6th April, 1994.
Not again, I thought as Uncle Uche hustled us into his Ford pick-up truck. This is one hell of worst times, and best times are a little more than a distant memory.
No one seemed to be paying attention to what was happening – everybody was after saving his/her skin. All hell on earth had burst loose.
No one? I imagined that.
The police didn’t seem to care, or were on vacation, or probably had a hand in it – violence, organized chaos and murder.
War cries, no, death cries pierced the night. Houses burned. Pandemonium grew louder. Something terrible was happening.
Uncle Uche had a plan. He took us to his new car, a Ford Pick-Up truck I didn’t know where he got it from, to take us to safety. That’s what he said anyway.
As we rode in his car, my shattered memory was refreshed. A flash of Friday 13th April, 1990 flashed in my mind. It was almost four years now, and Uncle Uche had been with us all through. Not Uncle Emeka, dad’s brother; or Auntie Cindy, dad’s sister. Only Father Augustine aka Uncle Uche had come from Sokoto to whisk us from danger in the dark of the night that day. Now he was doing it, again.
A moment later, we reached our destination – the Pallottine Missionary School where we went to school and Fr. Augustine taught Christian Religious Education (C.R.E.) and Arithmetic. In here, he told us, it was safe, ‘but just for tonight.’
There were so many others – class and school mates, kids from the Sunday school and catechism class with their families. They all seemed scared. Whatever was happening was awful. They didn’t talk much, apart from muttering rote chants meant to be prayers.
We barely slept with all the noise around.
In the morning, at around seven o’clock, Fr. Augustine and the rector conducted mass at the school chapel in Kinyarwanda, a dialect he knew as though he was a native. Over the years, since we came from Nigeria, he had tried to teach us – Shalom was doing better than me.
After the mass, some minutes to ten o’clock, we were surprised to find that soldiers in combat uniform and blue helmets had surrounded the whole school compound in two cordons. The inner cordon was near the buildings while the outer was at the fence on the inside. On the outside an angry ugly mob had formed up and was growing in size, threatening to explode.
The mob was armed in machetes, clubs, spears, bows and arrows and those who lacked these had hand-launched missiles. It comprised of men and youths. Probably they were rioting.
The mob was shouting slogans in vernacular, something I did not know, threatening to tear down the fence. I saw the soldiers brace their weapons up as though they were going to shoot them but they didn’t. It was evident that the mob wanted to get into the school compound.
Fr. Augustine called Shalom and I, and six other children – four girls and two boys – and told us to climb into his car. He was taking us to a lot safer place out of town, to Sister Valeria (our French teacher who lived out of town).
We were stopped at the gate by the soldiers and Fr. Augustine went to talk with them. Obviously, we could see, the soldiers were talking him out of leaving the school compound. After a while the gates were flung open and Fr. Augustine drove through.
Nobody touched Fr. Augustine’s car. Like in Sokoto, he was well liked around here. Wherever he went people loved him. The crowd just gave way.
However, the crowd near the school gate was concealing a grotesque scene – along the road and the sides were bodies piled higgledy-piggledy, one upon the other – dead bodies, some headless, others dismembered and mangled. No one was spared – men, women, children and the old. Blood puddled roads as though it had rained blood. It seemed what had happened was a night of carnage – earth run red.
After driving for some time we came to a section of the road that was blocked with stone blocks and burning tyres. A group of youths hailed us to stop. Fr. Augustine stopped the car about hundred metres from the roadblock. The minute the car stopped the kids in the back climbed out and ran off into the nearby bushes. Stupid of them, but the youths did not chase after them.
Fr. Augustine alighted and moved towards the youths. They were armed with machetes and crude missiles. A flash of Friday 13th April, 1990 flashed in my head for the second time in less than twenty-four hours and fear gripped me – the last time I watched somebody alight from a vehicle that way I never saw her again.
I too decided to take a bolt for the brushes. I nudged on Shalom but he refused. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have left my brother, but guess that’s what I did.
I found the others – two girls and a boy – in the brushes near the road but concealed from direct view. I joined them.
From here we could see what was happening up ahead. I saw one sturdy youth lift his machete and bring it down on Fr. Augustine’s neck. Blood gushed forth and sputtered everywhere.
Fr. Augustine went down and stayed there.
At that very minute, I saw the passenger door of the Ford make nervous movements and an instant later my brother stepped put. He tried to run, but he tripped and fell. Maybe the adrenaline had made his legs too heavy to lift. Instead, he crawled under the vehiclejust as one of the youths made to where he was.
The derelict youth had one thing in mind – beat my brother to death. I saw the club he had rise and fall on my brother, rise and fall again, again and again, and again! Then Shalom lay still on the ground.
“Nooooooooo!” I screamed, but no sound came out. You can’t do that.
It took all the kids to hold me still.
“What’s he doing?” one of the girls asked, the more mature one.
I looked up. The killer was sprinkling some liquid on Fr. Augustine’s car. It was not long before I got it – it was petrol. They were going to burn Fr. Augustine’s car, together with my brother.
When he was done, the juvenile (potentially delinquent) lit a match and threw it in the car.
Orangish flames erupted almost pronto.
I couldn’t watch my brother burn to death – if he was not dead already. But what could a nine-year-old do? I wondered as I tried to rush to my brother’s aid only to realize that I couldn’t talk leave alone move.
There was a flash – not of light but somehow darkness – and he was gone. Shalom, my brother, my best friend in the world.
My brother was dead.
Copyright ©Elove Poetry, 2012. All Rights Reserved.