29th August, 2014
Kaduna, Northern Nigeria.
The heat of the day couldn’t faze him, neither could the anticipation of attacks by extremists- which were common on these northern roads nor even death. Uyo was on Eneh’s mind. From Uyo- after he had spent few days with family and discussed the recent happenings concerning Toby, he would be going back to Lagos. He had taken two weeks casual leave from his workplace. He wasn’t ready for a query or deductions from his salary. He had to be back before the permit expired.
They had passed Zaria and the southern parts of Kaduna- with all its rustic looks. The northern wasteland lay behind radiating a terrible heat that caused him to perspire profusely. He could feel the sweat from his back trickling down the cleft between his buttocks. Hope of lush vegetation lay ahead in Jos. The grasses by the roadsides began to thicken and the sands receded a great deal. Brown mud huts became more abundant and closer to the road from the bushes. Their bus had turned off Manchok- Plateau road taking Kagoro- Jos road through Kachia. It was farther, but more travel friendly in these days of bombs and Boko Haram insurgency. The road lay over a stretch of seemingly unending tarmac, serpentine across the savanna. Fulanis cattle herds-men, sticks flung behind their backs roamed the veld with their humped herds. Natives gathered on mats beneath stunted trees. They had to shade from the scorching sun. The weather suddenly changed; in few minutes they had reached the coldest city in Nigeria. They were in Jos. As their bus drove through the acacia forest area of the plateau, Eneh felt an in-depth joy knowing that in about an hour and a half, they would be crossing the great Benue River and exiting Hausa-land with its attendant apprehensions. He also felt a sense of loss.
A deep-seated sadness over leaving Toby behind, in that arid savanna. Memories of the last moments before he left the boy flooded his mind. The boy had only asked if he would be visiting often. Eneh had nodded his agreements, though he knew he was lying. He had lied even more- from when he went to take the boy away from Obalende High School. He had told him he was transferred from Lagos to Kaduna. That was the first time he saw the boy being depressed. He was going to lose the few friends he had at Obalende High. Eneh pitied him, even as he went into the hostel to pack his few belongings. But there was nothing he could do about it- for the school authority had advised him to withdraw the boy. The principal had further mentioned that there was a school she knew of in Kaduna state. A school where such children with rare gifts were being sent.
“There is a rumoured that the teachers engage magic to control the kids there; ain’t that weird…?”, she had paused suddenly not wanting to offend him with her small talk. Eneh had smiled. He was not offended by any of it. Toby was not weird. He was just a chip off his father’s block. He had a knack for numbers- there was nothing unnatural about that. Others might term that whatever they wanted, not him. He loved the boy. He recalled how the boy had calculated the change he was supposed to be given by each of the conductors of the different buses they boarded en route Kaduna.
After being on the roads for two days, they’d reached Kaduna and were able to locate the institution. It was a beautiful school with white washed walls. Its structures contrasted with the mud huts that littered the northern country side. The administrative block stood in front of other buildings. Toby was shown to his hostel after the admission procedures. While he was away, the admission officer had asked Eneh in a Hausa accented pidgin-english; “dis one, wetin be him own witchy- witchy, kwo?”
“He is not a wizard or any of such things. He is a gifted kid”, Eneh had challenged back furiously.
“If he gifted, why ai no allow am stay for ya house, kwo?”, the man had queried. Eneh ignored him.
Ever since he was told of the boy’s strange obsession with numbers and the discovery of his predictive streak, he hadn’t been himself. Though it was clear that he inherited the trait from his late father, Eneh failed to understand how such an inert character was transferable. Was it in their blood, or was there a spiritual link? Eneh was afraid for him. He was too young and innocent. He was vulnerable too, for this world had no place for his kind.
“Who will guide him if his gifts are discovered prematurely”? Eneh had asked himself. He remembered the dirty kids that roamed the streets and ate out of waste-bins in Uyo and Lagos. Those children were ostracized from their homes because they possessed uncommon abilities. Little witches and wizards, they were called. They were stigmatized for being born with rare talents. Most went through cruel and inhuman treatments in the hands of prophets, native doctors and exorcists who claimed they could rid the demons possessing them.
To keep the extortions from these children’s parents coming, these exorcists would claim those children were so deeply rooted in witchcraft that they dared not perform the exorcisms immediately- they needed time; otherwise, they would demand more money to buy unbelievable ingredients for their impotent potions.
At such times, one began to wonder how those children became witches and wizards while their parents are deacons and elders in churches. Are witches not supposed to beget their kinds? If there were to be truths in those allegations, are the blames and punishments not supposed to be visited on the adults that initiated them? He couldn’t imagine Toby living the life those kids lived. Toby was a genius and he was going to ensure that nothing happened to him.
Eneh peered out of the bus window. Rocks and boulders dotted both sides of the terrain. Some formed mountainous silhouettes which blocked the sunlight; others crouched in dramatic postures over the horizon. The road tunneled through some others dangerously hanging as if they would cave-in and crush the passing vehicles within their core. Such a captivating scenery it was. Nature must have rumbled the earth in Jos, Eneh thought. God must have pelted the city with stones. An hour later, the bus sped through Lafia and Akwanga.
Eneh sighed with relief knowing that in few hours, he would be on the other side of Benue. The bus would travel all evening and through the night. It would make momentary stops at Ogbulafor and Onitsha in eastern Nigeria. Come tomorrow morning, he would be home with his people in Uyo.
*The concluding episode of the Madman’s Recompense will come shortly. Keep reading.