Friday, November 14, 2008

A Fragile Light Falls on the Congo

(My short story for this week's Search Engine Fiction prompt)

She could hear the pound of boots on the hard, wet ground and the clang of metal, guns hitting against strings of bullets, buckles knocking against grenades strapped to belts. She held her hand over Adolphe’s tiny mouth and locked her own breath in her lungs. In the thin fragile light of morning, she couldn’t make out if they were the government troops or the CNDP; it didn’t matter anyway, they were all dangerous. She just wanted to be left alone. Once they passed, she tied the baby tightly to her back and she slipped across the road. The lines of refugees threaded westward, but she was making her way to the border to the east. She’d seen too much. It was time to leave the DRC.


“What the hell do you think? Get in there and get in there fast. It’s going to be a fucking free for all. You get as much coltan as you can!” Jack Miller slammed down the phone just as he heard the knock at the door. “Come in.”

He smiled as the Rwandan entered; a cat’s smile revealing little of the thoughts behind, or so he believed. He offered the tall black man a seat and poured whiskey into two glasses, handing one to the General. “So General Bienvenu, how is the situation in Goma?”

“By month end we should have the whole area evacuated. We’ve kept some of the men for labourers.” The General took a drink from the glass offered. It stung his throat and left a bitter taste in his mouth. The cheap stuff. This American had no respect. He was a fool anyway. He supplied the guns for the army to get the ‘new black gold’, the dull black metal used to power the technological world. The money built their mansions and powered their cars, but only a small fraction reached their pockets; they mistakenly thought otherwise. The American, so condescending, so sure of himself and his position. The General smiled too.

“A lot of media frenzy lately, that could be dangerous,” Miller said with a scowl to emphasise his annoyance. He knew subtlety was lost on an African.

“Not much we can do. Nkunda has the people riled up. Our soldiers are just trying to get control. You can imagine their frustration. It’s understood. Besides the journalists are making it political as usual. All about tribalism, Hutu militias. Let them continue making their stories. It keeps the light off of us.” The General brushed his hand through the air to indicate the nonsense of Miller’s concerns. “It will all settle down and we’ll be back to normal. There are too many people with too much money tied up in the Eastern DRC. They won’t let the nonsense last much longer. Kabila must save face. He’ll just sweep it under the mat and turn his head as usual.”

“I hope so, General.”

The General set the empty glass on the desk and stood to his 6’3” height. Miller felt a moment of fear. He was, in the end, sitting at a desk in an office in a country at war. A dead foreigner would be understood and not investigated. He was not stupid enough to think the Africans were not aware of the amount of money involved. The General moved suddenly and Miller stepped back holding his breath. He looked down and saw the outstretched hand and exhaled. “Yes… of course..” He hesitated. “So do you think next week the coltan will be coming through again?”

“No later than Friday,” the General assured him.

He watched the big man leave, and then he pulled a small bottle of bleach from his desk and went to the sink in the corner carrying the glass the General had used. He rinsed it and wiped it clean with the bleach. Then he placed it back with the cheap whiskey in his desk drawer.


She watched for an opening. For two days, she sat in the mountains waiting for the chance to slip through the border. She knew the trucks they used to take the black stone out of the country. She knew, too, that no border guard took a second look at the trucks. They got the money to make sure they wouldn’t. She needed to get in one of those trucks. On the third day she got her chance.

The drivers also knew the value of their cargo and often stopped a few kilometres before the DRC/Rwandan border to sell coltan to people who came out from the forest. She waited there without food, licking dew from the leaves for water. On the third day, a careless driver left the back door unlatched when he went to urinate, and she slipped in closing the door behind herself and the baby. She would be free of guns and violence and death and evil. She sat on the stones, the black rocks that kept the cellphones working and the computers operating and ensured that the people she left behind would die brutal deaths until all of it could be torn from the ground.

For a moment, a thin, weak light falls on the forgotten heart of the continent. Would they see clearly? Would they bring the beacons and the floodlights so they could look beyond the cursory outlines that lied about the truth? It was doubtful since too many craved for the shadows. The dark heart of Africa was not an indigenous, intrinsic truth; it was a blanket that covered what they didn’t want others to see.

She pulled Adolphe from her back and let him suckle at her breast. She bumped along to her new life and she too hoped for a dark blackness, opaqueness so dense nothing from her past would get through, none of what she had seen, what she had experienced, and she hoped her eyes would only be able to look forward to what lie ahead


Pirate Princess said...

Great way to show the contrast between those causing the conflict and those enduring it. I also like the way you show the irresponsibility of the media and how it can be exploited.

Very good read. :)

Anonymous said...

Stunning piece Lauri, I couldn't stop reading.

This is such an effective and poignant way to focus attention on the real world impact of issues like this. I for one, often neglect thinking about the myriad sources of the technology under my fingers as I write this. But I sure am thinking now...

Important piece from a CR perspective, along with knock me over writing. Thanks for the great read!

Lauri said...

You know the situation is so complex in the DRC with so many parties with so many different agendas I did feel a bit cautious in writing this. But at the same time, I feel as fiction writers we sometimes can explore these things in a more freeing way than a journalist can.

To be quite honest, I was dead stuck for an idea for SEF this week and the DRC conflict is sitting heavy at the front of my mind especially since it looks like Botswana soldiers may soon be heading there.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what texasblu and Kayt have said. Also, this ‘short story’ seems to part of a larger tale. And thanks for the comments re my story over at Search Engine Stories.
Cheers, David.

Anonymous said...

The most powerful fiction for me is always that which is informed by real events. I cannot imagine what life must be like for those engaged in such conflict.

'Opaqueness so dense nothing from her past would get through' is a line that will stay with me for a long time. You really are incredible!

Lauri said...

Thanks Dave and Selma.

Selma I wondered where you'd gone. I searched and searched for your email wanting to see if you were okay. Glad to see you up and running.