POSTED 02/14/2018 16:49:13
The year was 1966, the year my father returned from work with the news that Igbos were being massacred in Kano. The year my story began.
It was that time in Kano when the heavens held back its tears, and there was an unending chaos and heat. And amongst these unswerving situations, the hunger was getting to us and the smell of death left everybody feeling sullen and frail.
One evening an uneven and roughened voice like sand paper was heard on the radio. It was Gen Gowon he was prattling about the stubbornness of the Eastern leaders, about how they're instigating the gruesome murder of their people in the north and about how no tribe is indispensable.
After his long speech, there was silence in Kano that evening, Igbos all over Sabo Gari and other parts of the town quietly stayed indoors, even the avaricious Madu whose shop was never closed for a day was nowhere to be found. Mother was in the last sorrowful mystery when we heard rounds of gunshots outside the streets. The next thing we knew, a house was being set ablaze across the street and then there were sporadic gunshots and screams.
Little by little the screams turned to pleads. Then I heard someone begged in a feeble voice saying something about sparing his children’s lives, then I heard another voice sharp and hoarse talked about the children being innocent, but before she could say the next word three gunshots was heard, sounding as if the shooter was fed up with their complains so he decided to shut them up.
'Chima stop standing there like you've just seen and apparition, pack anything you can lay hands on we have to move, we might be next' mother shouted, but all I could make out from the whole scenario was her eyes, those large black eyes were different today, it was piercing and glaring. Her eye lids were dilating her cheeks saggy that they folded up by the side of her lips. She looked like she was searching something out, tired but still seeking not giving way to the advancing fear.
'Chima lekwa manya ooo! Didn't you hear me? Or are you now deaf? She shouted, tearing my thoughts apart.
I picked myself up and headed for my room. I took some clothes and some personal stuff I could carry and gave a curt look at the living room that suddenly looked so compressed, with the faded yellow wall covered with pictures shouting everybody's stories; from my young father with a forest of hair on his head holding firm to a smiling woman in an overflowing white gown to me in an all-white apparel receiving my first holy communion and how the big rosary on my neck nearly broke my neck bone.
Early 1967 we were carried away by Ojukwu speech on the declaration of Biafra. His British accent clearly showed that he was an Oxford scholar. He ranted and ranted and ranted especially about oppression and the willful killings of his people by Gowon. About how Igbos should stand up and fight to the finish. At the end of his speech that day 'Biafra must stand' was all we could think of in Enugu, it was written in the hearts of everybody, taught to children and even the air we breathe also concurred to Biafra standing.
Amidst the Biafra declaration was when I met her, it was one of those evenings in Enugu when the news of the Biafran troops taking over Calabar was announced and there was jubilation everywhere. I was out that evening to fetch firewood when I heard a mournful cry like that of an animal caught by a nefarious trap in the bush. I hurried to where the cry was emanating and behold a lady was withering in pains, bleeding profusely trying to remove the metallic trap gripping firmly to her feeble leg.
Dark skin, dark eyes and dark hairs that fell to her shoulders in two plaits, was what I noticed first. She said thank you, shyly revealing a half chipped front tooth and a bright gum and totter out of the bush without even telling me her name.
A strange feeling stirred within me as I stood watching her. It started as heat pangs at the sole of my feet and shot throughout my body till it reached my spine coldly. That night I dreamed and saw the mysterious girl's leg swollen and dripping water, and the dripped water drowned the whole village.
A week after the Biafran troops took over Bendel, was when I saw her coming back from the stream. Moving her body swiftly making her firm breast bounced in quick succession. When she saw me, she burst into unfiltered laughter exposing her well-arranged dentition. Thick beads of sweat formed at the nape of my neck, I couldn't even talk to her I felt as if my tongue was glued to my teeth then I heard 'thanks for helping me the other day' and smiled pass me.
I got to learn that her name was Chidimma from the village folks who were also carried away by her beauty especially when she danced so energetically during the celebration of Ojukwu's successful capture of Makurdi. The first time I kissed her was under the O'ha tree closed to the village hall, there was just something about her eyes, that seemed like they could see through my puerile thoughts and expose how scared I really was. Amidst my confused and naive thoughts, she held me firm and whispered hoarsely 'I hope I can trust you'.
February 14 1969 under the mango tree, close to her father's compound was where we did the thing. That evening Chidimma came prepared with a needle. When I asked what she wanted to use a needle for, she placed her seductive fingers in my mouth and said 'watch'. I watched keenly as blood dripped from her pickled finger, and I also watched as she pickled mine too.
'Repeat these words after me' she said staring at me passionately with her thrusting eyes.
'I promise not to ever live you, even in death' I repeated after her like she said as I licked her blood.
The federal troops took over Enugu on September 17 1969 it happened just like it did in Kano. Sporadic gunshots and the next moment people were bundled from their homes. I ran all over the town looking for Chidimma but couldn't find her. All I saw were, the Hausa soldiers lining people up on their knees. Shooting carelessly if anybody proved stubborn. People were slaughtered that day, dead bodies littered the village but none was that of my Chidimma.
Three years later after the war came to an end, I'm lying sadly in the hospital listening to General Gowon’s speech and thinking about my Chidimma. Then I shut my eyes tight and thought back to the day I first met her. There’s something about time travelling through the vehicle of your own memories. In one moment, I stood firmly in the present and in the next I stood in the subterranean truths of my own experience, mirrored back to me with ten times luminosity.
First, I started with her smile and then I built the rest of my memories around it. Then one day a nurse walked up to me and said
'I heard you knew Chidimma our head nurse, she died last week after her wedding, it's a pity' She said swaggering out of the ward.
I felt something gathering in my throat, something like salt. Then I vomited, it was blood the same blood I licked under the coconut tree.
And I heard her voice echoing 'I promise not to live you, even in death'.
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