Mama Calls Me Tennis Ball Because I Always Bounce Back

on June 17, 2022
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I still remember my ball boy training
you have to squat with your left leg 
simultaneously kneel with your right leg perpendicular to your left 
so even if you miss the catch 
the ball is halted by your legs at a 90-degree angle
I often missed the catch
even before my strokes 
never the athlete
always in awe of my sibling’s physicality 
my assignment was always ball boy
during early morning tennis practice on clay courts in Khartoum

aspired to be more
eventually achieved more
now I watch tennis in the hospital bed 
paying close attention to the ball boys/ball girls/ball children's technique
I used to be able to kneel on the sidelines for the length of several matches
now I faint if I kneel for longer than a couple minutes
discovered this when I fainted while praying the rosary 
everything faded to black in the middle of a Hail Mary 
my mouth continued "Holy Mary Mother of God" 
as I swayed and collapsed onto the ground 
woke up in a hospital bed with a diaper as I'd soiled myself 
it's been a while since I defecated in bed because I lost of control of me
ball boy duty requires kneeling by the sidelines for the duration of the match
hands splayed against the court
right knee tucked into chest 
left calf tensed ready to spring into action 
head on a swivel, following the ball
ears zoned in on the umpire and line umpire
ready to strike at any moment
leap into action 
retrieve the ball 
with whichever hand is closest 
Being disabled requires laying in bed by the sidelines for the duration of your life
right hand spastic, an effect of the paralysis from your first stroke 
right knee throbbing in pain from a patella fracture that never healed properly 
left calf painfully spasming non-stop beyond your control 
head propped up on a rolled-up towel to ease the muscle pain from neck spasms
ears assaulted by the constant onslaught of sensory overload 
ready to have a seizure at any moment 
fighting the aura 
press next on Doom Patrol
with your left hand because your right (formerly dominant) hand lost all fine motor control thanks to your first stroke 
continue to distract yourself from the pain through power fantasy 
see yourself in Cyborg’s group therapy for amputees 

shed a tear 


do not judge me by my weak handshake

your right hand reaches out
my anxiety rises
your right hand continues to swing upwards propelled by able-bodied shoulder lever action
you can do this without thinking about it 
globules of sweat on my nose, forehead, palms and soles engorge
hyperhidrosis sucks
anxiety only makes it worse
handshakes always make me anxious

I attempt to wipe the sweat on my right palm off against my right pant leg, while using my left hand to fish out my ride or die crimson and pantone checkered handkerchief out of my left pocket, to wipe the engorged globules sweat off my: 
and palms for good measure

my socks absorb the sweat from my soles 
I wish wearing gloves was more socially acceptable

your eyebrows raise

I awkwardly propel my right hand upwards
bent shoulder
bent elbow
spastic clenched right hand
lots of fatigue

your eyebrows raise higher

my spastic right hand attempts to splay out but instead starts spasming 

your eyebrow raise even higher 

I attempt to place my hand in yours
you have been awkwardly waiting for me to complete the handshake, so as soon as my hand is in the general vicinity, you grip firmly
I spasm as my double jointed pinky raises straight out like I’m a part of genteel society sipping tea

your eyebrow raises higher than I’ve ever seen 

you take a step back 
I smile and say
“It’s nice to meet you” 

you grimace

I smile and think
why can’t I shake hands with my left hand?


Physical Therapy 

had a seizure 
after walking for 60 metres 
decked from head-to-toe in athleisure 
push pause on Deezer 
feeling like a geezer 
trapped in a 30-year-old, 180 centimeter
frame, a.k.a shell of what I used to be at leisure
patients gawk
staff gawks
this is just the teaser 
collapse into wheelchair
legs need a breather
black spots mid-air
blink blink
still there 
blink blink
aura stays rising like a lever 
blink blink
Transfer to bed 
continue seizure 
electrical impulse transceiver 
beset with convulsions
physical therapists circle
Mugabi, The Main Feature 
formerly known as, an overachiever
formerly known as, a 10 kilometer
runner of races  
now I have a seizure 
after walking 60 metres 

Mugabi Byenkya is an award-winning writer of prose, poetry, comics, essays, drama and occasional rap songs. Mugabi’s writing is used to teach High School English in Kampala and Toronto schools. In 2017, Mugabi published his award-nominated Ugandan bestselling debut novel-memoir, ‘Dear Philomena,’ (Discovering Diversity Publishing) and he went on a 43 city, 5 country North America/East Africa tour, in support of this. In 2018, Mugabi was named one of 56 writers who has contributed to his native Uganda’s literary heritage in the 56 years since independence by Writivism (East Africa’s largest literary festival).