Asinde Regina

Every beginning of the school term Miloth became a shameless beggar. She put aside her pride and reached out to friends, relatives, acquaintances and even total strangers, asking them for money to send her children back to school. She had learned to put dignity aside and beg in earnest.  She had learned to pray — to cry and to empty herself before the invisible creator. She also had learned how to lose friends during those moments when shame pushed her into hiding after her begging sprees. Above all, she had learned to be weary of herself.

Her oldest son was set to join university in August while her second-born children, the twin girls Apio and Adongo, were in Senior Six and expected to return to school on Sunday. Okello, who followed the twins, was in Senior Four. His classmates had reported back to school the previous Monday. Now it was Friday evening and she didn’t know where she would get their school fees. In the morning Deus had told her he did not have any money. While she knew he was telling the truth, she was still angry he was not making any efforts, as always, to fundraise. Miloth scoffed, but what did she expect? While she was the go-getter, he was diffident, never willing to insert himself in any situation that would leave him exposed. At such times she wished they could exchange personalities.

She scrolled again through her phone contacts, resisting the temptation to key in a phone number she had memorized by heart but not saved in her list of contacts. She sighed and placed the phone back on the brown glazed office desk before her. She massaged her knitted forehead and stared out the open window. Tinges of darkness decorated the horizon.

“Mommy, mommy!” a shrill voice preceded the pitter-patter of tiny feet running to her.

“Yes,” she groaned.

There went her moment of contemplation. Her three-year-old daughter, Maari, rushed into the small space she used as her prayer room, a few metres from the family’s unplastered two-bedroomed house. The prayer room used to be the couple’s abode when they had just been married. It had been Deus’ simba, built when he was in his Senior Six vacation. In keeping with the tradition that boys moved out of their parents’ homes when they reached puberty, he had teamed up with a cousin and made bricks to construct a room of his own. Selling a few chicken, he bought six iron sheets and roofed the room, to which he took his bride Miloth a year later. With a more spacious house for the family these days, Miloth used the old simba as a prayer room.

“Awon has take my things and push me,” Maari cried, her voice trembling as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“No mommy! Maari is lying,” shouted her six-year-old son, who had come following his sister. He was panting and holding a plastic bottle top. Miloth assumed the bottle top was the source of contention between the children.

“Me I don’t lie. Awon you take my thing and beat my hand,” Maari shouted back, pointing in fury at her brother.

“I did not! I only push your head like this,” he said, brushing his hands against Maari’s head to show the harmlessness of what he had done, but Maari ducked and grabbed his gesticulating hand.

“Stop it, both of you,” Miloth said.

“See mommy, he beat me,” Maari burst into loud sobs.

Motherhood had taught Miloth patience and how not to act on her every urge. Suppressing her sharp impulses, she went through the routine act of getting one headstrong toddler to apologise to another while at the same time trying to ensure neither felt unfairly treated. After a few minutes, in which Awon returned the bottle top to Maari and apologies were mumbled, she pulled them to herself for a group hug. In moments like this, despite everything she knew, Miloth was glad to be a mother.

“Now go back home.” She shooed them off.

“Are you coming home also?” Awon asked, peering at the open Bible before his mother.

“I will come. You go home and wait for me.”

“Mommy, you also come home,” Maari insisted.


Miloth sighed in frustration. She felt her patience fray. What was she going to do at home except get angry at their bickering? The twins were probably in the kitchen cooking supper and the others were watching television. Deus, her husband of nearly two decades, was most certainly in the garden. Everyone, except her, would be busy somewhere. A draught whooshed through her, making her shiver. This is how she had felt in the days preceding that night eighteen years ago. Useless. Alone. Depressed. Although she and Deus had been married for four years at the time, it was just one year after their graduations from Makerere University and not long after Deus had taken a job as a salesperson with an insurance company. The job required travel around the country. Miloth’s own efforts to find a job had not been successful. Their first child was living with Deus’ mother. Deus spent so many weeks, even months, away from home, so that the few times he was home he seemed too sick or fatigued to do much. He struggled to make love. Miloth had started to suspect he was having an affair. Only later did she understand that his high-stress job as an insurance salesman took so much energy out of him.

“Mommy, Mommy—” Awon’s voice cut through her memories.

“I said go home, I am coming. Don’t make me repeat myself!”

The children dashed out together.  Miloth closed her eyes and sighed again. Her heart felt heavy in her chest. If she had some money, which she did not, she would take herself out, probably to a fast-food restaurant to eat fried chicken and briefly forget the mess in her life.

She picked up the phone again and opened WhatsApp. Who could give her money to take the children back to school? Scrolling through the chats, she did mental checks against each contact. She could think of no one who might help. Many were tired of her sob stories. Some had blue-ticked the last messages she had sent them, saying nothing.

A pervading sense of doom cloaked her and she felt invisible tremors hit her muscles. A sharp pain in her chest had her doubling over. She pressed down hard on her chest, attempting to slow down her heartbeat. Not again, she thought, not again. Gulping for air, she remembered the words of Maliza, her spiritual mother, as she pushed herself from the chair to the floor and sat cross-legged on a straw mat. “Take deep breaths whenever the attacks come,” the voice said to her. Don’t think about anything. It is well, baby girl.”

Closing her eyes tight, Miloth held onto that voice and sailed on it through the darkness encroaching on her consciousness. Minutes later she opened her eyes and forced her body to stop rocking back and forth. She wiped tears off her face, realizing for the first time that she was crying. She picked up her phone again. She keyed in the memorised number. When her thumb moved to hit the call button, it froze as she shook her head in disgust. Maybe she could speak to Maliza about it? No, no, no, she shook her head. She had promised Deus she would keep the matter a secret. He would never forgive her if she broke her promise. She remembered his brokenness and her fear that week, ten years ago, when she confessed to him. After her confession he had not spoken to her for three days during which she had prayed like never before, pouring her shame and fear into loud prayer. On the fourth day she had confronted him late in the night, awaking him from his feigned sleep.

“What is your decision?” she had asked without warning. He had kept silent, his face turned away from her, his head buried in the pillow. In all the years of their marriage she had never seen him this broken. She’d fisted her trembling hand and said a silent prayer—begging God yet again for mercy if she could not receive it from her husband. Perhaps she should not have told Deus, but she had decided she could no longer continue hiding the facts from him.

“They are my children,” Deus had whispered. Miloth had closed her eyes, not wanting to see the pain visible on his face. She wished she could give him the reassurance he sought.

They sat up in bed, trapped in a charged silence, each floundering in a sea of drowning emotions. After a while Deus sighed and cleared his throat. He grabbed Miloth’s shoulders in a death grip, forcing her to open her eyes and stare at him in fright.

“We will never talk about this again. They are my children!”

A feverish fire burned in Deus’ eyes as he shook her hard once again.

“Do you hear me, Miloth? Those children are mine!”

Miloth nodded, not daring to voice the questions speeding through her mind. She kept staring at him, confusion clouding her gaze. While she was glad her marriage was not in danger, she could not help but wonder why he had decided not to chase the matter further. Did he fear that in speaking about the children’s paternity the darkness of that night would come to light? Thinking back, she could understand him. She too had been afraid. Deus had gone and come back two days after that night. They had never talked about that night, that night that for her would always be that night that continued to loom large and dark in her memories.

Deus released her shoulders and turned away, resting his head on the pillow.

‘You must carry that secret even beyond your deathbed, no one should ever hear it,” he said after moments of silence during which Miloth sniffed and sobbed in shame and relief.

When she did not answer he turned to her and touched her chin.

“Promise me!” he demanded.

“Yes, I promise,” she squeaked between sniffles.

That was more than ten years ago, and so much had changed in the world around and inside them. After the first round of COVID-19 lockdowns, when things were hard for everyone, they relocated the family from Kampala to Tororo. Like many others, Deus lost his job when the insurance company laid off many of its staff. The secretarial bureau in which Miloth worked shut down. The family was thrown out of their three-bedroomed unit when rent arrears grew. Looking for shelter, they made the painful decision to relocate to the village in Tororo, where Deus once hoed plantations as a boy. Deus, who had always enjoyed gardening, said it was an opportunity. Miloth did not have much of a choice. Maybe living in the village was an opportunity to give her life a new direction.


Alone in Deus’ old simba, Miloth now pondered her promise to her husband. Had she been too quick, and perhaps too selfish, in making the promise? She stared hard at her phone. In a second she could dial the unsaved number and talk to Musheshe after so many years. The TV ads said his gynaecology clinic in Kampala was now an international fertility hospital. Musheshe had enough money to look after the children, if they were his. A DNA test would be conclusive, but what if they were not his?

People said that a woman always knew the father of her children, yet for Miloth this was not true. She uncrossed and stretched her legs on the mat, the sudden movement tingling the sleeping nerves. No matter her promise to Deus, she had never reached out to Musheshe because she was not sure he was responsible and because she could not live with the certainty of knowing.

There lay her dilemma.

She shut her eyes, wanting to be calmed by the inner coolness of the simba, but the memory of that night came flooding back.

“I am going to Gulu tomorrow, so don’t disturb me,” Deus had said that night, shrugging off Miloth’s caressing hands. She had closed her eyes, her body taut with unspent passion as she yearned for the weight of his body pressing down on her. Sitting up, she had pulled the duvet off his body, bringing its cottony heat towards her.

“You always give one excuse or the other—what exactly is happening?”

“Nothing is happening. I just need to sleep.”

“It can’t be nothing! Since when has making love to your wife stopped you from sleeping?”

Miloth poked his back when he did not respond.

“Are you cheating on me?”

He sighed in frustration as he grabbed the duvet back and covered himself.

“Think whatever you want, me I want to sleep now because I had a tough day and will have a tougher day tomorrow. So please leave me alone!”

Miloth had struggled to hold back the tears pricking her eyes. She remembered Maliza’s admonition of nagging wives whenever Miloth complained about Deus. The old woman used to say that  good women “keep water in their mouths.” Miloth begging her husband for sex? That would scandalize Maliza.

Miloth had tried taking deep breaths to calm the fire coursing through her blood that night, and she found this a tiresome way to stay calm. The bed, their bed, was meant to be enjoyed with Deus, something she could no longer take for granted. She was tired of enjoying alone from time to time and she did not want to fall into a predictable habit. She jerked his shoulder towards her, turning him to face her with strength she did not know she possessed.

“I did not marry my brother, Deus! Today, whether you want or not, you are fulfilling your marital duties.”

What happened next remained a blur in her memory. Perhaps, out of shame, she chose to forget some things. But some elements stayed with her, like the pure force of his body as he tore into her in anger while she cried out, whether in pain or ecstasy she could not say. All she knew, all she will always know, was that that night changed her.

The next morning Miloth woke up bruised, Deus long gone on his travels. She went to Musheshe, her gynaecologist, to treat her wounds. He wanted to know what had happened, so she told him everything, crying at the helpless state of her marriage. He listened, soaking up her pain and soothing her with his words and his touch. Three hours later they stumbled into his apartment. Miloth returned to her marital home at dusk, still bruised but satisfied. She discovered she was pregnant a few weeks later. She made a point of avoiding Musheshe, not even responding to his countless missed calls and messages. The twins came without incident.

As the girls grew, many people noticed how different they looked from their siblings. Seeing Deus’ deep bond with the girls, Miloth always prayed that the niggling suspicions were not true. But with every passing year she saw Musheshe in the twins, everything about them proclaiming her guilt. From their speech patterns to the proportions of their body parts, the girls were clearly kinsfolk of the people far away in western Uganda, not those of the east. Every time she looked at the twins guilt palpitated her heart.

Miloth had only spoken of her fears ten years ago after she became a born-again Christian and wanted her husband’s forgiveness as much as God’s. But what if the girls were actually his and not Musheshe’s? After all she had gone to Musheshe the morning after she had been with her husband. Was it guilt drawing the assumption that the twins were Musheshe’s? Would she even be thinking of the gynaecologist now if she were not so worried about school fees? But what if the twins were really his children?

“What are you thinking of, mom?” Apio’s voice startled Miloth out of her trance. The phone in her hand dropped to the floor.  Apio rushed to pick it up.

“What is it, mom? You should stop worrying. You are growing old with all that frowning.”

Miloth looked at her daughter. The girl was a blooming beauty, with big round eyes, high cheekbones, and a straight nose sitting between clear smile lines on her harvest-coloured face. She had Musheshe’s fat lower lip and his long fingers.

“Come we go home. Daddy got you some mangoes. If you delay Adongo will finish them,” Apio said, picking up the Bible lying open on the mat. Miloth stood up and folded the mat.

“Mommy, see what I’ve brought you,” Adongo, the other twin, said as she walked into the room, presenting a plastic bowl of ripe yellow mangoes to her mother.

Many people said they could not tell the girls apart, so they just called them Wengi. When they were babies even Miloth sometimes could get confused. But Deus always knew who was who. He liked to say Adongo was the girl who never tired of eating, that’s how he knew. Whatever the circumstances, there was no question of his deep bond with the girls.

“How many have you eaten so far?” Miloth asked Adongo.

“Dad said I should bring you the remainders once I picked my share,” the girl said unashamed.

Miloth took the Bible from Apio and placed it on the table. She mouthed a silent prayer before following the girls out of the prayer room. May the Lord have mercy, she thought.

“Mommy, Adongo not want to give me some mangoes,” Maari screamed as she rushed to hug Miloth.

“You already ate yours, Maari,” Okello, her sixteen-year-old son, said.

Okello stood up, offering his mother the plastic chair in which he had been sitting. He was the spitting image of Deus. While the girls were brownies, this boy was the colour of a moonless night. He had a wide gap between his upper teeth that melted hearts when he smiled. Whenever she looked at her son Miloth remembered why she fell in love with her husband.

Deus sauntered out of the house, the muscles of his naked torso still sweating from his earlier exertions in the garden. Only the greys of his unkempt beard betrayed his forty-something years. Miloth felt her heart flutter, and she averted her eyes from Deus.

Cover image: Painting of an African mother carrying her child, Arthckunskap, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons