I got to know better when a hand whose surface was rougher than our grinding stone came within inches of my face, under the bed. I was facing him the next minute, his hands digging deep into my arm, and hurting me. I asked my self what right he had to even enter my father’s room in the first place in that manner, and my anger began to bloom. He shoved me forward, and I put all my inertia to work, resisting him.
‘We can go now’, he said. He tried to sound benign, but I knew he was just looking for soft landing.
‘Where?’ I am not going anywhere’. I then turned to look him defiantly in the face.
The black beret on his head gave him a stony military look, and the stench around him grew in leaps and bounds as he inched closer to me. His eyes were bloodshot, and the artistic mix of his nose and mouth not only added volumes to a mounting disagreeability, but made him so hateful that it looked more like what I could conquer, without qualms, and I weighed my options. One quick peek through the window with a side eye gave me a deserted compound, which surprised and worried me. Whatever happened, who was this man to barge into my father’s room in that manner, to take me? I refused to accept that, under any guise.
Suddenly, I heard the receding drone of what sounded like a car. They had left without him!
His hands left my arms and attempted to shift base to the waist of my three-quarter shorts, in his bid to hurry me out of the room. I sized and analyzed his chances with me in the split second that remained. I could do it. Why could I not? There was a bayonet sticking menacingly from the pocket of his combat jeans trousers, and I checked him round with my eyes for any other weapon, and was surprisingly pleased. Did he know me at all?
Like a flash of lightning, I whipped round, lashing out at his jaw with my open palm. With a loud groan, he bucked backward, and his severe weight shattered my father’s raffia bed. He recovered quickly, and made for me. He was lucky, and I wondered what kept me rooted looking at him. Well, he had powerful biceps round my waist in no time, and the deed had been done. Without thinking, I sank my teeth into the yellow logo on his arm, and groped with my buccals till I got to some thick hard flesh, and stuck to it. Not even the sharp punching my stomach received deterred me, for I tore at it till I got to the ligament deep within. I pulled, and a huge chunk of flesh was mixed with some smelly fabric in my mouth. Blood poured in rivulets, as I spat it out. I bolted out of the room, leaving the soldier lost in oblivion.
When I put the first hand to scale the fence, I only had to poke my head a little, to realize my folly. There were more than thirty fully armed soldiers waiting, and I had leapt into a well-calculated trap. I was bundled away like a defeated dog, tail between my legs.
It must have been one or two hours, for when I started awake, there was moisture all over me, and when my head cleared enough to see, there was a buxom lady towering above me, bucket in hand. Suddenly I was aware of water in my eyes, nose, mouth, and when my nerves gave me a report of how my skin felt, the rage coursed through my system in hot flushes. What was this?
I charged at the lady, but my bones and hands did not think it wise. I had been sapped of all strength, but not my will and resolve.
‘Otee la’, she called out to whoever it was. ‘The wrestler.’
Someone came running with a bucket, got to me, and thought better of splashing the muddy water on me. Four hefty men came around, and helped me to my feet. Feeling strength returning, they noticed and began to chaperone me round the place. I was in the heart of the Biafran bunker!
The sheer industriousness and division of labour around impressed me, but did not stifle my unappeasable anger at my plight.
I took a good look at my surroundings. Did I belong here?
It was a large clearing deep in the bush. It was supposed to be an evil forest, judging by the gory relics of death and dying all around. Skulls and bones either hung from trees or littered the ground around, many in their final stages of decomposition. A section of the clearing was dedicated to branding, having in its employ three women with high cheek bones and sunken eyes sewing and knitting away, pasting a yellow shape that looked like a sun on the arm of a black shirt. They were humming the tune ‘Daily, Daily Sing to Mary’ in a manner which evoked so much pity in me for them. the guide nodded to them, and a branded shirt was tossed in my direction. I pretended not to notice, leaving it lying on the floor and walking away. I drew the usual, knowing, ‘we shall see’ smile from the captain, who kept with me.
Some smoke stung my eyes, and my attention was drawn to three or four heavily built men splitting firewood effortlessly, and one or two stuffing faggots into what was beginning to form a smoulder. Curiosity ate me up, and oblivious of my detail, I darted to the scene, only to face a large python, at least twenty feet long, headless and making life-clinging movements. Before my eyes, within minutes, stakes were erected over a billowing fire and I watched the reptile being rotated for an even barbecue. My mouth gaped open as the snake, succumbing to the unfair treatment, began to relinquish limbs, which totalled four as it was fully cooked. Looking every inch like a cold-rolled giant lizard, its blackened and charred frame was brought down minutes later, reminding me vaguely of the fables we were being told of snakes being once human, but reduced to a creeping thing by Amadioha, on account of some illicit sexual adventure with the first woman ever created, out of the side of Diokpa, the first man ever made, who became a great hunter and lived in the midst of animals. When my reverie ended, the men were munching with obvious relish the soft flesh of the reptile. I did not enjoy the sight at all, and my resentment climbed.
A roofless jeep ground to a halt just by me, and several bleats informed me of the contents of the boot. When they were let out, the black and white markings that identified my father’s herd were unmistakable, and I could not stomach it. They had either been commandeered or stolen! Blinded with rage, I leapt on the soldier from behind, and the bone connecting his spinal cord suffered tremendously from my elbow, and I was sure he passed out, but so did I almost immediately. I suspect it must have been the butt of a dane gun.
When I recovered, it was with an avowed determination to leave that place. I was in what looked like a cave, with rocks forming improvised shelters all around, though I looked around and discovered I was in familiar territory. Dusk was just closing in, and the camp was in a partying and merrying mood. The slurry voices of drunken soldiers filled the air, and I wondered where all the loosely clad women came from, as I peeped about. When a voice demanded that the volume of the gramophone be scaled up, I was inwardly pleased, as I put forward the first foot of escape, crouching stealthily through the maze and haze of revelry.
The approaching cover of darkness was altogether to my advantage, as I breezed through the bush, jumping over undergrowths and various hidden appearances of traps. The road meandered, straightened and coursed into familiar terrain as my young nubile legs did what it had always done, and I was so thankful for my athletic frame, for in less than ten minutes, I had approached the forked path that separated country civilization from the unexplored thickness of full blown and vicious nature. As I made it farther and farther away from the camp, my thoughts began to wander, and it berthed on home almost immediately. Obidiya. If I did not permanently maim that woman when I got home, my name was not Ezemeka Ogongo Nnamani. Let them banish me, I will not care. Some people were just alive because of the law, and I would gladly brave that law to put them where they belong. She oppressed my mom to no end, and what she had that my mum didn’t I never could tell. My mum had me, she didn’t have any, and I had been filled with indignation the day father had brought her home, introducing her as his wife, and my mum had simply fallen out of love and favour almost immediately.
Mama. None could take her place in my heart. The radiance of her smile soothed me, warned me, blessed me, protected me, assured me. Well, till I got home first. I had reduced speed to a trot, and just as I got to the turning that led to our house, there was eerie silence.
I scaled the fence and landed to face him. His arm was tightly bandaged, and his nose and mouth expelled thick brown organic smoke. I still saw the red tinge of blood on the bandage, as he walked casually towards me. There were no hard feelings in his eyes, or face.
‘I knew you would return’, he spoke. ‘They raided your house some hours ago. The vandals.’
First Obidiya, then my mother, and three of our female servants. My eyes roved and stopped on each of them as they were hauled out of the room. Their bodies were badly mutilated, as they were piled one on another. I wished I could faint, but somehow I just couldn’t. I was too beaten even for that. Even the hate I felt for Obidiya melted like wax in fire, as I ogled at her desecrated corpse.
‘Where is Power? He ought to have been here by now. They ought to have been in the ground by now!’