Dear reader, the story you are going to read is one the writer tells with pint-sized bias. The prejudice that comes with falling in love at first sight with a people. A wonderful and happy couple. Now, a visit to Maurice Mugisha and Irene Birungi Mugisa Mugisha, whom we shall call the Mugishas, comes with warmth.
You feel it in their two pretty daughters’ infectious smiles and the elegance of the house, the unending reference to each other as “honey” and the softness with which it comes. When the couple hosted a photographer and I for a sumptuous lunch, the bliss of a young couple, and small family, was self-evident.
But that is only the coating. Listen to how this family of two fairly accomplished journalists came to be. While at Makerere University pursuing his bachelor of Business Administration degree, Mugisha admired and almost adored Birungi, then a high flying business reporter with WBS TV. “She was one of those ladies we watched on TV and wanted to meet. She was good at her game,” he says.
Little did he know that this, his campus idol, would be his wife and mother of his children. But how could he have? He was, after all, younger than her. By five years. When he joined WBS TV as a sports news anchor, his mission was meet-and-befriend-Irene, but at a purely professional level. That was in 2003.
He says, “She was one of the most beautiful ladies on TV, one of those you wanted to meet, only to discover that on air they are different people. I wanted to get to know and befriend some of these senior people to learn from them”.
They occasionally talked and one thing led to another. Before he knew it, she was introducing him to her parents in 2006 in a traditional marriage. The relationship had now matured and in the same year, they took the maiden walk down the aisle.
I didn’t even notice his good looks
It was a meeting of souls least expected that leaves Birungi speechless for some time as she reminisces, “We bumped into each other in the corridors. I was not awed by his looks and never imagined we would be a couple. He asked me out for tea. At the time, WBS used to hold monthly staff get-together parties. He asked to be my date.”
It was on one of these dates at Club Silk that Mugisha, the current NTV news manager, sowed his seed. As soft music played, he called her to the dance floor, holding her waist and looking her right in the eyes, a mellow melting out and with a deep sigh said, “My mother will like you.”
“I was puzzled. I asked him what he meant and he repeated the statement. It was then that it hit me that this guy was taking this friendship to another level,” she recollects, staring at him, their eyes twitching as though they fell in love only a night ago.
Before she met Mugisha in 2003, Birungi, now a communications director with Federation of Uganda Employers and a businesswoman, had had a relationship that had gone sour, from which she had a son now aged 17. Maurice was, however, ready to let sleeping dogs lie.
“When you see him with my son, you would think they were brothers; he treats him like his own son,” she says, ogling Maurice’s photograph, hanging on the wall in the sitting room.
But wait, wasn’t he scared to ask out this woman with a son, and who was older than him? He, after all, was only 25 and she was 29!
“I was not scared because I expected no chance. I went in with no hidden motive. She was one of those I believed I could learn something from; she was interviewing top CEOs and the President but she was normal,” he says.
And her? What would she tell friends and family?
“Maurice acted mature and was God-fearing. He asked to see my father and took a gift for my mother. My dad was so impressed, he told him, ‘Knock and the door shall be opened for you’,” she recounts, adding, “Another time, we went to Arusha and met my uncle, a diplomat. He was also impressed that at his age, he was speaking like an adult.”
Above all, Birungi says, “Age does not matter. It is just a number. What matters is that two people connect and understand each other and value their interests”.
Her husband interjects, “Besides, very few people, even today, notice she is older than me. My friends and family who got to know were very kind.” To Mugisha, love has the power playwright William Shakespeare paints in his epic play Romeo and Juliet, to make black and white fall in love and water down all youthful assumptions.
“You never know whom you can fall in love with. It was the last thing on my mind, but voila!” says Mugisha, adding: “At school, we used to say we would not marry unless we had cars and houses, but I bought my first car as we dated and built a house after we got married.”
The doubting Thomases and believing Johns
He was 27 when he married and his father, he remembers, kept asking, “Are you sure you want to get married? Why the rush?”
But this was only a couple in the morning of love. The world out there was not as supportive as family. The media, with its latent power to make or break, spread its tentacles, ready to suck the blood out of their blossoming affair.