#SSWCIII – House of the Rising Sun by Daniel Nuwamanya

It is 7.30 in the evening.

The sun has already disappeared behind the horizon. The night is gathering fast. I can tell from the way the small rhombuses of light in the ventilator bricks have turned from light blue to pale violet to indigo and then black- sinking and disappearing into the walls.

I can feel it. Watching. I am sure of it.

My fingers move with the liquid ease of a millipedes feet; tapping, dancing lightly over the laptop keyboard. The letters on the keys glow a white, electric light, a light that gets sharper and more brittle in the growing darkness of our old living room.

My typing is easy, smooth. Each finger arriving at the required letter with an effortless precision. A skill I developed slaving away daily for over four years as a typist in a dinghy basement office off Nasser Road, writing short stories during the breaks and after work. Who would have known that that wretched desk; that battered old Dell would one day provide me the tools I would use to avenge my sisters and free myself forever of the shadow of this evil that straddles our house?

Fate would have known I guess. Fate, God… God is on my side. Here in this veritable shadow of death, I know no fear.

Fear is how these things get to you. …

My fingertips flick and flutter like a restless wind chime in an incessant breeze. The song they play is akin to the tap-dancing of a hundred tiny elves, little tireless bukarabanda rattling their bones defiantly into the gathering gloom. My heart moves in instant obedience to their song. The light from the monitor bounces faintly off of my fingernails. I catch all this in my lower periphery. I do not look down, I do not look up. I do not look around. I cannot afford to. I concentrate on the flow. On keeping my soul light and the typing fluid. My only job is to keep the thoughts rising, trickling one at a time; out of the sea at the centre of my spirit, through my mind, letting the neurons and synapses in my brain fire as they need, no hurries, no distraction. I want to be one with the will of this story that I am recounting, even if it is only to myself, even if no one else will ever read it … I want to be in one accord with it, let it feed into the nerves that direct my arms and shoulders, let these precious words trickle into my hands, leak through the callused tips of my fingers into this computer which will send them up onto the screen where my eyes will catch them – a mere split second after they first emerged, creating a seamless flow when they feed back into my consciousness and spur other thoughts, other words.

I am both servant to and master of this flow. I am both beginning and end in this continuous stream of consciousness that I am building this night. And I will build it until it is a roaring tidal wave carrying me to the shores of redemption. Mine and my sisters’. My poor sisters. Murdered here in this house.

I type. Ergo I am. This is my zone. My place of truth. This is my kung-fu.

And my kung-fu is strong.

My ctrl I k u n g hyphen f u ctrl I

Strong.

I do not break the beat. I do not pause, or slow down one whit. I can feel it. The eerie sense that I remember so well from my childhood. That sense of being watched, swiftly growing, bounding and rebounding. …

That sense … It is a tangible thing. As real as the table upon which this laptop rests. I can feel it. Hovering just below the ceiling. Its dark, subtly malevolent energy radiating out of the walls, seeping up through the floor, gathering in the air around me. As I type, trailing my awareness through the house and recording my impressions, the glass in the doors and window panes begins to vibrate faintly. It sounds like a million moths drumming with their wings against every inch of the glasses’ surface, demanding to come in.

This house and the evil that it possesses (or the evil that possesses it) killed my mother and before her, my sisters. It stole our childhood. Stole our lives even when we were still living. Now it wants my life. It remembers me. How could it not? On this day of all days? I am not afraid. I know my sisters were afraid when this night came around for them. Lydia I know, despite her pretenses to the contrary, was completely terrified.

The thrumming of the glass has swollen in volume. It sounds now as if the millions of moths are hurling themselves against it, beating themselves to death in some orgiastic frenzy. The air is thick with malice. Behind the corners of my eyes, the fringes of my peripheral vision, a voice whispers and then disappears. The words are too low for my ears to catch, but their menace is unmistakable.

My fingers positively fly across these laptop keys now. The letters amass like an army of black ants disembarking out of the ether. Filling up rank upon rank. I am their commander. Setting up the lines. Creating formations. Italicizing, paragraphing, apostrophizing, hyphenating and capitalizing at the speed of thought. The flow has picked up. The trickling torrent of emotion that fed the typing before, is swelling into a torrent. Rushing down the ceramic-white page like a black tide swelling up a canal. I am not afraid. I am too exhausted, I am in too much pain to be afraid. The memories I had kept back all these years are surging back.

My sisters … This house …

Its rage is mounting, greater than at any time that I have ever witnessed. It makes no move to attack. It is waiting. Scheming. First it must plant fear in me. That is the only way it can take my life. It is an irony. That the house is in itself afraid. Has always been afraid. Fear is not just its weapon against the living. Fear is its essence. As its fear grows, so does its power. And as its power grows so must my flow, my honest and true expression. Only honesty, which is purity and love, can stave off fear. As it advances toward my light I too shall advance toward its darkness, toward the inevitable reckoning. This is spiritual warfare and only one can rise up and continue on the morrow while the other perishes where he lies.

So be it. I shall do my best. Let the house do its worst. My kung-fu is strong. Despite the pain this house resurrects, it was only when I made the choice to come back and facing the death it’s had in store for me since I was boy that I started to feel the fear lift …

….
There were six of us. My mother, my four sisters and myself. I was the youngest, the only boy. Our mother was a stern Anglican lady, a matriarch of the old school. She ruled the house like an African queen and we all were prince and princesses under her reign. Julia, our first born was a kind and gentle soul. She was the first to go. The night she died was our first encounter with this house. She woke up in the middle of the night of her 25th birthday. Screaming. A long, horrible, stretched-out scream that cut through my heart and soul like a shard of poisonous glass. It broke her vocal cords I believe because when we eventually forced the door open – we found her gargling, choking in her own blood.

Vanessa, a stern, imperious beauty resembled my mother the most. She had always been a fighter but this house, for an entire year, patiently weakened and sapped her spirit with nightmares and hallucinations. The doctors called it schizophrenia, prescribing all sorts of anti-psychotics and antidepressants. We did not understand. Till we found her on the morning of her 25th birthday. Dead, an open Bible in her hand. Bed and clothes soaked in sweat.

Lydia, our little Miss Personality, was next. Short and full figured, she was as beautiful as Vanessa but without the aloofness. No words can describe Lydia. Lydia was weird! Loud and boisterous one minute, soft and yielding the next; to be in her presence was to be simultaneously confounded and enchanted. Sometimes I wonder if her complexities sprung from the grief she had buried deep inside. She refused to speak of Julia or Vanessa. Simply refused. She always joked that there was enough woman in her to compensate for six Julias and seven Vanessas! She was big sister now, what did we need them for? That was Lydia for you. Her death hurt so many people.

She too died on the night of her 25th birthday. We’d stayed up; me, her, our mother and Nancy. Mother and Nancy were deep in prayer, Lydia was roaring drunk. Suddenly she rose up and started screaming at the ceiling, shouting and cursing in language so vicious and so filthy that it makes me smile a little even as I remember that scene. Something snatched the breath out of her body, mid-sentence, as if with a giant fist.

After the funeral, numerous suggestions came in. Some hinted, others blatant. Visit this or that pastor, make offerings at this or that shrine. My mother rejected them all. We’d been baptized Anglican and we were not going to betray our faith. My mother had always hated being vulnerable.

Lydia’s death broke something inside me. Perhaps I had until that moment, secretly harbored some foolish hope that the deaths were coincidental. But there was no denying what I had seen. I left soon after for the city and proceeded to forget, with dogged single-mindedness, everything about my family and this house.

I do not even know how Nancy died. Probably as horribly as the others. Wise Nancy. Quiet, contemplative, prayerful Nancy. My mother, from what I came to understand, wouldn’t or couldn’t leave this house after her funeral. She stayed on alone, chasing away all visitors, quietly running mad.

She killed herself last week today. Seven days before my twenty-fifth birthday.

I got the news from Aunt Helen, sole surviving sibling of my late father. She came to my workplace – my dingy, squalid cubicle at Nasser Road. It was a hot day, the fans weren’t working – as usual. I was high out of my fucking mind – as usual. Drugs – and the writing of course, were all I had been capable of since I came to the city following Lydia’s death. They both served the same thing, keeping my mind pre-occupied from its demons. It was the same process, whether I was typing away or puffing on a joint. Always the same thing. The same sinking into oblivious euphoria, the same feeling of utter control and invincibility as I zoned out of this world and entered a new one where I was creating the reality I wanted, a reality so pure and utterly mine that it left me breathless with the magic of it all.

My appearance appalled her. I could tell. She said nothing. Only asked if I had heard that my mother had died.

I hadn’t and I didn’t care I replied, my voice cracking in the sudden silence. I had no intention of returning to Mbarara. Death could just as easily find me at my desk, or in a bar.

She looked at me without speaking. I’d always been a little afraid of Aunt Helen. She is tall and bony, with dirty grey hair and yellowing eyes that seem to burn with contempt whenever she looks at me.

“You are not the last of your mother’s blood.”

I was dumbfounded.

“Your mother had another child by a different man. A girl. She her in my care because she didn’t want your father to know. He would not have taken the infidelity lightly. Anyway, she will be twenty five in three years. Do you want her to experience the same fate as your other sisters?”

“When your birthday comes, you must go back to that house.” Aunt Helen’s voice was as grim and bleak as a stretch of desert. “You must stay up all night, praying for your mother and sisters’ souls. Pray! Do not cease or falter. Our Lord Jesus is the living sun of the world. It is your duty to keep his light alive through the night.”

She leant down from her dizzying height and snatched my arm. Her palms were cold and leathery. Her grasp that of some ancient and godforsaken vulture. For a brief moment I was beyond terrified.

“Be strong of heart. Be true.” She whispered, eyes glittering maniacally. “Believe that this can be the end. No more pain. No more running away. Stand, knowing and showing no fear. It will flee from you and your mother’s blood forever!”

She let my arm go and straightened. Aunt Helen once more.

“Now. I cannot let you meet your sister.” Her voice was level and resonated with contemptuous authority. “I cannot even tell you her name. To do that would be to put her in jeopardy. But here is a picture of her.” She tossed a color photograph into my face. “It was taken four years ago.”

I looked down. My head was reeling. It is a prom picture – a full-bodied teenage girl in a black sequined gowns and ill-matching high heeled shoes. The features of her face and its expression; I had seen before in a million nuances and shades. Deep inside a raging, formless creature of pure pain ripped through my insides, wreaking havoc upon my soul.

This hurts still … Oh God it hurts!!

“Who of your mother’s children does she most resemble?” She asked softly.

“Lydia.” … I traced a shaking finger over the glossy surface. “Julia, Vanessa, Nancy … All of them. She resembles all my sisters.”

Aunt Helen’s face was rock hard and inscrutable.

“She resembles you.”

Without another word, she turned and left the building.

….

The house has been tapping into my thoughts it seems … It’s been picking up on my feelings … I was distracted … It knows that there is another one of us …

Its fury is immense.

That was a window I just heard explode.

There goes another. And another. Glass is flying everywhere. I am not afraid. The plaster is cracking. Whole bricks are shaking themselves loose. I am not afraid. The walls are heaving in and out. It’s as if the house is panting, rousing itself up.

My fingers are a blur upon the keyboard. I cannot feel my wrists. The muscles and tendons of my arms stretch and strain like steel cables, the skin flexes and stretches like a living thing. I am typing and I am laughing because it is … easy. I am typing. Relinquishing the pain of the past 15 years. The shame and the guilt of my betrayal will not be my undoing. I embrace it. And I let it go. I am aware of all things. The laptop before me. The feel of my jeans against my elbows. I am aware of the curtains, ripping and shredding with the monster’s rage. The chunks of mortar rolling upon the floor. The heat of wrath and hatefulness billowing in the air. I am processing and rendering every impression as soon as it happens, letting everything work its way out of me. I am typing. I am aware of it all, and I accept it all. I am one with it all and I am detached from it all.

This is it. This is the moment of truth. And still I am not afraid. My mother and sisters still live through me. As majestic and glorious as I always saw them. I can see them now. Their faces rise up before me, their smiles flash before my eyes. I can hear their voices, their laughter. Lydia’s loud hooting, Julia’s gentle giggles. I know they forgive me for abandoning them and I love them for it.

Fat, warm tears slide out my eyelids and glide down my face. I let them.

LOVE.

This is the flow. This is the power at the centre of all creation. It is mine tonight. I am one with it. I am here and yet also I am not here. For I am typing, but the typing is also typing. Ergo the typist does not exist.

I do not exist.

So please tell me … House of the Last Born Son.
How you are going to kill a man who doesn’t exist?

A tormented howl shudders through the walls. It feels as if an earthquake has struck. Outside, I hear a loud wailing noise. the iron sheets ae tearing at the nails that hold them to the rafters. The roof is being peeled back!I look up, typing still. My loyal fingers typing still. I can see the stars and the moon through a small triangual ar patch of sky. Its growing larger! God the creaking! The screeching1 Its almost unbearable the roof is giving way now an yes the evil is departing I can deel it the ironsheets peeled back like a giant hand is wreching them, a hurricane of sorts has torn off the roof and carrie it away oh god I feel faint what is goin on I thinik I am going to fain I ccc cccc ccccc cccc c caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

…..

It is 6.30 in the morning.

Above me I can see the sun’s rays peeping over the horizon. I am tired as hell. But is okay.

The race has been won.

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