My Last Journey

It was the worst time to embark on a journey or anything important. The Country was just coming out of a religious turmoil and the stench of the carcass of the crisis still hung over the life of the people, while some of us were trying to pick torn pieces of our lives ready to move on others had nothing on their mind except revenge for family, friends and loved ones killed. Religious crisis was one of the problems that constantly fell on Nigeria like brimstones from the sky threatening to destroy it, it was one problem that Every Nigeria knew was bound to rear its ugly head once in a while even those who had never been to the Country but had knowledge of its history were hardly ever surprised when the Muslim majority in the northern part of the Country and the Southern part dominated by Christians went for each others throat in the name of God and religion.
This latest crisis started when a petty conflict between a Muslim and a Christian over a business deal gone sour took a new dimension when the Muslim accused the Christian of defaming the name and character of Islams most revered prophet Mohammed and just as expected the killings and bloodbath began with each side accusing the other of starting it within hours the wall of friendship and love between the two which had taken years to build and was still under construction came crashing down. Muslims who found themselves in Christian dominated parts of the town saw dead coming for them just as the unlucky Christian in muslim dominated parts shared the same fate of dead. No unlucky ones were spared Men, Women and Children in the wrong places were forced to embrace dead. Peace, love and understanding were suddenly thrown into the trash can leaving rivalry, hate, revenge and dead took centre stage.
When the killings started the Johnson family found refuge in the warm wide open arm of our House. Although the killings never got to our area it was confined to the slums and poor parts of the town it could not show its face in our neighbourhood which was an enclave for the educated lawyers, doctors, engineers but our families decided that it would be safer for them to stay with us just in case the crisis found the strength and boldness to force its way into our area.
Our House was in a well designed and planned area, it was a housing estate of bungalows and flats trees, flowers and street light added beauty to the housing estate, the Johnson family lived just across the road from us. Our house a five bedroom bungalow was on number 5 lake road running through the House was Mothers artistic touch as an architect she added some minor designs that made the House one of the best in the area. We sheltered them at our own risk but it was not like we really cared, we had been family friends for as long as I could remember and there was no way we were going to stand aside and watch them get killed. We became family friends when Father and Mr. Johnson decided that it was not just their work at the law firm they both set up after law school that was going to tie them together they took their relationship up a notch and the life of our two families developed an umbilical cord that tied our destiny together.
Mr. Johnson was a Christian and Igbo from the south of the Country I never saw him speak Igbo it was always English his native tribe was buried deep inside of him and was almost impossible to dig out, he believed and lived his life like a white man his wife and only child Joseph also lived like him too. Their was also something else about them they were not religious they hardly went to Church except on some special occasion like weddings or christmas when it came to religion he and father were not at par. Father was a devout Muslim and community leader his religion and philanthropy gave him respect in the eye of other Muslim resident in the neighbourhood that he was made the “Liman” leader of the Mosque in the area. Even though most of our Muslim neighbours knew the Johnson family were staying in our House
none of them dared to raise any eyebrow Fathers position as a well. respected Lawyer and philanthropist was enough to shut them up.
Three days after the killings started the dust raised by it began to disperse and the curfew imposed on the town got lifted with things returning back to normal the Johnson family decided to travel to Aba their home town for christmas, usually I used to travel with them to spend christmas with my best friend Joseph but this time around they left three days earlier not just because of the recent crisis but also to attend the wedding of one of Joseph’s uncle.
After they left I was constantly plagued with worry and a strong desire to see my friend with each passing day a hole of loneliness continued to widen in me. Joseph and I grew up together we were actually born days apart he was a good and true friend he was short and dark skinned a carbon copy of his father he knew me more than any other person. He was the most funniest person I ever knew he had a way of making me laugh and be happy even I was sad or angry my life was incomplete without him even when I found a girl to date I never felt comfortable if he was not in the picture and like a true friend he would take himself out of the picture once we were sure I had gotten the girl. We were always there for each other one time I was fighting with a classmate who was stronger and just when it seemed he was through with me Joseph arrived the scene and without finding out who was at fault he jumped in and together we succeeded in beating the boy.
As we grew we never our difference in religion to find a place to stay in our life through our friendship we got to know everything about our different faith and to understand and appreciate our differences.
I was eventually rescued from my loneliness when my parents agreed to let me travel to Aba although it was difficult to convince Mother to let me go. She still harboured fear over the recent killings.
“You must be careful”. She eventually said concedi
A day before Christmas Father drove me to the bus station when we got to the station it was devoid of the usual hustle and bustle of passengers, drivers and their conductors, pick pockets and thugs. Most of the Christians from the south had made it a tradition for them to spend christmas in their home town and had left for christmas earlier than usual mostly because of the recent crisis. There were only two eighteen seater buses travelling to the south, when I saw worry beginning to creep over his face as he started to grow doubt about the journey
“Don’t worry Father nothing will happen”. I said trying to assure him before he could voice out his doubt.
“Call me as soon as you arrive”. He told me as he left.
I felt that my parents had nothing to worry about it was not like I was going to the south for the first time for the past twenty years my christmas had been spend in the southern part of the Country.
After Father left a shocker awaited me the bus had a mechanical problem and like most buses used for commercial purpose the driver had not deemed it fit to fix the problem we had to push the bus to get it started all the passenger including me were angry I could see anger written on the faces of the other passengers but only one of us dared to voice out his anger.
“What sort of nonsense is this I paid money for you to convey me and you expect me to push the bus you must be joking”. He shouted at the driver. Standing with his arms akimbo and watching us along with the four other female passenger who because of their sex could not push the bus with us.
When the engine eventually picked up we all jumped into the bus we had to wait for the female passengers to run down to meet us, as I found a seat at the farthest corner of the bus I stole a look at the bus driver and the look of resentment he send to the angry passenger said he would have left him standing at the garage if not for the female passengers.
I choose a window seat to enjoy the view of the country side. I loved window seat even during the few times I had travelled on an air plane the window seat had been my best place to view the cloud. My parents would have preferred to see me travel by air but the commercial airlines had not resumed flying yet as a result of the recent crisis.
Fate had not decided to be fair to me on this journey for I was forced to seat next to the angry passenger and his mouth refused to shut up there were three of us at the back seat of the bus the other passenger immediately went off to sleep as if he knew we were struck with a nosy passenger I envied him as I usually found it hard to sleep on a journey
“These commercial drivers are really greedy all they care about is making money they leave their buses in bad shape all in the name of profit this is not the first time I experienced this, there is no way I will pay my fare and still have to push the bus to get it started”. He told me trying to justify his earlier action.
As he blabbed on I felt like telling him to shut I kept my face glued to the window trying to enjoy the passing savannah plain. I tried to ignore the other passengers which was almost possible the bus driver and two boys about my age sat in front the driver was listening to some high life music miming terribly in a hoarse voice, one of the three female passengers had a kid about three or four years old who suffered us to listen to his cry whenever he demanded anything from his Mother and was refused.
As the angry passenger tried to force his words into my thoughts I shut my ear to his ramblings, occasionally nodding to his words I was not actually listening to. Along the journey we passed several Police and Military checkpoints.
fracas almost ensued between the angry passenger and the driver usually at some checkpoints usually the drivers gave up some money at the checkpoints to avoid any search but at some checkpoints the bus driver was not willing to part with his money making us go through long searches by the police who intentionally waste the time of drivers and passenger not willing to bribe them.
“Look driver you know how this checkpoints work why not just give them the money so they will let us through fast you are only wasting our time”.
“Oga why don’t you give them the money if you really want to avoid the search”. The driver replied angrily finally seeing an opportunity to say something.
“I didn’t pay you money for nothing you are supposed to use part of that money to bribe them”.
“I will not give them anything its my money and I will do anything I like with it”. He said in a voice that said do your worst.
“If you do not give them money at the next checkpoint I will show you who I am”.
“You are nobody, you are nothing and can’t do me anything”.
It took the effort of the most elderly looking man in the bus and two women to stop them. The raised voices had awoken the sleeping passenger drenched in his sweat.
“This heat is unbearable”. He announced trying to open the already opened window by his side.
“My brother this one is nothing you should go to maiduguri that is where real heat is”. The angry passenger said to the sleeping passenger now awoken.
“Are you from Maiduguri?. I have a sister there and she told me that but for the heat it is one of the best places to live in”.
“She must be talking about the old Maiduguri the place has changed our people are killed there almost daily all in the name of religion I used to love the town but now I hate it but the worst thing is that I can’t just live I was born there my business is there the only thing I have done is to send my family to my hometown Onitsha I visit them at least every two or three weeks”.
“I understand your situation I was born in the north too in Suleja but despite everything I can’t leave during the latest fighting five days back those Muslims killed my uncle I should pack my things and go home but I know that after the new year celebration I will come back”.
“The problem is everywhere just as they are killing us here our own people also kill them in the south when I tell people that it is time we do away with religion they think I am mad or the devil but why would God condone killings in his name after all both Muslims and Christian say they believe in God”.
“Jesus”. The woman with the crying Child shouted.“Are you mad please don’t let your blasphemous mouth bring down Gods wrath on us just keep your thoughts to yourself.
“You can’t tell me what I can or cannot say I have my rights and I know that religion has not erased my right in the constitution, and my friend here feels the same what’s that your name again?. He turned to ask me.
Sometimes in life the truth always finds a way to reveal itself and that was exactly what happened to me before the lie could find itself out of me the truth rushed ahead.
“Are you a muslim?”.
For a while the voices in the bus went silent as each of them tried to absorb this revelation. All the passengers retreated back into their selves and with the silence I found myself drifting into sleep
It was the sudden brake of the bus that woke me up it was some group of people men and boys armed with dane guns, machete, cutlasses and knives that greeted my eyes, before I could realise what was happening some of them had circled the bus ordering us to get down from the bus I saw that there were about three other vehicles suffering the same fate as us. When they first passenger got out one of the boys demanded for her name.
“Nkechi, I am one of you, I am Igbo”. She said full of fear.
As I sat in my corner the truth of what was happening became clearer this mob was out for blood I looked around me for any escape route but I could see none the windows in the bus had iron bars running across making it impossible to get out through the windows but I could see that even if I succeeded I could not go far before they would catch up with me. Fear took over me and I could hear my heart beating loud and fast with sweat pouring through every pore in my body I waited resigning myself to fate and praying for a miracle. Eventually it got to my turn as I was getting off the bus I tried to catch the eyes of the other passenger, to silently plead with them to help me
But none of them could look me in the eye except for the angry passenger who raised a wicked finger and pointing at me and in a voice laden with hatred, anger and loath announced to the crowd
“This one is a Muslim”.

5 thoughts on “My Last Journey” by Mamman Saba Mustapha (@danjuma)

  1. I had issues with the punctuation in this story especially capitalization. There were a lot of words that did not require capital letters that were there. Eg: “The Country was just coming…” “…it was one problem that Every Nigeria knew was…”
    Also reading without commas, columns, semi-columns can be very exhausting, try to incorporate them into your writing.
    I will advice that you give your work to someone to proof read for you because there is a lot you might not see when re-reading your own work.

  2. Thanks I will try to be mindful of my punctuation next time, or better still I will have someone go through my writing before I post it.

  3. @salliness has already commented on the punctuation, danjuma; the other issue I had with the story was that it felt like three stories in one – the religious riots, the MC’s friendship with Joseph, and the bus ride. You gave too much detail to all three; I would have focused more attention on the bus trip.

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