The Iron Lady

By Marion Williams Akena

There was a wedding procession going on in the outskirts of Gulu, a simple one. The bride was sitting nervously, a bit curious, all set for her new life. She wore a long white silk dress with white flowers in her styled hair, silver high heels, a set of silver bangles on both hands and a pair of earrings. She was all set to say yes to her soon-to-be husband. She didn’t know how her new life as a married woman would be. Well, I have to first get married to know how it feels, she thought to herself.

Her name was Melissa, and she was a teenage girl waiting for the procession to get over. Melissa was the third daughter of her father. Melissa’s mother passed away when she was seven years old. She had five sisters and three brothers. They were all raised by a single father. It was tough for Melissa’s father but he was determined to raise his children without getting remarried. Due to the financial crisis, Melissa had to discontinue her studies. She managed to study till year two at Gulu University. Melissa shifted to Kampala after her wedding.

Her marriage was running smoothly, with life’s ups and downs, but she was happy. Her husband supported her in every way, but due to language problems (she knew no other language except Acholi), she couldn’t find a job. The couple was blessed with one daughter and one son. Soon, Melissa was expecting a third child.

That year was a blessed year as Melissa’s husband got a promotion, too. On Christmas Day, Melissa was already nine months pregnant and her husband had to stay late at the office for some work. ’’Don’t go to work, dear, don’t leave me alone. I might have to rush to the hospital any moment,” said Melissa. ”It’s just a day’s work, I will be back in the evening,” said her husband. Melissa said goodbye, unwillingly. She was worried and nervous. What if the delivery date is today, what will I do? This thought was troubling her mind continuously. Despite her troubles, Melissa had to cook food for the family. Thankfully, one of her sisters, Brenda, was living with her to take care of her during her pregnancy. Brenda helped Melissa cook food, and on this day, they cooked a lot of food. They cooked chicken, rice, beans, salads, and pork. After their meal, the children were taken for swimming by Melissa’s sister while Melissa remained home waiting for her husband. The evening passed, and Melissa’s husband didn’t return.

The time passed from dawn to noon to night, without any information about her husband, Ocen’s, whereabouts. There might be additional work at the office holding him back, Melissa’s conscience reassured, but she was a little worried. Then the phone rang. ”Are you Mrs. Ocen?” ”Yes,” she said. ”Please, come to Mulago hospital immediately,” said the caller. ”Why? Is everything fine? What happened?” ”He is fine; he wants to talk to you; I am his boss,” was the reply.

At the hospital, Melissa was guided to a room, followed by Ocen’s boss. Ocen was in the ICU. He had suffered a sudden respiratory tract attack as he was an asthmatic patient. He didn’t want Melissa to be informed, but because his condition was critical, his boss did not have any other option. Ocen died in the evening.

Melissa, nine months pregnant, stood still beside his dead body. No complaints, she just stood straight. Her two other kids were also brought to the hospital by her sister and brother. The poor kids didn’t know what was going on because they were still too young to understand. Melissa fell unconscious and was shifted to the labor room. She was blessed with a second daughter. In the ward, she looked towards her children, and said to her sister, ”Why me? I lost my mother when I was young, and now I’ve lost my husband.” Her sister replied, “God gives troubles to His strong angels, now be strong and think of your children.” Her sister stayed with her in the adjacent room.

Being a single mum is difficult, but being a homemaker when your husband dies is the toughest. She could not find a job due to her language problem but she had to search for one in order to feed her children. Ocen’s boss bought a sewing machine for Melissa, and she started stitching suitcase covers. People in her community would buy them, one piece at a time. She used to earn very little, which was not sufficient to raise her three kids. Her brother bought her a grinder so that she could make peanut butter at home and she could sell that on the weekends. Since she had a newborn baby, she would pack the peanut butter in small white polythene and sell packets from home.

Days were tough, but she had to work hard for her children. She was determined to raise her kids with courage and confidence. She was advised by many to remarry because she was young, but she refused. She said that her three children are her life. The struggle at that time was beyond imagination, and she was inconsolable. Melissa’s brother turned into a father figure for the kids and supported them financially. Her children were interested in studies, but due to the circumstances, they had to quit studies and start working when they were very young. At the age when many youngsters enjoy college, these children had to work to support their mother.

Finally, Melissa’s hard work and determination paid off; her three children have grown into three mature adults and are well-settled. Everything is good now, but Ocen is missed by his family.

Melissa’s children value the struggle and pains their mother went through while raising them. Her responsibility is over, and now it is their turn to pay her back. They stock food in the house for their mother, they even got her a helper to help with the house chores. This is Melissa’s story. A single mother, everyone called her Amami, but her children called her their IRON LADY.




15 January, 2023