Excerpt from Running the Rift

Chapter 2

It was the first clear afternoon since Itumba, the long rainy season, began, and sunlight pooled on the floor where Jean Patrick gathered with his brothers and sisters to enjoy the warmth. Zachary pushed the wire truck across the floor. Jacqueline sat in a swath of sun, spooning sorghum porridge into Clemence's mouth. Clemence tried to catch a wavering tail of light on the floor. She giggled, and porridge ran down her chin.

Jean Patrick hid behind a chair. As Zachary went past, he roared like a lion and pounced, waving his hands like paws. At that moment, the window exploded in a spray of glass. Jean Patrick thought it was something he had done until he saw the rock by Zachary's feet. Clemence screamed, and Jacqueline hugged her close. Jean Patrick grabbed Zachary and pushed him away from the window. A second window splintered; the rock would have caught Jean Patrick's head if he hadn't ducked.

"Tutsi snakes!" The shouts were as close as the door. Laughter followed. A rock thudded against the house. Mama burst in, running barefoot across the broken glass, and scooped Clemence into her arms.

"Next time we'll kill you!" The laughter trailed off.

A wild noise filled Jean Patrick's head, and at first he didn't realize it came from his own throat. He burst through the door as the boys disappeared into the bush. He heaved a rock at their backs, grabbed a walking stick that leaned against the wall, and ran after them. Sprinting furiously, the stick clutched in his hand, he followed the fading sounds of their movement. Stones stabbed his bare feet. At the top of a rise, he shaded his eyes to scan the vegetation below. Nothing stirred. If he saw the boys, he knew he could catch them. If he caught them, he swore he would kill them.

The land poured in rolling folds of terraced plots toward Lake Kivu. Banana groves dotted the bush, leaves shining with moisture. Sweet potato vines, lush and green from the rains, claimed every spare scrap of earth. Jean Patrick picked up stones and threw them, one after another. The women in the fields looked up from weeding and hilling to rest on their hoes.

"Eh-eh," they teased. "Who are you fighting? Ghosts?"

He pretended not to hear. His legs burned from his effort, and he pressed his hands to his thighs to keep them from shaking. When he caught his breath, he picked up his stick and tore down the path toward home in case the boys had doubled back to attack again. Several times he lost his way on goat trails that petered out in a web of new, thick growth.

A red sunset smoldered in the clouds over the lake, and the day's warmth fled. He hadn't realized how far he'd run; he'd have to hurry to beat the fast-approaching dark. The brush stretched before him, the silence broken only by the calls of tinkerbirds in the trees. Who-who? Jean Patrick couldn't tell them. Taking off at a dead run, he crashed headlong into Roger.

"Hey, big man! What do you think you're doing?" Roger held him firmly by the shoulders.

"These guys - they threw rocks - "

"Mama told me. She said you chased after them like a crazy man. Reason why I came to find you."

"I didn't see their faces, but they weren't from Gihundwe. They had dirty rags for clothes." Jean Patrick spat. "Abaturage - country bumpkins."

Roger blew out his breath. "You ran fast. I saw you from a long way off, but I couldn't catch you. What did you think one skinny boy could do against a gang of thugs, eh?"

Jean Patrick shrugged. "I didn't think. I just ran."

"Super hero, eh?" Roger tapped Jean Patrick's shins. They were scratched and bleeding, his bare feet spotted with blood. "You should take better care of your special gift. You won't get another one," Roger said.

In the waning light, Jean Patrick couldn't see his face to tell if he was joking.