It is at the funeral of the newly deceased that we easily break down and weep for the earlier departed ones. Lugwere proverb.
So when you find a female mourner throwing herself to the ground, sobbing her heart out, or the male one who’s seated quietly in the corner and letting tears flow, it is not always true that the tears are only for the person in the coffin yonder.
Last Wednesday, I got a casual call from the United States. I recognised the voice as that of Edna, a beautiful, very pleasant young lady who I hadn’t heard from for a few months. The global Covid-19 lockdown found her in Arizona; she’s still there.
My mind went spinning back to our last meeting two years ago, at Café Javas, Bombo Road.
Fresh from university, Edna sought my advice about joining the army, to follow in the footsteps of her late father. I said nothing for a long while. When she repeated the question, I assured her I’d heard her the first time.
I quietly asked what plans she had for raising a family. Turned out she was the domesticated breed; dreaming about getting married and “living happily ever after”, as a wife and a mother...and a soldier.
The waitress presently served our order, so as we munched on chicken skewers and gonja, washing it down periodically with African coffee, I told her the story of a lady soldier I call Afande.
I think Afande was born for the army – tall, strong, fearless and very fit; the kind of woman the husband cannot, even in his dreams, think of beating. She carried her university degree to the army years ago, excelled in training and service, attended numerous courses and all that.
Years later, her shoulders were bare; she was still a Private. I always ran out of handkerchiefs whenever she came over to see me - she was always in tears.
Her superiors had insisted on sleeping with her if she was to get a promotion. Problem was, Afande is an idealist; the kind of girl who wanted to live responsibly, get married, and enjoy the “happily ever after”. Sleeping around wasn’t her kind of thing.
Her colleagues, who chose to take broad licence with their legs, being passed around like candy, had earned rank after rank way back.
Had we been under a civilised government, I would have promptly initiated a prosecution.
But those things don’t work in Uganda; she’d in all likelihood be court-martialled instead over this or that – our army always finds a way.
There was a blank period of like two years when I didn’t hear from her; and part of me feared that she had gotten tired of playing the ethical game and given in to earn her pips.
But, like a bolt of lightning during clear weather, she showed up one morning and told me she was still “hanging in there”; hurt and disillusioned, but still carrying the pride of a woman.
I was privileged, several years ago, to witness her wedding and later, to be godfather to her children. And I thought the husband, a teacher, was lucky to marry such a girl – see, they don’t make them like that anymore!
At Café Javas, after telling Afande’s story, Edna had agreed she needed to give her plans more thought.
And when she called from the US, I learnt she had decided to ‘try her talents elsewhere’, a phrase my old Namilyango College headmaster, Dr Peregrine Kibuuka, would have found appropriate in such a scenario.
My long silence at Café Javas wasn’t because of Edna; I was weeping for Afande – old tears at a new funeral.
This is the very professional army that the President loves to cite as a hallmark of what he has achieved in three decades and more.
The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda