Refugee – MM

I am from the Congo. I came to Britain on the 251h February 2002. TIle events that brought me here took place only eleven days before I arri ved. They happened in a very short space of time, and they tore apart the life I had been living and destroyed any peace I had ever had.

To tell the full story, I need to go back to 2001, when I was living in the suburbs of Kinshasa with my second husband and three of my five children from my first marriage: two grown sons, and my eldest daughter. My eldest daughter has suffered from diabetes and poor health since birth and has always needed special care and attention; he r sisters had, by this time, already left Kinshasa and were living in London. Their father, my first husband, had died some years before.

I met my second husband when he was a travelling salesman, dealing in wholesale foodstuffs: maniac, maize and sheep and goat meat. I was one of his customers. He is a good kind man. He had no children of his own and it was not long before we were thinking about perhaps having a child together.

One day some soldiers came to our door and demanded that we give them supplies. This was not a commercial transaction. ‘We are here to protect you: they said, ‘and we need to be fed … r and with that, they look everything they wanted.

We knew this raid was only the beginning of our harassment, the soldiers would be back again and again. The only thing to do was to leave Kinshasa and get as far away tram their attentions as possible. Some distance from the city there was a community in a valley, a beautiful place, a place where you could choose where you wanted to live, and settle there . We built ourselves a traditional two-roomed house out of wood plunking filled and lined with mud. We moved in and found life very pleasant in the valley. Most days I went to church. I sang in the choir and, when my hu sband was out at work, I went to choir practice with my daughter.

There was, at that time, a strange man who used to hang around the church. He was, we thought, a madman, but the church was good to him and fed and looked after him, but he always made me feel a little afraid.

One day, walking home from choir practice with my daughter, I realised that the madman was following us. He kept up with us until we had nearly reached home, and then he stopped me. ‘Mama, I want to talk to you ,’ he said. It is not unusual, in my country, to be called Mama or Papa by a stranger; these are just terms of respect that are used far older people. But I didn’t want to speak to this madman. I tried to shoo him away, but he wouldn’t go. ‘Mama, I want to talk to you,’ he said again.   And then, ‘Mama, I am not mad,’   This made me stop and listen. ‘I am not mad,’ Mama,’ he continued, ‘I am only pretending to be mad for my own safety.’

I asked him why, and he told me his story. He had, he said, been one of President KabiJa’s bodyguards at the time the president was assassinated and, although he had been on duty in the presidential building on that day, he wasn’t present at the time of the shooting. He had no idea who had done it. He didn’t hear anything; whoever the assassin or assassins had been, they had used a silenced gun and made a very quick escape.

The man and his fellow bodyguards were all very frightened. It was inevitable that they themselves would be arrested and accused of the assassination and so they all fled . The only way he could survive, he said, was to pretend to be out of his mind and to rely on the church to look after him; then no one would ask questions. ‘But why tell me this?’ I asked, and he replied, ‘Because I have often seen you in church Mama, and I wondered if I could stay with you.’

I thought about this for a while and then told him that he must go away, for the time being at least. I said I would speak to my husband when he came home. I then left the man and went indoors with my daughter.
The man didn’t go away. He just stayed, crouched down on the ground outside my house. When my husband returned, he wanted to know who the strange man was. I explained what had happened and how the man had asked for our help. My husband went out and spoke to