“If I tell you what I have done, you will think I am a monster or some sort of beast. I am all these things, but I also have a mother and a little sister. I cannot take back the things I have done, I am not God, I am only human.”
The woman pushes up her glasses and looks at me, her eyes change, it seems to gleam with some sort of hope, she wants to reach within and remove the black thing that is in my heart – the black thing that has itself cradled firmly between my lungs. She wants to understand the monster that I became. But she will never understand, she will never understand what it meant to run, to love and to kill. She will never understand regret. The clouds outside darken, the cold rages, lightening flashes and the rain keeps falling.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He told us we had to fight for our future – our commander. He said that the people we were going to fight against were the ones who worked for the government, they were the enemy and so we had to make them pay. These people did not look like government workers but perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps the eight year old girl with the bright red dress was some sort of government spy, the man with the stooping gait was her administrator and the ordinary people we saw were government officials. I remember her cries, I remember his sobs and I remember their screams. I do not want to remember, but I remember.
Sometimes I wonder if I had a choice, I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t put her out of her misery. “Please don’t hurt me” she kept on saying, her tiny voice ringing in my ears. Kene would still have ended her life one way or another. So perhaps it was better I did it first, I had to do it, I didn’t like what I was seeing. Kene’s thing was entering her thing, he was hurting her and doing something I was not supposed to be seeing. But there were a lot of things I was not supposed to be seeing, things I still saw. The man with the stooping gait had surprised us “kill me please, make it fast.” Those were his words, the man seemed shattered, his eyes void of life, he had died before we even came.
“You see this one’s here, you kill them sharp sharp, you dey hear me so” his eyes leveled down as he spoke those words, he was the kind of man whose words you paid attention to. When the commander told you to do something you did it, if he told you to eat your shit, you ate your shit. But these people did not seem like government people, some had baskets, some had fishing nets. They seemed like ordinary people, they begged, they screamed but we did not listen, we could not listen, the boys that we had once been were gone, all that remained now were beasts. I sat on the earth and I stared at the skies wondering if God could see what we were doing, I wanted the ground to swallow me, I wanted to become dust. As time went on, we met more girls with bright clothes, more men with stooping gaits and more ordinary people. Slowly, the black thing started to form in my chest, slowly I became a monster.
We were afraid of the oceans, me and kene we were scared that its quintessence would consume us and somehow remind us of the past. The past was like a distant memory that we wanted to forget. The past reminded us of a time when were not beasts, a time when we were boys. We loved the oceans; we would run by the piers, our worn out clothes billowing in the wind, our feet wet with happiness, our hearts filled with laughter and our souls burning with childlike fire. Kene and I never slept or at least that’s what my mother would always say, we would stay up at night and play dangerous pranks on people. Kene was always too careful, “Chima, this one is too dangerous na, I don’t think we should do it.” He would say, his small eyes widening. But he was easy to persuade and so I dragged him into all my pranks. One time we scared our teacher, he had been in his room with one of the popular town hookers. “Go harder, give me more, I want you to come inside me” were the words we heard the hooker say before we struck. We pretended to be jungle soldiers and scared him out of his wits. Suddenly our teacher was running in the streets stark naked, screaming that jungle soldiers were around. When he caught us , he couldn’t hide his frustration “why couldn’t you wait until I was done, I was just about to.. Oh I had her I had her, I will make sure you boys pay” he continued to say shaking his head. He punished us afterwards, twenty five fia fia fia’s on our black bare buttocks. “I’m never going on any one of your pranks again” Kene said but ended up following me to the next one. Later on, we would laugh at those times and tell jokes about it. I loved him like the brother I never had. “Me, I want to be a doctor” Kene would say, his small eyes gleaming with hope. “I want to save lives, I don’t want to hurt people, I don’t want to ever be like that. Chima the de-stro-yer,” he winked at me, “I’m sure you want to be a soldier, we will quarrel o.” he laughed, the kind of laugh that showed only his upper teeth.
“Soldier! biko I don’t have time for that o, I want to be the president” I said, lifting my fists into the air. “I want to lead my country to a better future, I want to change the world.”
“Don’t worry Chima, when the stars come out to play, we’ll change the world together,” he pointed to the dark skies and locked his hand in mine. The skies turned fountains as the water rained down on us, we ran into the jungle, our voices belting out screams of joy, we huddled ourselves under the leaves, the drops freezing our skin and the rain kept on falling. We weren’t just friends we had become brothers.
“You are just like your father,” my mother would sometimes say – always with a faint smile “I just wish you had got to know him”. She didn’t like to talk about him too much; vague references about him were enough for her. But when she did talk about him, her words would slow down, its syllables yoked too closely as though something held it back from being said too loosely. “You know when your father died, his Ummuna threatened to take all his property from me if I didn’t marry one of his brothers, tufiakwa I rather eat my shit than marry one of those drunkards. Nobody except for kene’s late mother stood by me, your father’s brothers left me with nothing, they threw me out, shaved my hair, they said I killed my own husband. M na- ahapu ha maka chineke. Chima I’m not training you to behave like that to other women o. I na – anu m.”
“Yes mama” I replied, holding my ears as she spoke the words more gravely.
She made Egusi soup on Saturday’s, the days when Kene came to our house to eat, because there would be nothing at home, the days when I dragged for meat with my three year old sister; “Bad boy” she would say as though it wasn’t my duty and right to behave like this, what was the beauty of a big brother if he didn’t infringe on your rights. “Leave this place” I would say in return as she would gum herself to my legs her tiny teeth trying to inflict pain, I would laugh at her frail efforts and shake her off my leg. She would cry out, screaming for justice to be served. “I will do you back” was always her comeback, her trademark words.
“Ojukwu has started using child soilders to fight,” my mother would normally say “so you have to be careful o, I wish this war would just end, I pray for a day when we will finally have our half of a yellow sun, a day when we’ll finally have our Biafra.”
Time waved by and perhaps we were foolish to think all would be well, to think that war would not find its way to us. Young boys playing boju boju in our makeshift jungles but a time would come when we would see real jungles and hold real cutlasses and real guns. That time would scar us forever leaving pangs of regret to haunt our memories.
“The money you have is not enough for these two boys,” the man said, his voice was firm, information had arrived that soldiers were about to attack the village, so everyone was struggling to get away.
“No please, they are all I have, the two of them eleven years old, how is that too old,” my mother’s words dawdled – the same way they did when she talked about my father.
“Mama it’s okay I said, we will be all right,”
“No I cannot leave you”, my sister screamed from beside her, but there was no point, her words were inconsequential to the driver and soon he zoomed of leaving yearning to dwell with us.
The clouds were dark and soon the heavens opened and the rains poured down in torrents. I ran, me and Kene we both ran, our legs breaking the wind, we wanted to catch her and stay with her forever. We wanted to soak our pain in the sunshine but the rain kept on falling.
But these were only distant memories, distant memories that we would soon forget because it was the past, this was our present, after my mother and sister left we had been roped into the dark cycle of savagery and we had become shadows of our former selves. This was our reality now, there were no pranks to play, no oceans to run by, there was only death and death alone. “Our camp has been sabotaged, everyone has ran in different directions, Chima we need to move.” those were the last real words I remembered him saying. But I kept walking on, my steps puncturing holes into the wet sand, I walked carrying Kene on my back even though it ached – the pain stinging raw and sharp, I walked until I could no longer hear Kene’s breathing. I put him down, “Kene hold on there’s still hope, and we can still change the world together”.
“Chima please end it” he said, “the pain, I can’t make it through, just know that when the stars come out to play, I’ll be watching, waiting for you to change the world.” Waterworks flowed down his cheeks.”
“No Kene you are my brother I cannot…”
The sound was piercing; Kene had pressed my gun to his heart and pulled the trigger. Suddenly my world seemed to shatter and I was left in the dark, my hands searching for the broken pieces so I could put them together, but there no pieces to pick, my world had not only been shattered, it had disappeared. I looked up to the sky and prayed for God to take me with kene, but all he answered me with was rain, fierce rain, I felt it chill my nerves as I put kene’s body into the earth. I sauntered on as the rain kept on falling.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“if you let me in, I will be able to help you” she says. She is the therapist in charge of rehabilitating people like me – child soldiers. I do not bother saying anymore words, she will not understand. “You can go” she finally says with that same gleaming hope. I walk out of the office into the hallway and I collapse unto the floor, into the silence, I am safe in this silence. Thunder crashes outside and the rain keeps falling.