‘Who are these people?’ Ikenna asked Akubundu who walked ahead of him. They were going to Zaka City Market, where Oduburu’s ceramics shop was located. It would be Ikenna’s first day in the shop.
‘They are warriors,’ he responded. “The people here are in a war with herders”
“War?’ asked Ikenna, his voice laden with fear. Ikenna never liked wars and the mention of it filled him with fear and trepidation. The warriors continued to file by in a single line. Most of them were bare-chested so that Ikenna could see the charms and amulets that hung on their necks, arms, and waists. They looked scary especially as they were carrying guns, cutlasses as well as bows and arrows.
‘Yes’ Akubundu responded, noticing the change in Ikenna’s countenance.
‘The war started last year. The herders came for war when one farmer named Terry sprayed ota pia pia on his crops so that it killed more than fifty cows that grazed on it.’
‘Really? Are there herders here too?’ Ikenna asked, amazed.
‘Yes of course! And the ones here are crueler. Just that the Tiv people are strong’
“Hmmm!’ Ikenna exhaled. ‘So are we safe here?’ he asked.
‘Of course! We wouldn’t be here if it’s not safe. The warriors go to war every day and many more stay behind to protect the town. Many times we see them coming home with human heads’
Ikenna was horrified and surprised at the ease and excitement with which Akubundu talked about something as serious as war. Lebechi, his blind mother who witnessed the Nigerian-Biafra war always said negative things about wars and warned that wars must be avoided at all cost.
‘I’m scared’ Ikenna said, as they entered the market.
‘Don’t be’ Akubundu responded.
‘I’m’ Ikenna retorted, his voice was buried in the cacophony of noise in the market. Activities in the market were just beginning to pick up that early morning with farmers from the hinterlands conveying their yams in vans. Wheelbarrows and carts struggled for space, knocking on each other as they struggled to enter the crowded gate. Many vans lined up at the gate waiting for the right of way and had to be controlled by the market vigilante.
‘I never knew I was coming to a war zone,’ continued Ikenna with a pitiful tone. I doubt if I can be happy here with all these people moving around with weapons and charms’
Akubundu stopped for a while and placed his hand on Ikenna’s shoulder reassuringly. He was surprised that a young man could be so worried. He quickly found words to reassure him.
‘There is no reason for you to worry or regret why you came. We are safe. The Igbos are not involved in the war. Besides, Oga told me this morning that the government has sent soldiers to quell the war,’ Akubundu announced.
This reassurance from Akubundu consoled Ikenna. Yet his worries over the war did not completely go away. He was convinced it was too dangerous to live in a crisis zone even as a neutral body. Was it not said that bullet knew neither friend nor foe? He secretly prayed that the war would be over soon.
Ikenna was distracted from his worries by the share size of the Zaka City Market. Nkwo market in his village was the biggest market Ikenna knew. But he was convinced Nkwo was ten times the size of the Zaka City Market. There were several heaps of yams so much so that no one would be able to count them. It was what the Igbo referred to as agukata agba awaa. Lost in the breathtaking sight of yams, Ikenna paused at the lorry section of the market where yams were being sardined into lorries for onward transportation to the Southern Region of the country. He wanted to catch a glimpse of what to him seemed like magic. It was the meticulousness with which the loaders did their work. He admired the arrangement of the yams in the lorries.
‘How did they load so many yams in a single lorry in such a beautiful manner?’ he asked himself as he ran to catch up with Akubundu who moved briskly towards the southern end of the market where Oduburu’s shop was located.
‘I have to remind you that you’ve come here for a purpose. That purpose isn’t to watch yams,’ Akubundu told Ikenna in a stern tone.
‘There’ll be enough time to watch yams since you are not leaving anytime soon. Remember you are going to bush market tomorrow. You have many things to learn so don’t waste any time’ Ikenna knew that Akubundu was right, though he was not sorry to have watched yams.
‘Every newcomer could’ve done the same” he said to himself. Yet he thought it was not good to start off their relationship with a disagreement. So he simply apologized to Akubundu.
“This is our shop,’ said Akubundu as he opened the iron door. “You have a lot to learn. You have to watch me and do as I say.’
‘I’ll learn fast and I will also be a good boy” Ikenna promised.
‘Look here, take this broom and sweep the shop. We have a lot to do especially arranging for tomorrow’s bush market’ said Akubundu handing Ikenna a broom that he had fetched from the rafters.
As the day progressed, the market became more crowded and turned into a beehive. The sun was directly overhead, indicating that the day was half spent. Buyers and sellers moved back and forth and many engaged in endless haggling of prices. Wheelbarrow and cart pushers created additional chaos with their endless shouts of “vegh youh vegh yough.” Ikenna didn’t understand what that meant and had to ask Akubundu.
‘It’s a way of telling people to leave the road,’ he had explained. Ikenna had begun to mutter some Tiv words such as “gbande” and “chokori” which Akubundu said meant plate and spoon. He had also progressed impressively in learning the business having known the prices of many goods and learned how to arrange wares meant for bush market.
Soon, Ikenna noticed that the atmosphere in the market had changed. He observed as several people milled around a particular spot just a stone throw from their shop. There seemed to be a particular thing of interest attracting people to the spot. He edged forward to get a better view. He was soon joined in his curiosity by Akubundu and together they walked to the spot. By then it seemed the whole market had melted into that spot, and all the people were listening to a lanky old fellow who Ikenna knew not. Akubundu suddenly grabbed Ikenna’s hand and practically dragged him back to the shop. Since Ikenna understood nothing of what was said by the lanky fellow, he was confused even though he knew all was not well. His confusion and fear were even made more visible by the fact that Akubundu had said nothing yet. Ikenna looked towards the gate and noticed that the entire market was in disarray and a large crowd had surged towards the gate in a bid to escape from what Ikenna knew not.
‘What’s happening?’ he asked Akubundu who quickly closed their shop after managing to haphazardly arrange some goods.
‘We have to go home’ Akubundu responded amidst pants. ‘The herders are coming to attack this market,’ he added, gasping for breath. Akubundu’s words sank Ikenna’s heart into the deepest part of his belly. It was as if a blacksmith had sunk a hot iron into his heart. They both ran towards the gate which by then seemed like a chicken hole as so many people struggled to get out at the same time. The Zaka City Market which a few minutes ago, was a beehive of economic activities had been turned upside down. Buyers and sellers cared little about their wares as everybody ran for dear life.
It took a lot of pushing and shoving before Ikenna and Akubundu found themselves outside the market. Ikenna thought he heard the tiny voice of someone calling for help. ‘The person must have been trampled upon,’ he said to himself as he managed to extricate himself from the web of human beings. There was little or no time for him to think of helping another person as well as battling to save his own neck. Akubundu too may have heard the voice given the sad face he wore as he emerged from the stampede.
‘Did you hear any voice crying for help?’ he asked Ikenna as he bent down to catch his breath. ‘Yes,’ Ikenna responded.
‘Look there!’ Akubundu shouted pointing to the direction where a mangled human body was being pulled from dust. The body was shapeless and both eyes were not there. There were shouts of “eyaa!” “uwuu!” and “kpash!” from the crowd. Ikenna wanted to throw up but held his peace. ‘I think he is dead,’ said Ikenna
‘Of course, are you blind?’ shouted Akubundu, angrily. They left the scene as the warriors emerged and took possession of the unfortunate fellow.
Back home that evening, Ikenna and Akubundu learned what transpired from Oga Oduburu.
‘It was a false alarm,’ Oga Oduburu had said when he came home that evening.
‘The fellow who spread the lie has been apprehended by warriors,’ he said. Indeed, typical of every war zone, no day passed in Zaka City without one deadly rumour or the other. People lived in apprehension since no one knew what information was true.
‘The best thing is to stay calm and eschew panic any time such rumours break. And try to confirm if it’s true,’ Oga Oduburu had advised Ikenna and Akubundu.
‘But how can one wait to confirm if a rumour was true before running for dear life? Isn’t that foolish?’ Ikenna thought in his heart. That night, he dreamt that his eyes were gouged out by herders.
Read part three HERE
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]
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