30 Minutes to Curfew
Patrick Nzabonimpa on the nervous hustle and rush to make it home in time for curfew.
We travelled the road from Giti Cy'inyoni to Nyabugogo — David, Divine, Muhire and I. The lights gleamed orange, making the black road attain the same color. The surrounding areas held concentrated houses with multicolored lights. This is how we knew we were entering Kigali.
It was October 16, 2021 at 11:30 p.m — 30 minutes to curfew. I am dressed in a greenish hoodie but the coldness still hits my skin. It has been raining here and the road is still clammy. I have been in this car for 5 hours, returning from a job mission as a journalist. I am supposed to write an article about the launch of construction activities of a health post in Nyaruguru District of the Southern Province of Rwanda.
I tell Muhire, the driver, to accelerate the car so that we do not get caught up with time. He refuses, declaring that the cameras can capture us if we exceed the recommended speed. The fine would dent our pockets by Rwf 25,000. According to my coercing mind, our pickup is moving as slow as a pregnant snail.
I kiss my teeth, annoyed at why he didn’t buy enough fuel before.
As we reach Nyabugogo, we find all of the commercial services closed except for the petrol stations. People have gone to their homes; only a few cars drive through the deserted roads. Time is running out and we don’t all live in the same neighbourhood. Muhire has to take everyone home before curfew hits.
He takes the road to town. This time, there was no traffic. We descend to Kinamba, Kacyiru, Nyarutarama before Kinyinya where Divine lives. She is a mother. She alights from the pickup before her daughters and Muhire help her take out her stuff; one sack full of charcoal and two filled with potatoes. She says bye to us before she enters her home.
It is now 11:58 p.m. I am now panicking, wondering how I will get to Gikondo, my neighborhood, which is four kilometers away. Muhire tries to speed up the car as he ascends the road from Divine's home back to the main road, but the car fails due to insufficient fuel in the tank. I kiss my teeth, annoyed at why he didn’t buy enough fuel before.
12:01 a.m hits the clock. We have now surpassed curfew. We know that the punishments include being taken to the stadium to sit until morning and paying a fine of Rwf 10,000. The good thing is that we are near a petrol station. Muhire grabs a small jerry can and heads there. As our car waits, parked on the side of the road, a couple of others, as well as motorbikes, pass us. The late-leavers have also reached their neighbourhoods. I start thinking about sleeping in this car until sunrise instead of going home. I am not at ease.
David stares at me and laughs before he informs me that we will probably pass the police because we are journalists with employee cards. When Muhire returns, he pours fuel in the tank before he starts the car’s engine. We put our face masks on appropriately before we join the main road.
A few minutes later, at Nyarutarama, two policemen stop us. They ask why we are moving during curfew. My heart races before I breathe out.
"Mwiriwe Afande, we are journalists,” David says, showing his card. “We were on a job mission in Nyaruguru District. The journey has been long and now we are taking this boy home."
I show mine too before the policeman nods and lets us pass. I am now glad that my card has saved me. We meet other policemen at Remera and Kicukiro but they don't stop us. Muhire drives me to Gikondo, my neighbourhood. When we reach my street, he helps me take my luggage out. He then accelerates and leaves with David. Here, all of the boutiques have closed. I cannot sense or see anybody around. I sigh before calling my sister to open the gate for me.
*Title photo by Dan Nsengiyumva