Jean Patrick couldn't hold it back any longer. He wailed.
Mama drew him close. "We have to be strong," she said. "Think of your namesake, Nkuba. You must be as brave as the God of Thunder."
The door opened, and Angelique came in, still in her white doctor's coat. Mama collapsed into her arms.
By midnight, the rain had stopped, the moon a blurred eye behind the clouds. Neighbors and family had been arriving since early evening with food and drink. Students and teachers from Gihundwe crowded into the tiny house. The night watchman drank tea inside the door.
The table was set up in the front room, covered with the tablecloth reserved for holidays. There were plates of ugali and stews with bits of meat and fish to dip it in, bowls of isombe, green bananas and red beans, fried plantains, boiled sweet potatoes and cassava. There were peas and haricots verts sautéed with tomatoes, bottles of Primus beer and Uncle Emmanuel's home-brewed urwagwa. Angelique had not stopped cooking, bringing Mama tea, wiping everyone's eyes. The power was off. Candles flickered; lanterns tossed shadows at the walls. Jean Patrick and Roger sat on the floor with Jacqueline, feeding Clemence bits of stew wrapped in sticky balls of ugali.
A wedge of light beckoned Jean Patrick from Papa's study, and he went inside. The lantern on the desk turned the oiled wood into a pliable skin. Papa's books surrounded him and comforted him. Books on physics, mathematics, the philosophies of teaching. Papa must have been writing in his journal; his pen lay across the leather-bound book. The cap rested beside a half-full cup of tea as if at any moment he would enter the room, pull out his chair, and pick up the pen once more. Jean Patrick put the cup to his lips and drank. The sudden sweetness made him shiver. Flecks of tea leaf remained on his lip, and he licked them, tasting the last thing his father had tasted. The house groaned and settled in the night.
Mama joined him. She held a tray of urwagwa, and the banana beer's sweet, yeasty tang tickled his nostrils. "Are you tired? You can go to bed if you want."
He shook his head. He thought of his father sitting in his chair on Friday evenings, drinking urwagwa and eating peanuts. He could almost reach out and touch the glitter of salt on Papa's lips.
"He must have been writing his talk for the meeting," Mama said, stroking the journal's skin.
Jean Patrick read. Everything in the universe has a mathematical expression: the balance of a chemical reaction, the Fibonacci sequence of a leaf, an encounter between two human beings. It is important - the sentence ended there. Jean Patrick envisioned a noise in the bush, his father putting down the pen and peering through the window. It seemed at that moment as if not only his father's words but the whole world had stopped just like that: midsentence.
The men were still drinking, some sharing bottles of urwagwa through a common straw, the women still replenishing empty bowls, when Uwimana came with the coffin. A procession of Papa's family from Ruhengeri followed. Dawn, ash colored, came through the door behind them.
"Chère Jurida," Uwimana said. He held Mama's hand. "Whatever you need, you can ask me. You know François was my closest friend."
A line of people formed to say good-bye. Mama sat by the coffin, her family and Papa's family beside her. The women keened.
"Are you going up?" Roger pressed close to Jean Patrick.
"Are you?" Neither of them moved. "We can go together," Jean Patrick said.
Papa was dressed in an unfamiliar suit. Dark bruises discolored his face, and the angles his body made seemed wrong. Jean Patrick could not reach out to touch him.
"That's not your dadi anymore. Your dadi's in heaven," a small voice said. Jean Patrick looked down to see Mathilde, Uncle's daughter, beside him. She wedged her hand in his. "When my sister died, Mama told me that. I was scared before she said it. I came for Christmas - do you remember? You read me a book."
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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