BY ISRAEL USULOR

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Ikenna was still standing amongst the sea of lories where Mimi gave him the ‘bad’ news. Between couples, the news of the pregnancy was regarded as a good one and was in fact celebrated with rose flowers, popping of wine, and clinging of glass cups. The story was however radically different if a teenage girl got pregnant out of a spousal relationship. This was treated as a taboo among many families. Both the impregnator and impregnated were usually ostracized by relatives and friends. They were scorned, shunned, and used as an example of derisory sexual behaviour. The girl bore the heavier end of the cross, while in some cases, the boy was forced to marry the girl. This was the situation Ikenna and Mimi found themselves in.

Indeed, Ikenna had never found himself in a more difficult situation in which he felt unable to help himself. What was he to do? Tell it to Oga Oduburu? That would be suicidal. He thought of eloping with Mimi to the village but was unsure of the reception he would get from his mother who had once warned him against marrying from outside the village. He was also not ready to face the shame of being labeled the village boy who went to the city only to impregnate a teenage girl in a space of one month.

As he weighed his options, a military jet aviated overhead, interrupting the flow of his thoughts. So low did the plane glide that Ikenna thought it would graze one of the lories stationed in the market. Few seconds passed and three other jets emerged from the clouds and engaged in eye-popping acrobatic displays overhead the Zaka City Main Market. Hundreds had left their wares or whatever they had at hand and amassed to feed their eyes. The wiser ones took to their heels. Ikenna climbed one of the lories and perched birdly to get a clearer view of the show. Before long the market turned into a playground as cheering voices buried the sounds of the frenzy aircraft. Floods of heads waved forests of hands as the sea of legs raised a cloud of dust that blinded the sun. From his vantage position, Ikenna saw as one of the jets dropped, from its rear, what his eyes interpreted to be dark, pebbly round balls. There were so many of them, as much as Ikenna could not count. He was cocksure what the aircraft dropped were not gift items but harbingers of death. As the pebbly objects kept dropping, he was sure disaster was cooking.

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‘This is it! The military is here for revenge,’ he said to himself as he deperched from the lorry and wobbled towards Oduburu’s shop. But a cacophony of boom boom sounds soon overtook him and swept him off his feet like a feather. Smoke bellowed and snowballed into a night that forcefully set the sun at noon. Hell was let loose and bodies roasted like suya. Muffled voices cried for help but none came. Eyes looked for life but were closed by death. Legs ran for life but were drawn back by the cold hands of death. Amidst the kata kata, Ikenna was tossed aboard the lorry on which he leaned when Mimi told him the “bad” news of her pregnancy. He passed out!

Meanwhile, Mimi was still on her way home, impelled by the spirit of suicide. She had heard the besieging sounds of aircraft that hovered above the Market but didn’t look back. The spirit of suicide that possessed her was exorcised by the sight she saw at the Market Junction. Armoured Personnel Carriers manned by red-eyed soldiers lined up all ends of the cross-shaped junction, leaving a large perfect cycle at the center. Inside the large cycle, hundreds of people bound by leash were precisely lined up like slaves in such a way that every three sets of line faced three armoured cars. Mimi looked ahead of one of the amoured cars and saw military trucks dropping off gun-wielding soldiers. As the soldiers hopped off the trucks, they obeyed a commanding voice that kept shouting “move in!” “move in!” “take the city!” “take the city!” “shoot to kill!” “kill every living thing that resists arrest, including flies!” “burn everything!” “let’s make them pay!” “arrest the criminals”.

Mimi’s mind rewound two weeks back when she witnessed the killing of ten soldiers at that same spot by warriors. She shook her head in fear and pity for her city. “The military is here for revenge!” she exclaimed and drew a bit closer to the scene from her hideout. She wondered if her mum, Mrs Bambina was among those captured and chained like dogs. She also wondered what would happen to them. Meanwhile, foot-soldiers had gone to work with “kpo-kpo-kpo-kpo,” “kpa-kpa-kpa-kpa,” and “boom-boom-boom” renting the air. Zaka City was on fire!

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‘Any last words?’ Says a towering voice from a public address system, the owner of which Mimi didn’t know. The armoured cars swung their nozzles so that they directly faced each line of captives like a microphone. It was now a matter of command and dead bodies would lie like ants. ‘I said any last words?’ The voice came again, this time, harsher, louder, and ireful. There was grave-yard silence for some tensed seconds, then Mimi heard another voice.

‘My name is Tor Zaka.’ This was a different voice and Mimi thought it was familiar but couldn’t remember where she first heard it. She knew Tor Zaka as the king of Zaka City and was shocked he was part of those chained cows being led to the slaughter slab. She sharpened her ears.

‘I only have few words to say,’ he continued, his voice shaky and mournful.

‘I’ll speak because I’m already a corpse and you do not tell a corpse to shut up. After all, a dead goat does not fear the knife. There is nothing that can be done to me now that would be more than what the enemy has done to my people. They invaded our farms, raped our women, killed our people, and possessed our land. Yet, the government watched and did nothing. We fought them, the government called us militants. We then knew that only a tree’s necessary branches are maintained while others are pruned and burned. We are the branches meant for the fire. You said we killed your soldiers. You are right. It was entirely out of error. However, you forget that the more you push a goat, the more likely it that it would bite even the owner. After our enemies murdered our people, you have now come to spit on their graves. The house-rat said, “I do not feel so much offended with the man who killed me, as with him who dashed me on the ground afterwards.” You have now come to dash our heads on the ground after our enemies have stabbed our men and taken our women into slavery. Instead of protecting us, you have now come to behave like the bad dog that eats the meat kept under its custody. The government should continue to keep silent, but let it be known that when the wild cat becomes a leopard, it’ll devour large beasts. And make sure you kill us all because if you only throw the water without breaking the water pot, one day, someone will rise and use it to fetch more water.’

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Tor Zaka’s speech was welcomed with cheers and chants of “Zaaki!” “Zaaki!” from the crowd. Mimi was shocked that the soldiers listened so patiently to the king’s long lamentation. She thought nobody would be hurt again because the speech stirred to pity, but she didn’t know that the soldiers were trained to kill and actually lacked emotions. Tears rolled down her cheeks and her nose ran. She then realised how precious life was and how pitiful it could be for one to face death.

‘Then why did I want to take my own life?’ She asked herself, dropping the bottle of ota pia pia which she had earlier planned to go home and drink. She foxily slid out of her hideout and started running towards the Market. All those arrested were taken away in hundreds of vans.

Read part nine HERE

Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]

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