It's his graduation day.
You would not believe the odds he has had to overcome to get here.
All these people looking at him and cheering on as he walks to the podium to receive his certificate only see the new black robe with a Maroon sash. They only see his wide smile, fresh haircut and designer shoes. He walks with his head slightly tilted to one side, as if studying the situation. Although the smile barely shows any teeth, it goes straight to his eyes.
He made it. Atwooki has made it.
All the statistics said he wouldn't make it. Everyone back home said he would never get far. Heck; his own mother said he would never amount to anything. And after a while, he had come to believe he never would.
When the result slip for his Primary Leaving Examinations showed he had barely passed, no one was surprised. He had hung his head low and accepted the hoe that his mother had handed him. His school days were over, she had said. There was no point in paying for his school anymore with her already insufficient money if he couldn’t even get a first grade. His father had been absent of course, having spent the night away from home that day. His parents had had a bitter fight, words had been exchanged, and he had been dealt a blow or two meant for his mother, just for being in the room at that time.
For a year, he had tended his family garden, oblivious of the sun, unmoved by the bruises and cuts. The only time it hurt was when he saw Jibril and Sam walk by on their way to the Missionary Secondary school. On days where it hurt more than usual, he kept to himself and barely said a word. Most days, his mother did not notice whether he was present or not. In the dim light of the kerosene lamp back in his bedroom, he would lay on the sisal mat, stare at the red iron sheets and contemplate the least painful way to end his life.
All that changed when Mpuga had opened a carpentry shop in the town three kilometers from his home. Mpuga was only six years older but had been to the capital city and made so much money. If only he would let him work for school tuition…
That was over a decade ago. He here is now, graduating with Honors as a mechanical engineer, a good job with a fat salary already lined up. Nobody knew how he had done it. Nobody knew the full story, not even Mpuga, bless him. Nobody knew how many times he had to meet Ms. Roseanne behind the canteen, cater to her needs just so she would let him sit for the End of year exams. Nobody knew the number of beatings he had endured back home, acting as a human shield for his mother, when she had grown too weak to fight his father. Nobody knew the number of times he had worked straight through the night only to head to lectures at 8:00 in the morning, not even Mpuga knew about those tales. Nobody knew how many times he thought of just giving up.
As he reaches the podium, the fullness of this moment overwhelms him, and he lets the tears fall. The crowd is now cheering even louder. Old ladies he doesn’t know get up from their seats and continue to clap. Two of his female friends pull handkerchiefs from their gowns and wipe a few tears of their own. Mpuga stands on the second row from the front, between his sister and Professor Ndabindi. He is not clapping or cheering, just standing still. He keeps the smile plastered to his face; everyone will think they are tears of joy. Their eyes meet. ‘You can breathe now, Atwooki,’ Mpuga’s eyes seem to say, ‘you made it’.
"Violence means any form of physical, emotional or mental injury or abuse, neglect, maltreatment
and exploitation, including sexual abuse, intentional use of physical force or power, threatened
or actual, against an individual which may result in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury,
death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation."
Photo Credit: UNICEF Uganda