I wasn't big on playing so that day when dad brought her home, I tried to talk.
"What's your name?" I asked her. Her eyes twinkled as if to the ring of a high note. She didn't respond.
"Well, my name's Shaka." I said. "And sometimes, my gwandma calls me babangida. Sometimes I wonder where it comes fwom?"
"How old are you?" I pried further. And for every time I pressed, her eyes would twinkle and light up. It was amazing, but she didn't say a thing. Then I asked her something that seemed to make her sad.
"Where's your daddy? How come I never seem him awound?" This time her mood changed. It grew tense as chimes being blown on a patio. I noticed it and changed the subject,
"Would you like to watch some tv?" She didn't move a muscle. I presumed she wasn't interested. So I stayed and kept her company.
Dad kept bringing her home. And Sometimes we'd sit in silence. I was shy, and she didn't say much unless I triggered her to speak. A memory I grew fond of in our time spent together was when we'd sing "titanic". She'd laugh so hard every other time I'd call it that and then correct me and tell me,
"it's called, my heart will go on, dummy! The movie is called titanic," Then she'd start singing,
"Every night in my dreams, I see you..." She had the most amazing timbre. My heart grew warm every time she sung. Then I'd join her,
"Taraa raa tareee ruuu... " I'd sound like a giggling hyena but she never seemed to care..
School started to get tougher for me. I saw her less and less so our relationship started to fail. We grew distant. It broke her. We'd try to play when I'd make the time but it wasn't the same. Our priorities were unparalleled and before I knew it, her and her mother left town.
I didn't see her for thirteen years. When I look back life seemed rather purposeless. I seemed to be gradually falling through porous clouds. Plummeting towards a dead end. Then one day, during my first year of university in India, I stumbled upon purpose. I was looking for a roommate. I was trying to find a way to cut costs for my new place. I happened to find this online platform called olx where people have profiles with their info and share what they are looking for. I stumbled on a profile that said, "Yamaha." Held the phone to my face because I didn't have my glasses. When I looked at the profile picture, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I thought,
"this can't be her..."
But I was also convinced It was her. I was elated. I thought to myself,
'how did I not know her name was, Yamaha?'
I had to find out for sure if it was her. So I picked up the phone and called.
"Hello!" I said.
I could feel my stomach rumble like a trill. I couldn't help but feel like she wouldn't remember me. Like she would be mad at me.
"Namaste bhai!" A man picked up the phone
"Helloo, I'm sorry sir. I don't speak Hindi..." I said.
"me kya kar sakta hu apke liye?"
"Sir, Hindi nay. English only."
"Ohoo,Ohoo - Sorri. Vwhat you want?"
"I'm looking for someone called Yamaha."
"Nay! Yamaha, Yamaha, vroom vroom. Like the motor bike, no?"
"Aahh. Yam-haa. She lives here only. But she went out. I'll tell her you gave call."
"Okay, Okay. Thank you." I didn't get to talk to her that day, and I realised I didn't leave any information about myself. I decided to give it a day and leave it to chance.
The next day as I took my usual stroll home past my local restaurant and the neighbourhood mosque from school. I playfully balanced along the edge of the sidewalk until I received a call that threw me off.
"Hello," she said
"Hi. I received an inquiry from this number yesterday. May I know who this is " she added.
"It's me. Shaka!"
"Yeah, Shaka. Babangida?"
"I'm sorry it doesn't ring a bell." My heart sunk to Beethoven's no.5 symphony.
"Well, you probably don't remember me." I said. "Ayeh, I called in because of the ad I saw on olx. You said you were looking for a 1bhk and you were willing to share."
"Aaahh, yeah. Great! Can I come and see it?"
"Yeah, def! The address is no, 5. Arshiya Manzil, Btm Layout, room 4. Call me when you get here."
"Ooh! how GReaT! I'm in Jayanagar. So am a twenty minutes bus ride away. I'll be there soon." She hang up. I strolled the final distance towards my place reminiscing.
A knock on the door jolted me up from my afternoon nap. It was the mail man asking if I had ordered a package. I looked at him speechless for stirring up my anxiety like a movie trailer.
"No, bhaya. I didn't order anything. Try next door, or upstairs."
Just as he was leaving. I saw Yamaha trying to knock at the neighbours door. I couldn't believe it was her. I stood and looked at her in awe for a moment. She had this dingy black bag on her that said, "yamaha". She looked stunning as a Pavarotti showcase.
"Yamaha?" I called out to her in a mellow tone.
She turned round, froze for a moment like a fermata. Then came towards me. My arms were wide open. She smacked me on the face.
"That's for being the first person to break my heart."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Take your arms away, I'm not hugging you. I don't know you."
"Can. I. see. The room?"
I was puzzled. I waved her into my place and said.
"Sure... Just don't break anything."
She ignored me and walked in. She took a quick tour of the small place, placed her bag down and made home in the sitting room.
"So where's the stuff to break? You only have a bean bag and guitar in here."
I rolled my eyes at her and asked,
"What do you think about the place?"
"I LOve it!"
"Really? I thought it'd be too small for you "
"You should see the place I was staying in." She shook her head.
"It was a clown car at best. This would be like moving into a mansion. Besides, I low key found out that my landlord got someone to give him more "value", So he gave me notice."
"Oh well. At least we found each other, right? When can I move in?"
"Today, if you'd like "
"Well, how about that." She touched her bag. "I. Have. All. I. Need."
Voices in harmony, we quickly sailed into wonderland. Every other day was filled with a pleasant unexpected guest like melodies to musicians. For many weeks her and I spent many hours in the mornings learning to play fur Elise. She'd teach me all I needed to know. Then I'd make my way to college. Sit and await the day to end so I'd return to her.
"Why are you always rushing to go back home, one of my college mates would ask?"
They'd never understand, so my answer was always ambiguous.
"I have stuff to do." Then I'd side track them. I always felt like an outcast around them. With her I found comfort in figuring out who I was. Even if I was like a note that didn't fit in her scale. She'd chromatically find room for me.
Most evenings were the same. She'd often ask me a similar question that would make me reflect on my graduate pursuit. This one evening it took the wrong turn.
"How were your lectures?" She asked as I tried to fix myself something to eat after a long day.
"I HATE it there." I said
"You're a rebel, hunh?"
"How?" I said. "Even if I hate it. I still wake up every morning and leave you here to go, don't I?"
"Well, why don't you do something about it?" She probed. It ticked me off and my tongue started to let loose.
"Easy for you to say when you've had it figured out all your life."
"What does that mean, Shaka." She said to me with a slight roar in her tone.
"Pssh, you've been singing like an angel ever since I met you. I bet for all these years you've spent all your time with 'fellow angels' doing angelic things. And here I am, a late bloomer with no plan and a conflict on how to use my time."
"Wow! Shaka, wow! So you think I'm grand, huh? HA! Well, I'm sharing a 1bhk apartment with you. Read between the lines. If you keep going around with that kind of attitude, you'll never figure anything out in life."
I had more to say that night but I realised I was directing my anger to her for the cards I had been dealt by life. So I cut my tongue short like staccato, left my meal on the marble counter top and went to bed.
That night I thought about quitting school and joining her. The urge was so strong but fear was stronger. It told me the odds were against me down that road, and that I should stop acting like a blonde broad. It got the best of me. I wept for a moment then slept. The next morning, it was business as usual. She never held a grudge. So we picked off were we left off.
After five solid years of us spending a precious amount of time together. It was time for us to go back home to Kampala. We both knew the day would come. We both knew it was a turning point.
"So what's next?" she asked me.
I almost told her I wasn't a fortune teller.
"Well, honestly. I don't know?"
"What do you mean you don't know? You always have things planned and figured out. But when it comes to us, you. Don't. Know?"
"Come on, Shaka. We've spent all this time together, and that's it? It was a mere college affair for you."
"I don't know what's wrong with you guys."
"look, Yamaha! Stop getting ahead of yourself. "
"Well, say something."
"You won't let me put a word in." I said with a high pitched tone.
"Okay, so what do you have to say?" She said with a sarcastic undertone I didn't put much thought to. And I told her;
"Look. I want to be with you. We've built such a strong bond. And that's really all I'm looking for. You've also helped me find passion. So life without you would be empty."
"What's the but?" She jumped in.
"Well... " I said.
"Is this all you want to take away from the conversation?" I asked.
"everything else before the 'but' ceases to matter after the 'but'. So don't blame me. That's just how it is. So... what's the 'but'?. She asked.
"Well, you do know we're from different religions, right? You see what I did there. No 'but"
"Enh... Tomatoe, toe-ma-toe. So what does that have to do with anything after so many years?" She inquired.
"There's going to be conflict. Us family, kids. Ever since we've been together, I've had conflict.
"help me understand what kind of conflict"
"I don't know, conflict."
"Riiight" she shook her head. "I know you're afraid but can't you at least come up with a better excuse." She said.
"Babe, it's not an excuse. Have you met a Muslim family? If I walk in with you anywhere it's like an abomination. And with all the hours I spend caressing you like you're some kind of grand piano. They'll start telling me I waste too much time with you. I won't hear the end of their reckless comments."
"So are you living your life for them?" She asked.
"It's not that, but you and I both know we live in African societies. We're nothing but selfish if we throw out our families"
"Yeah, I get that, but-"
"But what? Besides... That's just the half of it. I'm a practicing Muslim, and being a Muslim, I'm not allowed to do all of this. there's bounds I'm not supposed to break. I know right now I'm breaking them and putting my desires first. This doesn't mean my soul isn't burdened. It is. It's just my love for supersedes everything."
A pregnant pause rose amid us. The conversation then took a softer turn, after which I sung to her a love song I had written.
We moved back to Kampala with our hearts set on giving it a shot. 2 years in, the troubles I anticipated arose. I turned into the family "mudongo." A word which is supposed to mean musician; however, it has long since turned into a derogative statement to insinuate that one is a joker/time waster/ fool. Despite this, we are supported by our immediate family. It's a blessing. And once in a while my mind still visits the things that burden me. They are arrow heads, the barb makes it hard for me to extract them. So once in a while, like a song I tried to keep far away in the banks of my mind, they come back for a while.
Recently, she broke down and opened up to me about something that has been troubling her. I had just returned from a trip upcountry looking for trading opportunities. After I took a breather and made myself something to eat, I sat down besides her and she said,
"Honey, is there something wrong with you?"
"Why?" I asked.
"You're changing. You don't give me as much time as you used to. And it's not about me. I'm just concerned about your well being."
I sighed deeply to let out an air of exhaustion and I said,
"Look, I understand why you feel cheated of time. And I agree. I miss our halcyon days when we'd spend hours and hours together but things have been flaky since we got back home. And you and I both know we need the money I'm trying to figure out how to make. So I'm just trying to keep us afloat. I just hope one day we find a balance."
And she said to me,
"I'm sorry, darling. I don't mean to take it out on you."
We went silent for a moment, and she said to me,
"Come here, let's play."