Whenever I fear that our love might not endure emerging hardships, I remember how you brought me that single plastic red rose to Luzira Women Prison on Valentine’s Day. In spite of being younger by fourteen years, you boldly illustrated your unashamed love for me. Regardless of my public penalisation in Uganda’s only maximum security for women, and the consequent widespread ostracization this brought me, you stuck by your commitment. You were unfazed when the inquisitive scores of armed prison officers manning the Quarter Guard that day asked about the prisoner for whom you carried the scarlet red rose flower.
A prisoner within earshot of your registration at the visitors’ reception later narrated for the whole of my ward how you defended your love for me.
“Every woman should have a lover as fearless in his love as Stella’s young man,” she announced loudly as she entered the crowded prison ward.
“Tell us some more details,” one prisoner renown for gossiping replied.
“Imagine this: he came swinging a lover’s rose flower in his hands for her,” the reporter stated.
“Are you sure?” the gossip asked drawing nearer to the reporter.
The noisy murmuring in the crowded ward subsided as many women-prisoners denied access to love by their imprisonment enviously turned to listen to this narration of love.
“I am telling you the truth. This man did not hide away the symbol of his love for Stella as other men do. Instead, he carried the fake red rose in his right hand for all to see, while his left hand carried a polythene bag containing a loaf of bread and a maxi-sized bottle of Coca Cola. He was walking like this, like this, like this…”
The reporter mimicked the imagined swagger of a youthful man. The soles of her bare feet bounced as she slowly took one leisurely step after another. She exaggeratedly swung her left arm mimicking one carrying a bag of foodstuff, while simultaneously holding up her right hand with an imagined flower
“Wuuuuuuuuuu,” several prisoners giggled in response to the performance.
“And when he got to the Quarter Guard, he walked up to the prison guards for the routine search and registration. He rested the bag of foodstuff on the registration table but held fast onto the red rose flower. I even remember him holding the flower to his nose and smelling it with a secret smile on his face.”
She paused in her narration of the tale, slowly raised the imagined rose flower to her nose, and sniffed it while smiling sweetly.
“Wuuuuuuuuu,” the entrapped women prisoners giggled some more, thoroughly enjoying the love story.
“Next!” she shouted and bent her legs to mimic the sitting position, taking on the role of the Records’ Assistant posted at the Quarter Guard.
“David,” she changed her voice to a low rumble as she stood at attention and mimicked you carrying the rose flower next to your heart.
“Where are you from?” she shouted sharply, shifting back into the role of the Record’s Assistant.
“Kampala city,” she said while standing at attention and mimicking the lover.
“Who have you come to visit?” she shouted sharply.
“I have come to visit a prisoner called Stella Nyanzi,” she switched to your deeper tone and shot up straight to imitate your stance.
“What have you brought for her?” she shouted while bending her legs.
“I have brought her a loaf of bread, some soda, and a rose flower,” she narrated while acting as if she was displaying each of these imaginary items to the imagined Records’ Assistant.
“A rose flower for what?” she asked loudly while bent into the sitting position.
“Eh, Afande…” the reporter slowly imitated the bold lover, pulled the imaginary rose flower to her nose, sniffed it powerfully another time, and then smiled silently while she slowly looked around the prison ward.
The silence in the ward was almost tangible. All the eyes of the prisoners were glued onto the reporter carrying gossip wrapped up in a tale of love.
“Afande,” she continued, “I brought this red rose flower as a reminder to my woman that I love her so much that I am waiting for her every day. I will wait for her until the day that she is released from this prison.”
Some women prisoners audibly gasped at this point of the story. A few had wet eyes. One or two were lost in wonder at the power of such love. Many clapped their hands celebrating both the power of the storyteller, as well as the rare commitment of the lover.
And so, I cherish this memory of prison. I hide it deep into my heart. When I am overwhelmed by the innumerable challenges to our love relationship, I revisit this memory of that Valentine’s Day spent in Luzira Women’s Prison in 2019.
I remember the grief that consumed my being because I had just miscarried our baby the month before. I remember the shame of being too weak to protect out unborn child from the terrible torment and torture of prison wardresses who mocked me as I begged them for mercy. I remember the sorrow that engulfed me when the prison administrators denied me access to my private medical doctors for post-abortion care, but instead insisted that I was subjected to the meagre prison medical services. I remember the sense of having failed you grossly that filled my mind every day and night as I wondered if this loss would send you into the arms and loins of other lovers.
And yet you came to the prison bearing a cheap red rose flower, to visit me. When you put that symbol of your love for me into my anaemic hands, you also verbally assured me that you would love me until the end of time. I believed you. Sitting on the cold floor of the prison’s Visitors’ Room, I believed your declaration of undying love for me. With tears flooding my eyes, I thanked you for choosing our love over all the bad-mouthing that was circulating in the newspapers about me.
Your visit was short, but life-changing for me. The cheap red flower that you boldly carried to me in maximum security prison built a strong foundation that bound me to you for all time. In addition to the scorn and public shame of my arrest, detention, and trial for crimes of writings which offended the president of Uganda, the miscarriage of our unborn child due to torture from prison wardresses were severe reasons to terminate your love for me. However, you chose to love me when I was not only a prisoner of conscience, but also when I lost our baby.
Given that you loved me during that impossibly difficult period of our lives – when even I doubted in my love for my own self – I now know that no challenge can ever be insurmountable for our love. And David, my love, I commit to love you forever.
Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash