Budapest Chronicles: An epistle to a departed friend
By Brian Friday Bwesigye
I know I will not get a reply to this letter. If I do, at least not in the form in which I am sending mine. Well, my atheist friends even say that when on that 25th day of October 2011, you breathed your last, you ceased to exist, that life ended for you. So, to them, I should not even write to you. Of course the Bible talks of life after death, eternal life. The Roman Catholics insist on purgatory, that place where they say your soul should be now as we send prayers through Jesus, through Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and others so that they can plead on your behalf before God, the father. All ways, all Christians at least agree that there shall be judgment. Even as I sit here in Budapest, I marvel at what fault your accusers shall find before the judge. You were not a trouble-causer even though somehow you liked to define yourself as one, qualified by the tag 'former'.
My human brain tells me that much as your body lies lifeless in Nangala deep in the mountainous south western part of Uganda where it was buried on the 27th of October 2011; your spiritual existence was not buried with it. I have this thought that your soul is alive in the world where only souls live. That world where you could not fully live while you still had your body. In our Kiga cultural belief, which you know, you are now an ancestor, one who no longer lives with us but lives among us.
But Hillary, there is something that puzzled me as I “swallowed” the news of your passing. Something that led me to believe that you knew something about your death before it happened. I was reading through the short fiction pieces of yours that I could find and the way you firmly handled the subject of death suggested that there was something in your spiritual existence even when you were physically with us that suggested prior knowledge of your demise.
In your Edirisa short story competition 2010 winning entry, 'To Track a Robin', you did not just write of the mysteries of kamushungushungu, the robin. Besides the robin showing the old man who was narrating to Katusi and Mbabazi where the cows he was grazing had once strayed to, besides its showing Katusi that he would marry Miss Achieng, the robin's answer to Katusi's question about his living forever or dying told it all; “Then it lowered its small squat head and slowly pointed its beak to the ground.' You wrote. Did your premonition choose Katusi to personify you in the story?
Hillary, what should I make of 'The Ghost that Demus met'? In that story, you tell of Demus' disastrous daring of the ghosts by walking to a graveyard in the dark to impress his childhood heartthrob Marian. You tell of how in the process of leaving a mark, the boy pegged his own coat to the soil, making him think the ghosts were pulling him thus leaving the coat behind in flight. Were you, in that story suggesting that you do not believe in ghosts? But it is not your beliefs I am thinking about right now. It is the fact that death was central to your short fiction. You somehow found a space for it.
In 'Of Babies and Toys', it is the death of the brother to that young girl whose barbie-doll was burnt by the mother and she retaliated by drowning the brother so that the mother could feel the same pain that stands out. I do not want to accept that this was mere premonition.
In 'Circles of ash', the story where you employ song to further beautify the prose, the song is of sorrow, of death, the type associated with vigils; “Omanyire ng'omuzigu rufu ataayayiir'eka? Otabiikira nyensya, Ebyensi byoona n'omucuucu. – Have you known tyrant death visited the house? Never hoard for the morrow, Material wealth is mere dust of earth…” These are not mere words of a storyteller, I see prophecies.
In 'The Skull that sang' where Kariisa, the herdsman's many words sadly guided him to the grave, it was death that you used to deliver the wisdom of the tale. When Kariisa met a singing skull, he was excited and did not take to heart the words of the skull's song warning him to beware of his words, lest they led him to his grave. So the man went and summoned the king to come and see and hear the singing skull himself. The skull refused to sing when the king arrived and the herdsman was put to death. Were you telling us something about your own near future when you wrote of the skulls, my departed friend?
Born on 2nd of September, 1988, to die in 2011 was so early for you. Understandably, you had not yet sired a son/daughter to expand your clan and inherit your good name. You had not written a book to pass on all the wisdom I know you for. You had only written a few short stories, and a number of poems, and the Edirisa short story award I am sure was a starter. In you, I saw that writer whose limit was above the skies. From that first day that our elder brother Johnson Mujungu told me of you, the industrial chemist who was writing excellent poems, I saw many things in you that I have heard people say of only great people. When we met at the Makerere University Guild canteen and talked of your admiration for Achebe's Arrow of God, about your collection of our traditional Kiga music, I saw that we clearly understood each other.
On that sad October day that news reached my ears that you had breathed your last, I cursed the rhetoric of the world becoming a global village. A global village in which I could not walk from Budapest to bury you, to be present at your funeral. In which village do people fail to attend funerals of their friends? Maybe these people should say the world is a global market, not a village. Can you imagine our elder brother Mujungu has not been well health-wise since the dying days of December, and in this global village I can't go and check on him? And we are told that we are in a global village! But of course if I want to buy something, it is a click of the mouse and I will get it. That is the global village in which you left us my departed friend.
We shall meet again, one day.
Your friend, Bwesigye.