It was a dark horrid night, the moon had vanished from the sky and the star cowered behind the gloomy sky which was still reverberating with ghoulish screams. The bats flapped about and the owls hovered in a circle, screeching into the air filled with trepidation.
It had been a day of rain. Not the kind of rain where children play and frolic nor the type where adults roll out barrels to collect water. It was a rain of sporadic shooting, screams, pain, and tears of desperation. It was one of the thunderings of bullet and local explosives, lightning of conflagration on houses, the flood of human blood and litters of charred flesh.
Suddenly, everywhere was silent, except for the occasional grunts of pigs feeding on human bodies and the belch of dogs as they picked on the carcass. The toads stayed silent, children stayed silent, adults stayed silent too. No shout of praise before sleep in the Christian house nor was there smoldering of incense in Mukadam’s room.
In the morning, hours before the deluge of doom, my father was telling me the importance of the female child marrying a rich man. “Wallahi, it helps eradicate the poverty in the clan. Assuming I have more female children, I won’t have to buy any foodstuff or work tirelessly on the farm.” He explained.
The inquisitive mind that I was, I wanted to ask if wealth was masculine and why a woman can only become rich through marriage and not on her own. I wanted to complain to my father how so much I hated his parenting skills. Why I loathed how much I was reminded that I was only being raised to become someone’s wife one day.
I was still trying to figure how to say it when the voice of Shehu Garba pierced through the room in a high happy tone. He never would stop reminding me of a pig. ‘Salaam aleikum, Saanu fa’ He said as he charged forward to shake my father’s hand.
His perfume choked me already, and his Babariga smelled like it hadn’t seen anything but sweat in some weeks. The fact that Shehu Garba always knocked at our door at the wrong time was a pet peeve but didn’t equal the hatred I held for beholding his sight.
The thought of living the rest of my life with him someday made me miserable and suicidal, yet nothing could change it. I had been betrothed to him while I was just a fetus and since then, he had always knocked at our door bearing millet every morning as part of the price for my hand in marriage.
‘When your first blood breaks, the Imam will join you in holy matrimony at the central mosque. Shehu is a good man, he has waited so long for you. You are going to be the last wife and his favorite no matter the number of wives you meet in his compound. Aren’t you lucky, my daughter?” My mother would tell me, laughing sheepishly as if it was the best thing I could achieve with my life.
Shehu Garba had left with my father that morning for the Elders’ Security Council Meeting, and as usual, I had wished him dead. I finally got my wish but it did come with a greater woe.
My father died with that pig. Killed in cold blood by insurgents. Death didn’t care who my father was, it took them both! I could picture death laughing at my childish thoughts while I wished death upon who I hated knowing fully well it was going to take who I loved the most with the one I hated. The deluge drowned my father! My world was damned!
There were armed men all around after the rain; they killed, raped, raided and set houses ablaze. I watched from the keyhole how Lydia’s head was plowed down with a sickle, the blade slit her neck as blood splashed on the killer’s face while he shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ in a high joyful tone.
At one end of the street, beside the Mubarak’s meat shop, two brothers were forcefully made to stab each other in front of their parents. The men whose eyeballs were stabbed with knives, I saw them all. I was numb, sick and stuck on the barbaric display. I had never watched a horror movie before then but it seemed like what my friend had described as one.
My mother and I escaped as one of the terrorists lit a match to fire up the petrol-soaked bread already on the roof of our asylum. Through crawling, walking, hiding and running, we finally left our town for the bush alongside some other people.
The journey away from home was haphazard, to say the least. The nights of crawling through mud, running away from snakes who saw us as intruders, and having to crawl around looking for lizards to kill and eat. We would most times queue to fill our stomachs with urine. One time, we saw a den where police vans were used to bring young men to sell to ritualists. We watched from the mountain how parts of human bodies were hanged and prices labeled on them.
At last, we sighted the gate of the IDP Camp, a respite we had longed for! The intermittent cries of the babies and ground shaking coughs from the adults were the first to dash my very high hope of the camp. As we marched in, the look of the school now turned Camp was nothing close to what I had expected. I looked so worn out and dirty and would pass for a mad girl with the one cloth I have had on for weeks.
I had seen my first blood as we navigated a very small bridge while in the bush and I had been badly soiled. At that point, I wished I could turn back the hands of time. I would have preferred being married to Shehu to being in the bush but then, the doom!
My younger brother, who we found after days of the escapade, was weak and tired. His muscle seemed to have been lost to the struggle and his blood dried up. He looked so frail like he was made only of bone with not enough flesh to cover his frame. His cough had gotten worse from the long walk and lack of proper meal.
I needed us to be shown a room to rest, to be given a proper meal and for a health worker to attend to my brother. That would not happen.”The camp is already crowded. As it is, you will have to go into the bush to bring wood to erect a shade for yourselves” the camp director addressed us. Giving a clue to the second phase of trouble we were in for.
We hear every day on the Reverend’s radio that the government is winning the war against the insurgents but we can’t go back home. Home is the seventh step of hell, the IDP camp isn’t any better. Hundreds of lives were lost weekly to hunger, cough, rashes, and malaria.
Food comes in once a month. We were always made to sit outside on the bare floor while the distributors gave words of peace and hope. Not that we were ever interested but we always had to listen and smile to the camera when it rolled to our side.
After the speech and words of prayer from the Reverend, it would be the distribution of the foodstuff. For two months, every time the food came, my mother and I were always unlucky. My mother would beg and cry and I would hold on to the leg of the distributors here and there yet no grain would fall in our sack.
My brother’s health degenerated. I could feel my mother’s bone cringe and hear the blood dripping while she walks. When she talks, her body shakes like a badly structured chair carrying a heavy load. She was so enervated yet gives the word of hope to my brother and I. I would wake up early to the tap to get water for water is not always available and that was all we had to survive.
My mother and I will go deep into the bush to look for tomatoes and melon. Whatever we gathered, we sell to those who have millet, but that could only give us food to suffice just three times in a week. One night, while I was thinking of it all, how unfair life has been to a thirteen-year-old me, my brother cried from his sleep, started coughing continuously till he was vomiting blood. We rushed him to the clinic but there were no doctors or nurses around.
‘He ate poison’ a man exclaimed as he held my brother’s debilitated body, blood gushing out of his nose and mouth. ‘No, it is guava!’ I screamed. We had fed on some unripe guava that we found in the bush before he slept. For obvious reasons, his system couldn’t resist the acid. Minutes later, we lost Hussein, the only brother of mine who survived the war, to the cold hands of death. Forever to be sorely remembered!
‘Food isn’t served a la carte here, if you have to take something under the table, you have to bend down. Do you think Obedah and her mother just get enough to last for 30days? They work for it. You know what to do when you are ready’ He said to me…