DECEMBER 24, 1967
The sun rose slowly in its proud uprise. It was yellow – like a withering leaf. It casted sunbeams in every direction as it illuminated our small village. More radiant became the sky as the sun climbed higher and higher. But as beautiful as the morning of the Christmas Eve was, i knew it would be a horrendous day.
Nedu and I laid on the beautiful mat. It was made of raffia dyed with green and red colours. It was given to Mama by Nwaanyi Eze. She was amongst the women who came to welcome us when we returned from Enugu; the then capital of Biafra, after it had fallen to the Nigerian Army. Seeing that we came back with virtually nothing, out of compassion, she bought us the mat.
Mama would never let us go near the door post, moreso, let us play outside. She would not let us go to the stream with the other boys. We couldn’t stay up late at night to catch aku, termite like the other children. We lived like prisoners to avoid being conscripted.
‘Bikonu, don’t go outside! If they see you and conscript you, you are finished!’ Mama warned. Her voice greatly loaded with the compassion of a passionate mother.
I and Nedu, my twin brother had planned to pick snails in bushes, and maybe, if we’re lucky enough, we could catch squirrels. As meat had become an expensive commodity if not scarce, we would give the snails to Mama to make soup for the family. And maybe, she would smile and be proud of us.
‘Wake Up!’ Nedu kept saying, nudging me from side to side.
‘It’s morning already, let’s start going’ Nedu whispered enthusiastically.
The bush was littered with nuts. The sap sweet fragrance of the trees which stood like towers washed over us and we were seduced by its comforting goodness. But then, it was deadened by the putrid smell of mangoes, and cashew fruits, and avocado which were ripening under the leafy dome of the bush. The organic decomposing smell rose up in waves of miasma.
As we walked, twigs crunched beneath our feet. I saw mushrooms growing under the shady roof of creaking trees. I heard a wild cat slinking away. Shuftling noises came from deep in the interior; the ‘whoosh’ of air on dried leaves, the scurrying of squirrels searching for food under bristles of crispy moss. And maybe, snakes would hiss too, but, these sounds were made faint by the cunningly interwoven web of leaves.
Goose bumps rose suddenly all over my body. Beads of perspiration formed at my forehead and nose tips.
I remembered Mama’s words:
‘Bikonu, don’t go outside, if they see you and conscript you, you are finished!’.
I persuaded Nedu that since we’ve come this far and seen nothing, we should go home.
‘Maybe the snails and squirrels are also running for their lives too’ I said.
Nedu remained recalcitrant. I became greatly galled and slightly irritated. Our soft talks turned to fierce arguments then shouts.
We heard footsteps, closer did the crackling of trampled leaves become. We ran!
The steady thump of my footseps echoed in my ears, the leaves crackled noisily. I felt a bead of sweat roll down my forehead as I ran.
I stopped when i heard a loud rippling sound. It rippled through my ears as if i was next to a firework display.
Nedu had been shot! On his right leg! He screamed and writhed in pains. I made to run to him, but then, this man- tall, huge and with dishevelled beards. He was fully clothed in military regalia. He dragged Nedu, my twin, away, forcefully.
Misty-eyed. I slouched against the Udara tree where i’ve been watching from a distance. I cannot go back home to Mama; without snails, without Nedu. I dreaded greatly for Mama’s sanity.
I want to be conscripted too. I want to see Nedu, just one more time. I want to hug him, to kiss his neck and whisper to his ears – ‘You should have listened to me’.
DECEMBER 24, 1967