BY ISRAEL USULOR

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Ikenna finally came to and found his head on Mimi’s laps. His brain was fuzzy and he felt his head was too heavy for his neck. Mimi helped him to his feet, her right arm twined around his waist while his left arm clutched her shoulders. He looked around the shadow of what used to be.

Zaka City Main Market and was more perplexed by the scary desert of roasted human flesh that greeted his cloudy sight. Human stench punctured his nostrils with the force of an arrow. A bevy of excited vultures hovered above just as flies ululated with perpetual frenzy. Smoke from burning lories clouded the market. The last thing Ikenna remembered was nothing. His body shook ceaselessly as he collapsed again on Mimi’s arms like a log of wood. Mimi slowly sat on the skeletal pieces of what used to be a lorry and held him to her bosom like a nursing mother would when she wants to suckle her baby from her left breast. Soon, Ikenna flipped his eyes open like an infant.

‘What happened?’ He asked.

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‘You collapsed.’

‘Why?’ Ikenna probed further, rising to his feet, this time all by himself.

‘The market was bombed by the military. Luckily, I found you in this lorry still breathing,’ said Mimi, wiping her misty eyes with the back of her left hand. Ikenna’s brain suddenly rewound like a video tape. He hopped off the rickety lorry and wobbled through the logs of roasted bodies towards Oduburu’s shop. At the front of what used to be the ceramic shop, Ikenna stood hands akimbo. The shop was reduced to rubbles. Chunks of human flesh got mixed with broken ceramics. Ikenna looked searchingly in the faces of coaled bodies that littered the whole place.

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‘I hope Oga Oduburu and Akubundu escaped alive,’ he wondered, throwing his hands in the air.

‘Look here!’ shouted Mimi, pointing Ikenna’s attention to particular charred remains. It was burnt beyond recognition, but a pair of shoes still hung on its skeletal legs. Ikenna recognized the shoes.

‘Chei! Chei! Aru emee!’ Ikenna exclaimed.

‘This is Oga Oduburu’s body,’ he said, squatting. He saw a fez cap beside him.

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‘I think this cap belonged to Akubundu,’ he said as he lifted the cap and held it up to Mimi.

‘Yes! I saw him wearing that cap when I came earlier,’ Mimi agreed.

‘So the two of them are gone?’ Ikenna asked rhetorically. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks.

Mimi drew closer to him and held him up with both hands. She pressed his head to her bosom and stroked it with her right hand.

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‘I’m so sorry love,’ Mimi said. It was the first time Mimi was referring to Ikenna as “love.”

‘I know how difficult this must be for you. I was in this position when my father was killed some years ago. And right now, I don’t even know my mother’s whereabouts, or if she is dead or alive.

But I’m sure she is dead’ she said as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“We must hasten to leave this place immediately. I don’t want to die now. I want to live and take care of our baby.”

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Ikenna’s face brightened. He looked up to Mimi as he struggled to put up a false smile.

‘I can’t agree less. We must both live for our child. You are the best thing that happened to me in this city. I’m so sorry for my reaction to the news earlier when you told me about the pregnancy. I didn’t know what to do. But after the experience I had today, I now know we have only one life to live and that we must make every moment count, no matter how daunting or bleak it might seem. I have realized that at some point in ones’ life, one has to stand up and take responsibility of one’s actions. I love you Mimi’

‘I love you too Ikenna,’ she said, in a tender tone.

The strange spirit of love possessed them in their moment of sorrow. It was the game-changer. Of course, at that moment, Ikenna felt differently about Mimi and the pregnancy and thought the right thing to do was to take responsibility of the consequences of his actions. There was no more guilt in his heart. He looked intently in her eyes as if he would see the baby in them. Their hands were clasped and their winged spirits walked in unison, ready for an adventurous flight into the unmapped space of love.

Suddenly, Ikenna’s face changed. He looked away from Mimi and stared into space as if the sounds of gunshots at the background reminded him of a thing.

‘What is it my love,’ Mimi asked.

‘Let’s go and look for your mother and Oga Oduburu’s wife,’ he said, grabbing Mimi’s hand and running with it.

‘But they must be dead by now. Let’s just run away, it’s not safe out there!’ Said Mimi, panting.

‘No! There is a chance they might still be alive.’ They ran out of the market into the deserted road. They sprinted to the apartment where the Oduburus stayed. The gate was ajar and the compound was a graveyard. The first thing that greeted Ikenna and Mimi was the lifeless body of a disemboweled Adaugo. She was heavily pregnant and was obviously due. Her baby was unwombed and placed on her chest. The baby boy was stabbed twice on its neck and his blood dripped and mixed with that of its mother. Mimi threw up on Ikenna who still clutched her by the hand. Ikenna knelt down solemnly as a flood of tears ceaselessly washed his cheeks. He touched the baby with his left hand and noticed there was no movement. Mimi had turned away from the sight. It nauseated her. It was the most callous thing she had ever seen. She placed her palms on her belly and massaged it as if to make sure her own baby was still there. Ikenna held her by the hand and led her out of the compound. It was one of those sights that ties the tongue and renders it speechless. Darkness was encroaching and the gunshots had not ceased as bullets still flew around like shooting stars. On Mimi’s insistence, they walked into the bush and took cover without going to look for her mother.

‘I’ll kill myself if I see my mother’s corpse,’ she had said. Ikenna obliged.

Read part ten HERE

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



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