When a boy turns to a man, he wants to prove to the world he can be whatever he wants to be. He will later get to know, no one cares, that the only one he needs to convince and prove to, is himself.
The sound of explosions rocked the structure of the building. A 3D sound it was to my ears. The PlayStation 3 game console I saved some money to buy was my only comforter in this trying time. A time when dad and mum could not go to work, when I was stuck to their “Do this’ ” and “Do thats” having no time or space of my own. I have a sister though, but she is just five! How on earth was I going to play with that infant, who could not distinguish between a Chinese doll and a real human baby. Well, sometimes I talk to her, though I knew she never understood me. I told her some adult stuffs like,
“We are in a war, Mum and Dad have stopped work, so you have to stop crying when dad can’t buy you ice-cream anymore…you spoilt brat!” Quite mature stuff, right?
I am just eighteen, finished secondary school and grown resistant to being hurt from cane beatings- that was my dad’s expertise. When the heavy koboko lands on my butts, my mum being his side-kick keeps hailing him on,
“Ehen…beat him some more! Next time, he would be so careful not to break my precious dish…more! More! Mo…hon…honey, you are becoming angry. You may break his bones. Please, stop beating him!”
But you see, women are very creative.
In a subtle way, not as aggressive as my dad, my mum invented ‘words’ that hurt, so much it made dad’s koboko limped impotently. Where was the ‘Almighty koboko?’ I missed it so much I could break it, had it not been retired by dad. But mum’s words were not substantial, yet they pinch the muscles of my heart playfully, yet painfully. She seems to enjoy it when she tells me,
“Your mates are out there hanging on buses, doing conductor, just to make ends meet. You are fortunate to see somebody assist you, give you pocket money and still drive you to school…during our time, we walk five-hundred miles to school and back, every blessed day, bare footed!” Or,
“Look at your friend Ismail, he has gained admission into the University. JAMB keeps jambing you every year because of your unseriousness. Sit there, keep playing games, and see your life burn away.”
Eh! Just because I forgot to wash the dishes? Dishes I always fidget to wash, because I was so awkward I could break them. The demon in me always shouts, “Grab her! Break her into two, like you will the koboko, and run away!”
But, I was not ready. Not until one day, which happened to be yesterday.
When the war between the government and the opposition, which had been going on for a month, in the capital city where I live, was brought to our street.
Yesterday, when there was heavy shootings going on, shaking the building’s structure, while I was in a cubicle my parents labeled my room, remembering how my friend Ovakp was killed by the militants who attacked their bus on his way to his hometown two weeks before. I was seriously battling the zombies in the “All Zombies Must Die!” game, pretending to be the one controlling the things outside by what I do inside, wishing I could burst the ass of whoever opened fire on him, just like I was on the zombies.
It was her fault, she should not have come into my room yesterday. She should not have thrown those words at me again.
“Fela! Where is my purse!” I heard her faintly.
I pretended the sound from the game kept me from hearing her. She came nearer to me, pulled me up by my ear.
“Are you deaf?”
“I didn’t take it! I don’t know where it is -”
She slapped me, but that was not the real deal, it was the words she said after, that got to me, making me to do the unthinkable.
“So you have added stealing to your list of mischiefs, abi? Every lazy man must surely steal, and a thief will be shot and killed by the gun.”
“Mummy, I didn’t steal your purse!”
That was the truth, I had never stolen before, I could not even figure out where the accusation was coming from. Only on few occasions have I taken small chops of meat from her black pot, and that was even years ago.
“See, the government is out there, looking to draft in young men like you into the army and fight to regain the sanity of our country. Your mates o, they are out there fighting for their country,” she hissed.
That was it. She had planted an idea into my angry head. And it was exactly what I did.
I stormed out of my room, and through the sitting room with her at my tail calling me back.
“Fela! Come back here! How dare you walk out on me!”
I didn’t answer. Dad was in the sitting room, reading a newspaper, and he took a glance to see the commotion threatening to bring down his house.
I banged the door closed behind me. And I could hear my dad telling her,
“Where is he going to? It’s not safe outside.”
But all I could hear my mum say was,
“If you come back to this house, you are a bastard!”
Looking back, I wished she had not said that, I wished she had begged me to come back, especially, since I thought I heard her voice shaken with those last words. But neither she nor dad ran after me.
They must have thought it was a child’s play, a joke.
The street was as quiet as the graveyard. The smoke from burnt tires fills the evening air with a sulfur smell. I walked hastily without turning back. My shoulders high, with my side-kick little demon propped on the left one. All that went through my mind was; I was going to make a point, I was going to punish them, make mum cry while searching helplessly for me while dad reigns blames on her. I was going to come back after the war, a hero, finally doing something with my life. I was going to make dad and mum point at me someday and say, that is my son. But, I was going to deny them. I was going to kill the people that killed my friend, Ovakp. For I thought, I had received enough training to handle real weapons: to fight serious battles through the virtual world of my game console.
I was mistaken.
I knew that immediately I turned left from my street to another and saw the government army’s armor tank. I was just a hundred meter away from the soldiers, and they were shooting at a story building down the street. How come I didn’t hear the sound of gun shots before I turned to this street? Before I could turn back and change my mind, one of the soldiers sighted me and shouted,
“Stop there, or I shoot!”
“On your knees! Hands behind your head!”
I obeyed. Two of them moved towards me. My heart tried escaping from my chest.
“Who are you for!” “Were you the one shooting at us!” “Where are the rest!”
Before I could open my mouth, the taller one kicked me with his boot. I fell to the ground, and the two of them started stamping on me, on my head, turning my face into a bloody mass. They bound me with a very strong rope and took me to one of their vans. They tied me like a ram, dumped me behind a truck and began another round of stamping, five of them now. They intended knocking my thighs out of their joints.
Finally, one of them came to my rescue and gave me the opportunity to answer their many questions. It was the commander.
With a spittle-filled, foamy, bloody, and swollen mouth, I manage to mumble,
“I live in the next street…I came to volunteer to join you -”
“Liar!” One of them barked. But the commander did not allow them to touch me anymore.
“Untie him, and keep him with the young boys of his age that were drafted. Command them to shoot, if he tries anything funny!” He looks at me, with no pity in his eyes,
“Tomorrow, we will decide what to do with him.”
That was how I got here with you guys. As I look up now to see the stars, I cannot say what the future holds for me. For you guys, whether you were drafted by force or you joined willingly, it is to fight on the side of the government. For me, I could be killed unfairly, like a dog without honor. Though its dark now, my eyes are very clear.
In case I don’t make it till morning, as it seems the strength I have had to tell this story of mine is such bestowed on mortals, when at the point between this world and the next, I need you to remember my name. I am Fela Balogun.
But if I made it till morning despite my weak body and soul, just before they decided not to believe my story, just before they kill me like a stray dog, I will look into the eyes of all twelve of you, to remind you I told you where I stayed. Number 7, Fagboun street- it’s just the next street by the right. My parents and sister stay there.
And if God so mercifully made them to believe my story and thus bless me with more days or months or years, but I made it not out of the war as a soldier. Tell my parents that I am sorry, especially my mum. Tell her of my heroic feat at the battlefront. Tell my sister, Ife that I love her and miss her so much.
Tell…my mum, I…stole her purse.
But the army has it now.
In fact, they have everything with them, including my fate.
To the loving memory of my friend and brother, Ovakporaye Obayawheme Egume. Six years gone, but forever in our hearts. We miss you. R.I.P.