The first casualty is truth.
A heart-wrenching saga set on three continents, over four decades, Truth, by Omission seamlessly intertwines factual events of recent times in Africa with a compelling set of contemporary fictional circumstances.
After surviving a desperate childhood of lawlessness and violence, Alfred Olyontombo makes his way to a refugee camp while Rwanda’s genocide rages behind him. His knowledge of local languages catches the attention of an idealistic young doctor who opens the door to a whole new life for Alfred. Seizing the chance, he moves forward, embracing the American dream and becoming a respected physician married to a successful lawyer in Colorado. However, his new life comes to a screeching halt when the transgressions of his youth come back to haunt him.
With his future hanging in the balance, Alfred is forced to face the misdeedsand the nemesiswhich he had hoped that time had buried forever. But is it too late for the truth to matter? And which version of the truth can save him?
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About the Author
Daniel Beamish, tempted into politics by his interests in social issues and public service, was elected three times to municipal council in Ottawa, Canada. During this time, he wrote a weekly information and opinion column in the community newspaper. Leaving politics to pursue creative endeavors, he spent another decade working as a professional model and part-time actor. When not writing, Beamish currently spends his time enjoying the achievements of his family and volunteering locally in Ottawa where he continues to live. Truth, by Omission is his first novel.
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It was a daily ritual for Auntie Nyaka and me to walk the path from our home through the lush jungle, making noise and song as much for our own play and amusement as to let the creatures of the river know that we were approaching. We, our village, lived in a symbiotic relationship of respect with the hippos and crocodiles that also used the waterway, neither the great creatures nor we wanting to tip the precious balance, fine-tuned over many generations. We each kept our distance and tried not to surprise the other, us out of fear of being devoured, the beasts trying to avoid slaughter.
The length of the path itself was part of the détente. Our homes were built far enough from the water that the creatures would not venture the distance and take us unawares. The daily treks to the river involved the older boys swinging their machetes to keep the path clear. If this was not done regularly the way would be lost to the jungle in a matter of weeks. Uncle Dzigbote would jest and tell me often that the only thing growing faster than the jungle was me. At seven I was as big as some of the older boys and Auntie Nyaka even referred to me as her "little man." And as predictably as the day would dawn, on every river trek I bemoaned not yet being given my own machete. But Uncle Dzigbote knew too well the dangers of the weighty blades.
The machetes served a second purpose, to lop off the heads of the mambas, vipers, and adders that camouflaged themselves so well in the trees and on the ground, and even in the water. There was no truce possible with the snakes. We feared and hated them, and I suspect they felt the same for us. When we could avoid each other we would, but if either of us got the chance we would kill the other, us with our machetes and them with their needle teeth.
So when Auntie Nyaka and I, neither of us wielders of a machete, walked the path alone we had to be especially loud and vigilant. We usually sang the songs that Auntie's mother had taught her. Those were the ones that I liked, the ones that made me laugh and her smile. Sometimes she would sing the songs that the white Christ-men had taught her, but those didn't make me happy. They were not the joyous songs of our people. They were sad songs, songs of subservience.
The last time Auntie Nyaka and I walked the path to where it met the bank of the river, I charged down the dirt and log steps while Auntie descended them gracefully. These were the steps which the men of the village had to re-pound into the mud walls after each wet season finished and the level of the river drained a good eight feet lower. I stripped off my blue shorts with the three white stripes down the side, the full extent of my wardrobe, and threw them ahead to the foot of the bank. They had arrived in a bundle, brought by the Christ-men and picked through by the children of the village. From the debris at the river's edge I plucked as large a piece of driftwood as I could swing and beat the surface of the water until Auntie made it down the steps. Once reasonably sure that there were no hippos or crocs lurking in the silty brown water, I slid down the submersed edge of the bank until I floated free of the bottom.
Auntie Nyaka unwound the single bolt of multicolored cloth that packaged her so elegantly and tossed it over the branches the village women had erected for drying laundry. I paid no attention to her nakedness as she plunged into the water with me. As always, she tired of water play before I did and went to the bank to fetch my small shorts and her long cloth. Squatting at the water's edge she immersed and scrubbed them both, then draped them on the branches to dry in the sun. A few steps upstream the waterway curved around a shoal of pebbles that reached out into it. Auntie loved to stretch out there, basking under the blazing African sun. She laid down, patient as always, waiting for me to play myself tired.
I had swum near the far bank when I heard a somewhat familiar pud, pud, pud creeping slowly closer, slowly louder, from downstream. Before I could even see the boat, Auntie Nyaka was shouting and waving frantically. I looked to her as she stood totally naked on the shoal gesturing for me to get away, but her hysterics were confusing. With my head peeking above the water's surface, I turned back to the pud, pud, pud, which was becoming louder, slowly exposing the source as it inched around the curve of the river. Auntie's alarm gradually began to register, and I paddled myself close to the far shore until my feet took purchase on the muddy bottom. Crouching in the water among the overhanging branches I watched both the opposite shore, where a panicked Auntie Nyaka wrapped herself in her bolt, and the boat, now fully in view, as it pudded upstream toward us.
The craft's large flat deck carried four men, one of whom controlled the motor at the back. The other three stood at the front signaling the man in the back toward Auntie Nyakas shoal. The pud, pud, pud quickened, becoming louder, the gap between Auntie and the boat closing faster and faster. She glanced my way making sure that I was well concealed. The motor cut, leaving the sounds of four men shouting over one another in a language I was unfamiliar with, as the front of the flat deck slid onto the pebbled shoal.
Auntie Nyaka defiantly maintained her position on the bank and spoke to them in the dialect of our village. When they didn't answer she repeated in Kinyarwanda, and when they seemed not to understand that she switched to Swahili.
"We have nothing here for you. Please continue your voyage in peace, health, and happiness."
"We've been looking for the fruit of the jungle," one of them responded in Swahili. "I think we have found it."
"Please, please continue your journey," Auntie Nyaka said, slowly backing away.
Ignoring her plea, they leapt from the boat, one of them grabbing her around the waist from behind. But before he could cover her mouth with his other hand she let out a piercing scream. A second man, a fat one, pointed a pistol into the air and fired it. The suddenness of the sound stunned me. I watched the first man hold Auntie tightly as another roughly slashed open her bolt. Suddenly her nakedness, which had never before seemed anything but calm beauty, became a shameful exposure. She struggled futilely against the grip of the slick black muscles wrapped around her, managing only a few loud shrieks before one of the men, using a section of her own clothing, stuffed her mouth. Auntie was no match for the four men as she was thrown down and pounced upon. One held her arms, pinning her shoulders to the ground. The fat one, the one with the gun, laid it aside and knelt over her. He opened his pants and prodded, forcing himself on her.
I had seen Auntie Nyaka take Uncle Dzigbote inside her many times before. In the single room of our mud hut there was scant opportunity for privacy, not that privacy was called for in the loving environment of our little home. When Uncle Dzigbote came to Auntie strong and hard the two of them were gentle and quiet together. Hardly ever speaking, they caressed each other, covered each other with kisses, and when finished, held each other tightly. Then they would welcome me between them, and the three of us often fell asleep like this.
But now Auntie Nyaka struggled to keep this stranger away from her. She fought hard as the others beat her about her head until she gave in and collapsed limp, allowing the brute to thrust into her. I could not remain quiet witness to the violence, and I shouted at the men, swimming toward them as quickly as I could. The surprise of a child appearing in the water and yelling at them was acknowledged with mere glances and laughs. The one on top of Auntie paid me no heed whatsoever as he grunted and panted his brutal business.
I planned to jump on his back and make him stop. I just needed to get there. I felt my toes in the mud. My feet grabbed. I shouted and cried, hauling my small body out of the water to save Auntie. But before I could rescue her, Uncle Dzigbote was running down the bank, slipping in the mud, not bothering with the pounded steps. His appearance startled the four men as much as it surprised me. Their hesitation allowed him the moment he needed to grab the collar of the one facedown on Auntie. Ripping him backward with one massive pull, the man landed sprawling on the shoal. Uncle Dzigbote was bigger and stronger than any of the strangers. I kept coming forward to help him. I wanted to be able to hurt these men that had hurt Auntie. But without even seeing it coming, I was scooped up in the arm of the fat one who had fired the pistol. The pistol was now in his right hand, with me wrapped into his left arm. For a long moment no one moved. The other three men stood still. Auntie Nyaka, still restrained, sobbed. Uncle Dzigbote did not move. He looked into my eyes and I stared back, imploring his might and his help. He was so close to me we could almost have touched if we would have both stretched out our arms. I did reach out to him, willing him to stretch toward me, but at that very moment the pistol was raised by an extended arm. It reached level with Uncle Dzigbote's face, a foot or two away. His eyes were still tethered to mine so neither of us saw the trigger being pulled.
The sound was so loud that my eyes squeezed shut, losing my bond with Uncle Dzigbote. A warm sticky wetness covered my face and seeped into my eyes as they reopened, stinging them. The hulk of Uncle Dzigbote staggered backward and toppled over on his heels. I looked to Auntie Nyaka, still held by one of the men. I think she was screaming from within the muffle of her gag. The men shouted to each other but I heard nothing, save the loud ringing in my head.
I kicked and pounded the brute who held me until another of the men stuffed my mouth with cloth and tied me to the deck of the boat with a length of rope. From there I watched the men roll the lifeless body of Uncle Dzigbote into the river where it casually disappeared into the silty brown water. I searched the path and the jungle for help and it was there — I saw them, the men of our village, concealed along the upper bank, too frightened to act. I looked away as each of the strangers took a turn with Auntie Nyaka.
I saw my second killing when they were finished with Auntie Nyaka.CHAPTER 2
Now, after so many years of so many deaths, I ought to be immunized against them, hardened to them, but this one is unlike any I have faced before. Nothing, nothing, can prepare one for the death of one's only child. We saw the counselors, the same counselors I have sent so many of my own patients' families to see. We listened to their advice, tried to do everything they recommended. I have to believe it made a difference for our little Steph. Surely it helped her. Please let it have helped her. But everything that we did, and tried to do, seems insubstantial when measured against her challenge. There was so little we could really do, so very little.
This shouldn't have surprised me. I've had young patients die, not lots, but a few. I know everything the counselors say; I've said it all myself to parents. Now, when I really think about it, it's a lot of clinical gibberish. There's nothing in this advice that truly helps a parent convey their love to a dying daughter, or makes the loss any less painful for the parent. There's a lot of advice about how to "manage" the child, how to make things easier, maybe a little less painful, perhaps make them a little less afraid of their own death. I hope this helped Steph, somehow.
"I'm exhausted, Freddie. I feel emptied out, empty of everything." Anna is lying beside me on the twin bed in Stephanie's room. We're not cuddled together or holding each other. We're both just lying there on our backs, each of us too exhausted to clasp the other. I know exactly how she is feeling. There is nothing left inside me, either. I think even my soul has left me, I feel so empty. I want to be strong for Anna, but I just don't have the energy. A knight of a husband would muster a rally and say the right thing. But I am no knight.
The best I can manage is a lame, "I know, Anna, I know." I feel the tears running down both sides of my face, and I'm not sure whether they are for Anna, for Stephanie, or for my own pathetic self.
It's our first day home after driving back from Anna's parents' place in the Springs. We lingered there for two days after Stephanie's burial in the cemetery on the family farm. Her mom was busy cooking and sent back enough food to stock the refrigerator for several days. Her dad said he'd drive us home to Boulder, but we needed some time alone and refused the kind offer. They're both amazing. They've been real troupers, because this was their loss, too. Stephanie was special to them. It was evident whenever they were with her. They were ten years younger around her; she energized them. They've done so much to help us over the last few days and weeks. But they have to get back to their own lives, do their grieving alone, as do Anna and I.
It's now exactly one week since Stephanie let out a tiny hollow breath and just never took in another one — not even eight months since we first thought something might be wrong, seven since the confirmed diagnosis.
Steph had carried a note home from her fourth grade gym teacher but forgot to give it to us for two days, until Anna found it while packing her lunch. Nothing alarming, she seemed to have been wheezing. Perhaps we should have her checked for asthma. I knew she didn't have asthma. That evening I called Steph into my study. Even as my young lady of nine, I didn't need to invite her up onto my lap. It was her first choice of a seat whenever we were together.
"I'm sorry, Daddy."
"What are you sorry for, sweets?"
"I didn't give Mom the note from Miss Newlin. Am I in trouble?"
"No, you're not in trouble, but you know you have to try harder to remember these things."
"But am I in trouble from Miss Newlin?"
"Not at all ... she wants me to take a listen to you." She had her pajamas on, and I stretched the front collar down with my stethoscope and placed it on her upper chest, one side and then the other. Not the perfect smooth sound of air exchanging that I'd have liked, but not bad. "Turn a bit, honey, and let Daddy listen to your back." I reached up under her pajamas and listened again from the back of her ribs, on both sides. Certainly not a wheezing. Perhaps she had a touch of a cold a few days ago.
"Am I okay?"
I bounced her and tickled her ribs as I'd been doing all her life. "You're perfect ... you're my perfect little princess."
And she was perfect to me, to both of us. Her soft, caramel colored skin, the pleasing blend of Anna's pale white and my own deep African black, was totally unblemished. She wasn't old enough to have been scarred by even a pimple yet. Her rounded little nose was very like her mother's, not brutishly flat like mine. Her eyes were bright and wide, like her mother's, but obsidian black, like mine, not the gorgeous blue of Anna. She often fretted over the trouble her rag-doll hair gave her, but to both Anna and I it was worth every bit of extra time. Never an Afro, impossible to keep straightened more than a few hours, it was definitely her most distinguishing feature.
Could any other child have been so easy to love? If she ever gave us grief it was so minuscule that I can't remember it. I stood up, lifting her from my lap to my arms, and then up over my shoulder, tapping her bum and tickling the back of her leg behind the knee until her laughter took her breath away. That was when I noticed the huffing. I didn't need a stethoscope to know that something wasn't quite right.
A fairly routine X-ray is no longer routine when it is done on your own child. You're no longer a physician ordering it, you're a parent dreading it. And all the clinical composure from years of reading and interpreting CT reports doesn't do a damn bit of good when you have to explain them to your own wife. I know too much about this stuff. I can't not panic. Like every parent, I'm sure there is a mistake, a mix-up with reports, something wrong at the lab. Even my clinical side says there might be a mistake. Type III pleuropulmonary blastoma is rare in children over the age of five. Rare, but not unheard of.
As much as we'd like it to be, I know the biopsy isn't wrong. When things move on to MRIs and then the tissue biopsies, I'm out of my league. Colleagues, experts in the field, completely relegate me to being another frightened parent. Metastasized malignancies show up in the brain. They are extremely invasive and inoperable. I must have learned this in med school. I learned it all over again.
By this point Anna and I had both slowed down our practices. We wanted to spend as much time as possible by our little angel's side while she bravely faced the regimen of treatments for the cancer that had taken hold. I saw no patients after lunch, and Anna reduced her workload so that she could manage it during the afternoons. She could do most of her work from home. Anna is a partner in a small local law firm, Tierney, Thomas and May, which specializes in immigration law. They were as understanding and supportive of us during this period as the partners at my own downtown clinic. We adapted into the routine of getting up around five. I scheduled patients early, went to my clinic first thing, and arrived at the hospital during the lunch hour. Anna arrived there before breakfast, sometimes before Steph was even awake, and left for a few hours when I took over. She'd come back around dinnertime and neither of us would leave until Steph had fallen asleep; most of the time we sat there quietly for several hours afterward, just watching the gentle heft of the blankets as she slept. For months we never ate a meal at home; it was takeout at Steph's bedside for us and a hospital tray for her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Truth, By Omission"
Copyright © 2019 Daniel Beamish.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The End of the BeginningMeStephanieVincentAnnaUs, FranceRwandaAmericaAfricaChristmasNew Year'sBelgiumNkwendaBrusselsDenverThe Beginning of the EndAcknowledgmentsAuthor's Notes