When he was nearly thirteen and some armpit hair had begun to sprout from my brother Ahmed’s underarm, tragedy struck. We lived in the remote village of Baga which is located at the Eastern border of Nigeria; Life wasn’t easy I heard my mother complain to fellow female gossipers but as kids, to us, life was perfect. Well, that was until the rebels came.
We had been hearing of terror attacks in smaller villages (yeah, hard to believe, there were actually villages smaller than ours), but as Baga was known for our fiery hunters and fighters, we felt safe- our mistake.
One windy morning as I and Ahmed were trotting down the sandy narrow pathways back from school, talking heartily about how much we loved the harmattan weather, we heard it. At first it sounded far off amidst our chatter, but as we got closer to the main village, we could hear it loud and clear. First there was screaming, and then crying and in-between, some loud male voices speaking in our local dialect but clearly their accent was poor.
I clutched Ahmed’s arm, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, tears started streaming down my cheeks. We just stood there, at the same spot, hearing the cries mainly comprised of women and children’s. I was shivering, my knees were clicking together like dancing plates. Ahmed who was way taller than me, over four feet, held me close to him and kissed my ruffled head. I remember him whispering to me, “maybe it’s just a drama”, something we both knew was absurd. But I guess we both needed the re-assurances, because I replied amidst the tears, ‘maybe’.
We dragged on a few more feet, and this time, we could make out what was being said. Immediately, Ahmed grabbed me by the arm and we ran into a nearby high bush, it was more like he pulled me. I was never more glad to be short, the high bushes shielded us perfectly.
And then, we heard some sound like that of multiple paper bags being popped at the same time. Continuously, paper bags upon paper bags were popped and this went on for more than a few minutes, I forgot to wear my watch to school that day. I learnt later on, those weren’t paper bags, the sight I met afterwards clarified that for me.
After what felt like forever, crouched in high bushes with thorns scratching at my knees, the noises died out. There was silence for invariably 310 seconds- I counted using my fingers. The paper bags had stopped popping, we heard the sound of vehicles, and then silence again. Throughout our stay in the bushes, Ahmed barely said a word to me, all he did was ruffle my hair with his hand and then pull me closer, under the safety of his now “muscular” (so he says) arms.
We waited a few more minutes and then heard voices we could actually recognize, it was our local dialect spoken in accent same as ours. Everything was fine again or so I thought. Ahmed ordered me to run as fast as my legs could carry me, back to the school and stay there until he came back for me. I was about to protest, but the look he gave me meant business. And for the dozenth time that afternoon, he gave me a hug. Though it was longer than the previous which were brief and then I was ordered to run, which I did. I didn’t even look back once.
I got to the open school compound and jumped into one of the empty classes. The windows were low so they didn’t require much effort. I was thankful for the warmth of the classroom because the harmattan that winter was bad. I cuddled myself at one corner trying to make sense of the event of the day, I fell asleep barely getting started.
In response to the daily prompt call me Ishmael . A few days ago, a sad tragedy happened in a part of Nigeria, Baga where over 2000 people were massacred and the sad part was this violent act didn’t even make the national news. The news of the tragedy is what inspired this story, my heart goes out to the victims of this despicable act.
I had originally meant for this to be a single story but it got too long so I divided it into two parts. The second would be out soon. Thanks for taking the time to read this. And oh, the line “when my brother was thirteen” is the first sentence of to kill a mockingbird.