Led by the inyambo steer, the herd shuffled into motion toward the rickety collection of poles that marked the pen.
Roger made it to the gate at Gihundwe a good ten steps in front of Jean Patrick. He stopped and took off his watch. "Look - it took us twenty-seven minutes and thirty-five seconds there and back. I timed it."
Jean Patrick gasped for air. Mud clung to his clothes, his boots, his hands. "You lie. No watch can time us. Let me have it." He took the watch, and there was the time in bold numbers, just as Roger had claimed.
The smells of stewing meat, peppery and rich, came from the charcoal stove in the cookhouse. Jean Patrick and Roger stripped off their boots and raincoats and went inside. In the kitchen, a snappy soukous tune by Pepe Kalle played on the radio. Jean Patrick's little sister did some kwassa kwassa steps with Zachary in her arms. His legs dangled to her knees.
"Eh-eh, Jacqueline. You dance sweet," Jean Patrick teased.
Jacqueline spun around. "Aye! What happened to you? Did you drown?" She pointed to the dirty water that pooled by Jean Patrick and Roger's feet.
Roger took Zachary from Jacqueline, and the three of them danced. Jean Patrick swung his hips the way he had seen on the videos. He was still swinging them when he heard the knock at the door, quiet at first and then louder, and still when he opened the door to two policemen. Mama ran into the room, Baby Clemence bundled at her back.
"We're so sorry to bring you this news," they said.
Mama brought them tea, her back straight and tall. Clemence began to whimper, and Mama picked her up to comfort her. Zachary played with the truck on the floor as if the only difference between this afternoon and any other was that men had come to visit.
There were six of them traveling together, the policemen said, all headmasters and préfets. The urubaho was out of control - they always were - going too fast down the mountain with a load far too heavy for such a flimsy truck. It swerved around the corner on the wrong side and crashed head-on into the car. Two people dead from Gihundwe - Jean Patrick's father and the préfet de discipline. Two others dead and two badly injured. It was a miracle anyone survived, and the urubaho driver with barely a scratch, obviously drunk. He hit a boy on a bicycle, too; the sack of potatoes he carried on the handlebars scattered across the road. The bicycle was found, but not the boy, the cliffs too steep and dangerous to search in the rain.
The policemen clucked their tongues. It was always the best of the country - Rwanda's future - that died like this. The body was in the hospital at Gitarama. With their permission, the headmaster from Gihundwe would bring him home.
Mama stopped her gentle rocking. "Uwimana wasn't in the car?"
It was one of those strange occurrences, the policemen said, that revealed Ikiganza cy'Imana, the Hand of God. At the last possible minute, there had been an emergency at school, and Headmaster had stayed behind. "Uwimana asked us to fetch his wife from the Centre de Santé as soon as she finishes with her patients."
"Angelique," Mama said. The name came out as a long, trembled sigh. "Yes - I will be glad to see her."
The policemen rose. "We knew your husband - a good, good man. Thank you for the tea."
After they left, Mama stared so hard out the window that Jean Patrick looked to see if someone stood there in the storm. He half believed that if he closed his eyes hard enough, he could blink the afternoon away, look up, and find Dadi there, returned from his trip, pockets full of cookies as they always were.
Mama knelt by him. "Don't worry. Uncle Emmanuel will be a father to you now."
"I hate Uncle Emmanuel," Jean Patrick said. "He's stupid, and he al¬ways stinks of fish."
The sting of Mama's slap made his eyes water. "Be respectful of my brother. He's your elder."
Excerpted from Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron. Copyright © 2012 by Naomi Benaron. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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