BY ISRAEL USULOR
Mimi was woken by the rumbling noise that emanated from Ikenna’s stomach. It sounded like that of a dog that ate poisonous grass. His stomach was not to blame, for, save for breakfast of the previous day, they had eaten little or nothing at all. Indeed, food was the least of troubles for people running for dear life. Mimi tapped Ikenna and he woke and yawned wearily like a hungry dog. He scanned the environment, stretched himself sideways and started cracking his fingers.
This was Ikenna’s favourite habit, and he could not avoid it even in the midst of chaos.
Mimi jumped up with frenzy and grabbed Ikenna. She screamed so very loudly as if bitten by a snake.
‘What is it?’ Ikenna asked, scanning the ground from where she jumped. His eyes caught the black ant called agbisi as it made frantic efforts to creep away. Mimi had sat on it all the while and it had stung her right lap when it got the slightest chance to rear its head. Ikenna hated agbisi for its painful sting that never goes away for several days. The peppery pain resurrects anytime one scratched the spot where it stung. Ikenna made it a divine duty to crush black ants wherever he saw one. He took two strides and soon, had the wicked ant that stung Mimi under his left foot.
‘Let me see the place,’ he turned and said to her. She was still scratching the spot with gusto. It was the kind of scratch that produced a sweet-pain sensation. She lifted her dress slightly so that Ikenna saw the reddish spot on her fair, tender thigh. He ran his fingers on it as if there were medicine on them, and then scratched it even more.
‘Ah! Ah! Take it easy! It hurts!’ She cried childishly.
‘Sorry! My mother said scratching it this hard removes the venom,’ Ikenna said.
‘Really?’ Mimi was amazed. He had not heard that before.
‘Yes! It works for me!’ Ikenna responded and continued scratching.
‘What do you call this ant in your language? We call it agbisi,’ Ikenna asked, pointing at the dead ant.
‘We call it ishondukyi. I hate it a lot!’ Mimi responded. Ikenna had stopped scratching and she had covered her thigh. They found their way out of the bush unto the deserted highway that led to the East. It looked like a passage to a cemetery. Mimi was worried when she saw that very few vehicles plied the road.
‘Are you certain we’ll be lucky? I mean can we actually get a vehicle? Look, the road is empty,’ Mimi said. She wanted to be reassured by Ikenna.
Ikenna was even more worried, but his worries were concealed. He knew their fate hung on a miracle which he reckoned would be rare given the prevailing security situation. Yet, he was sure it was during such occasions that miracles popped. He needed to reassure Mimi.
‘I’m not certain, but I know we are not going to be stuck here. I’ll get you home safely. I know there must be a way out of this mess. We need to be strong for ourselves and our baby. There must be a way out,’ Ikenna said.
A woman walked towards them with ill-arranged loads on her head. The loads were barely tied together with what looked like a long headscarf. She clutched a Ghana-Must-Go bag with her right hand. A famished baby was strapped on her back. The baby looked as weak as a weather-beaten leaf of cocoyam. Two other toddlers clad in rags wobbled behind her. They looked worn-out; they must have come a long way. As the woman walked by, Ikenna saw sorrow written all over her teary cheeks. She passed quietly and Mimi didn’t bother to upset her with salutations.
‘War is evil!’ Ikenna exclaimed in a voice that was a little bit loud. He became silent. Mimi too was quiet and stood still like someone who has seen a ghost. A lorry whistled by and broke the silence. It raced towards the East. Ikenna saw it late and flagged only when the driver could see them from the rearview mirror. The lorry didn’t stop.
‘Look!’ Mimi shouted to draw Ikenna’s attention to another lorry which approached at a slower speed. Ikenna rushed into the middle of the road and flagged with both hands. He knelt on the road and made the I-beg-you sign with both palms. The lorry screeched to halt. On the wooden body was an inscription “Igbo Amaka”. Several passengers perched on the wooden body while many poured themselves on the floor. Ikenna could see them from the spaces created by crisscrossed woods. The driver hopped down like a grasshopper and walked towards Ikenna and Mimi.
He was short and heavily bearded, his left leg shorter than the right so that when he walked it was as if he tip-toed. Yet he walked really fast. But rather than wait, Ikenna ran to him instead.
‘Good morning sir!’ Ikenna greeted, panting. The driver scanned him from head to toe with his eyes which darted to and fro like a light on a hand-held scanner. Mimi still walked behind.
‘Who are you and where are you going?” the bearded driver asked like a policeman on a stop and search duty.
‘I’m Ikenna’ he responded. Mimi had joined them.
‘And this is my wife. We are stranded and we are headed for the East. We need help!’ Ikenna pleaded.
‘Conductor!’ The bearded driver called out loud and a stoutly built young man came running from behind the lorry.
‘Here I’m,’ he said.
Open the entrance and let them in. Do sharp sharp make we dey go front. The road still far” the driver said just as he hopped onto the driver’s seat. He ignited the engine and allowed it to steam while he waited for Ikenna and Mimi to embark.
‘Enter quick quick,’ the conductor said, as he unhooked and lowered the wooden entrance. Ikenna embarked first and then pulled Mimi up.
‘Are we good to go?’ It was the driver’s voice.
‘Yes! Gaa iru! Move it!’ The conductor shouted back as he bolted the entrance.
The lorry was packed full. Passengers were packed like saddens on the floor. Many more perched on the wooden body. The faces in the lorry were sad ones. Ikenna knew all of them haboured a sad tale, yet everyone silently nursed their pain as none conversed with each other. The lorry moved at a slow but steady pace. Ikenna thought it was very slow. But he knew what mattered was that they were moving away from the war zone called Zaka City, even if the lorry crawled like a snail. He held Mimi tightly and heaved a sigh of relief.
Read part twelve HERE
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]
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