By Lino Leitao
(Accident first appeared
in THE MASSACHUSETTS REVIEW in 1988, and was later republished in
Short Story International, issue 86)
was sitting opposite her in the bus that goes from Dorval to downtown. My
head was buried in the Gazette, absorbing the editorial column on Free
Trade. I lifted my head to ponder the points the editorial had made. If Free
Trade were to become an issue in the coming election, how would I cast my
vote? As I was trying to make
up my mind, I saw her staring at me. She smiled, as if she had known me
before. She was glowing with a smile of recognition. There was no doubt in
my mind now that she had known me somewhere. But where?
Free Trade was blown away from my mind. I racked my brains.
She gently tapped me on my knees and said:
you know me?"
voice did it. It swept the fog away from my mind. I saw her now as vividly
as I had known her sixteen years ago in Uganda. How the years have gone by!
Price, aren't you?" I bubbled.
face was wreathed in smiles. She nodded.
"That's me, alright."
"Who hasn't? Look at you! You've gone all grey."
"We all are."
bus went on stopping at its usual stops. We talked of those old good days.
We had a lot to talk about. The bus came to its terminal and we got down. I
invited her to McDonald's for coffee and hamburger.
she said. "I'm in a hurry. I have to be in time for the interview.
Looking for a job, you know!"
don't have a job, either."
on my way to see my counsellor at the Employment Centre."
Price smiled cynically.
"Here is my number," She said as she was going to catch the other
bus. "Let us get together sometime."
became nostalgic. Nancy Price triggered off memories of Uganda in me. As I
watched her disappearing into the crowd, snow started coming down. It's
going to be a storm, I thought. I had enough time on me and a few dollars in
my pocket, more than enough to buy me a coffee and a hamburger. Coming in
McDonald's, I brought my order and sat at the table looking at the brewing
snowstorm. My thoughts went to sunny Uganda and Nancy Price.
Nancy Price had come to the Immaculate Conception College of
Namirembe when Obote's Government
was overthrown in a coup d'etat by Idi Amin. Who
doesn't know him? He had become internationally famous as an abhorrent
dictator of Uganda. But in the very beginning of his regime the people of
Uganda greeted him as their hero. Many Uganda intellectuals praised Amin's
regime, never dreaming that he would be a disaster to their country.
Nancy Price was also an ardent admirer of Idi Amin, then.
Conception College was a boarding school. White nuns were in charge of this
Catholic institution. It was a girls' college; the daughters of Uganda
officials and daughters of other Uganda personages studied here. The
teachers were nuns and lay women-teachers brought in from England. John
Kiwanuka, a Muganda and I (I am from India) were the only males who taught
in this college. Mother Veronica, the principal of the college, was Irish
and had reputation as an able administrator. In the staff meetings, she
discussed her administrative strategies and elicited fresh administrative
ideas from her staff. Though there was no formal student body in the college
at that time, she had Prefects, nominated through the counsel of her
a member of staff of Immaculate Conception College,
voiced her opinion in one of the staff meetings. She argued that the
nomination of Prefects was not yet all a democratic process. She was young
at that time; she couldn't have been more than twenty-five. Tall, slender,
raven black hair, not cut but held in a knot above the nape of her neck, in
pony-tail fashion. She was very attractive. She was an American, a white
girl, but her skin now had taken a brownish hue, enhancing her sex appeal.
Her blue eyes flickered as she talked and she made a kind of impact on the
assembly. From John Kiwanuka's looks, I knew she fascinated him. Other
members of the staff, including myself, didn't say much but observed a kind
of respectable silence for Mother Veronica. Mother Veronica considered
herself a democrat; with a serene smile and her blue eyes twinkling, she rejected Nancy's arguments. She stated not to Nancy in particular but to the
staff at large that to serve the people one must know the ins and outs of
the people, know the mind and soul of the people. She knew the mind and soul
of the Ugandans. She had served in Uganda for many years. She pointed out
that she was training the best brains, the future ladies of Uganda, not
riff-raff but girls with potential for leadership, chosen of course by her
brilliant staff. According to her observation, the nomination of Prefects
worked towards the smooth running of the institution. That was what was
wanted, not any fanciful ideas, which in the end, served only to mess up
things. Because she was in a hurry, she said, she had to bring the meeting
to close. Nancy had no chance to refute her. As Mother Veronica was leaving,
she gave a sharp look at Nancy and then a beatific smile.
Price wasn't a fool. Through that sharp look and the beatific smile, Nancy
claimed that she had a good look at the mental makeup of Mother Veronica, as
if they were two wide windows. Mother Veronica was nothing but an outright
Colonial, she said, who didn't want to change a thing through education but
to subjugate the brain of the collegiate through paternalism, or, in this
case, maternalism. She blamed British colonialism in Uganda and elsewhere
for creating colonial moral structures like gas chambers and putting the
colonized therein to be exterminated. Knowing what Mother Veronica was, she
left her alone, but brought the debates at tea breaks in the staff-room. She
was a solitary American, the others were from the British Isles, and of
course, John Kiwanuka and I were neither Americans nor British. So we were
passive observers. She had a flair for debating and brought in much varied
analysis that she had picked up in her readings to show the devastating
effects on the colonized. Giving various examples, she demonstrated that the
elevated status of the Colonials, in this case the British, was created by
exploiting the colonized and thereby bestowing upon them an inferior status.
The expatriate British teachers refuted Nancy's hostile attacks on the
British Empire. They pointed out that the Britons weren't wholesale
exploiters, but human nature being what it is, they weren't perfect,
"Who is? No man is perfect. No government is perfect," They said.
They told her that she was blind and didn't see the benefits the
British Empire had brought not only to Uganda but also to her other colonies.
what?" Nancy demanded.
hospitals, roads, economic development, administrative system, above all law
and order and host of other improvements."
course, you wouldn't understand. They need us; they want our know-how and
our technology. And so we are here. Without Western aid these nations have
no chance to modernize."
But Nancy, giving
statistical facts, would make her point that the Western aid, the aid of the
former Colonial Powers, was not helping Africa a bit. The Western nations
developed industrially by exploiting the colonized nations and she argued
that they were still perpetuating the same system, except now, they had a
better grip on them than before, thus making a farce of
"independence". She also pointed out that the mechanism of the
international economics was still
in the hands of the exploiter nations, keeping the former colonies under
their thumb. The British teachers weren't dumb, though. Miss Allison Web,
with gusto, would argue that the British imperialism was now like a decrepit
old man, almost in the grave, and what one should be afraid of now, she
would say, was Yankee Imperialism, economic domination of the World. And she
would cite the USA's role in Vietnam and Latin America. Thus, Uncle Sam and
John Bull, like two ponderous elephants, tusks locked, wrestled to
establish the benevolence of their respective imperialism. Both Miss Allison
Web and Nancy Price would cast glances at John Kiwanuka to solicit his
support. Neither sought my opinion. I was like a nonentity, but a passive
John Kiwanuka hardly said anything. But one day, he remarked to the
warring debaters, "Exploiters have no moral guilt, no shame. The
exploited are uncivilized, brutes and savages to the exploiters. But the
exploited isn't an idiot! They know who is the uncivilized and barbarian. Africa
is the womb that gave birth to man, and the West is the tomb of man, a
destructive force, creator of weapons of doom. It
is Africa who knows the pangs of human birth. It is Africa in the end, who
will restore the moral conscience of man."
They all listened to him, as though
his statement was like a revelation that would unfold in the future.
British teachers set a rumour in motion that Nancy Price was an agent. When
asked in whispers whom did she represent, they said she was CIA agent or she
was a double agent spying both for Uncle Sam and Idi Amin. It produced
results; Nancy Price was boycotted by the staff and the students. Mother
Veronica really believed that Nancy Price was implanted by Idi Amin in the
institution to keep a watch on the staff and herself.
the meantime, political conditions worsened. God had appeared to His
Excellency Idi Amin in a dream and instructed him to throw away the Asians
from Uganda because they were living on the fat of the Africans. The Whites,
too, were in trouble. The whole country was in chaos. It was no longer safe
both for the Whites and Asians to stay in Uganda (and later on, it wasn't
safe for the natives of the country, either). Whites left the country and
the Asian Exodus started from Uganda to the different parts of the world. I
landed in Canada. I was in a different world now and Uganda was hardly on my
mind, until I happened to meet Nancy Price.
phoned Nancy Price the following Sunday. She invited me to her apartment
that evening. She lived in Lachine, at 32 Ave, not far from Dorval. At about
six, I arrived at her apartment building. I looked for her name on the
Occupants Board but her name wasn't listed. The occupant of her apartment
number was " J. Kiwanuka."
Did I make a mistake? Hesitantly, I pressed the button. No voice
asked me who I was. The main entrance door buzzed, I opened it and went for
the elevator. The apartment was 305. The door was ajar. Standing in front of
it was a woman dressed in traditional Baganda dress - the Gomisi. She was
sorry," I said rather loudly and apologetically.
"Sorry for what?"
Once again, I recognized Nancy Price through her voice.
"It's you then!"
course, it's me! Who did you except?"
looked at her spellbound, surprised at seeing her in that attire. She
could have passed for a Muganda woman if she were black and if she had
admiring me!" she said. "Come in."
I sat on a sofa. As I was looking at a
few Baganda crafts displayed on a wall-unit, I heard someone greeting me, a
greeting once familiar.
"Burungi," I said
automatically. And before me I saw, a black man in kanzu.
“You?" I exclaimed.
“Yes, me, John Kiwanuka."
He came closer and clasped me in his
embrace, as if he had found his long-lost brother. I saw the beaming face of
Nancy Price, while I was still held by Kiwanuka. After enough hugging, we
all sat. John and Nancy sat on a love seat and exchanged loving glances. I
sat on a chair opposite them, dying of curiosity. Nancy's sparkling eyes
told me she was eager to tell me their story. I alone, perhaps, would
understand and appreciate what they had to tell me. But Nancy excused
herself, went into the kitchen and brought in a tray loaded with hot cassava
fries. And unto my nostrils came the aroma of the steaming matoke. I knew I
was in for a treat.
"Well, let us have some beer
now." Kiwanuka said and disappeared, coming back with Molsons and mugs.
"John, you forgot the salt and chilli-powder
shakers," said Nancy.
brought the salt and chilli-powder shakers. He opened the beers and we
filled our mugs. There were coffee-coloured bark cloth coasters on the
table. I took a handful of cassava fries on a paper napkin and sprinkled
them with a little salt and splurged the chilli-powder on them. I had a sip
All expectant, I looked at Nancy and John. Though Nancy was a good
debater, she had no knack at story telling. She rambled a lot and John came
to her rescue, as if to put the story on the right track.
"You both married?"
"Of course!" said Nancy.
John Kiwanuka beamed.
"How did all this come about?" I asked.
"I wasn't a coward," said Nancy. "I approved
the way His Excellency Idi Amin got rid of the Asians and the White men.
They atrophied Uganda morally, intellectually, economically and so on. They
were big Bana Kubas who did no physical labour.
And the Ugandans who worked for them were looked upon as stupid, lazy,
untrustworthy and all that kind of crap. And your race - "
"What about my race?" I
"The kill was made by the Britons
and your race was like hyenas gorging on decaying caresses. That's how your
race built their economic securities and empires. What did your race
contribute to Uganda? Nothing."
"Hold it a minute there," I
said." You may be right about the Asian presence in Uganda. They might
have been parasites as you say. But my race did contribute something."
"And what's that?"
"The national dress that you are
wearing," I said. "This dress was introduced by a Goan tailor,
called Gomes, hence the name Gomisi. Ask John."
John told her so.
Her mood changed. Both persuaded me to
have more cassava fries and more beer. But still her story wasn't coming
out. I was really dying to know how Nancy came to get married to John. And
in the meantime, the main course was served- matoke with peanut sauce
topping it. John excused himself for a while came in with a bottle and
placed it on the table in front of me.
"Waragi!" I exclaimed.
" Where on earth did you get it?"
“That's the only thing that I came
with from Uganda," he said, "and saved it for many years. But
today is an especial day and we will have it."
Waragi was on the point of becoming a national drink of
Uganda. It was distilled and bottled by the Government. It was a very potent
drink, resembling gin. Nancy Price had taken away beer glasses and brought
huge goblets for waragi. John
poured the waragi into the goblets. I would have preferred mine with a mix,
but my host didn't want to dilute the taste of waragi. I sipped mine. My
body was on fire. Nancy and John drained theirs in a single gulp and they
refilled their goblets. This time, they savored it. We started attacking the
matoke. Waragi must have loosened Nancy's soul and tongue. The story poured
Uganda cities like that of Kampala,
Jinja and others weren't African as such: they were little Bombays. But now,
though they were African, they had become ghost towns, dim and dismal. Nancy
Price didn't mind. Asians in Uganda were parasites; they deserved to be
thrown out. And those snobbish Britons who lived a leisurely life even after
Uganda's independence as though they were still masters and indispensable
deserved to be thrown out as well. Nancy had no sympathy for them. Though
the British teachers were given kipandes by His Excellency Idi Amin to stay,
they had left. Good riddance! Nancy was the only White who taught at
Immaculate Conception College. She was unlike other Whites; she was neither
a coward nor an imperialist. She rather enjoyed it when His Excellency Idi
Amin made the British residents of Kampala to kneel down before him. Didn't
the Africans always prostrate before the White Colonials? Tit for tat. And
on another occasion, His Excellency Idi Amin sat on a chair and made the
British residents in Uganda carry him to the OAU summit conference at
Kampala. Nancy loved the way the Britons were humiliated. Those bastards
deserved every bit of it. They were getting back what they did to
Africans. The common people of Uganda loved it, too. He was their hero.
Nancy Price admired Idi Amin.
People were murdered in large numbers,
thrown in the Nile. Amin was cruel and unpredictable; none knew how his mind
worked. Everyone was frightened but not Nancy Price.
She taught at the Immaculate Conception College and at her free time,
she traveled in her car to any place in Uganda that she fancied.
No Amin soldiers seemed to be bothered with her. She felt no less
secure. The bestial behavior of Amin and his regime was just an
exaggeration of the Western Press. But one thing she noticed was that the
staff and the students at the Immaculate Conception College were frightened
of her and that bothered her a lot.
One Sunday morning, she was driving in
her car, going to Jinja from Kampala. Near
Mabira Forest, she was stopped by four army men. They were young, dressed in
smart uniforms. They had guns and they were ferocious and arrogant-looking.
She didn't panic; she brought the car to a stop by the roadside. They looked
into the car; they asked her to open the trunk. They spoke in Swahili.
She didn't understand the language. They got angry with her. They
asked her again to open the trunk. They were angry, very angry. They were
shouting at her, perhaps obscene words in Swahili. But she managed to keep
her cool, she wasn't easily frightened. She was not a coward. But when one
of the soldiers pointed the gun at her, close to her temple, fear grabbed
her, shaking her body, and her teeth chattered. These guys mean business -
they would shoot her and dump her somewhere in the forest. Nobody would
know. The solider stood pointing his gun at her, trigger-happy. Anytime now.
Her eyes were glazed, begging for mercy. She wanted to plead to be spared.
She could not. Fear was choking her. They were gloating over seeing her
fear-stricken. They tormented her further. One of the soldiers fired in the
air. Poor Nancy thought that
she was finished. No more Nancy Price. She slumped on her seat. The
intensity of the fear unlocked her bladder. Her urine cascaded, wetting her
pantyhose and the driver seat, creating a small puddle under it. The
soldiers went hysterical, laughing and thumping on the ground like a bunch
of enthusiastic kids, exclaiming loudly in Swahili. A few passersby were
courageous enough to see what the fuss was all about. They too laughed
loudly. Nancy Price heard them. Never before in her life had she felt so
humiliated. These were indeed savages, brutes and barbarians.
In the end, having their fun,
without molesting her, they let her go. Nancy drove back to the Immaculate
Conception Collage. She was seething with anger. "Those fucking
bastards!" she ranted as she drove. What could she do?
Cooling down, she realized how lonely she was. She wasn't safe. Africa was not her home. She wanted to be
with people, not any people, white people. But no white people were around.
She thought of Mother Veronica and of Allison Web. She needed to talk to
someone. Whom? She couldn't
talk to the African staff in the College; she had already sensed that they
disliked her. If she told them, they would not sympathize with her. They
might laugh in her face. She couldn't face another humiliation.
She did not know the mental makeup of the Africans, even of the
Western-educated ones. She couldn't hold it in any longer. She took a chance
and one day, she told it to John Kiwanuka, how the four army men humiliated
her. He listened, said not a word and she wasn't sure what was going in his
mind. When she was almost
finished telling him, she blurted out with anger, "Those Africans
soldiers are barbarians, brutes, like a troupe of frenzied chimpanzees in
the wild. Shouting and calling everyone from the road to see me in that
state as if they had discovered something unusual."
"They had," John had said.
She darted a hostile look at him and
demanded to know what he meant. He told her very calmly that those African
soldiers had discovered that the White could be cowed down by the African
and that was a discovery for them. Another discovery was seeing her
"That was a discovery too?"
Nancy Price asked.
"Didn't they know that the Whites
urinate, shit and do all such biological things like rest of the
"In Colonial Africa the Whites
weren't animals, they were divinities. Having divine status, they had
separate toilets, separate resident areas, they had everything exclusive for
themselves, living a leisurely and luxurious life. Nothing has changed much
even now. When I was young, I often wondered if the Whites did really shit,
urinate and have sex. When the
students got pregnant here, Mother Veronica and the White staff look down
upon them as if they were rubbish, as if the Whites did not do such things.
And when the nobilities and royalties came from England on official visits
to Uganda, they indeed appeared before our eyes like Gods and Goddesses from
heaven. How could such people urinate, shit and have sex? But now, we know
Nancy Price was a sensitive woman. For
the first time, she saw the colour
of her skin was equated with injustice. Her conscience stirred. She was
overcome with emotion. Was it guilt? Was it compassion? Or was it love?
She didn't know, but on the spur of the moment, she asked John
Kiwanuka to marry her. She almost begged him; and in the end, he consented
to take Nancy as his wife.
Our plates were empty; there were no
more matoke portions to go around, nor waragi. We had coffee, not from
Uganda but from Tanzania. In the end, I took their leave and went home
through the snow to put the story on the paper while it was still fresh.
© Lino Leitao