I turned round and saw the Muslim girl. She was looking very beautiful and radiant, although she had her veil drawled over her head and across her shoulders. She smiled at me, her smile was comforting.
“What troubles your mind?” she asked softly. Then, she came and sat beside me before I could answer.
Today, it still seemed a sort of irony to me that the first contact I made with Miriam was a discussion on political matters. That day, I shared my feelings with her. To my surprise, I realized that Miriam was not only very intelligent; she was also versed in the political matters of our Nation. However, her views were in conflict with mine. Miriam believed the problem lies in the false unification of non similar entities. To her, Nigeria is like a combination of strange bedfellows that have been brought up to look at issues of life from different perspectives. They can never agree on issues. She believed the only answer lies in the complete dissolution of the country and breakup into its component parts or else, very soon, there would be cataclysmic consequences. At a time, she looked at me straight in the eye and said: “The elites and the upper middle class of this country are so far above the rest of the citizens that they have been disconnected from the reality of the futility of uniting this country.”
Eventhough, my discussion with Miriam that day ended up posing more questions to me about the future of my country; I had met someone who would become a soul mate to me. From that day, we became friends. Later, we became very close friends and soon, we became inseparable. Despite being a Muslim, Miriam was cool minded and liberal in thought and expression. This was against my perception of Muslims as conservative, violent, vengeful creatures who were enemies of change. Sometimes, when I confronted her with questions concerning Islamic violence, she would shake her pretty head and tell me it is not about the religion, it is about the people. She told me stories about her native town, in Northern Nigeria, about the extremities of using religion as a weapon. Of course, she always had her own version of the story every time we heard news of violence in the Muslim dominated Northern Nigeria. In her view, those acts of violence were just evil and selfish acts, perpetrated under the guise of religious fundamentalism. Unfortunately, the direct perpetrators are also victims of people who take advantage of their poverty and unemployment, to use them for political purpose. No matter how much drama we attached to it, these acts are political, rather than religious.
One day, I went to Miriam’s home. I had meant it to be a surprise, so I did not tell her I was coming. I reached the house and saw Miriam crying. Immediately she saw me, she wiped her tears and asked me to give her some money. That was the first time she had ever asked me for money. I gave her some money and did not ask any question. Later, she told me what had happened.
“My siblings had not eaten for two days. I needed to find something for them to eat and it seemed all hope was lost. Thank you very much Akin.”
I was surprised. Miriam could not be more than nineteen. Was she supposed to be responsible for taking care of the family?
“What about your parents?” I asked.
“My father died three years ago, fighting for ECOMOG in Liberia.”
“What about his entitlements?”
She smiled sarcastically and shook her head. “You ask as if there is justice in this country. The government told everybody that billions had been spent in promoting peace in Liberia, yet my father and thousand others perished without their families receiving any compensation. Where do you think the money went to?”
“At least your mother should be able to take up responsibility.”
She shook her head sadly. “My mother separated from my father a long time ago.”
At that time, I really felt sorry for her. At a tender age, she had been left alone to battle the storms of life.
“I had just come back from a futile attempt at getting a part time job when I found my siblings crying. They told me there was no food in house and they had tried in vain to get something to eat. Fortunately, I had bought some rice at the market on my way back. I decided to cook. Unsurprisingly, there was no kerosene in the stove. There had been a total blackout for the past three days so I knew using electric stove was out of it. There was no money to buy kerosene, so I rushed to the sawmill to get some sawdust to use as fuel in cooking. However, to my surprise, there was no single grain of sawdust. One of the security men told me the sawmill had been dormant for four days.
‘N.E.P.A has refused to give us electricity.’ he told me.
‘What of your power generator?’
The man shook his head and smiled. ‘Haven’t you heard about the new fuel price hike? Deisel is so expensive now that our company will go bankrupt if we run on generator.’
Frustrated, I had returned home, trying to think of how to get something to eat. That was when the thought of the predicament of this country overcame me and I started crying. Akin! I was weeping for this country, not myself.”
To be continued