‘I want to go back to Rwanda but I don’t want to go back to be Rwandan’ – Read an excerpt from The Eternal Audience of One by Rémy Ngamije
More about the book!
BlackBird Books has shared an excerpt from The Eternal Audience of One, the debut novel by Rwandan-born Namibian writer Rémy Ngamije!
The Eternal Audience of One is one of the first books to showcase BlackBird Books’s bold new look!
The new BlackBird Books design is the result of a collaboration with Sindiso Khumalo, a textile designer based in London and Cape Town.
The Eternal Audience of One will be published in June. Scroll down to read an excerpt.
About the book
Seraphin Turihamwe is a young man whose life is characterised by movement. After leaving Rwanda under duress and never feeling at rest in Namibia, which he believes is slow and boring, he finds himself fighting to fit in in Cape Town. So much about the city is designed to push people like him out. Through his interactions with a few reluctant mentors, loyal friends and the women he carries on relationships with, he explores and performs different parts of his identity while dealing with other issues of family, race, immigrant life and love.
Seraphin and his pursuit and struggle for inner peace and identity effortlessly meld together geography, history and how one’s experience of a place can be perceived as a relatable journey.
The novel neatly unpacks themes of movement or displacement, life as an immigrant or refugee and the life of a black youth. Seraphin’s relationships with women become markers of the passing of time and lessons learnt and provide insight into who he is and who he wants to be. Whether he ever finds rest and truly comes to know himself is up to the reader to decide.
About the author
Rémy Ngamije is a 29-year-old Rwandan-born Namibian writer, photographer, graphic designer and English educator living and working in Windhoek, Namibia. He holds BA law and LLB degrees from the University of Cape Town. Rémy currently works at St George’s Diocesan School where he teaches high school English and writes a weekly column for The Weekender, a supplement of The Namibian, Namibia’s largest daily newspaper. His writing portfolio, which consists of short stories, longform social and pop culture commentary and travel writing, can be found on his personal website, remythequill.com, one of the most widely read creative portals in southern Africa. He is also the owner and manager of The Salsa Windhoek Social Club, the only full-time salsa dancing collective in Namibia.
Read the excerpt:
In this excerpt, we flashback to Seraphin’s mother’s youth, when she was a free woman in Paris and Brussels. She meets Guillome her future husband and their lives take an unexpected turn as they return to Rwanda with their dreams in tow.
They were in Guillome’s apartment in Brussels, listening to jazz records, lying on a bent sofa with cushions rubbed shiny and smooth by a hundred anonymous buttocks. Therése always liked how his massive frame encompassed her smaller one when they lay next to each other, as they were doing just then. She would run her hands over his chest and listen to him talk about the future when a whole generation of intellectuals would call Rwanda home.
‘They are all returning home,’ he said, ‘even the ones who have married abazungu. My mother said there are whole villages of grandmothers trying to teach white women how to pound flour. Imagine.’
‘And you want to go back too, Gui?’ She was the only one he allowed to call him that. He despised nicknames.
‘I don’t know, maybe.’ He stroked the top of her head, his hand pulling the tufts of tough hair. ‘What will you do when you finish here?’
‘Go back home. I have to work off the scholarship. But I am not sure if I can adjust to Rwanda after’ – her left hand swept in a wide arc of generality – ‘all of this.’
Guillome followed the sweep of her hand and said playfully, ‘You came all the way to Europe and all you are going to miss is this apartment? My god, you really are a village girl. If I had known I would have impressed you with my two-plate stove and a train ticket or something. Now I have wasted all of my time on you. I could have had umzungu too. We would make caramel kids with soft hair that would not make them cry when they have to comb it.’ He pulled at her hair again. Therése smacked his hand.
‘Your white wife would not have to squeeze their heads between her thighs to wrestle the knots in their hair, that is true. But you would be a widower within a year because she would not be able to eat anything in Rwanda. O-ho, you think butter and croissants are being sold by the roadside or what?’
He laughed, a deep laugh which made his chest reverberate and her body vibrate in resonance. ‘But at least we would still have interesting conversations and we would miss Europe together.’
‘Is that what you want?’ she asked, raising her head and turning to look at him. ‘You want someone to miss this time with you?’ There was no humour in her voice. Some sort of fork in their lives had been reached.
‘No,’ he said, looking at her straight. ‘I want someone who wants what I want for myself.’
She raised her eyebrows. Guillome had a way of drawing out conversations, speaking in segments. ‘And what is that, Gui?’ she asked softly.
‘I want to go back to Rwanda but I don’t want to go back to be Rwandan – I don’t think I can fit in. I don’t want the cultural stuff, not all of it. I don’t want to sit on the porch of my farmhouse and drink with all of the other banana farmers and talk about the past like it isn’t dead. I don’t want to be in Rwanda forever. My children should see the world. I cannot have my boys circumcised by someone high on powders and invented spirits.’ He looked away from her, into the wide expanse of generality her hand had just encompassed. His right arm reached out and traversed the same arc as he said, ‘I want an unscripted future.’
Therése was moved by his desire for a life unlike the one he had grown up in, the one she had grown up in too. He had the pale scars of a hundred little cuts on his back and stomach from a fever bloodletting and since she had known him he seemed to hate sitting around in bars drinking and talking and talking about drinking. He would suggest cafés and cinemas and art galleries instead. He was determined in his studies and outspoken in classes, unlike other foreign black students who were cowed in lectures, yielding to their supposed betters. Even in his skirt-chasing days he said he had always pursued women who seemed to be out of his league, smart women. ‘Because,’ Guillome said, ‘if you wanted to fuck their brains out it would take more than one night.’ Even his crassness was different, Therése decided. She was secretly pleased that after a year of lovemaking she could still excite him, that they could still have debates about politics and literature and films and listen to his jazz records together. She did not want it to end.
‘And do you want that future alone or with someone, Gui? If that is what you want, then we can get it together. I am not going back to Rwanda to cook and clean and be beaten and be the person who is talked about sadly to a mistress who does not know the pain of giving birth to five children. I also want my future. We have fun here, Gui, but we could have this and more’ – another wave at the infinite unknown – ‘and we can get it together. There is more for us, no?’
A short silence alighted between them before Guillome said, ‘I agree.’
He said ‘I agree’ in the same way he said it when she said something clever, when he heard the sound of reason in an argument. To hear him say those two words meant he had thought something over, had dedicated time and thought to it, evaluating its shortcomings and its merits, and had come to the conclusion that he could, indeed, add his assent to its veracity.
Therése looked at him pointedly, looked at him like the man from her application flyer and said, ‘If you give me my life, I will give you yours.’
It was Therése who proposed the marriage, and Guillome who accepted. They lay on the couch for the rest of the evening, the rest of their lives unfolding in fantastical and heartfelt plans for the future.