It was on a Friday morning, during the harmattan, a gentle wind was blowing through an orchard full of trees as Mr. Ella, an old man, sat on an orange stump on the edge of the winding River Benue watching the rise and fall of the tide. He was nearly worn out by the aftermath of the Republic’s fuel subsidy. Looking at the direction of the ever green lea across the river, he saw a crowd of people protesting against the subsidy. It was at a time when the Republic was replete with experiences of mass killings and reprisal attacks in its different parts. Shaking his head, he took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes with his wrinkled hands. Putting his glasses back on, he gazed back across the river and he saw people in splashes of blood.
“Oh! It has happened again, another blasting bomb. Why the series of serial killings?” He asked in bewilderment.
He was a man in his early fifties, tall, lanky, with sunken eyes, with a cropped grey hair and beard. On that fateful day, he decided to walk down the river area snaking across his neighbourhood with winding paths. He hadn’t been there for a long while. He thought he could walk pass the river on foot. He left a paper on the dining table, letting his wife and children know where he was going if somebody comes asking after him.
“Oh! It seems the government does not know our suffering,” he was saying.
“We are in deep pangs of pain. And the best thing the government is doing to us when our heads are chopped off every day is implementing her decision on the removal of fuel subsidy in the downstream sector. This is not at the heart of our present problems. Government should kindly provide us with shelter, portable water, good roads and stable electricity before thinking of the removal of fuel subsidy. Is this the height of human wickedness? Are those in power feeling what we are feeling? Perhaps, a few of them. Their wives don’t go to the market or filling stations to queue for kerosene. Oh God! I’m wondering if the man we all voted for intends our good. We all voted for him because we saw hope in him. We believed he would be the best man to move the Republic forward. But what are we seeing now? It seems the reverse. He says the removal of fuel subsidy is aimed at improving the economy. Let’s see what will eventually happen.”
A year earlier, the Republic was looking for a leader who will lead her to El Dorado. Now, the leader executes policies whose consequences seemed greater than the good that may result thereof. There had been series of kidnappings, bombings and man-slaughter everywhere. On the pot-holed roads, there were touts scavenging for food, extorting monies from travellers on the high way…
Enjoying the serenity and peace of the river area as he sat by the river bank, he saw a diminutive bearded man, clad in a grey shirt and trousers, with a floppy limy green hat on his head. The man didn’t seem to see him as he was focused on the boat he was entering.
“Who are you? Can you propel this boat across this roaring river?” Mr. Ella asked.
The little man tugged at his beard, glancing up and down the river. Getting out of the boat to where Mr. Ella was, he said, “Yes, I can and I often do. I’m only a passerby, very familiar with the waters. I even assist people across this river at night when the waters are roaring and raging. I sail mostly at nights, but today, I’m out during the day to sight-see and explore the river area.”
Mr. Ella pursed his lips and shifted his weight uncomfortably on the tree stump which he was sitting down.
“You do that for free? In this Republic?” Mr. Ella asked him in a squeaky voice.
The man shrugged his shoulders, smacking his lips, “Yes, I do that gratuit, because from it, happiness I gain. I have to be going, I’m travelling round this river before nightfall.” He smiled, extending a gnarled three-fingered hand, “I’m Agbo. If one day you get entrapped in this river at night and I happen to be passing by, I’ll help you sail smoothly. That’s my cherished hobby.”
Mr. Ella hesitated for a moment before shaking Agbo’s hand.
“My name is Ella,” he said, “pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Agbo bowed, turned, entered the boat and began to row the boat westwards along the river.
Ella smiled as he watched the little man disappeared on the waters. He then turned his attention to the ever-green grass across the river.
“There are still good people in this unrepublican Republic? Oh! May God forever bless such good fellows.”
As he could no longer see Agbo, he began walking his way home, slowly through the padded trees. He looked at his wrist, remembering he no longer wore a wrist-watch since the ticking of the watch seemed unimportant to him now. Things had changed. Things were changing. Things were becoming more unbearable every day. The sun was still high in the sky, so he thought it might be around just after noon. He decided he’d better get back home in case someone had come looking for him.
As he was approaching his house, he saw nobody outside. He encountered no passers-by passing. He was becoming scared. He saw no house but ashes scattered on the ground. He saw no one. His heart was beating as he saw his three-year-old daughter crying by the side. What had happened? There was nobody to ask. There wasn’t any need asking. He had seen the charcoaled bodies of his family – his wife and children, except the little babe he was now holding. His eyes were swollen with tears. His family had been killed, his properties ruined, perhaps, at the same time he heard the bomb blast. His eyes had become red like red pepper because of tears.
“Oh! What will I do now? The world has made me desolate. Death has carried my entire family away. My soul is aching. I’m left with only Ajuma, my little baby. How will we survive? No house, no money, no nothing, nothing anywhere.”
It was a situation too deep to bear. Mr. Ella was left with only a child. How will he take care of the child? Where will he start from? He talked to no one as he walked passed the bush, going to a village he knows no one, to begin life all over again. Will he be welcomed by anyone? As he walked, he fell face down on the ground, with his baby crying. He couldn’t but begin to cry, his cheeks forming a tributary. It was really painful. Attempting to pull himself back to his feet, he realized he had seriously injured. He stood up and remained still. He looked back and saw the damage. He looked ahead and saw how he will have to begin living anew, how he will have to do another growing again. He decided never to look back as he walked with his baby to where he does not really know anybody. Will he make it? He doesn’t know. He just kept on moving and moving and moving.