At the coffee shop

Coffee shop story

It is Thursday evening, March 11, 2010. He sits in the corner, mindlessly observing customers as they file in and out.  The sun has finally taken a bow yet the warmth of its presence lingers on.  The aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, Robusta or Arabic? He can’t tell.  Three girls shy of 24 stroll in, giggling and elbowing each other. He knows that look – excited and free, tickled by the attention of the universe, almost women but lacking. North Court Hall, 1985, he beat the drum like a mad man the girls could have been walking passed the football field, clipboards in hand, on their way to Africa hall. He smiled.

Two men at the table to his left stand up, one in a dark suit, the other in a light blue shirt and a red tie, they shake hands and leave.  A man in a pink shirt with folded sleeves, sits reading a newspaper and sipping on a cup of tea, a woman and a teenage girl sit in the middle of the room. In the other corner a man and a woman hold a meaningful gaze, their knees touching, oblivious of their surroundings.

He looks at his watch, its 6:02 pm. He shuffles in his seat barely noticing the waiter standing to his left.

“What can I get you sir?” Continue reading


Who is Darlin?

DC Early evening - same shot

DC in the early evening. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

I had been on the job a week when my boss came down the stairs, cleared his throat and asked in his low toned British accent.

“Who is Darlin? I got an email addressed to Darlin”

We looked up, looked at one another (a room of five ladies) and shook our heads. Nobody knew Darlin. I had been there only a week like I said, I was still learning client names and stuff.

He mumbled to himself, shook his head and walked back to his desk.

He was further along in years and when he shook his head, the skin around his neck did a jiggle. Yeah! That’s what happens to the best of us – skin gets loose – just know. His wife made real good sandwiches and banana bread – he represented her efforts well.

Some weekends my boss downloaded the emails at home and brought printouts to office. This was one of those days. Continue reading

Knock, knock! Do you know Joseph?

In the air-1

Aerial shot over the sea of Marmara in Turkey. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

I was making dinner one fine Saturday when the doorbell rang. Two young men dressed in white shirts and black trousers stood at my door. I smiled and nearly said “Well, well, well! What have we got here?” I squished the laughter that climbed up my throat and virtually rubbed my hands with glee. I was in the mood for a good discussion.

The younger man, probably 17 years old put on his biggest smile although I’m sure he’d secretly hoped no one was home. Continue reading

The writer’s life

Mary_Ongwen_Writers muse - Jinja

Seated in a quiet space fear escapes through a crack in the window pane.

Oblivious of the internet, thoughts migrate like butterflies onto the page – they perch, cling, settle. Behind this screen, stage fright takes flight, the minds tongue is loose on fingertips. In this space thoughts do solo dances – the audience an abyss of pitch-black forever. This internet of things: – blogs, phone notes and Microsoft words – an extension of diaries written in boarding school, university and love’s youth. A relationship that ebbs and flows.

Imagination. Perception.

Behind this screen a sea of eyes roam with opinions and attitudes that over flow like butter filled corn popping in the heat. Continue reading

Alice Walker asks after Bobi Wine

Alice Walker - BBP

Alice Walker reads from her latest book of poems – Taking The Arrow Out of The Heart. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

I met American novelist and short story writer Alice Walker. Yay!!

Thanks to Busboys and Poets in Washington DC for organizing a book reading event. Pre- ordered copies of most of her books were available: The Color Purple, Possessing The Secret of Joy, The Temple of My Familiar, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens …  Taking The Arrow Out of The Heart her latest book of poems from which she read.


As we awaited her arrival, two ladies recounted their first meetings with her.
One said she’d worked on her, I thought she was a makeup artist but turns out she’s a healer. I didn’t know anything about healing.

The other said, Alice looked her straight in the eye and it felt like she could see into her Soul. Again, I knew no such experience. But I listened intently as they shared with such passion the experience of meeting another human being. Which made me ask my self, “What is it about authors that makes their fans euphoric?” Perhaps it the feeling they share through the stories. A unifying experience? An understanding? An escape from reality?

Eager, I stood first in line to have my book signed. I introduced myself and said I was from Uganda.
Alice stopped, shook my hand and asked with concern written all over her face,
“How is Bobi”
I was clearly in a different zone for I replied, “I’m sorry, who?”
Alice: Bobi, Bobi Wine . How is he doing?
I came back to my senses and immediately responded,
“He’s fine.”
Alice: Well, I know he is fine but he is obviously not fine.
I attempted to gloss it over by saying “he is better now.” when she asked, “When were you last in Uganda?
Alice, was right on the pulse. Amazing how international Bobi Wine has become.
At this point I was being blinded by camera flashes, she’d signed only one other book and the person was still waiting for a chance to say hello. The organizers hinted to Alice about being time conscious, the point as which I said thank you, picked my book and disappeared into the crowd.
Perhaps next time I’ll be the one recounting how I met Alice, how she shook my hand and asked “How is Bobi?”. Haha!!

Continue reading

Life in Kampala

Nakasero Market- Man wraps bananas in fibres

Nakasero market. Man wraps banana’s in fibers to keep them intact and protected from the sun rays. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

Sweat trickled down faces, armpits and backs as the sun baked Kampala. Body odors danced in the slight breeze. Sudden whirlwinds raised dust and sprinkled it over the city. Book and handkerchief vendors consistently dusted their merchandise. Bottles of cold Rwenzori mineral water and Safi sweated in the hands and cardboard boxes of street vendors. Cars hooted, taxi touts called “Nakawa, Nakawa, Ntinda” as conversations trailed in and out of my subconscious. The commotion of the city center drowned out the loud growls in my belly.

I shuffled through the crowds down town, passed the men that sat idly waiting for business deals, others carried sacks of cement or was it charcoal. They pushed wheelbarrows and conversed with vendors and girls at the mobile phone booths. Ladies sold suitcases, and babies’ clothes, they sold fingers and bunches of matooke, cooked in dark corners and crossed the streets in aprons and shower caps to deliver covered plates of food to customers.

I strapped my rack-sac tight to my chest, I wasn’t taking chances with my possessions. Little things I took for granted at home – the tube of Vaseline, the book I read while waiting for an appointment, all tripled in value down town. When someone bumped into me, I’d check to ensure nothing had gone missing. I was alert and eager to get out of the muddle.

The green gardens of City square were a respite just like a diver comes up to the water surface for air. I found a spot in the shade of a tree and sat for a while. A cool breeze swept over us.

Mary_Ongwen_City Square 2018

City Square. A public space for citizens. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

I watched the two guys asleep in the grass, one face up with one leg straight the other bent. The other faced down with his arm folded to soften the place he lay his head. The man in the corner sat with bent knees and faced the street. The lady in front stood and looked ahead, while the man seated next to me stared into the air. It was a quiet space and yet intense – everyone trying to figure out next moves, to handle life’s complexities.

Speech bubbles popped up all around filled with stories of hunger, hopes for the future, money deals, investment schemes. Conversations were held in the recesses of the mind and the intense stare of pupils. Just another ordinary day on the streets of Kampala. Young men and women seeking jobs, a little money to catch a taxi to their next destination. Entrepreneurship ideas hopes for a future.

Tomorrow, it will be on repeat, hoping and praying for better luck, to hit the deal. Life in Kampala.

The Last of The Tooth Fairy

Miss A loses A Tooth

It happened once, I was about seven, it was magical. I lost a tooth and showed it to my mom. The next morning I discovered that a rat had carried 5 shillings and a peculiar sweet and quietly tucked them under my pillow. I was amazed at how the little fella carried this hefty package. I imagined how he’d climbed up staircases, scurried round corners and pushed my bedroom door open or maybe squeezed in through a tiny opening to deliver my package. Continue reading