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Abenea Ndago | A Theory of Kigali

The connecting flight from Heathrow has arrived. The last passenger to board is a twelve-year-old Coloured boy who carries a white terrier doll under his armpit. He pants to the window seat beside my aisle one, guilt written on his back, and I know he is the schoolchild who delayed us because he had to connect to Johannesburg from London via Kigali.

‘Why did you keep us here,’ my voice does not ask.

‘Sorry,’ he rests the terrier on his lap and belts up. ‘I’m so sorry, my good Sir.’

‘Your name.’

‘Carelse, Sir.’

‘What happened.’

‘Our flight departed late from London.’

‘The name of your dog.’

‘Whitey, Sir.’

‘Because it is white.’

 ‘Not at all, Sir – niks niks.’

Niks niks. The Afrikaans word every South African uses for nil nil.

Two combat helicopters hang on the edges of Kigali International Airport. One rises, flaps, and perches on its belly. The second does the same. Both aircrafts repeat the ritual several times and, with two security cars hidden in the grass to our left when our plane brakes and does the final turn before the take-off, the cars’ orange lights blinking, I imagine the thick Airport atmosphere recreates secrets of 1994. Mugo told me the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front-Inkotanyi defeated the then genocidaire National Revolutionary Movement for Development only after RPF soldiers took over this Airport.

Our plane tilts her blue nose up the runway and lifts with a rough, dry kiss against the hot tarmac. The left wing, my side, dips, and the whole of Kigali City is a quick valley we can crash into and burn. I wonder which of these places is Kicukiro because Iradukunda told me it is the neighbourhood she lives in. Mugo too.

We are crossing the Zambezi River after hours. Carelse’s face is against the aircraft window and we see the river far below us, its water solid and glassy. The Rwandese hostesses serve us lunch. Their banana skin and naked eyeballs bring back Iradukunda.

Carelse rises to join the queue to the toilet but something drops onto the passenger behind him. Curses erupt there in the Kinyarwanda language. A woman throws the terrier back at Carelse. He and I wonder what the problem is with a mere terrier dog for a doll.                                 

I doze off with Iradukunda and Mugo in my mind and wake up when two hostesses spray the insecticide that says apartheid has a long way before it disappears because South African law says insects from other African countries must not reach OR Tambo International Airport alive when the mopani worms we airlift from Joburg reach Jomo Kenyatta International Airport without insecticide incidents.

I am back in Kicukiro after months and like the salongo work Iradukunda took me to do yesterday. We will not go anywhere today. Just sit in her house and submit as I already have, while she teaches me the Intore Dance. I like the slow, rippling movements Iradukunda makes with her body in the first part of the dance for women. She ends it with an elongated neck, the hips raised in a curve, trapped in the anger of Mount Nyiragongo volcano, both arms shaped like cow horns. She must sit quietly on the sofa if a dog barks and watch me struggle through the second part of the warrior dance while I jump and stamp my feet on the floor. But both of us will take the floor and tie the third part of the dance she calls the drums.

Mugo has driven me to the Airport. ‘She did not drive you here today.’

‘Iradukunda refused to.’

‘Kwa nini?’

‘Sijui,’ I open the boot. ‘But a neighbour keeps a dog across the ridge from Iradukunda’s Kicukiro house. I realise her mood changes every time the dog barks. Today it barked when we were about to leave for the airport and Iradukunda said she would not see me off.’

‘Oh, I know why.’

‘Ni kwa nini?’

‘Dogs ate dead bodies here in Kigali during the 1994 Genocide.’

I farewell Mugo and drag my luggage into the airport for a flight to Nairobi via Entebbe.


Image: ooceey via Pixabay modified

Abenea Ndago
Abenea Ndago
Abenea Ndago is a Kenyan writer/scholar. He has published Voices (2017), Crossing the Border (2018), Lord Kitchener (2023), and several short stories.


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