A factional tale of a communal crisis, told by a victim – Seyon
Factional means a mix of facts and fiction. Therefore, by implication, the story is told from a real-life experience garnished with a touch of an artistic interpretation
It was 6a.m on a Monday morning. A typical work day of hectic routine. There are things that would happen ordinarily on a day like this; Some students struggle to fix up school assignments which were long over-due, others hide away one or two vital school material so that it will be almost impossible to make it down to school – these are the extremely lazy ones. Anyways, I am not trying to report myself to you. I am only recounting what happens in my neighbourhood.
Another set of people involved in the Monday morning rush are the parents, wards and nannies who have to tidy up their schedules for a new week, which I believe is a vital part of some great organizational skills.
For me, a Monday morning is like every other morning where scents from dishes mix with those that have escaped from creams or perfumes and all try to get into my head at the same time. I am a student recently enrolled in a close-by secondary school, an action informed by the long distance between my house and my previous school.
This particular Monday was a different one because instead of a sweet fragrance which characterizes the rising-ups; the unpleasant smell of burning papers and plastics woke me up. I found my younger sister next to me trying to say something. I noticed that it was a bit smoky and pretty dark. She was crying already. As confused as I was, I stood up from bed dragging her right behind me. We staggered to our parents’ room but could do nothing for the smoke had increased and we have to escape danger. I pulled her up, ran out of the apartment, and there we met answers to the questions we never asked.
There were hoodlums around the house. They had set part of our house on fire. I knelt down immediately, holding my sister watchfully.
“Please, spare us. Please” I cried.
One of the men came closer and opened the gallon he was holding. The smell of petrol escaped into my nostrils. I closed my eyes and held my sister so close that I heard nothing but the mixture of our heart beats. The next feeling was the pain of a knife cut on my right arm. It was as sharp as death.
“Stand up and get out of here! Little messiah” one of the young men broke out in devilish laughter.
I opened my eyes. Then, I saw them all; they were 4 in number, mostly guys we meet on the street every day. They were holding knives and axes too. I sat still and looked at the one closest to us, he must have spoken a million times but I kept looking at him, as if trying to comprehend his words, then, he carried the gallon of petrol in anger.
Pedetin and I sprang to our feet and made quick steps to the gate. By the time we got to the street, it was grave quiet but with smokes here and there, except for a bit of distant noises.
Then, we heard a group of people running towards our direction, they sounded like angry mobs. I quickly pulled Pedetin into the gutter and hid beneath. From their footsteps, they should be about 15 people charging violently as they ran past us. Some of them even stood on the gutter where we hid before moving on. We held our breaths, every single second. And when we thought it was over, more people actually begun to troop to the street. We sat there, locked in one another, for about 5 hours. Soon, another group arrived which launched a counter attack. Although there were no gun shots, we clearly heard attacks, counter attacks and retreating footsteps.
After a long period of silence, in great fear, we peeped and jumped out of the gutter. We trekked through a fairly bushy footpath for about 40 more minutes. Each second of the walk was done in pronounced anxiety for the unknown. We were not aware of the goings-on and neither did we know our destination. We finally got to a major road where we began to feel the tremor of earth. It’s now mid-day.
The energetic sounds of feet, crackly sounds of strained voices, thunderous sounds of guns and something close to shattering bottles enveloped the air. The sounds, and atmosphere mixed in such manner that one couldn’t differentiate them all. That was when Pedetin cried out.
“Seyon, I’m tired”
More people left their wares and ran for their lives. Some were confused on what exactly to do; whether to leave their stalls out or pack some with them. It got smokier and at some point, distant sounds got closer than expected. I pushed my way through the crowd and dragged Pedetin right behind me.
mijalebo (please) come along, we can make it out of here”
She looked apparently scared and coughed out in chokes from the smoke increasing by the minutes. The sun came out in full force as if in support of the entire situation and therefore ready to add to our many pains. But as hot as the sun was, I was not sure if anyone paid attention. People kept running away, and in an attempt to cross the road, my hand slipped off Pedetin’s.
A man drove his car across the road almost immediately, and like a confused man as the rest, he fidgeted on the steering, parked in the center of the road, left the door ajar and joined the rest in the struggle for survival. I cursed that man in my heart as I screamed Pedetin’s name. I wasn’t sure she heard me due to the state of chaos characterized by so much noise. But I shouted again.
“Pedetin! Where are you?”
In an attempt to cross the road back the same way I came, someone hit my arm, the exact spot where I had the cut, and the pains came all over again, with fuller force. I found myself on the ground, gnashing my teeth in agony and for that moment, I forgot mum, Dad, even Pedetin. In fact, I became oblivious of the situation. I groaned in pain. Sanity returned when a hand touched me from behind and I stood up in anxiety.
“Pedetin!” I screamed.
Oh no! It was a soldier man who was busy dragging people into a van. How come I compared his rough hands with the soft palms of Pedetin? I struggled with him.
you seen my sister?” I questioned him but he wasn’t ready for a
reply, so, I screamed even louder.
“Don’t take me away”
“Get into the Van,” he spat
“No, I won’t. I want my sister.”
“You’re bleeding, you need to get treated”. As he spoke, he never relented in dragging me.
I screamed again “Pedetinnnnn! Pedetinnnnnnnnnnnnn!!!”
the soldier showed no pity on me. He didn’t even listen to me. Or
maybe he did, because he responded.
“Don’t worry, we will definitely pick her up. But you have to go now”
For a second, he made sense. I stopped struggling with him and hopped into the van. But the next moment brought back the gravity of the entire scenario, I screamed so loud that I heard myself no more. The van travelled down several paths and I peeped from the small window searching through the crowd.
Suddenly, the van stopped and we were ordered to move down.
discovered that we were brought to an army barracks. I actually
thought we were going to a hospital. The van made a U-turn and some
soldiers put a tag on us as we got ushered into the barracks.
I walked in, lost in thought, and thought of my loss. I didn’t even know what I was doing but I must have been looking like someone who just heard about his death sentence. In great quietness, I moved to a corner as if in a trance.
moment later, maybe minutes or hours, I can’t be accurate now! I
heard a group of people running into the barracks and I watched in
People trooped into the barracks in hundreds. I stood up and walked towards the wailing crowd. I paused and looked through them with a deliberate attention.
There she stood. I saw Pedetin just behind the mighty crowd. That soldier was right after all. But there were so many people standing between us. I called out in horrific excitement and ran towards her. More people passed between us.
I fixed my gaze on her and stretched out my hands as if she was a foot away. I was more than ready to give an embrace. She was soothing to my wound, just the treatment I needed. I was just 2 feet away when someone else came to pull her off. My countenance changed and I increased the pace. This time, I was the one knocking people over without caring what the implications were. I finally got to her and pulled her away from the woman holding her.
“Pedetin. How did you get here?”
Obviously, she has been crying. She had catarrh dropping from her nostrils, in an attempt to clean her tears with the back of her palm, she rubbed it all over her face. Then, the woman holding her spoke up.
“Who are you? What is it?” She drags her from my grip and continued with her journey.
I stayed put, just
like a statue in a museum, watching the woman take her away. The girl is the
woman’s daughter after all. I had mistaken her for Pedetin. Now, watching her
again, I could see clearly that I misidentified the girl’s height, hair,
stature and even clothes. I remained still in my bent position with an
outstretched hand. I disappointed myself greatly.
“Pede! Pede! Noooooooooooo” I finally broke down in tears.
Again, I lost the
details of how long I sat there. But the sun had subsided when a group of
soldiers arrived and spoke through a megaphone.
“We will like everyone to line up here” he ordered, but it seemed like nobody heard him.
“I repeat; we need everyone on a file. Mothers should hold on to their children on this line and men should be on the other line”
“Now!” the soldier said strongly.
The last message was a
command; therefore, everyone ran to make the lines according to the instruction
given. Another soldier arrived and gave an additional information.
“If you have no number, come with me” he stressed and lots of people followed him.
We were told to be calm until the streets are safe for us to go to. There was a 24hours curfew for the next few days and no one was expected to falter. I didn’t know how I managed to hear those words but I was sure of what the soldiers meant. The secondary school in the army barracks was of great help because it served as lodge for some people while the rest found comfort on the rough surfaces around.
It was getting dark already and the barracks was already filled to the brim. People pitched their tents in the open fields with their family members. I moved slowly but searchingly. Looking at people relating in units. I searched for dad, mum, and Pedetin. I encountered a woman trying to pull 5 of her children together. Several thoughts crossed my mind and wondered where they all were.
I noticed that
everyone including the kids wore a tag with a big number around the neck like
chained dogs. I looked down on mine with the print ‘R86’, the ‘R’ representing
Refugee. I wondered if they had printed this before the incident or, well, I
I walked past people once again and I felt that I do not belong here. I have not seen someone I knew or maybe can’t recollect faces. I saw strangers and strangers they were. Some soldiers arrived in a truck and instructed that people line up for dinner. Women struggled to get on queue and for a while argued about who got to what position first. I wondered if they had this all planned out. For heaven’s sake, the food will go round, I concluded.
The tag was a permit to get fed. A soldier gave out bread while another gave out water. I closely watched a woman who got hers and quickly held up her baby’s hand to get one too. This is comedy I guess. But is it really comedy? She is a nursing mother. What will remain of her after the baby sucks her dry? All these while, I wasn’t on any queue because the drama around the collection itself was enough food for my soul.
Some soldiers made campfires and sat round them. I saw a man fanning his sleeping children. I pitied him more than I did for myself. Where on earth is their mother? Poor man. He didn’t even stand up to get bread and water for his children at least. The man laid beside his children and slept off too. Everyone was busy eating, moving around or doing one thing or another.
Then, I saw this young man who tried to steal from the man earlier fanning his kids. He had moved like he was part of the family, sat beside the sleeping man and gradually removed the man’s wallet. I couldn’t hold this anymore, I dashed towards him like lightening being pursued by thunder. The young man was smarter I guess. I can’t remember what he did or how he did it but in the twinkle of an eye, he changed the story and I became the thief.
That night was spent all alone in the guardroom with mosquitoes as guests. I just felt like ending it all. Life isn’t worth it no more. I didn’t sleep all through the night, not because I decided not to sleep, but it wasn’t my decision to make. It was that of the mosquitoes. I was released the next morning and told never to repeat such act to which I accepted repentance genuinely. I overheard the soldiers saying that the curfew is now 12 hours and that it’s effective from 6-6. So, I concluded that it should be 6p.m to 6a.m, that’s the only logical time frame. I wasn’t sure of the time presently, but judging from the face of the sky, the time should be about 8a.m.
I walked straight to the gate unsure of where I was heading to. I strolled past the soldiers and was waiting for them to stop me but nothing happened, so immediately I passed the gates, I took to my heels. I trekked a great distance and discovered burnt cars, shops and houses.
So many structures have been pulled down. Fear gripped me to my soul when I started to notice that the streets were bright, yet dark. They were relatively quiet. It was like a bright mid-night.
Soon, I approached a junction which was watched over by soldiers. There were no moving cars or motorbikes on the road except for the army convoy. I walked behind some shops and hid behind a structure. I peeped at the soldiers through the broken fence of a burnt building. Six people were involved in frog jump and the soldiers were at alert, it became dawned on me that the curfew was still very valid and those people broke the rule.
Just then, I heard the sound of a motorcycle from behind. A soldier rode towards me and I rolled on my back towards a close dunghill. He drove past without noticing me. I decided to move away from the vicinity. But the more I moved into the heart of the town, the more unsecured I felt.
I maintained a great distance from the major road and walked in between remains of burnt cars, motorbikes and houses. I saw stains of blood on walls, cars and houses. Just then, I sighted another van, this time, it was carrying a pile of dead bodies. Bodies burnt, broken or battered. I wept so hard that I couldn’t feel my body anymore. I wanted to run after them to search among the bodies maybe I will see my parents or Pedetin but something held me back every single minute. It was a horrible sight that must have been created by horrible souls. Suddenly, I heard what seems to be an uproar ahead of me. I wasn’t sure what it was but it seems like some soldiers are trying to control a violent crowd. I wondered what was happening over there and I wasn’t ready to witness more scenarios.
everything turned gray and I began to feel dizzy. Looking around. I discovered
that I was standing in front of a restaurant. So, I took the broken table in
front of it for a couch.
I must have been day dreaming or maybe the reality of my environment crept into my subconscious. First, different feet moved past me in darkness. Then, I saw a procession of elderly people in red, and black outfits. They really scared me. I began to wonder about the kind of activity that was going on, such that will be referred to as obscure.
Then, a woman on white appears, sprinkling water with palm fronds from a calabash. It seems like a purification rite. I looked away, not knowing exactly what’s going on, in town, barracks and everywhere. I closed my eyes so well that it locked my ears too in the process. I lost track of time and day.
When I opened my eyes, I viewed the barracks once again, from the back of an army van. I discovered I’m still without Dad, Mum, and Pedetin. Maybe I should have waited in there for them to arrive just as others. Maybe I should not have suffered myself to go through the blight. I was so tired and dirty looking. I was definitely worn out that I fell to the ground the moment I dropped from the bus. A soldier walked towards me and grabbed me by the arm while others remained unmoved. He dragged me up and placed a tag on me.
I looked down on my chest and saw the inscription, ‘R-5042’. Many thoughts flashed through my head in a split second. Will mum, dad and Pedetin be in there by now? Will this entire thing ever come to an end? So, in great pain, standing there, I struggled to keep my eyes opened, against shutting, unto darkness.