I sat at the confessional, my Black tartan Harris Tweed Hip flask dangling from my neck. Like Hebrides, the home of Harris Tweed my soul gets so cold she keeps me warm. The priest’s voice, soothing and pompous pierced through the air of awkwardness that sat between us.
‘Speak my child!’
First, I stutter with words, not for the lack thereof, but sheer embarrassment. I reeked of nothing but a concoction of liquor, which one in particular (insert Ice Prince’s lingo) I could not tell. If a stranger walked by during my confession, they would have assumed a brewery ran its mills nearby. But it was me, a child of God. Or rather a prodigal child, who had sauntered from a cheap dingy lodging in the lower Kamwookya, Kampala.
Thinking about it, this felt like a page out of William Burrough’s Naked Lunch. Naked lunch- a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the other end of every fork.
If and when you are lucky enough to wake up from the delirium before you dance with the devil, you are a lucky bustard. Otherwise, you will find yourself in a confessional in a small church in the heart of Kampala Uganda, with a flask of poison dangling down your neck instead of a crucifix. Don’t blaspheme, that you spent years talking to God while looking down your crucifix and He could not hear you. You were running away from darkness, that was deep inside you. The very darkness that you were.
My memory of this episode, came back in smooth slow painful patches. But everything has a beginning, right? And my beginning of God started, with me packing a small rucksack and hitting the road with a tone of friends. See, my buddy’s dad did not mind giving him a strong Land Rover Defender 110 for a weekend. This trip started hatching on a lazy Thursday afternoon, while chasing some cheap thrills, jugs and bugs. Friday 5 a.m, I get into the cruiser, back left and we hit the road.
We were binging and using everything we could get our hands on. By the time we were at the Busia-Malaba border, my head was in a space out of this space (every pun intended). The boys in blue had stopped us at some roadblock, only to let us go after incorrigible exchange.
One of the cops muttered below his breathe, ‘Young people in their 20s, let them learn from their mistakes.’ He then waved us off. The young chap on the wheel, whose name shall not be mentioned for the sake of reputations and of course, this was just a page in our lives -everyone in that beast. Pages we closed, chapters ended and phases outgrown. He preferred the lux of not indulging in mind-altering substances.
We somehow find our way to a lively African pub, the Capital. It was an accolade of several bars and pool tables. We get ourselves a lounge at a corner. The drinks start coming, first light as beers then escalated pretty fast to strong and heavy, whisky and tequila. There were two ladies waiting our table, full and curvaceous, the SI unit of true African women.
Then, I drowned in the delirium. I remember feeling hazy and my eyes were heavy and drowsy.
I woke up from The Delirium at a cheap dingy lodging in Kamwooyo, confused and insane only between two naked women. Clothes were strewn on the floor, with nothing on me but my HyperChrome Captain Cook watch that my father gave me for my twenty first birthday. The sun was shining boldly through the transparent old tattered curtains. I hastily searched the floor for anything that looked like mines. I try unfastening the door but it is locked. I throw a quick glance at the voluptuous ladies in bed. There is no way I am facing my mistakes. I would rather hit the door, but the window will do!
Halfway out, the janitor whose job specification I was not sure of was trying to act busy. Or probably eavesdropping. I gather the last bits of decency I had left and apologized for nothing in particular, but deep inside I must have been apologizing for dancing with the devil. The guilt stirring inside, made me feel like I needed to make right with the whole universe. This was the lowest level of human decency, please leave the drugs out of the equation.
We have a banter with the janitor. Eventually, he comes clean. I needed a phone, hit one of my boys to come and get me. Mukisa was his name. He did not have a phone but he had a bicycle so I would either walk around the lodge or jump on his bike and get near some urbanization.
The sun is burning fiercely. Probably angry at me, for my sins. But ey, ‘You are not God! Why are you angry at me?’ I thought to myself. Mukisa is a Ugandan name that means good fortune. Mukisa himself might not have come across his good fortune, but in this ugly situation he was my good fortune. A few meters away from the dingy lodge, we came across a catholic church. I decide, the church is safer. In case I am stranded, Africans are notoriously religiously. They will help anyone in the name of church or religion. He drops me off at the entrance of a small catholic church, a parish of a village in Kamwooyo.
I walk in, hoping to meet a Christian who would sympathize and probably have a phone on them. But then again, I meet a priest; a man in his prime age, with a few strands of silver sprouting on his half bald head. He smiles and stretches his hand to greet me. My first instinct, I hold the flask in my hand. He moves closer and embraces me.
A few minutes later, I am at the confessional, with the flask dangling on my neck.
‘Speak my child!’
‘Father, I am a writer and a sinner.’
‘God loves us all, even writers, even sinners.’
I uncork the flask and take a long gulp of whatever was left inside. We sit in silence for a while. He clears his throat and his voice cuts the silence deep.
‘First you forgive yourself, then the Lord forgives you.’
‘But father my sin is the forbidden sin. I can’t bring myself to say it. ‘
He laughs, the laugh of God.
‘Oh. No, my child. There is no such thing as a forbidden sin. We are all sinners. We are all writers. See, life is a blank canvas and you are holding a pen. All you have to do is write. Whatever you write is your choice. ‘
A knot loosens in my throat and I burst into tears. There was a peace that was flowing from within me. The priest or the voice of God, falls into a loud silence. I could only hear his breathing. I cried myself silly. I threw myself on the floor, bit my lips, thumped on my forehead until I finally the genie was out of the bottle- the flask was empty.
‘Father, I am from Kenya. I came down to Kampala for an escape. ‘
‘What are you running away from?’
‘When is today?’
‘Saturday, a quarter to 5.’
‘On Thursday a quarter to 5 I was running from pain and the coldness in my soul. Now I don’t know what I was running from. ‘
‘See. That is the first step. Now this is the beginning of God in your life. I hope you find him before He finds you again. Because God never finds you in church…’
‘He finds you in a lodging in the middle of nowhere stacked between two women.’
‘Or even worse!’
‘Jesus! There is worse?’
The genie was out of the bottle and I had no business with the Harris Tweed flask anymore. It had to go or at least I had to live it behind. The priest was a very kind man, he had already helped me find my way to God. Nevertheless, he still offered to help me find my way to Kenya. A simple deal. The flask cost around 20 Euros. A few weeks later, they would have their annual church auction. He would fund my fare back home in exchange for the bottle. The 20 Euros would amount to a hundred and twenty thousand Ugandan shillings. You know what that kind of money would do to the small community around the church, and what that flask would do to the next writer and sinner from whose neck it would be dangling.