Promising Eyebrows, But Odd
A tribute to Moussa Bamoufard Mabo
Issue 9 Fiction Editor’s Prize
MOUSSA lives on Fish Pass Street and works as a street door-to-door clothes salesperson. This morning, when Moussa wakes up, he does not notice that he has lost his eyebrows. Moussa usually wakes up early to get his business started. He mainly sells jackets, coats, and t-shirts to make a living.
Moussa needs clarification. He doesn’t know why everyone that passes him by is laughing.
However, it’s a street life, and Moussa knows that people always make fun of others in the street. Everyday, people always try to rob his clothes, or they will ask questions like: “Where do you steal these awful clothes?” But how they laugh at him this morning is different. What he is experiencing this morning is not the Fish Pass Street he knows. He is convinced something is wrong.
Fish Pass Street is one of the smallest streets in Paris. It is located behind the Eiffel Tower, in the twenty-second arrondissement, and is famous for its stores. The texture of the street transports you to the beautiful streets of New Delhi, India, and the noise in the air reminds you of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A boy passes by. A woman passes by. A man passes by. An older man passes by. Finally, an older woman stops by. People in the street call her GRANDMA because she is reputed as a library of street lifestyle. Grandma arrived in Paris at the age of 32. She is from Brazzaville. She is a widow of a former Brazzavillan Prime minister. In Paris, she is homeless, but she has helped many young people in Fish Pass Street become superstars. One of the famous young people she helped was Maître Gims, a boy who came from Zaïre, currently called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and who arrived in Paris at the age of two. After following Grandma’s advice, Gims became a world music superstar, rapper, singer, and songwriter.
Moussa met Grandma a week ago when he arrived from Spain.
Moussa. My boy, what did you do to yourself?
(Gently nodding his head, but soon surprised)
Why did you remove your eyebrows?
Moussa runs to look for a mirror. He crosses the road–a car almost hits him–and he goes to Le Chandelier Avenue to find some boutiques with possible glass windows so he could look at himself.
Grandma is right, Moussa says when he sees himself in the reflection. What did he do with his eyebrows?
As Moussa is walking down Le Chandelier Avenue, he puts his left hand over his face so people wouldn’t notice that he was missing his eyebrows.
Moussa spends five hours wandering along Le Chandelier Avenue, hiding his face. He watches two dogs fighting for a wife in the street and people crossing the road back and forth. Moussa thinks about his clothes and how he would have sold most of them by this time. At 7:00 pm, he leaves Le Chandelier and returns to Fish Pass Street. He did not sell anything that day and didn’t even get himself food because he was ashamed.
Where Moussa lives, at the end of Fish Pass Street, there is a building occupied by tenants and office workers until the evening. Fortunately, that day the stores in the building closed early, so he had room to install his tiny sleeping pad in front of one of the grocery stores. The store was painted red, orange, and yellow. After setting up his tiny sleeping pad, he covers his head with his yellow blanket and falls asleep.
The following day, Moussa wakes up at 6:08 am. He looks through his blanket to see if there are people around. Indeed, there are people. He feels embarrassed and says to himself, “How can I go out to sell without my eyebrows?” Moussa’s face resembled a man without shape. Nobody could resist that funny face.
Moussa decides to stay under his blanket. The clothes that he should have been selling are right next to him. There are two red Louis Vuitton coats just to his right and another yellow jacket to his left, followed by some t-shirts close to his head. Moussa gets his stock of clothes at Le Chandelier Avenue, located diagonally across from Fish Pass Street, at a one-dollar shop that sells second-hand clothes. He sells back with a benefit of nine dollars per item.
Still, he decides not to go out. He doesn’t want silly questions.
While Moussa is still sleeping, MATHIEU, Moussa’s friend and fellow street salesperson, comes to wake him up. Moussa and Mathieu are two Senegalese friends who met during the genocide in Rwanda. Moussa had a two-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl, and a wife by the time war was declared in Rwanda. Mathieu was always checking up on Moussa, reminding him of his responsibility for his family and future.
But Moussa, why do you sleep at this hour? Don’ttell me this is how you want to make money. Do you want to starve to death? Do you think this kind oflaziness will pay you? Do you forget that the road is long? You have children to support and a wife. Don’tact like you are alone in this world and have nothing to care for.
Moussa lifts his blanket and answers in a dark tone. Mathieu looked like he was about to laugh. But on hearing the following words, Mathieu couldn’t laugh anymore:
Listen, Mathieu, it’s been more than seven years since I’ve spoken to my wife. We’ve lost contact. The last time I saw her and the children was when she said goodbye to me on the Mediterranean Sea in Morocco, looking straight at me as I got on a boat to Europe. We had all managed to escape the war and get to Morocco. Our goal was to reach Spain. We saw the boat coming, and it was heading to Spain. It was our last chance. But after I jumped on the boat, they couldn’t do it because a lot of people were jostling for space. I don’t even know whether she is still alive. I wonder if my two-year-old child started school and my 14-year-old daughter got married. I have faced many terrible situations in my life. I don’t want people to make fun of me anymore.
It is almost 7:30am, and the traffic on Fish Pass Street gets busier. The stores in the building should be opening soon. From a distance, Moussa watches the owner of the grocery store, where he spends his night, approaching them. Moussa will have to pack and leave the building before the guy reaches the grocery store. As he starts packing …
Wait, Moussa, did you run into DIGLO lately? I don’t know—the guy who lives in the suburbs of Paris. I don’t know; people suspect him. I don’t know. They say he’s been involved in horrible traffic lately. I heard he takes people’s eyebrows. I don’t know how and why he does that. He claims to be an artist and goes to exhibit them at the Louvre Museum for collectors. I don’t know. Apparently, he is making a lot of money with people’s eyebrows. Diglo is Ivorian, one meter tall. Boldness. Short, a very short man. But also rude, not rude. The thing with that is that he is always right.
(Still packing, and almost done)
It’s funny you mention this, Mathieu. I remember we were arguing the day before yesterday. He had told me that he had an exhibition and wanted me to lend him one of the jackets I was selling so he would be able to presentable at the exhibition. But I refused. I am still trying to figure out how he started calling himself an artist. He used to come here on the street, and nobody cared about him, but suddenly he became an artist. Oops! Maybe I need to be corrected. His face never appears when I type his name on Google, and he still lives with his parents. Maybe he is trying to find his way out. Maybe that’s why he is trying his best to be creative to attract attention to get more clients and get his own house.
Moussa, I think he’s the one who took off your eyebrows.
He might still be around the Louvre. I know these types of guys. They always stick to their business environment to find potential customers. Collectors are always impressed and interested in human eyebrows salespeople, especially in the early days of their careers, like Diglo. And to think that Diglo claims to be a contemporary artist.
Moussa and Mathieu get up and go to the Louvre. On the way, Moussa tries to hide his face. He puts his left hand over his face where his eyebrows are supposed to be so that no one will notice his missing eyebrows. But people think he is greeting them—especially the soldiers who salute Moussa when he walks past.
Meanwhile: Grandma wanted to help. And without letting Moussa know, she calls one of Diglo’s clients and asks him for a favor. This is what she tells him:
When you see Diglo, demonstrate high interest in buying the eyebrows, and bring Diglo to the Museum so they can catch him.
Grandma knew that the very first reflex of Moussa or anyone else living in Fish Pass Street would be to check the Museum. The news has spread that Diglo steals people’s eyebrows. The news spreads fast on Fish Pass Street.
Moussa and Mathieu arrive at the entrance of the museum but find no one there. Soon, Moussa hears a fragile voice calling from behind: “Moussa! Yo, Moussa!” He thinks it is just in his mind, but he sees Diglo carrying four eyebrows in a glass bottle–two of them are screaming, trying to call him. Diglo enters the Museum. Moussa rushes to catch Diglo, punches him in the face, and Diglo drops the glass bottle that contained the eyebrows. The bottle breaks, and Moussa’s eyebrows run to Moussa with tears in their eyes.
We missed you, Moussa. We thought we would never see you again in our lives. Thank you for finding us.
Moussa looks gently at his eyebrows, and they all start crying joyfully.
Mathieu tries to hold Diglo so he won’t run away. Moussa sees the other two eyebrows crying on the ground. He picks them up and asks them to whom they belong. Moussa reassures them that he will help them.
They Killed Me
Today I tried to look at North Kivu, this neighborhood, with tears in my eyes. I feel every pain my people feel; a lake of love, striving to eat, struggling to find water to drink, crying for their beloved ones killed during an everlasting war. Yet I have no voice to speak. I have been working in mining ever since I was three years old. My mom would wake me up at 4:30 a.m. saying, “Don’t get angry, maybe today will be the last day.” My dad was supportive enough and would make sure everyone was up to go. My brothers were upset and tired of that painful life and my sisters were strong. Together, we would go down the street every morning, at 5 a.m. to work. We were working for people we had never met or seen.
As the days went by, I turned 16 and started feeling bad. I lost my parents in the mining field. I know that sometimes those people would not even pay us. We were, however, forced to work for them in a certain way. They promised they would change our lives, they promised they would provide food and water, and they promised the promised land. At the end of the day, all these promises disappeared.
They killed me. I went down to the mining park. I saw children working down there. I was pretty sure they did not know what they were doing. They forced them. Political discrimination and treaties have been signed for peace building: these treaties in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and in Spanish. Yet there has never been peace.
I went to see the soldier in charge of that mining sector. I told him that I was tired of all this. I was tired of losing people every day. I was tired of crying; I was tired. I then cried. I was thinking of these lives we lost every day. I did not mean to be a coward. Some of my people told me that crying was a sign of strength, but I believe it was a weakness that none of us could overcome.
We had that little talk and this morning I woke up, and they killed me. I went down a four-hundred-meter hole hunting for coltan and those sands covered me up. Now I am looking at these children that I left and hoping they will find their way out. I know it will be hard for them to mend fences with these oppressors, but I believe they won’t live this life I lived. They will forgive and forget; they will prosper. They will have a family; they will be happy. They will not cry anymore. I am confident. They will save this nation; they will save this country. They will not let them kill our parents or rape our sisters.
To these strongest women I have ever met, my conscience will forever be grateful. You, women, have always supported each one of us. You inspire hope among men, among children, among nations, and you care for everyone. I know you will not be tired. Keep on praying for peace; keep on praying for freedom and love. Keep on praying for your children; keep on praying. Do not cry, as many of us might do, because there wouldn’t be joy if you weren’t here.
To my cousins, sisters, and brothers, hope, because the future is beautiful. I can see it. It is so bright; we shall forgive and forget. Remember, no matter what we may go through, I know there is life. In Congo, there is Life.
1940. German troops are advancing toward Belgium. After the Blitzkrieg, Belgium declared itself a neutral country in World War II and is now invaded. The order has been given to capture whoever opposes the German army.
1941. English troops allied to the Force Publique, the Belgian Congo army, are fighting across the Eastern part of Africa. I am recruited as a young boy to be a soldier in the Force Publique. Today, we receive a call from the Belgian government saying that the country has been locked down. The Nazis have taken King Leopold III. Belgians are now hiding in England. One of the local officers, a Belgian, asks for two people to join him. He has a huge weapon and wears sunglasses. He glances and points at me and finally decides to grab me, telling me, “You die here, or you come with me.”
We leave Ethiopia for England. We have a one-and-a-half-day training session before heading to Belgium, where we are confronted by the German Luftwaffe. Our mission is to free the Belgian king from the Nazis’ prison. However, our communication with the Belgian government turns out to be strict, dicey, and threatening because they all now live in the house of exile. But we must free the king at all costs.
I am among the five soldiers assigned to this mission. There are four Belgians and one Congolese, me. As we approach the border, I decide to take the leading role. Three of the Belgians are then arrested in front of the prison gate. And the other one surrenders.
I hide behind a straw house, and soon, from far away, I hear cheers spread. It is the sound of joy; Operation Barbarossa has been launched. All the Nazi soldiers gather to drink, including the guards of the prison cells, since no one is left out of the celebrations. This leaves me with a new perspective.
1945. And so, I meet the king after I finally get inside the prison. In tears, he asks me who I am. I tell him who I was; a boy from Congo forced to join the army to serve Belgium; that I left my family and parent, my smile, and my village to serve Belgium. I have been treated unfairly in the army and never got paid, and though I fought against the Italians in Ethiopia, I will never be mentioned in history.
I then promise to take him out of that place. He is crying. Well, I can believe it, but I know I cannot not forget what happened to me all these years, for me, for my people, and for the world. I hand him a piece of paper. I ask him to sign it. We agree on July 1960.
1960. My name is François, and I am the one who released King Leopold III from the Nazis’ prison during World War II and requested the independence of Congo fifteen years ago.