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A quarterly international literary journal

Visa Gods




/ Third Place, 2024 Plentitudes Prize in Fiction / 

The boda boda man carrying Owino pulled right up to the main entrance of the embassy, seemingly oblivious to the security rules of the place. Maybe he wanted to spare the old man the hilly walk from the bus stop, six hundred meters away, or perhaps he didn’t know how to read.


Along the embassy perimeter, signposts stood at equal intervals like soldiers in white, their red bold letters screaming at pedestrians and motorists:


NO STOPPING


NO PARKING


NO PHOTOGRAPHY


Before Owino alighted from the bike, a swarm of tall, brooding security guards charged and, in a mix of English and Luganda, ordered the boda rider to disappear if he didn’t want his head knocked off.


“Are you blind?”


“Didn’t you see the signs plastered all over the perimeter?”


“Who do you think you are?”


The reprimands came at the same time, making them sound like parrots gone berserk. How could these men treat a fellow Ugandan like that? Did they poop gold pellets or pee shea butter? Owino felt dizzy from the absurdity of it all.


As the young man fidgeted to resurrect his suddenly dead bike, the guards surrounded him as if, in case the rider was a walking explosive, they would shield the precious embassy and its staff from destruction by becoming some kind of martyrs. What a stupid life, Owino thought. 


The boda boda tried to restart his machine in vain, and realizing the thing was out of fuel, turned the bike on its side like all commercial riders dida tested tactic of getting whatever drop of leftover fuel was in the tank to nudge the engine. The guards wouldn’t have it. They lifted the boda man by the brown belt around his waist and commanded him to drag his scrap metal out of sight.


Owino watched, stunned into silence, which was new even to him, considering how quick he usually was with his mouth in such situations. He felt sweat begin to form and trail down his back. When the right words of reproach finally came to him, a voice bellowed, Next! and he jerked, shuffling forward, only managing to mutter a God bless you, my son, to the fleeing boda man. 


Inside, an embassy staff in a yellow shirt with skin the brown of shea nuts directed Owino to drop all his belongings in the gray tray and empty his pockets. If that were normal society, the yellow man—fit to be Owino’s grandson—would have greeted him first and explained what to expect during the appointment. But no, not in Kampala city where young people walked with their noses in the air as if they had dropped from heaven fully formed. 


Owino had traveled three hundred kilometers overnight for the visa interview and spent five agonizing hours on a stuffy, rickety bus he was sure would fall apart on its next journey. The yellow man coughing orders at him didn’t know any of that and obviously didn’t care. He proceeded to order Owino to stand with legs apart, arms stretched out as if the old man were at a belated army recruitment screening. Owino hesitated, hoping the man would retract his commands or at best speak to him with the respect a seventy-five-year-old deserved. Instead, the yellow man told Owino he was holding the line and if he wasn’t ready to be searched, he could as well go back to wherever he came from. Owino turned to look behind him and only one person had arrived. Who knew a line could comprise two people?


Having gotten rid of the boda man, the guards now watched Owino’s every step from beneath dark sunglasses, tapping their palms with black batons, daring him to make one more mistake. God knew he didn’t like being treated like a nobody, but any resistance at that point would have only gotten him in trouble. He had to endure the nonsense for his daughter’s sake. He couldn’t miss her wedding on account of some poorly raised men poking his ire.


Owino stepped forward and let the yellow man do as he pleased with his body. The man patted Owino’s shoulders, his torso, under his arms, around his waist, between his legs down to his ankles. He wondered how the yellow man treated his parents when he went back to the village. He must walk on his toes and sniff the air in his neighborhood for wretchedness because he worked for bazungu. What a porridge-brained generation!


If he was being groped like this in his country, what would happen when he arrived at the airports abroad? Owino was no drug dealer planning to swallow pellets of njaga before he boarded the plane to America, but he had heard the stories: airport and border security picked people out of the line and ordered them to undress in the name of looking for contraband. God forbid! His nakedness was his alone. Even his wife AdunuGod bless her soulhad known the lights had to be turned off before they got down to their nightly business. 


“Go and stand there.” The yellow man spoke like the words were hot and he had no patience to keep them in his mouth.


Owino was happy to be done, so he picked up his documents and house keys, his phone and wallet, his cane and briefcase. As he sauntered toward the waiting area, he silently cursed the yellow man and the guards glaring from the perimeter, wishing them incurable impotence.


A young woman saw him approach and got up, surrendering her space on the long wooden bench. “Mzee, you should take everything to that lady over there,” she said. “You can only go in with your papers,” she added.


“God bless you, my daughter,” Owino muttered.


The lady overseeing the deposited items sang instructions to Owino. Another parrot. His bad ears couldn’t pick up everything, of course, but thank God he knew how to read and write. There were endless columns in a big book where he was supposed to write his name, time of arrival, national ID number, phone number, home district, home address, gender, occupation, tribe, a list of personal items he was depositing with the lady, and a signature. After a painful three minutes of scribbling, the lady handed him a slip with a number.


“If you lose it, forget about your things,” she said, her face turned to the wall fitted with drawers.


“Are you speaking to me?” he asked. In his normal world, people looked others in the eye as they spoke. Was there a competition for nastiness at the embassy or was he too old for these young people?


“Who else is here?” the lady asked, pulling a tired iPhone from her pocket. Without turning to face Owino, she tapped the phone screen and proceeded to swipe leisurely with red-manicured fingernails. Owino looked at the name tag pinned to her blouse, and to his disappointment, realized she came from the same region as him. That would’ve been the point at which they would chat excitedly, ask about which clan and family each came from, but Owino knew it was useless to attempt a chit-chat. He tucked the slip in his pocket and walked back to the holding areaan open, square-shaped arrangement whose roof was held up by four concrete pillars. He took deep breaths to calm down, reached for the hankie in his trouser pocket, and wiped his face.


His blue long-sleeved shirt was a haphazard map of wetness in the armpits. The thick envelope of documents was sucking up sweat from his palms. He used to detest this part of himthe sweating that mostly happened unprovoked. And when he was angry, his body literally rained the way it was doing now. Back in the day, fellow students nicknamed him Mr. Sweat but he stuck to the herbal cologne his mother made for his condition to ensure he smelled fresh. In turn, Owino called his detractors smelly he-goats. At the peak of puberty, many of them were always stinky. The joke was on them. 


On the bench, his immediate neighbors moved further away when Owino sat, and he knew they were not giving him room to make him comfortable. A few of those standing stole glances and scrunched their nosesa thing he was used to. A sweaty person in a place like an embassy, an office, a restaurant, or even a hospital, was always stared down. People saw you as manual-labor poor (unlike the well-off who only sweated when burning extra fat in the gym); it meant you paid no attention to your physical neatness. Nobody thought about people like Owino whose constant sweating ran in the family and every single test showed there was no underlying medical condition. 


Owino leaned on his cane and let his mind wander to more pleasant thingslike the feeding time with his animals and birds. If he was in the village, he would be seated under the mango tree shade with a bowl of sorghum or maize grains in his hands. The chickens, aware of their feeding time, would crowd around him, pecking the ground excitedly even before he served them the first handful of food. Next would be his goats, which Owino led to pasture in the nearby forest. He tethered them with sisal ropes to eucalyptus tree trunks, watched them eat for a while, and left, returning to take them home at sundown.


At the embassy, Owino felt like a goat, tethered to the foul behavior of overzealous Ugandans he was sure were up to impress their muzungu bosses and he had to endure the resultant avalanche of humiliation. And he would. Anyadwee would be crushed if he didn’t make it to walk her down the aisle. Her dream was to have both parents by her side on her big day, but with Adunu long gone, his presence was even more important. Besides, the girl has not been home in four years. “People keep saying FaceTime FaceTime. Phone call phone call but it’s not the same,” Owino mumbled. Seeing her father would be the best wedding gift Anyadwee would wish for.


As he counted down to ten o’clock, the time for his interview, Owino wished his wife were alive to listen to his rants. That would take away some of the bile rising in his throat. Maybe he could try Anyadwee. She always indulged his ramblings, but Owino suspected his daughter could still be asleep. Even though it had been years since his daughter relocated to Boston, Owino still hadn’t memorized the time difference between Uganda and the U.S., and he hated having to count his fingers every single time.


Perhaps he could call Acii, his dutiful caretaker for more than a year now. She loved her job and didn’t roll her eyes when Owino was in the mood for talking, which was almost all the time. Even though she wasn’t much of a talker, Acii would have said something to calm Owino down. He felt his pockets absent-mindedly for the phone before remembering that he had dropped it with the foul-mouthed lady. Besides, a big no-phone sign reminded Owino that calling Acii, or anyone for that matter, was not an option.  


Maybe he should have traveled with Acii. She was timid but not stupid. She was young and had been to the city twice before, but who had the money to waste on transport and a hotel for two people in this insane city? Besides, someone had to stay home and keep things moving in his absence.


Anyadwee had warned him not to cause a ruckus. “The last thing you want to do is show them that you’re desperate or big-headed,” she had said the previous night. “And stop being so negative about everything, Abba. Stop worrying.”


It’s not that Owino didn’t know that worrying and anger turned his stomach acidic. His whole life, he had worked hard at ignoring the annoying parts of life, but there were just so many poorly raised people in the world. He wasn’t sure he would resist wagging his walking cane at the next person who stepped on his toes. 


* * *


Owino walked toward the black steel door guarded by a burly man whose charcoal skin and eucalyptus height made Owino guess he could be from north or eastern Uganda. He contemplated saying hello, but the man’s face held an exaggerated seriousness.


It was ten o’clock, time to stand before the visa god. A body scanner beeped eagerly as applicants went in, one at a time. Inside, Owino placed his envelope on a tray as directed, and watched it get swallowed up by a white square machine. If he had any contraband between the pages of his land titles, birth certificates, and bank statements, that machine would surely catch him. It moaned, blinking red and green as the tray slid through its gut.


Next, he walked through the body scanner. When it beeped, his heart leaped to his throat but the man and woman manning the checkpoint did nothing, said nothing, except some incomprehensible words to each other in the western region dialect of Runyankole. Perhaps that beep was the nod of approval. The man pushed the back door open with an energy that made Owino wonder how many layers of metal and steel had been melted to create this danger-proof exit.


“Follow the blue arrow on the ground, sir. Walk until you see a tent. Wait there.” The instructions came in quick rehearsed precision before the door flapped shut behind Owino.


In the second waiting area, people waited on metallic benches that thankfully, were not crowded like the bench. A tall smiling lady stood by the door. The name tag around her neck said Mercy Ntambi. Lord knew everyone there yearned for mercy. She flicked a blue Bic pen in one hand and gripped a black clipboard of papers in another. She walked towards Owino when she saw him approach. She was making him skip the queue in the waiting area, he imagined, on account of his age. A woman with a fussing toddler was also pulled out of the line. How considerate!


“Mzee, how are you today?” Mercy asked, taking his hand as Owino stepped up the last of the five steps.


“Oh, my daughter! I’m fine now. God bless you.” He smiled, his hand trembling in hers from the emotion of that attention.


In the interview suite, a line of about six people inched towards four different windows, behind which stood the mighty visa officers, all bazungu, and the only ones Owino had seen since he arrived. The guard seated by the door walked Owino to the window at the end of the room.


“Mzee, when the person inside is done, you can go in, okay?” he said.


“Yes, yes. Thank you, my son.” Owino was grateful for the change of tone in interaction, even daring to have some hope for the young generation. Maybe they’re not a completely wasted lot.  If the sensible group was meant to calm the applicants’ nerves before their interview, it was working. Owino could feel sweat dry up from his face and back. On the ceiling, a fan spun soundlessly.


Other than the shuffling of feet, and occasional exchanges between staff and applicants, the silence that Owino had noted in the waiting areas continued to reign. The interview rooms were small capsules of wood and glass that released nothing of the conversation between the visa seeker and their interviewer. When his turn came, Owino walked into the room, big enough for two people. The interviewer smiled from behind a glass barricade.


“Mr. Owino! How are you today?”


“I’m okay, my daughter. How are you?”


Anyadwee had warned Owino to stick to official talk. “You don’t want them thinking you’re trying to seek a favor,” she said.


“So, I have to change the way I talk, too?”


“Abaa, I’m just saying don’t be overly nice. Those people don’t know our culture like that.”


“How is that my problem?”


“I need you at my wedding, Abaa, please!”


Calling the visa officer my daughter, Owino now wondered if he had sullied his luck. But the lady didn’t stop smiling.


“I’m well, thank you! So, where are you traveling to?”


“I’m going all the way to Boston, Ma’am.”


“And what for?”


“My only daughter is marrying an American! I’m going for the wedding.”


“Oh! Have you been to America before?”


“Nooo! First time. First time.”


“I see.”


“In fact, if it wasn’t for my daughter’s wedding, I wouldn’t fly at all. The aeroplane is a big invention but no, I prefer the road.”


The lady chuckled.


“Mr. Owino, I see that you’re a retired teacher?”


“Oh yes! Teacher and then headteacher for forty good years. Sometimes I miss the classroom.”


“I can imagine.” Even as she continued flipping through Owino’s documents, her voice remained present and pleasant. Owino liked that. He had only heard horror stories about visa officers. They never looked you in the eye; asked you trick questions to trip you and made you feel like a criminal for wanting to travel. Thank God he landed on a sensible one.


She flipped through Owino’s passport last. The thing was still crisp, its pages free of any stamps and signatures. If it wasn’t for this wedding, he would’ve died without getting a passport. He still didn’t understand why people sweated to go outside countries. His bones wouldn’t handle the cold season for sure. Plus, he loved his Acoli food. He would rather die than eat chicken bred in labs in a matter of hours, their flesh thick with injected hormones. He had heard the stories and he believed them.


The thought alone sprinkled goosebumps all over his skin, the same goosebumps that sprouted every time he recalled the day Anyadwee left for America. She had assured him it would be just two years of grad school. But he knew how quickly America ate up whoever landed on its bosom. Adunu’s death had hit their daughter so hard Owino was sure America was her way of getting away from all the things that reminded Anyadwee of her mother. And when she fell for that American, Owino knew that Anywadwee with her soft, soft heart was not going to return to Uganda and leave love behind. From the phone calls and what Anyadwee spoke of him, Owino could tell Dean was a kind man with a solid head on his shoulders but who knew what kind of parenting those bazungu children got?


“Mr. Owino, I’m going to need you to submit a few more documents, okay?” the visa lady said, stretching the okay like it was a much-needed massage for a tired body and a wandering mind.


Owino leaned closer, unsure if he had missed some words. The lady saw his confusion and repeated the verdict, louder and firmer as if to emphasize this was no negotiable matter.


“Ah my daughter, I traveled all the way from Gulu last night. Coming back again…”


“You don’t have to come back, Mr. Owino. Just send it by Post Office to this address, okay? I’ll hold on to your passport.” She pushed his documents back through the small square cut in the glass, a green slip with postal details, and a two-page document whose content he was curious to read.


“What documents do I need to send?”


“It’s all explained in there, okay? Have a good day, Mr. Owino,” she said, and disappeared to an inner room with a swiftness he didn’t think she was capable of.


Owino felt his body heat up afresh, as though he had suddenly been shoved into a windowless, doorless room with a flaming hearth. If she had been rude like the rest, maybe the disappointment wouldn’t cut so deep, Owino thought as he pushed the door open and stepped outside.


The whole interview had taken less than five minutes. If the lady had not disappeared behind the door, he would have changed her mind. His words had never failed him. But what exactly did they want him to bring? A list of his functioning body parts? His health history? His family tree? His mind whirled as he marched out of the room, out into the compound with the wolves of security guards and that bad-mannered lady he had to face for his stuff. He was ready to turn everything upside down if any of them snapped at him again, but none did.


Outside the embassy, Owino took a slow walk towards the bus stop, clutching his briefcase to his chest, knowing that Kampala’s pickpockets wouldn’t care that his visa interview didn’t go as planned. At Namayiba Bus Park, Owino found Homeland Bus just about to set off. Thank God! He was hungry, the last meal he had was the previous evening, but getting back home was more important. On the way, he was sure the driver would stop like they usually did for passengers to buy snacks. The roasted cassava at Kafu River would be good, something to take his mind away from the madness of the city.


* * *


The disappointment set a smoldering fire to Owino’s stomach, burning it like hungry dry grass. Still, he gathered the extra documents the visa people wanted: bank statements dating back a year, something the bank charged an arm and a leg for. If Anyadwee had not sent him the money for it, there was no way Owino was going to spend three dollars per page of the voluminous bank statement. It’s not that he didn’t have the money, it just felt immoral spending his money on overpriced things. 


Next was the demand that he certify all his assets. The land he had mentioned apparently was not enough assurance that Owino was a propertied retiree and not some poor peasant. His only crime was that the land wasn’t titled. Anyadwee had been insisting that he get the family land titled. She had even sent money for the paperwork, but Owino had used the cash to start his chicken project instead. “We have lived on this land for years, and so did our forefathers. Isn’t that enough proof of ownership?”


“It is, but not to the embassy people or the government. They need paper evidence, not a narration of history,” Anyadwee had said.


She had been right of course, as usual, and Owino wished he had listened to her. Except he just couldn’t understand why everything had to be so complicated. In the whole of northern Uganda, people had been living peacefully for millennia. Everyone knew their landmarks and stayed away from what didn’t belong to them. But today, rich individuals roamed villages looking for land to buy from families made destitute by their corrupt government. Many times, the same people took the land forcibly in the name of investment.


“Why does everything have to be paper this, paper that?”


“Abaa, just know that the land title will save you from a lot of headache,” Anyadwee had added, listing cases where landowners missed government compensation for road works that passed through their property because they didn’t have documentation. “You cannot resist change forever.”


It was too late to obtain a land title for the visa application. The process took months, even years to complete, with every step requiring a bribe of some sort to every single office you got tossed to. And now, Owino listed his chickens and goats, his three-bedroom house and two huts, his granaries and the sacks of harvest filling them, his two acres of pine and eucalyptus trees, and his three acres of family land. He took the documents to the Local Council Chairperson to stamp them. Just because he was retired didn’t mean he was poor, or unemployed, he muttered as he handed the parcel to the postman later that week.


Then the waiting began. For the first week after sending the documents to the embassy, Owino couldn’t concentrate on anything. He spent the day under his mango tree shade, cursing the world. Even his chickens noticed his irritability and came for their morning grains cautiously, eating from a safe distance lest his cane land on their backs.


By the second week, Owino told himself the visa had been denied even before he went for the interview, but they didn’t have the guts to tell him. Did they think he was too old to take the rejection? Anyadwee, desperate and teary, wrote to the embassy inquiring about the status of Owino’s visa but received no reply. She reached out to a friend who knew someone who worked at the embassy. They told her to wait. “The embassy does not give information on specific applications,” was the templated response.


Another month came and went, and Owino gave up altogether. There was no way he was going to be ready mentally to fly if the visa miraculously came. He hated the feeling of being suspended in space inside some metallic contraption. He had lived a long happy life, but he wanted to see his death coming, to have some control over it, and a plane didn’t offer him that. In fact, a part of him now wished the trip wouldn’t happen. He was sure the universe was giving him a sign by placing all those roadblocks before him. 


* * *


Owino sat in front of a large white screen, waiting for his daughter to show up. Around him, relatives, neighbors, curious children, and passersby stopped to witness the big occasion. They sat on the raised verandas of his two huts, and the main house. Some young men leaned against the fruit trees that dotted the compound while a few notorious young ones perched on low branches. Owino didn’t stop them even though he knew many limbs often break from tree climbing. Even his own Anyadwee broke an arm after falling off the mango tree. She was only eight. Adunu was furious, blaming Owino for the entire thing.


“Why would you encourage her to climb a tree?” she had fumed.


“Adunu, how will she learn right from wrong if we don’t let her make mistakes?”


“She is a girl for God’s sake. A woman must not be seen flapping her dress up in the air?”


“That’s why I made her wear shorts today. Don’t you see?”


“Before you know it, people will start saying we didn’t raise our girl right.”


“My Adunu, forget people. I’m sure they have their own useless children to worry about.”


As Anyadwee’s arm healed, Owino started hanging out in the kitchen to do the chores their daughter usually took care of – washing the dishes, peeling potatoes, making sure the food didn’t burn. Adunu was horrified in the beginning, but Owino’s persistence made her give up. She prayed that no noisy neighbor would see Owino in the kitchen. Owino didn’t care that songs had been composed before for men who loitered in the kitchen – a place assigned for women. He was a true Acoli man, but where his daughter and wife were concerned, custom could take a seat when needed.


At 6 p.m., Anyadwee appeared, the camera zooming in on her smiling face and misting eyes. She was ready to walk down the aisle, alone. The sight of his daughter unaccompanied on the aisle struck Owino in the chest and he felt tears burn his eyes for the first time since Adunu’s sudden death seven years ago. The camera closed in on Anyadwee’s bamboo earrings and matching necklace, to her off-shoulder ivory white dress. The audience on the screen awwwed and clapped when they turned and saw her in the back.


The audience in Owino’s compound clapped and ululated.


At the sight of the jewelry, Owino clutched his chest which suddenly felt constricted. He gulped in the air with both his mouth and nostrils. Anyadwee was wearing the same jewelry his wife wore for their traditional marriage. Looking at his daughter, Owino felt transported to the pasthim holding Adunu’s waist as they danced to the back-to-school music of Sina Makosa, a crowd cheering and dancing around them, the scent of all kinds of meat and drinks perfuming the air.


A smile broke on Owino’s lips as Anyadwee’s face got transformed into her mother’s and back, on and off like magic. His eyes only cleared when the baby behind him poked the back of his rocking chair.


At the altar, which wasn’t really an altar, because the wedding was happening outside in a small, enclosed park, Anyadwee stepped next to her soon-to-be husband. Dean had started crying as soon as Anyadwee stepped at the foot of the aisle. And as the minister placed Anydwee’s hand into Dean’s, his tears streamed unheeded.


The audience on the screen awwwed again and clapped. The audience in Owino’s compound laughed in shock at the sight of a muzungu man crying. Then they ululated again, some murmuring, those people love too hard, and another, they have no problems, so their tears are underused and when it falls, it falls. Then laughter. Then tears from Owino because he was still beaten up that his daughter was in a faraway land, alone except for her mother’s hand-made jewelry on her neck and ears.


The livestream connection started snapping. The son of Owino’s neighbor who had just completed computer science at Makerere University was manning the livestream. He checked the internet bundles and half of it was already used up. Ten minutes hadn’t even gone by. He alerted Owino to the impending disconnection and the old man shook his head in knowing puzzlement and anger. He gripped his cane harder, his knuckles and veins bulging. He wanted to confront someone and spank sense into their incompetent brains, but he couldn’t.  


“Those are our telecoms. They are only good at stealing. Delivering nothing!” he spat.


“We’ll need to buy more data, Mzee, so that we can at least watch the vows,” the computer man said.


Owino sent one of the boys to buy an internet scratch card from the shop across the road. The computer man loaded it to the dongle and the connection was stable again. On the screen, Dean was reading his vows from a paper. The audience on the screen was all smiles, some wiping their eyes. When he said I Do, the audience clapped wildly. In Owino’s compound, voices rang with song and ululations but only briefly. They needed to quiet down for Anyadwee’s vows.


She was not sobbing like Dean, but her eyes glittered with some wetness still. She wiped them dry and read her vows, smiling, looking into Dean’s eyes and then into the camera, as though she was making a promise to her father too, or wishing he was among the audience in that American park. Owino punched the air with his fist before stubbing the ground repeatedly with his cane the way he did when he was excited.

Anyadwee chuckled in between her vows: “You will always be my one true companion even if we no longer have teeth to eat our favorite food…” Dean burst out in laughter and so did the audience on the screen, and the minister officiating the ceremony. Owino’s audience screamed and ululated and clapped, some got up from their seats to stand in the back.


As Anyadwee got to the end of her vows, the livestream started acting up again. The computer man checked his internet and he still had more than enough data. It must be poor connection, with which they all were very familiar. The audience whined at the blinking screen, some prayed for it to stay alive until Anyadwee said I Do.


“—so, in the presence of our family and friends, on this beautiful Saturday morning, I earnestly say I—”


The screen went blank and the audience in Owino’s compound broke out in lamentations, many getting up to walk about in the compound. Owino stayed seated, his bones too heavy with disappointment for him to stand. If Adunu were here, she would hold him by his arm and get him to his feet. Then she would pretend to dance squeeze-me or no-distance with him without music, and whatever was angering Owino would fade.


But Adunu was nothing but memories and a grave in his backyard. What would she do in a situation of useless technology? Owino rose and raised his cane in the air. “Let’s celebrate!” he chanted, wiping his eyes dry, steadying himself with his cane. His audience chanted back, “Let’s celebrate!”


He invited the men in attendance to make use of the drums stored in the guest hut. Within minutes, everyone was on their feet, dancing to Acoli traditional songs and chanting congratulations and praise to Owino. Owino joined the dancing audience, moving one foot at a time, settling into a rhythm even though his arthritic knees moved to their own annoying beat. If he took his mind away from the pain long enough and focused on the joy he saw on Anyadwee’s face, everything would be alright.


He told Anyadwee’s uncles to take one of his goats and slaughter it for the celebration. He had only planned to watch the ceremony but now he felt that he needed to make this a real wedding ceremony. Sodas and beers were ordered from the shop across the path and utensils appeared in minutes from neighbors and relatives who lived nearby. In Acoli, a party was not a party without food, drinks, and dancing. No technology or visa was going to stop him from celebrating his daughter’s big day the proper way. His precious wife Adunu needed something to smile about from the afterlife.


* * *


A month later, the sun rose with good news. The video from Anyadwe’s wedding had arrived at the Post Office, saved in a flash disk. There were also photos and gifts from the newlyweds to Owino. He picked the documents from the postman, eager especially to stick the flash disk into his laptop and watch his daughter’s wedding from beginning to end. No worries about moody telecom connectivity or disappearing internet.


Among the deliveries was an envelope postmarked June 27, a day after Anyadwee’s wedding. Owino felt a sudden gush of heat sweep over his skin. His hands shook, damp with sweat. He ripped the envelope, amused at the contempt of its untimely arrival if it was what he suspected it was. He pulled out the bright blue passport and gripped it as the booklet attempted to slip out of his hand. He flipped through it, and there, shining on one of the pages sat his visa.

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