Footprints in Water
by Twist Phelan
Art by Mark Evans
Detective Henri Karubje swung along Eighth Avenue at his usual five-mile-per-hour gait, weaving among the other pedestrians. He preferred to walk instead of drive. His childhood in Rwanda had been spent on foot, and he moved through the crowd and over the curbs and around the taxis nosing the crosswalks instinctively, reflexively, while his mind considered other things.
At the corner, he paused in the doorway of a bodega and lit a cigarette. He sucked in the first delicious lungful and leaned against the brick wall of the building, the thin warmth seeping through his corduroy sport coat.
Karubje took his comfortable time over the smoke. It was a custom he’d followed since his first crime scene and he never broke it. Ritual anchored cultures, imparted learning, and focused the mind. Even though this wasn’t his case, for the next hour and as many hours as it would require, Karubje would concentrate on the missing girl and her family.
His cigarette stubbed out and disposed of, he started down 116th Street, his messenger bag bumping against his hip. Men with skin the color of raisins and bodies so wiry their linen shirts hung like sails from the spar of their collarbones hawked bootleg DVDs and Rolex and Cartier watches from card tables. Stout women, their heads and bodies swathed in bright colors and busy prints, moved along the sidewalk like stately galleons. The wind played with their robes, a gentle breeze one moment, then gusting. Languages swirled too—Swahili, French, Arabic, English. Karubje recognized his native Kinyarwanda and tried to identify the speaker, but he and his words had been swallowed up by the collective babel.
Detective Hulce waited in front of the apartment building. She and Karubje had worked a case together when she was a patrol officer. She stood in the meager shade cast by one of two trees on the block, a ragged specimen struggling against the tide of phlegm, cigarette butts, coffee cups, and truck fumes.
“Thank you for coming, sir,” Hulce said. “All the translators are either in court or on that multiple homicide up in the Bronx. I didn’t know who else to call.”
“I am happy to help,” Karubje said.
The smell of roasted meat wafted through the air. Across the street a man in a white apron swept the already tidy sidewalk in front of his shop. The sign over the door read inkoko. On the other side of the polished window, skewered chickens slowly turned on a rotisserie, their broiled skin glistening in the sun. Karubje’s mother used to give him a wedge of warm keke, dense with corn kernels, while the family meal of inkoko and vegetables roasted in the oven.
The man cut his eyes in Karubje and Hulce’s direction, then turned and disappeared into his shop.
“Tell me about your case,” Karubje said.
Hulce pulled open one of the building’s double doors. The deadbolt was broken. “I didn’t get much in the preliminary interview,” she said.
Most of the wall sconces in the foyer were out. They blinked their eyes to adjust them to the gloom while Hulce outlined the details. An eleven-year-old Congolese girl, Imakilee Lumumba, had been missing since that morning. The local priest had made the report.
Eleven. The number jolted Karubje. Manon had been eleven when she disappeared.
Hulce continued. “The father and mother don’t speak English, and the only French I know is from the Au Bon Pain menu. There was another woman in the apartment—around twenty-five, an older sister, perhaps. I got the sense she understood what I was saying, but she never spoke up.”
“Did patrol get anything from the canvass?”
“Not yet,” Hulce said. “I called MECC. It’s going to be a few hours until one of their investigators can make it up here. The alert has already gone statewide, and they’re going to call me if anything comes in on the tip line.”
Karubje had worked with the Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse in conjunction with a homicide two years ago. The abducted child of the victim had been located at a gas station twenty miles from the Pennsylvania border.
“The family is Congolese? I didn’t think there were many in the city,” Karubje said.
“Or in the whole country. INS estimates the entire population at less than ten thousand.” Hulce punched the button beside the narrow elevator door. The light didn’t come on and there was no whine of a motor starting up. She didn’t appear to notice as she flipped through her notebook.
“I went through the MECC training program last spring,” she said. “So I was going to start with the preliminaries—whether the girl had an argument with her parents, who her friends are and where they like to hang out.” She looked up at Karubje a bit anxiously. “Unless you’d like to take the lead, sir.”
He waved a hand. “This is your case, Detective.”
“I managed to ask the Lumumbas if Imakilee knew their phone number.” Hulce made the call-me gesture. “Turns out they don’t have a phone.” She poked the elevator button again.
“I suggest we take the stairs,” Karubje said.
Generations of feet had worn shallow troughs in the wood and Karubje’s thin-soled shoes slipped a little on each step. The floors all looked the same—a poorly lit linoleum hallway lined with metal doors that smelled like ammonia. The walls were grimy with handprints and scuffs and marked with occasional graffiti.
On the fourth floor, the door closest to the stairwell cracked open a few inches, then quickly shut as they passed. Karubje noted the apartment number—402.
Halfway down the hall on the fifth floor one of the doors was ajar. Hulce knocked. “Mr. Lumumba?” she said. “It’s Detective Hulce.”
The door was pulled open by a stocky, middle-aged man. He might have looked handsome when he was younger but now everything was blurred. His stomach hung over the waistband of his navy slacks and his jowls rested on his shirt collar.
“I’ve brought a translator. May we come in?” Hulce said. Karubje repeated her words in French.
“Oui, oui.” Mr. Lumumba stepped back from the doorway so they could enter. He crossed the floor with an uneven gait and Karubje noticed the prosthetic ankle above the cloth slipper.
The space was like a house without interior walls. The hot plate and toaster oven in one corner was the kitchen. A bed and nightstand behind a screen was the master bedroom. The wooden table and chairs placed beside a saggy loveseat in the center of the room made up the dining and living room, with a new-looking bicycle pulled into the “garage”—leaning against the wall. A rug was draped over a rope tacked across the front of an open doorway. It swayed a bit, creating a gap where the edge of the rug didn’t quite meet the door frame. Through it Karubje saw the corner of a mattress on the floor. Behind the one closed door, he assumed, was the bathroom.
In contrast to the drab and mismatched furniture, all of which looked as though it had been scavenged from street corners, the floor was an intersection of colors and stripes. Handwoven rugs in orange and fuchsia and yellow and red had been laid across the space so that hardly any of the bare wood showed. The rug hanging in the open doorway was red and teal.
It reminded Karubje of the house—really more of a shack—that Manon and her mother, Sylvie, had lived in.
Over a decade ago the majority Hutu population of Rwanda had gone on a three-month murder spree, conducting mass killings of the minority Tutsi population. Sylvie’s husband had been among the first killed by the Interahamwe—Hutu militia. When she could, Karubje’s mother helped her widowed sister, giving her extra money, food, clothing.
Mr. Lumumba had dropped into one of the chairs at the table. In the other chair sat a woman of about the same age. As dark-skinned as he was, she wore an orange and black and white geometric-patterned pagne that fell to the floor. Her ample shape and the dress’s volume completely hid her chair, so it looked as though she were propped up by a column of fabric. She wore a head wrap in a clashing print of blue and purple. Its peaked profile reminded Karubje of a crown. He’d always liked the regal appearance African women’s head wraps gave their wearers.
Standing behind Mr. Lumumba’s chair was a tall man dressed in a yellow T-shirt and black track pants. Hand-forged silver pendants hung from leather thongs looped around his neck and a brightly striped pouch was attached to a piece of rope that hung around his hips like a gunfighter’s belt. At his feet was a black gym bag. His hair was close-cropped and, like his goatee, flecked with gray. He looked like any other older man on the street below save for the leopard skin draped over his right shoulder.
Hulce eyed him, her gaze lingering on the spotted pelt. “And you are—?”
Before Karubje could translate, he said, “Simon Muchanga. I am the chimvi.”
“The medicine man,” Karubje said. Swahili was the lingua franca of eastern Congo. Karubje had learned the rudiments of the language when living in a refugee camp near Lake Kivu, on the border between Rwanda and the DRC.
Muchanga dropped his hands onto Mr. Lumumba’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze. “Josef asked me here to cast a spell for Imakilee’s return,” he said in English.
“Fine, as long as it doesn’t involve anything illegal or interfere with the investigation,” Hulce said. She turned to the Lumumbas and introduced Karubje.
“I’m sorry to meet under these circumstances,” Karubje said in French. By habit, he took out his warrant card and held it up so the couple could read it.
Mrs. Lumumba peered at Karubje’s identification. She cried out and pressed her hand to her heart.
“Imakilee est . . .” she gasped, unable to finish the sentence. Too late, Karubje realized she’d seen the Homicide on his warrant card under his division information. The word was the same in both languages.
“Non, madame.” Karubje quickly returned the card to his wallet. “There is no reason to think harm has come to your daughter,” he said in rapid French. “I am not here as a detective. I am the translator.”
Mrs. Lumumba appeared not to have heard him. She began rocking back and forth in her chair, her hands clenched in her lap, her lips moving. A closer look and Karubje realized she held rosary beads.
Most of the DRC was Catholic. As in Rwanda, the Europeans’ religion had become permeated with beliefs of the indigenous faith, a cross between ancestor worship and witchcraft. Karubje didn’t subscribe to the native beliefs, but he couldn’t dismiss them entirely. The last case he’d worked with Hulce had roused memories of another cousin, Paul, and Karubje’s friend Amélie, both murdered by the Interahamwe. On several occasions Karubje heard their voices as clearly as though they’d been in the same room. And he’d glimpsed Paul among the crowd at the crime scene. At least he thought he had.
Hulce took out her notebook. “Mr. and Mrs. Lumumba, I’m going to ask you a few questions. . . .” She ran through the preliminary queries, Karubje trying not to step on the end of her questions with the beginning of his translation.
The couple had last seen Imakilee the prior evening at dinner. She usually went to daily Mass with Mrs. Lumumba, but on Monday morning she was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Lumumba got word to Mr. Lumumba, who left his job to look for her in the neighborhood while Mrs. Lumumba waited in the apartment, hoping her daughter would return.
Mr. Lumumba clasped and unclasped his meaty hands. “No one has seen her. She did not go to any of the shops.”
“Shouldn’t she be in school?” Hulce said.
Mr. Lumumba looked confused. “Why would Imakilee go there?” he said.
“Traditional Congolese are patriarchal,” Karubje told Hulce after he’d translated Mr. Lumumba’s response. “Formal education is reserved for boys. Imakilee would be taught how to prepare meals, do laundry, make rugs—skills a wife would need.”
Karubje had sometimes babysat Manon when Sylvie had to work late. The little girl loved for him to read to her, her honey-brown eyes following his finger as it traced the words on the page.
The sound of water splashing into a sink came from behind the closed door. Moments later it opened and a petite dark-skinned woman emerged. Behind her Karubje saw a small washstand and the edge of a bathtub. Her toob was made of ocean-blue material covered with orange and green fish. As she walked into the room, the fish appeared to dance and leap among the waves. The scarf that covered her head did not hide the dark eyes rimmed with long, sooty eyelashes and the inquisitive nose that thrust itself aggressively into the activity in the room.
“The police again?” she said in French-accented English. “What a lot of fuss for a runaway brat.”
“What’s your name?” Hulce said.
“Honorine.” She nodded at Mrs. Lumumba, who hadn’t looked up from her rosary beads. “Marie Jeanne is my sister.”
Seeing their dissimilarities in appearance and knowing African family structure, Karubje suspected the woman wasn’t Marie Jeanne’s sister, but he kept silent. He was a translator this afternoon, not a detective.
“Why do you think Imakilee ran away?” Hulce said. “Did she ever talk about leaving, say where she might go?”
“No, but I am glad she is gone.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Last week she broke Marie Jeanne’s favorite platter when she was washing it in the sink. And she burned my red toob with the iron! She is a stupid girl.”
“When did you last see her?”
“Sunday evening at dinner. When I got up Monday morning, she was gone.”
“Did you look for her?”
“Of course not. I had to go to my job.”
Muchanga made a noise in his throat and shook his head in disapproval.
“You think we are still in Africa, witch doctor?” Honorine said. “Women have rights here.”
“Honorine!” Mr. Lumumba said. “Il faut traiter Monsieur Muchanga avec respect. Apologize!”
Mrs. Lumumba broke off mid-Hail Mary. Her eyes darted between Honorine and her husband.
Honorine muttered, “I’m sorry.”
“No offense taken,” the medicine man said. “Imakilee’s disappearance has upset us all.”
“Let’s continue, please,” Hulce said. She pointed her pen at Honorine. “Where do you work?”
“At the Tajal Company.”
“What do you do there?”
“I’m a rug weaver.” She gestured with pride at the floor. “You are standing on my work.”
“Does Imakilee have friends?”
“None that came here,” Honorine said.
“When did you last see Imakilee?” Hulce said to Mr. Muchanga.
“Last week. When Josef told me this morning she was missing, I sent word out to the community. No one has seen her.”
Mr. Lumumba said something in Swahili to Mrs. Lumumba. Marie Jeanne wrapped her arms around herself as though she had a bad stomachache and began praying again.
“What did he say?” Hulce asked Karubje.
“He said Imakilee was a rebel child, and that she wouldn’t have gone missing if she’d been under Mr. Muchanga’s protection.”
“I look after the welfare of my people here and in Syracuse,” Mr. Muchanga said. “I get jobs for the men, arrange care for the elders, make sure young men and women are raised properly.”
“Why Syracuse?” Hulce said.
“Many Congolese live there—like Josef and Marie Jeanne, until they moved to the city last summer.”
She looked around the room. “Where does Imakilee sleep?”
“With me,” Honorine said. She pointed to the doorway where the red and teal runner hung.
“And you didn’t hear her leave this morning?”
“No. I put cotton in my ears so I don’t hear her go to the toilet in the night.”
Hulce walked over to the doorway and pushed the rug aside. Karubje was about to follow her into the small space when he heard a sharp intake of breath from Mrs. Lumumba.
He immediately recognized his mistake. He turned and said to her in French, “I am sorry, madame. I was not thinking.”
Hulce frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Traditionally, men are not allowed in women’s quarters. I will observe from out here.”
Karubje held up a hand. “I am here as a translator, not a detective. It is all right.”
The room was the size of a large walk-in closet. There was a queen mattress on the floor. The area that wasn’t occupied by bed was covered with hand-woven rugs like those in the main room. A squat bureau with mismatched pulls stood under a narrow window.
Hulce searched the space while Karubje stood in the doorway, Honorine hovering behind him. The detective checked under the mattress, rifled through drawers, flipped back rugs, and fingered the clothes that hung from two of the three pegs in the wall.
Each peg was about a foot long. On the first were traditional African-style clothes, all sized to fit Marie Jeanne. The second peg was empty. The clothes on the third peg were closer to a size four or six. Behind several brightly printed toobs hung a short skirt, several tops, a pair of jeans, two dresses, and a smart leather jacket.
Hulce looked at the tag of one of the dresses, a navy sheath with brass buttons on the sleeves. “Bloomingdale’s house brand.”
“What are you doing? That’s mine!” Honorine said.
“You dress American?”
Honorine stuck out her chin. “I make my own money and choose my own clothes.”
Hulce resumed searching. She ran her hand between the mattress and the bottom sheet and pulled out a business card.
“Look at this, sir.” She walked the card over to Karubje.
On the front of the card, Abagore Ivuriro was printed across the top in the Pan-African colors of green, red, and black. Underneath was an address. On the reverse side, a date and time were filled in—tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. The line for Patient Name was blank.
“It’s a women’s health clinic,” Karubje said.
“Is this yours?” Hulce asked Honorine.
“Of course not,” the other woman said. “Imakilee is the one who’s always complaining—her stomach hurts, her ear aches.”
Hulce rolled the rug next to the doorway back into place. About six feet square, it was newer and brighter than the others, its red and yellow pinwheels a contrast from the stripes of its neighbors. The floor squeaked under her thick-soled boots.
“There’s a place in my apartment where the floor makes a noise like that,” Karubje said. “Where one of the floorboards isn’t nailed down.”
Hulce paused, and he could see her thinking. He was pleased when she dropped to one knee and pulled back the rug again to expose the wooden floor. She found the loose plank on her second try.
“Here,” Karubje said. He took a multitool from his pocket and opened the screwdriver attachment. He leaned into the room and handed it to her.
“Stop! You are destroying the apartment!” Honorine said.
Hulce ignored her and used the screwdriver to pry up the board. In the cavity below she found a wadded-up garment, a paperback with the cover ripped off, and a pocket calculator. There was also a stain where rust-red liquid had trickled in between the loose plank and the rest of the floor.
Hulce picked up the plank. “What do you think of this, sir?” She handed Karubje the piece of wood.
He examined the edge. “May I have the tool?”
Hulce handed it to him. Karubje scraped some of the red-colored wood into a paper sack marked Evidence thathe’d taken from his messenger bag. He returned the plank to Hulce.
Hulce said, “We don’t have a—”
“Exigent circumstances,” he said, tucking the sack into his messenger bag. The explanation of why they’d collected evidence without a warrant might not hold up in court, but it would get Hulce past the moment.
Hulce picked up the calculator and pressed the On button. The screen stayed blank. “Needs a new battery.” She put the calculator aside and picked up the book, rifling the pages to make sure nothing was stuck in between them. “Crusty Crab Collects,” she read from the title page. “Volume Three of Phun with Phonics.”
Karubje permitted himself a small smile. He’d used similar texts when learning English.
The clothing turned out to be a girl’s denim miniskirt with ruffles along the bottom and a pink flower embroidered on one of the back pockets. Hulce held it up for Karubje to see. “Not exactly traditional dress,” she said.
Hulce carried the items into the main room. Mrs. Lumumba was still praying while the medicine man spoke in an urgent whisper to Mr. Lumumba, who looked anxious. Honorine stood beside the hot plate, nibbling flatbread from a tin, her left shoe repeatedly tap-tap-tapping on the floor.
“Have you seen these before?” Hulce asked. She held up the skirt, calculator, and book while Karubje translated.
Mrs. Lumumba barely looked up from her rosary beads. Mr. Lumumba, eyebrows arched in surprise, shook his head while Mr. Muchanga scowled.
“That’s my calculator!” Honorine said. “So Imakilee’s a thief too.” She said something in rapid French. Mrs. Lumumba stopped her prayers and stared at Honorine, a stricken look on her face. The young woman returned her gaze defiantly. Mr. Muchanga said something in French to her.
“Did you catch that?” Hulce asked Karubje.
“Most of it.” Honorine’s French wasn’t the silky version spoken in Paris or Rwanda. It was the harsher dialect of a French territory. “Honorine said Imakilee has brought dishonor to the house, and it is better that she is gone. Mr. Muchanga said if she doesn’t return, the loss to the family will be incalculable.”
Honorine banged the tin of flatbread down on the counter. “May I have my calculator back?” she said to Hulce.
“Eventually. Right now it’s evidence.”
Honorine gave her a look as sour as an unripe orange. She stomped into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. A moment later, the water in the sink was turned on full force.
Hulce’s cell phone rang and she answered. “Send him up.” She closed the phone.
“That was patrol. The priest is here. He’s the one who reported Imakilee missing.”
“I must go now,” Muchanga said. He squeezed Mr. Lumumba’s shoulder again. “Please tell me as soon as there is any news.” The medicine man looked at Karubje. His eyes were light brown and flecked with gold, like a lion’s. “You are not mzungu. So you understand how particularly important it is to her family that the girl be found?”
“You don’t have to be born in Africa to be concerned about a missing child,” Karubje said, his mind going back to that awful day.
The Interahamwe had come early, before most men left for work. Sylvie had just dropped off Manon at the Karubjes’ before she went to her cleaning job. The little girl was playing in the yard. It was Sylvie’s screams from the road that alerted them.
Karubje’s mother barely had time to hide him in the pantry, where she piled sacks of corn on top of him. They weren’t enough to keep out the thud of clubs, the shrieks of the dying.
Muchanga regarded Karubje for a moment. “Of course,” he said, and started for the door.
Karubje indicated the gym bag. “You’ve forgotten your duffel.”
Muchanga made a dismissive gesture. “That is weni I brought for Josef to deliver.”
“You are a mwumishi too?” When Karubje was sick as a child, his mother would summon one of the men schooled in traditional medicines. He would bring dried leaves of weni—medicinal plants—which his mother would brew into a tea. Karubje did not know if he recovered because or in spite of the bitter drink.
“Spiritual and physical healing—one cannot happen without the other,” Muchanga said as he paused at the door to the hallway. He reached into his pouch and removed a pinch of yellow powder, which he sprinkled along the threshold. He chanted something incomprehensible to Karubje, thumped on his chest three times, then stepped over the line of powder and closed the door behind him.
“What was all that about?” Hulce said.
“I believe that was the spell to bring back Imakilee,” Karubje said.
Hulce still held the skirt, calculator, and book. She looked down at the objects and grimaced. “My evidence bags are in the trunk of my car.”
“I have more.” Karubje took three paper sacks from his messenger bag, and Hulce slid each item into its own bag. Karubje stowed the paper sacks in his messenger bag beside the one holding the wood sample.
There was a knock on the door.
“Why don’t you talk to Mrs. Lumumba while I see what the priest has to say?” Hulce said.
Karubje approached the older woman. “Madame, may we speak over here?” he said in French, holding out his hand to help her up from her chair.
Mrs. Lumumba recoiled as though his outstretched arm were a poisonous viper. She scrambled to her feet, dropping her rosary beads in the process, and backed away from Karubje, keening, “Ah non, ah non.”
Karubje had seen such terror before. After squirming out from under the sacks of corn, he’d climbed up on top of them and peeked out the pantry’s window.
The militia had rounded up all the children from the village. While Karubje watched, the soldiers began to slaughter them. A baby boy was dashed to death against a rock. A girl was cleaved in two with a machete. Restrained by soldiers, their mothers wailed and screamed, overcome with grief.
Honorine emerged from the bathroom, patting her face dry with a towel, in time to see Mrs. Lumumba’s retreat to the far corner of the room.
“Marie Jeanne!” She started toward her but stopped when the tall, thin white man entered the room. His Roman collar gaped away from his skinny neck and his black pants and the sleeves of his clerical shirt were a tad short, giving the man the look of a still-growing teenager, although he was at least thirty. His fair skin was damaged from sun exposure.
Ignoring the rest of the room’s occupants, he went directly to where Mrs. Lumumba cowered against the wall.
“Marie Jeanne, Marie Jeanne,” he murmured. Gradually Mrs. Lumumba stopped shaking and let him take her hand.
Mr. Lumumba glared at the priest. “Obtenir hors!”
“He told the priest to get out,” Karubje said in a low voice to Hulce.
“Bien sur, Monsieur Lumumba,” the priest said. “Dieu vous bénisse.”
Mr. Lumumba pushed himself to his feet. “Dieu? Où était Dieu quand ceci arrivé?” He gestured at his foot and then at Mrs. Lumumba. “Eh?”
The priest guided Mrs. Lumumba out the apartment door and closed it behind them. Mr. Lumumba watched them go, fists balled at his side and tears in his eyes. “Où était Dieu?” he said in a hoarse voice.
“What just happened?” Hulce said.
“The priest agreed to leave,” Karubje said. “When he said, ‘God bless you,’ Mr. Lumumba became angry. He said God abandoned him and Marie Jeanne the day he lost his foot.”
“Lost his foot?” Hulce said.
“I believe the right one’s a prosthetic,” Karubje said. He assumed Mr. Lumumba’s foot was a casualty of the internal strife that had plagued the Democratic Republic of Congo for over a decade. Maiming by machete was a technique favored by rogue militias who lacked guns.
“Why don’t you interview the priest and Mrs. Lumumba?” Hulce said. “I want to talk to Honorine some more.”
“Mrs. Lumumba doesn’t seem to be at ease with me.”
“You can find out what the priest knows.”
“D’accord,” Karubje said, then realized he’d spoken in French. “Certainly.” He had a newfound respect for the department’s translators.
Karubje found Mrs. Lumumba and the priest on the landing. Keeping a respectful distance from the older woman, he introduced himself to the priest. This time he didn’t say he was just the translator.
“Father Devereux,” the priest said in English.
“I did not intend to upset Mrs. Lumumba,” Karubje said.
“I understand. Mrs. Lumumba is . . . not comfortable around unfamiliar men.”
Karubje thought of her distress at his near invasion of the women’s quarters. “My apologies,” he said, then repeated it in French. Mrs. Lumumba didn’t look at him. Her head was bowed and the murmur had resumed—she was praying again.
“You reported Imakilee missing?” Karubje said.
“Yes. Mrs. Lumumba comes to Mass every day. She always brings Imakilee with her. When both were absent this morning, I stopped by after the service, thinking one of them might be sick. That’s when Mrs. Lumumba told me Imakilee was missing.”
Karubje felt the detective part of his brain switch on. He began asking questions. In short order he knew the priest had met the Lumumbas eight months ago when they moved into the neighborhood from Syracuse and that while Mrs. Lumumba was a practicing Catholic, her husband had strayed from the church to indigenous beliefs under the guidance of a medicine man.
“Simon Muchanga?” Karubje said.
“Yes,” Father Devereux said. “He preys on people in the name of religion.”
“We spoke with Mr. Muchanga. He was very cooperative.”
“I’m surprised. People like him tend to avoid the police. They pride themselves on solving the community’s problems in-house, without outside interference.”
“What can you tell me about Honorine?” Karubje said.
“She moved in with the Lumumbas right after they came here. She’s assimilating very quickly—she can read and works outside the home. If the circumstances were different, I am not sure a traditional man like Mr. Lumumba would have brought her into his family.”
“I can’t say any more.” He made an apologetic gesture. “My conversations with Mrs. Lumumba are confidential.”
Karubje paused, considering. “Is Mrs. Lumumba uncomfortable around me because I’m a man or because I’m police?” He paused. “Or because I’m Rwandan?”
Father Devereux shook his head. “I’m sorry, Detective.”
Mrs. Lumumba mumbled something and the priest bent close to hear.
“She’d like to go to the church,” he said to Karubje. “May I take her? It’s just down the block.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll inform Detective Hulce.” Karubje watched Father Devereux help Mrs. Lumumba downstairs. When they were out of sight, he knocked on the apartment door. Hulce answered. She looked up and down the empty hallway.
“Where are they?”
“They went to church.”
“Probably a good thing,” Hulce said. “I think the Lumumbas could use some cooling-off time.” Domestic violence often flared in the wake of a missing child.
“I was able to ask a few questions,” Karubje said.
Hulce’s stomach growled and she clamped a hand against it, her cheeks pinking. “Sorry—I missed lunch.”
“Why don’t we eat while I tell you what I found out? I will meet you at the chicken shop across the street.”
“Start without me,” Hulce said. “I won’t be long.”
One floor down, Karubje knocked on the door to Apartment 402. The door opened as far as the security chain would permit. A woman with white hair looked out at him. She wore a lilac dirac, a long billowing dress over petticoats. The fine wrinkles on her face were like saved tissue paper.
“Who are you?” she said in English. “What do you want?” Karubje couldn’t place her accent. Somalian, perhaps.
He held up his warrant card. “My name is Detective Karubje. May I ask you some questions? It’s about the Lumumbas on the fifth floor. Do you know them?”
“Who could not? All the time they are arguing. Even I can hear them, and my ears are not as young as they once were.”
“Do you know what they argue about?”
“He wants her to leave the church and follow the old ways. She wants him to stop working for Mr. Muchanga.” The old woman clucked her tongue. “A wife like that should respect her husband. And the other one!” Another tongue cluck. “Wearing her pants and reading the books and buying the store chicken—she’s forgotten she is African. Mr. Lumumba made foolish choices.”
“Mr. Lumumba works for the medicine man?” Karubje said.
“How else would he have such a fine bicycle? It is for the deliveries.”
“What does he—”
Voices sounded from below, accompanied by the sound of feet tramping up the stairs.
“You must go!” said the old woman, making a shooing gesture. “Or the neighbors will gossip that I talk to the police.” She shut the door.
Karubje went the rest of the way downstairs. Once outside, he sniffed the air like a hungry retriever, taking in the aroma of roasting inkoko from the shop across the street.
He was in his mother’s kitchen, gulping a glass of foamy goat milk as she spooned mashed roasted plantains into mounds like scoops of ice cream, not that he knew then what ice cream was. A freshly killed inkoko was on the sideboard ready to be plucked. His mother wore a white apron decorated with red fringe. Whenever she stopped to hug him or stroke his head, the fringe tickled his arms.
A horn blared. Karubje shook off the touch of the past and crossed the street to the inkoko shop.
Another customer stood at the counter, a man wearing a dashiki and a matching kufi shaped like a pillbox on his head. When he saw Karubje, he quickly said something to the storekeeper and pushed the thick envelope that was on the counter toward him. As the man turned and started for the door, his sleeve swept the counter and a strip of paper fluttered to the ground.
“Sir?” Karubje said. But the man was gone.
The detective picked up the paper. It was a strip of photos, headshots of the man who’d just left. They were the size required for visa renewal requests. He handed it to the shopkeeper.
“I believe your customer dropped this.”
“Thank you. I will return it to him.” The shopkeeper slipped the strip of paper into the envelope, which he then pushed into his back pocket, but not before Karubje glimpsed the stack of bills inside. The storekeeper didn’t look the type to be in the protection racket. Maybe the inkoko store was the local book, and he’d interrupted a customer paying off a bet. More likely, the shopkeeper was an informal paralegal, helping the neighborhood’s residents fill out immigration and other forms.
“Mwiriwe. Amakuru?” Karubje said. It had been some time since he’d spoken Kinyarwanda and the words felt awkward on his tongue.
The storekeeper dropped his hands below the counter as he took in Karubje’s chiseled cheekbones, lighter skin, and long, tapered fingers that were similar to his own. Instead of responding to the greeting, he said, “Tutsi?”
Despite losing family and friends to the slaughter, Karubje had no desire to perpetuate the conflict.
“Nabi Hutu cyangwa Tutsi,” he said. I am neither Hutu nor Tutsi. “Ndu Rwandan.” I am Rwandan.
The shopkeeper regarded him silently. Long seconds ticked by, then he said, “Ndu Rwandan.” He nodded his head. “Ndu Rwandan.” He smiled, revealing a dental calamity of twisted and missing teeth. “Cyrille,” he said, and offered his hand.
“Henri,” Karubje said as he took it.
“Murakaza neza.” Cyrille gestured at the chalkboard menu. “Urashaka iki?”
Karubje was indeed hungry. He perused the selections. “Nda shaka inkoko, ibihyimbo, na ugali.”
When Cyrille retreated to the back of the shop to prepare a plate of chicken, beans, and corn porridge, Karubje leaned over the counter and looked down. A baseball bat rested on the top shelf. The Interahamwe—Hutu militia forces—had slaughtered nearly a million Tutsis. He didn’t take offense at Cyrille’s caution.
The shopkeeper returned to the counter with his meal.
“Murakoze,” Karubje said. He handed Cyrille a ten and waved off the change.
Karubje washed his hands in the basin in the corner, then carried the paper plate of hot food to a molded-plastic table beside the window. He rolled a lump of ugali into a ball with his right hand and made a depression in the middle with his thumb. He dipped the dented ball into the chicken stew and wrapped it around some pieces of meat and beans. He took a bite, and the flavors brought his memory back to his mother’s kitchen again. He pushed the image away.
As he ate, he watched the street scene, a collage of his home continent. Carts and small food shops offered African food from the four compass directions. A sidewalk vendor sold paperbacks with missing covers and a young man in a ragged T-shirt and rough wool cap hawked phone-recharge cards. Shops sold native handicrafts—baskets, figurines, clothing, jewelry. Versions of the Lumumba’s pinwheel rug hung in front of the store across the street. Pedestrians in all manner of dress flowed along the sidewalk. Karubje picked out traditional attire from Senegal, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Mali.
Karubje heard mzungu talk of Africa as a country not unlike their own—one made up of different but essentially harmonious states. In truth, it was not one nation indivisible but many warring entities. Blood feuds were prevalent among the populations, sparking genocide and other atrocities that the United States hadn’t seen internally since its own Civil War.
As he ate, Karubje thought about how frightened Imakilee must be—illiterate, unable to speak English, and unused to being around strangers.
Manon had been frightened too. She’d writhed in the grasp of the
Interahamwe leader while a hysterical Sylvie, restrained by another soldier, reached futilely toward her daughter. As the soldier raised his rifle butt to strike Manon, a woman stepped out of the crowd of Interahamwe. She wore men’s pants and a machete slung over her shoulder. Her dark skin and short, stout build marked her as Hutu.
“Hagarara!” she said. Stop!
“Laure!” Sylvie cried when she saw the woman. “Laure!”
The woman ignored her and strode up to the group leader. She gestured at Manon, then pointed at herself.
“Fasha umwana wanjye, Laure!” Sylvie begged. “Ndu inshuti!” Help my child, Laure. I am your friend.
After a moment’s hesitation, the soldier relinquished Manon to the Hutu woman.
Karubje was finishing his meal when he saw Hulce descend the apartment steps. He waved to her and she dashed across the street, juking around a taxi like it was a flat-footed basketball guard.
“I hope you like chicken,” Karubje said when he had joined her at the counter, where she was already scanning the list of items on the chalkboard menu.
Hulce laughed. “I was raised on my mother’s arroz con pollo.”
“You mean inkoko na umuceli.”
“I’ll have whatever he just said,” she told a waiting Cyrille.
As Hulce stripped roasted chicken from bones and mixed it with forkfuls of rice, Karubje recounted his conversations with Father Devereux and the neighbor in 402. As he spoke, Hulce leaned forward, and a small crease appeared between her brows. Karubje remembered it was one of the things he liked about her—she took listening as seriously as most people did talking.
“What did the neighbor mean about Mr. Lumumba making foolish choices?” she said.
“I believe she was referring to his marrying Marie Jeanne . . . and Honorine.”
“Honorine?” Hulce said, raising her eyebrows.
“I think Josef is her husband. She is so much younger than Marie Jeanne, I assume she is his second wife.”
Hulce wiped a slick of grease off her chin. “I don’t understand the polygamy thing. No way would I share my man.”
“It’s about survival, not love. In a population ravaged by disease and war, marriageable men are at a premium. Polygamy enables more women to find mates and faster repopulation overall. Women rarely work outside the home, so it ensures more of them are supported economically.”
“If they let women go to school and get a job, they’d be able to take care of themselves. Look at Honorine.”
“She’s an exception. A woman’s right to education and employment are relatively recent, and mostly Western, ideas. Change comes more slowly to Africa.”
“If Honorine is as mean to Imakilee as she is to her mother, I can see why she’d want to leave, even if she is only eleven.” Hulce sipped her soda. “I assume it’s better to be wife number one than number two?”
“The most senior wife is in charge of the household—chore assignment, shopping, food preparation, childcare. She is also the only legally married spouse, at least under U.S. law. That means she gets the benefit of inheritance laws and Social Security.”
“So how does Honorine move up?” Hulce said. “Short of killing Marie Jeanne, I mean?”
“A wife’s main duty is to have children. She is the link between the unborn and the ancestors. That might be what the medicine man was referring to when he said as an African, I should understand why it’s important to find Imakilee. She’s Marie Jeanne’s only child and I’m guessing Marie Jeanne’s too old to have other children.”
“So what happens if no one finds Imakilee?”
“Mr. Lumumba can divorce Marie Jeanne. If lobola was paid, he may be entitled to get it back.”
“The bride price. Traditionally, the prospective husband gives a certain amount of money and goods to the bride’s family before they agree to the marriage. . . .”
# # #
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"Footprints in Water" by Twist Phelan, Copyright © 2013 with permission of the author.
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