BY ISRAEL USULOR
Icheku and his warriors stormed Ala Eli but found neither Herder nor cow as they had migrated from the place entirely and had instead advanced through Offia Welechi from where they wanted to take Agu-Ukpaka and make it a permanent base. The sun had dimmed considerably, indicating that darkness would soon take charge. Icheku knew there was trouble because the village was left defenseless. He knew it would be very difficult if not impossible for Ikenna to defend the Offia Welechi flank because he had lesser number of warriors under his command. He was worried.
‘No! This isn’t happening!’ He said in an agitated voice. He knew it would take another two hours for his troop to match to Offia Welechi, but commanded them to move nonetheless.
‘Move! Move and don’t stop until we get to Offia Welechi,’ he commanded.
Meanwhile, Ikenna and his warriors had taken heavy casualties as ten warriors already lay dead after being plucked like oranges by bullets. The Herders were well armed with guns and had remained faceless since the combat began. Ikenna was worried and restless. He had only ten warriors left. If they lost, the village would fall. He made the warriors retreat into a hidden valley. The hideout was dark because there were lots of trees that shaded it from moon-light. Ikenna had known that spot since he was a boy setting traps at Offia Welechi.
‘We are losing the battle,’ he said as soon as all the warriors had gathered. ‘And you and I know we shouldn’t be losing. If we lose, the village falls, and should the village fall, we are finished. We must win or die fighting,’ he charged.
‘But the Herders have guns and we only have cutlasses. How do we win?’ One of the warriors asked. Ikenna didn’t know how to respond to that question. He paced around the warriors in silence thinking of how best to answer.
‘It may seem difficult, but it’s not impossible,’ he said, hoping it was the right answer.
‘Commander!’ Another warrior called. ‘I think I saw something that might be of help.’
‘What did you see?’ Ikenna asked the warrior, drawing closer.
‘I saw the camp of the Herders,’ said the warrior.
‘What? Did they see you?’ Ikenna asked.
‘I won’t be here if they saw me. I would be dead!’ The warrior said.
‘What else did you see?’ Ikenna probed further.
‘The camp is surrounded by thick bush and their cattle are there. If we could set the place ablaze, the Herders might be forced to retreat,’ the warrior suggested.
‘Take us there at once!’ Ikenna commanded. ‘Now listen up! As soon as we get to the camp, you all must watch out for my signal. As soon as you see the first flame, ignite yours and take cover. I hope that’s clear enough?’ he asked.
‘Yes commander” the warriors responded in unison.
The Herders camp turned out to be a stronger fortress than Ikenna imagined. It wasn’t left unprotected. Warrior after warrior continued to fall until Ikenna was all alone. He retreated into a corner to think of what to do. He was tired and weary and left for his human spirit, the most rightful course of action was to run. Yet, he remained undeterred. The camp was a stone throw from where he hid, but it was also a stone throw to the grave.
“I’m prepared to die” he said as he sprang up soldierly. He cut a long stick with his sharp cutlass and, at one end of the stick, he tied several bunch of grasses. He brought out the box of matches in his pocket and promptly lit up the grassed end of the stick. He ran out of his hideout and charged bullishly towards the Herders’ camp with a speed he never knew he had, and in one fell swoop, encircled the camp and lit it aflame. The forest brightened up as smoke bellowed into the sky. The hundreds of cattle in the camp roasted while few scampered for safety. There were loud moos that kept echoing into the night. There was a free for all and the Herders were thorn in-between saving their cattle and their lives. Icheku and his warriors arrived just in time to finish the job started by Ikenna. Meanwhile, several bullets had gained access into Ikenna’s body. He fell on his knees and soon lay on his back and soon closed his eyes and soon breathed his last. Icheku held his cold hand as he lay dead. He couldn’t control his eyes as they released tears in torrents. He was heartbroken and spirit-shattered.
‘Take him home. He is a hero. He saved our clan,’ he said. Four warriors lifted Ikenna’s lifeless body and carried him shoulder high. News about the tragic death of Ikenna already got to Mimi. She ran into Aunt Adaku’s hut and took a sharp kitchen knife from the rafters. She sat on the bamboo bed inside the hut and held the knife tightly by her right hand. She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
‘Ikenna, why did you have to go?’ She asked rhetorically. ‘Why did you leave me? How do you expect me to live without you? Where do you expect me to go without you? I’m sorry but I have to do this. I’m sorry Uzodimma my unborn child, don’t forgive me,’ she said in a sorrowful voice.
‘I had thought I would live with you and share my sorrow with you, but that’s now a pipe dream.
My world has crashed and I’m ready to crash with it. My parents are gone, my city gone and now my Ikenna. There’s no reason to stay alive. There’s no place to hide anymore. The only place I want to hide now is in the grave. When there is no place to hide, I can only hide in death,’ she said as she buried the knife deep in her heart and collapsed on the bamboo bed and lay in the pool of her own blood. Life soon left her flesh.
Read part seventeen HERE
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]
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