The Motorcycle Driver Who Won’t Hold a Gun

Because Cruelty Never Inspires Good

I like to go for long evening walks once in a while. Perhaps every week. They are refreshing and the streets in Kacyiru, especially — and Kimihurura, Gishushu, or Nyarutarama — offer a soothing and keen experience. Always. Sometimes they are easy, and sometimes they are as tiring as climbing Bisoke. Sometimes they are of two-way. And other times, they are one-way so I take a motorbike or something for the return.

The motor guys in Kigali are a story. Many in one story. Some, like many Kigalians will testify, are young and fierce. They are not always safe to ride with but they are fine. Others, few I guess, are new to the job. They are passive and uninteresting, most of the times. I’d like to think they are few. And there are others who are old, mostly in their forties or slightly less. These ones, to me, always feel good to ride with. They are mature, they are focused, and they are quite interesting. Always.

Most times the elders, whom the ride will all certainly like, like to engage in conversations.

“You know what you deeply set as a goal at a young age,” he began, “is easy to achieve?” We had just passed by a policeman a few seconds ago. Of course, I had not noticed. Not sure I had heard exactly what he had said — if not what he meant —  I pulled my right ear a bit closer and ask, “What did you say?” He repeated the sentence to me as he ran the engine at approximately twenty-five kilometres an hour.

As I wrestle with the words, I imagine he tried to introduce a topic. And, at that point, it is not what he said that mattered. But why, and what he meant. He did not wait to tell the story.

“When I was young,” he began, “I used to work for an army officer. I was thirteen. He used to severely beat and abuse his escorts and people he lived with just because he found them playing cards or just having a casual conversation.” I missed a few other parts and perhaps he also mentioned that this happened before 1994.

I asked him, “Was it before, or after the genocide?” He said, “Before. I was young!”

But the essence of his story is the effect it had on him: He promised to himself not to ever join the police force or the army, or something like that. “People always encouraged me to join the army, when I was younger, but I refused.” He explained to me that because of that very experience, seeing his boss abuse lower-ranking soldiers just because they seemed to be enjoying, he swore to never follow a career that will require him to carry a gun. I then realised this crossed his mind because he had seen an armed policeman a while ago.

Then I asked him why he made this firm decision. “Because I’d never know what I would do with it if I encountered such injustice.”

I took a few seconds to reflect on what he had just said. He remained mute and focused on the job, and then I proceeded to tell him what I thought: “I have learned, in the past few years, that it’s always good to have a sense of character and realise your personal values,” I told him. “It supports one’s process of deciding where to go and what to do in life.” He then looked thoughtful and did not seem to disagree.

We reached the destination. I removed the helmet, opened a small messenger bag I had carried, and handed him his eight hundred Rwandan francs. He said “thank you” and accelerated his engine to leave, as I walked away. His name is Ildephonse Hitimana, I suppose. And he is such a great driver.

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