I turned tail and walked away without another word, aware of almost a dozen pairs of eyes on my back.
Save the time I spent watching my mother’s dead body, it took me exactly six hours to sulk-trek my way back to the camp. There was nothing left to go back to, no mother, no house nor siblings. My two younger brothers had been slain of some strange disease just the previous month. Their death activated the imp in me, as well as fuelled my hate for Obidiya, whom I felt had to have something to do with it, though I couldn’t put finger on any proof. Now all that was history, there was no Obidiya for me to even hate. I was sure those females in my house were not just slain, from their ruffled appearance. Oh, mother!
No one noticed my entry, as I had expected. I walked straight to the knitters, and found my uniform still lying on the ground. I checked the arm, and finding what I sought, I slipped it on. I had no more choice. It was for life or death.
I heard distant gunshots. I ducked for cover.
Three men were running in my direction, with horrendous looks on their faces. The look of determination against an inevitable death on their faces, combined with the urgent and synchronized panting and tried to muffle my sorrow and steel, attempting to make way for what began to look like emotion, but I was determined to keep it at bay. But what I beheld was proving too difficult to fight. Their eyes popped as their faces contorted as one already seeing the great beyond, albeit in a frightening mode. Their mouths were long since open, ingesting air as their speed ebbed. This was against the principles of smooth running. Your mouth ought to remain shut, and the only allowed air inlet was the nostrils. But who were they?
Almost immediately as the question flashed, the answer came, in a like manner. The full face met my searching eyes as one of them ran close, and the large marking which snaked from the tip of his hairline down to his jaw suggested and confirmed almost simultaneously his identity: this was not how our people marked their own. I retreated further into the bush, and laid ambush near a path I was sure they would cross, and remained there for some seconds. The gunshots had continued, and were receding.
The rush-rustle of leaves announced him, and, completely worn out, he was trotting along the lonely path, all the while throwing his head backwards in suspicion of the slightest sound. With glee, I realized he was alone. What had happened to the other two?
Suddenly, the picture of my mother’s mauled body flashed, and the rage welled within me. They were the ones! It had to be them!
Like the death-pounce of a cheetah on a deer, I sprang forward, treating his neck to my trademark elbow hit from three metres high, and when I landed on top of him, on the ground, my elbow was on his neck. The cracking sound that followed informed me of accuracy and success, as his neck sank back without restrictions. Yes. The ligament was completely torn. I didn’t believe I heard him shout.
‘Search him. Any weapon you find on him is automatically yours. When you are through, walk with me,’ a hoarse voice ordered.
When I turned, soldiers wearing yellow shirts with sun-logoed arms had besieged me, admiringly watching me.
Armed excitedly with a .22, two bayonets and five grenades, some minutes later, I was strangely proud as I toggled along with Metu. Tall, muscular and confident, he was the GOC of my district, and reported directly to Odimegwu.
‘I am proud of you, boy’, he said. ‘I heard of you from people, and I am not surprised at all. We need people like you.’
To no one in particular he said, ‘Did the food supplies arrive today? Be that as it may, prepare him, let me have another taste of human testicles.’ The boys set to work immediately, and began stripping off the khaki boots and clothes, humming war songs.
There had been an attempt to ‘liberate’ the village earlier the following day, and the vandals had met with stiff resistance, which in any case they had grossly under-estimated. All the members of the unit had been killed, save for five of them whom they wanted to have fun watching as they died. They had been ordered out, and asked to run for their lives. If they could make it, it was their luck. But as soon as they started out, guns had started blazing on them, cutting them down, except this one who had seemed lucky.
‘But you had made sure he wasn’t as lucky as he thought’, Metu had added admiringly.
The next few days were fairly eventful-learning the ropes of combat, use of weapons, unarmed combat and sundry things. It was shabby, disorderly, and yet we were taught to fight without scruple, and to make the best use of available ammunition. The most interesting part was the art of fire-shearing a bullet to deliver double effect by some skilful press of the trigger, in the heat of usage of the weapon. Food supplies were running short, and each evening when there was no partying was spent in combing the entire district for commandeerable food items, which were almost exhausted anyway, and we had turned attention to the adjoining farms, laying ambush for sneaky villagers who used the cover of dark to harvest food, for it was luckily the peak of the harvest season. One thing about the war which was in no short supply was motivation. Resource or no, arms or none, the spirit of struggle and resilience was too dominant to be ignored. The few newspapers blasted it, the radio echoed it through the entire space daring any vandal to set foot on the land and see if they would be smitten by the gods, or not, even if there was no living human left to defend it.
The night that was to decide the pace of our resistance came, and sooner than I thought too.
The evening had started to wear a hedonistic look, and the first bevy of women, wherever they came from, had already been quartered in Metu’s end since early morning. Shunning every plea both from Metu and the ladies to partake in the revelry which I knew was imminent; I had strolled a little way from the camp to just be by myself.
Women did not interest me. Or maybe the ones I saw there did not. The sight of the little iberibe I had been unfortunate to chance-glimpse a couple of times nauseated me, and I wondered what they were doing, and why they looked and sounded like they enjoyed themselves. The worst was the funny way they rolled their tongues and that thick smelly brown smoke would ooze out, that made me cough each time Metu did it near me. He said it was imported all the way from Mamfe, and a man who consumed it could take on a whole army of soldiers without getting hurt. Haven’t I been seeing him? Nothing could kill him, he had said.
Something shone suddenly in my eyes, pulling me from my reminisce.
Like it was meant for me alone to see, the receding sunlight converged on it, and the image I made out as I came closer was a thin shiny strip of wire, so inconsequentially thin, hidden behind a clump of bushes. My eyes popped as I discovered it was not just placed there, it was actually tied, and it ran a long way down. Tracing it, it led me deeper and deeper into the forest, and when I began to hear voices, I crouched down low. I saw the tree to which it was fastened.
‘It’s for tonight’, a voice said. ‘Everything is set. So shall we go over all you promised me, once again?’
In a very alien and broken accent, the reply came. ‘Due to the strategic importance of this district, and its proximity to the Uju airstrip, if we succeed in liberating this village, you will have full Cameroonian plebiscite, apart from choice houses in Yaounde and Bamenda. You will be recommended for immediate appointment in the Cammeroonian army, starting with the rank of a captain….’ I risked a glance at who was being promised so bountifully.
I could not believe it. My heart nearly stopped. There was Ikedi, Metu’s right-hand man, gesticulating energetically with the enemy. I could not take it. Saboteur!
A shot rang out. My bullet grazed his ear, but largely missed.
The coal-black general finished the job, and started out in search of the source of the sound. From the top of the tree where I had since taken refuge, I made the mistake of thinking he was alone with Ikedi. With my knife at the ready, I did not think before springing on him. I was that mad.
The knife did not do the job too accurately, but injured him. Never giving up, he pounced on me and we struggled for advantage. We rolled till whoever it was contacted the wire. Five explosions rocked the whole place. It paved way for what I never thought existed.
In a matter of minutes, tanks had rolled in and bullets and grenades were flying past, lighting up the approaching dusk.
People were shot. People fell. Dark smoke enveloped the whole place. In the hysteria and confusion that ensued, advantage was uppermost and I used it fully. I slashed throats. I shot as many as I could. I seized sophisticated weapons and used it against the enemy.
That was all until a large armoured vehicle, steely and heavy, bulldozed its way into the fighting arena, muzzle set, firing and bombing.
The operator, from what I could see, had on the bright green camouflage that identified the enemy, skilfully steering and firing the vehicle, yet I was surprised to note that more soldiers in equally green camouflage uniforms were being cut down, and at a rapid rate. He seemed to know where each of them was hiding in the bushes, and picked them to the dot of sharp accuracy. On and on he went, and the sheer surprise at how many enemy soldiers had surrounded our camp nearly made me go berserk. At a point, I watched him follow the trajectory of one soldier jumping from a tree into a military jeep, and I could not help admiring his marksmanship. The unfortunate soldier was roasted with five others just as he jumped in the front seat and the vehicle shot up in flames from the explosive that was projected to it.
‘What is Umoru doing? Umoru! Umoru!!’ I could hear shouts and questions.
Soon, I was looking, not too far away, straight at the dark smoky interior that was the muzzle of the armoured car. He had seen me.
I jumped down to wherever I thought safe. I was lucky.
He shot and missed. I had already rolled away to the rear of the vehicle, but getting on it was not as easy as I thought, but with stealth and determination, I braved the slippery steel of the body of the vehicle, and soon I was still admiring his expertise, from behind him.
I tapped him from behind, with the intention of presenting a surprise punch through his jaw, but what I saw, and what I had expected, were miles apart.
This was going to get sorely interesting, I thought as we locked in a bear hug.
It had only just begun.