Sons Of Antagonists – A Short Story By A. Happy UmwagarwaPublished November 5, 2019
Disclaimer: Inspired by historical events, this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with the author’s.
© 2019 A. Happy Umwagarwa
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the author.
The day I came across Mama’s payslip, I was shocked to learn that as a secretary in the Ministry of Health in Rwanda, her monthly salary was only RWF 150,000, which was equivalent to USD 200. My head could not help me do the math. How did she afford to enroll us in an international school, where the fees were USD 10,000 per child per annum? I concluded Mama was a prostitute and started hating everything she gave to me. Any man who entered our house was a suspect. Mama started looking ugly and dirty in my eyes. How could she do that to our late father? Why did she choose to bring shame to his name? If she wanted another husband, why did she not officially remarry instead of becoming a prostitute? But, something was weird; whenever Mama was not at work, she was always either at home or at church. She seemed to be God-fearing and always encouraged us to live a sinless life. Where was Mama getting money from?
One day, I got the answer to my question; a money transfer voucher from a man called Paul Kamuzinzi to my mother Angelique Usaniwabo. It was from Belgium.
“Mama, what’s this?” I asked her.
“What? Where did you get it from? Gatera, how many times have I told you not to open my handbag without my permission?”
“I’m sorry. But, I need to know who sent this money to you.”
“Why? This is none of your business. Please go. You will be late for your basketball rehearsal. Haven’t you told me you were preparing for a tournament?”
“Yes, I have,” I said. “But, this is more important. Mama, I’m no longer a child. I’m now 18 years old, and next year I will go to university. But, If you don’t tell me where you get money from, I will stop applying for college admission. I cannot continue sucking the sweat of people I don’t know. Mama, how do you pay for our school with the little salary you earn from the Ministry of Health?”
“Please go play basketball. I will tell you later.”
“Will you? When? Mama, please. I need to know where you get money from. Is there anything you’re hiding from me? Do you have a lover? Are you a …”
“A what?” Mama asked.
“No. It’s okay. Let me go. But, Mama, promise you’ll tell me today. Will you?”
“Yes, I will.”
When I arrived at Amahoro stadium, I was glad to find out that the coach was late.
“Hey Gatera,” Kalimba, my best friend said. “How are you?”
“Fine.” I responded.
“Man, what’s up? Why do I read pain all over your face?”
“It’s okay. I have just had one of those with Mama.”
“Is it about college admission again? Your mother won’t sleep before you go to a good university. Have you checked your emails? There might be some good news there.”
“No, I haven’t. What good news?
“Do you remember the UK university we sent our applications to? Guess what; they have sent me an admission letter. Maybe they have also accepted you. Please check your emails.”
“No, man, I’m no longer interested.”
“What do you mean you’re no longer interested. Are you going to study at one of these local universities? Do you think you’ll fit in?”
“Kalimba, I have a lot going on in my mind now. I guess I need to first look for a scholarship. Mama did what she could to send my sister and me to international schools. But, now that I’m a big boy, I should relieve her of that burden. If I don’t find a scholarship, I will either study at a local university, or look for a job that can later fund my studies.”
“I get you. But, check your emails. Maybe after getting the admission, you may start approaching organizations that offer scholarships. Even the University of London, we sent our applications to, offers some scholarships and bursaries, but I didn’t have to check the details. Apparently, the General I call my father wants to get rid of me. He’s is already transferring money to the school.”
“Mr. Coach has come,” I said. “Let’s go play. Yes, I will check my emails. But I must remember I’m an orphan. Time has come for Mama to relax and stop wanting to give us the same life of sons of generals like you.”
“Stop it. What are you talking about?”
“It’s a joke dude. Don’t take it badly. I simply meant I don’t know how Mama does it. Do you ever remember she is a widow who works as a secretary for the Ministry? If I tell you how much she earns, you won’t believe your ears.”
“Gatera, parents always have their ways. Maybe she has relatives who support her.”
“No, my friend. All my mother’s parents and siblings were killed during the genocide against the Tutsi. Papa was also killed.”
“So sad” Kalimba said. “Let’s go. The coach is calling us. We will talk more later.”
After the basketball rehearsals, I boarded a bike and went home at Kacyiru. Mama was in the kitchen with my sister Kazuba. I could not start that conversation with my sister there. I decided to go to my room and check my emails. There was an email from the University of London. It was an admission in their political science programme. Tears stung my eyes as I read the letter. I had to stick to my decision. If Mama did not want to explain to me where she got money from, there was no way I would accept to enroll in that expensive university. I turned on music from YouTube and helped Boys II Men to sing A Song For Mama.
Few minutes after, Mama came to tell me that dinner was served. She caught sight of the admission letter displayed on the screen of my laptop.
“Congratulations,” She said. “Why did you not tell me you got the admission? When does the school year start?”
“Mama, I’m rejecting this offer. Don’t worry, I will study here in Rwanda.”
“Because I don’t want you to continue begging money from people I don’t know. Only God knows what you give to them in exchange.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I have just said. Who sent money to you to feed us and to pay school fees for us? Your whole family was massacred during the genocide against the Tutsi. You told me that Papa was also killed. Who sends you money from Belgium? That name is not familiar. I have never heard it before. How is he related to you? If you don’t want to answer my questions, it’s okay. Just keep in mind that I no longer want to be fed with money I don’t know wherefrom. If you’re involved in some dirty games or mafia, please do never say you’re doing it because of me and my sister.”
I immediately stood up and left Mama flabbergasted, then I headed to the dining room.
Anger mixed with blues were choking me. No food could have found its way in my throat. I felt pain in the bones and veins. The only thing I managed to take from that table was a glass of red wine, then I walked out. Maybe I would hide in the darkness of our front yard and burst into tears. Maybe I needed to feel the vain of life in order to re-discover myself.
“Gatera, please, don’t do this to me,” Mama said as she walked towards me where I was standing under the benjamina ficus tree. “Are you sure you’re old enough to hear me out? Shall you be able to chew the information you’re asking for?”
“Mama, don’t worry,” I said. “Even if you had told me you were an assassin, I would still understand you. I love you Mama and all I want is the best for you. I’m now a man. You can tell me everything. I can look for a job and support you. You no longer need to do whatever you do to get that money. No, you don’t.”
“I will tell you everything, but you also have to promise me something.”
“Whatever you want, Mama.”
“Promise me that you will accept that admission from the University of London, will you?”
“Yes, I will accept the admission, but only if you tell me where you’ll get the money to pay for that expensive university.”
She invited me to my room again for a talk, but by the time we arrived there, tears were already flowing on her cheeks.
“Mama, what is it? Why are you crying? I did not mean to make you sad.”
“It’s okay my boy. I knew this day was going to come. I guess, I have no more excuses. I will tell you everything.”
I invited her to sit down on my bed, then said, “I’m listening.”
“Gatera, your father is not dead. He is alive. ”
“What? No. That’s not possible. All these years? Why does he never come to see us? Why does he never talk to us? Do you mean he is in Belgium? But the name on the transfer voucher is not his.”
“No, he is not in Belgium. Your father Mvukiyehe lives in DRC.”
“What do you mean by DRC? Congo? What does he do there? Mama, you told me my father was killed during the genocide. Now, you’re not only saying he is alive, but he also resides in Congo. What part of Congo? Don’t tell me he is with… No. Of course not. My father cannot be with those Interahamwe.”
“Yes, my dear. Your father is with the rebels. It was also a shock to me the day I learnt it. I have been living with that painful reality for years.”
“And you did not bother to tell me. How about Kazuba? Do you imagine how this shall affect her?”
“Please, do never tell her,” Mama said. “Kazuba is still young and immature. You know how sensitive she is to anything to do with the genocide against the Tutsi. She blames Hutus for having made her an orphan, and for having killed all the members of my family. If you tell her, she will not only hate her father, but herself and all of us.”
“Mama, this is all your fault. I don’t what to think anymore. First, it’s hard to digest the fact that our father is a Hutu, second, that he is a rebel, and third, that Mama chats with him. This is too much.”
“My son, please forgive me. I did not tell you the truth because I wanted to protect you. It hasn’t been easy for me. It feels as if I live in two worlds and I don’t know how to reconcile them.”
“No, Mama, you can’t protect me by telling lies to me. Do you realize how many times I cried the death of my father? Do you realize that what you were hiding from me has something to do with my identity? Didn’t you want to tell me about the monster you married and had children with?”
“My dear, when I got married to your father, he was not a monster. Mvukiyehe I know is not a bad person. I don’t know what came over him.”
“So, you’re defending him, right?”
“No, I’m not. I have no idea what he is doing today and what led to his decision to join those groups. Your father and I were madly in love. Our marriage was disapproved by both of our families, but against all odds, we got married anyway. He loved and cherished me. During the genocide against the Tutsi, he was by my side. He did not only hide me, but also a few other Tutsis in our neighbourhood. We were about twenty people in the house. Interahamwe suspected him and threatened to kill him together with all the people he was hiding in our house. When their threats became too much, he took our Tutsi neighbours to Saint Paul, and decided to drive to Gisenyi with you, me and Kazuba, who was just one year old. In Gisenyi, we were welcomed by his family. Even though they did not like me, they did not threaten to kill me. In their house, we lived peacefully, until the war advanced and they decided to cross to Congo. I wanted us to go with them, but your father refused. He said, it would be hard for me to live in a refugee camp with two young children. Once again, he decided to stay with me in that house of his parents until the day RPF Inkotanyi took total control of Gisenyi. We were both happy to see the soldiers of RPF Inkotanyi. We knew the storm was over.”
“Wait,” I said. “Do you mean Papa was also happy to see the soldiers of RPF Inkotanyi? If yes, why is he now with the rebels?”
“My dear, one evening, your father came back home with bruises on his face. I asked him what had happened to him. He refused to tell me anything. The following morning, before dawn, at around 5.00am, he told me he had decided to go see his family in Congo and promised he would come back in two days. Despite how odd his decision sounded, I accepted it and believed his promise to come back. That was the last time I saw my husband. He never came back to Rwanda. I waited for him for over six months in Gisenyi, till the day I concluded he was probably dead, and decided to come back to Kigali.”
Mama burst into tears again. I didn’t know how to stop her. I laid my hand on her shoulders and kept silent for a moment, before I asked, “When did you know he was still alive?”
“In 1998 I bumped into his cousin in a market. She is the one who told me that all the members of your father’s family died during the first Congo war. Your father was the only one who survived, but his cousin didn’t know his whereabouts. She told me that maybe he had crossed to Congo-Brazzaville or some other countries. I spent years searching for him but in vain. I even asked the Red Cross to put out an announcement, but there was no response. Five years later, in 2003, I received a letter from him. He did not tell me he had joined a rebel group. He told me he had survived both Congo wars, but that he did not want to come back to Rwanda. In his letter he said, ‘The blood of my family members was spilled in this country. Their bodies are buried in the ground Congo sits on. This is where I must be. This is my home now.’ I was very sad and angry to read that. That moment, I cursed the day I married a Hutu.”
“Why?” I asked.
“He was not inviting me to join him in Congo. But, even if he did, I wouldn’t. Had he forgotten all my family members, who were killed by Hutu militants during the Genocide against the Tutsi, were also buried on the Rwanda soil? It was as if he was informing me of our divorce, our eternal separation. His place was in Congo with the ghosts of his Hutu family members, and my place is in Rwanda with the ghosts of my Tutsi family members. My son, I don’t approve the fact that your father is now a member of an armed rebel group, in fact a terrorist, if you read all that is written and said about the actions of those rebel groups operating in Congo. He is no longer Mvukiyehe, the man I fell in love with. But he is your father.”
“What do you mean? No, my father died the day he left you alone in Gisenyi. He died the day he decided to stay in Congo with his family. He died the day he decided to stay in Congo even after his family members were no more. He died the day he decided to join the rebel group that is accused of many atrocities in Congo. No. If he is not a good husband to you, he can’t be a good father to us. Don’t tell me he is the one who sends you money to pay school fees for us.”
“Yes, he sends the money through a friend of his who lives in Belgium. Initially, I did not want to take the money. But, after giving it a thought, I decided to accept it. My son, there is a lot you and I don’t know about your father. I still don’t know what happened to him the night before he left me in Gisenyi. I don’t know much about the Congo wars and how his family members died. I know nothing about armed groups or ‘inyeshyamba’ as we call them in Kinyarwanda, and the atrocities they commit. My cousin Kamuheto was a member of RPF Inkotanyi at the time it was considered a rebel group. Today, we look up to him as one of the heroes who liberated this country. The same applies to the father to your friend Kalimba. When they were at the battlefield, they had wives and children in Uganda, who continued to look up to them as the heads of their families. It’s over between me and Mvukiyehe, but after what both of us endured, I cannot take away from him the joy of caring for his children, the only family he is left with.”
“Mama, you can’t make that comparison. RPF Inkotanyi came to stop the genocide against the Tutsi. The whole Rwanda would be in ashes if they had not liberated it. What are those Hutu rebels fighting for? Do they want to come and continue their plan to exterminate Tutsis?”
“I have told you I don’t know much about the rebel groups and what they fight for. Yes, I read about the atrocities those Hutu rebels commit in Congo. But there is much I don’t know. When RPF Inkotanyi kicked the war in 1990, nobody was talking about a genocide yet. Many people sang peace, unity and development. That was the slogan of the political party that was in power. But, as a Tutsi, I knew how we were not very accepted in our own country. We faced discrimination and marginalization in many ways. We kept our smiles on, despite the pain we felt in our hearts. Some Hutus, who really weren’t bad people, thought we were fine, simply because more than often, we, human beings, tend to be blind to other people’s pain, especially when what they are enduring is not necessarily showing on their faces.”
“Do you mean Hutus could also be suffering and we don’t know? You said Papa’s family members died during the war in Congo? They were not killed by Rwandans, right? I guess they were hit by bullets just because of being at the wrong place and at the wrong time.
“My son, you’ve told me you are now an adult. I won’t answer those questions because my answers may be misleading. I was never in Congo and I don’t know how your paternal family died, whether they were just hit by bullets in the battlefield, whether they died of hunger or disease, or whether they were killed, I don’t know. Because I had never bothered to know. Whenever I see books or reports about what happened in Congo or in Rwanda, I ran away. I have enough trauma to deal with. Do you know something they call survivor guilt?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Do you realize I survived because I had married a Hutu. My parents and nine siblings, my grandma and all my aunties and cousins, were killed by Hutu militants during the genocide. Here I am, alone and lonely. The Hutu I married left me alone, crying the death of my family members. He is where he is, crying the death of his own family. Who am I to judge him?”
“You haven’t told me what the survivor guilt is.”
“I feel selfish. I betrayed my family. I left them to die. I joined a Hutu family that saved me, but my parents and siblings were left in the hands of other Hutus who killed them. Today, I cannot add to that, to care about whatever Hutus might have endured or are enduring. For once, I have to care for my own people.”
“But, Mama, you know it’s different. Today, the government of Rwanda preaches unity and reconciliation, and nobody is marginalized. Hutus have never endured the same pain Tutsis endured when Hutus were in power.”
“My son, growing up, I had no maternal grandparents, uncles and aunties to visit, because they were all refugees. On my father’s side, I had a grandmother and aunties, but it’s only when I wanted to get married to a Hutu, that my father revealed to me that grandpa and my two uncles were killed by Hutus in the 1960s. Can you imagine the pain of my Tutsi parents who sang and danced peace and unity, knowing that they could never ask for justice for their family members who were killed in 60s? Or at least ask the government to make the environment safe enough for their family members to return to Rwanda? I have told you that there are Hutus who had no idea Tutsis were suffering. Our smiles, the clean clothes we put on, the small businesses some Tutsis tried, which turned out to be big companies, and the fact that we continued singing praise songs for Habyarimana and his MRND, made some people blind to our pain. I’m not insinuating Hutus are suffering today, because I have never bothered to know. If you’re interested, you’ve told me you’re now an adult, read books and reports on Rwanda, watch videos, talk to your Hutu friends and ask them about their lives, maybe you will learn something from them.”
“I’m not sure I want to read anything. I’ll never justify what Papa did. I’ll never condone the acts committed by the armed rebel groups, especially those in Congo. Mama, do you realize, you’re contributing indirectly to the perpetuation of those rebel groups? Do you know you pay our school fees with blood money? Have you ever wondered what Papa does to earn that money?”
“His friend confirmed to me that your father is involved in the mining sector. He doesn’t commit any crime to earn the money. All he does is to extract the minerals from the earth and sell it to those who are interested. He doesn’t kill anybody. Mvukiyehe might be a member of a rebel group, but he is not a murderer.”
“Mama, I guess, you’re the one who should now read books. You need to learn more about what’s happening in Congo. Do you know what? I’m accepting the admission offer from the University of London.”
“You are! Thank you so much. My son, we have no other option. Even these local universities, I can’t afford them. If I don’t accept the money your father sends to me, my little salary is not even enough to buy you food and clothes, leave alone paying school fees.
“I’m not accepting the offer because I want you to continue accepting Papa’s dirty money. I simply need to go away from Rwanda. I need to go somewhere I can chew everything you’ve just told me. All these years, I though of myself as a Tutsi and a survivor of the genocide against the Tutsi. But in just one night, you have revealed to me I’m a Hutu and a son of a member of an armed rebel group in Congo. This is hard to stomach. It will take me many years to reconcile who I was yesterday with who I am today.”
“I’m sorry,” Mama said. “Yes, you are a Tutsi and you survived the genocide against the Tutsi, with me, your mother. You are and will always be my son. But you are also a son to your Hutu father and needed to know that part too.” Mama burst into tears again, before adding, “Please, go to London to study, but don’t leave me the same way your father left me.”
“And, don’t say anything of what we have talked about to your sister Kazuba. I have lost many people in my life. I don’t want to lose my children. You are all I have in this world.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell her anything. At least for now.”
After that conversation, I cut contacts with all my friends. I did not know what to say to them. I was afraid they would read from my face about Papa. I even stopped playing basketball and Kalimba wondered what was wrong with me.
Two months after, I left Kigali for London. Even though I initially managed to play hide and seek with Kalimba for the first two weeks at the campus, one day I bumped into him and had no way to escape.
“Gatera, finally we are meeting,” Kalimba said. “What happened to you? Why did you cut contact with me, your best friend? What did I do wrong to you?”
“Nothing. It has nothing to do with you. I’m just crossing one of those confusing periods of my life.”
“Is it again about your Mama? Are you sad about the fact that she spends a lot on your studies?”
“No, that’s not the problem.”
“Then, what is it? Gatera, you know you can tell me anything. My family was not in Rwanda, but I imagine the pain of families like yours that were in Rwanda and had to survive the tragedies of the 1990s.”
“Yes. Thanks. I have to go to my room. There is a book I’m reading, and I want to finish it.”
“A book? Since when have you started reading books? What is it about?”
“Bro, we have to read. I’m reading a book on Rwanda. It’s about the liberation struggle. Now, I sympathize with your father and all RPF Inkotanyi soldiers. We should never take for granted what they went through to be able to come back to Rwanda and build the country we see today. I now understand what it meant to them to be refugees. I’m reading about how they joined the Ugandan rebel group and when the group won the war, they built on that experience to start the liberation struggle.”
“Hmmm,” Kalimba said. “I can’t read that book because Papa narrates that story to me every evening. The more he tells me about it, the more confusing I find our history and politics to be.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Gatera, I saw my Papa for the first time when I was four. Although, I was young to notice his absence, up to now, we have not yet managed to strengthen our bond. He is still a stranger to me. It took me years to forgive him for having not been there the day I was born, and during the first years of my life on earth.”
“What? Kalimba, your father is a hero. He left your mother because he had a mission to accomplish; to liberate our country.”
“Yes, I know. But I don’t like the fact that Papa is somehow linked to the history of Rwanda, as a soldier and a former member of an armed rebel group. I never want to imagine the cost he might have paid to liberate the country. I hope you will only read the book you’re reading now and stop whatever interest you might have in learning about the history of Rwanda. I hope you won’t come across the books that talk about the other side of our history.”
“What other side of our history are you talking about?” I asked.
“Bro, I have read many books and watched many videos on Rwanda, till when I stopped to care anymore. Now, I simply want to live my life and pray that all Rwandans embrace peace and love.”
“I don’t get you.” I said.
“It’s okay. Don’t try to. Please, let’s go and have a slice of pizza. There is an Italian pizzeria around the corner. Let’s go and taste the difference. I bet Kigalians don’t know what a good pizza should taste like.”
As we walked towards the pizzeria, I wondered if I should tell Kalimba my best friend what Mama had told me about Papa. He knew me as a Tutsi and a survivor of the genocide against the Tutsi. Despite the statement he had just made about peace and love, I wondered how he would react to the fact I was a Hutu and a son of a member of the Hutu rebel group. I had no strength to share with him my true story. We continued chatting about London and how everything in that city seemed to be in its right place.
After eating the very tasty pizza, Kalimba and I went back to the campus. He decided to come to my room. He had missed me. We talked about almost everything, girls, fashion, studies and music, till when we found ourselves talking about Rwanda again. Kalimba seemed to have more information about the history and the politics of our country, some of which unbelievable or maybe untrue.
As he continued talking, I felt free to tell him about my conversation with Mama and the fact that Papa was a Hutu and a member of a rebel group.
“Gatera, I knew it. Sorry that I never told you.”
“You knew what? Did you know about Papa?”
“Yes, my father told me that you father is a Hutu and among those who want to take back the power. I did not believe it until he showed me proof.”
“Proof? What kind of proof? When did he tell you? What exactly did he tell you about my father?”
“You’re asking many questions. Remember my father is not only a general, but an expert in intelligence services. There is no way he could not scrutinize the family of my best friend. He knows more about your father than what your mother has told you. He even showed me photos of your father.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How could I? You always said to me you were a Tutsi and that your father was killed during the genocide against the Tutsi. Initially, I was upset with you even though I never showed it to you. I thought you were hiding it from me. But, as days went by, I realized your Mama had hid the truth from you, then I decided to go with the version of the story you told me.”
“Do you mean you knew I was a Hutu and that my father was in Congo, but you decided to keep our friendship on?”
“Yes. Gatera, you’re not your father. But, even if you shared his vision, I wouldn’t blame it on you but to the mystery of our history. And if you think I would hate you just because you are a Hutu, whatever that means, then you don’t know me well. To me, Hutu or Tutsi, it doesn’t matter. Those are just some labels the world put on our foreheads to perpetuate our bloody conflicts.”
“I don’t get you.”
“Bro, have you forgotten my father was once a member of an armed rebel group?”
“Yes, you have.”
“Is it good to be a member of an armed rebel group?”
“No, but you can’t compare what your father was fighting for with whatever my father is fighting for?”
“Do you know what your father is fighting for?”
“No, I don’t.”
“So, how do you know it’s different from what my father was fighting for? I’m not saying I condone the existence of armed rebel groups or the atrocities committed by them in Congo or in any other country they might be in. Rwanda does no need warriors, but peacemakers, and I pray that many Rwandans embrace the values of love and peace. But it takes two to tangle. On one hand, those armed groups should put down their weapons and apply peaceful methods to get their voice heard. Other Rwandans should also listen to the complaints of their compatriots. Imagine if Habyarimana people had listened to our fathers. Maybe they wouldn’t have found any reason to start the war.”
“You’re right about that. Mama said the same to me. She said that many Hutus, including those who seemed to be good people, used to pay a blind eye to the sufferings of Tutsis. Some of them thought that the Tutsis were just fine. Nobody thought about the fact that they had never received justice for their family members massacred in the 1960s and that many of their family members lived in exile.”
“That’s it, bro,” Kalimba said. “We can’t change the past, but we can do better today to ensure that future generations won’t have to live the same experiences we endured. My father was not there when I was born in 1990. I saw him in 1994 when I was four. Your father was there when you were born in 1990. But, in 1994, when you were only four, he left you. Don’t you think we should rather be talking about how to put an end to that cycle?”
“Yes, we should end the vicious cycle. But, how can we do it?”
“Let’s simply start over! Don’t blame me for whatever my father did, I won’t blame you for the decisions and actions of your father. Martin Luther King, in his famous speech, he said, ‘I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’ My friend, let’s simply replace the words ‘Black’ and ‘White’ with ‘Tutsi’ and ‘Hutu’. It shouldn’t only be our dream, but our reality, in which Hutus and Tutsis mingle, chat, smile at each other, and live peacefully together. That’s what should be our challenge.”
“Now, I know who the hero is,” I said. “Kalimba, you’re a hero in the making. When I decided to cut contact with you, I thought you would hate me for being a Hutu and a son of a member of a Hutu rebel group. Little did I know you were already aware of who my father was, and you never bothered to end our friendship.”
“I have another suggestion,” Kalimba said.
“What if we had shared our story with other Rwandans. Some people need to know that our so-called ethnicity and family histories should never be a barrier to fostering great friendships with those we consider to be on the other side. You see, you are not just a son of your Hutu father, but also of your Tutsi mother. But even if both your parents were Hutus and in the opposition, nothing could have stopped me from making you my friend, as long as I see in you the qualities of a good friend.”
“Do you mean, you can befriend even children of genocide perpetrators?”
“Why not? Doesn’t our government preach unity and reconciliation? Don’t you ever see videos of survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi who forgive and reconcile with the killers of their families? Don’t you ever see former members of those rebel groups in Congo who get reintegrated in the society, and some of them in the army? If it’s done by the government at the national level, if it’s done by ordinary citizens in the countryside, why not us, the so-called young intellectuals?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Some people used to pick on me because of my looks. I always sent them to hell because I believed I was a Tutsi. Now, that I know my father is Hutu, I’m afraid of what could happen to me if some of my other friends learnt that truth. I’m not yet ready to share my story with the world. I’m also not yet ready to forgive the Hutu militias who killed my maternal family. I’m not yet ready to forgive Papa. I’m still confused. I need to first listen to my soul. I need to heal, and I’m glad you, my best friend, shall accompany me in that journey. Do you promise?”
“Yes, bro, I will.” Kalimba said. “I’m sure one day, we shall find the courage we need to end this cycle of disunity, hatred and violence. Please get well soon. There is a lot of work ahead of us.
I hugged Kalimba, and after a few minutes, he left my room and went to his.
After my conversation with my best friend Kalimba, I picked the phone and called Mama.
“How are you, my beautiful Mama?” I said.
“Oh, my son, Gatera. You had promised to call me as soon as you arrived in London. I have been trying to call all the numbers of the university. They confirmed you arrived safely and promised to ask you to call me. Did they tell you?”
“Yes, they did. Mama, sorry that I did not call you. I just wanted to tell you that I love you. Please, don’t worry about me. I’m alright. I will call you again tomorrow. I have something I want to tell you. Good hearts are still available in this world.”
“Tell me, what made you that happy?”
“I will tell you tomorrow. Please kiss Kazuba for me.”
Thanks for reading
My name is Umwagarwa
To keep in touch with me:
If you like the story of Gatera and Kalimba, you may love to read my other short stories. Go to Umwagarwa’s fiction short stories
To read my poems and watch my poem videos, go to Umwagarwa’s poems
If you want to know what my thoughts are on a number of topics, you may read more from me on Umwagarwa’s Take
I don’t write only short stories but novels as well.
Have you ordered a copy of HeartsAmongOurselves, my new novel set in in the post genocide Rwanda? I have posted below its trailer.
To read more and order your copy from Amazon, click here.
Those who are in Rwanda, I am pleased to inform you that the novel is now on Kigali bookshelves. Please get your copy from Librairie Caritas, in town (Tel. +250(0)788300787), and Arise Bookshop, on Kimironko road (Tel. +250(0)788354020)
Below is the trailer of Hearts Among Ourselves.