South of Kigali, Down a Freshly Paved Road
The thing about it was, he had gone to Rwanda with the express purpose of seeing the grave. Not the grave at Nyamata explicitly—he didn’t know what waited for him there—but all of the graves, the memorial sites, the museum in Kigali. I needed to, he told people when he came back home. Part of it, though, was in pursuit of Rachel, who had the idea in the first place. She was a volunteer at a project site about a half hour away from his, near Jinja. They hadn’t slept together yet. Things in Uganda could be complicated, romantically speaking. It was hard to perform the typical rites of courtship, especially when you were the only American in town. There was very little privacy. People were always watching you, out of curiosity and sometimes suspicion. If you wanted to get laid you had to go to a hotel somewhere, and that required that both parties commit to the act in advance.
The trip to Rwanda was the perfect excuse. They both arranged a few days off from their project sites and met in Kampala.
“Jordan!” she called to him, and he turned to see her weaving her way through the crowded bus park. His eyes had been closed. He had been smelling the way the city retained the early morning coolness as though it were protecting something, resisting the onset of the sun’s heat, the lighting of the coals, the grilling of goat meat, the hiss of chapatti on the griddle. Rachel appeared, as she had when they first met, too fragile for this climate. She was a small, angular woman, with dark curly hair. She stood with one hip jutting out, her tee shirt rumpled with sweat and her backpack cutting into her collarbone. She shifted her shoulders to avoid being jostled by a vendor carrying a barrel-sized hand of plantains over his shoulder. Jordan gripped her elbow.
“Where you going, wazungu?” A man in a crisped white dress shirt, untucked, had spotted them.
“Kigali,” Jordan said, and Rachel said, “Chigali,” the way the Baganda say it.
The man ushered them through the bus park. “Over here, wazungu, this way for Chigali.”
He had stopped taking pictures soon after he arrived in Uganda, discomfited by the attention it brought to have a camera in hand, but if he could have kept photos of anything it would have been the terraced hills of Rwanda. They crossed the border in early afternoon. It was the height of dry season and the terrain was saturated with red and green. There was a scent to the earth here that was different from any other he’d ever known. He couldn’t get enough of it; he felt something like love for the soil, for the unpaved roads that jounced them in their overcrowded seats. A friend called it the African massage. Rachel had one hand braced against the seat ahead of them and the other pressed against the window. They were both fighting off nausea. A solemn, nonplussed child observed them from where he stood on his mother’s lap. The man next to Jordan rearranged the chicken he was clutching under his arm, and the feet of the bird scraped against his thigh.
Rachel leaned away from him and retied her sweaty curls. They had spoken quietly only for the first hour before falling asleep, about her