By Solomon Manzi, Uganda:
The rain fell rhythmically, beating out a musical clatter upon the tin roof. As if in unspoken concordance, the woman's belly rose and fell in slight motions. Slight, yet the child's eyes followed the ebbs intently, like a feline in the dark.
Then suddenly, as if in a deliberate attempt to break the rhythm, the woman coughed once and rolled over in the clumsy way that is characteristic of sleeping bodies.
The child continued to stare, as if in a trance, her delicate ears twitching with the sounds of the falling rain; capturing the silent explosions of the water-globes as they struck the red earth, dislodging dust specks by their millions.
The child sneezed; the sneeze of a tiny lump of fragility, her light frame shuddering with the shock of it. Her name was Kagezi, and she was ten.
The falling rain was now a uniform wall of sound and, as her eyelids became heavier, a tiny smile tickled the child's lips. She let it spread.
Over the past year, Kagezi had grown close to two feet tall. She now stood a few inches below the rusty iron bolt on the inside of the front door, a feat she had never imagined manageable when she was a tiny dwarf only twelve months back.
And the fact that she was nearly ten years old now, didn't help matters either. She still was much smaller than all the girls her age around the village.
'The little dwarf of Nyamiyaga!' her peers often teased her.
Even at Nyakyojo Preparatory school, where she was in her Standard six, Kagezi never fared any better.
Teachers always picked on her to respond, when the rest of the class was silent on subjects that were clearly beyond children their age. Why in the world would they consider her knowledgeable on riddles like 'Photosynthesis?'
She may have appeared diminutive, but Kagezi was definitely not small on Big headedness.
Once, on an early and cold morning four years ago, when she had still lived with her grandmother in rural Kisoro, Kagezi had stood atop a termite mound near the edge of a cliff overlooking a densely forested ravine, just a few meters from the house.
Now, this was no ordinary ravine, for it fell sharply on both sides before halting its descent to assume an awkward gentleness of slope. As if intent on further eluding normality, the ravine bore in its middle a river of fast-flowing waters, which sinuously wound its way across the valley, hidden from aerial view under a thick canopy of trees, brambles and bushes.
On that day however, upon the termite mound, in the same spot she had risen and ran to every morning since she was three, Kagezi had held her breath and stretched forth her tiny palms, fingers sticking out, attempting to give the yet visible half of the sun a spiky-hair look.
The little girl had closed her eyes.
She had listened to the wind, as it blew in an invisible mass across the great valley, stirring up life in its journey – the singing of the birds, the quivering of the leaves, the distant chatters of monkeys – she had felt it all, and she had felt little no more.
Her mind saw outstretched limbs – the limbs of a giant, not of a diminutive ten year old. She felt that she could bound across the great green rift in a single skip, or leap and hug the fluffy clouds that were captivatingly gilded by the sun's bright rays, if she pleased.
She could be tall and mighty, Kagezi!
She would dare!
But, on this night, Kagezi snuggled-on behind her unseen protective hedge.
Drifting deeper into sleep, her ears danced to strange tunes as they picked up the gurgles of small streams, being born on the outside; and as the streamlets sprouted, she could hear, distantly, the responsive frolics of pebbles and small rocks as they rolled about in the wetting soil.
All night, the mother of the growing streams persisted in her earthward journey, like an implacable mistress unrepentant in her resolve to quench the lusts and thirsts of a waiting earth, who responded with an almost commensurate fervour in impassioned absorption of his mistress' loving.
“Kagezi Wee!” the shrill voice punctured her hedge like a gleaming sword.
In her world of dreams, Kagezi could see the rays play like mice along its glistening edges.
She smiled delightedly, revealing her dark gums where the milk teeth had fallen out.
Now, the mice were sprouting wings and fluttering like multi-coloured butterflies before her eyes, sending her delight racing paces higher.
The woman lumbered into the room then, to establish the reason for her daughter's passivity, a stingy scold poised at the tip of her tongue.
Clearly, Munema was a heavyset woman of light complexion, whose jovial personality and dimpled cheeks were charms which Mondo, Kagezi's late father, had found irresistible years before, when she had inarguably been the most adorable maiden in Busanza.
Of course, Munema had not been so heavy set) then, or for that matter, heavy set at all.
Her face had not been creased, and neither did her eyes harbour a permanent blankness, resultant from years of crying over her husband's brutal murder one night as he returned from a late party.
She had sobbed for months after the tragedy, and nearly seven years later the shadows of rueful nostalgia still haunted her big, dark eyes.
This morning however, Munema found her daughter snoring lightly, muffled giggles shaking the girl's tiny body.
The woman shook her head knowingly, the scold instinctively abandoning its perch upon her tongue.
'' Kagezi, the chickens must be fed, awake…” The woman's voice was now barely distinguishable from the chirpings of the brightly plumaged birds that had replaced the fluttering butterflies, in the child's dream, as a firm but gentle hand rocked her.
Kagezi awoke with a grumble and, as her eyes opened, couldn't help squinting with displeasure. Her tiny pair of hands clasped her mother's rocking hand tightly.
The brightening morning bore a very sharp contrast to the benign luminescence of Kagezi's dream.
''I love you so much Mommy!” The declaration shocked Munema pleasantly as the child sat up slowly, disarming her mother further with her tenderly infectious smile.
The woman swept the girl up from the rumpled layers of bedding, drawing her bosom-ward in the habitual manner of African women overcome with motherly sentiment.
The minutes, in an apparent connivance, appeared to slow from their usual trot to a near stroll, permitting the ethereal display of love to come alive with a fierce intensity.
Mother and child winced with a painful pleasure, the reciprocal grip tightening in a mutual effort to galvanise their oneness. It was as if they dared say to a world that would inevitably attempt to sever their union, that theirs was inseparable.
“Come now my angel, my lovely and strong Kikaazi…” whispered the mother, gently stroking the dark curls on the child's head in the way that only mothers can.
Kagezi raised her face from its warm haven on her mother's shoulder and, with typical eclecticism, shone her beguiling eyes at Munema's face, quipping “I am hungry, Mommy! ''
The woman's heart skipped. She smiled.
“Please let me feed the chickens after my porridge … you made porridge this morning, didn't you?” importuned the girl.
A strange light began to dance in the woman's eyes. She swept her gaze across the tiny face, as if in search of some concealed mischief, and was torn between scolding and laughter.
Munema struggled to resist the playful smile that was, in all un-timeliness, beginning to provoke the linings of her lips.
Unconsciously, Munema squeezed her daughter tighter, causing the girl to yelp like a petrified puppy before loosening the clasp.
And, as she released the child, the woman swore.
“Why, you little elf! Tricking poor me, Munema, daughter of Hillaria! But, hmmm, children of these days…''
A rocking laughter got the better of her and, arms akimbo, the woman's firm bosom heaved with an intense delight that could only have echoed from her inmost soul.
“Eish, Kagezi! I should have known you were up to one of your Bu-geziis again!” lamented Munema, employing her coined term for the child's innumerable shenanigans.
This time, both broke out laughing, Kagezi beginning to feel slightly awkward at her mother’s atypical off-handedness.
“God bless my ageing soul…” supplicated the woman, inquiring of the girl, “how, by the way, were you able to tell that it was porridge for breakfast today, I thought you were deep asleep all along?”
Kagezi raised her left hand, small and delicate, to her quivering lips and yawned before retorting coyly, “but mommy, it was all in my dream, they come true you know!”
The girl dashed through the open door.
“Kagezi! Kagezi wee!” was all Munema could yell in her futile entreaties to summon the elf, whose tiny feet were carrying her swiftly towards the chicken house to do Mommy's bidding.
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