I Was Arrested for Abandoning a Baby

I did not want to talk about it, but this lady at OleeBranch went public about it, and so I have to continue the conversation, to tell you what her actions did to me. I don’t think she meant harm. I think she is a nice person, but there is an Acholi saying that goes ‘Yom cwin oneko latina’ – forgive my inability to write in Luo – which means ‘being too kind hearted killed my child’. She says she kindly offered to baby-sit for a stranger in a taxi, even as this strange mother showed no gratitude at all, and I believe her for she seems like a good person.

A child cries for something. I took this photo in Kit Mikaye, Kisumi
At that time, I did not know her. We had met maybe only once before. I can’t remember where – one of those art things (was it Bayimba last year?) and we had barely talked. Just a dry hello and brief introduction. So that day, when she walked into the taxi, I thought I recognized her from her sandy-colored dreadlocks, but I was not sure.
 
I was not sure either where I was going. I am more used to Jinja-Mukono road, I know all the stages. But with Entebbe road, I only know where to pick the taxis, and where to get off in Entebbe town. So I was fidgety all the time, wary of being robbed if I asked fellow passengers for directions. See, I had a camera bag. I was going for a gig, to take photos at someone’s birthday party. With Kampala what it is today, I feared if someone thought I was a stranger to the place, they might want to take advantage of it and mug me. I had to get off in Zana and I was not sure where that was. If she was near me, I would have asked, but she was like three rows in front, and I was squeezed in the back-row. Besides, I was not sure if she was the lady I knew. She had a baby, which confused things some more.
 
So when she alighted, I followed her to ask for directions. I thought a woman with a baby would not try to rob me. By the time I got out, I found her arguing with another mother. My Luganda is not the best, and I could only understand fragments here and there, but I thought they were arguing about a child. Olive said to the other woman ‘Have you forgotten the child you gave me?’ Now, I was certain I had misunderstood that Luganda phrase. Surely, a woman can’t give another woman a child unless they use hi-tech reproduction and cloning, which, as far as I know, is still science fiction. ‘Me? I gave you a child?’ the other woman asked Olive. ‘You rasta must have smoked weed and it is making you deny your own child.’
 
That’s what I thought I heard. My brain still refused to process the information, for I thought I was misunderstanding. But then, someone had paid me to take photos at a birthday party, and I had to get there, so I interrupted the quarreling. ‘Excuse me, are you Olive?’ I asked her, tapping on her shoulder. She turned to me and her face was folded in a frown, her glasses caught the lights from a street lamp so I could not see her eyes. I wondered if indeed she had smoked weed and forgotten her own baby. I once read a story about a woman in the US who smoked and then put her baby in a blender to make juice. She later told the police that she thought the baby was a giant pineapple.
 

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘I’m Olive.’ And then she recognized me. ‘Dilman!’ Yep, she was the one I met. ‘You are the guy who writes those crazy scifi stories.’ I was impressed that she remembered what I do. ‘Can you believe this woman? She gave me her baby and now she’s denying it!’ A tear rolled down from beneath her glasses and I felt sorry for her. Either she was too high or she was telling the truth. I could not decide which was which.

Grandmother and Child in Kit Mikaye, Kisumu
I turned to the woman, but to our great surprise, the woman was gone. Just like that. We looked around, and I saw her disappearing into an alley. ‘There!’ I said.
 
‘Hold the baby,’ Olive said. ‘I’ll bring her back.’
 

She thrust the baby at me. She was so mad that I could not refuse, and so I took the baby. Olive sprinted off after the woman and soon she too disappeared in the same alley. I do not remember the last time I had a baby in my arms. I did not even know if I was holding it right, since I was wary of my camera bag being snatched, but the little thing seemed happy to be in my arms and it was laughing and smiling at me. Its toothless gum caught the street lights and glistened like (an angel? I suck at such descriptions) but yes, it glistened, and it gave me an idea for a sci-fi horror story, in which a man finds what looks like a human baby but a weird light radiates from its mouth……

Nearly thirty minutes passed and Olive did not return. Now I got worried. My phone was ringing. The birthday people were calling, but I could not answer for my arms were the full of baby. And my legs being weak, my knees were wobbly, my ankles hurting. Standing for so long had left me woozy. I had to find this Olive fast, and give her back her baby, but I didn’t have her number. As my phone continued to ring, it occurred to me that I was stuck in a place I didn’t know with a strange baby in my arms. It was early night, just coming to 9pm, and the street was already largely deserted. Only a few boda-bodas laughed at a stage, and a rolex stand glowed somewhere in the scene. I thought maybe I could give a boda guy the baby, and ask him to take it to the nearest police station, so I walked over to the charlies.

A calabash protects a baby from the harsh world in Kitgum district
‘What?’ one guy said, after I explained, and I knew he had not understood my Luganda. ‘You want us to do what?’
 
‘I’ll pay for the transport,’ I said, speaking slowly so they would understand me, mixing in a lot of English. ‘Just take it to the nearest police station. I have to work. I can come later to make a statement. I’ll leave my number. Bambi, help, I have to work.’
 
‘Are you throwing away your baby?’ the body guy said.
 
‘It’s not my baby!’ I said.
 
‘We saw you and your wife coming out of the taxi with it,’ another boda guy said. ‘Now you want to throw it away?’
 
‘That was not my wife!’ I said.
 
‘Da-dee,’ the baby said. Now, I’m sure it did not say those exact words, but it made a sound that could pass off for Daddy, and it was laughing with me, pulling on my shirt.
 
‘See how it calls you daddy,’ one guy said. ‘See how it laughs with you? And you deny it?’
 
Things happened really fast after that. A mob formed quickly. They threw all sorts of accusations at me. ‘He stole the baby.’ ‘He impregnated a woman and she dumped the baby on him and now he wants to dump it on us.’ And the mob grew rowdy. Someone suggested they lynch me. Another said it would not be a wise idea for what would they do with the baby? Another suggested they beat me up to teach me a lesson. Then a police car showed up. God, was I glad to see the cops? At least the mob wouldn’t beat me up, or lynch me.
 
‘What is the problem here?’ a policeman asked.
 
‘This man wants to throw away his baby,’ the bodabodas chorused.
 
‘Take him in,’ the officer said to one of his juniors.
 
They ripped the baby off my hands, and the baby started to howl. They handcuffed me, and threw me into the back of the pickup. We sped off to the police station, the baby howling all the way. When we reached, they gave me back the baby, and the moment it was in my hands, the baby stopped crying, and promptly fell asleep, snuggling against my chest.
 
‘You are in big trouble,’ the policeman said.
 
~~
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Beautiful drooly smile in Kitgum district.

~~

Do you know what happened next? Then please, tell us. Leave a comment, or write it in your blog and let Olive know. This is a chain story for the #UGBlogWeek. The first is available here. Another response is here.

 
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An African thief finds a wife

 
 
This story is fictional, inspired by this photo
of the love of my life.
In spite of the thermal underwear, the cold dug into his bones and froze him in a bleak mood. The sun tried to smile from beyond the mountains, but her frigid rays could not cheer him up. He longed for Africa, where the sun shone all year with the sweet warmth of a lover.
 
He decided to go back home immediately after searching the last temple. The whole trip had turned out to be a complete waste of time and money. A friend had deceived him that the temples of Kathmandu were littered with golden statues. It would be an easy job. Sneak in. Steal a few. Flee back home a millionaire. How foolish he felt when he discovered that the golden statues were not made of gold. Still, he hoped that the last item on his list, the Chandeswori temple had a roof of pure gold as one book claimed. So he ignored the cold and hurried to this temple.
 
On the way, in ancient streets of Old Banepa, he saw her.
He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. She sat stark naked in the street, fondling a sarangi, which hid her nakedness from his view. Her smile made her face to sparkle like a million stars. It warmed him in a way the sun failed to. He could not breathe. He swayed in a drunken swoon. Why is she sitting in the street with only a musical instrument to cloth her? Can’t she feel the cold?
 
Her hair fell over her face so that he could see only one eye, which glistened with the smile on her mouth as she looked right back at him. Heat gushed through his veins with such speed that his heart beat with the wild rhythm of Acholi war drums.
 
“Do you like her?” a voice shattered his reverie.
 
He jumped with a frightened squeal and turned to face a man whose clothes were splotched with paint. He might have been a painter. He had come out of a tea shop.
 
African tourists in Chandeswori temple in Banepa.
Legend has it that once upon a time, the roof was
made of pure gold.
“Hi!” the African screeched with embarrassment.
 
“Do you like her?”
 
“Ugh?”
 
“You can have her for eight thousand only.”
 
Eight thousand? So little for so beautiful a girl! The African dashed into his pockets for the rupees, but he stopped, realizing something wrong with the girl. She sat so still, like a picture, and even the breeze didn’t ruffle her long hair. Is she some kind of religious freak in meditation? Is she a painting?
 
The realization hit him with such force that his stupidity became as clear as the smile on her face. He ran over to her, touched her cold skin of canvas, and nodded to acknowledge the work of a genius artist.
 
“Did you paint her?”
 
“Yes.”
 
His heart still beat. Though she was merely a picture, he was in love. He wanted to take her home and kiss – maybe, as it happened in fairy tales, his kiss would turn her into a real person.
 
More paintings, of mountains and rural landscapes, hang inside the tea shop. All ordinary work. He wanted this girl. But why pay eight thousand rupees when he could return at night and take her for free? Maybe he will sell her in Paris for a million dollars. Isn’t she equal to Monalisa? Maybe his gods led him to Nepal, not to steal golden statues but this girl.
 
He licked his lips, still feeling dizzy like a drunk. He could not take his eyes off her smile, her smooth skin, her sarangi – it reminded him of Toni Braxton’s Spanish Guitar, and so he named the painting ‘Nepali Sarangi’. He loved the way her hair fell over her face to hide one eye, the way only four teeth showed in her smile. Her enchanting smile.
 
“Did you just imagine her, or is she a real person? Maybe your sister, ugh?”
 
“Yes! Yes!”
 
“Yes what? Is she imaginary?”
 
“No! Imaginary no. Real. Look!”
 
The artist showed him a photo in a mobile phone. If he had looked carefully, he might have noticed that it was a photo of a very old photo, but the veil of love fell over his eyes. He had to meet her, to marry her, to take her back home.
 
“You like her?”
 
The African smiled like a bewitched prince. He knew that in Nepali culture, people preferred arranged marriages. No dating, no love, no fooling around with the heart. The bride and groom meet for the first time on their wedding day.
 
“E-e!” the artist giggled like a teenage girl. “You like her very much!”
 
“Is she – maybe – married?”
 
“She? No. No. Not married. Are you married?”
 
“Me? No. Never.”
 
“Do you want to marry with her?”
 
 The African could not believe his good luck. It was like Juliet’s father placing a hand over Romeo’s shoulders and asking, ‘do you want to marry her? We can arrange it now!’
A Nepali bride in Chandeswori temple
 
“Can you arrange it?”
 
“Yes! Yes! No problem! I talk her! She agree! No problem!”
 
“Just like that?”
 
“Yes! She my mother.”
 
“Your mother?”
 
“No. Not real mother. My mother’s sister, but I call her mother.”
 
“How old is she?”
 
The artist laughed, but did not answer that question. “Where are you from?”
 
“America,” the African said without hesitation. He wanted them to not only think that he was very rich, but once he took her home, they would never hear from him again, or see their pretty girl. “I’m from USA. Obama is my uncle.”
 
“O-hoo!” the artist’s mouth became round in shock. When he had recovered, he added, “In your country, first love, then marriage. Here, first marriage, then love. She very faithful. She never leave you.”
 
The African could hear the girl playing the sarangi, a tune so sweet that he floated in the clouds. But she is just a picture. First, he had to meet her, study her, and then decide whether to marry her. Yet he had no time. He could not afford to stay in Nepal for another week. And this girl was a better prize than all the golden statues of the world.
 
“She widow,” the artist said. “Two day after marriage, her husband go to fight. You know Gurkha? He soldier. She play for him sarangi before he go. It is last time they together. In our culture, woman cannot marry two times. She very sad. She want marry to another man her but no man take her.”
 
“Stupid Nepali men.”
 
“But you bidesh, hoina? You habsi. You take her! No problem.”
 
For two days, he stayed in the artist’s home as they arranged for the wedding. He promised the artist a lot of money, so the artist ran around to make it happen in two days. Luckily, it was the wedding month.
 
The day came. He endured so many Hindu rituals like a zombie. They spoke to him in a strange language. The artist was not always available to interpret, so he did whatever they gestured at him to do. At one point, he found himself sitting beside a grandmother dressed up as a bride.
 
He thought it funny.
 
A grandmother so old she had no teeth, all dressed up like a bride. She sat beside him, smiling. He knew that smile for he had seen it on the girl. Maybe this is her grandmother.
 
He thought they were doing something similar to the kwanjula ceremony back home, where the bride’s family parade many girls for the groom to pick, but the groom has to reject all until they reveal the real bride. So maybe this grandmother is a customary surrogate until the time is right for the bride to appear.
In a strange way, it all started with this story 🙂
Time passed. The bride did not show up. He grew impatient. Night came. The dancing started. Though he did not understand what was happening, he knew people dance only after the marriage. But where is his bride? Nervous, he asked the artist.
 
“What you mean?” the artist said.
 
“I want to see the girl?”
 
“Eh!” the artist seemed truly shocked. “You not seen her?” He pointed at the grandmother. “Her?”
 
The African looked at the old woman, at the toothless and wrinkled smile that in the picture had set him alight with a fire of a thousand suns.
 
“I paint her photo – old, old photo, what she look like when still young.”
 
The African felt a bitter dryness in his mouth as he discovered he was a character in a badly written joke. A corny joke that nevertheless knocked him out with the sheer force of its obviousness.
 
“What’s the problem?” the grandmother asked the artist. “Why is he troubled?”
 
“Nothing,” the artist said.
 
“Is he worried that I did it?”
 
“No.”
 
“Tell him I didn’t.”
 
“No!”
 
“I have never done it! Tell him!”
 

So the artist turned to the African with a big smile and said, “Good news for you, my friend. She say her husband die before they – you know. She’s still a virgin.”

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