In the market, I walked among piles of bananas, shoes, and sweet potatoes. Children asked me to buy sodas, batiks, live grasshoppers to snack on.
A small crowd gathered around a performer. He was a beautiful boy, tall, thin, with arms that moved like birds, perfect teeth, scabby hands and blistered lips. He put a torch into his mouth, pulled it out, and the fire was gone. A meat vendor brought him a coal from her brazier. He pretended to swallow it, rubbed his throat, patted his stomach.
When he spat out the coal, his tongue looked black and swollen.
After his performance, the boy went to a booth of jerrycans. I followed him. He traded places with the man working there. I continued to watch. He seemed ordinary now, no longer fanciful. He did not toss a jerrycan to make it spin through the air before landing in a customer’s hands, or juggle the change, or sing the virtues of his wares.
I left the market at dusk, passed a procession of children. Girls in pastel orange dresses, boys in pink button-down shirts and khaki shorts. Too many to count, and one more on the hip of the woman at the back, a scrawny boy with stick-legs and stick-arms that swung as she walked. She gave me a paper slip with an address printed on it, said that her children made greeting cards from recycled paper, I should stop by. I decided I would attempt to communicate. I said, what a big family you have. Or at least I tried to; I was still rusty with her language. She said that the children were orphans and reformed street beggars, they slept in a church basement now. Her name was Ruth. I asked if I could carry the boy on her hip. She said that he would attack a stranger, and I said, with what, and she said, with his mouth, he was a biter.
I mailed postcards. I read any novels that I could get my hands on. I bought strange vegetables, choosing them for bright colors or unique textures, chopped and threw them into a skillet of peanut oil, and dined on stir-fry.
My father would have bought ice cream for Ruth’s children, and yoyos, jacks, and rubber balls. My mother would have organized donations, provided them with vaccines, vitamins, mosquito netting, ink pens, and writing tablets.
I went by minibus to the Kasubi Tombs, took off my shoes, and entered the round wattle-house roofed by a great dome of thatch. The granddaughters of the royal kabakas were old women now, and they were sitting on mats and animal skins, weaving baskets from grasses. They were lingering near their familial dead, buried just beyond the red barkcloth curtains. I heard a whispering tour guide say that the bodies of the kabakas had been dehydrated on drying racks, and that the curtains concealed not just another part of the house, but a great forest, the home of the spirits.
My mother had said that if a thief broke into her house, she would give him her rings and fix him a meal. She shaved her head, wore sack dresses, cooked carcass soup and matoke that was bland as paste.
She said that you could never be robbed if you knew how to let everything go.
I walked into the yard of my parents’ house. The high wall around their property was topped with barbed wire and busted bottles, jagged-side-up. I thought that if I looked carefully enough, if I listened long enough, then surely I would be spoken to. The clouds were so pale I almost could not see them. The sky was blue as a whisper.
At the market, I looked for the fire-eater. I had been thinking about the sores on his lips. I had no words for “petroleum jelly,” but I could hold up the tube I had bought, and the bottled water, and I could say, can I give these to you.
I wanted to take his picture, to drop coins in his cup.