by Chizitere Ojiaka
It was one of those nights when the mood was right for love making. I had already imagined myself waking up to the sight of Kola’s chocolate dark face in his bed. Kola was happy about how his day turned out, it was cold outside and i was sure as hell ready for some real action. We had just settled our argument and I went out to cook on the veranda. There was no power that night so I had to make do with a candle.
Kola and I were one of those National Youth Service Corp members who found love at camp but we hoped that the fire of our own love would never burn out. We had both been deployed to Kaduna from different regions of the country, Kola from the west and I from the east, yet the similarities between us made us marvel. We definitely opposed the magnetic law that said that like poles repelled because we didn’t just get attracted to each other, we got attached and stuck to each other.
I had just finished steaming the tomatoes in hot oil and poured in some of the ingredients for the stew when Kola met me at the veranda. He complained that he had heard some noise from outside which I didn’t. I brushed him off and said it was probably our neighbours arguing or something but he sworn that he was convinced that something was wrong. I didn’t want this to lead us to another argument so I simply agreed with him and continued my cooking.
He went back into the room and re-emerged wearing a yellow polo shirt, a pair of jeans and palm slippers. He said he had to go check out what was wrong and would be back in five minutes or less. I simply nodded and continued with my stirring, mumbling to myself.
I went back into the room to get something shortly and it was then I heard the noises Kola had complained about. The sounds I heard weren’t clear but it sure sounded like something was not right downstairs. I made a mental note to myself to ask Kola what his findings were when he came back up.
I opened the door to step into the veranda when my candle got blown off. I slammed my right foot on the ground in anger and turned back to head into the room when one of my neighbours, Chuma, suddenly barged into me panting. He pushed me back into the room, shut the door behind him and asked me to stay quiet. I got really scared and my heart began to pound against my rib cage like it was about to break loose from my body. I took advantage of the darkness in the room and hid in the wardrobe hoping that by the time he found me, Kola would be back to my rescue.
The cold that night collaborated with my fear and set me shivering like I was in a fit as Chuma called out my name in a whispering tone. I was too scared to think or wonder, too shocked to move either. He kept calling me but this time with some hesitation in his voice and still didn’t answer.
A bang soon came on the door, then another and before I knew it, more bangs rained on the door. I concluded that someone might have seen Chuma sneak into my room and went to call the neighbours to rescue me so I began to yell out for help. My scream helped Chuma locate where I was hiding and the next thing I remembered was something pouching hard on me and a hand finding its way across my mouth and suffocating my words shut. I passed out and woke up later, still lying in the wardrobe.
As I tried to get up, a sharp pain stormed my head and stoned my right back to my former position. I studied my environment and wondered what was happening. I suddenly heard Chuma’s voice and shuddered. He whispered, “Almajiris everywhere” into my ears and with his fore finger placed at the centre of my lips, he made a “shh” sound.
I knew right away what this was all about. No one was ever safe in the North, let alone anyone who was a Christian. I remembered the news headline on Newsweek Newspaper on Tuesday that read “JOS-UNREST”. I remembered talking about it with Kola earlier that day and saying that I prayed the crisis didn’t get to Kaduna. It hit me at that point that Kola never came back in five minutes like he promised and instead of waking up on his bed to his face in the morning like I had imagined, it was his Neighbour’s face I woke up to see in his wardrobe. I immediately pulled Chuma back and asked him if he had seen Kola anywhere that day and he said no.
I worried more about anything happening to Kola than I worried about my own safety. I was ready to run back out there to find him but I figured that there was no way Chuma was letting out to implicate him. I panicked myself to death although that night and by some stroke of luck, the Almajiris never found us in those bushes.
I went back to Kola’s lodge with Chuma and the sight of all the wounded dead bodies that littered around almost sucked the life out of me. I wondered, “what if Kola was dead, what if he had been kidnapped?”. I fought back all the negative thoughts and tried to keep my mind positioned on positive things. Thoughts of the look on kola’s face as he told me about one of his students whose grades had improved tremendously within two terms beamed in my mind. I already missed him so much and couldn’t wait to be reunited with him.
My mind was at war and my emotions conflicted. I wasn’t sure whether to miss Kola and yearn for him or to feel sorry for those who laid dead before me fearfully grateful that my life had been spared. The only feeling that didn’t conflict was the weakness of my body which I dragged lazily behind Chuma.
By the time we got to the gate of the lodge, fresh fear consumed me. Chuma and I snuck in carefully so as to guard ourselves against any attack. More bodies were scattered around the compound and this time it was of people I knew. People I had shared a joke with and exchanged greetings with, people I had borrowed from or lent something to. Some of the bodies had been butchered beyond recognition and body parts laid haphazardly.
I was looking round in pity when I saw that yellow shirt that struck me. I knew that polo shirt very well. It was Kola’s favourite and I had washed it for him many times. It was definitely Kola and he was definitely dead. I fell to the ground, landing on someone’s dismembered arm and I began to cry.