Runner: The Siege
The town of Limala laid sleeplessly in the dark like a shadow in the night musing and whispering away, like endangered an specie, smelling of fear and anxiety, swelling with people coming in, people other than her inhabitants, coming in without going, running away, away to life, life seeking life, away from burnings, burnings dark as dread, away from lynching, lynching common as air, escaping attacks, if luck embraced you, from the burners, burners bloody with intent, from killers, killers mean like beasts, loving it with lust, lusting life’s end, feeding on the helplessness of the besieged.
“I didn’t even reach our house.” Cried Rakiya between her subs. “I met my neighbors on the way who told me that there was no need. They were running away too…. Our houses were being burnt down. And my husband……I don’t even know…..” She burst out. The tears flowed along the part ways made by her wrinkled face, wrinkled by life falling into an abyss, disheveled by horror.
Mama said nothing for a while as she listened to her friend. What would she have said? She just pitied their whole situation. To die or not was not the question. How many will die? Perhaps, all of them, like papa Duniya died with his wife and four children in their house burnt to ashes.
“Thank God you’re alive. We’re alive….God will help us.” She managed to say.
Rumors abound of a siege. And it lingered on, giving life to musings and whisperings. On days like this, in moments this kind, rumors were rarely called rumours.
They said the attack was planned in their place of worship. They’re killing for their God. He’ll bless the men with pristine beings in his Kingdom. Are you not aware? He has a lot of them.
They are coming. They’ll come through the primary school: primary disease: the school of impoverished pupils and disinterested teachers. No, through the border on the river. The river is yet to overflow and take lifes. They will come on and take life on the river’s behalf.
They will come through the bush. Through that large expanse of land darkened by the long shadows of tall trees, mango trees, cashew trees, guava trees. The play ground for boys in the season of their bearings.They will lurk in the shadows, and in the trees, in the darkness of those shadows. Then they will climb down like fruits falling down, like death raining down.
Enhe….Our church has been burnt. The fire couldn’t catch the priest. The priest ran. Who is not afraid to die? He prayed and the fire burnt without hurting. Shut up! The church was burnt down. The priest and his god died in the inferno.
Our principal was killed too. No, how can it be? That good man? He was friendly. Lie! They kill even their friends. No, they didn’t kill him. They almost did. He escaped. See, let me tell you, they killed him. His wife didn’t see his mangled body.
Nobody is spared oo! They opened the stomach of a pregnant woman, brought out the unborn baby. It died. The mother died. Her husband’s body was there without its head. The head stood on some redness and looked at the body it was once a part of.
The drinkers in the bar died drinking without knowing let alone feeling the fire or the knife cuting their gullets. At least, they died in peace. But their attackers didn’t spare the drinks. Their stomachs drank them.
That mai suya was sliced like the meat he sold. Haha, and roasted too. You know what they did to his penis? Keep quiet.
They slaughtered people with knives that looked like mai suya knife. Of blood, they glinted. Tasty froth of red. Like they did in ninety one. Was it ninety two? Don’t bother about the nineteen and something.
Our local chief has reached a peaceful resolution with their own Emir. They have ordered the laying down of arms. Nothing more will happen. Look at you, it a deceitful measure. They will strike when we are unprepared. So you don’t know?
The owners of the corridor of power procured arms for them. They have already signed the shariya law in to law. Did anybody hear you say that? Hmmm, I didn’t hear you.
The height of this was the presidential broadcast that ordered a dusk to dusk curfew. Schools and offices were closed until further notice. The men of bomb and of the trigger, paraded about night and day sirening here and there.
But Israel slept as usual, through that night, meandering through the tumultuous playfulness of his boyish dreams, as if in wakefulness, sprawled in the bed, alive in his dreams, dead to life’s vicissitudes.
A typical boy who played the play boys played, and with an innocent roguishness that was adventurous in its quest: that moment when he would sneak out of home triumphantly just to satisfy his instinct to play in the rain or even under the scorching sun until mama’s voice would tear into the horizon of his play, or she would go fetch him and she would find him engrossed in the thick of his play, building houses on the sand, playing an improvised round object on the street or just walking around aimlessly, half naked with childish innocence and pride or running, chasing, ambushing and hiding in the game of hide and seek. Sometimes he would notice and disappear. In those days, she would pull his ears tautly, as if to pull it out of its place, and drag him home, her hand never loosening its grip, as his whole body lagged behind in the wake of the pulling. His face would remain an eternally contorted figure at the mercy of the pain inflicted.
“I don’t want to look around for you for any reasons. Do you hear me?” Mama warned that morning.
“Yes mama. ” Israel said.
And they came, disguised as the armed security outfit of the state, into the neighbouring town where fear had laxed people, to protect not. The sigh of relief was short lived.
Triggers went loose like this, ..Tatatatata and like that….Popopopo. If you didnt hear the sound, you were no more. Machettees swung like this and like that, bows shot their arrows, catapults and stones did their bits. They dared the bullets of death.
Limala, their neighbour, lined their streets resigned to fate like an animal destined to die. Fathers shook their heads in helplessness. You couldnt save yourself let alone your loved ones. Mothers cried. But what was the need?
They saw their youth brought back. The bleeding chest of one still bled with heroic red of a fading sunset. One carried an arrow stuck on his back like a forgotten object, a part on the back for a job well on. Another was making a last struggle with dead from his wounds. Red with courage. Courage not to die.
The smoke smelled close. And closer.The sounds sounded near.And nearer. They were coming. Death was coming. They would finish up their neighbours and come slice them into pieces. And roast them like suya meat.
Pray! Said the pastor. The end is here. Where was the courage to pray? It died mostly on the alter of fear. Pray! Pray! Pray! His voice rang. They prayed without knowing what their mouths said.
Until the real men in khaki came.The legitimate men of the trigger and bombs. “Where is it happening?” They asked. Hands pointed at the dark sky hovering over the neighboring village.
They smiled.They left. It ended.
Lifeless bodies veiled the earth, begging for space in her bowels. They were returning home. Was she prepared for them like this? She was silent. She was inundated.
The living breathed a sigh of relieve. Stomachs remembered that they were hungry.
“They are coming oo. They are in the primary school.” Voices announced. Owners of legs ran. Scampered to where? They laughed when they realised it was a mere comedic stir. For three times the comedy stirred them. For three times they laughed. Their laughter smiled as it cried. But it’s all ended.
“The dead are stiring in their dead beds.That’s why.” Mama said.
“Mama, are they angry?” Israel asked dipping a mould of eba into the thick egusi soup which mama had prepared.
“I don’t know.Maybe they are yet to accept their death.” Mama replied.
“Is papa coming back?” He asked as the flesh of his neck bulged out to accommodate the swallow.
“The roads will be a little bit cleared now. He should be here before the weekend.”
Note: This series of three part stories has initially been published by Kalahari Review. Your readership and comments are surely welcome: