By Amandla Karungi
When I was younger, I was the shy one who always got left out and was never the favourite. Not the crowd favourite, nor the sisters’ favourite, not the Aunt’s favourite or the Grandmother’s favourite. As the second born out of three and then eventually four girls, it was difficult to be the one people remembered. And so they put many labels on me to help them remember who I was.
I was, at around age five, the quiet one and the one that sucked her finger. At around age nine, I was the born again one. At around age 12, I was the one who was not as beautiful as the other one. I was, at around age 15, the other one. At age 17, I was the fat one. And then I lost the weight, and somehow simultaneously disappeared and appeared for some. They could not figure out who I was supposed to be now. Some assumptions continue to this day with proclamations like “I can’t believe you can talk!” when I give half an opinion on say, bread or milk.
My childhood best friend was my mother. She was the only one who heard me out when I was left out, who ‘took action’ when I reported my sisters or cousins for pinching me or leaving me out of the game. For her, I ended up wanting to be the good one, the perfect one. For my first friends – my siblings, I grew up believing I was the ‘other’ one and it played out through my thoughts to my actions. When my sisters chose black bell bottoms, steppers and pink madonna tops (The meanings of these words can only be understood as per 1999 – 2003), I had to choose the blue bell bottoms, a different pair of steppers and a white madonna top. Even if I had wanted what they wanted. I was supposed to be the different one.
In my dreams, my superpower was to fly. I flew from dangerous situations. In the physical realm, when I felt afraid and trapped, I always needed to get away. One cloudy afternoon in my S.4 vacation, when my mother had insisted that I go back to my old High School for my A’ level, I had opened the small black pedestrian gate and walked without stopping for four or five hours, as fast and as far away as I could. That might have been my version of flying. But I always believed that, if I ever had to be a superhero- like Spiderman or Superman, my superpower would be invisibility. I would disappear between walls and curtains and no one would see me. I would dissolve into the surroundings and hide there, invisible like air.
Then at 23, in a small village in Central-East Africa, inside a world that only existed when we existed in it, a place where rejects of the Ugandan Law Practice gathered with the natives, in a mixture of Civil law, Common Law, dancing, cartwheeling, DJaying, a never ending replay of the song of the time, Muna-Kampala in an otherwise soundless place, grey and black suits, chips, kivuguto, being a group leader and attempting basketball, I saw a version of myself that I had not seen before. It was the most important lesson I learnt there. I was not invisible.
My voice put something in the atmosphere that had not been there before. My input changed the course of the day. I had been, for four years of my University, an insignificant observer in a world where big things were happening all around me. And now, I was an impetus in the big things that were happening in a small world. These days, I sometimes walk in and out of some days like ‘the invisible guest at every conversation’, slipping in and out of the wall paint. But that obscure day in which the songs that I selected, reverberated at the basketball court, where I did cartwheels in the grass, was invited to a party, played DJ and danced the way I would in front of my mirror, will never let me forget what it felt like, to live and not just exist.