I feel betrayed by those I helped. Was I a fool? What did I to Imana that we should be hounded like this? I want to cry but no tears come. I force myself to smile; the children shouldn’t see me crying. I notice a string of banana fibre in the hedge, detach it patiently and slide it through the hooks on my waistband. Don’t we say iyo udafite umukandara ukenyeza umugozi- if you don’t have a belt, use a string? Make do with what you have. The Plumpness that once held my jeans has deserted me.

Shrill whistles. One long sound followed by two short then someone responds, in the distance, with three short whistles. Whatever they mean, we have no other options, so we rush to Mukecuru’s house.

Mukecuru is a disheveled little old lady. She’s wearing a many-coloured cloth, a long red skirt and a brownish T-shirt. Her feet are bare, with dirt between her toes. She cries when she sees us and hides us straight away in a tiny windowless room that we cram into as best we can. We hear her pushing a sorghum grinder in front of the door with all her meager strength. The weight of this pair of stones, one large and hollowed out, the other an oblong pestle, will surely dissuade the murderers from looking any further.

Almost immediately, the interahamwe arrive and search the house.

‘Are you sure they didn’t get in without you knowing?’

Mukecuru replies with poise: ‘Absolutely sure. I was sitting right there at the door where you found me. But if I see them, I’ll give you one long and two short whistles.’

‘How good you are, Mukecuru. The Hutus will know how to thank you!’

We spend all day in this dark room, speaking in whispers, my family reunited. Nadine moans a little, she’s thirsty. A banana leaf slid under the door makes us jump. I bend over to smell it. Boiled rice! ‘Thank you, Mukecuru.’

‘Quiet, you’re going to give yourself away!’

Other leaves follow. More rice, crushed broad beans, and finally some water that Mukecuru pours under the door and that we suck up from the smooth earth floor on our hands and knees.

‘Silence, you thirsty lot!’

Around midnight, we hear a man whining, asking questions. It must be Andre’s father. Why has Mukecuru moved the sorghum grinder? To clean the kitchen, she says. To clean? But she hasn’t cleaned anything. It’s true, she says, she was interrupted by the Interahamwe who came to interrogate her for ages about the people they said had passed by her house.

Two hours later we recognize Andre’s voice. His father shouts at him, blames and insults him. ‘What? You’ve been through all the bush and you haven’t found them!’

‘I don’t know how they escaped, Father. They’re so cunning.’

‘And you, you’re stupid. They must have played tricks on you and you believed them. I must have Muganga, I must! They’ve promised that whoever finds Muganga won’t have any more problems. Who were you talking to in the bush this morning?’

‘A militia man who was lying in wait for them.’

‘What was his name?’

‘I don’t know. I didn’t know him.’

‘I’m telling you that militia man will end up finding Muganga before me, and then I’ll look like a fool because I promised I would catch her.’

The conversation breaks off, interrupted by whistles in the distance. I’m exhausted and begin to drift off to sleep.

All of a sudden, someone kicks the door in and light dazzles my eyes. A small man stands in front of me and shouts: ‘I knew it! Since yesterday I’ve had a feeling that you were hiding here! My son gave it away; he was sweating like a thief when I questioned him.’

‘If you knew, why didn’t you kill me yesterday?’

My calm throws him off-balance. He hesitates, then says: ‘It’s because I like you a lot, Yolande. I didn’t want to hurt you, but I’m obliged to kill you.’

Mukecuru intervenes. ‘If you shed a drop of Tutsi blood, may that blood haunt you and your descendants. I’m your mother, Jean, don’t forget.’

‘I don’t care! All I want is for them to leave.’

He grasps me with a weak hand. I resist, get up and tower over him. ‘If you want to kill me, go ahead. You have a machete in your hand. Kill me and kill my children too.’

My ruse saves our lives. Jean throws us out, but shows us a path that will lead straight to our house without being seen. He is a fanatic who knows how to hate but doesn’t know how to kill. Or is he heading to our house to kill us without his mother knowing? The genocide has started to exude its poison into our bodies, affecting every organ. Families are tearing apart; sons no longer respect their mothers; brothers no longer respect their sisters; and he who loved his fellow man now has a heart of stone.

Excerpt from Not my time to die by Yolande Mukagasana, Page 42-44.

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