BY ISRAEL USULOR
‘Tikom,’ chimed the heart-shaped, red clock placed on a plastic table beside the old, flat mattress on which Ikenna lay. He raised his head slightly and looked at the timepiece. The time was 12:00 am, meaning the night was half spent. It wasn’t the clock that woke Ikenna but the “kpooo-kpaaa” sound of gunshots that pierced the silence of the night. Ikenna was sure the battleground was not far from the compound but had no clue of the exact spot. The sounds came in torrents like rainfall. It was as if though hell was let loose! He had heard stories of war from his mother but never knew he would soon witness one. He scratched himself just to be sure he wasn’t dreaming. He knew he was very much awake and that he was in a crisis zone where two tribes clutched each other’s jugular. Had anybody as much as whispered this to his hearing he would’ve gladly stayed back in Agu-Ukpaka. Agu-Ukpaka! His beloved Agu-Ukpaka!
As a matter of fact, Ikenna was beginning to regret his coming to Zaka City. He had even begun to doubt his continued stay in the town since he was sure he would never have any rest of mind. After the event of the previous day at the Zaka City Market, he began to consider the option of going back to the village but had no clue how to do that since he was afraid of Oga Oduburu’s reaction. It would also be a thing of shame for him to hurry back to Agu-Ukpaka — barely three days after he left for the city. He waved the thought aside and decided to face the psychological battle of getting used to war.
He looked around the room and noticed that he was probably the only one awake. Akubundu was fast asleep. Outside the room too, there were no indications anybody else was jilted by the sounds of the gunshots which by then had subsided. By all indications the entire occupants of the compound most of whom were Igbos, were peacefully asleep.
‘Am I the only one that heard those gunshots?’ he asked himself almost in a loud tone. But that couldn’t be. He was sure someone else heard. His reaction was just the difference between a newcomer and a people to whom gunshot sounds were a normal occurrence in the prevailing security condition. As he tried to go back to sleep, Ikenna prayed that he won’t be woken again. That morning as he stepped out of the room, Ikenna encountered Oga Oduburu seated in the parlor. He was listening to the early morning news from his small Kchibo radio.
‘Good morning sir’ he was holding the radio so close to his left ear that Ikenna had to repeat himself.
‘Good morning sir,’ Ikenna greeted again.
‘Nde? Itehu wa? How are you?’ responded Oga Oduburu. ‘Come and sit down here, I want to talk to you’ he said, beckoning with his right hand as Ikenna made for the door.
Although Ikenna’s conscience was clear since he had committed no offence since his arrival, his heart still skipped and pounded fast as he sat on the soft black sofa by Oduburu’s right. He tried to calm himself down by taking a deep breath and gazing on the cement floor. That way, he avoided Oga Oduburu’s eyes.
‘Tell me, how are you?’ started Oga Oduburu, leaning forward. He placed the radio on the center table and reduced its volume after which he continued.
‘I mean, how are you finding your stay in Zaka City so far?’
‘Fine,’ responded Ikenna, his gaze still fixed on the floor. Among the Ezzas, it was considered disrespectful to look directly into the eyes of an older person during a conversation.
‘Tell me the truth; do you think you can stay?’ Oduburu asked.
Ikenna didn’t know how to approach that question. His mind flashed back to the events of the past two days- the stampede at the market and the gunshot sounds that didn’t allow him have a good sleep the previous night. He also remembered how the whole truth about Zaka City was hidden from him until he had experienced it. He reasoned this may be an opportunity to really tell how terrible he felt and also request to be taken back to the village.
Yet, he was not sure how Oga Oduburu would respond to that request. He was not also ready to face the shame of scurrying back to the village just after three days in the city. It would be very difficult to explain to his peers back in the village what really happened. He was sure very few people would listen to him since anybody that came back from the city with no achievement was regarded as a failure. He, therefore, answered in the affirmative.
‘I’ll stay’ he answered just as Oduburu’s wife, Adaugo passed breakfast of bread and tea on the center table.
‘Good morning ma’am’ Ikenna saluted in a respectful voice.
‘How are you Ikenna?’ she responded in her usual brief but warm manner and went back to the kitchen. During the past three days, Ikenna had observed that Adaugo was a calm lady who really said very little. She was a housewife who mostly stayed at home. Oduburu had barred her from engaging in any business since they got married the year before. Out of disobedience and in a quest to break loose of boredom, the woman started a firewood business in the front of the compound. She would always come out of the gate to tend to her now booming business when everyone was gone.
‘You see Ikenna,’ Oga Oduburu continued as he bit a slice of bread which he had dipped in the cup of hot tea he clutched by his left hand.
‘I know you must be worried by what is happening here. I mean the war. Nobody told you about it.’ He paused, swallowed, and took another bite of bread. Ikenna continued to gaze on the floor with fingers clasped.
‘But I want to assure you that this place is safe. We are not involved in the war and no Igbo person has been harmed since the war began last year.’
Ikenna knew the argument presented by Oduburu was as weak as young yam tendrils. He knew that when the chips are down, bullets don’t discriminate in terms of tribe and that war has no eyes. He kept his thoughts to himself and continued to listen with rapt attention.
‘Nothing would happen to you or any one of us. Already soldiers have arrived to take control of the situation. The gunshots sound you heard yesternight were fired by soldiers on a peacekeeping mission. They were just announcing their arrival. So, you have got nothing to worry about. Just remain a good boy and I assure you, you’ll be happy at the end of your apprenticeship,’ Oga
Oduburu concluded as he emptied the teacup. At that point, Akubundu rushed into the pallor panting and sweating profusely.
‘Ikenna, are you ready? It’s time for Bush Market,’ he said amidst pants.
‘Have you finished loading?’ It was Oga Oduburu’s voice.
‘Yes sir,’ responded Akubundu, wiping his face with one edge of his ragtag shirt.
‘Whose vehicle?’ Oduburu probed further.
‘It’s Ijere’s,’ Akubundu responded.
‘Alright! Good market. Take care of Ikenna and be sure to close on time, you the security situation,’ he said as the two boys left the parlor and headed for the gate.
Read part four HERE
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]
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