I had a non-existent affinity for fiction. I know. That is an embarrassing confession for a guy trying his craft in this writing arena.
I’d not open books of fiction. I thought they’d bore me to the gall. In school, I thought those were books for literature chaps. Those one’s could read all the fiction they wanted. I was onto something grand. I was a scientist. I knew I could write those English compositions during tests and score atleast 30/40. I’d use proverbs and similes. Idioms and all that. But that’s where my writing would end. Then I’d wait for the next test. I always had a swell time writing but none of that mattered to me at that time. I had a crush on one subject though. English Literature. I never said a word to it. We would flirt a little but nothing came out of it. My dream was to become a medical doctor so I stuck with sciences.
I liked Biology and Chemistry and Physics. I was above average in those subjects. That was in O-level. A-level was a different story. The PCB/M combination was so draining I’d almost shit in my pants during preps. I scored O’s and D’s. But, I wanted to be a doctor. And doctors did Biology. So I read harder.
I threw all those non-science books and focused on Mendel’s theories. I knew how nephrons worked. I understood the roles of leukocytes and erythrocytes. The structure of the brain with its lobes and the spinal code fascinated me. I had the chambers of the heart and how they worked stuck close to my chest. I had the basics between my fingers. The road to medical school was lit. I would eventually head there, I thought. Then I got a C in Biology and C in Chemistry and the door to medical school shut before my eyes. And I did what I thought was the next best thing to medicine; Biomedical Laboratory Technology. Seven months after graduating, I was out of the lab.
How would I explain to my mother who paid all that tuition that I had decided to try my talents elsewhere? Granted, I did look for other lab jobs thereafter but no door opened. I was 23. Clueless of what to do with my degree. I applied for Masters programmes and scholarships. None worked out well for me. I got admissions but the scholarships showed me the middle finger.
Then I sat on my bed on a cold afternoon. I was broke. I had no job. My transcripts were in a folder. I placed them in my bag. And I took the longest sigh I remember ever taking.
Outside, there was a storm. The sound of wind and rain made me deaf. The wind was destructive and the rain loud. Lightning struck and thunder pounded hard it shook the mat under my feet. And I saw a book. It was my English book from S.2. I opened its pages and landed on a story I had written. The teacher’s comment read, “Excellent. Keep it up.” It was a story about a disrespectful boy whose parents taught him a lesson by not taking him on holiday to Amsterdam. That was the first time I wrote a story of over 700 words. I slept and woke up without a dream. I had a clean slate. My life after university wasn’t going to be determined by those three years in the Biomedical Laboratory Technology class. I didn’t know what would determine the rest of my life. So I pushed the play button.
As I typed this, I looked outside the window from the third floor of Rwenzori House and saw a reflection of light on the glass panes of Rwenzori Towers. The rays were bouncing off my glasses. I could see, from the reflection, the sun setting at a distance far away in the East. The smell of the evening filled my square. I shut my eyes and imagined a conversation with my dad. He was a literature guy, played basketball and did fine art with his own touch of class. I have his leadership certificates.
We walked to the bridge that connects West Nile to Uganda, the Pakwach bridge with his right hand on my shoulder. We stood and perched on the metallic beams and rails. He had this faraway look, seeing the guys in their canoes rowing across the river. We watched. The sun was setting with it’s orange rays bouncing off the surface of the river. One man pulled out a net and threw it in the river. The silence was awkward and when I was about to say something, he asked.
“Which books have you read?”
I filled my cheeks with air and blew it out, thinking about which book to start with.
“I read Pervez Musharaf’s memoir, In The Line of Fire.”
“Oh, the Pakistani guy. I remember him in the news back then. Tough guy. He had balls. I didn’t know he wrote a book.”
“Yeah, he did. He wrote one. His book is like an action packed movie with bullets and grenades going off. There are fighter helicopters and terrorists. It pushes your adrenaline to the edge.”
“It seems you loved it.”
I nod my head. “I did.”
“Undisputed Truth. Mike Tyson. It’s his biography.”
“He was a boxer, wasn’t he?”
I said yes.
“I remember him,” he said. “He was a tough talking boxer.”
He tapped the tip of his nose twice and stuck his gaze at another canoe in the river. Part of the left side of the river had an overgrowth of Hyacinth. Both sides had papyrus reeds.
“Why doesn’t anyone do something about those weeds?” he asked me. I had no answer.
“So, what other books have you read? The two you’ve mentioned both seem to have the same theme.”
He had left over a hundred books, I think, when his soul walked out of his body. My maternal grandma kept them and told me, “You’ll read these when you grow up.” I was praying he didn’t ask me about any of the books he left behind. Termites fed on them. I salvaged only one book from that pack.
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao…” I said.
He raised his eyebrows.
“By Junot Diaz.”
“Hmm… I never heard of him. I think he came to the scene after I’d left.”
I told him about Junot Diaz. He stayed gazing at the flow of the river and the bird’s that were flying across.
“I also read Ernest Hemingway.”
He smiled. I saw it in his eyes. He felt complete.
“Although I read my first Hemingway book at 28.”
It was a swell book (I learnt that from the book), with its plot in France and Spain. A guy called Robert Cohn had rotten luck (another line I stole from the book) It was Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.
He placed his hand on my shoulder again.
“It doesn’t matter that you read it 28,” he said. “It would have been an embarrassment if you never read Ernest Hemingway. I would have been so disappointed in you. You’re now on the right track. Good luck.”
Then he called one of his friends from heaven and I heard a wind blow across the bridge. I didn’t see the other guy and he vanished.