When the earthquake struck, Dieudonné Batinde was already half way up the road to Goma. The first chance he got, he ran, and he had not stopped running since. Even when the road shook violently beneath him, and the lake overflowed, he did not stop running. He had Godspeed. He knew it was God’s will that he make it to freedom that day. He would keep on running until his feet, bound and bloodied, had carried him there.
He hated the general with all his heart and soul. Five years he had been in his army. Those five years were the worst that any a boy could ever endure. He was made to do things no dog of war would ever do. How many people had he been forced to kill? How many had he killed willingly? How many had he raped, mutilated, tortured? He knew exactly how many as well as the exact nature of every one of his crimes. They remained clear in his mind, just as vivid as the moment they happened. No amount of ganja, pussy or Kahuzi whisky could ever erase those memories.
They called them the Lost Boys, because that’s what they were, lost: lost from their childhoods, their siblings, their parents, schools, societies, lost in the jungle. Dieudonné had been lost for some time. He found his way again, through the Lord. He learned to take comfort in his nightmares. In a strange kind of way, they reaffirmed his faith in God. For he knew there was no way a just God would fix in his mind such horrifying memories, if he had not already forgiven him and, indeed, had a much better life planned for him elsewhere.
Dieudonné had no idea how much the diamonds were worth but he knew they’d fetch a good price in a neighbouring country. He considered taking them to Rwanda, which was just across the lake. Both his mother and father were Rwandese. God rest their tortured souls. Taking into account his war crimes and the many battles he’d fought against their army, he did not believe he would get a fair hearing in that country.
As the bird flies, Uganda was about two hundred and thirty kilometres north of his present location. He’d heard that they knew how to mend child soldiers up there. He would have to keep running at twenty kilometres an hour to reach the border before dawn. There was no doubt in his mind that he could make it.
His prayers had been answered that very morning when he was chosen from all the other boys to accompany General Zomba on a trip to Bukavu. He should have killed him while he walked along the mountain road with him and a satchel full of deadly weapons. Foolishly, the general had made no effort to hide the fact that he was carrying his precious diamonds. Dieudonné knew how important those stones were to him, and how it would destroy all his plans if he were to lose them. He knew he must steal them.
Miraculously, the opportunity presented itself just outside Bukavu when UN soldiers stopped them. It was while the general was busy looking in Dieudonné’s satchel for his weapons that he daringly reached back and, with the agility of a seasoned pickpocket, carefully removed the diamonds. He expected to be caught that very moment, but the general was too concerned about being unmasked by the United Nations to notice. An hour later, after the general had sped away on his speedboat, Dieudonné wrapped the diamonds in the cellophane he’d saved from his cake, and swallowed them. Then he began to run. He was a good runner, as fast as an impala. God had given him the gift of savage speed.
With the wind behind him, he kept up his pace. He stuck to the road that followed the western lakeshore north. The lake of fire. One day God would throw the general and Duke into that lake, and they would burn for all eternity.
He reached Goma just before midnight. He knew the general probably had a search party already out looking for him, so he skulked through the centre of town, trying not to attract the attention of the Goma police. At least they were easy to spot in their bright yellow helmets, even at night on dimly lit streets.
Once on the outskirts of town he started sprinting again. The road north from Goma would take him the final hundred and thirty kilometres to Uganda – west of the Virunga volcanoes, through Rutshuru, and Rwindi, and finally to the border. It was also the most dangerous road in Africa, and he knew it. Many had lost their lives on that road. He risked being shot by snipers, ambushed by thieves, knocked down by sleeping truck drivers, or even mauled by a wild animal. In any event, nothing could stop his headlong dash.
He had not eaten anything since the half-cake the general had bought him in Bukavu, but he was nonetheless full of energy. Mount Nyrangongo’s red glow guided his way up the road, even through the gathering clouds. Respect to the mountain god, stirring your pot of molten rocks. The road had recently been graded, which made it easier to run on. It began to rain, then it began to rain harder, then harder still, but he was undeterred. It is God’s will that I make it to freedom this day. With every stride he grew increasingly filled with divine purpose, as though he was splashing through puddles of it in his Sunday best. The more the heavens opened up the more righteous he became.
When he reached the deserted village of Kibumba, he found cause to reflect on his short, unhappy life. Though there was no longer any trace of it, Kibumba had once been a vast refugee camp. It was in that camp, back in 1996, when this country was still called Zaire, that his mother fell pregnant with him. His parents were Hutu refugees, who had fled from the invading Tutsi army in Rwanda. By the time she was due to give birth, the Tutsis had invaded again. Kibumba, along with all the other refugee camps, was raised to the ground. They were forced to move westward through the dense Congo jungle to Tingi-Tingi. It was in that unlucky place that Dieudonné was born.
Dieudonné had been running for twelve hours nonstop. He was beginning to see visions, but that was to be expected on such a rapturous marathon. He saw one that stirred him to his very soul. Floating blissfully heavenward like sleeping angels were all of his victims, all the people he had killed, all the innocents of Kivu, rising up from the jungle floor where they had been slain.
By now the clouds had scattered, and against the starry sky he could clearly make out the outline of the Virunga range of volcanoes. Mount Sabinyo, old man’s teeth, laughing like a mad witch doctor. The lair of the gorillas. He liked gorillas, more than chimpanzees. In all the monster fables he’d heard growing up, children captured by gorillas always fared better than those captured by chimpanzees. On occasion he’d even found cause to eat them, despite a tribal taboo, and gorilla definitely tasted better than chimpanzee.
He was getting nearer to the Ugandan border now. How would the Ugandan authorities greet him? No doubt they would understand why he had to slip across their frontier unannounced. He was a refugee, a runaway child soldier. They would embrace him and then they would help mend him. A new abundant life was waiting for him just across that border. With the diamonds he would start a mission for former pikis like himself. Yes, that was his calling. He would use the general’s diamonds to do God’s work.
It was in the final hour of darkness that Dieudonné at last reached Uganda. He recognised it by where the road descends into a flatter landscape, and the vegetation changes from forest to savannah, which also marked the start of lion country, though he worried no more about lions than he did about gorillas. He didn’t believe God would allow him to be eaten by lions after such a dash to freedom. By this time he was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he was utterly invincible. He continued to stride across the prickly savannah.
First light was appearing on the horizon. How appropriate that the sun should start to rise at that moment. Dieudonné’s visions were everywhere: burning bushes, talking serpents, laughing genies, dancing rods and staffs. But he was undaunted by Satan, and began to sing.
The commotion did not go unnoticed by a pair of male lions who had been roaming the grassy plains for days, searching for food. The rains had driven all the antelope away and there was very little to sustain them in this valley. They were growing hungrier and hungrier with each passing hour. Soon it would be daybreak, when they would stand a better chance of at least catching a hare or a lizard. Now it would seem their search was over. They stood for a moment, panting through hungry jaws, twitching their keen circular ears for some clue in the darkness. Then they began to creep through the tall grass. Once they were close enough to see their prey they stopped. He did not look like much, but a lean meal was better than no meal, and he was coming towards them. They crouched down and waited.
Dieudonné stopped in his tracks. He thought he heard something. It was the first time during his entire day-long journey that he stopped. Who’s there? Is that you, Lord? He waited and then, as expected, out of the darkness, walking towards him, and wearing sackcloth and a seraphim smile, came the Lord Jesus Christ. His hair was golden and flowing, and he was surrounded by heavenly light. As the Lord opened his mouth to speak to him, he saw that the Lord had very sharp teeth. Why is that? The next thing he felt was a searing bolt of pain flash through his stomach. By the time Dieudonné realised what was happening to him it was too late: the two gigantic lions were tearing apart his abdomen, with stabbing, searing, excruciating blows.
Gorillaland by Greg Cummings, available on Amazon