Message from Kinshasa, Part II — The Bakery
The bathroom in Sylvere’s suite at Hotel Rastelli was, like the main room itself, modern but not overtly luxurious. The fixtures seemed new. Entering the bathroom to brush his teeth and take a shower, Sylvere decided to go to the local park for which Tervuren was known. He wanted to sit on one of the benches alongside the lake which lay at the center of the park. Maybe he could ease his troubled mind. But first he would stop at a bakery he had seen the previous afternoon.
When Sylvere emerged from the bathroom 15 minutes later, he put on his violet-colored polo shirt, gray trousers, and dark-blue suit jacket and, picking up his phone, began composing a new text message. He needed to talk with Pinto. The digital read-out in the upper right corner of the phone showed 6:45.
“You awake?” Sylvere typed in French. He sent the message. The reply was immediate.
“Oui,” Pinto replied.
Sylvere called Pinto. For 15 minutes, Sylvere spoke to his friend in Kikongo, providing not only a summary of the previous day’s events but also an overview of his findings and his impressions. Pinto listened in silence. Sylvere could hear Pinto’s wife, Bernadette, talking in the background. Apparently, she was holding her own conversation with someone, possibly her daughter, Annabel, who was a flight attendant for the same airline, Air France, for which Sylvere’s oldest daughter, Sylvie, worked as a human-resources manager.
“If Anthony is responsible for the death of Ronald and now wants to silence Ronald’s daughter, Claudette, because she can implicate him in the crime,” Sylvere said in conclusion, “it appears that Anthony is coming after me.” He paused for several moments before adding: “He doesn’t know where Claudette is and he thinks I do.” He paused again. Pinto was silent. Sylvere could hear Bernadette still talking in the background to her daughter. “Anna has her own reasons for wanting to find Claudette,” Sylvere resumed. He paused a third time. “Anna and Carolina say they want to help Claudette,” Sylvere said.
“You don’t trust them?” Pinto interjected at last, also speaking in Kikongo.
Sylvere didn’t answer at first.
“I don’t know,” Sylvere replied finally. “But I think the issue is one of expediency. I think they will attempt to use me however they can to serve their purposes.” He stopped talking for a few moments. “Of course, I haven’t even met Anna or Carolina yet,” Sylvere resumed. “I’ll have a better idea after I meet with them this afternoon.” He stopped talking again. “You hear Serge and Penelope just bought a new house in a gated community outside Combs-la-Ville?” Sylvere asked then.
“Yes,” Pinto replied.
A silence ensued.
“You hear they paid cash for the house?” Pinto asked next.
“No,” Sylvere answered.
Another silence ensued.
“You know,” Sylvere resumed after a few moments, “Anthony, Penelope, and Serge also say they want to help Claudette.” Pinto didn’t speak. “Both sides are telling me they want to help Claudette escape Congo,” Sylvere added, “because they believe I can help them find her.”
Sylvere stopped talking.
“It seems like everyone believes I know where she is,” Sylvere resumed suddenly, “or believes I know someone who knows where she is.”
“Maybe you do know someone,” Pinto responded.
“Not true,” Sylvere responded. “I don’t know anyone who knows where Claudette is. But how can a person know what he doesn’t know?”
Inside the bakery just off the town square in the heart of Tervuren, Sylvere stood next to a row of tables and chairs along one wall of the building. A few moments previously, he had placed an order to go with the young woman behind the counter. Now, as he awaited his cappuccino and two croissants with pieces of chocolate inside, he looked at the rows of assorted breads resting on racks behind the counter. The thought occurred to him the bakery was a family business and the young woman worked alongside her mother and father and perhaps other family members. However, at the moment, Sylvere didn’t see anyone else behind the counter.
Turning to his right, Sylvere saw a man in one corner of the bakery, adjacent to the front door. The man, who appeared to be Flemish and about the same age as Sylvere, who was 72 years old, gave the impression he was angry or mean-spirited or perhaps both.
Sitting by himself at a small, round table, the man stared at Sylvere.
Sylvere looked from the old, Flemish man to a clock hanging on the wall above the man’s head. It was 7:25. Outside he could see the sky was clear and already turning a rich blue as it was lit up by the rising sun. The day would warm up quickly.
Turning back toward the assortment of breads and pastries from croissants and baguettes to Danishes and doughnuts, Sylvere could feel the weight of the old, Flemish man’s stare on his head and shoulders. Sylvere realized it would be a good idea to leave that place as quickly as possible, and he was relieved when the young woman behind the counter approached carrying his order of croissants and coffee.
As the blond, young woman, who wore a warm smile on her face, placed in Sylvere’s hands a tall paper cup containing coffee with milk and a white paper bag holding two croissants with chocolate, Sylvere had a sudden recollection.
Quickly, Sylvere began making his way to the front door of the bakery while recalling the details of the two text messages he had received from his daughter, Kandgela.
According to Kandgela, the man, Justin Kabumba, had claimed to have important information for her father. The man, who was a teacher and human rights activist based in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, located in the western part of the country, had offered his condolences for the death of Ronald, a well-known Congolese doctor.
Sylvere stopped in his tracks.
“Wait a minute,” Sylvere said to himself. “Maybe Pinto is right. Maybe I do know somebody who knows what I don’t know.”
Justin Kabumba had referred, next, to a young woman, indicating that one of his colleagues, a fellow activist based in eastern Congo, had seen the young woman with two men in a village, called Rurimba, just outside Goma the day before.
“The young woman,” asserted Justin’s colleague, “was Ronald’s daughter.”
Maybe it was true.
Resuming his walk to the front door of the bakery, Sylvere realized that Justin’s colleague had claimed to see Ronald’s daughter, Claudette, in the village of Rurimba on the same day that Pépé had reported her missing from Goma. The village was less than an hour by car from the city.
Abruptly, Sylvere had another recollection: He had not mentioned any of this information to Pinto 30 minutes earlier. He didn’t know why. Probably it was because he didn’t believe the report was accurate. Why should he believe it?
Why should he not believe it?
Sylvere reached the front door of the bakery. As he was about to grasp the door knob he heard a shout from the corner of the room. Looking in the direction of the noise, Sylvere saw the old, Flemish man looking back at him. Rising from his chair, the old man, still staring at Sylvere but now wearing an expression of unmistakable ugliness on his face, jabbed the index finger of his right hand in the air between himself and Sylvere.
“Don’t ever let me see you in here again,” the old man said, speaking in Flemish.