My dad was an army captain who died at the front line in a war-torn area of northern Uganda. His name was Kanyesigye but my mum fondly called him Kanye. I hate to remember those days because I too wanted to die at one point. At the time of his death, my mother was heavily pregnant with her second child. The army was well organized, and they promptly called her and had her sign various documents related to Dad’s death. Then we arranged a funeral service and buried him at home.
If a soldier dies on the front line, the army provides compensation to the bereaved family. A considerable sum of money was given to Mum to take care of us children. Dad’s relatives did not take this well because they wanted to be the ones to receive the money on behalf of the family. They constantly threatened Mum and insulted her in public. But Mum was determined to stand her ground for our sake. She didn’t want us to end up on the street like many other children of veterans.
So Mum set up a cereal business. She bought cereal from farmers at the wholesale price and sold it at her shop in the local market. The business was successful for the first month but then failed miserably because she often took money out of the business to satisfy her relatives’ demands. She did everything possible to care for us, but ill luck seemed to follow her. The shop would be broken into, or con men would steal her money. She would also supply goods on credit, but the money would never be recovered. Every day, Mum went to my dad’s grave and cried. She was tired of living, it seemed. Dad and Mum had loved each other. They had their small differences and fought every once in a while, as people in any relationship do, but they had remained faithful to each other.
In the five years after Dad’s death, Mum struggled as a single parent. Then she met Captain Okello, Dad’s friend who had been out of the country for military training. I told him how life had turned out for us since the death of his friend. He resolved to send me back to school, and helped Mum with so many other things. It was the best day of my life: the future that had been put on hold was revived. I wholeheartedly thanked him and started preparing my things to attend school.
One day Okello visited us at home. He was cheerful as always but you could tell something was bothering him. Eventually he opened up and told Mum that his wife, Olivia, had cheated on him and gotten pregnant when he was out of the country. He spoke with a lot of pain and disappointment in his voice. Mum was friends with Olivia. She knew Olivia was pregnant, but she had not known that Okello was out of the country for that long. She didn’t care much anyway. Whenever Mum asked Olivia who the father of the baby was, she would walk out in a temper. Okello told Mum, “If I had left her pregnant, she would have told me. By now, the baby would be at least three months old. But she is just six months pregnant. This baby was conceived in my absence.”
In Mum’s mind, her problems were bigger than Okello’s. She had children to look after, and she didn’t know how to do it. She had to pay rent, school fees, medical bills, and provide food for all of us. But Okello had the option of leaving his wife for another woman.
One day Okello called my Mum and said, “Elizabeth, I built a house in Mukono. I had expected to live there with my wife, but since the trust between us has been broken, we are ending our relationship. Would you like to live in it?”
This was great news and a relief for mum. The problem of rent was finally sorted. She readily accepted, and Okello organized a lorry for her. We were leaving our village to stay in a place close to the city. As we were traveling, I kept wondering how life would be in this new environment. The house in Mukono was beautiful. It was a large compound with lots of grass and flowers, enclosed with walls. Most days I stayed indoors and played in the compound with my siblings.
Okello visited us every day. He was staying a few kilometers away from where we had previously lived. He had lived alone since separating from his wife. He would come with gifts for us and sometimes for Mum. This continued for some time, and I began to be suspicious of his intentions. Sure enough, one day he poured his heart out to Mum. He said, “I will love you with all your children. Just give me a chance, I will take care of all of you.” I had mixed feelings about it, but in the end I approved of him marrying Mum. As for Mum, she was speechless. But what choice did a widow like her have? She didn’t have a husband, and Dad’s relatives had abandoned us. Mum decided to embrace her new love. She lived a happy life, and she loved, respected, and supported Okello unconditionally. Okello kept his word: he paid our school fees, catered to our personal needs, and provided us with everything a father should. We lived together as a family. Mum had two children with Okello, and they got married. Their marriage was registered in the Registrar of Marriages.
Okello’s ex-wife, Olivia, got married to the father of her baby. Their family was unstable. The man was a drunkard who beat up Olivia every night when he came home. She regretted having cheated on Okello, for he was a good, committed man, but it was too late. Okello had gotten married to her friend.
Mum and Okello’s union was stable until, one day, Dad reappeared. Yes, my supposedly dead father appeared in the flesh! We were astonished. How could a man we buried a year ago come back to life? Mum was so shocked she could hardly say a word. What could she say? What would Dad take her for?
Dad then told us how he’d escaped from the camp before the rebels’ attack. He had fled to neighboring South Sudan, where he sought refuge at a cousin’s. He did not know who was buried in the coffin, but it wasn’t him. Mum felt so disturbed. She did not know what to do. Even after Dad made it clear that he did not blame her for getting married to Okello, and even after he said he wouldn’t interfere in their relationship, she remained shocked. She kept on wondering: How could a man who was buried come back to life?
We asked for guidance from our cultural leaders. In our culture, certain rituals are performed whenever someone not from the clan is wrongly buried due to misrepresentation or identification. The elders organized a day when rams would be slaughtered at the grave where Dad was thought to have been buried. Dad was present. He was wrapped in pieces of animal hide, and blood from the ram poured over his body. He was then pronounced clean and free to mix with the population. It was a new beginning for him.
27 July, 2023