Remember Atita by Jackee Budesta Batanda

Remember Atita by Jackee Budesta Batanda

War is the worst thing that can happen to any land and its inhabitants. When war begins, people’s lives collapse. People lose each other, parents lose children, sisters part with their brothers, and husbands lose their wives. Atita is the main character of this story. She is trying to find her lost friends. The only memory of them is an old battered photograph that was taken almost twenty years ago. There are few children at the photo. They are smiling, though they are dressed in rags and covered in mud. These children have no money, but they are happy. At night, Atita sleeps in the store, hiding from aggressive soldiers. She still has not found anyone, but keeps searching. In the store where she sleeps, many people gather from nearby villages. It is even cozy here, the radio is playing and there is some food.

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Remember Atita by Jackee Budesta Batanda

When there is war in a country, it is easy to lose people. Mothers lose children, children lose parents, sisters lose brothers, friends lose friends…

Atita is in Gulu town, looking for her friends. All she has is an old photograph, taken eighteen years ago. At night she sleeps on shop verandas, with all the children from the villages, who are hiding from the rebels. It is a hopeless search, but Atita does not stop hoping…

Remember Atita by Jackee Budesta Batanda

We’re five of the Ten Green Bottles in the nursery rhyme that we sang all those years ago in 1985.

Five Green Bottles standing on the wall of life. Five bright smiling faces stare out of the old black and white photo. Our arms are round each other’s shoulders, and we’re looking towards the camera, our eyes shining. We don’t notice the torn clothes that we’re wearing. Our legs are covered with brown soil. We smile through our missing teeth.

2003. The photo of my past lies in my hands, with the edges torn. It’s brown with age. It doesn’t shine in the light from the shop signpost above me. I pass the photo to Okema, who sits next to me with his legs crossed. There are a lot of us here, sitting on the floor of the shop veranda. A radio is playing loud music.

I’m trying to explain to Okema why I’ve travelled back to Gulu town to search for the girls in the photo. We sit on the veranda because it’s safer to spend the night in the town. The LRA rebels don’t come to Gulu town; they only attack the villages. We talk quietly because we don’t want to wake the other children, who are sleeping. Okema and I are kept awake by the fear of the night. We talk to hold this fear back. In the distance we hear gunshots from time to time.

The faces in the photo are like strangers. I’ve been away too long. I’m not sure they’ll recognize me when we meet. I begin to get an empty feeling inside me. Tears fill my eyes. Okema takes my hand and whispers, ‘It’s all right to cry.’

Our eyes meet. I smile. My finger trembles as I pick out the faces. Laker stands close to me in the photo. She and I were born on the same day. We were more like sisters than friends. We had such fun together! She was the leader of the group, and always had the craziest ideas. I wonder what she looks like now. Perhaps she’s tall and beautiful.

‘Why did you leave Gulu?’ Okema asks.

I am not sure how to answer. We leave places because we need to start a new life. I left because my grandfather, Won Okech, died. I had lived in his house since my parents’ death, and after his death there was no one to take care of me. Then my mother’s cousin, min Komakech, appeared like a rain cloud and took me away to help with her children…

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