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Sindi’s Story

It was a cold, stormy night and I had just returned from the Sacrament of Penance. Mum decided that she would sit with me and nobody else in my room as I read the sacred letter. My hands quivered as I held Sindi’s very last words, yearning to know what she had said, what she had said to me at her hour of death. Perhaps she had left me a secret code to decipher, revealing who had killed her and made it look like a suicide.

I should have been there for her, but I wasn’t, I failed in my responsibility to her, to dad, uncle and to God. I deserved to face punishment of the most severe nature for not protecting Sindi. I had already spoken to God and pleaded guilty as accused. I was ready for any form and level of penalty. I knew that nothing would be the same again, nothing would matter, until I receive retribution of grave proportions to make me really suffer, and even then, it would be a tiny grain of what I deserve.

I started to read what Sindi had said, my hands quivering, my heart breaking in knowing that it was time for her to tell her story, although it was not meant to be told in this manner. It was not the right way or place, with ‘mum’, a distant relation to us, watching me closely as I absorbed Sindi’s story.

It was utterly wrong that the police had taken a copy of my very intimate and private property without my permission. But there would never be a good time to unravel years and tonnes of experience, maybe no story would ever capture fully what happened.

I had no choice but to strip naked in front of someone, even though I was turning sixteen, because a lot of Sindi was me. I was therefore going to take that proper look at myself in the mirror, albeit immensely violated by doing so under mum’s scrutiny. I looked at her and said,

“Mum please,” signalling the door, and she nodded head, a clear sign that she was not going anywhere.

Once it was concrete that I was certainly not going to get my privacy, I had to compromise to unfold Sindi’s story at my pace, reading slowly in segments, stopping to absorb if I so wished, so as to understand everything fully. I was going to need to speak up for her so that no one would have the heart to judge her harshly as a selfish, pathetic, hopeless, feeble girl.

Yes, it was my Sindi’s handwriting although not as neat as usual. One thing was clear, there was no doubting that it was her handwriting.

I taught her to write, watching as she twisted her fingers around a piece of chalk, pencil, and pen. Her handwriting was very similar to mine, but her letters were much smaller. It must have taken her much effort to express what she wanted her pen to say boldly. It was as if she was afraid to let out what she was thinking onto a paper. I could tell by the ink absorbed at different points of the letter, where no doubt, she had pondered, lingered and agonised.

“My friend, brother, defender, buddy, childhood playmate, my bodyguard… my Hutu-carnage fellow sufferer, fellow dungeon and camp survivor… my everything, Kundi Mihingo, by the time you read this letter, I will be free.

I know how hurt, angry and lonely you will be without me, and I beg you to find a little kindness to understand, but you do not have to forgive me. After you read my story, you will appreciate the place my mind is in as I put this pen to paper, and you can decide if you want to tell my story, or not, if it is too tough to do so. Uncle Walter wanted us to tell our story, and mother Marguerite wanted us wanted us to survive to tell little Claudia’s story. I hope you find the strength to do just that. If you cannot tell my story, please tell yours.

Though I am smouldered by unfailing love for you my hero Kundi, your steadfast, affectionate, tender, unwavering, robust devotion that stood between me and hunger won me over when I saw you not eat for so that I would have a bit more.

Like me you were really tiny, but you lay on the shrubs in the bush and let me lie on you, so the insects could not sting me, or the itchy grass touch my skin, how could I ever forget that! Who does that at seven years old?

The entire time in the refugee camp when you made me take your milk and sugar, while you sipped a cup of warm water slowly, then went out to fetch firewood, collect water and hunt for wild mushroom. My eyes were always down because I did not want you to see my pain… but all that time, I caught the quick dart to add that one spoon of sugar to my cup and I soaked in your love.

When you took the lashes instead of me, standing between me any pain and between me and death, I placed you above any angel I dreamt about. When the kids whispered about the possibility that there were no black angels, I believed them.

But once in the camp, I knew that those kids were all wrong, because there was a black angel called Kundi as they would come to know.

Even at that age, I knew that people had to die to become angels, but I did not want you to die, so I did mean things to you so that you would also do mean things and stop acting like an angel.

You were all that I had, all that I loved and all that I cared for. What you never knew was that we both loved each other so dangerously much that we kept secrets from each other to protect one another.

I knew that dad had died, and you were lying when you kept telling me that he would come and collect us. At first I looked at you lying to me and really hated you for doing that, yet loved you enough as to not argue. But I also felt sorry for you, thinking that maybe you didn’t think that it was true and so I did not want to take away your dream when life was so unbearable.

One day I understood that you did not want to break my already fragmented heart when you were grieving dad’s death as the reason you lied to protect me. I thought about how difficult it must have been, carrying the brief story of dad’s death in your pocket and remaining strong for me. What kept me going was the dim thought that maybe aunt Verna was wrong, and that you also thought so, as every time a parent came for a child, you told me not to worry, because next time it might be our turn, and I clung to your promise.

I knew mum was alive because she had sent aunt Verna to come for us, and she had escaped to another country. I told you how angry I was that she did not come for us to escape with her like other parents did for their children. You told me to shush, because we did not have all the information.

That was the only thing you were wrong about, because she was in a flat in London, while we dodged snakes for in search of wild mushroom for dinner. I will not recount our expedition from Kigali because you saw what I saw. Although aunt Verna, and probably you, probably thought that I was sleeping. I tried to close my eyes a lot because I was aghast at seeing bodies without arms, legs or heads, but something forced me to look ever so slightly, and I did.

The image of a little boy with one hand who I saw in the bush, shaking a woman lying on the ground who must have been his mother, has remained with me to this moment.

When I told aunt Verna who had stopped briefly to see properly, with me strapped to her back, that the boy was hungry, she told me harshly to keep quiet, as we swiftly walked on. I took a part of that boy with me because he stood in front of me in the dungeon for several months, as he extended his hand his hand to me.

The bad guys must have mutilated him and left him for dead and indeed he must have had a horrible end. I thought long after how the poor child had woken up in excruciating pain, one hand cut off, hungry, bleeding, lying among the dead, and weakly rocking an unresponsive mum. I saw his image many nights and he was watching the hyenas he saw, as they continued gnawing on bodies next to him and then going for him too and pulling at him as he cried and cried. I have always felt that it was my fault.

Why didn’t I offer to walk so that aunt verna would have carried that badly injured boy to the mission instead? I know that it is because I am a bad person and was responsible for the inevitable death of an injured little boy. I was selfish and kept quiet.

Having been in the dungeon and the house, before the camp, I can now say that the dungeon was actually not so bad, but it had bad people like me. I think that I was responsible for little Claudia’s death. I often remember the chats we had, where I assured her that the bad guys were going to find us, and narrated to her in a whisper about the little boy with one hand in the bush surrounded by corpses.

We were not allowed to talk about what we had seen to the other kids, but I did. Claudia cried and told me that she wanted her mum and did not want to be thrown in the bush with corpses, after her hand was cut off.

I know that we were about the same age, but I should have looked after her and maybe not told her about that boy, because she was only five years old and was scared. I am certain she became very sad, that is why she died.

My biggest troubles started when we were in the refugee camp. I am sorry that I could not tell you and kept a grimy secret, but the only reason I did so was because I loved you so much and I needed to protect you. I was sternly warned by the old man that you would not see another day if I let anyone find out the filthy secret.

It started one morning when I was sick… I had been vomiting all night and the old woman, Mutosi, allowed me to stay at home and not go to fetch water, she instead sent you.

The grubby old man, Soguku, came to my sleeping mat and lifted me onto his lap, he did not have any cloth underneath his mushanana (the traditional cloth like a bed sheet tied in a knot over one shoulder).

In a split second he threw me hard onto the mat on my back and took off my knickers, saying with a horrible grin that,

“You need an injection for your malaria.”

My back hurt, my head throbbed and I was so petrified and confused. As he spread my legs so wide they really hurt, I was unaware that the worst was yet to come as he dropped his full weight on me and thrust his genitalia into my private parts.

It was the greatest pain ever, cutting through my whole body as he thrust back and forth, while he gagged my mouth so I could not cry. He became more violent and made horrible grunting noises, then got off me

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Written by Alfred Galandi (1)

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The Wilted Lily