FOOTPRINTS - Episode 5

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“Please sit down,” Bitalo said holding a chair for Najja. “Thank you. You were well raised to hold a chair for a lady,” Najja teased as...

“Please sit down,” Bitalo said holding a chair for Najja. “Thank you. You were well raised to hold a chair for a lady,” Najja teased as she sat down. “I know a lady when I see one,” answered Bitalo with a smirk on his face. “Flattery resides on your tongue,” she countered. “Truth springs from the well of my heart,” he shot back at her. “I see…you are poetic too.” “Anyone can be poetic with a beautiful angel like you seated opposite them.” “I knew you were such a sweet talker. Anyway, you should know that I am immune to that. You said you wanted to talk. I am all ears.” “First, I am not a sweet talker. Second, I don’t know why I feel like I have to share my story with you, but I do feel like. You know I have seen you a few times on campus. Once I saw you at the library. I still remember what you wore that day – an iridescent green top, a pair of black jeans and brownish scandals. Your braids shimmered under the gaze of the sun when you stepped into the open. I sat in my corner and watched you with my mouth hanging open. I watched you until you disappeared into the distance. I have been thinking of you ever since. Then, I saw your smiling face in the campus newspaper as the girl that risked her life to save another girl who was about to be brutally raped. There and then, I knew that you were not just beautiful on the outside but also deep within. I promised myself that I would muster the courage to approach you the next time I saw you, and here we are.”

“Thanks for the compliments, but that is not your life history. I am here because you promised to gist me. Get started before the party is over,” Najja pointed out. “Will you tell me a bit about yourself if I share my story with you?” Bitalo asked. “It depends on what you share with me.” “Okay. When I showed you my mother’s picture, you said I look like her. Actually, she was not my biological mother. My father told me that my mother wanted to have a child very much. She prayed to God every day for a child, but it seemed their prayers fell on deaf ears. My mother loved children very much. Then after seven years of marriage, one night she was walking home from the market when she heard the cry of a baby. It was a cool evening in December. She assumed that someone was carrying a child around, but when she looked, there was no one around the dark alleyway she followed back from the market. The cry of the baby increased with each passing second that she could no longer stand it. Carefully, she walked towards the source of the cry. Beside the bush, she found a little boy wrapped in cloth crying and kicking helplessly.

“Mother yelled to find out if the mother was around, but there was no answer. Darkness had a tight grip on the night as the moon hid behind thick clouds. She used the flashlight that my dad had bought her the previous Christmas to take a closer look at the baby. From the look of things, she concluded that the mother had abandoned the baby. She thought of taking the little boy to the police, but she could not shake off the worrying thought that the boy would not be well taken care of by the police. With tears in her eyes, she wrapped the baby up in her own cloth and carried him home. He was covered in blood stains and stank like a black rat from feacal material over him. Carefully, mother cleaned him up and began to feed him. First thing in the morning, she was up to take care of the baby. With each passing day, she concluded that God had answered her prayers indirectly. My father made frantic efforts to find out if anyone was looking for a lost newly born, but no one came forward. As they would nurture their own biological child, they nurtured me…they poured all their love on me without restraint. Sadly, two years later, mother died in a car accident. As she drifted away, she asked my father to never give me away. She begged him to look after me, and he did. You see, I have never known my biological mother, but till today, I still feel the warmth and love of the woman I have grown to call mother…she too I did not get to know, but I am aware of her love. Because of her, I am before you today…I could have died on that bush path without the love and courage of my mother.”

“You must wish you met her,” Najja said with tears in her eyes. “I did not mean to make you cry,” Bitalo offered. “It is okay. I am crying, but in a happy way. It gladdens my heart to know that there are people who are willing to stick out their poor necks for the good of others. She must have been a wonderful woman.” “Yes, she was. Some days I wake up wishing I could talk to her…tell her that I love her so much. She was knocked over by a drunk driver, and that makes me very angry at times. He robbed me of the opportunity to know a wonderful woman who saved my life and poured her whole life into raising me – my mother.” “That must be very infuriating.” Najja could not help but share her story with him. “I am sorry to hear that. It sounds like she and my mother were the same kind of people.” “It does sound that way indeed.” “I guess I have to leave now,” Sanyu said. She was covered in sweat from the dancing. “I will find my way home,” Najja offered. There was a look of surprise in Sanyu’s eyes. She had never seen Najja take to any guy before. “Sure?” She asked. “Yes, Sanyu. I am fine. I will catch a taxi home.” “So what is your name young man?” Sanyu asked protectively. “I am Bitalo Namugenyi.” Sanyu dug up a piece of paper from her purse and wrote it down. She asked for his ID card to make certain that Bitalo was telling the truth. “She acts like my mother,” said Najja. “She saved my life. I can’t stand to see anything happen to her. You are in Mechanical Engineering. If anything happens to her, I will come after you like a mad, rabid dog,” Sanyu warned as she left Haandi restaurant.

“She is a good friend,” Bitalo pointed out. “She is the best friend anyone can have,” Najja answered. Soon, they headed outside. The crisp night breeze gently brushed against them as they walked down the street. “If I may ask, can I walk you home? That way I can get to know you more, and you get to know me better while we chat.” “That is fine by me, Najja answered. They walked close to each other chatting as though they had known each other for years. When they reached Najja’s hostel, Complex Hall, Bitalo asked, “Can I get your phone number?” She looked at him methodically. “Okay, I will give you my number.” “Thank you!” Bitalo said effusively.  A few days later, they were together again, chatting and peering into each other’s eyes as if their lives depended on each other. Bitalo was kind, loving, and intelligent. He had a heart to help people, something that ran in Najja’s veins. She found herself thinking of him more. “I think you are in love,” Sanyu pointed out one afternoon.” “Why do you think so?” I can see the look on your face when you are with him. You literally adore him. You tend to space out sometimes when I am talking to you. I can tell you are thinking of him. I am happy for you…very happy for you. It is good to see you finally let someone into your life, in the realm of love.” “I think it is too soon to say that,” Najja replied. “It does not matter what you think, Najja. It is more about where your heart is and I can see that your heart is with him. Enjoy it my friend.” Najja blushed and said nothing.

A few days later, she was headed for class when a tall, richly dark-skinned girl walked up to her. She wore a scary frown on her face. There was a menacing look in her eyes. “You are Najja aren’t you?” She asked aggressively, pointing at Najja threateningly. “Why do you ask? Who are you?” “I am told you are the one. You are trying to steal my boyfriend away from me. Stay away from Bitalo. He is mine!!!” She said raising her voice. Najja did not want to be seen arguing over a man in the middle of the street with another girl. She stared at the girl, pondering her next line of action. “If you keep trying to steal him from me, I will make your life a living hell,” she added. Stunned, Najja stared at her, still not sure how to deal with the situation. The angry girl walked away, breathing heavily. Confused, Najja returned to the hostel and rang up Bitalo. “Hey honey,” he said into the mouthpiece. “I would like to see you now, Bitalo,” Najja said in reply. “Is everything okay? I have a class in five minutes.” “Skip the class and get here right now, please.” She insisted. Soon, Bitalo was at her door. She let him in, took a deep breath and began.

“Do you have another girlfriend? Please be honest with me.” “Of course not. You are my only girlfriend Naj!” She looked him in the eye, scanning for any traces of deception. “I am honest with you sweetheart. I don’t have another girlfriend. Why would I want to jeopardize what I share with you? You mean the world to me,” Bitalo explained. “A girl accosted me this morning. She was looking very angry. She shouted like a possessed demon in the middle of the street. She claims she is your girlfriend, and warned me to steer clear of you. Who is she?” “She is very dark? Tall and somewhat aggressive?” “Yes!” Bitalo shook his head. “You know her right?” “That is Lucy. She is electrical engineering. She and I have been friends for years and when we both came to Makerere, she assumed we would date. I told her that I just wanted to be friends. I don’t quite feel the same thing for her, but he has been struggling with that ever since. Any girl she sees me with, she threatens them. She is out to make sure that she ruins my relationship with any girl, not just you.” Najja felt a wave of peace coast through her poor heart that had been pounding like a locomotive engine. “Are you telling me the truth?” She asked. “Yes honey. I will take you to my friends now, so they can confirm what I just told you. I will have her reported to the police so she does not bug you again. I promise you honey, I have no intention of doing any such thing.”

He walked closer and took her in his arms. Both of their hearts were pounding loudly. For the first time in her life, she let anyone kiss her. His lips brushed against hers and she closed her eyes and meshed with him with indescribable gusto. “I love you so much, Najja,” Bitalo said. Najja pulled his head closer to herself and planted her lips back on his. She felt bliss! The warmth of his arms soothed her frayed nerves and made her feel at home again. She realized that she had well and truly fallen in love with Bitalo. Bitalo was no less different. He wanted to be in her cuddle for the rest of the day. He had an important project to complete in the lab, but there was no better place for him to be than in Najja’s arm. “I promised my father that the first time I fall in love, I will bring the guy home to meet him. He and my mother were madly in love with each other. When she passed away, my father nearly took his life. He still misses mom terribly. I want what they had…that is true love – deep, honest, real and caring. I would like for him to see you and give his opinion,” Najja explained after mustering all her will to pull away from Bitalo’s lips. “Okay,” Bitalo answered somewhat unenthusiastically. “Don’t be scared honey. My dad is a ‘cool’ guy. He won’t bite you, I promise. I made him that promise, and now I know I am very much in love with you, so I want to keep my promise. Besides, my mother asked that of me in one of the letters she left me at her death, so I have to keep it.” “That is fine honey. I can see that this is important to you. I will gladly do it.” “Good. We will talk about the right time to see my dad later. I know he will like you. For now, kiss me again.”

Some days later, Najja returned late from the library. She, Sanyu and Onzia were laughing and chatting as they walked towards Complex Hostel. “Can I have a word with you please,” an elderly man said to them. “Surprised they stared at him. He had just appeared from a dark alley. The girls were on their guard. Onzia had a pepper spray canister in her purse, which her uncle that returned from the USA gave her. She dipped her hand in her purse and took hold of it, read to attack. The man’s head was covered in grey hair. He looked frail and weak, not the kind of man that would manage to rape one or three of the girls. Nonetheless, they were on red alert.

“What do you want?” Onzia asked. “I want to talk to you briefly,” he answered pointing at Najja. “Me?” “Yes.” “What for?” “It is private. If you don’t mind, I can talk to you right here, if your friends step aside. I promise, I won’t hurt you. I am just an old man.” After considering his last statement for a minute, Najja asked, “What is this about?” “It is about Bitalo Namugenyi.” Najja could feel an eruption in her stomach. What could this old man know about Bitalo, my love? Who is he? “Girls, please could you stand right there, not too far away,” Najja suggested. She could not wait to find out what the old man knew about the love of her life. Onzia and Sanyu stepped aside, yet watching the old man keenly. “What is it?” Najja asked him. “You cannot date Bitalo. My daughter, you cannot.” “Why is that?” The man looked at her for a moment. He seemed to be struggling with words. “You can’t tell me not to date him for no reason. What is it?” “You two are related. You have blood ties. You cannot consort with each other,” the old man said eerily, lowering his voice.  

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Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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