TENDING TO THINGS WITH LIFE: A dose of literature to get you through Monday (series 15)

It is dark but the streets are bustling with life. My mind is preoccupied with the day’s events that I do not pay attention to my surroundings. I literally walk through people: not stepping aside for anyone unless they step aside for me because exhaustion has worn down my courtesies. I climb onto a boda boda from the railway stage opposite Total in Kireka and as the motorcycle rides up hill and downhill, and uphill again, my mind plays back on the Fiction writing classes that started this afternoon at the Museum.

I am taking writing classes to improve my story telling skills. I was excited to be part of young Ugandans approaching writing from a professional angle. The classes are perfect timing since I quit the law firm to write without ever having attended any creative writing classes. Things like syntax and clauses and sentence construction; all these are still alien to me. My grammar classes in high school were focused on passing the exams and not learning and therefore I have much to learn from these fiction writing classes.

I was excited about the classes but I failed on this week’s task. We were asked to write an essay on the topic “How I write” which required us to explain our writing processes. The Coordinator was clear when he wrote in his email, “Deadline for submissions is Thursday at 7: 00 pm”

Well, ‘yours truly, Tindyebwa Dorah’ submitted today, Friday, at 1:00pm, exactly an hour before the class. I managed to write but since I submitted late, my essay was not assessed by the other writers in the class. Why did I fail at this? Why couldn’t I complete the assignment within the allocated time? Why did I miss the deadline?

In my essay on my writing process I had written, “I read my work out loud; listening for beauty, for humour and simplicity.” Did I mean that? Is simplicity admirable?

I did not read simplicity in the essays that struck me with envy. Some writers in the class had taken effort to use imagery, description, setting and other advisable literary devices in their essays. I had simply written; like a writer with no ambition, like a failure whose work would not be reviewed by other writers. Maybe had my essay been reviewed, the simplicity of it all would have bored the class. Maybe I should be glad my essay was not reviewed.

I am heading home and I thought I would share with my parents about the writing classes. I want to tell them something that will make them proud of me. I hate to think that they see me as a failure. They must say to their friends, “Oh our daughter Tindi! We hope she finds her way. She is lost.” Although Mr. and Mrs. Kwikiriza have not told me expressly that they were disappointed with my decision to change career from law to writing, I can sense it: I can sense their disappointment.

Every time I am not introduced at social gatherings, where previously they would jump at any opportunity to show off their high achieving academic child, I feel their disappointment. Every time I am not asked ‘how work is going’, I feel their disappointment. I know they assume that I spend my days sleeping and doing no work and that is why they never ask about what I am doing.

I had wanted to share with them about the writing classes but I am having second thoughts about that. If I have failed the first week’s assignment how sure am I that I will successfully complete the ten week writing course.

I am snapped out of my mind’s renditions by the Boda-man. He says he will leave me at the junction that leads to the Kabaka’s palace on Kireka Hill. He had wanted UgShs. 1,500/- but I only had 1,000 on me so I will have to walk the rest of the distance home.

I cannot forgive myself for failing at simple tasks. Now is when I remember the little bird that was stolen from me, that little house sparrow I thought I had saved two months ago. It had a broken wing and could not fly. I managed to house it in a bucket on our balcony but a National Water employee took it with him. Why did he take it? What was he going to do with a house sparrow? A broken winged house sparrow that did not belong to him? That was a failure on my part. I should have stayed home and taken care of it but I lost it. I managed to lose a bird that had no wings to fly. Things are like that with me. Even simple things like broken winged house sparrows manage to get away from me.

Failure! Failure! I am a failure.

And the garden that I was so excited about: the one with the yellow Butterfly Bush and the purple Ruellias and the struggling Marigolds – what happened to that obsession? I was so consumed by the desire to revive my neighbour’s pot plants, I watered the marigolds, I hoped for their shriveled buds to blossom into beautiful flowers and I thought I would tend to those plants and bring back life to them. Now I do not even know how the plants are. I have no idea if they made it to December like I did. I completely ignored them after that one day that I watered them. I got comfortable that the November rains would do the tending for me. It is December and the rains have stopped but I have not returned to those marigolds to tend to them.

Why couldn’t I submit the essay on time? I enjoyed writing it. I had wanted to start my essay with something intelligent: a line that is quotable, that beginner writers will use as a mantra 20 years later. May be it is these visions of grandeur that failed me – I was caught up trying to write great things and I lost time to accomplish simple tasks. I always approach new ventures with an intensity that I cannot sustain. I start out looking for greatness but when the intensity wanes and I can’t recognize greatness in the little things I manage to do, I declare myself a failure.

Today when I received an email from the coordinator with an attachment of the essays that will be assessed (excluding mine of course), I regretted all the hours I had put into writing that essay. On Thursday, I sat for hours before my laptop and only managed to write tens of words. I was constantly pulling back my fingers from the keyboard each time I considered a line ‘not good enough’ to be typed. ‘Good enough’ is hard to determine with exactitude. While I am writing, I am often filled with self doubt about the style of narrative, or the voice of the character, or a description of a place – “Is this authentic?”, “is there consistency?”, “does that sound real?” – These are the questions that cloud my mind while I write. It is a while before I find answers to enable me type on. Writing means I spend 80% of my work time thinking and creating. The 20% is when I actually punch keys or scribble onto paper my thoughts and creations. Well, none of my peers in the Fiction Class will read the statistics about my writing process.

I have arrived at the green metallic gate that leads to my home. I am nervous. I feel like a prodigal child returning home. Since September, I have not visited and there is a lot of guilt in this knowledge. Already, I feel weighed down by the failed assignment in my first week of a serious writing engagement. I hope no one asks me about ‘work’.

I can’t wait to see Juliet. She never asks me about work. She only hug me tightly and whisper in my ears, “my only daughter, my only daughter”. She always does that and I never grow tired of hearing it. It is such an intimate whisper. I feel special being her only daughter. Tom and Rabella should envy me. I do not share Mother with anyone. They have to share their parents with me.

I knock hard on the metallic gate with a stone and wait eagerly for a response. I hope it will be Juliet to open the gate. I could use a tight hug from a mother. I need a hug.

Copyright © 2016-2017 by Daphine Arinda

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


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