My mother was young. She loved life so much that when one day her father just disappeared, she just smiled. It was during the days of Idi, the fool. A big blank white smile said a lot of things. She had seen it coming.
The fate. She walked away in to a white future. In a forest where it was said people who had wronged the master found an eternal rest. She searched, saw lots of dismembered bodies and she smiled. They were not here.
She walked and dreamt about stumbling on her father’s rotting torso.
The torso business grew into a big issue. It had never occurred to her that a rotting torso would be so important, like a national holiday, for the day that she would find it, she would rest.
She used to get aches in the belly, time after time, but she blamed it on the tons of cassava she used to scavenge for in the public garbage bins.
It used to be a lot of food. She used to boil lots of steamed sweet potatoes and wild vegetables growing in places where men eased themselves, in used tins of cooking oil at the pork joint after the owners had closed their business.
So in a way, the food was very nutritious because it collected the nutrients from hundreds of stomachs. The leaves were always lush, green and crunchy.
But there was a bad smell. It came from the east and it reeked of hope. It took the shape of the torso in the dreams, with flies buzzing, a few marabou stork hanging over, swooping down, not touching.
This smell, it scared even the scavenging birds, it was too human. It called to her to come, filled her with the velocity to walk, hung around her in the nights, accompanied her everywhere, and encouraged her on.
It told her, taught her, to walk in the direction of the sun, early mornings, promising good fortune, gave her the unnecessary reason to smile at strangers who stared back like they were looking at trees, moving trees for this matter, because an ordinary tree is very ordinary, would not require to be looked at again.
The ordinary tree usually had a bark that was scratched here and there but if it was completely naked of this bark then it would become less ordinary, deserve to be watched by stupid humans, idle and disorderly, seeking to turn fellow men into pieces of bad smelling torso.
The fool Idi passed her along the road a few times, mostly in the mid after noon, several times a day, or even at night. Sometimes, he would be wading in a small inexpensive rally car, bumping up, bumping down, as if it was running on wood.
Sometimes he had sex with her and many other men, behind the bus stage where she used to spend her nights mostly.
It would be fun watching helpless men grunting, powerless, like frogs whose pond homes have suddenly evaporated ahead of their notice. These men, they must have killed her father.
They all looked alike, they had the same gait, they carried around oversized sunglasses, they wore them mostly at night, which was the only intelligent thing they did apart from the going and coming back for the sex everyday.
The blackness of the night and the darkness of the shades should have added up to light. And the bad smell of people that was not like the one of the torso, it would make you vomit.
This smell, it looks like they brought it from all the people they took to those bushes every time they went in and out of Mabira.
I wondered why they did not leave it for my mother, because it was her home. It kept her safe from fate, the snakes, and the good dreams of her father’s torso.
She fell in love with the cobras, they would come upon her raise their club head expand, start dancing here and there like in those stupid bollywood movies, them Indian neighbours who had just scampered to Busia, into Kenya used to love staring at.
The cobras, would dance with my mama, this way, that way and they would lie with each other, like hungry lovers. My mother, she was a saint.
The snakes would coil around her two of them in her sleep until she would choke, and they would know, she was choking, loosen a bit and continue sharing her warmth; the temperature is what I am talking about, and the warmth of her spirit.
To live in the Mabira is such a wonder, she used to tell me, the rent you pay in making sure that you do not take the faeces and the urine away, live around the strawberry plant you eat and when the stray dog comes along it smells a friend and walks along.
And it was that way, and it was nice but the smell remained. It beckoned ahead into the sugarcane.
The healthy canes jutting out of the ground like manhood. Defilement of the soil again and again. Changing the order of nature. Thousands of canes, one after the other.
She told me these things herself, in my dream. She liked to repeat the part about the lake. There, she had arrived and found fishing boats, early morning. In one fishing net, she had found refuge.
In the morning when the men came, they thought she had been fished by the spirits in their boats and their nets in the middle of the night.
No, it was not one of Amin’s bodies they whispered. This one is fully dressed, no struggle, no injuries. The lake spirits must be angry with us, the fishermen, for depleting their waters of their fish.
What are we going to do with her, the dead body? Like the leaders then, everybody had this increasing disease of indecisiveness, so they feared, and left her there.
They say, a young girl called Bina, stayed behind, perhaps mesmerized by the sight of a calm woman on the shores of a lake, small waves splashing onto her every few seconds.
This lake, Bina had been warned by her mother never to approach.
Her elder brother, Zikusooka, had been swallowed by the waters because he had gone to fish while he was angry. People don’t visit the water when they are angry. They go because they are hungry.
Bina thought Ma had brought a message from Zikusooka. She though Ma had come to give directions to where Zikusooka was hiding.
The scared fishermen did not notice, that Bina stayed behind, watching how the waves splashed lightly on Ma. When Ma woke up Bina promised to show her around.
Off they went, near the stone quarries, the fish factories, ate Nile Perch remains at Walukuba market, and off to the east they went.
Bina and Ma walked and walked and the smell began to play games. It was strong, then light, then confusing, then it was gone. Bina had learnt to find the smell as well.
She told Ma when it came with the wind and when the wind took it away, when the sun made it intolerable and when it settled like water puddles after a storm.
Sometimes it took them in two different directions, through plantations of sorghum and sweet potatoes, between people’s mud huts and once straight through a graveyard.
One morning, the smell went back to the east. Because Bina had first observed the new calmness of the smell, off they went. They trudged along the dusty roads and took all turns that kept them on track.
At one town where there were a lot of Muslims and a lot of pork, they lost the smell, fed on raw bananas and Ma cried for the first time since she had met Bina.
Bina told me these things because she was there. When, Pa’s former workmate, called Matata, found them sleeping under a fuel tanker by the roadside, he came out, looked keenly at Ma the way witchdoctors about to go in a trance do. He peered and began to shed tears.