear to say to our people back
In the hills of Nkore, but let me say
Your name, Atuhwera.
The truth is there in your name, Atuhwera.
A wildflower who will dip both his arms
To raise another’s petals from a menacing flood.
Atuhwera, I greet you.
Peace and good peace
Like the way our people in Nkore greet
Their arms wide open to embrace you
But they did not you. You ran away
And you burned too young at the hands
Of those you ran to for protection
In a refugee camp like you did not belong.
There is something about our home
Everything looks fine because we laugh and talk
But even parrots talk cleaner truths, bad ones too.
Fire Friday is the favourite day every day
Good Fridays, Jesus dies every day for all our sins
He even dies for the ones who threw the firebomb on Block 13
Where you chose to seek safety from the ones
Who were meant to lie with you
Along the slopes of our hills and listen
To the stories of a man for whom you had eyes for.
Their footsteps scuttling away, are those I hear
On the concrete pavements outside my window
Of the men and women who refuse their children.
The clap of their heels, the drum, the beats still deep inside my chest,
How do I dance without you here anymore?
I do not stay at home anymore.
The slopes of Nkore’s hills stay with me
Like the way a home stays with those who lie on soft land.
Our mothers once sang to our sweet lips that when their time comes
And they leave us all by ourselves, we should sleep in the anthill
And the ants shall protect us from the hunters. But the hunters’ dog has a nose.
Would it miss the scent of the colours on our skins that rubbed off from our mothers’ mats?
And then once you trace your footsteps and return to this place you still call home
The pain of a spear you never knew had been stabbed at your back reminds you,
You have a heart.
And it still beats nkengoma
Like a drum. And you dance pain.
Kakuma was where you called home for a year.
In our tongue, Okukuma is to protect
But in the same mouth, Okukuma is to set a fire between cooking stones.
Loved ones are loved ones even when they
Make their loved ones run away from them to
No man’s lands where they can love their men
The ones that they choose to take to their beds,
Beds whose timber should not be mistaken for firewood.
Protection is not guaranteed in another man’s arms, I have learned.
A Peacock’s quill feathers are not for flying
And not all Angels need to take flight.
Secrets keep many of us in a state of false safety in our home,
But you had none Trinidad Jerry. Let me say your Angel name.
Do Angels hold Umbrellas out there in paradise’s savannah? Does it rain?
Kaaka, my grandmother is Tibamwenda,
Are you with her? Did she open her arms when she saw you
And engulf you into her comforting aroma of fermented finger-millet beer?
She gave warm hugs and carried grown children to welcome them back here in Bukanga,
This land whose thunder is the yelling of men trapped in the underground darkness.
With enkyeka of tonto beer? She was the one.
Is the creator seated on a round stool with two sticks
Playing the amadinda to welcome Angels into the overgrown meadow?
When you get time, ask her for us why her children here
Keep hating each other. If she plays the amadinda, tell her to hit the xylophone keys harder
So the music reaches the ears of her children.
You remain in the hearts of those for whom you danced to see free.
Zebras striped with all your colours must be carrying you
Across the endless fields of golden grass.