Almost a year ago, Balenga Kalala got the surprise of a lifetime when his wife, who he’d paid to have killed, showed up at her own funeral.
Kalala and his wife, Noela Rukundo, were visiting her native Burundi for her stepmother’s funeral. She was upset after the service, so she went to her hotel room in the city of Bujumbura, where her husband called her.
“He told me to go outside for fresh air,” she recalled in an interview with the BBC. "I didn't think anything. I just thought that he cared about me, that he was worried about me."
A man then approached Rukundo with a gun and told her not to make a sound. “If you start screaming, I will shoot you. They’re going to catch me, but you? You will already be dead,” she remembered him saying, The Washington Post reported.
Rukundo was held in an unknown location, where her captors asked why her husband paid them to kill her. Unbeknownst to Rukundo, Kalala suspected she was cheating him, although they raised eight children together in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia - five of whom were from Kalala’s previous marriage, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
The kidnappers explained that they didn’t want to kill Rukundo because she was a woman and they knew her brother, but they wanted to keep Kalala’s money and tell him she was dead. They released her after two days with a cellphone, recordings of their interactions with her husband and receipts for the payments they received for the hit, The Age reported.
Rukundo went to the Kenyan and Belgian embassies to return home to Australia, but not before contacting her pastor, Dassano Harruno Nantogmah, who helped her discretely return to her neighborhood by Feb. 22, 2015.
Kalala had told their community that Rukundo died in an accident, but she surprised him as soon as the mourners left their home.
"I ... stood just looking at him. He was scared, he didn't believe it. Then he starts walking towards me, slowly, like he was walking on broken glass.
"He kept talking to himself and when he reached me, he touched me on the shoulder. He jumped.
"He did it again. He jumped. Then he said, 'Noela, is it you?'… Then he start screaming, 'I'm sorry for everything.'"
Kalala eventually pleaded guilty to incitement to murder and was sentenced to nine years behind bars. Noela still has nightmares, but she’s vowed to start over.
“I will stand up like a strong woman,” she said. "My situation, my past life? That is gone. I'm starting a new life now."