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Monday, 6 June 2016

NINETEEN SIXTY SEVEN


Mama gripped the pestle tightly landing blows repeatedly on the mortar without mercy; the afternoon heat from the sun added to the stream of sweat that trickled from her slender neck. She was preparing Fufu and Egusi soup for papa who sat in a reclining position under the Mango tree in front of our red mud house. Papa was steadily sipping his palm wine listening to the blaring music sounding from his new transistor radio that uncle Egboka had acquired for him on his way from the big town.

Ekene my seven year old little brother nudged me by the side trying to draw my attention to the drawing on the sandy ground he squatted over.

“Mine is better than yours” he chatted excitedly to me pointing to a second drawing that was similar to his.

The grumbling of my stomach prevented me from replying to his taunts, my eyes were glued to the
pounded fufu that mama was scooping from the mortar. The aroma of the Egusi soup wafted through the air; my nose could perceive the chunks of meat that swam in the soup, papa trap had caught an antelope two days ago. I was happy at the prospect of eating fresh meat but Mama had put a dent in my expectations

“Chinedu, don’t expect to have a taste of this mbada (antelope), it is for your Papa”

I heard papa’s barking for the third time. He was calling on Ekene and I to drag our wooden center table for him to eat, the alluring aroma from the Egusi soup had drifted to his nose as well. I reluctantly stood lazily and beckoned on Ekene to join me in responding to Papa’s order. We entered through the backdoor of the mud house that led straight to the sitting room.

Our small house consisted of only two rooms. I could hear the bass voice of Uncle Egboka drowning the loud music from the transistor radio, my face darkened into a frown, Uncle Egboka had a hunch to know when Mama’s appetizing food was ready. There would be no left overs for Ekene and me as Uncle Egboka would consume more than Papa. A passerby would not guess that uncle Egboka had a wife.

“Ngozi, I should have met you before infeanyi did”

Uncle Egboka often joked about Mama whenever he ate to his fill of Mama’s luscious food. Ekene and I struggled with the weight of the wooden table dragging it under the Mango tree, Uncle Egboka had already seated himself on a small Joko (a small stool) engaging Papa in a conversation. I greeted him under ragged breaths but he ignored my presence which was unusual, he always referred to me as Nna (my father).

I could tell from the worried expression on his face that all was not well, Papa had adjusted the volume of his transistor to listen to the scary news.

“They are coming” Uncle Egboka’s voice became wrapped in panic

“How far are they from the village?” Papa asked, his mild voice was becoming feeble.

“Last I heard, the soldiers had used flying birds that emitted fire to raze down Ugboka village”
Papa did not reply, his legs was shaking vigorously.

“People claimed the soldiers were looking for hideouts of our brothers who were fighting for us” Uncle Egboka continued “we should leave the village as fast as possible. We don’t know when they will get here”

My small age of ten did not limit my little mind from guessing the source of agitation. There had been rumors circling around the village of strange men garbed in fierce outfits working magic with long sticks that breathed smoke, ransacking every village for our brother’s hideouts. Papa had lectured me on the prowess of our brothers in countering these strange men’s advances, he claimed their mission was to usurp the land that our ancestors had bestowed on us.

Their presence meant Papa’s palm wine in the forest would become sour, Mama’s dexterity in pottery would become rusty, I could not show off my skills in swimming to my peers.

Papa and Uncle Egboka continued with their deliberations in hushed voices pitched with fear, my eyes shifted its attention to Mama who was walking toward our direction with Papa’s prepared meal on a wooden tray balanced between her hands.

In a split second, I saw my beautiful mama blasted to pieces by fusillades of shots that rained from the afternoon sky, only the charred body attested to the existence of my mother. Hell had broken lose, my mind reeled in confusion and fear as I heard unnerving shrieks around me, the ground vibrated with a tremor that rocked me on my feet.it was the outburst of Ekene that prompted tears to gush from my eyes uncontrollably, I felt the firm grip of Papa on my small hand who dragged me with a force that caused me to stagger along. Papa had hefted Ekene to his broad shoulder.

The strange men were here already; they had invaded my homeland with large birds emitting fusillades that had caused the brutal death of my Mother. Woe betide them, do they not know the nightmares they had forever stamped on my innocent memory? Papa raced with us through a narrow path that lead to a small thicket opposite our mud house that had been divested of his beauty.

Ekene was screaming vociferously as we entered the partial gloom that surrounded the thicket. It had hushed me to silence as I realized Papa’s motives; Papa was protecting us. Ekene soon caught wind of Papa’s motives reducing his outbursts to silent sobs. The turmoil and chaos around us continued amidst the unending cries of Nyerem aka (help me) coming from my fellow villagers, they were being martyred in their native land, subjected to the most inhuman treatment that one could envisage

Men are brutes and animals of war, they can brandish deadly weapons and butcher their own without compunction.

Papa huddled us to himself as we squatted with him and held us with his muscled arms, he raised his other hand placing a finger to his lips signaling us to remain still like a log.my breath drummed noisily to my ears which I struggled to stifle with difficulty, Ekene remained calm like still water; his tear stained cheeks were dried like withered leaves.

Sleep must have stolen my attention for I opened my eyes to the noise of Abuzu (crickets) singing in the forest, night had crept in like a thief, and it must have been hours since I succumbed to the embrace of sleep. I yawned tiredly and rubbed my eyes with my small hands, my eyes adjusted to the vast darkness that reigned over the thicket. I could see the faint outline of a small figure in a sleeping position; it was Ekene, he must have dozed off the same time with me.

Serenity had dusted its charm on the night silencing the turmoil that had sagged the day with a tranquility that befuddled me. I was beginning to have misgivings and forebodings about my surrounding.my eyes roamed through the thicket to rummage for a figure that had crept to my thoughts, fear gripped me like lethal vines as I discovered that papa was nowhere to be found.my mind ruminated in confusion as I tried to figure Papa’s whereabouts. Where had Nna gone? I wondered, had the strange men stolen my Nna just as they took Mama without blinking their eyes?


Men are always blinded with fury, their hearts are colder than ice, their conscience stronger than stone. Men degrade themselves to the point of revelry in the blood bath of one another. They had stolen the happiness of an innocent child who did not what war was all about. I could not hold the hot tears anymore, I screamed my lungs out and wailed like a lost child, these strange men had stolen my simple happy life.

The pen

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