Was Maji just an ardent student and caring young man? Perhaps I could have handled him better. He gave me flowers.
The year is 1984, I am only 19. I am new at Makerere University, the most prestigious institution in Uganda at that time, so much that the name Makerere was synonymous with the word university. The population then was small, and most of us were in official halls of residence, with very few non residents. I was pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, majoring in Literature in English, and English Language Studies.
Maji was taking the same course; and he was a very brilliant student. He always took keen interest in my presentations whenever we had small group tutorials. He would occasionally follow me outside the class and ask for my paper.
“That was a wonderful presentation; can I please borrow it for my revision!”
I always obliged because he was very helpful in our discussions. He was always polite. It never bothered me.
Once, I failed to show up for a tutorial because I was a little indisposed. I communicated in good time for our lecturer to accept a substitute presenter for the day. That evening, a knock at the door ushered in a most unexpected visitor – Maji. In his hand a glass of flowers – bougainvillea flowers of different colours. It was a water glass that served as a vase. It was touching. He had come to see me, because he missed my presentation that morning. The class had been told I was unwell.
We always received all sorts of visitors in our small room crammed with three beds and a reading desk. Today, however, Maji was not going to get a seat. We had only two chairs and my roommates were using them. I was not about to allow him to sit on my bed. He gave me the flowers and said how sorry he was that I was unwell. Instead of being humbled, I was riled and incensed.
“This time he has taken it too far”, I thought to myself. I thanked him and asked him to leave, explaining that I needed to rest. He had just closed the door behind him – for I did not even see him to the door – when my roommates burst out in laughter.
“You got yourself a suitor”, they said as they laughed on and on. I might have kept the flowers in the room but I could not stand the taunting, so I threw them out, upon which they called me a coward, a fool and an insensitive ingrate. This made me even angrier.
After two days I was able to go back to attend lectures. I carried the clean glass, well wrapped, and handed it back to Maji, expressing my gratitude, once again. I tried to sound my politest and be nice. He declined to take the glass back. It was part of my gift, he said. I insisted that the take it as I did not need his glass in my room. Fellow students soon started to look towards or direction as we argued back and forth. I won and he took it back begrudgingly. He was very disappointed, I could see. I had hurt his feelings. At that time, I felt that for me to keep the glass was like allowing him to have a hold on me.
I was a teenager then. I know now it was a simple gesture of kindness. But we had heard so many weird stories about ‘campus’ boys that I was not going to take chances.
Maji later stopped attending lectures. We missed him. We were told he had gone to study law in Dar es Salaam University, Tanzania.
I did not see or hear from him again until I met him in the corridors of my work place about 20 years later. I wonder what he remembered about me; for me, it was the glass of flowers. We were very happy to see each other. I was glad to learn that he was a practicing lawyer. He is one of the most successful lawyers in our country and I am very happy for him.
I honour him today as the first man to give me flowers!
©Alexandra Kukunda (2015)