Mensa’s Book

Characters: Mensa, Jonah, Narrator, Hutu guard, Tutsi soldiers
(Iyaz’s song, Fight for You plays in the background as the narrator speaks)
NARRATOR
Between April and June, 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. Other estimates of the death toll have ranged from 500,000 to 1,000,000. Most of the dead were Tutsis – and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus. The Hutu goal was to overthrow the Tutsi monarchy by whatever means. Jonah is a Tutsi man in his early 20s. He is a notorious Tutsi defense soldier that fights against the oppression of the Hutu people. Jonah has been the leader of the Tutsi defense since it reached his backyard. Since being caught, Jonah has been imprisoned in a Hutu rebel camp in a single cell. His clothes are tattered and he sits alone, chained except for the older Hutu soldier named Mensa, who is guarding him. The man is in his late fifties. Rapid gunfire is heard in the distance. It’s night and the heat is suffocating. Because of Jonah’s rank, he is to be executed in the morning by the Hutu rebels to be made an example. Even for a country with such a turbulent history as Rwanda, the scale and speed of the slaughter left its people reeling. What you are about to witness may very well be true. (music stops)

JONAH
(He is trembling and his voice is weak) Please sir, water. (Mensa is startled; he hesitates at first but grabs his own bowl, fills it from his bottle and shoves it through the cell.) Thank you. (Jonah drinks)
MENSA
(he stares hard at the young man) How old are you (Remembering his status), cockroach?
JONAH
(looks up in anger, but calmly) Fuck you, I am no Cockroach. I am old enough to be a man; a man that does not need a rifle strapped to my chest in order to be one.
MENSA
(amused) That is a smart thing to say to the man (grips rifle) with the rifle strapped to his chest. So you are Jonah. I always thought we would meet on brighter days…. (Jokingly) they say you are faster than the wind, so my question is; how does the wind get caught?
JONAH
(angry) Are you teasing me? Do you mock a dead man?
MENSA
(apologetically) Never, forgive me Jonah. I am a man caught in the fire just like you.
JONAH
(taken aback and confused) What type of Hutu soldier are you? (Stands)
MENSA
(embarrassed) I am barely a soldier. I am a father and farmer first.
JONAH
(still confused) You are a mad man.
MENSA
And you are practically a child. A strategic one from what I have heard. But you are torn just like the rest of us.
JONAH
(offended) I am nothing like you. I am old enough to have a daughter, a woman, a legacy!
MENSA
(solemnly) But are you old enough to die?
JONAH
(bitterly chuckles) I die every day your people ravage a Tutsi village. I die when your people vandalize Tutsi families. I die when my people are butchered like meat. Soldier, I have been dead for days.
MENSA
(playfully) So that is what smells. (sarcastically) You cannot be more than twenty, yet you are so full of wisdom. (Smiles)
JONAH
(frustrated) What is wrong with you? I am in pain! I am here. I am your captive and still you tease me. You have taken away so much…No one dreams of being a soldier. I never dreamed of being soldier. Sometimes I forget, forget what I am fighting for, (looks at his hands) what I am killing for. (Realizes he is explaining himself)Are you insane?! What type of Hutu converses with a cockroach? I thought you people hated me. I thought you blamed us.
MENSA
I can only blame ignorance. Like you, I am forced. (Mockingly) If you are not with the rebellion, you are against it they say. I think we have all forgotten why we fight. (grips rifle)
JONAH
No one forced me to do anything.
MENSA
Eh? Our world has pushed you knee deep in this battle…you just cannot see it. Really, how ol-
JONAH
(resolved) I am twenty three, but I feel like an old man. (Chuckles) I was educated before the war. (Proudly) I was going to finish my last year of schooling in The United States of America. But, my father lost his job and I had to get one for the family. I worked in the meat shop. (Dazed) My last day was when the Hutu rebels came in and the one with the biggest head asked for a goat. And when I told him the price (pretends to raise a rifle) he pointed his gun in my face and said no thanks, this one is free. (Arteries in his neck begin to strain as he fights back tears) I had already heard about what Hutu rebels did to Tutsi people so I pushed the rifle out of my face and ran to the back where we kept the animals. The only place to hide was in the pig’s filthy river. My head was hidden by a dead swine so (breathes deeply) I was able to breathe.
MENSA
(ashamed) And then?
JONAH
I heard all the other workers screaming and running. But they had no place to run because (shrugs shoulders) it was too late. No one saw me among the swine. (Eyes begin to swell but he forces them back. He laughs) My father used to say I was too smart for school ;( changing subject) you ever went to school?
(A heavy set Hutu guard enters)
GAURD
(to Mensa) Is this cockroach giving you trouble? I can hear him from my post. (To Jonah) Do you know why we call you cockroaches? It is because you are worthless…insignificant…
JONAH
(Jonah blankly stares at the guard) And we are practically indestructible.
GAURD
(the guard angrily raises his rifle) I will blow your face out right now you piece of sh-
(Mensa sternly pushes the guard’s rifle towards the floor)
MENSA
Are you stupid? What would you have done? Shot him? If you shot him, Oluwa would have shot you dead before his blood penetrated the soil.
GAURD
(upset and embarrassed) What are you doing? You speak down to me in front of the prisoner? (Glances at Jonah) Relax. Ay, I was just kidding.
MENSA
Go back to your post and stop your foolishness. Just leave. (The guard does not move. Mensa pushes him roughly) LEAVE!
(The guard rushes out embarrassed.)
What were we talking about? Oh! School. I could not afford it. I do not care what year it is, education is still for the rich. If you went to America and even college, what would you be?
JONAH
(slides down to the floor to sit, sarcastically) I would be a soldier of course.
MENSA
Really? Well I would be a football player. I…I…I’d major in football.
JONAH
(laughing) You cannot major in football. But if I could, I would major in English.
MENSA
(disgusted) I hated English. Could not read worth a damn in primary school. Why do you want to major in writing class anyway?
JONAH
(shyly) I wanted to tell the world how Rwanda is still beautiful. I wanted the world to know how gorgeous and strong our people were. I wanted America, Europe and even all of Africa to understand that we are not savages or brutes. We are a people.
MENSA
(nods) “All wish to possess knowledge, but few are willing to pay the price.”
JONAH
(recognizes the quote) Juvenal.
(They smile together)
MENSA
(serious) If you were a free man, would you stay in Rwanda for the fight or would you fly to America and write that story?
JONAH
(laughing) I would take my daughter and run to Harlem. I am getting too old for this shit.
MENSA
(takes key out of pocket)
JONAH
(sees the key and stops laughing, looks at Mensa) They will kill you.
MENSA
(smiles) I have been dead for days.
JONAH
(scared) They would torture you for treason. I am not worth that kind of death.
MENSA
(angry) But I have nothing else…This war goes beyond Tutsi suffering. Eventually, we will all be dead. If I can just set one thing right Jonah, maybe God would forgive of my many, many sins. I have done so much I am not proud of Jonah, and it kills me.
JONAH
You are crazy! (He turns his back on him)
MENSA
(presses his face against the cell bars, pleading) Someone has to tell our story, promise me you will tell the story of our people.
JONAH
( upset) You are Hutu and I am Tutsi. You truly are a mad man; just put the key away now. I will pretend like this did not even happen. (Mensa attempts to put the key in the lock. Jonah grabs his arm firmly) Stop! Your people will murder you. (Mensa struggles to free himself from Jonah’s grip. Jonah is pleading) A book is not worth writing if you are not alive to read it.
MENSA
(sadly) Do not say that. Please do not say that. We are one people. We have always been one people. (Hopefully) Our people will read it, (he points to the door) they will read it! (They stare at each other and a bird call is heard)
JONAH
(He is distracted by the birdcall. He looks as if he’s trying to contemplate something. He looks confused and worried. Mensa notices he’s stopped fighting over the lock and is troubled as well. The bird call sounds again; a look of realization crosses Jonah’s face) Shit! Run, get out of here now!
MENSA
(startled) Why?
JONAH
(excited) My troops! My troops have come to rescue me. Did you not hear that bird call? That is the signal my men use to let me know they are near. You need to leave. You need to hide now. (Frantic)Run! Get the hell out of here. They will kill you. (Gun fire and screams are heard. At the window, a shadow passes and indistinct voices are heard.)Hide, hide! (They both fall quiet to the sound of a detonated land mine. Mensa starts to find a place to hide but realizes the key is still in his hand. Mensa runs back to Jonah’s cell and tries to open the lock. Jonah turns around and grabs the key. As their hands meet three Tutsi defense soldiers burst through the door and open fire on Mensa) HOLD your fire. Hold your fire! Hold! (Mensa is pelted by bullets, stumbles back and falls. His body is stretched out on the floor in his own blood. His breathing is rapid and heavy. Jonah’s hands tremble as he unlocks his cell. He runs to Mensa, falls to his knees and props his head in his lap. Tears run down Jonah’s face and the Tutsi troops watch in quiet confusion and impatience as more of them pour into the room. They surround them. To the Tutsi soldiers) Dammit, I said HOLD! Which one of you shot!? Which one of you shot because I am going to put lead so far into your skull-
MENSA
(weakly) Jonah please…this must end. You must forgive and move forward because if you do not, this will never stop.
JONAH
What is your name soldier? (Jonah tries to smile and Mensa is dying quickly)
MENSA
(coughs) My name, my name? (Smiles) You are going to dedicate your book to me?
JONAH
No (sniffles and smiles) I am going to put you in it; I swear, the whole world will-
MENSA
Mensa, my name is Mensa.
JONAH
The entire world will know our people’s story. (Mensa dies. Jonah closes Mensa’s eyes and bows his head in prayer)

Simone Johnson, Age 16, Grade 12, Bronx Preparatory Charter School, Silver Key

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