Victims – Episode
A Story By Rosemary Okafor
She didn’t know how long she stood by the grave side, before ‘Iya’ walked up to her, both women stood in silence talking to the dead in prayers.
Ado-Odo didn’t change much from the last time she was there with Tunde and the children, except for more brick houses that has replaced some old mud ones, with Aluminum roofing sheet instead of raffias. It wasn’t difficult locating the village after four years, she met Iya in the farm weeding, her old shaking hands held the little hoe firmly, her wrapper was on her waist while her dry long breasts flaps like cocoyam leafs each time she moves her hands. Ukwuoma stood with the boy and watched the old woman, she fought her emotions,
“Iya” she called out
The old woman paused and looked back, she thought she wouldn’t recognize her at first but the old woman did,
“Iyawo mi ” Iya called out with her shaky voice
“Mama!” Ukwuoma called out, her voice shook with emotions. The old woman tried running towards her, but she got to the woman faster, they held each other in a warm embrace
“Iyawo mi…o ti igba pipe… ”
“Beeni Mama ”
It took the old woman sometime to notice the small boy that stood some feet away from them, she eases herself away from the embrace and her gaze held that of the boy,
“Mi o ti ri eni yi ri (I have not met this one before)” she said. Ukwuoma followed her gaze, unsure of how the old woman would accept the news that brought her home.
“Wa ki o si ijoko isale mama (Come and seat down mama)”
It was obvious the woman was no longer as strong as she used to be, Ukwuoma led her back to the house and the boy followed
“Awon iyoku da? (where are the others)” Iya had asked after she was settled on her favorite seat. Ukwuoma didn’t answer, she had wondered how she would be able to look Iya on the face and tell her of what life brought to them, of the visit death paid her and how he left with everything she has. The old woman searched her face for answers, she felt there was something wrong;
“Iyawo mi…awon omo mi da? Oko re nko? (my wife, where are my children? What of your husband?)”
Iya abandoned her seat and was seated on the ground by the time Ukwuoma finished narrating her story, the old woman wore her face as hard as a stone, but one could hear her groan while she shook her head and her outstretched legs, she was in pains
“Oko o mi …” she soliloquized, a name she called Kunle her only child after twenty-one years. Iya was the first wife who was unfortunate with child bearing, for she was always visited with an ‘ abiku ’ a child that brought joy and sorrow with him, he would come and go after three months. When the fifth child died, it became necessary that a sacrifice should be made,
“You are called to be an Ifa priestess” the Babalawo had told her “You shouldn’t have gotten married, but you are stubborn. Ifa must be appeased before your child will stay”
And Ifa was appeased, two months later, she was pregnant again for the sixth time.
“He must be presented to Ifa eight days after delivery if you want him to live”
When Kunle came out, he was so beautiful that it scared her. He looked like a child from the spirit world, but his laughter was very adorable. Kunle was her world, the air she breath. When her husband talked about taking another wife five years after Kunle was born and there was no sign of another child, she gave him her blessings and concentrated on her only son Kunle.
“Oko o mi … (my Husband)” was what he called Kunle, the gods have cheated her, they have played tricks with her. Why would they allow her so much happiness and took it away before her very eyes? They would have waited for her to die first.
It was mid night when the two women dug a shallow grave and buried the bones, while the young woman went back inside the house with the small boy, the old woman sat on top of the grave soliloquizing and asking the unseen gods some questions which was never answered. Ukwuoma lay in the dark, her eyes opened and her mind afar gone.
So as both women stood by the grave two days later, Ukwuoma watched as ants burrow tiny holes on the grave, she watched them make their way in and out of the holes, she also saw a lizard waiting patiently by the side of the grave, soon it would make its move towards the unsuspected ants
“Omo na ma duro (The boy will stay)” Iya said, “maybe… Ifa brought him for me, knowing I have nothing else left”
“o seun mama (thank you Mama)”
They talked about the boy before, “He would remind me of what I lost” Iya had said and Ukwuoma understood so she didn’t try to persuade the old woman.
“I am old now but I have hope” Iya said while both of them kept their gazes on the grave that housed the bones of those they loved.
“Auntie one Army man dey look for you”
Ukwuoma was at the cassava farm when a visitor for her was announced. The child that brought the news ran off before she could even ask who the visitor was, not that the child would answer.
She unconsciously wiped the dirt in her palms on her wrapper, tied her head tie stronger and came to meet her visitor. The Man was already chatting with Iya before she walked in, she didn’t recognize the face at first,
“He said he is your friend from Abuja” Iya said in Yoruba
“no mama, her friend from Abuja sent me” Lieutenant Abdul corrected
Ukwuoma drew a chair closer and sat down, if there was a message from Abuja, then it must be either from Kafaya or Ifeoluwa. Iya left the two and went inside.
“How is Kafaya? What news did you bring?”
“I thought I wouldn’t find you again” Lieutenant Abdul said
Ukwuoma didn’t recognize him still, she looked at him for a long time without any clue of who he was
“I was there in the church when the boy almost died…you were determined to die with him” He said. Then she remembered;
“It was you…you were the Army man that couldn’t leave us to die” Ukwuoma commented with gratitude in her voice
“Allah forbid that I would make the same mistake twice in my life, I wouldn’t have forgiving myself. That scene would have hunted me forever”
He told her the story that had stayed with him for years, the story of his twin brother “I am still in the force because of him, I want to justify his death, I want to tell him that I still fight for the cause he died fighting”
After his story, Ukwuoma didn’t have much to say, she sat with a stick in her hand, flogging the sand
“I looked for you at your place in Abuja, Kafaya told me you have gone”
“How is she”
“She is fine, said I should greet you” He searched his pocket and brought out a brown envelop “She wrote you a letter”
Ukwuoma took the envelope from him. Cleaned her palm on her wrapper and began to read
“we miss you every day and wish you were here with us. Ife is fine, she is home with me and will be starting school next term. Though she slides into depression once in a while, but gradually she will be completely okay.
They have not been able to locate the man that took the boy, that man we saw in the market. But his father is still in prison though no news of him being sentenced. Abuja is still hot, protests and riots. We have not heard about any death yet.
I have journalists knocking at my door or calling me on phone every day, they want to speak to you or the boy. I told them you have travelled home, but didn’t tell them where, I think you don’t need the exposure neither does the boy, they may come for him. I can’t tell your story to them either, I may not be good on it, it is better told by you.
You have become a celebrity here though, your face and that of the boy are on the newspapers and television stations. I love watching your face with Ife in the evenings, they would deliberate on what happened and would call you a strong woman and a hero.
When are you coming back? Please write to me if you can
With Love K and Ife.
Ukwuoma smiled, she folded the letter and slip it inside her wrapper.
“I have not seen the boy” Abdul said, looking around
“He is playing in the next hut with other children” she cut her finger nail with her teeth and spat out “How did you find me?”
“Kafaya told me what you told her, the name of the village and your mother-in law’s name”
“Why here…why not with your parents?” Abdul asked her
“I can’t face them”
Abdul understood that feeling, when his brother died, he couldn’t face his parents either, he had wanted to die rather than go home. He didn’t know why this woman would want to avoid going back to her parents, but for him; it was guilt and shame, the feeling that he wasn’t able to protect his own, he failed his family.
“Why did you come looking for me?” Ukwuoma asked him
He didn’t know why, but she had not left his thought after that ordeal. Maybe she was his connection to the past, maybe he saw in her the strength he didn’t have, maybe there was something more.
“I don’t know…I felt I should look for the woman everyone is talking about lately” they both laughed, a laughter she was having for the first time since she came back.
He looked at his watch and stood up, “I will be going now, I f I am lucky I will follow our military van back to Abuja tomorrow morning”
“wait!” Ukwuoma hurried inside the hut, scribbled few words on a dirty paper and hurried back to meet Abdul “Give this to Kafaya…I can find something more appropriate to write to her with”
“no problem, I know she will be thrilled to read a letter from you”
“I don’t even know your name” Ukwuoma said
“Thank you Abdul”
He nodded and left. Iya who has been watching them from the window closed the window.
Somewhere in Port Harcourt city, hidden from prying eyes and suspicious minds, surrounded by bushed and a dirty river, with a narrow part-way, a covet meeting of sixteen men went on.
The man who stood as the spokesman was simply following instructions given by a higher authority who he chose not to disclose his identity.
“the Imam needs to be moved out of the country without raising any dust”
“But why? Can’t we leave him out of this and look for another person?”
“We have talked about this severally, he commands large followership, we don’t have time to start making fresh negotiations”
“Don’t you think he could take advantage of this opportunity like he did with Kazeem and his men?” another asked
“They allowed him call the shots, he gave them conditions and they obeyed him, this time we are calling the shot and the Lord Supreme has made it possible for him to follow when we call” The spokesman looked at every Man in the room, he was a good Orator and commands respect
“You need to see our man now, he is more like a puppy than a bull dog, he will play balls”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“But he will…oh yes he will” Mr Spokesman had a smirk on his face.
The men didn’t have much to argue about, anything to keep the country under their leadership, as far as this unseen lord supreme sanctions it.
The 2003 election would be fierce and the party would do all they could to keep the power. the game would be to use the enemy’s weapon against them, they also need to keep the religious and ethnic crisis going, on the other hand they would fight it openly, while throwing blames on the opposition.
They would win the sympathy of the people; it would make the presidency look competent in fighting insecurity. They would visit IDP’S and make fancy speeches, donate monies, make press conferences and snap pictures with the military.
Imam husayn would give them what they want, he would bring in the arms, train the men, blow the country hot and allow then do the chasing, the catching and the parading of suspects.
Agreements has not been reach with the Imam who was about to lose his mind, just the way they wanted him to be.
“So where do we send him to…where he will not be traced by the press”
“I vote for Dubai”
“Dubai is too close; we can’t take that risk”
“let’s drop him off to Pakistan, I think he must have connections there already”
“That will not be a good idea either, he could get too comfortable over there, and with some skims he could slip off out fingers and turn back to haunt us”
The men deliberated and couldn’t not agree on a decision,
“Gentlemen” The spokesman rose again “We may not get what we want if we continue arguing and deliberating like school children. I think we should send him to somewhere less attractive and comfort…I suggest Kenya” he searched the faces of the men seated in the room for disapproval and found none “So shall we vote?”
“Kenya it is”
“I say we allow that man rest in peace in prison and go for another instrument”
“What is it going to be Mark” Mr spokesman asked impatiently
“Okay…Kenya it is”
“Right gentlemen, we will assemble again if need be. Be careful while leaving, we don’t want any of us followed”
It was late when they brought the meeting to a close.
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