Damien’s Shoes

by Ret’sepile Makamane

My son, Damien, makes fires that flicker throughout rainy June nights. He moves about the shores of Lake Muhazi, lighting a new fire on a new spot every night. People who travel to Kayonza come back to Kigali with stories of having seen him during the rainy season as the smokes of his fires constantly go up to the skies, like a man cast away and looking for rescue. Those who have travelled and visited relatives with houses on the hills around Lake Muhazi in recent years to observe his activities say that my son sails up and down the lake during the day, busy ferrying passengers with completely covered faces to the other side. Others even claim that they have seen him up close, and that unlike other undead dead people he does not run away or conceal his face when you approach him. He has remained ten years old throughout the years, only bits of his hair are beginning to grey now.

When his boat work is done in the evenings, he plays his flute into the night, calming Lake Muhazi into even more stillness. He plays the flute so dedicatedly, earnestly, its melody so piercing, with sorrow so intense – a child blowing all his young soul into a musical instrument just so our land can heal. His flute wakes God from his deep sleep, – since Damien has already given God a few warnings, I hear – saying to God, “Thou Shalt Not Sleep, never. Not here in Rwanda, not anymore! Find yourself another bedroom.” Because God used to sleep here in Rwanda, you know. Lately, God stays awake at night looking intently at the world map, planning to migrate.

I carry with me Damien’s one shoe. He is barefoot, Damien, my boy, that is why he has to make these random fires when it rains in June – to warm his feet. I rescued this shoe from the mouth of a stray dog which made me run and chase it until I was panting like a hound myself. That was back in ninety-four. I was still a young man in those days. Oh, but that dog was not the end of my troubles. I have aged double while walking these hills and valleys with acacia and guava and mango trees, without even seeing their beauty anymore. Walking with a tormented soul, looking for Damien to put on his shoe on the other foot. Blaming myself, sixteen years moiling and roiling through these mangroves and swamps, looking on every street corner, every pathway. Asking strangers and returning exiles over the years, “Have you seen a boy so beautiful, dark, like rich black oak his skin, have you seen my Damien in your travels, a boy wearing one Adidas shoe, have you seen my son? Tell me, please!” And strangers and familiar faces alike walk on, not hearing me, not looking my way, not noticing me because you know I am dead too. But unlike Damien, I cannot seem to move. I cannot make it past death nor back to life and cannot make myself seen – even when I do need help. And I cannot even walk to that damn lake to give my son his shoe. I am stuck. Because I asked for my own death, and when they refused, I went ahead and died from grief.

I would not mind this limbo if it was not for June and her tormenting rains that thrust my memories and emotions into such turmoil, cutting and tearing me up inside, and leaving me longing so badly, so badly to say, “Damien, here is your other shoe – wear them both, son. It is raining outside.”

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