(As told by Papa and embellished by Ruth)

In 1961 Papa was a young man on the up and up, living in this very village. One sunny day he had a toothache, and decided to ride his bicycle towards the nearest dental clinic in Bubulo. Papa was a man beloved by many in the village, and so stopped to talk to some friends along the road. As they talked his eyes were drawn to the handsome swaying back of a woman passing by. He recalled seeing her figure before for he had passed her along the way. She walked on and Papa left his friends to pedal up to her. He slowed down to keep pace with the young woman. Why didn’t she sit on his bicycle, he enquired, as the way she was going was the same way he was going? The woman stopped to take the measure of this bold young man. She took in his wry smile, and the ever-present glint in his eye. She thought for a brief moment, then accepted, settling herself gracefully on the back of his bike. Off they went, rolling smoothly through the dappled shade of the banana trees.

Soon they reached the cooperative union where Mai’s brother worked. She pointed it out to Papa and told him that he must leave her there. Papa’s heart began to beat. The time was over and he had not said much to her. He asked where she came from, and she told him the name of her village. Papa relaxed. He was familiar with her village, and many people there knew him.

Papa was a confident man-about-village, used to getting what he wanted. It had only taken one bicycle ride for him to figure out that he wanted Mai. The next day he pedaled to her village, and began to enquire if his friends had ever heard of the woman who had captured his heart. Luckily one of his friends knew of her, and pointed out the compound where she stayed. Papa told his friends that he would come back to see her soon. He returned a few days later and found Mai when she had been informed of his interest in her. They talked awhile and he took her on another bicycle ride. She was strong, and held his bike for him when he needed it.

Papa asked if Mai would come and see his home. “I have seen your home,” he said, “now we must equalize.” Mai agreed, and they arranged to meet in the morning hours the following day, at a local clinic. Mai was there on time, and Papa again asked her to sit on the back of his bicycle. The way was uphill, and it was a tiring one, but Papa could not show it. He patted his forehead with his damp sweat rag, and pedaled, pedaled, pedaled.

When they reached the trading center, they bought some meat and continued up to Papa’s home. It was a simple home, but good: the home of a man, not a young boy or a bachelor. As they began to prepare a meal Papa realized that tea leaves were not there. Sugar was there, and meat was there, but tea leaves were not there. He walked back to the trading center to buy tea for her, strolling slowly in the cool air. By the time he returned and they had eaten, it had become evening. There was nothing for Mai to do but spend the night.

The passage of the night confirmed Mai in Papa’s heart. The next day he told her that he was ashamed to send her home with no gift for her family, and asked her to wait while he searched around for something to give. By chance, his search took him the whole day. He moved around from friend to friend, seeking a good bunch of matoke for Mai, until the second evening broke. Again, there was nothing for Mai to do but spend the night.

On the third day, Mai took matters into her own hands. “There is no point in me returning home now,” she said, “they will only say that I have married and ask me why I have come back.” With this proclamation, Papa could barely contain the joy he felt. He went to a shop and bought her a gomez, so she would feel like a woman in his house, and not a girl.

She proved to him a patient wife. They have stayed together for 47 years and are still going strong. They were married officially in a church in 1977. The fruits of this marriage include 6 children: 4 boys and 2 girls. One of the boys is named John Wanda; a man who moved to the United States, and then returned to begin a model school in the village where he was born. He named the school Arlington Academy of Hope, after the town in Virginia where he and his wife had made a new home.

As love stories go, it’s one of my favorites.

papa

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