imagesEMPTY SHELLS
Beyond redemption

Anitah Muwanguzi
2/3/2014
PROLOGUE

It’s a mixture of emotions
From far away, the noise of battle
When your eyes meet across round tables
With no minced words
All that is mirrored is anger, rage
Desire to control, to amass wealth,
But at whose expense?

‘It’s all for development, the greater good’
You chorus in agreement, but whose good?
The heart, a hidden weapon
And just like serpents you wield your charm
To take from them, the mothers, fathers, children.
For the little they get,
You drive them like slaves, and they are left with nothing to eat
Their hard work yields even more pain, more suffering
Behind closed doors in your board rooms,
You draft plans to take away their homes,
After all, the end justifies the means
Love and compassion, are a sworn enemy
‘Why should we show mercy? That is a sign of incompetence,
A weakness we cannot afford.’

Women are raped, girls defiled and abused
Children are crushed beneath the boots of those called
Called upon to defend to defend the virtues of hypocrisy,
Greed, lust, and selfishness.
The cries of those bereaved are heard, as
Darkness reigns, the rain beats down on the earth steadily
But cannot smother the heart wrenching mourns of those rendered helpless

Blood flows endlessly, the Nile a ghastly sight.
The stench reaches high up to heaven,
And God, God
With tear streaked face cries out,
‘My people, why have you forsaken me?’

The bodaboda reached the main gates of Mulago hospital, and Mukisa was panicking as he saw his bleeding woman, on the edge of her tether. The lift was moving so slowly, and by the time he reached the labour ward, there was no free bed, no space left.
‘Do you have any money?’ the nurse at the station asked him, with steel in her eyes.
‘Oh, money?’ Mukisa tried to check himself for a wallet, only to realise he had left it home, in a bid to rush his woman to hospital. The woman, whose life was draining away with every moment, they spent standing in the corridor. ‘Can’t you see, I am losing her?’
‘She wouldn’t be the first, and anyway, she’s already doing too badly, there’s little we can do to save her.’
Mukisa looked at the woman in disbelief, wondering if nurses were always so inhuman.
‘Do you know how many women die in these corridors?’
Suddenly Mukisa wasn’t listening anymore, for he felt before he saw his woman go cold and still in his arms, and he was suspended for a while.
His knees gave way beneath him, and he sunk to the ground, the weight of her forgotten, the only words ringing in his head, ‘Do you know how many women die in these corridors every day?’
‘She’s dead, as was expected. She had no chance unfortunately!’
He just blocked the nurse’s voice from his head and kept shaking his woman, as the blood became a pool around him. Men often don’t cry in Uganda, but Mukisa was oblivious to the tears flowing down his face, as he wondered what he would do without her, after all they had been through.
So he remembered her as she had been, remembered when she had told him, ‘We shouldn’t try to have any more children.’ And man that he is, he had insisted.
‘We have only girls; we need one boy at least.’ And she had consented just to please him, and now here they were. She was dead, and he didn’t know what to do next.
So he stood up, a man in a trance and slowly calmly as though without a care in the world, he left the hospital, his woman lying were he’d left her, as behind him, he heard the nurse, ‘You can’t leave her here, Ssebo, come back here….’ still he walked, never looking back, remembering that their Kibanja had been sold to a developer, he contemplated his predicament.
He didn’t have any where to bury her. Transport to Namasagali was not available, paying the grave diggers, and as he contemplated his problems, with no solutions, his frustration grew even more. He was stuck, stranded with three daughters, no shelter, their mother gone, and with no immediate solutions, he simply walked, and walked, without a care as to where he was going straight into the busy traffic, which sucked him in, turning him into minced meat.
CHAPTER ONE
The girls were roused by the sound of destruction: metal clashing against metal, heavy thudding noises, the walls were caving in, and one side of their house was fast becoming a pile of stones.
Linda run as fast as she could, calling Kirabo her five year old sister, who slept at the furthest end, close to her parents’ room. She called, frantically wondering if her sister was crushed under the falling debris.
‘Kirabo? Elizabeth?’ she called, but the noise was so deafening. She just couldn’t hear her own voice. Still she dodged the falling skies, trying to search for her younger sisters, but in vain, they had vanished without a trace.
‘Oh no! Where are you?’ the noise was getting louder, and Linda knew that if she did not get out of there soon enough, she just might not be able to.
So she ran out, leaving behind her two younger sisters, having realised she could not save them. Linda ran as fast as she could from the little house, dodging the stones as they fell in the face of the machine that destroyed everything in its wake. Save for the clothes on her body, Linda had nothing. No identification, no academic certificates, no clothes, no money, no food to eat and no shelter.
He parents hadn’t returned the night before, and they hadn’t called either. Deep within her, she feared the worst. She didn’t know what she would tell them if she saw them anyway. That she hadn’t been able to save her sisters, that she hadn’t known they would simply destroy their home without so much as a warning?
The answers were there, and they were justified, but they didn’t ease the ache, the sorrow in her heart.
Earlier, Linda had tried to call for the attention of the man behind the wheel of the grader, so he could stop the destruction, and let her search for her sisters, but he had simply continued, without sparing her so much as a glance. So she watched hopelessly, as the house that had been her home was crushed, with her young sisters underneath, now a memory.
So she cried, and let the tears fall, hopeless, helpless, and alone.
Finally resigned to the fate of the destruction of her home, Linda made as if to leave As she tried to get up from the ground, trembling, in shock, her feet unable to carry her, contemplating the injustice of it all, she felt small strong arms grip her neck, holding her so tight, and shaking, tears soaking her dusty clothes, she turned to find her sisters alive and well.
Together, holding tightly gripping each other, they watched as their home was demolished, levelled to the ground, as though it had never been.
Each of the girls was lost in their own memories of their family as it had been, laughter as they fought over who would be doing the dishes, their most hated chore, their mother firmly reminding them of the need to have a roster to end the incessant sibling fights.
Their father always so serious, and quiet, rarely raising his voice at them. While he never said the words, they knew he loved them, always loved them.
Linda remembered her favourite pair of red shoes her father had her on Christmas, the joy she’d felt at the age of five when he’d presented those shoes to her, commending her on how responsible she always was.
The picture was so vivid, the joy she’d felt so fresh, still so new as though it were yesterday instead of twelve years ago.
Elizabeth finally asked the one question they were each silently asking themselves. ‘What next Linda? Where shall we sleep tonight?’
‘We’ll wait for papa and mama to come back for us.’ Kirabo the youngest answered. ‘They must be coming back, aren’t they?’
‘Of course they will.’ Linda reassured them, although she wasn’t so convinced. She’d had a restless night, filled with nightmares, and one of them had already come to pass, they were homeless. As to the rest, she couldn’t remember, but remembered the heartbreak, the pain so raw she felt every time she thought of their parents, as though she would never see them again.
A part of her knew, in the depth of her soul, she knew what her eyes hadn’t seen, what her mind could not fathom, and the well of sadness was so strong, as though a piece of her soul had been severed.
Around them, the clouds darkened, the wind started to howl like a lost damned soul in hell, the trees cowed in the face of the fury of the imminent storm. The sky had turned a heavy lead, the cold wind bit through the skin like a cancer, icy fingers enveloping them and stealing their breath away.
Their clothes were almost whisked off their slender frames, and they could feel each other tremble as they held onto each other tightly, willing the storm away, but knowing that wouldn’t do.
Emotions spinning out of control, fear most evident, lost in a sea of darkness, lightning rippled across the sky, accompanied by thunder so loud, it was as though the universe had conspired against the three little ladies, who now stood witless.
They didn’t know whether to run, or stay and brave the storm, because even if they were to run, they had nowhere to go, so they stood, like three willow trees, and with the rain coming down so fast, there was no way they could flee the storm.

CHAPTER TWO

In Linda’s mind, one song kept replaying itself ‘You are always fighting for us, heaven’s Angels all around, my delight is found in knowing that you wear the victor’s crown, my helper my defender, my saviour and my friend…….’ and she felt comforted in the knowledge that though she did not know what to do next, someone else already knew where she would go.
So as the rain continued its relentless onslaught, they held onto each other, drawing strength and warmth from each other.
Still the song played on in her mind, ‘Every high thing must come down, every stronghold shall be broken, you wear the victor’s crown, you overcome.’
So she knew the situation was complicated, but a solution would come, maybe not in the form she might like, but she knew she would find a solution soon enough, for her sisters and herself to get through their predicament, she had to find a way. There had to be a way.
The rain continued falling relentlessly, and it was as though heaven had conspired with fate to wipe the girls off the face of the earth.
So the girls clung to each other, unthinking, trembling violently, numb from the cold that bit like a skin cancer, the pain intense.
The storm raged and eventually the girls lost consciousness, lost in the darkness.

The nightmares were back, this time more intense than ever. She heard her younger sisters calling for help, crying frantically, pulling her, begging her to wake up. But she just couldn’t wake up. She felt a heavy weight bearing down upon her, and she just didn’t have the strength to fight it off, so she slept on. The weakness in her bones was overwhelming, she couldn’t so much as move a finger. Meanwhile, she felt pain so sharp in her heart as she saw her sisters dragged away, struggling but the men carrying them were way too strong and any struggles on their part were easily restrained. They were led to a ship, and the last she saw was the ship sailing away, while they cried out for her, but she still couldn’t move. She felt trapped, struggling to wake up but unable to.
Sometime during the night, Linda awoke to silence. ‘The nightmares again.’ The storm had finally passed, and for that, she’s grateful. However, she was alone, and that terrified her more than anything had. Her younger sisters were missing and she had no clue whatsoever where they might be. It was so dark, she couldn’t even make out the ground on which she trod. The ground was muddy and slippery, her movements were hampered by the uneven ground.
Linda called out for Kirabo and Elizabeth? She ran, uncaring about whether she fell. Frantic and afraid, wanting desperately to find her sisters, she ran down the winding path yelling at the top of her voice, until her voice grew hoarse. The place where she was, was totally deserted, and secluded, there wasn’t a house for miles, so she could do nothing but wait for dawn. She wondered why she dreamt about things she couldn’t change.
The previous day’s events finally took their toll on her and she broke into uncontrollable sobs. She didn’t know where her parents were, her home had been demolished, and now her sisters were missing too.
Call it a twist of fate, but Linda was at loss for what to do. She didn’t know where to start, she thought of going to the police, but wondered if they would take her seriously. Everything that had happened seemed surreal even to her, so she wouldn’t be surprised if they thought her mad, and hallucinating.
She didn’t know whether or not her parents were still alive, but she needed to start by looking for her parents first thing in the morning, even if she had to walk to Mulago hospital to find out.
Reaching the hospital at about 10am in the morning, having walked for miles, from Kireka through Banda, Nakawa, towards the city centre, tired, dirty and muddy, more a scary sight than anything else, she sauntered into the hospital, seeking for answers, but no one paid any attention to her.
Linda reached the nurses’ station, and they looked at her in disgust, wondering if she was another mad person belonging to Butabika. She looked bedraggled; her clothes smeared with mud, her hair matted coils of dirt, dried from the sun.
Linda spoke to the nurse, describing her parents to the nurse at the reception. The nurse thought her mad, but figured listening to her couldn’t hurt anybody. In any case it would probably cement her opinion of her insanity and save her unnecessary trouble.
When Linda realised she had her full attention, she described a dark skinned man of middle size, about six feet dressed in a black shirt and trousers, and a pregnant light skinned woman, very tall, in a green kitenge. The nurse’s mind went on alert as soon as she described the couple that had staggered into the hospital two days ago. She remembered the woman had died bleeding still in the waiting area, and the man disillusioned had simply walked out without a word.
While she wasn’t the nurse who had attended to them she had noticed the commotion, because the man had caused quite a stir, calling for help, and with his wife dying in his own arms, who wouldn’t lose his mind.
She looked at the girl before her, and filled with pity for her, was torn between telling her of what had happened or feigning ignorance to spare her more pain. However some things had better be faced sooner rather than later.
So she told her, and the girl crumbled before her, falling on her knees in the waiting area.
The nurse wanted to offer comfort, but was put off by the sight of her smeared with dirt, and so she simply talked to her, urging her to keep it together.
Eventually, she however asked her to follow her, so she could take a shower, and restore herself to some semblance of order.
Linda was glad to have found kindness in the nurse, but the pain she felt was still too raw. The further she went, the more ground she lost. Going to Mulago hospital, she’d hoped to find her parents, and hopefully enlist their help in finding her sisters, and a place to stay, but now she knew both her parents were dead, hope was an illusion she no longer held onto.

CHAPTER 3
Hours later, body severely and freshly scrubbed wearing clothes she’d been lent by the nurse, Linda sat nursing a cup of tea, frozen from the rollercoaster of emotions spiralling through her mind.
The girl was actually quite beautiful Monica thought to herself. She will do well she decided, taking in the girl’s dark skinned fair skin, and the obvious curves barely concealed by her hunched sitting position. With or without makeup, she’s bound to attract male appreciation.
While Monica worked as a nurse by day, in the night she worked as a sex worker, because her nurse’s salary was too little to live on. Taking in the girl’s features and sizing her up, she decided that in her situation, that was the only solution.
Walking into the room, she sat down next to Linda who raised wounded doe eyes to her, her pain raw, undisguised and apparent. The girl looked like she had been to hell and back. Monica bit back the sympathy. In her experience, self pity and compassion achieved nothing. One had to be practical in order to survive.
‘So we haven’t been introduced. I am Monica. What is your name?’
‘Linda.’ She whispered her voice barely discernible.
‘Ok Linda irrespective of the circumstances, glad to meet you, and I promise to help you in any way I can. For now I will let you get some rest, my shift at the hospital is still ongoing, and I can’t afford to delay. We’ll talk when I get back.’
Monica the nurse left knowing in her state, the girl wouldn’t think of going anywhere or even robbing her, so she simply trusted that and left her in her home, but just as a precaution, she asked her immediate neighbour to keep an eye on her.
Linda curled up in the sitting room sofa and immediately sunk into a dreamless sleep, for almost 18 hours. Monica returned to find her there at 1 am and left the next morning and the girl did not stir.
Finally in the afternoon of the next day, Linda woke up, well rested, and determined to deal with whatever she had to, starting with the burial of her mother. ‘Mama, mama why did you have to leave us so soon? Didn’t it ever occur to you that your death would rip us all apart?’
Fresh tears started to fall, and the sadness threatened to tear her apart, but Linda realised crying would not bring her mother back. She had to focus on the burial. Her mother couldn’t stay in Mulago mortuary forever. She wondered how she was going to get her mother removed from the mortuary or even buried. She had nothing, no money, no identification, just her word, and she knew it wouldn’t count for anything.
Perhaps her mama had already been taken to limbo, to that incomprehensible place where they placed unidentified bodies. The pain was ever constant so intense she could almost touch it, yet there were no more tears to be shed. The pain she wore was like a black cloak she could never discard. She wrapped it around and about her, letting it fill her, smother her, so that it was all she could see, feel, as she remembered their home demolished, with it all the memories most cherished, the fear that she had lost Kirabo and Elizabeth forever, the storm that had sealed her fate, taking her family, with it all she loved, and desperately craved for, in that moment so much more than life.
Linda wanted to cry because that pain was suffocating her, she couldn’t breath, she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
‘What kind of God allowed this kinds of things to happen to a people he claimed to love.’ And yet she couldn’t balme God, even when the pain got to it’s worst, Linda thought to herself, that she ought to know better.
Still, ‘Oh God oh God’ she just couldn’t stop repeating the words over and over again, clinging to them, desperate for some direction, a light to turn on in her head, but nothing.

Linda heard Elizabeth and Kirabo fighting over who was to control the remote, and she mused as she heard Kirabo say in her usual little no nonsense voice. ‘You’re not fair. Yesterday was your turn, and today is mine. Remember, mummy said we should follow the roster.’ By now her voice had gotten hysterical and on the verge of tears, as she surrendered the remote, Linda made as though to go in and play peace maker, only to find the room empty.
Waking up to reality did not ease the strain, or even the frustration she felt at being unable to so much as cling to anything, because her family seemed to have vanished without a trace, all in the space of two days.
Her parents, she knew would never be seen or heard from again, her sisters, she didn’t want o imagine where they could be, but simply held on and hoped against hope.
She had no choice but to hope anyway, because even if she chose not to,there’s little she could do. With all the love she felt in her heart, she wanted to seize the possibilities however slim of her sisters being alive and turn them to reality. The need to see them was so great, that it became second as necessary as breathing.
She remembered her mother’s quiet voice. ‘Family is everything. You should always fight for family, always.’
Their love comforted her in that moment. She remembered the last day she had found her mother in pain, before their father had taken her to hospital. The pains on child birth she had seen in her eyes barely concealed, and the fear that had constricted her heart, even as her mother had urged her to be strong and ensure her sisters had lunch.
We will be back soon enough, for breakfast. After all this is not my first child. Look at all of you. Surely we will all be together soon.’
Words she thought of even now and realised her mother had been speaking to them both, more trying to reassure herself, because she had felt the end was near.
Her father, though worried as expected had been excited to be having a son at last. As a family, they had rejoiced together. Now she had no family, and yet she desperately needed an anchor, a place to start.
She heard the music, distant at first, as her thoughts drifted back. They music was so loud she wondered why she had taken so long to hear it.
So she decided to go and investigate. She walked slowly, deep in thought, and the farther she moved from the house where she had sought refuge, the louder the music became. ‘Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there’s no shadow of turning with thee, thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not……..’ the song went on even as she felt the sweet voice sooth her already tortured thoughts, she felt alive, as the music soared through and filled her. So she clung to those words even as the song ended and another began, an old favourite of hers. ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’ So she drank in the words, like the barren earth of the desert with its first droplets of rain.
She moved towards the music, her steps urgent, eager, lost in the sensation of well being, she felt like a new creature, and before she knew it, there it was before her, the source of her inspiration.

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