Fishing For Manhood


Do I really have to grow up? Before I’ve even lived, my life has been planned out for me. Maama says I should start spending more time with Taata because I’m the only boy she gave birth to and Taata keeps insisting on it because it is only right for men to bond with their sons. Taata is the best fisherman on Ssese Island and the whole of Lake Victoria hence the nickname “Captenii”.

I admire Taata but his shoes are too big to fill and I do not even want to fill them. I’m not so sure why I should risk my life on the lake each day while my five sisters sit around the fire place weaving mats and gossiping about island boys.

Namata always asks herself why Maama still breastfeeds me at six years when the rest of them were kicked off the breast after turning two. If our ssengas and other relatives ever found out, it would bring shame upon Maama. But Namata does not blame Maama. When you’ve given birth to five girls and are scared that you might be replaced with a younger and more attractive island girl, you’ll do anything to keep your only son healthy and happy.

“Naye Kizito olin’ekyejo. N’kwonona nyo,” she says to me as I sit my heavy self on her lap, expressing how spoilt I am. Namata knows about Maama’s secret and she rolls her eyes each time she sees me going to Maama’s bedroom when we should be weaving more mats and selling them. She doesn’t tell the rest of our sisters because they’ve always been more jealous of the attention Maama gives me and they would report her to the ssengas.

Since 1970, most of the fish ponds near our island have been fishless because of the Nile Perch that Amin brought to our lakes which made the other smaller fish like tilapia, refugees.

Taata can be gone for days and sometimes even weeks looking for ponds he can fish from before he comes back with a catch for the market vendors in Ssese. It can take months before Taata has a satisfactory catch that can send us all to school so in the meantime we make the most out of weaving the best mats for the bazungu that vacation on the island.

Namata and I spend our afternoons making simple conversations in broken English with the bazungu convincing them to buy our mats. On days he doesn’t play football, Manzi joins us as he scouts for rich bazungu that can take him to America or that country with an old white queen. And more often than not, the bazungu need a tour guide so we make some extra coins without Maama’s knowledge and buy gonja or smoked fish on the way home.

Deep down I harbor a lot of questions about myself. I do not enjoy fishing or understand the fuss about football and I don’t have any male friends except for Manzi who spends most of his time with his father like any normal island boy should. How am I supposed to continue Taata’s legacy and become the next Captenii of Ssese Island? Maama needs to stop being over protective of me but I cannot help being by her side all the time either. “Kizito oja nkuzita lunaku zino,” she says and I can hear the despair in her voice at the thought of losing me to a careless accident with Namata and the girls.

It is not love anymore. It is fear. Fear that fills us both with each passing moment on her laps. Fear that one day I’ll be too embarrassed about what we are doing and leave her breast. Fear that Taata will find out and beat us both when he comes back from another fishless trip. Fear that one day I will have to grow up and be man, whatever that is.

Image and fiction credits: Marie Ainomugisha

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