By Aaron Aroriza, Uganda:
The sun shone with fury on that hot May Day afternoon. And somewhere up in a mango tree, half a dozen little boys sat on a big branch waiting in anticipation under the cover of the still green leaves.
This tree was a good companion indeed. It provided mangoes seasonally – mangoes that never saw maturity since the little kids always ate them raw and young. It provided shade for the kids on hot days under which they would play all kind of games without getting sun-burned. Its strong branches held that rudimentary swing the kids liked to play on. And on some days like this particular one, this mango tree became the pavilion from which the kids would have a front row treat to an x-rated show.
Beneath the huge mango tree was a narrow path. It snaked its way through the neighborhood slithering away to river Rwizi. Hundreds of feet, perhaps thousands had tramped on it – most of them, bare feet of people that came from the other side of the river. They had trekked it until it became a narrow gully of hard bare ground bounded by raised grass. On rainy days, the path acted as a tributary to river Rwizi – draining all the surface water that collected from the neighborhood's un-guttered roofs into the river. It's this path which separated the hospital quarters' extension and the slum dwellings. All the kids in the tree that afternoon lived in the hospital quarters. Sons of parents who diagnosed and healed ailments, and sons of parents who worked at the new science and technology university that was now part of the hospital. On the other side of the path, just a few meters away, lay the slum. Some of the kids there went to school, and most just spent their days in the swamp near the river fishing for mud fish. They never used our tree and by the look of things, they weren't as dubiously curious as we were. The path drew a thin line between the two neighborhoods. A line even childhood friendships could cross with ease. Only the mango tree crossed that line with elegant effortlessness. The tree grew on our side of the path but its huge and long branches stretched deep into the other side like it was extending an arm for a uniting handshake.
Six pairs of innocent eyes peeping from the thick foliage alighted with excitement as Kanywani, wrapped only in a towel, carrying a basin full of water stepped into the roofless tin-walled shack that was a communal bathroom of her tenement. Kanywani was a jolly woman – an ebony dark woman with sparkling white teeth. Kanywani wasn't her real name. We called her so because she always gave us free sweet bananas. She always called us her little friends (ba-kanywani) and since we never knew what her real name was, we just nicknamed her Kanywani (by the way, if you are finding the name hard to pronounce, can-won, is close enough). She had a small stall on which she sold vegetables and fruit. She would buy raw bunches of sweet bananas, keep them warm in her tenement until they were ripe. She would then sell them in clusters. The bottom-most clusters on a bunch were always scrawny, not good for any price. She called them mukokoteeni. It's this mukokoteeni she always gladly gave to her ba-kanywani. She never gave sweet bananas to any of the kids on her side of the neighborhood. They might have been her closer neighbors but she chose not to make them her friends.
Kanywani's vegetable and fruit business must not have been doing so well. She always complemented it with another business – kanywani's body business. Her body business was doing great. She was winning different clients quite often; some coming in cars, some coming on boda bodas and others just almost literally tip-toeing through the neighborhood to her shack – men who wanted to satisfy their sexual needs. We saw all this with our little eyes. Always. And whenever one of her clients visited, we knew she would be coming out soon to bathe. We had mastered the entire routine. And whenever we were in the mood to watch some x-rated stuff, we would sit in the mango tree and wait patiently. That day was one such day.
We watched her unwrap the towel, just like she always did, and start to bathe. We must have over eaten that day. We certainly were heavier that day than we had previously been. The branch suddenly snapped. Moments later, after a swift vertical journey that ended with a thud, we were on the ground screaming in pain, stuck in branches: Dislocated bones, sprained arms, bruises, scratches, bleeding…it was an accident scene and Kanywani was the first to arrive, wrapped in her towel and compassionately helping. If only she had known what the six little imps had been at.
That week, the mighty mango tree was cut down. It had almost single handedly executed a massacre. At least that's what the hospital quarters intellectuals said. They blamed the tree, not the little imps.
Our long big brother show came to an end. But while our tree pavilion had lasted, we pressed our noses on Kanywani's bathroom window, tuned our tiny ears and opened our little innocent eyes to things only adults were supposed to see, dreamed of doing things her clients did and cursed the gods that hadn't presented us with such chance. We were little wannabes with lots of time on our hands and plenty of Kanywani shower hour shows to watch. We later found better things to do; like play soccer with waste polythene rolled balls, make cars with steel cables we vandalized from the neighboring military barracks chain fence, play hide and seek (even tweak it to a more interesting version – kakkebe), play yakobo, hunt birds with catapults, invade other people's mango trees for mangoes, build small mud house models, lure kids from other neighboring quarters into territorial fights, let Kanywani and her ilk live their lives and generally get our own life. We stopped watching Kanywani's shower hour and in our opinion, started living our lives. But we still devoured her mukokoteeni.
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