“Get up!” I heard again and this time I looked up to see who it was. My vision was slightly blurred but the voice was unmistakable. It was Martins; he was pulling my right hand trying to drag me to my feet. He had come back for me. I looked behind me, the mob was still screaming and rushing towards us, their faces were angry and I knew if they caught up with us, we won’t even have the time to say our last prayers.
Right there and then, as if possessed by a spirit, I dragged myself up and began to run again. By now we had entered into thick forest and the voices behind us seemed to thin out as we progressed. As we ran, I could feel the pain of sharp twigs leaving their marks on my body. It was not my main problem though. As far as I knew, they could be tearing up my flesh and I would not care. What was paramount to me now was to get away from the mob behind us.
The way Martins tore through the maze like path we followed showed the he obviously knew his way around. I had some knowledge about where we were going to but I am not sure I would have correctly manoeuvred around at that speed. In spite of the speed though, I knew that in a few seconds we would come out at a clearing and just after that clearing, we would get to an uncompleted building. That was where I had asked Martins and his group to wait for me when we last spoke. I hoped deep down the crowd behind us would have given up on us and gone back because I was now badly in need of rest. I was not sure I could go farther. Suddenly, Martins stopped in his track.
“Shhhh!”…he said with his index finger pressed to his lips. He had stopped behind a tree just a few meters from the clearing. I crouched behind him trying to look over his shoulders to see what had made him stop. Then I had a shrill cry.
“eeeeeeeewooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”. It was a woman’s voice. Ahead of us, in the uncompleted building, I could see beams of light from torch light bulbs. From the shadows, I presume there were over 10 people with sticks and what looked like machetes. I felt a drop of water fall on the hand I had on Martin’s shoulder and I turned to look at him. He had tears in his eyes.
“Why you dey cry”, I whispered. With Martins, one is never sure whether one should speak in plain English or pidgin but at this point, I cared less, I said whatever came to my head.
“Shhh!” he beckoned again. I am not sure if it was the sharpness or the sudden realization that there were voices coming from behind us, whichever one it was I not only kept quiet, I also laid flat on the floor.
Coming from behind us was the mob we had been running away from. They had thinned out a bit and from the beams of light, I could estimate only about five of them. They were coming directly towards us and from the look on Martins’ face, if we did not leave our current position, they would definitely find us. I looked ahead at the clearing, the people at the building where still there. Now I could hear voices, it seemed to me there were two groups of people in the building. I could faintly hear some crying and pleading in passable hausa language and I could hear other raining curses on the other group. That direction was not an option unless we were contemplating suicide.
Martins tapped on my hand and motioned to me to climb the tree. Before I could say anything, in two quick steps, he was up already. I marvelled at his agility. If someone had told me that this guy, Martins, this ‘ajebutter’ could climb trees with such dexterity, I would not have believed. I made a quick mental note to ask him where he learnt that skill if we survived this day. What a big if. I did not wait for another prompting, I followed suit. In less than five seconds, we were both at the top of the tree. Each of us held tightly to the tree’s trunk while slightly balanced on adjacent branches. I don’t know what was going on in his mind but I began to say my last prayers, begging God for forgiveness for all my sins. All the girls I had misled into sleeping with me, , the time we deflated Mr Ajetumobi’s four tires when he refused to let us cheat at senior WAEC. I prayed for forgiveness for the heavy sins too. As I began to list them one by one in my heart, I realised I was a big sinner. It was unbelievable. Not that I had thought I was a saint but I didn’t realise things were this bad. At that point I made a covenant with God, that if He saw me through this ordeal alive, I would change my ways and serve Him. As I thought about this, the group of five men from the village with their torches passed right under ‘our’ tree. I stopped thinking, as if they could hear my thoughts. We watched as they moved on to join the group in the building. From our position, we could clearly see what was happening in the building. There were two people on their knees, both men, both NYSC corpers. I knew the two of them and I screamed when I realised the other one was Kola. “Oh no, not Kola” I almost screamed out but I stopped myself with my right hand over my mouth. Why did he come back? Why did he not just stay in town till the next day? “Please God, please save him”.
“Abeg, no kill me”. I could make out his words from the movement of his lips. Kunle, the other guy who could speak little of the hausa language was also pleading. In my heart, I recited all the Psalms I could whether relevant or not. I had hardly finished the last line of the twenty third psalm when one of the young men from our mob rushed into the building, raised machete and in one single blow detached Kunle’s head from his neck.
“Jesus!” Martins screamed. I would have fallen off the tree but for the fact that I was rested against a branch. Luckily, Kola’s scream and the shouts from inside the building covered the sound of the scream from the top of our tree. “Oh my God, Oh my God!” I whispered in short gasps. My heart was beating faster now. I had never seen such a sight before. We were yet to recover from that sight when another young man raised his hand. This time I could not bear to watch. I closed my eyes and as Kola screamed his last, I closed my ears too. By the time I opened them it was over. Kola and Kunle laid on the bare floor with their dismembered bodies. The two groups had now come together and they began to sing victory songs, moving away from the building in quick steps, jogged straight under us and back towards the village. When I was sure they were gone, I laid back on the branch and began to cry.
The tears flowed freely and steadily. Martins was crying too. I am not sure ‘cry’ is the right word to use in describing what I did, wailed is more like it. I screamed my lungs out, letting out all the tears out. As if the heavens aligned with my feelings, it suddenly began to rain. “All this because of me…” I muttered. “Kola, I am sorry, Kunle, I am so sorry”, I muttered again as if they could hear me. I looked up at Martin, his tears had now mixed up with the rain but I could not mistake the look on his face. It was a look of disappointment and maybe a bit of resentment. I could not bear to look in his eyes. “I am so…so…rrryyy” I cried. I did not know what to do or say again. Life at this point made no meaning to me anymore.
I slowly climbed down from the tree, not bothering to check if there was any more sign of danger. Like someone hypnotised, I walked towards the building. What I was going to do there, I did not know but I think I just wanted to say goodbye to my friend. As I walked into the building, the sight that greeted my was indescribable. Dismembered bodies, limbs cut away, heads detached from shoulders. To my right, I could clearly see a body of a woman. Before seeing the head from where it had rolled to I knew who it was. I had seen Chikaodi earlier that day on my way home. She was still wearing the same dress and though it was now soaked with blood, I could still see the ‘I Love NY’ sign on it. Apparently, it was Chikaodi’s shrill cry we heard earlier. As I wailed, I staggered in the direction I had seen Kola kneel. His body was still there and ‘luckily’ his head was still attached to it. His backpack was lying next to his body, stained with his blood. Whoever had killed him had pierced his heart with a sharp stick. The stick was still in his body and his right hand clutched at it, but he was gone. My friend, Kola, who I had spoken with a few hours ago, laid there, lifeless, one hand holding on to the stick that ended his life and another by his side. I sat on the floor beside him and bent over his body and cried.
“Make we dey go before day break”, I heard Martins say. Go where? I wondered. I did not deserve to live again after all this. See what I caused.
“I no go anywhere, you fit dey go and please don’t come back for me”, I told him in clear terms. He tried to convince me telling me my tears would not bring them back to life. I could barely make out all he was saying but I had made up my mind I was not going to leave. Eventually, I heard him saying something about leaving and that he’ll be back as soon as he could get help. Then he left the building looking around first to see if there was anyone around. My eyes followed him as he walked in the opposite direction from the village. I had an idea where he was going. An hour walk in that direction would take him to Wailo village where there’s a military barracks. I prayed in my heart he would make it alive. I had caused enough deaths already.
I was not however bothered if he returned or not. At this point, my life seemed worthless. I decided though to end it but not without telling my story, maybe someone out there will learn from it. I looked around for writing materials and quickly found a notebook in Kola’s bag and in one of the little pockets by the side of the bag, I found a pen, a red pen. Very apt. I slowly began to write my story.
I am not sure how long I have been writing but I can see the sun is slowly coming out. I stopped crying after the first few lines of this story but my heart is still heavy. I can hear voices and they are growing louder by the second. They must be speaking the Hausa language. I do not understand one word of what they are saying. Maybe it’s the people from the village. They are coming to finish up what they started. Luckily, my story is almost over. Whoever gets to read this, please pass the message along. I messed up big time. I caused the deaths of many people tonight. I pray God forgives me. But please, NYSC corpers out there do not do what I did. Guys, respect the families who trust you with their children. Do not put your life and that of many others in danger.
The voices are getting louder, I can hear them shouting. I have to end this quickly. I have decided to end my life with the same stick that killed Kola. The voices are getting louder, I would not let these people get to me. I would rather kill myself than let them kill me. Whoever reads this, please tell my mum, I am so so sorry.
I do not understand why he killed himself. I know I felt resentment for him after witnessing Kola and Kunle’s deaths but the look on his face when I left him that early morning was sad enough to melt even the devil’s heart.
When I left him, my target was to get to Wailo and head on straight to the military barracks where my dad’s friend, Major Mustapha lived. I had walked only about an hour and a half when I saw patrol tankers heading down the road in my direction. I quickly waved them down and luckily for me, Major was in the very first one. They had heard of the trouble that had overtaken Gamawa and were on their way there. I begged him to go with me back to the uncompleted building before the villagers found Akin. With seven additional back up soldiers he got down the vehicle while asking the rest of them to drive on to the village. As I was the one who knew the directions to the building, the soldiers could move only at my slow, tired pace.
By the time we got there, the sun was out already and the building stood out from the surrounding bushes. The soldiers were talking and shouting in loud voices in their local language. Major said it was a strategy to make people think they were a large number instead of the eight marching towards the village. I pointed the building out to Major and he and the other soldiers ran towards it shouting and leaving me behind. As I climbed the wooden stool that served as a step into the building behind them, I saw Akin crouched on his knees beside Kola’s body, his head bent over and a stick protruded right out of his body, like he had fallen over it. Beside him was a book that contained writings in red ink. I picked it up and a red pen fell from inside it. It was written in Akin’s handwriting. I read the last few lines and I understood what had happened. My friend Akin had killed himself.