I was running in my archive junk box, when I came across a letter written by a long dead uncle to father, I marveled at the literary style of the time.
“ye mukuru wangye umukundwa chane Dereya (to my beloved brother Andrew),”it said, “zana ukuboko kwawe nanjye nzane ukundi, ngusuhuze nt’amahoro…..amahoro…)!”Urging him to shake hands, and be greeted thus: peace...peace…)!”
Does that come anywhere near the modern, “Hi, bro! What gives?” of today? Then I came across more letters-a dog –eared batch from Gerrain, my teenage sweetheart. As it happens, she’s now an elderly widow, running a thriving business in Kigali.
We were platonic lovers, until some chap ‘contaminated’ her. She had to drop out of high school to marry him. Unfortunately, he died young, in the 1980s.
Whenever we meet, she ribs me by calling me her first fiancé.
In this letter, she referred to me as her ‘exquisite some-body’, a word I had had to look up in a big dictionary.
For old times’ sake, I invited her over for a quiet Sunday, so we could charm our deflated egos, and nurse old wounds inflicted on us by the buffets of the cruel fate. We were together last weekend.
On Sundays, we elderly members of Kacyiru citizenry ritually sit on the balcony of the Aero Bar in kacyiru, sipping this and that, or chewing on the dead birds; discussing current affairs.
Last Sunday, I took her to the club. In our general conversation, the topic of the reading /writing culture, mainly the death of the same, came up.
Many people have already expressed mournful regrets about the state of this culture in this country, calling it moribund. Actually, Rwandans love to read, but hate buying reading material.
They love to write too, but their biggest discouragement comes from the fact that you cannot earn a living from creative writing. If you do not read a lot, it is difficult to develop the art of writing.
To aggravate the situation, most publishers here (how many are they anyway?), except perhaps Kalemera (bless his heart), go for text books, or other scholastic material, which have an assured ready market.
They have no time for contemporary literature, which does not sell .This is what has blighted the reading/writing culture referred to above, and led to its slow death.
I liberally cited the old letters I had unearthed, and the rich style in which they were written, which has all but vanished from the Rwandan scene. We have now reached a stage where today’s Rwandan can hardly write, be it an application for a job or a love letter.
On the emotional or aromatic scene, a love letter brings out the best in creative writing. How many young men and women of today can sit down and write a love letter to their sweetheart, I ask you? Yet that is probably what got their parents together!
I was absolutely shocked when, a couple of years ago, a chic I liked very much (and said so in writing), started a love letter to me with:
“Yours of 24th refers…”- no doubt copying the style from civil service office files’-mail and sms have only made the situation worse.
As we sipped our drinks I remembered Gerrain’s batch of letters. With her permission, but not mentioning her, I used one of them as an example of what letter writing used to be.
To her great consternation, I recited one verbatim.
As could be expected, the general conservation now turned to puppy love and platonic affairs.
To challenge our memories, perhaps, Richard asked how many of us remembered our first kisses. As you know a woman remembers the first kiss, when the man has forgotten the last. Many of those in the group couldn’t remember who they had kissed first, but I did.
“It was you! You gave me my first kiss! Remember that Christmas Eve?” I said to Gerrain, drawing applause from all around.
“No, it was you who kissed me!” she coyly insisted, but it made no difference.
Those of you who have gold teeth are familiar with what dentists call ‘galvanic effect’ the shock you occasionally get from a (metal) tooth. It is an electrifyingly jarring, but pleasurable pain. I suddenly realized it was exactly 30 years since that first (and quite galvanic) kiss.
What is it diamond, silver or golden jubilee? Whatever it is, it called for a bottle of the finest champagne. Consequently, and we made another date for this coming Christmas Eve, to pop a Dom Perignon ’87- a very good year.
We were quiet for a few moments, as our individual memories went on a kaleidoscope of 50 years. Her eyes glazed over, pinned on the distant horizon. My mind did a fast rewind to that memorable night.
It was Christmas Eve. Gerrain had come from Kayonza a neighbouring District, to vacation with her aunt Alice, who lived four homesteads from us.
As I was a lead in tenor in the local church choir, I was spared the ordeal of singing during mid-night carols in the cold damp air. However, I was not exempt from trekking along with the group, as the choir moved from home to home. Incidentally, what happened to that beautiful Christian ritual?
Gerrain volunteered to come with me, but we had plenty of idle time on our hands during the night walk. As they say, idle hands invite mischief. We started deliberately lagging behind the others, holding hands, and breathing hard.
We never said a word, but our throbbing hearts said a lot.
Then, stumblebum that I was, I slipped and twisted an ankle. This was a wide valley between two villages, with a formidable swamp, mosquitoes and an abundance of wildlife.
The choir was now too far to hear our cries for help. It was too far to walk back home on a bad leg. I was too heavy for slender Gerrain to carry, and there were no homesteads in the immediate vicinity to hobble to. Human traffic, at that hour, was nil.
“Oh, let’s wait here; they’ll find us on their way back,” I said hopefully. But they didn’t. They took another route back to the church! We realized what had happened. What were we going to do?
But Mother Nature (kamere) must love her children. We gratefully crawled therein, with nary a thought for snakes or other dangers; so dire was our need for shelter.
Groping around, we found a heap of dusty but warm Hessian sacks. They were not exactly Serena linen, but they greatly eased our discomfort.
We lay there, hugging more warmth than romance. Somewhere in our tossing and turning, we bumped noses….and giggled sleeplessly.
Then nature took over. We kissed for the first (and, I am afraid the last) time….and that was all! Next day a carpenter (thank you, Bob Mugisha) in a half –truck rescued us. We missed church, of course, but never had any regrets….to this day.