The Recluses

Koffi Kwahulé

Illustration by Florinda Pamungkas

The neighbor’s house. Kaniosha enters with food.

Kaniosha! I’m so lucky to have you, my Kaniosha . . . What have you prepared me today . . . Speaking of, I won’t be able to come see you tomorrow as planned. Some unforeseen business with the tribunal. Witchcraft. Always and forever witchcraft. The niece of I-don’t-know-which minister’s wife is accusing her lover’s wife of bewitching her . . . but that’s life for a judge in a country like ours. It all falls on you . . . if there’s something to judge, it’s up to you to judge it. Things to prepare, criminy! [tabernac] . . . “Criminy” [tabernac], no one uses that expression here, but it’s beautiful, “criminy.” People would rather blurt out “fuck” [putain] or “shit” [bordel], or both at once, “fucking shit” [putain bordel]! . . . What does “fucking shit” even mean! No one says “fucking shit” [putain bordel] in Montreal, no way! . . . I studied in Canada, I told you about that . . . in Montreal . . . Get me something to drink. (She serves him a drink) Yep . . . Montreal . . . Canada . . . Now there’s a country. Because, my Kaniosha, it’s not that they’re smarter than us, you shouldn’t believe what they say. We all have a brain. The thing is . . . they’re organized. Org-in-is-ation, everything is there. They wouldn’t call me at the last minute to judge a case in Canada. “At the last minute,” I like that expression, too. But no more “last minutes” here, we don’t hear that very much. We don’t hear it because that’s where everyone lives: in the last minute, pique of the boiling point, in the hands of fate, without warning. That’s to say, without forethought, without organization. Down-to-the-wire and inefficient. Time is money. So we get poverty, and war . . . Ahhh, my country! . . . Luckily I have you . . . You, my Kaniosha . . .

Your Honor . . .

You weren’t born yet when I left, and the war had already started. As if this country were born from war . . . You see in front of my house, those three bulldozers around my tree? They’re running out of patience, exhausted, and they’re waiting for more gas to start up again. Since this morning, they’ve been trying to tear down the tree. In vain. They’ve got it into their heads that the dead bodies of patriots are tangled up between the roots . . . that the tree is actually the tombstone of a mass grave. So they want to tear the tree down . . . to give a more dignified, humane burial to each individual. Isn’t that a nice sentiment, my Kaniosha? But the tree refuses to relent to the follies of man, because he—the tree—was already there . . . even before the country. So he has nothing to do with manslaughter. And given their reasons, it’s not just the tree they should tear down; it’s the whole belly of the country . . . because the entire country is a mass grave . . . Luckily I have you, my Kaniosha . . .

Your Honor . . .

Come sit on my lap. Feed me . . . (She sits on his knees and feeds him.) I should have stayed in Canada. Because they . . . the Canadians . . . they begged me to stay. They at least know who has power and who doesn’t. Not like here. Here, it’s all the same. It all cancels out. But I declined their invitation. I declined for my country. Because I told myself, my Kaniosha, if no one returns, who’ll build up this nation? So I came back. Sacrificed myself. Threw myself into the muck, the murky helplessness this country flounders within. Sacrificed myself. And look at me now, reduced to judging witchcraft trials . . . last minute, no warning, out of nowhere, at random. This is how someone becomes yet another dark cloud floating over their own country . . . And my wife, who stops at nothing to spoil what I have of a life! . . . Damned woman from hell! Luckily I have you. You, my Kaniosha, my sun. You were saying your husband, well husband-to-be, calls you his sun, too? He’s right to call you his sun, you are the sun. It’s you I should’ve married . . .

Your Honor . . .

Christ! [Crisse] You’ve got a thick head, my little Kaniosha. Now I’ve told you a hundred times, don’t call me “Your Honor.” It’s Niyonkuru to you . . . Niyonkuru . . . Kaniosha and Niyonkuru . . .

(He refuses a mouthful Kaniosha offers him and opens her blouse. Frantically, feverishly, he caresses her, to the point of indecency. For as overexcited as the man becomes, Kaniosha reciprocates with impassivity, cold as stone. As if she were outside her body. Elsewhere. Absent.)

No, I don’t want my mouth stuffed with any more food. I want it filled with your lips, your breasts . . . with your radiant skin . . . I don’t want to be nourished with food, I want to be nourished by you . . . drunk on your . . . It’s so good, my Kaniosha . . . Like a Canadian . . . your scent is divine . . . that Canadian smell. I never knew why . . . Maybe it’s the near-raw caribou they gobble down . . . Maybe it’s the maple syrup . . . You smell good, too . . . All of you smells good . . .

Your Honor . . .

Niyonkuru . . . I’m begging you, Kaniosha . . . Call me Niyonkuru . . .

Your Honor . . .

Niyonkuru . . . Niyonkuru . . . Or hit me . . .

(She hits him.)


(She hits him.)


(She hits him.)


(She hits him.)

Oh, my Kaniosha . . . Do you like it when I play horse, my sun, my glory, my joy? . . .

I don’t know, Your Honor.

Do it, tell me to play horse.

Play horse, Your Honor.

(The neighbor whinnies, then snorts like a horse.)

Luckily I have you. You, my Kaniosha . . . It’s you I should’ve married . . . But when I came back, you were no longer a child playing near-naked in the street . . . you were already a sun. A sun peeking between the clouds . . . Early or late, everything turns into black clouds in this country. Except you. My Kaniosha . . .

Your Honor
I came to tell you
I’ve done everything
I’ve done everything you asked of me
You asked me to listen to you talk
I listened to you talk
You asked me to bring you your favorite foods
I made and
I brought your favorite foods
You asked me to sleep with you
in the middle of the sitting room
in the kitchen
in your bed
I slept with you
in your bed
in the kitchen
in the middle of the sitting room.
I have not disobeyed you.
I think I’ve paid enough, Your Honor, and I would like—
this is a prayer, sir—
I would like
this to stop.
I’ve paid enough,
and I came to beg for my freedom.
soon I’ll be married.
I’m getting married.
And I want to present myself to my man
a little less filthy,
a little less spoiled,
a little less disgusted with myself.

Oh, what’s this you’re singing to me, my little Kaniosha? It’s your marriage, huh? . . . That’s it, it’s your marriage. To that good-for-nothing Nzeyimana? I knew that. The prospect of your marriage is disorienting you. In fact, you’ve got the blues . . . “the blues,” there’s another expression you don’t hear. People in this country would rather say, “I’m not well,” “I’m feeling bad,” “I’m depressed,” “I’m stressed” . . . But you’ve got the blues, my Kaniosha. But that’s normal, completely normal . . . Marriage always brings the blues. And usually the more drawn-out the marriage, the more drawn-out the blues. Especially with trash like Nzeyimana.

It’s not that, Your Honor.
I’m very excited about the idea
of getting married to Nzeyimana.
Only you know what I’ve sacrificed
what I’ve endured to see this day come.
I already know
it’ll be the most beautiful day of my life.
So that’s why, Your Honor . . .

Niyonkuru . . . Niyonkuru, Kaniosha . . .

It’s over, Your Honor.
I’m finished.
I’m not coming to see you anymore . . .

Goddamn Christ almighty Mary mother of Joseph, d’you want to ruin everything? D’you really want to lay waste to it all, just hours before your wedding? And what about me . . . where do I fit into all this half-wit scheming, Kaniosha? You’re nothing but selfish! That’s what you are, a self-centered little egoist! After everything I’ve shared . . .

But you’ve shared nothing, Your Honor . . .

Oh yes I have shared! I’m sharing and I’ll share even more . . . I’ve thought about this, now imagine it . . . A marriage is just a marriage . . . so, after your marriage, we could keep on . . . I can keep a secret, and so can you. You, my sun. Your beauty, your freshness, your beauty, your aromas, your beauty, your Canadian aromas, your beauty, your warmth, you are so warm Kaniosha, like a nourishing sun, your beauty, your sensuality . . . I can’t be without you, my life without your visits would be an unending and throbbing blues. I’ve become your prisoner, my Kaniosha . . . And if you married me, instead?

But, Your Honor . . .

Niyonkuru . . . Marry me! . . . You call it all off, I disown my wife, and we get married . . .

But it’s never been about love.
It’s not you that I love.
I don’t love you.

I know, but I can love enough for the both of us.

I’m not coming back here, mister . . .

Do you really want me to reveal everything? You want me to tell him how many there were? How their orgasmic moans drowned out your cries of horror? You want me to give him every detail about how your virginity was pillaged? You want me to show him what a dirty, ruined woman he’s getting ready to marry . . . a filthy woman? Think about it, my little Kaniosha. Don’t let the blues make mincemeat of your brain. Think hard. Tomorrow, contrary to what was expected, I’m not going to the tribunal. They can go hang themselves. Oh, that, too: “go hang themselves,” they don’t say that here . . . In any case, they can go hang themselves with their little witchcraft tales. Tomorrow, same hour, my wife won’t be here, and I need to see you. If I don’t see you in this house, tomorrow, same hour, then your future husband will be brought up to speed in the second that follows. Got it?

(A pause.)

Tomorrow I’ll return.

I always knew you were a smart girl.

Till tomorrow, Your Honor.

Are you forgetting something, my Kaniosha? . . . You’ve cooked for me . . . you’ve fed me . . . You’ve listened to me . . . Are you sure you aren’t forgetting anything?


(She starts to undress.)

By the way, Kaniosha—he who’s departed but hasn’t arrived—what’s he going to do with . . . all those women . . .

I don’t know what you’re talking about . . .

Well . . . women like you. He’ll run in to them here and there and . . . they talk. What will they tell him? Or what will he say to them?

No idea . . .
I never heard about it . . .
Maybe stories from where he never arrived . . .

Ah . . . Well then, find out. Put your ear to the ground. There’s already enough confusion like that in this country . . .

Here? . . .
In your room? . . .
In the kitchen?

Here, on the table.

Of course, Your Honor.

translated from the French by Patricia Hartland