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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Oh the joy of lasting childhood

Ellen Glasgow, a US novelist wrote; "The older I grow the more earnestly I feel that the few joys of childhood are the best that life has to give." Those most true words come to mind when thinking of childhood. Then we were young 'thugs' growing on the southern side, among the thick morning fog, the biting cold and the burning sun of Kabale.

Long ago, when we held conference and fought over whose mother was most beautiful. I could't agree that mine was the chummiest but I had heard and fallen for the story of virgin Mary mother of Jesus. So I would boast to my mates that I was born of a virgin mother.

Way back, the dads of the time did wield the whip, not wanting to spare the rod and spoil the child. This too provoked debate — who had the toughest Papa? Again, I told our circle that father was (which is very true) a freelance preacher who loved raising the cane as he preached the gospel of morality to the little, stubborn tots.

True, that, because Mama didn't have to wait long to see rebellion in me. One day at St Johns Primary School, Ikumba was enough; I told her I wasn't going back. At the time, father was toiling away in his Kampala office. So his kibooko (whip) didn't have the chance to blaze my buttocks.

Ticktock, ticktack and it was time for adolescent hormones to rumble. At 13, I broke all the rules. It felt good subscribing to the bad-boy clique, those who shed no tears! Yet moments came, when the sting of sickness did knife deeper stirring tears to pour forth. What? Badda (an altered version of 'bad'), crying? The big boys were astonished. I had forgotten that 'bad boys' or is it 'big boys' don't cry?' I had betrayed the cause: "Thug Life."

"I'm sure, you don't wanna shade tears no more," said Ndombolo, the dancing wizard, as he gave me a tot of Uganda Waragi apparently to 'resuscitate' me from any more 'weakness.'

Those were the days when rap music reigned. We used to rehearse behind the school. I still remember that glamour comes at a price. The day I was supposed to perform before Maryhill High School cuties, stage fright was too much. I boozed to calm down the nerves but blacked out behind the stage before my presentation. The shame later on made me feign 'a slight cold.' I got in bed with shoes on but the big guys pulled me out for a mother of all taunts. The little bull in me charged and we raised hell on earth.

'Indefinite suspension' was the verdict from 'Kiruba,' the headmaster. One notorious bully had once challenged me to prove that I deserved 'the incredible name (Badda)' because it seemed "too good for my stupidity" and when the suspension came, I embraced it; it consecrated me. I was too 'baaad!'

The few joys of growing up also lay at the courts when we tried out the Magic Johnson dunks. I always wanted to be a Point Guard but quit when the merciless muscled lads said skinny fellas had no business at the court.

It was time to explore life in the martial arts. Learning to raise that kick and pour out that Jackie Chan cry was the coolest, I dare say. No. Not as cool as life in mixed rural schools that we so often were dumped after being expelled from the more urban ones. One needed to talk Michael Jackson, and vaguely slide like him— and you were the king.

Renee who had come from Jovoc (St Josephs High School) was overwhelmed by the simplicity of the girls. "I hooked up with three girls who shone the light into my life after the obstinate busheep of Maryhill," he recently confessed looking back. "I, however, soon lost faith in them because they were too easy. They left no room for adventure, for excitement."

This too, reminds me of Anastasia, the girl on whom I almost stole my premier kiss. I had pushed her after classes and stopped near the thick roadside banana plantation. She was crazy about me, I knew. So I gathered the guts and held her cheeks ready for the Lakunle (remember the Lakunle -Sidi experience in The Lion and the Jewel?)

Well, Anastasia tried to extricate herself, raising her arms in the process. The mixture of sweat and dirt that popped from her hairy armpits...— I never want to set my eyes on this girl again. Pooh!

Then there was the self-styled bachelor's club where our motto was 'liquor is my bitch!' We were fed up of the pronged dames —the detoothers. We didn't like the girls who thrive on beauty parlours. The kind who paint their lips red and enjoy lounging to devour the eats while the man hassles to foot the bill.

Most of the nudity-crazy babes you see strutting on the streets popping g-strings, and fair flesh in ‘see through’ bikinis were our number one enemies even when they at times became the embodiment of every fantasy that seized our minds in the thick of darkness.

Now the rage is more than ever at University. The Nicodemus question keeps probing: can I truly be born-again? It is when that Psalms line knocks your senses, "Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth..." but then, a powerfully shapely citizen (a woman of course) will appear and corrupt such noble thought. These days, liquor is no good; women are no good and a brother can hardly find asylum. One has resigned to believing in tired jokes.

It's crazy, the pains and joys of growing up. Multitudes whose brows, like Shakespeare said; have been, besieged by 'forty winters' that have dug 'deep trenches' in their 'beauty's field,' are not liking it and seek consolation reminiscing their ‘youth’s proud livery.’

Shakespeare knew that 'all the treasures of thy lusty days' lay in childhood. And so did Ellen Glasgow. The older she grew, the more earnestly she felt that the few joys of childhood are the best that life has to give!

Published in Sunday Monitor, December 30, 2005 and on June 4, 2006