The Incredible Adventures of the Paper with the Mighty Ink

Sabrina Moella
Apr 25, 2018 · 9 min read
© Sabrina Moella

At first, one would think it was a simple piece of paper… An old document, printed on heavyweight cardstock. It had been yellowed by age, but the ancient calligraphy it was almost entirely covered with, still conferred it some kind of official status.

And then, when you looked at it a little more carefully, things would become very obvious very quickly: the paper was far from ordinary. Very far from it. This was not your Joe Schmo piece of paper. Huh uh. It was a well-traveled Paper, standing there in front of you. A Paper that had dug diamonds. That knew how to eat nshima… A Paper that had cheated death twice already. A scholar ass Paper.

It was not every day that Kaku Kashama would agree to take it out of its drawer. Only on rare occasions… And even then, the kids would have to beg him first. Swear with a hand over their hearts that all the bedrooms had been cleaned; that all their homework had been done. Promise for the umpteenth time that they knew how to behave properly.

Then and only then, would Kaku Kashama get comfortable in his chair, put on his glasses, and start clearing his throat. Then and only then, would he accept to tell, once again, The Incredible Adventures of the Paper with the Mighty Ink.

And though he had seen it at least a hundred times, it was always with deep emotion — a bittersweet happiness, mixed with bouts of melancholy — that Kaku Kashama would hold the precious piece of paper in his hands. Then, all of a sudden, everything would come back to him in a flash. All the memories would start forming clearly in his mind, as if everything had just happened the day before…

MILITARY BASE OF KAMINA, Congo. Early 1950’s.

Kaku is not Kaku yet, but just Kashama, a little boy like all the others.

His muscles are flexible. He is seven years old, maybe... Nine years old, maximum. His friends are called Mbanza, Ilunga, Kapinga, Nkita…

Like all the other boys of Kamina, he speaks Swahili. Like all the other boys of Kamina, he wakes up at dawn every day, puts on his cotton shorts, and walks with the other kids along the long road that separates Kamina-Base-One from Kamina-Base-Two, in order to go to school.

These are the old good days… Days where children play soccer barefoot for hours, and make their own rules as they go. Days where the boys of Kamina turn into boy scouts on the weekend, get into fights about girls they all have crushes on, and then secretly go out at night to watch the Belgian armed forces rehearse impressive flying routines on their Fouga Magister jet trainers.

These are also the days where the African men are addressed as “tu” because the “vous”, too polite, is only reserved for the White man… But Kashama-The-Younger doesn’t know this yet, or at least, he isn’t able to grasp the full meaning of this grammatical rule yet…

For the time being, Kashama is only obsessed with one thing: his upcoming Big Day. Like all the other boys of Kamina, he has been preparing for it for weeks, working diligently on the catechism lessons that the white missionaries come and deliver him daily, in French, in the evening, after school. They’ve taught him how to read the Gospels, have offered him countless religious printed images, are already talking about sending him to the Minor Seminary, to make sure that his intelligence doesn’t go to waste.

But the Minor Seminary is the furthest thing from Kashama’s mind at the moment. For now, all he can think about is the new pair of shoes and the stylish white cotton shirt that he is going to be wearing on his Big Day. He can already picture how fresh his face is going to look after a brand new haircut, how everyone in town is going to be raving about his Big Day for weeks, and how, before that, his uncle Célestin and his auntie Mangabu are going to be standing there in the crowd, beaming with pride, cheering for him… And, last but not least, Kashama can already picture how, after his Big Day, the older boys will not dare stealing his lunch every other day at school any more. Oh yes, he can already anticipate it, his Big Day is going to be one for the books…

But, against all odds, in retrospect, Kashama’s Big Day will not make an unforgettable mark on him... The day that will, instead, remain engraved in his memory for years, will be the Day After. Or was it the Week After? His memory has started playing tricks on him. The exact dates are a little fuzzy, but he can still replay the events with great clarity in his head… It had all happened one morning, one fateful morning, during the dry season. He had been sitting in class with all of his friends when, suddenly, four Belgian soldiers had entered their classroom, and, without wasting any time, had asked everyone around, including their teacher:

- Who is called Kashama here?

In no time, all the fingers had pointed towards his forehead. And so the soldiers had motioned for him to pack up his things and, without any other form of explanations, had taken him outside, and had sat him at the back of their jeep… It was the first time that he had had the opportunity to travel from Kamina-Base-Two to Kamina-Base-One inside a vehicle. And not any vehicle, a military jeep on top of it! He should have been happy and busy enjoying the whole experience — an experience that he’d thought he would for sure, be able to tell all of his friends with great exaggeration afterwards — but his intuition was already telling him that this special ride was not a good omen, nor was it something meant to be enjoyed… And his suspicion had quickly materialized when the jeep had stopped right in front of his uncle and his auntie’s house, allowing him to see that a big military truck, even bigger than the jeep he had gotten the special ride in, was parked in front of their house. And that huge boxes containing almost all of their household items had been loaded at the back of the truck…

A group of soldiers, armed to the teeth, had been standing there as well. They had been shouting orders at his uncle Célestin and his auntie Mangabu. After all, these were the days where the Africans were still addressed as “tu”, not because they were a person’s friends, but because the “vous”, much more polite, was only reserved for the White man. But his uncle Célestin had had the audacity to forget about that simple rule… He had been found guilty of having dreamt a little too early, a little too loudly, of a new era of Independence for the Congo and its people… In the heart of a military base controlled by the Belgian colonizers, his activities, once uncovered, had not been well received… The Belgians had quickly decided to punish the negro Célestin by literally stripping him of everything — house, employment, resources. They had wanted to make sure that nobody else in that military base would ever, even remotely, think again about trying to follow in Célestin’s foolish footsteps, so the chosen punishment had been to send him back to his hometown, alive, but with absolutely nothing left…

At that moment, Kashama had not been totally able to grasp all the reasons for his uncle’s punishment. Everything had been happening so quickly, and nobody was explaining anything to him. However, his seven-year old brain had been able to sense that one thing was for sure: the days of the two-hour long soccer games and of the weekly boy scouts fights were over… And even though the soldiers had agreed to allow him a couple of minutes — four minutes in total; five maybe — to enter the family’s house one last time and pick up some of his valuables, he had already known that he, alas, was not going to be able to rescue many things. So, with a heavy heart, his eyes had gone towards one of his belongings, and one only. And that belonging was a little piece of paper…

From that day on, Kashama had started clunging to the piece of paper like a castaway would clung to his lifeboat. From Kamina to Elisabethville. From Elisabethville to Mwene Ditu. Through a journey of hundreds of kilometers throughout the Congo, the kid fiercely clunged to his little piece of paper. Nobody was ever able to separate it from him, not even his own mother... She fought a good fight though. When, after a couple of weeks on the road, Kashama left his uncle Célestin and his auntie Mangabu to go join his birth mother in Tshibombo, the stubborn woman decided to rage a war against the Paper. She made a personal case of it. Nobody had ever seen that. It was a real vendetta… Kashama’s mother couldn’t care less if the Paper was fluent in Greek, Latin, or whatever. She wanted to get rid of it. She needed to smash it... And, most importantly, she had solemnly swore that she was never ever going to say the name that had been written — in French - on the damn piece of paper. Saying it for what? Hadn’t she given all the most beautiful names available on Earth to her son already? Hadn’t she named him M’bayi Tshilumiana Tshibi Tshiabu Tshiboza? The bravest, the best of them, the Hero, the One-that-rules-everyone and everything? So then, what? No piece of paper was gonna come here and try to tell her how to call her son now. Tooooo! What kind of nonsense was that?

But her son was even more stubborn than her… This was a fight that Kashama’s mother could not win. Nothing could have separated her child from that piece of paper. Absolutely nothing. The boy would keep it close to him every day, even to go play outside. He would eat with the paper by his side, wash his face with the paper by his side, go to bed with it. Despite his mother’s best objections, Kashama would claim that the Paper’s presence was what was keeping him safe at night. He would swear that it allowed him to have sweet dreams… So, even if his mother strongly disapproved, every night, Kashama would go lie down with the piece of paper by his side. Night after night, he would just fall asleep, his hand tightly holding the little piece of paper. And then, one morning, as he slowly opened his eyes, the piece of paper still in his hand, next thing he knew, more than sixty years had quietly gone by…

Ok… Now Kaku Kashama was getting tired. His throat was dry. His eyes were becoming red and puffy. It was time to take off his glasses…

But, in front of him, eight pairs of brown eyes were already asking for a sequel. They were ready to dive straight into Part 2 of The Incredible Adventures of the Paper with the Mighty Ink. What about all the rumors? Was it true that the Paper had gone to school in Ngandajika? Had declared secession in Bakwanga? Had flown with Air Bush straight to Kabinda?

Even the latest grandchild, a babygirl who hadn’t learned how to read or write her own name yet, and who was following the Paper’s Incredible Adventures for the very first time, greatly insisted to be shown the original. She needed clarity on all these plot twists, and, according to her, some crucial points had not been addressed properly. Pointing her finger at the yellowish piece of paper, with her little baby voice she asked:

“But Kaku, I don’t get it! What is this piece of paper?”

Kaku Kashama looked at her patiently, as if it were the first time that anyone had ever asked this very important question to him. He helped her sit on his lap, so that she could have a closer look at the six-decade old precious document. Then all the memories started rushing again... During a split second, Kaku remembered how good he had looked in his neatly-ironed white shirt and his brand new pair of shoes; he remembered his uncle Célestin and his auntie Mangabu, and how the both of them had looked so proud of him in the crowd, he thought about the city of Kamina and how all its inhabitants had gotten to celebrate until late at night that day…

“This?” he said, while looking at the piece of paper that still had his name on it. It had been written by hand, beautifully, with a feather pen that had been dipped into a pot of mighty dark black ink…

“This is Kaku’s baptism certificate...”

And, with a heartfelt thought for the piece of paper that had, one fateful morning, been forcibly placed on a military truck, without having had the opportunity to hug all of its friends, without having played one last soccer game, without even having said a proper goodbye to the beautiful city of Kamina, Kaku Kashama looked at his former trusted Travel Buddy one last time, and added:

- It’s been through a lot…

Then he went to put the piece of paper back in its safe place, and gently closed the drawer.

© Sabrina Moella

Sabrina Moella

Written by

👩🏾‍🎤Busy writing a novel in 2019. 📖

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