A Short Biography of Remmy: Clifton Gachagua

Today feels like one of those mornings after a concert, crows picking at the garbage, paper cups and plates all over the lawn. Rahel has fallen in love with Pepe Kalle’s Yhanni and will not stop playing it. Maybe it is meant as an admonition to me. If she has things to tell me she’ll have to do better. Still, the song goes on and on and I feel like I have to get out of the house before I start breaking things. From the kitchen I can hear her move about, can smell the coffee and scrambled eggs.

Mtoro is watching me, his eyes nocturnal, waiting for me to say something. A cravat around his neck hides the sick skin. He blinks. In an instant he has lost that toughness, the assumed authority that comes with old age and a tough life. He might be a much younger man with his eyes closed in that moment. His eyes open again, big white question marks, returning him to himself, returning him to the room, to Zephyrion, to me. I don’t know what to tell him. How do I unpack two decades into a single conversation? He crosses his legs, staring at the hands on his knees, touches the gold around his fingers.

‘Brazzaville. 1986,’ he says. He offers me the ring.

A bait.

What I remember about 1986 is that it was the year after I was born. All of that seems inconsequential now, a different lifetime.

He takes out the last ring, silver and shiny, and offers it to me. He lets it slip from his fingers and onto the table. We both watch the ring circle around the teak, and it feels like it will keep circling until the end of man, when it finally settles into the silence of the room and we look up to meet each other’s eyes. The lattice work on the ring is intricate.

‘Constance gave that to me,’ he says. Another bait.

Ma’ is in some lost town in some lost part of the country living out the last years of her life. Early-onset Alzheimer’s. Is it genetic? Both my brother and I take turns visiting her, but it is my brother she remembers. A part of me is glad because her forgetfulness absolves me of a lot. But I also cannot help feel jealous it is my brother her mind has chosen to hold on to. Still, it is better to be forgotten. Half my life I have spent worrying that she worries about me too much, remembers those years. Now, in her big house, in this lost country she has chosen, the only company a live-in nurse who she has almost adopted as the daughter she never had, she’s always smiling, always calm, moving around the rooms of the house with such patience and grace. Constance has always left behind dust storms in her wake, in her walking and talking and looks, even the simplest of gestures, like siping cold cinnamon tea, somehow always threatened a whirlwind, the most temperamental person I have ever known, prone to so much violence sometimes she’d ask her sisters to take me in for a week because she feared her own unpredictable anger. It is the one thing I have (will?) inherit from her, that which I feared most. Maybe that and the forgetfulness.

‘Ulitembelea mathe lini last?’

I don’t know what to tell him, how to look at him, so I play with the ring, try it on. It won’t fit in any of my fingers.

 

The full story appears on the drr issue of Place. Order your copy here.

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