by Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo
Excerpt taken from Chapter 32
NO ONE told Udo that they were close to the war front. They had been driving for about an hour, it could be longer – he did not have a watch to check time. But he noticed the lorry was moving slowly and without light. There was darkness everywhere. Udo felt something like smouldering fire ravish his stomach and he pressed his belly with both hands. Then involuntarily, he stretched one hand and felt about until he found Ubochi’s hand and held it. Ubochi also responded by pressing Udo’s hand. They sat motionless until they were asked to get off. Communication was now in whispers. The corporal’s garrulous voice had turned into a whisper.
When eventually they had been deployed to their positions and told what to do, Udo clutched the gun he was given and lay on the clammy soil of a shallow trench, alongside three other soldiers. Was it a Mark IV or a Madison they gave him? He was not sure. He did not know how long he lay there – whether a day or two days. The sound of small arms and shells which had been muffled before now became more distinct, louder. As each shell landed and exploded, Udo shut his eyes and prayed, remembering he had not prayed regularly since the war started. “God, I didn’t forget you, please don’t forget me,” he prayed. “Save me.” He tried to prevent his mind from focusing on the present terror by thinking of his mother, his sisters and Sister Ginika. Would he see them again?
Then bedlam erupted, as shells began to rain down into the trenches, as if the machines and guns were guided by an unseen power. Each shell that exploded took lives with it. Cries of men rose and commingled with the sound of explosion. As Udo lay trembling and calling on his mother, a solid but wet object fell on his back and rolled down beside him. With the gentlest of movements, he stretched his hand and touched it. He gave a stifled cry – it was a human head severed at the neck which still nestled in the steel helmet that it had worn when it belonged to a body that was intact. His hand and body were covered with blood. Udo discovered himself shivering and no matter how he tried, he could not stop his body from shivering. Then he lost consciousness.