Cafe has a nasty head gash on her head. She is conscious now and tells us not to worry each time she wakes. Her son and I are taking turns at her bedside. She seems very tearful at times as if her confidence has taken a dive. The doctors are keeping her under observation for a day or two.
In the little hospital garden we sit together in bougainvillea shade. On the night in my flat, late in the night, she had rested her head on my shoulder. Nothing more intimate has passed between us.
Now she is recovering I ask her a question that I am burning to ask her. I reach out and put my hand on hers. She does not withdraw it.
‘Cafe, I hope you don’t mind me asking this but why were you crying in your tent before the storm? Did I do something to upset you?’
Two large tears spill from her eyes.
‘No it was not you. It was him. He was there.’
She lapses into silence for a long while. She she is fragile and gradually recovering so I don’t want to press her with a barrage of questions. She withdraws her hand from mine as a nurse brought us some tea.
‘Remember’ she says slowly as she sips her tea, ’when a lot of Safari tracks pulled up to see the Lions feeding on that Zebra carcass? I am sure he was driving one of those trucks. It’s made me so frightened to see him again. It’s been almost 20 years since I last saw him but I think it was him. It’s brought it all back to me – that time when we were taken. That terrible terrible time.’
Again she lapses into silence. I just sit there looking at the fever tree just over the low wall as the words ‘when we were taken,’ echo round and round my brain. The nurse came to give Cafe a pill and take our cups. The shadows began to lengthen. The cicadas hum in the long grass the other side of the wall. At last she speaks again staring into the middle distance. She speaks in a monotone, without emotion. It was as if all warmth had died and someone else is speaking.
I am a Aboke girl. Do you know what that means? Did you ever hear about us? More than 100 of us taken from our convent school in Uganda by the bush soldiers. The let some go because Sister Fassera found us and talked to the bush soldiers.
But they kept 30 of us to be their wives. They took us on a long march far away from our school. At night I heard others pain around the camp as the soldiers forced their pleasure on us.
But then there was something worse. Something that blackened our souls.
They made us beat our Head Girl with sticks. ….they made us. They beat us till we murdered……all us us….Janet…. we couldn’t beat her hard at first …so they beat us harder… we cried for mercy…. so did she….in the end we couldn’t bear the pain…. we couldn’t bear her screaming any more……….In the end we just wanted to stop her groaning. ………..die die die we circled her poor body till she was no more….and they were laughing some of them soldiers … laughing at our distress.
A bell rang in a distant ward. She shook her head and looked into my eyes.
‘I have never told my parents all of what happened. It is too much to bear.I was only 13 when I had my son. I felt broken but I loved my baby. My family had moved to Kenya by then. We still live with my parents and my son and I, just outside Nairobi. Please please do not judge me harshly! It must be the drugs they’ve given me to dull the pain.’
‘I cannot judge you, Cafe. You are very special to me. You have been through so much. You have been so brave. You’ve brought up your son to be a fine young man who cooks wonderful food. What a journey you have had. How far you have come.
I want you to know that there is someone in my own past that has darkened my soul and made my blood run cold. One day soon I will tell you my story because I want you to know that we share a common bond. Cafe, you have made me feel things again….. things that have been frozen for many years. As soon as you are well we will dance at the U2 again.’
‘I would like that’ we smiled at each other
‘I adopted the name Cafe because when I escaped a French soldier gave me my first coffee and I’ve never looked back.’
‘I ran away partly because I couldn’t bear hearing my name. For reasons I will share with you soon, I promise.’
As the moon rises Uziel whispers his name into her ear and puts a finger up to his lips.
‘Do not tell a soul. For now it’s a secret we share.’
She nods. ‘Our secret’
We make our way into the hospital wing.
In the garden the shadows lengthen into darkness. Fireflies flash in the grasslands beyond the wall.
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