“Who is that?” Emmanuel asked in a hushed voice.
“He’s not one of us,” Daniel said, peeking behind their blue tent at a doctor who was treating a woman with a high fever.
The doctor appeared to be a younger adult and was not as tall as Roger’s father had been. He stood out in the camp, for he had clean clothes and a walk of confidence and strength. The man glowed in comparison to those he was treating.
“No one helps the dying like this,” Daniel said in wonder of the mysterious man. They had never seen a doctor using Western medical techniques before.
“I heard that he has powers,” Emmanuel whispered.
“A gift from God,” Roger said with a breathless voice that revealed his curiosity. He approached the man.
“Who are you?” Roger asked him.
“You can call me Ekow,” the doctor said, turning toward Roger. “Ekow? Where are you from?” Roger asked.
“Ghana.” Ekow spoke quietly and slowly, as if each word was a lullaby. “Why are you so different? How did you get here? What are you doing to her?”
“So many questions.” Ekow smiled. “I am a doctor and I trained far from here, far from Ghana. Do you know where Ghana is?”
“Yes, I learned it in school.” “What about Europe?” “Europe?”
“That’s where I learned medicine. The old ways were not working, so I learned the ways that could work. I was looking to help the sick, and I looked all the way here,” Ekow, said as he sat down next to Roger.
“Can I learn too?” Roger did not know where Europe was, except that it probably wasn’t in Africa. He was willing to go anywhere if it meant leaving the diseases and violence behind.
“Only if you’re willing to,” Ekow said. “I am.”
“Would you take me with you?” Roger asked.
Ekow’s eyes narrowed and his lips curled into a frown. “I can’t this time. I should be back in a few months.”
A few months could be a very long time for a child in the refugee camps. Shortly before fleeing his farm, Roger had learned that thirty sunrises was called a month. Many refugees died after a handful of sunrises, and survival became a bigger challenge with each new day. To survive over a hundred sunrises until Ekow returned seemed impossible.
“Can I go with you next time?” Roger asked. “Only if you’re willing to,” Ekow said.
“Can my brothers come too?”
“How many?” Ekow asked quietly. Roger barely heard him but it seemed as though Ekow sounded upset.
“Two, Daniel and Emmanuel.” He gestured back towards the blue tent where the hands and faces of the two children could be seen sticking out from the edge of the tent.
Ekow looked at Daniel and Emmanuel for a few seconds then said, “I’m sorry. If you want to stay with your brothers, you can, but I cannot give space to all three of you.”
Roger glanced back at his brothers for a second and then looked back towards Ekow. Roger looked towards the sick woman who was behind Ekow. “Will you save her?” Roger asked.
“Yes, I will,” Ekow said as he looked over his shoulder at her. He turned back to Roger and said, “Plus many others. I won’t let these people die.”
“I’ll go with you,” Roger said.
Roger was brought back to his room as a sudden thud forced his thoughts of the past to retreat. He could hear laughing and yelling from outside his building. There was another thud and Roger realized someone was hitting the door to the building. I wonder who it is. Maybe someone forgot their key.
Roger leaned over his desk to reach for his blinds so he could get a better look. As he began to pull the blinds up, he was greeted by an orange object smashing against his window. He immediately leapt back at the the sudden sight and the booming sound that acted as its companion.
He squinted slightly, trying to determine what the object had been. It had left a small amount of residue on his window which looked like paste. Then another object collided with his window along with another bang. He realized that whoever was outside was throwing pieces of pumpkin at his window.
He closed his eyes and took a slow breath, assuming that the cheering people outside were drunk and would eventually move along onto something else. He just had to wait. He had been doing it for decades—he could wait a few seconds more. He opened his eyes in time to see a third piece of pumpkin invite itself to the glass of his window. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. He leaned over to lower his blinds, which had only partially opened. As he reached for the cord of the blinds, the people outside stopped throwing pieces.
Instead, someone decided to throw an entire pumpkin at his window. And they decided to throw it as hard as they could. It struck his window just as he began to pull the blind down. The sound it created was closer to a gunshot than an instrument. The noise was joined by a faint cracking sound as the pumpkin proved itself to be stronger than the window. Roger felt the fear from minutes before return.
Was this what the J’ba Fofi was afraid of?
Roger had almost shouted at the sight of the pumpkin flying towards him. Now his heartbeat was muting any sounds from outside and he began to feel his chest being prodded along with a sudden desire to vomit. He collapsed to the floor as his vision became unfocused and his thoughts turned once again to the past. This memory was different, for it forced its way into his mind as if it were that pumpkin breaking through the window.
He could see a man with a machine gun yelling out to a crowd surrounding him. His brothers were there too and they looked just as afraid as he felt.
Suddenly the man with the machine gun turned to Roger and began yelling in a language Roger didn’t understand. Roger tried speaking in English, then in French, but the man shoved the gun into Roger’s mouth and stood silently, watching him.
All around them, plastic tents of various colors were being knocked over and searched by Rwandan rebels. It was a raid to find women and food. It was also an excuse for the rebels to abuse the little power they had. They had guns and were looking for a reason to use them.
Minutes passed. The refugees all stood perfectly still in absolute silence. Their eyes were on Roger, the epicenter of tension. Everyone in the camp was waiting for Roger to die. But he didn’t die. In a final attempt to telepathically communicate with God, he thought of as many prayers as he could. But the rebel did not fire his gun.
The rebel slowly pulled out the gun and said in English, “You are nothing to me. You can live or die. I don’t care.” The rebel then took a knife and waved it in front of Roger.
“This knife and this gun. Remember who has the power,” the rebel said. Then the knife was deep in Roger’s leg and there were screams. Gunshots. People running on the dirt and grass. Tents falling. His brother’s face. Roger couldn’t tell where bodies had started to fall and where the last one had fallen. “I don’t want to think about this. I don’t want to think about this. I don’t want to think about this.” Roger kept shouting these words as if they would protect him from the pain he was reliving.
It was a memory that replayed itself over and over, a clear recording of that most terrifying moment. Roger hadn’t seen the memory in such detail since coming to the United States, so he had thought that he had finally made progress. Now he knew that the memory had tricked him, waited for him to become completely unsuspecting before rising and striking again. He wasn’t sure what to be more afraid of: the fighting within the Democratic Republic of Congo, his own memory, or the people outside the building who were ignorant to what was going on in Roger’s room.
“They don’t know,” he said, unsure if that made him angrier or empathetic.
The sounds of the yelling began to fade, as the people outside grew bored of their evening activity. Roger remained on the floor listening to his heartbeat pulse through his entire body.
He began to hum the song “Roger Milla” once again, in an attempt to force the anxiety to fly out of his vocal cords in a buzzing swarm and disappear into the night. After humming the song for twenty minutes, Roger slowly got up and once again looked at the textbook sitting open on his desk. “They become one.” Daniel’s words came out from between Roger’s lips. Roger thought of his father, of Daniel and Emmanuel, of Ekow, of Dr. Graceman. For a second he even thought of God, after years of doubt.
Roger sat down at his chair and took a deep breath. As he exhaled, he picked up a pen and prepared himself for another hour of studying.
The night became quiet except for the music of Pépé Kallé. “Good thing I’m not alone,” Roger said with a smile.
Brandon Rumaker is a senior at SUNY Geneseo studying Psychology. He is from Ossining, New York and enjoys films. He would like to have tea with David Lynch, though he would probably leave more confused than he came.
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