I received another call from the class captain, informing me that the test was to start by four p.m. confirming my earlier fear. The test was supposed to hold the next day but had been shifted because Professor Musa had plans to travel.
I got to the park as early as 5:30am; and three hours later the bus was yet to be filled with passengers. I was consciously praying that the bus would fill up at once so we can start going. My concerns soon coerced me to join the driver in hustling for passengers and he was surprised I was doing a better job than him. Fifteen minutes later the new Toyota Hiace bus was left with two unoccupied seats.
My phone beep and I check, it was a message from Ada my girlfriend, asking anxiously for the third time; if the bus had started moving? I quickly replied her, assuring her that I will be on my way in less than ten minutes. Ten minutes passed and we couldn’t get two more passengers despite the effort of some passengers to hustle for the driver.
It soon dawned on me that I wasn’t the only passenger in a hurry to enter Maiduguri that day. One of the passengers a pretty young lady offered to pay for one of the unoccupied seat and we were down to one vacant seat.
It was usual for buses traveling to Maiduguri to take time to fill up since the Boko-haram group took control of some towns in North Eastern Nigeria. My situation wasn’t unusual; I would have been more patient with the driver, if not for Prof’s test, which I was in a hurry to meet in school.
After a long wait with no new passenger and the driver, not prepared to leave without getting the bus filled or getting the monetary equivalent of sixteen passenger’s bus; I called the driver aside and paid for the last seat, not before telling him my situation and how I must be in Maiduguri before 2.pm.
He was a tall slim young Hausa man with bad set of teeth, which I suspected must be result from his regular consumption of kola nut, which is evident with the remnant of crumbs of kola nut still visible on his teeth, his discoloured gum and on his left pocket is a visible kola nut. He assured me that since most of the passengers are in a hurry, he will drive through Damboa route, which was a shorter route and will save time, without thinking twice I agreed and begged him to drive above the speed limit if there exist any.
Damboa road though the easiest route to Maiduguri from Adamawa state had been a living hell for travelers ever since the Boko Haram sect captured the area, news of travelers stopped on the way by the group and murdered in the most inhumane way buzz the ears daily like the Maiduguri mosquitoes.
There was the popular story in school of a woman who was made to watch as they butchered her husband and son. But recently news had it that the road has become safe for travel, ever since the Nigeria soldiers liberated the town two weeks ago.
He turned on the ignition. All passengers were seated comfortably with different thoughts in their heads; until the driver told everyone that he will be driving through Damboa. There was a little commotion as some of the passengers protested.
Driver ubanka! waka!
if na joke stop am.
You de find who to kill abi?
The driver convinced everyone that vehicles had started taking the road, since soldiers liberated the town and we were not the only bus passing there today. Some passengers still disagreed.
When the argument regarding which route to take became intense, an elderly Kanuri passenger suggested we cast a vote. And so we did… those for Damboa raise your hand up and to the glory of heaven, I was not the only one in a hurry to go to Maiduguri that day. Immediately I called Musa and informed him am on my way and did the same with Ada.
The journey had been smooth until we got to Damboa and started driving pass deserted villages with the evidences of the havoc caused by Boko Haram still clearly visible, from the remains of charred houses, vehicles and the carcasses of animals that litter everywhere.
All morning I had refused to answer my Dad’s call for fear that the noise at the bus park would give away my location; but not answering his call only made him to dial my line the more. I noticed missed calls from my siblings; I suspected he must have asked them to dial my number. So far I have had seventeen missed calls from my family.
My phone rang again; I checked the caller Id, it was “Daddy” again.
How will I tell him I am on the road to Maiduguri from Adamawa when I was supposed to be in University of Maiduguri campus, not after he has instructed and pleaded with me countless times, never to leave the school environment for any reason other than I am going to the park to take a bus home, I made up my mind not to answer his call till I get to school.
The old Kanuri man was seated peacefully behind me; on his hand was the Muslim prayer Tasbeh rosary, his lips moving with the rhythm of his fingers as they go through the beads.
Beside me, the young lady who paid for one of the vacant seats was already sleeping; I couldn’t help but ogle at her beauty, and while I was busy with the business of ogling at another work of the creator my phone rang again. An unknown number I quickly answered the call hoping, it’s one of my course mates with latest information on the coming test, and when I answered, it was my dad screaming his lungs out.
Why you no de pick your cal!, you wan kill us abi?
I apologize and told him I was just coming out of a lecture and on Keke Napep to another lecture venue.
How Maiduguri? He asked.
Peaceful! I lied; and quickly rounded up the conversation with him.
The young lady woke up and gave me a strange stare as though I just confessed to murder; I stared back with smile and say… Politicians tell worst lie.
Ever since the Boko Haram sect started their bombing spree in Maiduguri and other parts of North Eastern Nigeria, my dad developed the habit of calling me three times daily just to hear my voice and confirm safety. With my mom it’s a different ball game, she never calls, not since the last time she called and I was in Monday market when a bomb exploded. But I always make sure I call her once every day, just to let her know that the first proof of her womanhood is alive and well.
The driver was driving really fast now, so fast I thought I might not make it to Maiduguri in one piece, I joined other passengers in cajoling him to slow down, then someone said ”better late than late’, and immediately Prof’s test crossed my mind and I thought, I rather die than miss this test, this was my final year for heaven’s sake. I could not afford the luxury of missing even an assignment at this level of my education.
I thought of how I had been risking my life in Maiduguri for more than four years in the name of getting a degree and after graduation been asked to come back and repeat a course because I miss one old professor’s test, never I said to myself, I rather die.
The driver soon slowed down, so slow that we all wondered if the car had developed some mechanical fault in the course of his fast and furious driving. Then some passengers started staring out of the window, when I looked out of the window, I could see thick smoke rising to the sky in both directions.
The village we were passing had just been destroyed by Boko Haram not more than some hours ago; the evidence of what happened was still fresh. I could see fear on the face of every passenger even as I tried to control my heart beat; I could swear the pretty lady sitting beside me could hear it beat.
We drove pass the remains of what use to be a military check-point; it was either the soldiers on duty were dead or they had escaped with their lives. The driver kept driving slow as he maneuvered the bus to avoid the remains of mutilated bodies, charred cars and motorcycle that littered the road and the other buses behind us moved in the same tempo.
One of the passengers, who was against the idea of taking the route suggested we turn back to Adamawa because we don’t know what lay ahead of us. While we were debating on whether to turn back to Adamawa or continue our journey to Maiduguri. We heard heavy gunshots behind us. Before we could say a thing, the driver had shifted gears, increasing speed and at the same time trying to maneuver through the obstacles on the road.
We were all seated with our heads touching our knees to avoid flying bullets. Some of the passengers were just screaming as though could stop bullets.
I could hear the Kanuri man, praying vividly now and behind me I could hear a Christian passenger seriously speaking in unknown tongues mixing it with blood of Jesus at intervals with some passenger joining him to scream blood of Jesus. The lady beside me was now sobbing even as our body touched each other, while the driver was busy trying to maneuver his way pass the current danger.
We could clearly hear them shouting Alhuakbar! Alhuakbar! Amidst the reechoing sound of gun fire, which no doubt was aimed at us.
The driver now, as if possessed by some demon was driving very fast, yet some passengers kept screaming him to drive faster.
My only prayer amidst the chaos was; God instead of these people to get to us, please Father, let the car somersault and let me die on impact; I rather die by car accident than be butchered by these bastards.
Now the bus behind us was catching up and we could clearly see that half of its windscreen was shattered and some passengers seem to be bleeding. Lucky for us the bus behind us was the one receiving the heat.
After what seemed like eternity we lost them, the gunshots could still be heard but it’s far behind us, but the driver still maintained his speed not wanting to risk anything. Everyone was praising God now in his own way and praising the driver for his dexterity with the wheel.
I perceived a foul smell and could fell warm liquid creeping under my seat making my buttocks warm, under my seat my trouser was already wet; when I turn to the pretty lady beside me. Who was now looking like someone that just saw the spirit of her ancestors, her mascara is now looking bad as they have mixed with her tears, from the look of things; she peed on our seat during the fracas. She just looked at me and whisper, “I am sorry”. I got hold of myself and told her not to worry, it was OK.
The driver still maintained his speed, only slowing down at turns; the buses behind us were doing same. The driver slowed down to take a sharp turn and immediately the car stop. We all wondered what is wrong with the car or the driver. Was he hit by a bullet during the earlier fiasco, or has the car sustained bullets that have damaged the engine.
A female passenger asked driver. Hope no problem?
The driver did not move or make any sign that he heard her. The young man sitting beside the driver just turned to us and says in a chilling voice; “Una Better Say Una Last Prayer”, as he pointed his shivering fingers straight at the road ahead.
All the passengers stretch their necks to look at what lay ahead. I was petrified when I saw what the driver and the passenger had seen. I notice a burning sensation on my thighs from hot pee escaping from my penis like water escaping from the hose of a broken pipe.
The girl beside me was now crying, saying mummy I am sorry! Daddy I am sorry, amidst sobs, with phlegm gushing out of her nose and she made no attempt to take it back.
The Kanuri man was now speaking on phone, I couldn’t understand his language but from the tears in the old man eyes I could only imagine who he was calling.
The other female passenger who was earlier speaking in strange tongues, was now praying earnestly shouting, God have mercy! Have mercy! As her body jitters like a vibrator, the man sitting behind me hump to my sit and tried to open the door, saying, e no better say we run enter bush.
When he opened the door; what he saw made him to immediately slide the door with a far greater impulse than the one he applied in opening it.
I dialed my mum’s cell number; she answered the call as though she had been expecting my call. I tried to sound as calm as possible amidst the noise in the bus.
How are you?
How is school?
Your daddy say you no de pick your call,
Before she could say more I interrupted her, trying to be as calm as possible,
How market de go?
We thank God,
Mumcy I de miss you ooh,
Where you de?
Who de cry there?
Aah, na my course mates,
One wicked lecturer just give us one wicked test, students de cry,
Eyaa, hope you answer your own well?
Haba mummy trust na, I no de fall hands.
Kiki don come back from school?
No, she de for lesson.
Ok, Mumcy take care,
Call your daddy, he de try call your since morning,
No worry, me and him don talk.
Ok take care make I answer customer,
Ok bye bye.
The lady beside me could not stop staring at me, she pick her phone and called her dad screaming. Daddy I go die oo. I don die.
I immediately called my younger brother and explain the situation as fast as I could, telling him to inform my dad of what happen if I don’t call back after one hour, he was crying, I cajoled him not to worry, that I won’t make it easy for them if it comes to that. I quickly typed a text message to my dad telling him I was sorry.
In front of us, few meters away were two military armored vehicles and four Toyota pickup trucks, painted in military camouflage with artillery gun mounted on them. Men in mufti and military uniforms, about twenty of them are pointing their deadly weapons straight at us.
On both sides of the road hidden behind bushes were men with guns I had only seen in American action thrillers, taking aim at us. The men in front, their leader; a huge man wearing black jeans and black boots, a military camouflage bullet proof was covering his blue shirt, he now stood in front of the armored car, his hands instructing the driver to drive forward.
The driver uttered some prayers in Arabic and started moving forward, I shouted at the driver, Mallam, drive jam them, highest we die by accident. But he was too scared to hear me; his face looked like someone that has given up on life, so were faces of most of the passengers I guessed including me. He was now driving straight but slowly towards them, uttering words in Arabic.
I immediately search my bag pack and brought out my pen the only weapon I could find, my plan was, as soon as they start butchering us, I will stab one of them and they will have no option than to give me a quick death by the bullet in self-defense.
I was surprise; I was no more scared, maybe hearing my mother’s voice for the last time had imbue in me such demonic courage in the face of death, or the fact that I knew I had met my end.
My phone started ringing, I check the caller ID, and it was my dad. I answered the call,
O boy wetin be this yeye text wey you send me?
Na me you wan send am to abi na to one of your girl friends?
Daddy no vex, I said in a calm voice, how work?
Where you say you de again? Who de cry there? Wetin be that noise?,
Na nothing serious,
I give Chibuzor message to give you.
I ended the call and switch off my phone. I couldn’t tell him the truth or lie to him, I knew he could take anything, but I don’t want his last memory of me to be my weeping voice choked with fear, telling him I was about to die.
Our bus was now very close to the men and the man in bullet proof immediately walk to our driver door and said in pidgin. where una de came from?
The driver could not say anything. The man took his time staring at every passenger like a predator sniffing his prey before the final kill. When he stared at me I lowered my hand to hide my weapon.
This is the JTF, Wetin happen to una? Where una de come from?
Immediately I burst into an enigmatic laughter as endless tears started dropping down my eyes caressing my cheeks, and the driver gave one heavy sigh of relief. The girl beside me increased the tempo of her cry this time. Every passenger expressed in different ways, the relief of knowing they are not going to die, at least not today
The old Kanuri man told the soldier what happened, and asked if they had not been hearing gunshots.
Other soldiers came out of the bush they were hiding and we all came down from the bus, soon other passengers from the other buses behind us started coming out. It turned out that the soldiers were laying an ambush for Boko Haram fighters.
I switch on my phone so as to inform my brother I was okay and immediately Musa’s call entered and I answered and he he said i have good news:
oh boy you lucky oh! Prof just call me; say he don travel, say the test na till further notice.