By Emmanuel Ssebaggala, Uganda:
From as early as I can remember, I knew I didn't fit the pigeonholes. Dad would take me to play football and I hardly could ever wait for it to end. I loved sitting with the girls to talk about fashion and make-up, while the boys played whatever games they preferred. It felt natural for me to be around girls. Boys seemed different; the few times I tried to hang out with them, I felt out of place.
When the politics of the playground changed – around puberty, I began to struggle with identity. Girls hung out and talked about boys, and boys hung out and talked about girls. I did not feel like I fitted in anywhere. I ditched my make-up kit in exchange for football, only to feel more isolated. My waking moments were filled with fantasies of coming out, my nights haunted by nightmares of consequent rejection and suicide. I tried – very hard to be like the other boys but I hated it. My anxiety edged me to build my life around the one thing I had control of at the time – my education, and like a faithful servant I was rewarded with unparalleled distinctions throughout. I thought that with such commendable achievements in my academics, society would be blind to my lack of experience in winning the hearts of members of the opposite sex. If they did see it, they would perhaps believe of me that it was the price I paid for academic excellence.
In the wake of suicidal thoughts that had sneaked their way back into my racing mind, it became clear to me that I did not really want to die. True, society's comments about those I identified with were fire and brimstone: the sick people and the normal people lived in a most fragile peace as life seemed to have an unknown expiration date for the sick, gay people. I had dated Rachael, and Susan, and Jackie! We fell out when they realized I was competition for male affection, rather than a source. On many of our dates, I had described male beauty with such tangible lust even being a disappointment during secluded moments. One morning, after a disappointing evening, in front of the entire class, Rachael had baptised me the “Generation's oldest all-time plump virgin”. She had flunked me socially yet saved me a worse label, that of the perverted, promiscuous queer I would have become if she had revealed her confirmations. For that, she was a confidant worth keeping.
With the impeccable recommendations that my academic excellence and moral conduct fetched me, fate dictated that I deserved the Master's Degree Programme I applied for in Europe. Europe seemed similar to Uganda until the starry night of the freshman ball, when a classmate who had made it a pastime of his to keep tabs on my social life, particularly its lack of female company, walked up to me.“Hi, I am Kateregga,” his accent was very familiar, “may I have this dance?” Did he know? I knew it was Europe, but how could he be so bold? For God sakes he was Ugandan, he should know better! Our conversations over the next weeks revealed that he had fled the country under similar circumstances. Our acquaintanceship blossomed into romance.
Two days ago, I returned for our first wedding anniversary. Grace's pleas to be devoured like any other married woman were met with echoes of, “Honey, it was a long flight, I need my rest to recharge.”
Was it the thudding of her palm as it hit my cheek that woke me up? Or was it the pain that followed? Grumbling, I fumbled through the open texts on the phone she slapped in my face. “What is this?” she demanded. Guilty as charged, I could only run so far. I had nothing in common with the man our families had arranged for her to marry.
“I wanted to tell you, but we barely knew each other except that our fathers are best friends since high school. I am gay and Kateregga is my partner. I didn't mean for you to find out this way”. I wished she could say something … anything … to express her thoughts but the room only picked echoes of her breathing. As she disappeared through the lounge and into the study, I concluded that she needed to think things through.
In the stillness of the night, I was awakened by the buzzing of your phone at the arrival of a new text. “That farewell dinner was rich. I am full and well nourished; I could go for days without craving your juices – Kate.” During our honeymoon you talked of sex as if it were food. I flicked on my bedside lamp to scroll through a previous exchange of texts between you and Kate – or so I thought.
Kateregga! You were very close then, even now, but isn't that typical of the groom and his best man? What is it about me that turned you gay? Was it because I could not trade my whole life here for a fresh start with you in Europe? What will people say when they find out I was never enough for my husband and he turned gay? This must be my stepmother reaching out from her grave to mock me.
How can you get caught between the sun and the moon?
They are like a thousand miles apart;
Yet that's where I have crashed.
The audacity with which you described his beauty;
I have never felt so ugly and unworthy of a man's love.
Being on the edge is a dark and lonely feeling,
You've ruined my life;
I am only returning the favour.
I hope our son embraces having a father for a mother.
The guilt of Grace taking her own life ripped my life at the seams. Memories of her cold body lying on the floor of the study, next to an empty tin of tranquilisers, on the morning of our anniversary, with her last piece of writing secured between her hands and her chest, keep haunting me…
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