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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Valentine (05/16/05)

TITLE: Vestina
By Maxx .


Everyone deserves a chance to be happy. Mine had come and gone years before.

The breeze caught my dress and twisted the thin fabric about my knees. I turned from Benimana’s smile and ivory white teeth. I balanced the water urn on my head and stepped onto the path. Rwandan dust, red and fine, clung to the sweat that peppered my body.

He called after me. “Vestina, don’t leave like this.”

My stomach knotted. There hadn’t been a man in my life since my father disappeared during the night ten years before. Many people vanished in the genocide.

I moved between the shanties toward home where my mother struggled in our garden of beans and cassava. We’d stopped growing sweet potatoes.

“Vestina, when you’re not with me all I can think about is seeing you.” He followed me, near behind. I could hear him breathing hard, leaning into the slope of the hill. “In the city they celebrate this day in honor of St. Valentine. He reminds us to love each other.”

I’d known Benimana before he moved to Kigali. There were many children in our village then. Hutu and Tutsi. It didn’t matter. We worked together and prayed in the same church. I longed for those days. We were all happy.

“I can’t live if there is no chance to touch you. You are beautiful. Your skin is smooth and black as midnight. I’ve never belonged anywhere, Vestina. But I belong with you.”

When we were six, our families had traveled to Kibuye to sell our goats. Benimana and I played along the shores of Lake Kivu while the sun cracked the mud flats beneath our feet. The water was chilled on our shaved heads and soaked our clothes. We chased fingerlings in the shallows and watched the barges inch towards Congo. Our parents ate mangos and roasted tilapia while resting together in the shade of the banana trees. That was another lifetime, a different world.

He touched my shoulder. His hand felt cool. “You’re in my thoughts all the time.”

I pulled away from him, and from the images he caused to resurface in my mind.

I had woken during the night to the sound of running and desperation. Screams tore the village and the light from many fires scorched the shutters on my window. I was afraid. I heard my father yelling in the street and I ran to find him.

I wish I hadn’t.

Neighborhood Hutu men had become drunk on urwarwa and beer. They dragged my father into the shadows, beating him with clubs. He cried out, his desperate gape moving from me to my brother who lay dying in the dirt, pools of blood where arms should have been.

My mother’s voice, terrified and broken had echoed from the garden. Familiar hands waved torches about her. Benimana’s father held her down among the sweet potato plants. I watched as she was violated.

I was grabbed from behind and dragged into my home. Wide eyes stared at me, unsure and frightened, just as I was. Benimana pushed me behind the water urns. He covered me with a blanket and told me to keep still.

I didn’t move for two days until my mother had found her way home.

Benimana stopped at the top of the hill. “Will you not even talk to me, Vestina?”

I turned towards him and stared at the friend from my youth. His face seemed expectant. My throat constricted and I couldn’t speak.

The corners of his mouth began to droop. His eyes moved from me to the dirt at our feet. “Then it’s true.” He returned his stare to me. “You hate me because I’m Hutu.” Wetness seeped onto his cheeks and his lip began to tremble.

I set the urn onto the path and watched him. I could see his father’s face beneath his youthful features. How could I not hate the man I had seen illuminated by torches in our darkened garden?

Yet, how could I help but love the one who risked himself to save me?

I swallowed and blinked away the memories. “We remember St. Valentine because he taught us to love even those who persecute us. I’m not a saint, Benimana. I am Tutsi. I still hear screams in my sleep.” I stepped closer and touched his hand. “Maybe if you’ll pray with me I’ll learn to love as he did.”

Hope flickered in his eyes. He lifted the urn and walked me home.

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This article has been read 1495 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Kyle Chezum05/23/05
What an original take on Valentine's Day! Written well, with believable characters. This one's a keeper!
Jamie Driggers05/23/05
Living, breathing characters. What a way to bring hope in such devistation.
Kelly Klepfer05/23/05
Sally Hanan05/23/05
Excellent writing from someone who obviously has heard many terrible stories.
Christe McKittrick05/23/05
Original and stirring, a creative way to tell of the power of love to attempt to overcome even the most horrible. Your use of geographical references gave it authenticity and a perspective of non-fiction. I hope it is made up, but I'm sure the tragedy isn't even if the story is. Well done.
Amy Michelle Wiley 05/23/05
Powerful story! Good historical detail and very interesting.
dub W05/23/05
Creative and powerful - good job
Anthony Tophoney05/24/05
A bold departure from the usual Valentine fare. The voices of your characters are very convincing and the setting is well conveyed. I loved how faith and hope surfaced from such tragic events. Nicely done!
Val Clark05/25/05
Had me on the edge of my seat. You handled the 'nasty bits' with sensitivity and opened the door to forgiveness and reconcilliation.
Phyllis Inniss05/25/05
What painful memories, but you are ready for hope and reconciliation. Beautifully written.
Shirley Thomas05/26/05
Fantastic job!
Dori Knight05/26/05
Difficult to read in the hurting spots, but brilliantly executed. This one deserves a win. Congratulations on an outstanding job.
darlene hight05/26/05
Corinne Smelker 05/26/05
i think you wrote a winner here - beautifully crafted and you transported me back to Africa.
Debbie OConnor05/26/05
A beautiful story in every way. Wonderful description. I could see Vestina and Benimana playing on the cracked mud flats... Powerful message about forgiveness. In a word - WOW!
Lynda Lee Schab 05/27/05
I agree. Exceptionally written, a powerful, emotional piece.
Well done!
Blessings, Lynda
Pat Guy 05/29/05
Touching and believable - beyond well done! Enjoyed this to the end and would like a part two!
Suzanne R05/30/05
I loved this piece, Maxx. It gave me a real insight into another part of the world and the awful awful things that have happened. Into that, you shone a ray of hope. A good friend is married to someone who suffered terribly through all that you describe, so I especially identified with the piece. I wonder how hard it really must be for even a Christian to move on ... don't see these two childhood friends making it as a couple myself, but the article made me think and think again long after reading it. Thanks.
Jessica Schmit05/17/06
I've worked in Sri Lanka on a few occasions and see this same division between Singulease and Tamil people. You captured the tension, the pain and the remorse very well. What I loved most about this story is that you wrote through the POV of a young girl. You left out a highly sophiticated language and wrote as if she were the one writing the story. Because of that, your story was very believanble and engaging. Although, I must admit, I didn't like the ending. I thought she should've just turned and walked away, but I'm not the author and many people have told me that my endings were horrible and I completly disagreed with them. So Maxx, you have every right to disagree with me. I also loved the phrasing. You adopted words that existing in that country. You didn't use Western words to explain an African home/custom. This is great Maxx! (Still looking for a horrible entry. LOL)