“Your tummy is growing fat and I don’t like it” she said as I lay in bed trying to muster the energy to get up and rush off to work. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her standing over me looking like a mother tells her son he should get up and take his wet bed sheets and wash them up. As a guy who used ti bed wet, I don’t like this tone of voice. So I keep quiet. I listen on as the rant goes on for seemingly ages. As I realize I’m running out of time, I get up and move towards the bathroom.
I stand in front of the mirror. I look for a long moment at the image looking back at me. He is roguish, unshaved and his hair has curled up on his head like that of a starved, kwashiorkor infected boy. My gut seems to support this theory. So the long look wasn’t reminiscing the times when I was ripped and a monster threading through college on a great body, wit and unlimited energy. Those days were awesome, fun and definitely will most likely never be again. Those days looked like this:
My mind was going back much further back in time and place. As I stood before that mirror I sort of melted into the glass in an almost “Alice-and-the-looking-glass” fashion. To a time when things were harsh, I was short and dirty, and life was almost unbearable.
“Sebbutto!!,” taunted Kenneth. Kenneth was my class mate and was in Primary class 7. We were primary level finalist candidates. We rocked the school. I was a Prefect and so was he. We weren’t close, Spartakuss never has been, but we had a functional friendship where we shared the little Blue Band either one of us had to put in our Beans and Posho evening meal. It was boarding school, and my parents lived abroad. He was from close to the border of Uganda and Kenya. My parents came once a term and his mum came whenever she stopped in town to shop supplies for her store. We nearly shared everything. We were on average at the same level in class only he was better at Maths and I ruled the English class. The only things that weren’t similar about us was this: he was clean and lean. I was dirty and had a distended belly because I suffered from Kwashiorkor.
Sebutto translated from Luganda, the popular vernacular at school into “King of stomachs”. It was an insult. It stung. It hurt. And in primary school one would not know why people would be so mean but now as an adult, it is because everyone as something to hide. The more they have something to hide, the more they will taunt you with your insecurities. So I got teased. It had started as a joke and I was young so I didn’t know that “fighting it” doesn’t make it stop. I bribed, I paid, I played dool, I did everything I was dared to do, I cheated in class tests, and I talked to girls, anything to earn some street cred. But it would all soon to be futile and I resigned myself to being called Sebutto. Around the time, Central Broadcasting Station (CBS) had just opened and it was on everyone’s lips, and in my little community in Seeta Boarding, it was bastardized to “Conrad’s Big Stomach”[Conrad was my name]. That humiliation would live with me for years to come. Whenever I did anything, whenever I said anything, whenever I was in an argument, whenever someone felt I was getting fresh and flossing any knowledge that I had that they didn’t it devolved and was attributed to my stomach. Long were the nights spent wondering, pondering, and fantasizing as a way of getting away from that hell hole. I blamed everyone from my parents, to my teachers, to my friends for not looking out for me.
I read hard and played hard. It was a tough time and I was very angry at my family for failing to find me a school abroad. It was the kind of anger that makes you fail every exam in the middle of the term and still be in the top 3 at the end just so I could prove that it made no difference, I was a bright kid. And as I stood with classmates taking our finalist pictures before our final exams, I remember thinking “I will never want to see any of these people again. Ever.”
I joined a secondary school, and before the end of my first year I had attracted another name similar to the first. The boys in secondary school were ruthless and unforgiving. They taunted, they stung and they were even brighter than I was. Still carrying my gut; taut, distended, and disproportionately big compared to my tiny, short frame, it stood out like a sore thumb. I was in my adolescent years and the pressures of growing, the release of hormones and the failure of the gut to go just drove me to depression. The anxiety punished me and my family suffered, and my friends suffered. Everything suffered. Those were dark days in my life. Dark dark days. Thrice I broached the idea of suicide, and thrice I was called from the edge – by one guy, a classmate. I would later go on to take his name as my own to remind me that nothing was worth my life. Nothing. I went to many schools after that initial high school and in each school I carried a nick name for that tummy.
Until I found a place free of judgment where I blossomed, fell in love with life and love again. I stood tall, re-discovered the blind side, learnt martial arts, herded cows and goats, courted village belles, ate bitter herbs, climbed a mountain, and worked the land. Those nights were cold in the hilly, cold, dimly lit nights of the countryside. The hunger bit deep on some nights, and I lay awake battling thoughts of larceny from the neighbour’s plantation, just as I lay awake on nights in harvest season after being engorged with sweet bananas, herbs and banana juice to wash it down. I never got a lot of sleep in those days but it was worth it. I had one pair of shorts, two pairs of socks, one vest and a school uniform shirt. My tummy still showed but I had something to show for my time. I had respect, I had belief in who Spartakuss and what he stood for. I had vision. I had a goal. As I sat before a lamp, wearing a 5 year old lens subscription and an even older frame in which they sat, I knew it has to count for something. I had come to believe, just like the village folks around me that it couldn’t all count for naught, God was just, he was fair, and the universe rewarded hard work. That period remains the golden period of my life, when I had nothing, and yet I had everything. Not once did anyone ever refer to my gut in this whole period.
My high school days passed with equal tranquility, introducing me to the years that “Spartakuss” was actually born. Accepting me. Being me. Living me.
Almost with similar ease I seem to dissolve out of the mirror s the reverie comes to an end. I splash some water on my face as I hear her continue to nag through the door. All I can hear is “blah, blah, blah, your tummy, blah, blah, your gut, blah, blah, your blah.”
As I rinse the toothpaste form out of my mouth, I catch a quick glance of Spartakuss smiling devilishly. This is familiar territory, he can out run this one. Then a calming thought descends: “Per Adua ad Astra” – “Through hardship to the stars” motto to the Royal Marine Corps, and creed of my soul.
I get out of the bathroom, drape on my shirt, don my suit jacket and kiss her nice day. I have fought too long and so hard to bring Spartakuss to life – and I will keep it that way; Live and Let Live. I will get into shape when Spartakuss wants, not a moment before then.
PS:/ And this business of denying me food has to stop!