In Other Words

Waking Up to Genocide

The slow realization that everything is wrong, told by one of Rwanda's most promising young novelists.

PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images

From Gilbert Gatore, The Past Ahead, translated by Marjolijn de Jager from the French.

She remembers the morning when everything began, she is now certain of that. That morning is set firmly in a niche of her head. Every now and then she likes to take it out, the way you unfold an old garment to air it out, consider its wear and tear and its obsolescence. Almost indifferent, she sees it unfurl again, as precisely as possible.

It's a typical morning. A strident ringing wakes her. Seven o'clock. A few minutes later, she gets up, slowly. She puts on the kettle and lights a cigarette. She takes a shower. She gets dressed after spending a minute, dazed, in front of her closet. She has cereal and drinks tea. She gathers up the things she needs for her classes and goes off to catch the 8:10 train. A typical day also means that she puts on make-up before leaving, while the small apartment whose window she has opened fills up with fresh air from outside, and that she turns off the clock-radio whose sound has been her companion since seven o'clock. Usually, nothing of the flow of news, weather reports, commercials, and songs reaches her foggy consciousness. Just like her yawns, the shower water, or the tea, the radio is only a means of stimulating her sleepy senses.

From Gilbert Gatore, The Past Ahead, translated by Marjolijn de Jager from the French.

She remembers the morning when everything began, she is now certain of that. That morning is set firmly in a niche of her head. Every now and then she likes to take it out, the way you unfold an old garment to air it out, consider its wear and tear and its obsolescence. Almost indifferent, she sees it unfurl again, as precisely as possible.

It’s a typical morning. A strident ringing wakes her. Seven o’clock. A few minutes later, she gets up, slowly. She puts on the kettle and lights a cigarette. She takes a shower. She gets dressed after spending a minute, dazed, in front of her closet. She has cereal and drinks tea. She gathers up the things she needs for her classes and goes off to catch the 8:10 train. A typical day also means that she puts on make-up before leaving, while the small apartment whose window she has opened fills up with fresh air from outside, and that she turns off the clock-radio whose sound has been her companion since seven o’clock. Usually, nothing of the flow of news, weather reports, commercials, and songs reaches her foggy consciousness. Just like her yawns, the shower water, or the tea, the radio is only a means of stimulating her sleepy senses.

As she remembers it she is alone that morning. The other one hadn’t inflicted himself on her for the night. Before picking up her briefcase she makes sure she has everything she needs. She was about to leave the report she’d prepared for the marketing strategies course behind on her desk. She congratulates herself on her habit of checking everything before going out. How does an involuntary action manage to slip into the automatic physical functions?

When she turns off the radio before leaving, she raises the volume she intended to turn down until it clicks, indicating it’s off. As unbelievable as it may seem, it’s because she increased the volume instead of turning it off that she is now here. Everything else flowed from that gesture.

She remembers exactly how violently the sound burst forth. She wonders whether it’s possible that the sound never left her ears from the day that she’s now visiting in her thoughts. Besides, where does the sound go that we hear? Where do the dead go once we’ve heard them?

That morning the radio shouted at her that, in a country of which the mere mention froze her with anxiety, the number of prisoners was such that, at the speed with which the verdicts were pronounced, it would take two or three centuries to examine each of the cases. More softly now that she’d turned the volume down, the reporter quoted the percentage of the incarcerated population in proportion to the population of the country itself. He was talking about her native land.


For the next translation, click here.

Gilbert Gatore was born in Rwanda in 1981. During the civil war, he escaped to Zaire in 1994 and has lived in France since 1997. This is his first novel. Le Passé devant soi, copyright 2008, Éditions Phébus, Paris. Translation used with permission from Marjolijn de Jager.

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