A seal upon your heart, p.37
A Seal Upon Your Heart, p.37Pepper Pace
The people at the Centre were friendly and easy to get along with. She was amazed at how quickly she adapted to life here. But she couldn’t help to think about the people that she had left; including Dhakiya. When she was in the States she had been angry and had refused to take any of Dhakiya’s calls but since coming back to Rwanda, she realized that there were more important things to worry about than a friend that had overstepped her bounds.
So she had included in the package of information that she had sent via Tim, a letter explaining that while the revelation of her deepest secrets had disappointed her she understood. Martier felt that she had grown a lot since then; back then she had been more childlike than adult so it was no wonder that Dhakiya had taken matters into her own hands. But just because she understood didn’t mean that she intended to change her mind concerning no contact with her past life until she could come to terms with her current one. She needed to focus on Rwanda and fixing her own broken pieces and she didn’t want anyone influencing her thoughts.
Geoff Hernandez knocked on her door and greeted her in Kinyarwanda. He encouraged her to practice it as much as possible and it had now come back to her until it flowed off her tongue easily. She knew that it was another thing that she had to thank Dhakiya for. Her friend wouldn’t allow her to forget.
Geoff had offered to drive her stating that it wasn’t out of his way—although it really was. Martier suspected that Geoff had developed a crush on her. She pretended not to know and hoped that he would get the message. But still, she liked him. He was the one member of the team that always accompanied her on the door-to-door visits. Someone had even commented on it and he had turned beet red—even past his bronze skin tone.
He had promised to take her back to her old neighborhood. Even though Martier had now been in Rwanda just over two months she still hadn’t ventured back to her own neighborhood. She confessed to him that she wasn’t sure if she was ready. But Geoff promised her that life had moved on since then and there were great improvements. Maybe it would be okay with him there to remind her that the ghosts have all been laid to rest.
Dinner was delicious; beef stew and fried plantain chips called mizuzu. She smiled suddenly after taking her first bite. “These taste exactly the way my mother used to make them!” She savored the taste. “I can’t believe I remember that.”
“I heard somewhere that your sense of smell can trigger a memory that has been deeply buried,” said Janet, the host. Martier wondered if she had eaten mizuzu earlier if she would have remembered things sooner.
“Do you miss the States?” One of her other co-workers asked.
“I do. I miss my friends, my boyfriend-”
“Boyfriend?” Geoff asked.
“Oh,” he said quickly. “How does he feel about you being in Rwanda?”
“I didn’t ask him.” She turned to look directly at Geoff. “I had to do this so there was no other choice.”
“Yes, of course.” He stammered. Geoff quickly changed the subject and an hour later he drove her home.
Saturday morning, Geoff arrived at noon to take her to her old neighborhood. He was carrying a bag of fruit. Wow, the revelation of a boyfriend hadn’t changed anything, she thought. She accepted the gift graciously wondering if Geoff thought that she had no money or maybe he thought she was too skinny.
“Now I will have to make you a pie,” she smiled.
“No…I mean,” He stammered, “unless you just want to.”
“Yes I do. I appreciate all that you have done to help me.”
Geoff swept back his longish dark hair with a big smile on his face. He was obviously of Hispanic descent but she knew that he was American born although he had been in Rwanda since 2007. She never asked him what brought him here, she assumed that she knew the answer; the genocide.
“You’re not nervous are you?” He asked as they drove the relatively short distance to the farmlands where her family had grown coffee.
“I think I’m more excited than nervous.” She wasn’t sure if that was exactly true. As they drove down the various streets leading to her old home she tried to determine if anything looked familiar—but it didn’t. Not even the market triggered a memory and she knew that she had walked there nearly daily; either with her brothers and sisters or with her mother. Things had changed a lot.
Soon they drove up to a home that was surrounded by a stone and cement wall. One moment it was just one among the dozens of houses that they had passed, and then the next moment the memory of her first home returned to her.
“Oh my God…” That was all she could say as she stared at it. Geoff got out of the truck and helped her out. There was a metal door leading into the yard and he knocked on it sharply. It wasn’t the same door but everything else was exactly the same.
A man opened the flimsy door and looked at them curiously. Thankfully Geoff did all of the talking. Martier’s voice had disappeared as her eyes travelled around the front yard and then locked onto the neat house.
She clasped her hands in front of her face, almost like she was praying but she was fighting hard to absorb all of the emotions that filled her at seeing this house again. Geoff gently took her elbow.
“Mr. Mbozi and his family own this property,” Geoff spoke in English. “He is worried that you are here to try to claim the land—”
Martier quickly shook her head and spoke to the man before her in their native language. “No, sir. I’ve just returned for a short visit to my homeland. I’m…just trying to come to terms with what happened to me and my family-”
“Martin Nufaika. Yes I knew him and his wife.”
“You knew my parents?”
“Yes.” The man opened the gate wider. “Please come inside.”
The house was nice; wood and brick with a large porch. She remembered her brothers and sisters playing in that yard with balls and sticks. Mr. Mbozi watched her as she absorbed the sites around her.
“Were you friends with my father?” She finally managed to ask past the lump that had developed in her throat.
“Would you like to come inside?” He asked politely gesturing to the house. She nodded quickly. “I wasn’t friends with your father but I knew him well. We brought our coffee here to be washed.” He led them up the porch stairs and into the house. The living room was neatly decorated with nice furniture. A woman, most likely his wife, entered the room with a curious look on her face. He quickly explained the purpose of her visit and the woman quickly nodded in understanding.
“Would you like tea?”
“No, we don’t want to be any trouble.” Martier spoke quickly.
“No trouble. It’s already brewed.” They followed her into the kitchen and for one instant she envisioned the kitchen the way it had been on that fateful day. Her step faltered and Geoff touched the small of her back.
“Are you okay?”
She gave him a shaky smile and nodded.
Mrs. Mbozi spoke. “This is the room where everything happened.” Her voice was very matter-of-fact and in some ways that helped to calm her.
“Yes,” Martier confirmed.
“We can go into the front room-” Mr. Mbozi began.
“No. I don’t mind this room. There are a lot of pleasant memories here—mostly of my Mom.” They sat at a wooden table and as Mrs. Mbozi served tea she breathed in the scent of a thousand meals prepared in this very room—many of them prepared by her own mother. It made her feel very close to her and it relaxed her even more.
“We didn’t know that there were any survivors. The truck came to collect bodies and you were found; sleeping in a closet.”
Her attention perked. “How long was I there before I was found?”
Martier rubbed her dry eyes as she tried to remember that portion of her memory, it was one of the few memories that never returned to her; how she had come to the States, and how much time she had
“Tell us about yourself?” Mr. Mbozi asked. “Many remember your family and they would be very interested to learn that you have grown into a smart and beautiful woman.”
She smiled humbly. “I went to a Catholic Orphanage where I was educated and kept safe.” She smiled to herself remembering her bitter thoughts almost a life-time ago. They keep the rebels from raping and murdering you. They make sure your belly is full and there is a warm place to sleep…Yes, that is what Bartholoma had done for her and hundreds of other little girls over the years: they had kept her safe.
Mr. and Mrs. Mbozi took her outside to look at the fields. She walked over the patch of grass where Yook had fallen and despite the fact that they might think she was crazy she dropped her shoulder bag on the ground and kicked off her shoes and then she raced across the field. She imagined running with her brothers and sisters, she remembered playing soccer right here, she heard the sound of laughter from many years ago and before she knew it she was laughing—even while tears streamed down her face.
“I hoped that helped.” Geoff said after he returned her home.
“It did!” She gave him a happy hug before quickly releasing him. “Thank you, Geoff! See you Monday.” She headed into her home. “Oh, and I’ll have a nice fruit pie for you!”
She turned on the radio and hummed to the sound of the song playing. She wanted to call Tim and Dhakiya. She wanted to talk to Claudette and Sister Louise. She wanted…she wanted to go home.
Yes. It was time. Rwanda had been therapeutic but it was no longer home. There was no family here. And her life was in the United States—maybe not in the same way that it had been in the past, maybe doing something that gave her life more meaning and purpose. But it was a life that had to include her friends and family.
She decided that Monday she would go into the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre and announce that it was time for her to depart them. That night she slept soundly beneath the mosquito netting of her bed and for the first time in ages she allowed her mind to think about Tim and to miss the feel of his arms around her as she slept.
The next day she got up bright and early and after making a quick breakfast she gathered her shoulder bag, the one she carried when she went to the market, and then she got on the bus that would take her to her old neighborhood.
She wanted to walk the streets and to get a feel of her hometown one last time. She took her time walking down roads that she and her brother and sister’s had walked. She nodded her greeting to those she passed and reveled in the sounds and sites that proved that life had indeed renewed itself in this old neighborhood.
Afterwards she roamed the indoor marketplace for the ingredients for a pie. She remembered that there wasn’t an exact price for anything, more like a ‘suggestion’ of what you should buy and how much you should pay. She was amused when a woman told her that for a pie she would need this spice or that, even though she had never heard of those spices and didn’t want them for her pie.
She sniffed lemons and an older woman met her eyes as if she feared she would slip it into her bag without paying for it. Suddenly she recognized the woman. She had been selling her products at this stall forever! She walked up to the woman and excused herself.
“I remember you from when I was a little girl.”
The woman smiled. “I’ve been here selling my goods since I was a little girl so I’m not surprised. Who are you, young one?”
“My name is Martier Nufaika Besigye. My parents were Martin and Benitha.”
“Martier!” The woman came from behind her stall and hugged her tightly. “Dear Lord, I remember the shock of your mother’s death.” The older woman kissed and hugged her. “You look so much like her,” She said as she touched her face. Then she took her hand and dragged her to another stall, demanding that a young girl keep watch of their wares.
She spoke rapidly to another woman. Martier vaguely recognized her and then several people gathered, either watching curiously or who also remembered her mother.
“It is good that she lives on in you.”
One woman leaned in and whispered. “He’s still around.”
Martier gave her a confused look and everyone grew quiet. “Who?”
“The one who killed her; Kokayi Okafor.”
The muscles in Martier’s face went slack and suddenly it was as if she was in a dream. Someone grabbed her arm and turned her in the direction of the entrance. They pointed. “He lives there but stays in the pub next door.”
“That one moved back here to the neighborhood like so many others have.”
“This neighborhood had many people that killed and they just come back and keep to themselves.” Someone else said. “The very people who raped you, walk right past you in the street,” she said bitterly.
“The best thing about the rapists is that they just drop dead from HIV Aids!” Someone hissed.
“But so did their victims.” Someone reminded.
“Not Kokayi. He still lives and breathes.”
Martier listened, the breath feeling strained in her chest. And then it seemed that the entire marketplace was a buzz with activity as people realized that a long lost daughter of Rwanda had returned and that the man responsible for slaughtering her family was just steps away. And then suddenly there was a hush and whispers fell across the area. She saw people pointing at her and a tall man broke through the crowd and approached her.
As he came to a stop in front of her she felt as if her legs would buckle. She stared into his face recognizing it for that of the boy that had buried a machete into her brother’s back eighteen years before.
“I heard that you had visited the Mbozi’s yesterday.” Said the man, his deep voice resonating throughout her body, inside her head. She couldn’t find her own voice to speak. Kokayi looked around at the onlookers and some of them returned to their business—but not all of them. He turned his attention back to Martier.
“I heard that you were taken to the States and raised in a convent.”
She was terrified. She wanted to run and hide as if she was six years old again. There was a resignation in his eyes; eyes that bore into hers before finally dropping. She remembered that look from so many years ago. It was as if he had disappeared from himself.
He finally continued speaking. “I wanted to…tell you that I’m sorry for what happened that day.” He rubbed his hands through short hair. He was attractive, young; one would never guess by the looks of him that he had participated in brutal killings and rapes. “I don’t know if the reason that you came back here was to hear that. And even if it wasn’t, I still wanted you to hear this directly from my mouth.” After a moment he finally turned to walk away.
“W…why did you spare my life?”
He turned back to her and this time his brow was creased. “Because….because of the look that you gave me; the one that is exactly like the look on your face right now.” He cleared his throat and swallowed. “When we were told what to do we did it. They said kill them all and I was convinced that it was them against us. I was told that it was okay to do it even though deep down I knew it was wrong.
“Yook wouldn’t participate. He said that he couldn’t. And then I told him that he was a girl but he didn’t care what I said. He went home. I got caught up in the horror of killing and being terrible. I kept doing it, trying to become lost in the action of it. And when the papers came through stating that your family was on the list we convinced ourselves that it was the reason your brother had turned his back on it; because he was a traitor.
“I wanted him to pay for being a traitor—somehow it was his fault that I had to kill people, as if he had done bad and I was here to rectify it, but if he had never done bad then I wouldn’t have to kill.
“I went there to make him pay and even though your mother had always been nice to me I ignored that, convinced that she was a part of the reason why I had to do this.
“I could no longer convince myself that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. In that moment I knew that I was damned.” He stared into the distance. “I didn’t pick up another weapon or kill another person. And then later, when I found out that they were going to return to the house to make sure the deed was done I returned first.”
A Seal Upon Your Heart by Pepper Pace / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes