BY ISRAEL USULOR
As days passed, Ikenna struggled to get used to the series of negative events which defined life and living within and around Zaka City. Daily, he struggled to reconcile himself with reality. His decision to stay was challenged daily by events which to him made the city a dangerous place. However, he had decided to imbibe Akubundu’s counsel. Akubundu had advised him the previous night to be a positive thinker even in the bleakest of situations. That they survived the robbers’ bullet the previous night may well mean he wasn’t destined to be wasted like an animal.
And so he woke up that morning with a new determination and a positive attitude not only to stay in Zaka City but also to succeed and survive despite the daily chaos. Ikenna was to go to the shop alone that early morning since Akubundu had gone to the motor park to collect new goods that arrived from the East the night before. He was to join Ikenna later in the day. Ikenna was excited at the prospects of being alone at the shop since it was an opportunity to prove to Oga Oduburu how fast he has learned the business.
So he moved as fast as he could, heading to Zaka City Market. Roadside shops had opened and were attending to customers. The road was busy as vehicles lined the walkways scouting for passengers going to Bush Market. Several pickup vans laden with yams sped past Ikenna. He was enjoying the walk. He stopped and beckoned at a young lady carrying okpa in a transparent white bucket. Since his arrival in Zaka City, Ikenna had eaten okpa every single day. Zaka City okpa was particularly good only comparable to the one he ate at Ninth Mile. Ikenna liked the one prepared with boiled egg.
‘Give me the one wey get egg,’ he said to the fair complexioned lady. She was probably Igbo.
Ikenna had noticed that most business people in Zaka City were from the East. Even the pettiest of businesses like road-side akara fryers were mostly from the East.
‘Ok’ responded the okpa girl. Ikenna collected and pocketed the yellowish stuff. The okpa was too hot on his lap and so he removed and held it tightly in his cupped left palm. Apprentices never wanted the ogas to know that they ever spent anything. Every dime was spent secretly.
Close to the Zaka City Market junction, Ikenna noticed an unusual chaos in a number of passersby. Many of them stood in groups discussing, even arguing frantically. The topic of discussion Ikenna knew not, but he was convinced whatever it was, was a serious issue. He would soon find out.
The Zaka City Market junction was the melting pot of the town. It was not the most popular place though, but it was the most happening place. Many things happened there ranging from Christmas moonlight plays to mob actions. Akubundu had told Ikenna stories of how criminals were set ablaze at that particular spot. That morning, there was unprecedented crowd at the junction. The crowd was so much so that many onlookers who couldn’t make it any closer climbed nearby trees and viewed from treetops. Ikenna wondered what happened but, without being told, he knew whatever had happened was related to the war.
‘It was a terrible sight,’ said a potbellied fellow who stood beside Ikenna, hands akimbo. There were other people milling around him as he told the story of what he saw. He, like others had left whatever it was they were doing to catch a glimpse of what seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime show.
‘It was the worse sight of my life,’ said another fellow who sold motorcycle spare parts in a nearby shop. ‘I thought I was dreaming as I watched human being slaughtered like cow,’ said a particular man smoking a stick of cigar. He just emerged from the crowd and joined the other two in the hot conversation. Ikenna drew closer.
‘If someone had told me, I would have doubted. I saw with my two koro koro eyes how they were slaughtered.’ It was the potbellied fellow. His belly shook side-ways as he demonstrated the word ‘slaughtered.’
‘Who was slaughtered?’ Ikenna asked himself. ‘It is as if some herders have met their unfortunate death,’ he thought.
‘They deserved it. They started it. They killed our warriors first.’ It was the smoker as he drew his cigar. Thick smoke emerged from his nostrils and he poured the rest from his pouted lips.
‘Yes! It serves them right. Where were they when the herders were killing us? They conspired with the Herders to terminate our tribe.’ It was the potbellied fellow. ‘One warrior is worth more than ten soldiers,’ he added sarcastically.
‘That’s if they were soldiers.’ It was the smoker again. ‘The kur utia said those guys are not soldiers. They are mercenaries hired by herders. They only disguised as soldiers to deceive our warriors. But our superior warriors caught them,’ he said punching the air.
‘But I heard the soldiers were sent by the government,’ said the bicycle parts seller. He had contributed minimally to the conversation. Going by his accent, Ikenna was convinced he was Igbo.
‘I also heard the warriors shot at them first, which is not supposed to be since they were here to keep the peace and……’
‘And what?’ The potbellied fellow interrupted him. ‘Shut your mouth if you don’t know how to talk or have anything important to say,’ he barked, his belly swerving left and right. Ikenna thought he looked like a pregnant she-goat.
‘Didn’t you hear what the kur tia said? These guys are mercenaries not soldiers. The government didn’t send them and we should be happy they were caught,’ said the potbellied fellow.
‘You are right,’ said the smoker who kept smoking one cigarette after the other.
‘We should thank our vigilant and gallant warriors,’ he added as he left the place. From the conversation, Ikenna had learned the Federal Troops sent to keep the peace had been slaughtered that morning. ‘The worse has happened,’ he said to himself. He rushed back home to break the news to Oga Oduburu. Unknown to him, Oduburu was also at the Zaka City Market junction and in fact, had witnessed what happened. Oduburu’s wife too was not at home.
‘But she hardly goes out!’ Ikenna said to himself. It was an unusual situation so everybody wanted to catch a glimpse and so was Adaugo, Oduburu’s wife.
Sitting at the veranda of the compound, Ikenna watched as thick smoke billowed from the Junction. The smoke circulated the entire skyline of the city and darkened the sun that had shone very brightly earlier that morning. The odour of human flesh smelt like suya. Ikenna was terrified to the bones. He brought out the okpa he had bought earlier, loosed the waterproof, and started munching. He found out he had lost his appetite. He flung the okpa across the dusty road and it landed on a dumpsite opposite the compound. He stood up and walked into the compound feeling feverish. He was aware Oduburu would downplay the incident as “having nothing to do with Igbos.’ Yet, even Ikenna was very well aware of the consequences of the death of a single soldier in the hands of civilians. ‘We have finished running,’ he said as he collapsed on a sofa in the palour. ‘Soon we shall count the miles,’ he said. That was a proverb he had learnt from his mother. He tried to catch some sleep to no avail until Oduburu’s voice jolted him up.
‘What are you doing here sleeping? Common will you get up from there and go to the shop?’
Oduburu barked. Ikenna jumped and scurried to the market. He was shocked Akubundu was there behaving normally as if he heard nothing of what happened and was not scared there would be a reprisal from the military.
‘Igbos are not from this part of the world. A war could be happening and they would still want to go back and lock their shop before running’ he said to himself as if he was not Igbo himself. He reluctantly joined in the arrangement of the newly arrived goods.
Read part six HERE
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]
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