Last Friday, 23rd April 2015, I linked up with an old friend. We had been out of touch since 1977. As I alighted from the bus after a five hour journey, anxious to make another one hour leg by taxi to my village home, I had some business to take care of. I was meeting Richard for lunch. None of us knew what the other looked like; 38 years is a long time. I knew he would be tall, but could not quite recollect his face. He identified me standing by the small shops at the bus terminal, although I think it was a perfect guess for him. He had not changed much. Still tall and dark, and he looked well. We hugged and looked at each other’s faces, remarking and laughing about how we were all grown up.
This time even my mother knew I was meeting Richard for lunch. Back in 1976, we had never gone further than holding hands occasionally whenever we had the chance to walk home together after school, and I had to make sure my mother never found out. Now we were hugging and I did not worry what she would think. He carried my bag, held my hand and led me to his car. We shared a meal at a restaurant that serves only local Ugandan food. Since we both had tight schedules for the day, we had just under one hour together. We talked about our families, the general update majorly based on our children, and almost nothing about ourselves.
Well, this dark, lanky boy had just joined our school, where I too was relatively new. And as fate would have it, his mum and mine were good friends. He used to visit our home. He became our good friend, my sister and I. Mummy too was fond of him. We became great childhood friends, but only for a year. He could not have been my boyfriend; only the ‘bad’ girls had boyfriends. Our upbringing in the 1970s was such that any friendship with a boy was very suspect. I, therefore, had to keep my good friendship with Richard out of mummy’s nose!
Richard gave me sweets. He would write little chits and enclose sweets, which I would share with my sister and cousins. But I was always careful to conceal the source of my treats, letting only my sister in on my little secret. If mummy got wind of it, I knew I would get into trouble. I was, definitely, fond of this new friend. For some strange reason, those sweets seemed ‘better’ than any of the sweets I bought myself. I was only 11.
One day he sent me a white handkerchief, beautifully dotted will all the colours of the rainbow. It was enclosed in an envelope with a letter, whose contents I cannot now recall. However, my mother had the exact handkerchief design. I always made sure I washed it when she wasn’t around, ironed, folded, and quickly put it away. One day, she found it on the line, and I was tasked to explain because she knew the hankies she had bought for me. I do not recall how I got round that one; perhaps with a small lie.
The exchange of the little chits (call them letters) continued through one medium or other, as would be convenient for the both of us, making sure no one would intercept them and read them. I just loved to read the letters but would never want anyone to know I was even replying to them! I do wish I could land on one of those little notes and have a good laugh. Innocence, naivety, and a little foolishness in one melting pot.
My friend finished his Primary Level Examinations and left the school. That for me was the end of the one year child romance. He only visited us once during his vacation, and I thought then that he was acting proud. I guess we were growing apart.
After he joined Secondary school, he wrote letters to both my sister and I. However, while he wrote the school address on both letters, neither of them bore the name of the addressee! The headmaster, therefore, was forced to open and read the two letters, each of which was clearly and specifically addressed. That is how we appeared before the headmaster’s desk. He began by apologizing for opening our letters, and showed us the envelopes. Then he read out to us the contents of the letters. None of us got the chance to even touch them.
All I can remember is the headmaster scolding me about the contents of my letter. It was annoying then; but now I think it was so ‘sweet’ of my friend, only aged 13 then, however outrageous. In my letter was enclosed Shs 100/= (probably $20 today); and, a solemn promise: “Don’t worry, I will marry you”. I can now laugh about it. “Are you getting married at 12?” the headmaster scolded me as he banged the table with his fist.
We tried to plead our innocence and explain that Richard was a family friend, and a regular visitor to our home. We had been out of touch for some time, and I was stunned, even offended, to hear that he was promising me marriage, our tender age notwithstanding. My sister and I were summarily sent home while the rest of the school went to the field for games. It was a Friday, and the long weekend lay ahead of us to await our fate come Monday.
My sister told my mother what had transpired in the headmaster’s office, alerting her that she might be summoned to school to handle a disciplinary case. Mummy counseled us and said we should not worry about the letters. She talked to us about relating with boys and about peer pressure and influence in school. She always seized every opportunity to guide us. The headmaster did not summon her to school as he had threatened. And my Shs 100/=? Perhaps it was added to the PTA fund! It never reached my hands. I still wonder how many sweets I could have bought.
“Those days, he gave me sweets; today he bought me lunch”, is what I told mummy and we had a good laugh.