The Strange Face of Junior Chapter 3

By Pierre Gasore

There was a hubbub in Wanja’s living room. People were chatting Africanly, the Junta was gossiping. The atmosphere was festive but it wasn’t too crowded… Nora was very busy, and old Eliza looked after the child just as she had looked after Wanja during her pregnancy. Koffi was quietly sipping his wine. He was accompanied by a young student, an advocate of active nonviolence who was also from Togo. He was doing an MBA at Nairobi University and taking some courses at USIU, the American University of Nairobi. He planned to go to America one day. In the meantime, he was learning about the “American way of life.” He figured that attending an American university would give him the opportunity to forge some pro-American, antiterrorist contacts. He’d been appalled by the bombing of the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in September 1998 and, of course, the resulting loss of human life. Why did the events that shook America, and Americans, regularly occur in September? What was going to happen next year? Homer wondered. Bombings, hurricanes… God save America.

Homer kept Koffi company. They spoke French as usual. From time to time the Junta stopped their gossiping to listen to the two men’s melodious West African French. Koffi gestured to Homer to indicate that it was time to call it a night, as it were. One of Wanja’s friends noticed the gesture and insisted that Koffi have another glass of red wine. There was also an assortment of fragrant dishes. It was self-serve. Wanja had hired a cordon bleu chef, chef Wanyoike from the Six Eighty Hotel, to cook for her guests for the entire week, and he had prepared dishes specially for the occasion.

“We are listening,” Suzy said to Koffi. The latter hesitated to take the floor. Homer reassured him: here, on such occasions, it was customary for a woman to be master of ceremonies.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” improvised Koffi. He continued in woeful English, leaving it to Homer to correctly interpret his speech: “I am very happy and proud to be here today at the birth of my son, Koffi Junior…” Applause, shouts of joy. Wanja, who was still convalescent, listened seriously and very attentively.

“I am a lucky man,” continued Koffi, “because with my first wife Aiissatou…” One of the women of the Junta whispered, “A Senegalese!” But Koffi continued unfazed, “Aiissatou and I have five daughters, and I’m getting on in years, I’m nearing retirement… I was starting to think that I would grow old and pass on without leaving an heir, even though I know that women now have inheritance rights too, to appease the feminists…” Shouts of joy.

“I am delighted to have an heir. Wanja clearly brings me luck—since I’ve been with her, I haven’t had any trouble at work, I’ve even been promoted…” Applause.

“I don’t have anything else to say. I must go. Make yourselves at home and keep the party going, I believe you have everything you need, and you’ll have everything you need as long as I’m around…” Applause, shouts of joy. “Vigelegele!” “Ndelemo!”

Koffi sat down a little emotional next to Wanja, who brightened up. Koffi emptied his glass while thanking Homer for his simultaneous translation. Eliza seemed happier than all of the beautiful young East African women of the Junta.

Barely outside, Koffi and Homer heard a song rise up, punctuated by shouts of joy and accompanied by some dancing. The well-known chorus went, “Welukamu u”: welcome, VIP guests! Welcome… The change in atmosphere made Koffi think that his presence had intimidated the women. Old Eliza continued to look at the child as if she were a scholar searching for signs of resemblance to Koffi, an elegant man who was neither too slim nor too stocky but whose nose was very prominent and perhaps too heavy for his frame: it must have weighed at least half a kilo on a man who was almost seventy-five kilos. This nose—eager to breathe in all the wind in the world, as Bernard Dadier would say—had left an impression on Eliza and made it difficult for her to imagine Junior in the future all grown up.

Suzy was very pleased with the party. Indeed, it was she who had introduced Koffi to Wanja some time ago. The women all agreed that the baby really looked like Koffi: he had Koffi’s eyes (in fact the baby was sleeping), his legs, and even his back! In short, the baby was a carbon copy of his father. Only his forehead looked like Wanja’s. Other than that, it was Koffi himself who had come out of Wanja’s womb.

Just then, to shouts of “Welukamu u,” someone knocked on the door. It was a messenger sent by Mwamba the Taita who had come to announce the imminent arrival of the child’s second father. Suzy welcomed the messenger as if he were Mwamba himself, with immense respect. He was accompanied by several well-dressed young women and children who had all come to see the baby. The group of people from earlier in the day had just left. Suzy had no trouble welcoming the new group and anyway, Wanja’s living room was huge, there was room for everyone. While the young women were admiring the child, someone knocked on the door. Suzy was obliging as always, plus she wanted to see Mwamba, whom she did not know. She only knew he was a banker.

Mwamba was welcomed with all the respect due to a head of the family, but his taciturn demeanor was hard to interpret. He wasn’t as sure of himself as Koffi the Togolese had been.

The gossiping resumed in earnest, and it was time for the guests to give out some envelopes in exchange for the reception that had been organized for them. Old Eliza cast a questioning glance at Mwamba. His calmness impressed her. Then she was called away. Everyone needed her, it seemed: now she was in the kitchen, now welcoming new arrivals, now whispering with Wanja and taking part in the general gossip.

Mwamba gestured to his companion, John Kiboro, the big daddy in Rwanda. Suzy noticed Kiboro looking at his watch and insisted that everyone stay for lunch. Mwamba didn’t drink, but his friend was having a Smirnoff cocktail. Eventually the floor was given to Mwamba, who made a very brief speech in Swahili and soberly handed out a few gifts.

“Ladies and gentlemen, dear compatriots, thank you for your warm welcome, and for the support that you have given Wanja, myself, and the newborn baby, who is the fruit of our love. The child’s name is Mwamba Junior. We will decide on a first name later. Since Wanja and I practice different religions, we will wait until he is old enough to choose his religion and his own first name.”

Mwamba had a voice that didn’t carry well, so you had to listen closely when he spoke. He would have made a good adviser but a very bad preacher. In Kenya, preaching —there’s no such thing as a stupid job—is one of the activities that has flourished in the informal Jua Kali sector. The Jua Kali market is open for all, so when it comes to religion, no one has a monopoly on proclaiming the word of God. Fortunately, Mwamba pursued a career at the bank, a very quiet place.

After thanking everyone for coming to Wanja’s celebration, he beckoned his aide-de-camp, Kiboro, to distribute the gifts. Kiboro brought out a huge shield—a ngao—and laid it down next to Mwamba Junior’s bedding. Mwamba was visibly intimidated by the female Junta, even though they weren’t the only guests—some men are never at ease in the presence of women. The Junta was bustling about in the kitchen, the living room, and outside. Junior’s birth had drawn so many new people into Wanya’s circle. The laying down of the shield required no comment: it announced the birth of a warrior.

Junior was his first son, Mwamba said, even though he appeared to be on the older side—his premature baldness was to blame for that! Then he got down to business. He swore that the child would go to the best schools in the country and that as long as Mwamba lived he would always have his bread buttered on both sides. Via his aide, he coolly handed Wanja a check for two hundred thousand Kenyan shillings, to the astonishment of everyone there. The aide drank from his Smirnoff cocktail. Mwamba’s calmness was rather intimidating, and Suzy wanted to raise a toast to loosen him up, but the Protestant banker was drinking soda. Yet there was something odd about his drink. Then Mwamba’s mood changed, revealing that he was a Protestant by day and a Catholic by night—after all, the Church of Christ is universal. Hallelujah!

It was very cold that year—the cold weather made even the softest butt firm, as one of the young women remarked… Just as Mwamba and Kiboro made ready to leave, someone knocked. It was Amani the Reggae Man, who recognized Mwamba, his banker, and so he made himself scarce. There was a prolonged murmur and then Mwamba said that he and his aide Kiboro had to go. He thanked everyone, kissed Wanja, and stroked Junior’s forehead before leaving just as he had come: without an heir!

Eliza’s tender gaze did not disguise her concerns. Whom did this child, this new Redeemer who was being venerated in a way that recalled the Magi in the story of the Nativity, belong to? Should he be hidden away from our present-day dictator? Eliza wondered.

She’d been visibly intrigued by the speeches made by the two potential fathers, Koffi the Togolese, who everyone called Anna, and Mwamba the Taciturn. Just then, a messenger sent by the Reggae Man announced that the tent had been pitched. They were ready, and it was time to “bring out the child.”

As Amani had planned, the gift-giving and the speech were going to take place outside, with the tent reserved for the child and VIP guests, because he had arranged for Hoza to perform. An international ballet company made up of Hutu refugees in Nairobi, Hoza was at the time directed by a certain Kagoro, the son of Seka, who was the son of Gororoka. Kagoro’s euphonious voice was legendary in Rwanda and beyond. The previous day, the men at Wanja’s had helped Kaparo the caretaker and Modeste, the Reggae Man’s messenger, to prepare the grounds for the performance. It was the first time that Wanja’s face had lit up during her convalescence since the delivery.

The weather was fine that day, the sun had a rendezvous with Wanja’s son. Eliza was still looking after the venerable child and searching for signs of resemblance to the two potential fathers, before hearing what the third potential father had to say. Last in, first out? Everything was ready and in place. The indefatigable Suzy had organized everything, and Wanyoike, the cordon bleu chef from the Six Eighty Hotel, was still there. The self-serve pots of food had been moved from the house to the side of the stage, under the tent, where the guests sat with Wanja, the Reggae Man, and Junior, who had become a mystery to Eliza… Everyone was relaxed, the Reggae Man was unable to conceal his emotions, and Wanja was smiling happily. She was one of those bewitchingly graceful East African women with statuesque legs and a body that was timeless in its beauty. Only Zaituni from Namanga could match her beauty. In a word, Wanja was gorgeous!

Sitting next to the Rwandan dubbed the Reggae Man, Wanja was enraptured by the Intore Hutu dancers led by Kagoro, the son of Seka, who was the son of Gororoka. The ballet company had come from Kayole to the Buruburu Centre. Then the women whispered, murmured, burst out laughing, and, finally, applauded.

Teborah had told the other women what she’d heard about the Reggae Man’s performance in bed. They say that when a man’s leg atrophies, his sex becomes more attractive and stronger, having gained the strength that the leg has lost. After all, in nature, “nothing is lost, nothing is created!” They quickly stifled their laughter because Suzy was watching them to ensure that the ceremony went off without a hitch. She knew from Wanja that, despite Koffi and Mwamba’s generosity, the child belonged to Alois, the permanent worker, the Rwandan Stakhanov! Her other lovers only fired shots sporadically—and blanks at that!

The reception got under way, and after the first course of self-serve food, once everyone was seated and in a festive mood, Suzy invited Joseph Alois Amani to speak.

“My dear friends, may peace be with you.” Applause, shouts of joy. Amani was surprised at his own popularity, but what did he know? Eliza was able to compare the welcome he received to those received by the other two potential fathers. She began to see some resemblances between the Reggae Man and Junior! But the Reggae Man’s gait puzzled her, and it would be a while before Junior took his first steps… A hesitant gait is no big deal, Liza said to herself—not in a country like Kenya, or for that matter the USA, where everything was possible. A blind man can give birth to a pilot. A disability is not a congenital defect.

Aloys Amani’s speech was interrupted by applause and shouts of joy so many times that he took a seat and chatted with Wanja for a while. He called Kaparo over for a brief tête-à-tête. Suzy interrupted Wanja and Aloys’s intimate conversation and invited him to resume his speech. He took a few tentative steps to the front of the stage. Applause. Then the crowd of Wanja’s friends waited solemnly for the Reggae Man to speak. He cleared his throat and said:

“As you know, ladies and gentlemen, I am a Rwandan refugee, and all of the members of this ballet company—Hoza is short for ‘hoza umwana,’ lullaby…” One of the women, Mwendwa, shed a tear of compassion. “All of the members of Hoza,” continued Aloys, visibly moved, “the children you see here, and especially the girls, are Hutus who fled the war.” Someone whispered, “Rwanda delenda est!” And then someone else asked the person next to them why it was necessary to destroy Rwanda. “Listen to Aloys.”

“We lived in peace after the October 1959 revolution. The Abahutu soul is peaceful. Yes, peaceful… Our soul was damaged by a war waged by the weak, which could only lead to collective suicide.

“I would like to thank you on behalf of my compatriots for the welcome that the Kenyan people have given us.” Applause. “And I would like to say that President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi supported us unconditionally until we were integrated. Today we have peace, despite the economic difficulties that weigh on us just as much as they weigh on all of you.”

When Aloys broached the subject of discrimination against Hutu refugees by aid organizations, Mwendwa almost fainted, but Suzy looked after her. Everyone tensed up, and the women stopped gossiping.

“I apologize for the digression. Please forgive me…

“The reason we are gathered here is to celebrate with Wanja and to give a name to the child who was born under this roof. Please raise your glasses… The child is called Amani Junior.” Applause, shouts of joy. Then, amid the cacophony of voices, the ballet company performed a few more dances.

Later, Suzy asked Amani if ​​he had anything else to say, or rather something to add.

Aloys stood up, took a few tentative steps forward, and said: “Be Hutus, be like us and love peace. Be women and men of peace. As you have seen, we dance with weapons in hand—with spears and shields—but we do not hurt each other. And we do not hurt anyone unless we’re attacked. Long live the Republic of Rwanda free from ethnic hatred, and long live its sister republic, Kenya.” Applause.

“Long live Kenya, the cradle of humanity.”

Translated by Louis Greenwood Lüthi

26 July, 2023