This story was inspired by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which about 800,000 people were killed because of their ethnicity. April 7 marks the twentieth anniversary of start of the violence.
“For the first time, I felt alive. Death is now the past...” Amanda sang as she walked on a wet May morning. The day was young, yet the rain beat heavily on the delicate scalp lines between her braids. The puddles on the pathways of Assin village were like mini streams, and she could have sworn she saw two herring fish in the puddle close to the well.
Amanda was proud to know all four corners of her village, but she had never noticed the new house protruding behind a collage of trees. Its walls were as tall as five of her walls meshed together. Curious, she crept steadily toward the house as though she were submerged in a trance. She soon found herself in front of the gate, moving her head like a lizard to catch a glimpse of the new family.
“Who are you, and what are you doing?” a voice asked.
“I – I – I’m sorry,” she said, her voice mimicking the choppiness of her heartbeat. Her apprehension instructed her legs to move, and soon she was running the same way she had come. She heard the voice laughing.
“What has this world come to?” Aunty Miren exclaimed. Her cries pierced through the silence of the Tuesday morning.
“What’s the matter?’ Amanda inquired, rubbing her almond-shaped eyes and stretching her arms to release her from sleep mode as she entered the living room.
“The new family with that big house is Ekusi,” Aunty said.
“Oh, aunty! We were enemies millions of years ago. Now we are all the same. We even speak the same language!”
“Amanda, you are only 16. You’re too young to understand history.”
“You can’t think we’re different just because the white man treated some better than others.”
“Whatever you do, please stay away from the members of that family,” Aunty Miren warned. Annoyed that issues were resurfacing in her culture, Amanda did not respond. Her parents had been killed when she was only 4 because the village elders did not approve of her Assin dad marrying her Ekusi mum. If only people didn’t worry about Assin this, Ekusi that, they could have still been here, and none of this would have...
Her aunty interrupted her thoughts. “Amanda, I will be going to see the chief to discuss the new family, so look after your little cousin, okay? When someone calls you, don’t go, and if….”
“Okay, aunty, Kofi will be fine,” Amanda said in an exaggerated tone to tease her. When Aunty Miren left, she began her daily chores and rushed into the house when she heard Kofi's faint cries.
“Kofi, what is wrong?” she asked.
“I’m afraid,” he replied. Tears were streaming down his face like a cascade, wetting his curled eyelashes. It lined his skin, which was unperturbed by puberty.
“It’s going to be fine, Kofi. It was just a bad dream.”
Amanda sang the song her mother would whisper to her at night when Amanda was much younger:
“For the first time I felt alive,
Death is now the past and you are my present
I know we will last,
Into the future we might dive
But you were always the reason I live."
“Is anybody home?” she heard a familiar voice call. She peeked out of Kofi’s window to see the owner of the voice. His face was familiar. And then it clicked. She remembered that morning at the new house. It must be same person. She contemplated whether to respond or to keep her distance since Aunty Miren had warned her about the new family.
Her curiosity overcame her again, and she found herself asking, “Do you need anything?”
“Finally, someone from this village who is speaking to me!” He smiled, and Amanda looked away, realizing that his smile was acting like a magnet, attracting her toward him. He seemed to be only about a year older than her but was a lot taller than she was with a sharp jaw bone and silky, chocolate skin. When she looked in his eyes, she saw the color of the freshly polished tables in their living room.
“Oh erm...what did you need, again?” she asked, embarrassed that he had caught her staring.
“I just wanted to know which road to take to the chief’s palace.”
“Oh, just keep walking straight ahead, and it will be the tall building on your right.”
“Thank you. I have to speak to the chief urgently.”
“What about?” She blurted and cringed, annoyed that she had revealed her inquisitiveness and realising she had never embarrassed herself so many times around one person. She had this strange attraction to him, but she knew he would never like her. The image she saw in the mirror reminded her of that fact every day. She overlooked the rhythmic sway of her hips when she walked and the perfect arrangement of pearls which shone when she smiled. She always hoped that someone as handsome as him would sweep her in his arms one day and carry her into the moonlight. She realized she had been reading too many Danielle Steel books.
“It is just to do with the tension between the two groups.” He left the compound but his words were still tattooed on her thoughts. She had noticed that scores of Assin people were leaving. People never left the Assin village. That was strange. And then a word ignited in her mind: war.
One morning, Amanda heard a deafening sound coming from the chief’s palace, and soon, Aunty Miren told her that the chief had been assassinated, and the people of Ekusi were responsible. Then, Amanda was reluctant to admit to herself that the sound of the gunshot signaled the revival of age-old tensions between the Ekusi and the Assin.
Amanda was frightened, and she hardly slept during the night, scared that a soldier might enter and take Kofi and Aunty Miren away. She awakened one morning to see the bodies of her Assin neighbors lying lifeless on their doorstep. Flashes of the grotesque scene still haunted her occasionally. She missed her daily walks around the village she cherished, and she never went to school because there were Ekusi soldiers on all the roads, armed with machetes and guns and stained with unpleasant facial expressions. They ruined the picturesque nature of the village.
After Aunty Miren had left one afternoon to meet with the village elders, the foreign face showed up again, wearing the same gray shirt he had worn the other day. It was a bittersweet moment for her: joy at seeing his smile again and anger that the people of his tribe were killing her people.
“Good morning! I’ve realized I still haven’t told you my name. It’s Asamoah,” he said.
“Morning, and I am Amanda,” she replied. There were about 26 seconds of awkward silence. She counted.
“Do you need anything?” she asked to fill in the silence.
“No, I just wanted some peace and quiet from gunshots and war talk,” he said while laughing. “It’s so unpleasant. Can’t we just agree to disagree and move on?”
“If only...” Amanda replied. She wasn’t thinking about her words because her concentration was now fully on his face, and nothing else mattered until she heard screams close by. She ran to the source of the commotion. Amanda’s heart was now safely in her stomach, her eyes were as wide as a stretched soccer ball and her legs quivered like a frightened mouse. Aunty Miren was on the floor, covered in blood, and she was stiff. Amanda attempted to scream, but Asamoah covered her mouth.
“If you scream, they will come after us,” he whispered.
Amanda did not know what to say or what to do. She was gasping as she struggled to break free from Asamoah’s grip so she could run after the soldiers. So she could bring her aunty back to life.