On the Heels of the Hill

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Chapter 3: The Queen on the Throne

Nalongo was at the top of Buzina, she walked slowly to a sofa like rock and sat there quietly. It was so cold on Buzina that she un-wrapped her lesso from her waist and covered her shoulders and arms. She looked down at the village and saw how people were very busy searching for nsenene. She then looked down the hill on the right, squinting to get a clear view of the marketplace in the distance which first seemed to be like a needle head. The market was open; she could see stalls of coloured clothes from Buzina. She then looked around, seeing mostly young boys and girls ages between eleven and fourteen, running after nsenene and others turning grasses upside down. Their feet were slashing the dew in the grasses leaving behind small foot paths that later intermingled like the jewels of a county chief’s wife, very hard to untangle. She looked down the village again and watched everybody busy drawn into the day’s activity. She took in a deep cold breath of cold air that saturated at the top of Buzina. She coughed out misty air, composed herself like a Bree Vander Kamp, got up and sloped down the hill, leaving behind her throne. She walked slowly down the hill avoiding rocks and steep edges of the hill as she slashed the dew in the grasses. She suddenly came to a halt when she felt her slippers about to slip her down the hill. She removed her dainty feet from the black rubbers and continued her walk down the hill with her tyre sandals in her hands until she joined the many people, grownups, all busy trying to get nsenene. She seemed like a supervisor at a power plant. She walked through all the many small crowds, came down to the first gardens from the peak of Buzina. Nalongo had been quiet all this long but when she saw what people had done and were still doing in Bakira’s millet garden, words escaped her mouth,

“No. This is not how you treat someone’s gardens. Please respect people’s gardens.”

Bakira’s garden had been uprooted, the few intercropped maize trees broken by nsenene pickers. By the looks of Bakira’s garden in Nalongo’s eyes, Bakira was never going to get her energy’s worth out of that garden.

“How would you feel if you found your garden completely destroyed like this one?”

On hearing Nalongo say those words in her foreign accent, everybody started walking out of the garden like a coward dog with his tail between his legs. Nalongo was angry. She frowned her face and came close to the millet garden.

“Why can’t you pick nsenene from outside the gardens? Go up the hill for God’s sake. The grazing lands or the back of the hill in the forest, you can catch as many nsenene without destroying anyone’s food crops.”

Silence came to that part of Buzina as people; mostly children and women walked out of the gardens and entered the grazing lands all full of shame.

Nalongo then left Bakira’s garden and went on chasing all the other people that picked nsenene in other people’s gardens. She then came to Rooza and her friends picking nsenene close to the fence that separated the community grazing lands up on Buzina and privately owned croplands. The women were busy picking nsenene as they talked about this and that. Their chit chat came to a sudden stop when they heard Nalongo asking them why they hadn’t been able to protect crops yet they were close. These women had been around that area for a very long time. They themselves had even broken a few maize plants as they picked nsenene and they had vacated the gardens when they saw Nalongo slope down the hill.

“Does she think she is the queen of Ankole? Rooza whispered, and all the women in her group grunted, then kept quiet and continued searching the grasses for nsenene. Standing about five meters away from Rooza and her following, Nalongo sensed the usual sign of hostility from Rooza and her friends. Nalongo had been hated for being another man in her family. She had been ridiculed for climbing on the roof of her husband’s hut to remove the grass thatch before the roofmen thatched it with Uganda Bati. Her family was the only family in the village whose roof wasn’t leaking and wasn’t going to do so for a long time. She had rich friends such as Kabahima with herds of cattle. She had a number of reasons some men and women hated about her, including emancipating some women, having healthy domestic animals and birds. The women enemies didn’t like the way Nalongo talked manly matters with their husbands including community politics, construction, and general farming and so on. But Nalongo had never accepted to be weighed down by primitive customs and traditions that were hindering development.

“I have never heard of the queen of Ankole. Does she ever exist?” asked Nalongo as she came closer. She didn’t seem like someone who was interested in knowing about the queen of Ankole but she asked anyway just to let them know she had heard what Rooza had said.

“Oh My God, how did she hear it?” Maria, one of the women in the group, asked in a surprised whisper.

“Don’t forget she is a mukooko?” answered Rooza, also in a whisper.

“You know I can hear all that?” asked Nalongo rhetorically, by this time she had come closest to the group.

“Right” echoed Rooza in sarcasm.

Nalongo stood there looked at Rooza and her friends for a moment, maintaining a moderately serious eye contact with the women and that’s when Vangi, another woman in the group spoke,

“The Omugabekazi hasn’t had too much talked about her like the husband, but she is there” Nalongo was still showing her lack of interest in the topic. Good enough a distraction flew in with yells. A sound of fighting children in a distance attracted Nalongo’s attention. She turned her head to see what was happening. She looked like she had had a bad morning. Still with her sandals in her hands she said, “She is a woman”

Vangi said quickly, “Those are boys fighting for nsenene”

Nalongo then turned and looked at Vangi, “The queen of Ankole is a woman. Since when has something been attributed to a woman in Ankole.” She then again looked away and said, “Women are as capable as men and some even more capable than men. We just keep degrading ourselves.” Nalongo then put down her sandals, slipped into them and walked away vanishing into a banana plantation that neighbored her own at home.

“She is so freaking proud” said Rooza as they watched Nalongo disappearing into a banana plantation while going back home. Rooza continued, “How can someone marry a woman he just met in the city?” The women had now sat in the clear, away from the trees and bushes and were enjoying the warmth of the young sun. They sat in the short dewy~ish grasses on their big bottoms with wrapped heads and lesos around their massive waists. They started talking about how women from the city are not marriage material, immoral, disrespectful and so on. Their talk didn’t miss long laughs that ended in “aaaaaaaaaah, uuuuuuuhh uuuuh”.

Muriisa one of the herdsmen in the village had always used some part of Buzina to graze his cattle, even that day, he brought his cattle to graze. He also used the chance that he was grazing his cattle on Buzina to catch a few nsenene. But he had come late and people had already beaten all the morning dew out of the grasses and the cows only hovered around the hill biting only dry grasses. When Rooza and her friends saw him they started looking at Maria, his wife. Muriisa had always wanted Maria to stand on her own island. He had always told her never to wander around with the storm of women that did nothing but trash everybody in the village behind their backs. But Maria sometimes always boarded her secret boat of loneliness and clandestinely joined her friends. Muriisa and almost every other man in the village had all known Rooza to be the cause of many families’ problems. Some men had come to agree on a saying that “You can’t tether your goat next to the bad goat.” They all feared whoever danced around with Rooza was going to dance back home with fight clenched claws. So men had tried most of their preventive measures to protect their families. Or was I wrong? What if they were trying to hide something. As they say, “You don’t have to worry if you have nothing to hide”

“Has he seen me?” asked Maria who quickly unwrapped her lesso that made her big head gear and covered herself with it from the head downwards. She sat facing away from Muriisa who was afew meters away from the women taking the cattle to the higher hills of the hill where there weren’t many people. Other herds boys had already sent their cattle there which were roaming around freely with nsenene pickers.

“No.” the women said. Muriisa disappeared behind a huge rock that was flanked at the side of Buzina kind of making its own hill. He disappeared next to Kabahima’s privately own farm on the other side of the hill right below Nalongo’s big forest that ran up to the top of Buzina. The women continued picking nsenene as they talked and laughed.

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