A Horror story from Uganda: Patient Pearl
Her name is Pearl. Sometime ago, a white man came by and had nothing to describe her beauty with. He thought she was a Pearl, not of just her village, but of the whole of Africa. She will turn 50 on October 9, 2012. She was a star in the sixties, one of the few actresses of her color ever known. She still acts, yes, but has changed roles quite a bit and changed managers several times, probably nine times to date.
She once fired one who returned in style after eight years of refuge in a neighbouring village. She now has a new manager – well – not so new after 26 years. He showed up, if I recall, in 1986, after breaking her front door. She had seen him before. In 1980, he had come to do interviews for manager. He had failed miserably then. When she saw him again, she trembled. But he looked a bit different this time. When he smiled at her, she broke down in tears, tears of joy. He comforted her and promised, I won't be here long, unlike your former managers who messed you up. And he sang her a sweet lullaby – she fell asleep. When she almost woke up, he had taken her former manager's bedroom.
She did not object – she was probably tired of her old manager, a man with fluffy hair and a beautiful name; Oby. She went to sleep again. In the morning when she woke up her new manager had fired the cook and bodyguards, and was putting on the driver's uniform. He had pinned up new rules of the house. She accepted. Perhaps this is what she had been waiting for, for a long time. She needed some order around the estate. He was later to abolish contract periods for Pearl's managers.
Her new manager had a nice name too. Musolini he was called. Some say he had formerly worked for Oby and learnt a lot from him, but that was not important. Musolini promised her security, prosperity and a lot of enjoyable sleep. Sleep was that important to Pearl because she had suffered from symptomatic insomnia for years. Someone had kept popping several rounds of pop corn near her bedroom window. Once, he had broken into her back door and taken her brown shoes.
Every 50 year old is entitled to a few aches and pains, but Pearl's
appear to be every doctor's nightmare. Yet to the casual observer she
looks good. One of the Russian wigs Musolini has ordered at astronomical cost is perfectly combed, not a hair out of place. It crowns and frames a well made up face. Musolini, her now perennial manager of 26 years, is seated right by her side, with a wide smile and rolling eyes. He murmurs a kind of rap song. Pearl turns a bit reluctantly before he asks her: you want another rap? He is perhaps trying to hide the fact that Belarus used to make nice wigs, but it seems they are out of style. One of the wigs, we hear won't fit as well.
The combination of foundation, powder, and eye pencil are the work of an artist. The plum red lipstick is the same shade as the nail polish on the long artificial nails gracing delicate fingers. Pearl's colour theme is continued in the gleaming Japanese six inch stiletto peeping at the end of the Italian designer trousers. Inside, she has a yellow blouse - a little odd but okay. There is a whiff of a bad odour but surely everyone thinks it must be coming from the unkempt old man in the next chair.
Then it is Pearl's turn to go to the doctor's room, and the pretense
falls apart. As she gets up, so does the unmistakable stench of human waste. Previously admiring eyes gawk in shock and disgust - could that generous behind be wrapped in nappies? And why is she limping? If her joints are so painful why does she not wear the more comfortable leather sandals made and sold all over Kampala, instead of the ridiculous imported heels?
But as Pearl climbs onto the couch the heels are the least of her - and her doctor's worries. The wig comes off to reveal extensive hair loss. The skin beneath the make up is dry and dotted with scars. The rest of the body is not spared - all over, wounds and boils of various sizes are covered with dressings. There is marked weight loss except
over the sagging folds of the belly. What looked like attractive curves under the expensive suit turn out to be carefully padded undergarments. Clearly Pearl's problems are not of recent onset.
The doctor begins to dig into the history. Its a sad tale of neglect.
Important symptoms have been masked by expensive make up. All her systems are now in near collapse. Although she has been compelled to see the doctor because of the embarrassing incontinence, her nervous system is not the only problem. Her digestive system has a chronic failure to absorb fats and proteins, and most of the vitamins that she takes in her food simply get wasted. Her immunity is in shambles.
Every germ that comes through the neighborhood takes firm root in her body. Her lungs are rotting, and she has been coughing for months. She has been treated for recurrent infections. But Musolini, Pearl's long serving manager is the king of denial. He has an explanation for all her ills. The chest? No, it is an allergy - when the rainy season ends it will be sorted. The skin boils? Its the water - when she travels abroad she comes back with clear skin - it must be the water. The anaemia? Yeah - that is somewhat worrying, but even her mother always suffered from unexplained anaemia. It runs in the family.
She also used some fake hair products- you know how there is so much counterfeit around - which explains why her hair is falling out. Even some of her neighbors have the same problem. Madamme Pearl has hired beauticians, courtesy of her extravagant manager Musolini some from as far afield as Washington DC - and imported cosmetics, instead of seeing doctors and taking care of her health. Now she has very highly paid experts to sort out the stench that can no longer be covered by the perfume. One of them is a woman former tax collector called Mussy Kiwo. Her other name is Jenny. She earns eight times more than the Chairman of the village elections committee.
So - what ails 49 year old Pearl, making her look like she has one leg in the grave, even as other friends she went to school with, not as well endowed as she, move on in relatively good health? If Pearl insists on keeping the same Manager that has presided over her failing health the last quarter of a century, she surely might not live to see many more birthdays. With a failing immunity, no amount of tinkering with food supplements and cosmetics will help.
The doctor orders some tests, and is sure he can get to the bottom of
the problem, but her manager, Musolini, only seems to want a quick fix - how to plug the incontinence that threatens to expose the rot beneath Pearl's carefully crafted image.
Will Pearl come back for the results? Will Pearl shed the pretense dictated by Musolini and accept the medicine?
Now Pearl has another problem. She can barely pay her bills. Because of her failing health she has not had an acting contract for a while. Musolini, her manager, for the past several years blotted the workforce at the estate to astonishing levels. Daily expenditures have soared, suppliers are threatening to sue. Employees have been on strike several times and promise to strike again. From the gate keeper to his senior aide, Musolini has ensured that all the major positions in Pearl's estate are filled with his relatives, friends and in-laws.
Acts of theft from the estate are rampant. Musolini tells Pearl that he is taking good care of business and the days of the thieving relatives and friends are over. He has said the same thing since 1996. Pearl seems to be waking up to the reality that Musolini is up to no good. Pearl, through her niece, Rebby Kadagi, a lawyer, has quietly hired a team of private investigators. Preliminary reports indicate that Pearl's current problems are a result of years of mismanagement of her career and estate.
She had not known that Musolini actually employed his wife at the estate, and that his son was the gate keeper. Pearl has realised that most of the cheques she has signed over the years were fraudulent payments to Musolini's cronies. She had a charity for AIDS patients. That was the first one to be defrauded by Musolini's close associates. Now we hear that Amy, one of the manager's closest friends, forced Pearl's cousin to buy land located in Temanga cell from him at an exorbitant price. Apparently the money was badly needed to capitalise some troubled village savings bank Musolini's friend had set up south of the farm. The land, unfortunately, belonged to a local savings and cooperative society.
The ever generous Pearl in 2007 received a big delegation of chiefs from neighbouring and far off villages who call themselves the Commonaweath club. Someone stole their cars. All returned without their cell phones. Another shocking discovery. The water wells Pearl had promised her village may not be sunk in time for the next dry season. The contractors have been accused of paying huge bribes to Musolini's friends and rumours abound that the wells have been privatised by a cartel close to Musolini. Now even Pearl's neighbours and friends abroad are getting concerned. A few days ago, one of the manager's distant relatives, a woman of modest achievement and great sense of self importance was caught with Pearl's own aerial for her new hi-fi living room radio!
Pearl cannot believe what she is learning, twenty six years since she let Musolini take over as her manager. She now recalls the warnings that her friends made when she allowed Musolini too much control over her life to the extent of surrendering her whole estate to her. Pearl's family members have all deserted her. Her friends no longer spend long when they visit. She had a distant friend, whom she had known through a past manager, a lank, wealthy and flamboyant fellow from the North, until last year.
He was killed by his own brothers in a domestic brawl, along with two of his sons. Musolini has reassured Pearl that such an incident cannot happen on Pearl's estate - he is in full control. Pearl disagrees but cannot say much. He scares her often ; “you cannot do without me. Your whole village will be plunged into bloodshed when I leave your side. Who can cover up your faults like I have for all these years? Look; you stink. You are broke, you have huge debts here and abroad, all your neighbours don't trust you now” Musolini blackmails Pearl. But deep down, she has finally decided to fire Musolini before her 50th birthday.
But she must play nice as she reflects on the many times she has fired managers. Pearl's private investigators are terrified, some are almost giving up. “Musolini is a dangerous man”, they tell Pearl in soft tones. Pearl says with a deceitful smile – “Musolini must go. I let him into my house. I will personally see him out, even with his own appointed guards at the door. I celebrate my 50th birthday with a new manager”. “Can you do it Pearl?” Her neighbour Kenyo asks her. “I will. I have done it several times before, alone. I cannot let my self rot away this way. Enough is enough”. The phone rings. It is Musolini. He wants some money. His daughter has to travel to Germany to see her obstetrician.