The banging door woke Wale up. He had been dreaming. He had been eating cakes and a woman’s hand had been rubbing his head. The nails had been short and unvarnished – the hand had veins and was calloused. He opened his eyes wearily and stared up from the mat. He saw two men walk into the room and stand in front of the rows of mats. One of them clapped his hands and ordered the children to stand up and file out of the room.
Wale stood up, he looked about and noticed that his fear was mirrored on every child’s face. The man shouted again and they rushed out of the room into the biting cold of early morning. The compound was big. It had been cleared and buildings stood at intervals around an open space in the middle. The children were led to the open space and made to stand in formation like a parade.
The door to a building directly opposite the curious children opened and a man stepped out. He was dressed in army uniform. He walked to stand in front of the children and stood. His face and head was clean shaven and it shone in the early morning light.
Major Okirika: “my name is Major Okirika. You are here today because you are needed. You are here today because your country needs you. You are here because the revolution needs you. The People’s Republic needs you. Yes, yes… I know you have heard that we lost the war but is the war over? Are we tired of fighting for what is rightfully ours? Do we quit while there’s still hope of success? No! I know you may not understand some of what I am saying now but in time you will.” He added, staring from one child to the other with penetrating eyes.
Wale disliked the man immediately he saw him. It was not like he had found anyone to like in the cold unfriendly place but the man made him shiver. When he smiled, which he did often enough, his eyes remained cold and dead. He felt it – the emptiness, the lack of a conscience, the predator, lying quietly behind those dead eyes. He looked around at the other children. He could see them listening with rapt attention. He turned back to Major Okirika.
Major Okirika: “what do I want from you? I want you, young ones, the future of our great country, to participate in making our dreams come true. We want you to not only be inheritors of our visions but to be willing to dip your hands into blood, guts and the black soil of Africa and bring about the change, we so deserve. We are going to mould you, train you and equip you to carry our message of defiance back to the enemy. You are going to be soldiers of the revolution.” He said, his voice carrying to the ends of the compound.
“soldier? I am but a child – what do I know about fighting?” Wale asked himself as he stood with shaky legs.
Major Okirika: “sergeant Obuka will divide you into platoons. You will eat, sleep, dream and die with these men. Do whatever they tell you to do – it might just save your lives.” He said, motioning to another man dressed in army uniform, who had stood quietly throughout the talk. He turned and called a small man who stood at edge of the door, with papers pressed to his chest. The two men walked away and Wale snapped back to the sergeant when he heard his loud voice sounding like a whip in the air.
Sergeant Obuka: “you will write your names, your age and where you are from, on the sheet of paper here.” He said pointing a piece of paper lying on a stool, in front of him.
The children moved one by one to the front, wrote their details and returned back to their position.
Omonigho woke up feeling like a rock. He could not lift himself up from the mat. He turned his head slowly and saw Okereke’s ugly face above him smiling. He jerked back in surprise. Okereke burst into laughter.
Okereke: “make we dey go. Don dey wait for you.” He said, getting up from his squat.
Omonigho got up and followed Okereke to where he had come to realise was the conference room of the camp. Don Papi sat, balanced on wooden chair with three legs, looking well groomed. He smiled at Omonigho as he entered the room.
Don Papi: “My friend, you are awake. Good. We are going to Onitsha.” He said
Omonigho: “Like I said before I will not touch a gun.” He replied, softly.
Don Papi: “do not worry about that. You won’t be given a gun. Basil here, has always had my back.” He said, pointing to a man standing, quietly, to one side. “I need you though. Despite your insistence on not touching arms, you know arms better than any of the men here. We are not just picking up guns, you know. I need you to help me verify that they are what they said they are. It would be very sad, if I take the arms and find out that they are not capable of killing a mosquito. You understand me?” He asked, staring at Omonigho.
Omonigho stared back at him quietly then he nodded his head. Don Papi smiled. The men dispersed to get ready.
Omonigho was given a bucket of water and directed to where the men had their bath. He bathed in the cold, shivering as he poured the water over his body. He bathed quickly and quickly got dressed. As he came back to the compound, Beauty handed him a bowl of beans and garri. He sat down quietly at a corner and ate. As he ate, a shadow fell over him. He looked up to find Uju staring at him. He stared back, his mouth moving as he chewed his food.
Uju: “when I come back for night, you don sleep.” She said, sitting beside him.
Omonigho said nothing. He just stared ahead, at two children fighting over a bicycle wheel.
Uju: “I know say you dey vex for me but dis life na give and take.” She said.
Omonigho: “all I want is to get back to my family. I am not here to make friends with you.” He replied, standing up.
Uju: “the war is not over. Look around now. Help us fight. You know say we dey right. We get right to fight for change.” She replied, her voice filled with frustration.
Omonigho turned and stared at her
Omonigho: “little girl, my war is over. I want to just go home.” he said, and walked away.
Uju: “you no believe in right and wrong? Freedom? Change? Equality? Justice?” she shouted.
Omonigho: “in this world, in this Africa, it is survival that stands above all. The leaders of your revolution, the government you are trying to overthrow, everyone is fighting for their survival – not any of those wonderful ideals you mentioned. Maybe once people believed in such things in this country but now everyone just wants to see the sun tomorrow – even Don Papi. You are filled with the blind zeal of youth – the belief that your leaders know what they are doing. Do not worry, your time will come. You will see the futility of war. You know why? Debris always float to the top. The bad eggs will still win every time – whether you win this war or not. I just want to go home.” he replied between tight lips, then he turned and walked away.
Uju watched him leave in annoyance. She too turned to another direction and walked away.
Onitsha was a ghost town. The houses stared at each other with the empty gaze of the broken. Bullet holes lined buildings – bombed out structures filed everywhere. In this town, the world had come to an end. But like a headless corpse, it was yet to realise it. Sporadic gunshots could be heard in the distance as two trucks rolled quietly down the cracked road towards the riverside.
Omonigho watched as a man ran past, a rifle tucked under his armpit, his shoulder wrapped in a blood red bandage. The truck screeched to a stop and the men jumped out, flipping off the safety of their guns as they moved between buildings, their eyes searching the buildings for signs of movement.
Don Papi: “the war has indeed come to an end.” He whispered into Omonigho’s ear.
Omonigho jolted back in shock as a whine filled the air and a building exploded in a shower of shredded cement blocks. The men in the other truck jumped out and moved into the shadow of the buildings close to them. A wail filled the air, then a shot rang out, then silence. Omonigho’s ears still rang with the explosion. He struggled out of the truck and fell, throwing up on the ground. Don Papi stared at him as he too, came out, then shook his head. He barked orders and his men moved forward, using the shadows of the houses as to avoid been seen by eyes that peered at them through empty windows. He bent and dragged Omonigho up.
At that moment, the dust before them cleared, to reveal a woman come out from behind the debris of the bombed house. She had a bundle in her hands, tears in her eyes. Omonigho’s eyes opened wide on seeing her. He got up and pushed Don Papi’s hand away. He staggered drunkenly towards the woman. He could hear Don Papi shouting but he could not make sense of the words. His eyes were focused on the woman. He called out to her, telling her to come. The woman turned to look behind her, her face filled with fear. As she got close to Omonigho, he could see the feet of a plastic doll sticking out of the bundle, he raised his eyes to the woman’s face and saw an evil smile, he stepped back quickly, scrambling backwards in haste as she tossed the bundle at him.
Omonigho felt the earth lift and he flew backwards, air fleeing his lungs in a whoosh. He hit Don Papi, who was behind him and they both fell to the ground even as two shots rang out. He saw, as his eyes closed, the woman stumbling to the ground, the smile still on her face.
Question: Will Wale be the same again after being made to hold a gun? Do you think Don Papi and his crew walked into a setup?
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