Our dad’s funeral was held in Kigali. He was laid to rest next to his parents’ graves in Mugambazi, an agricultural town in Rulindo District, one hour north of Kigali by road. He was born and bred there to abject poverty. The eldest of twelve siblings, he worked his ass off juggling school and housework. He was technically like the third parent to his other siblings.
It was quite the balancing act for a young man growing up in post-colonial Rwanda.
A cognitively gifted boy, he earned a scholarship from the Aga Khan Foundation to study criminology at the University of Bordeaux in southwestern France.
He graduated magna cum laude and was immediately offered a job by the French ministry for Internal Security. He’d turn it down to come back home and help out raising the rest of his brothers and sisters. His ageing father was also ailing and his days were seriously numbered. Years of smoking were finally catching up to him and his body wasn’t handling the chemo sessions well. Doctors had condemned him to less than a year of life. “Put your affairs in order,” they said.
With papers from a foreign university, it did not take long for my dad to get a good job in Kigali after his return. With the Rwandese Investigation Bureau, no less. Most of his earnings from his first job, however well-paying it was, were soaked up by hospital bills for the chemo sessions. Harambees were done but there was no saving Mr. Ikirezi.
Our mom would be buried in her hometown Thika, an hour’s drive from Nairobi. I will not be in attendance. It was my longest and most painful day.
Oduh frantically scrambled a few motions for filing but they were all denied. Ms. Achieng’, having had no kids of her own, clearly couldn’t empathize with my situation. She used the same words she had quoted during my bail hearing – while appreciating he has no criminal history, the court considers the accused a flight risk.
Mom died on February 8. Today is the 14th.
Sisi and Oduh pass by after the ceremony. Her eulogy made my eyes wet.
“Aunt Nyambu said hello,” Sisi utters as she eases into the chair across the table.
“Oooh, she made it to her sister’s funeral. That’s progress.”
“She says she’d have loved to come see you but Njenga has a meeting with the Commissioner General later this evening. So, they couldn’t stay long.”
“I’m surprised that bastard came, let alone allowing Nyambu. We’re the kids there as well?”
“Just the little boys and the girl in high school. Waiyaki is still in Newcastle finishing up his thesis and Shiku has her final exams down in Capetown.”
“I miss those kids. And I feel sorry for them. In a way, we have quite a bit in common. Our freedom is seriously controlled.”
“Too bad it took their aunt dying for them to come visit.”
We spend almost an hour talking about other family members and we share some good laughs. For a minute I forget I’m still locked up.
“Keep it down in there, or we call it a visit, “ the guard outside the visitation room bangs on the door and shouts.
“He’s talking to you Sisi,” I joke. “That laugh of yours can be heard from a mile away you know.”
We both laugh at this.
“I should get going now,” she gets up and straightens her black coat.
“I love big bro,” she says in my ear.
“I love you too sis.”
She hangs her tote over her left shoulder, walks to the steel door and taps on it.
It swings open and JB, the guard, walks in. I place my hands before him and the cuffs are placed around my wrists. Standard procedure.
JB, despite being a guard, is a friendly guy who looks and acts rational. Unlike everyone else in the corrupt correctional system, he doesn’t treat me like a criminal. He seems to be the only one who still believes in the presumption of innocence. Usually, visits are restricted to an hour only during weekends. But he’s gracious enough to allow us more time.
He holds my elbow and leads me back to my cell.
Newton’s third law of motion states, “for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” Sisi is organizing an internship for his daughter at the Hospital at my request. He was good to me and I instantly felt the urge to reciprocate.
I lay on my back in my bed and feel a calmness that has been hard to come by lately.
Frankly, with everything that’s happened, suicide has crossed my mind severally. But the thought of dying having not cleared my name disturbs me deeply. My newborn also gives me reason to hold on.
I haven’t seen Maya for two weeks now. Understandably so. She’s still in hospital with our baby girl. They’ll be there for another four weeks or so. We talk on the phone though. But not as often as I would like. Then again, that’s the purpose of being behind bars. Isolation from the rest of the population for us criminals. Maya sends photos of the little one to me through Sisi’s phone. They almost always make me shed a tear, something I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Since our daughter was born prematurely, she’s still quite tiny. But I can tell she has the spirit of a fighter. She’s a survivor and so am I. I’ll fight on my end and you do that as well Baby Girl.
Tears flow freely down my cheeks once I remember how much mom would have loved seeing her granddaughter, holding her, and helping in raising her. Fate would not allow them to meet.