One bright sunny day, as they were going home from school, seven-year-old Mildred and her elder brother, Michael, were reciting a nursery rhyme with Maryam, a friend of theirs.
The cock crows at dawn
telling us it’s morn
that we may rise,
and become wise.
He who lies late,
may wake up late.
For early to bed,
makes one well-bred.
Kim, Mildred’s father, had bought the Saturday Vanguard from a vendor close to his house. All of a sudden, he screamed, “Oh, my God!” He was making the sign of the cross, “Not again! Not after a single day!”
Mark, his five-year-old smart boy, looked at him. “What is it, Daddy?” He asked.
“The Christians and Muslims are fighting again. Many people have lost their properties.”
“I hope they’ve not killed anybody?” Mark asked.
“Many Christians have been killed,” his father responded. “The crisis has also reached Mildred’s school.” He added.
Mark was afraid. “Daddy, won’t the Muslims kill Mildred and Michael?”
“No, they will be safe. Their school has a good security system.”
“Daddy, won’t the Muslims come and kill us here too?” Mark asked further.
“No, they won’t. There are more Christians than Muslims here in Dadin Kowa.”
That afternoon, as Mildred, Michael and Maryam were going home, they saw Muslims on the streets arguing in riotous voices.
“What could they be talking about?” Mildred asked.
“Maybe, they’re discussing what the Imam preached at the mosque today,” Maryam answered.
Unknown to them, the Muslims were planning to attack the Christians. They were already on the streets destroying churches, shops and houses belonging to the Christians. The streets were filled with smoke. Many were crying as they breathed their last. Mildred, Michael and Maryam began shedding tears. “What are we going to do? How shall we get home? Mildred was shouting, “Please God, help us. Holy Mary, pray for us.”
They saw some people running towards the police station. “Let’s follow them,” Michael said. As they were running, Mildred fell down.
“Michael, Maryam, please wait,” she shouted, as she stood up.
By the time they got to the police station, they had to squeeze themselves into the crowd in one of the tiny cells.
A few minutes later, the Christians began fighting back; they were shouting and running after the Muslims with sticks and cutlasses.
Those at the police station began to smile. Some of the youths ran to join those on the streets who had now started burning mosques and properties belonging to Muslims. As people were beginning to find their way home, Mildred, Michael and Maryam began to race home too.
They reached home safely. Maryam was with them because her house was far away. Their parents were happy. “We had looked out for you everywhere, thank God you are safe.” Mrs. Kim said.
Looking at Maryam, “Who is this?” Mr. Kim asked.
“She’s a classmate and a friend.” Mildred replied. “She lives in Rantya, so we thought she could stay here until everything is calm.”
“Is she Christian or Muslim?” Mrs. Kim asked.
“She’s Muslim,” Mildred answered.
“Then she can’t stay here,” Mrs. Kim said.
Mildred said, “She’s a Muslim but a very good girl.”
“I’m sorry, Mildred, she can’t stay here.” Mr. Kim said.
“Mummy, Daddy, please she’s my closest friend.”
“She’s Muslim. If they find her here, they might think we kidnapped her. If other Christians discover that we are protecting any Muslim, our lives will be in danger.” The father said.
Maryam knelt down begging. “I live in Rantya, please allow me stay here.”
Mildred and Michael joined her begging, but to no avail. They all began to cry but their parents ignored them.
As Maryam left, an idea suddenly came to Mildred. She told Michael that she will follow Maryam through the back door. “What! You want to die?” He asked her, “I can’t let her go to the streets alone. She is my best friend.”
She quickly followed the back door, met Maryam and they went to an uncompleted building to stay. It was November and the harmattan wind was blowing. The night was very cold. They slept without food, drinking only water from the tap in the building. And it seemed like a long, long time before daybreak.
The Kims were worried about their daughter. What they did was not Christ-like. Michael had refused to eat since then. Mark had been disturbing his daddy about his sister. Had she died? Had they died? That was what nobody knew. Two days passed and it was the third day.
The city was a bit calm as Mildred and Maryam heard the voices of passers-by discussing and laughing.
“I think the place is a bit calm now.” Mildred said.
“I think so too.” Maryam concurred.
They agreed and went home together. The house was silent. Mark was happy. “Oh! Mildred is back. Mildred is back. Daddy, Mildred is back.”
The parents were speechless because they had realized what they did. They were really wordless until Mrs. Kim said, “Mildred, Maryam, we’re sincerely sorry for what we did.” Mildred and Maryam remained quiet. They were looking so pale.
Mildred then broke the silence.
“Mummy, Daddy, you take me to Church every Sunday and I’ve learnt from our children Masses to help even my enemies at their most difficult times. My closest friend, Maryam, whom I consider a sister to me, was in a dire need but you refused to help her. I have nothing against you. I only thank God that we are all alive. We went and we did not die.”
The parents were really touched. They looked at themselves, trying to blame each other in silence.
“Mildred, Maryam, we are truly sorry,” Mr. Kim said.
They all hugged each other profusely. Thereafter, Mildred and Maryam showered. They had lunch together and Mr. and Mrs. Kim agreed to take Maryam to Rantya as the environment was now peaceful.