By Angella Sandra Namwase, Uganda:
Your fingers are tucked into the mini pockets of your grey striped dress, your “Sunday best” as you call it, it is all you have to wear that you think suitable for a Campaign such as this. You take short, restless strides. You are shaking off the memory of Chuma.
You steal a look at Ruth over your shoulder and the sight of her makes you even more impatient. You want to be like her. You want to walk like her, look like her, have loads of money like her. Only that you don’t dream of spending your money paying tuition for poor people like she does, the changes you want to make are bigger than that. Her friends, who attempt to dress like her, hold a big white umbrella above her head whenever she steps outside, like hired bodyguards. The umbrella’s golden handle makes you feel you could be purchased by it alone… if, that is, you were still “for sale”. Her slim bodice curves up to the chest like those sculptures made in Akamba Village, the African crafts territory you wish you might own someday. Her behind pushes against her short grey dress; unlike yours, it looks like one of those dresses from the catwalk of Sylvia Owori, the famous designer whose creations grace every fashion billboard in Kampala.
“Chuma, I'm…” you had bitten your lip as the tears rolled down your cheeks, “I am done with this. I am so done with this.”
“What? What do you mean ' you're done'?”
“Exactly that. I am done.”
“Oh, so you finally figured it out,” he had grabbed your arm, “so you have found someone more loaded, a fancy new pimp, or what?”
“That’s not your business. I am through with this.”
The first year boys, who call themselves “guys”, pass by with their eyes fixed on her, like dogs salivating over roasted meat, and say, “Ruth is so pretty, let's go and vote for her.” Your ears are open wide enough not to miss this and your heart begins to gallop.
You step up to the platform.
“What this association needs is an empowered woman, one who will put women's rights as her utmost priority…”
As you begin your speech your sunken eyes roll towards a wooden table in the furthest corner of the room; clothes, shoes and dirty dishes are strewn across it, unattended. You are hungry. Your eye catches a big coloured poster you wish you didn’t have to see, the woman on the poster looks like those milky, smooth-faced women from western Uganda. Below her are the words Vote Ruth Kitaka for Women Affairs Secretary. You struggle to ignore it and go on, “I hope, however, to serve for the benefit of everyone in this university…”
“Gal,” (he sounds like Chuma, this man in the crowd, he utters the word as though he’s rehearsing it, “Hello, gal, how are you doin'gal?” Chuma would say) “Gal, we shall give you our vote,” the man in the crowd shouts, “We are convinced gal, you are 'real', we shall vote for you.”
You look at him and see the memories in his eyes. He and the other two, now standing like staring sculptures in the corner of the room, had grabbed you once in Lumumba Street, where your one inch skirt had been enough to signal your commercial ambitions. Four hours later they had all pulled up their trousers, gasping like they had been digging in the large Nakasozi gardens. They had fastened their belts with immense satisfaction, as though they rose from answering a call that had been retained in their bowels for a long time. Your eyes had focused on the holes in their trousers dancing on their knees as you waited for the clinking of coins, the sound that would make you forget your daily work and comfort your soul. A sound that could help you survive without Chuma.
“Good luck gal!” the other two men in the room yell at you.
“Gal, it’s been long since you last visited me,” Chuma would say, whenever he wanted another round, and when he was done he would provide you with more customers.
“Vero, I think you should leave him,” her friends told her more than once, “because this will lead to your grave some day. I wonder why you don’t think of this pain whenever you’re with him.”
“I know! But I promise, this is the last time,” you answered just as often.
But the neighbourhood near your hostel overflows with streams of grey water with black lumps in it, it is filled with the stench of rotting fish-heads and the sight of children splashing about in the grey water; Chuma’s big jeans, red sneakers and twisted accent had fed your hunger for a better life.
Earlier, you watched your fellow contestant, Ruth Kitaka, slip dollars into the box of the final year students who preside over the election process. It was your first time to see dollars. You were ashamed to drop your five hundred shilling coin into the box, but the student in charge accepts it and waved you by.
Now you are standing at the lectern and already you feel victorious.
“Wewe, wewe! Raah-aah-cha!” You shout as you finish.
The audience is stirred into excitement and they cheer back, “Oh yeah!”
You step down. You keep pacing. Your grey dress is wet beneath your armpits.
It’s almost the end of voting and your puffy eyes are still focused on the transparent ballot boxes.
Finally, the stout man's voice pierces through your drowsy mind.
''I hereby declare that Veronica Kironde has been elected the Secretary for Women Affairs 2013.”
You stand up in astonishment. The noise in the room makes your head pound, bringing tears to your eyes. You are amazed at the equality you now have with Ruth Kitaka, the minister's daughter. You are surprised by the new identity that you have suddenly acquired in society as Veronica Kironde, the “New Politician”.
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