Efe stood with a hard resolve. His face hardened in determination as if he was afraid that a little freer, he would lose his decision. He looked around at his thatched hut. It was leaking in several places and made swimming (now impossible in the rivers) compulsory over here in every rain. The water could not be collected because of the chemicals mixed with it before its dropping – black rains, as the villagers came to know it. The land was polluted and was as infertile as the word, barren. Crops no longer grew, afraid of what would happen if they sprouted out. Preferring in, they died within the soil. They lay buried, like the humans. Money was needed to resolve issues and get food that his people once sold! But where was the money? Ailments were on the rise and the level of illiteracy was increasing everywhere. He thought of all the hype created by the media paid for by the exploiting oil companies. The pictures were very impressive. Efe had kept marveling at the ones in a magazine thinking what luck the people possessing them must have. A literate friend had gently tapped him and explained that the pictures were of the village they were in, his village! That evening, he had taken a tour of the village again, to be sure. Sure, the pictures didn’t match.
They had cried out to Government severally. Commissions had been set up to look into their complaints. He envied the Commissioners with their large pockets and fat stomachs. Their white gowns, wrappers, beads and hats grew costlier each day. The most radical people, changed by the commission, simply joined in the production of impressive lists of things they hoped to do for the people. All these in addition to pictures of old projects renovated, money tucked away. None of the least of these had been accomplished. They, the sons turned Lords, pleaded with everyone secretly, to bear with Government. This was hardly ever possible. So back to Government everyone went. The answer was usually a change of Commissioners and the beginning of the cycle once more. After a long while, the new phrase to every complaint became “Plans are in the pipeline.” A renowned Priest said it best, “After asking for clinics, schools, and other amenities, the simple response goes ‘Be patient. The projects are in the pipeline.’” Who could blame the illiterate people for ‘carrying sticks’ and gallons to break the pipelines and get all the goodies hiding there? No wonder oil bunkering was on the rise!
The government had wrestled this one out of their power too. With top government functionaries and their boys getting the refined oil with their tankers, what was left? The small rats who could, went with their gallons. They got what little they could and made the best of the remnants of the top dogs. No safety precautions like the ‘big boys.’ Na wetin man go do? What could one do? Efe thought of the several explosions there. His elder brother, an empty coffin representing his missing parts, came to mind. He quickly shook his head, willing the memory away. He adjusted his shorts which sat loosely on his waist. He tied the rope as it squeezed around the material on his waist.
He stepped out of his hut and into the compound. He was determined to look for any means possible. His eyes fell on his siblings, three of them, sprawled on the bare floor. They looked on, pinching hunger describing the lines of the ribs that showed on their every feature. Rags for clothes, they looked to him,
“Gud mo’rn broda” they managed to greet, as custom demanded, through parched lips. He did not know what to reply. He couldn’t ask if they slept well, after their school, or if they were fine. The answers had been heard a million times over differently and were better left unasked. He hurried on, to hide the tears forming in his eyes. He walked on to his mother’s door passing his father and brother’s graves. She coughed horribly as he entered, as if in greeting. He stood by the door and replied,
“Mama, have you woken up? How is your health?” Still, questions not to be asked but compulsory all the same. She stared blankly at him, seemingly asking how obvious things could be. Her health?
“Ef…” she started but was seized by coughing again. Kpof!! kpof!! kpohoof!! He rushed to comfort her. He looked into her face. He noticed, not for the first time, the wrinkles occasioned by sufferings and ailment that had transformed her thirty-plus face and body into a horrid eightyish caricature that hid tales of a onetime village belle. She coughed again as a strange sound accompanied this time. A horrid smell came to his nose and he knew she had eased herself, unintentionally, right there. She had to see the doctors right away. He had had enough. He cleaned her up.
The lines on his forehead were set in his resolution. He took some gallons from behind the house, his only inheritance. He grabbed his younger brother from the ground. He sought and joined some boys on their way ‘pipe hunting’. They spoke along the way and were soon laughing. They soon found their quarry. There were other people there too.
“Why use the word ‘hunt’ when we simply walked to this area?” The others laughed at his inquisitiveness as they scooped oil from the broken pipe. He bent down to work soon forgetting his brother.
“It was left by some Government people.” Someone said without being asked any question. No one cared as they struggled for the crumbs, filling their gallons.
No one noticed the little boy playing with sticks and two sharp stones hitting them— in sparks.
When the newspapers and media carried it the next day, they spoke in different words of Area Boys, touts, who for selfish ambitions sabotaged oil pipes. Others spoke of the need for Government to do something to prevent such accidents.
Somewhere, a mother looked through her door at two daughters, slowly dying to meet four males. She coughed, shaking fiercely in her excrement. It was only a matter of time.
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