Glimpse of A Dream By Eyitemi Egwuenu AUTHOR NOTES Eyitemi Egwuenu is from Delta State in Nigeria.He
attended Edo College Benin City and The University of Benin, Benin City.His
poetry has been published in A MELODY OF STONES -
An Anthology of New Nigeria Writing ( A Publication of PEN Nigeria Centre)
The Glimpse of A Dream
By Eyitemi Egwuenu
Eyitemi Egwuenu is from Delta State in Nigeria.He attended Edo College Benin City and The University of Benin, Benin City.His poetry has been published in A MELODY OF STONES - An Anthology of New Nigeria Writing ( A Publication of PEN Nigeria Centre)
Night kept vigil over the sleeping forest. A mournful hoot escaped the watch of a newly-woken owl. Bright pinpoints pranced about as fireflies wove a dance within the maze of leaves, branches and darkness.
The moon – a silver crescent window in the pitch-black sky offered no more light than the earth-beholding stars.
I clutched at a tree branch above me, leaning on the trunk and paused to catch my breath.
Silence hung in the turbid night like a great cloak. The intermittent croaking of frogs, the orchestra of ever-chirping insects and the subdued shrieks of a shadow-haunted forest made the dumb darkness even more profound.
My tongue was dry.
My feet hurt.
I must rest . . .
But not for long.
I trudged along blindly. I had been walking eastward – but now all sense of direction was gone. I just walked on, hoping to strike upon some familiar route.
So far, hope had not been so gracious.
I stumbled along a pathless bush, feet weary, thrashing through the undergrowth. The night went on; cloaking me from danger behind but barring the route to certain freedom.
A gnawing hunger tormented my bowels. The hollow sound of water bouncing back and forth in my stomach reminded me of its emptiness. I had drunk some water from a stream some meters back. But it was no substitute;
Standing like warlords in their viciousness; the trees that were all around me seemed to be watching in their awesome silhouettes.
An undergrowth hugged my weary feet and I fell forward, bowing before an invisible stem in the dark.
I swore in the friendless darkness.
Nursing a smarting elbow, I rolled on to my back and saw heaven’s starry dome. The sky spun before my dizzy eyes.
Those trees again.
They seemed to lean towards me – to peer at this new intruder to their nocturnal fete.
My breathing; laboured.
I closed my eyes.
It all came back to me again. The sound of running feet. Rough hands over my neck. The chaos that walked the streets. The highways and countryside, agog with the thunder of grenades and the deadly stutter of machine gun fire.
I pulled myself upright and hobbled up the tree with a strength borne by desperation. I groped along the solitary stem looking for a crook, where it budded a branch – a welcome bed for a weary body.
Another hoot pierced the night.
I dreaded the contact with a cold-skinned neighbour. I was in no state of body or mind for a snake-pillowed sleep. Senses alert, my hands probed and found a fork in the tree that would serve my purpose. Bone-weary, I pulled myself up into its hold and tried to court sleep.
As I closed my eyes, my mind wandered lazily from the darkness within to the darkness without and back – trying to find sleep.
The darkness within touched my eyelids. Made them heavy.
And I slept.
A shout resounded in the chamber within me .Running feet. A steady patter. A blow lands on my head. Sends me reeling. Barely hanging on to consciousness.
A steel blade flashed. Terror chilled my heart.
Running still. My own shout.
The silence that followed.
More running feet. Then unconsciousness. Then consciousness. I shivered. I felt the touch of feathers.
I shivered again.
Then I awoke ,still perched on the tree.
It was a dream.
A terrible dream that had been lived.
It must have been the cold wind that I felt. That woke me up. That made me shiver. The wind prowled the forest, howling – as if driven by wild spirits. It pounced on the trees, shaking their branches silly. The sky was a mask of mystery – its luminaries had taken refuge in their caves.
The lightning flickered across the sky, piercing the clouds. The thunder rumbled in the distance. The grasses bowed in obeisance as the wind asserted its tyrannical authority.
The rain began.
The elements crashed down on me as if in vengeance. The rain drops stung my skin. Their recoil almost blinded me. My weary form sagged beneath the pounding of heaven’s rage.
I muttered a prayer.
The wind took it and hurled it uselessly away before it could ascend to Heaven. The menace continued with a sadistic resolve. I was near tears but had no strength in me to prod the wells in my eyes.
I saw the blue-white flash, an arms length away. A scream rose from my throat but was smothered by the thunderous crash of the air around me.
I lost my balance. I fell.
Darkness, bleak and hapless claimed me for its own – briefly. My consciousness cleared again. I crawled on elbows and knees seeking inadequate shelter beneath a shrub.
The dark mist still encroached furtively on the shores of my mind.
The heavenly seas raged on.
Worn out. Beaten.
Hope took on wings. And flew away.
I stopped fighting it and allowed myself to be sucked in by the whirlpool – into the ever spinning abyss of darkness.
The darkness receded as I came up towards the light. I could hear the voices – two, maybe three, but my reeling senses could register no meaning.
Was I dead?
The light became brighter, the voices clearer.
"And you brought him home?" a manly voice queried
"I could not leave him out there to die" another replied
"He is a Biafran soldier. A rebel." returned the first voice.
"He was near death, father. How does one walk away from a man in such need? There was no time to think"
My eyes flickered. Opened slowly. The daylight hurt them.
A moan escaped my throat.
My eyelids went shut again.
I felt a hand upon my arm and a reassuring voice saying
"You are okay now."
I opened my eyes slowly . . . blink-by-hurting-blink and saw two men before me in the partially lit room. The older of the two had a wrapper around his waist. His white undershirt was threadbare around the shoulders. His forehead, just beneath a shrub of bushy hair was furrowed by wrinkles.
The younger man was crouching close to me. He was round-faced with a tribal mark on each cheek. His brown khaki trouser was stained with red earth and his green undershirt was similarly stained.
Where am I? I managed to mumble.
"Evboesi" came the reply from the young man. "You are a Biafran soldier right?’ he asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer. I was in enemy territory. The civil war which broke out a year ago has pitched the south-eastern part of Nigeria, now called The Republic of Biafra against the rest of the country.
The secession bid by the Igbos in Biafra was paying its toll in war. It has been twelve long months since the first shots were fired – twelve months since the resounding echoes of those shots crisscrossed the country, killing all peace. I looked at the eyes of the men in front of me.
I saw concern. Not malice.
"Yes, I am. Evboesi is in the Midwest region?" my voice was weak
"Yes it is. A couple of miles from Benin City".
I attempted turning on my side. A sharp pain tore through my torso. I moaned again. The right side of my chest ached so badly. I broke out in a paroxysm of coughing I tasted blood in my mouth. The young man held my head up. I spat out a mucoid lump of blood and phlegm. A dark dizziness engulfed me from the effort.
"You will be okay" the young man said. "My name is Nehi, what is yours?"
The older man all this while had not uttered a single word He just stared at the proceeding before him, his face, a study in concern.
For me? Or for himself? I wondered.
They risked their lives by helping me. He got up and left the room.
Nehi must have seen the alarm in my eyes for he was quick to assuage my anxiety.
"My father is worried for his family’s safety. He could be accused of treason for helping a rebel soldier. But he is also a good man. He will not betray you".
"My unit clashed with Federal Troops at Abudu" I began to say. "It was an ambush. We did not stand a chance. I barely escaped. I have been wandering the forest for about a week."
My breathing became laboured again.
"Save your strength". Nehi said. "You can tell me all later. But now you must rest"
The door creaked open and a young girl – no older than sixteen came into the room. She was round-faced too. The grip of the top edge of her wrapper was just above her breastline. She had rich, dark, flowing hair that reached backwards just shy of the base of her neck.
"Aha! Ivie. You are here to clean him up?
"Yes". Father sent me.
They cut through my camouflage combat shirt with a scissors. There was a cake of clotted blood on the right of my chest. Beneath that was the gash that had bled so much..
They tended to my wounds, gave me some soup to drink and thereafter I slept.
I woke up to the peace of a quiet evening. A kerosene lamp was lit and perched rather precariously on a wooden box in one corner of the room. Nehi and his sister Ivie were still by my side. My eyes felt hot and heavy.
My entire body seemed to be on fire.
"You have a fever." Ivie said in soft tones.
"It is possible that your wound is infected." Nehi added "But we dare not take you to the village clinic"
"We have been sponging you with a wet cloth but the fever persists" she said.
"Father has gone to get some drugs from the village chemist" Nehi said. "He should be back soon."
I felt the fever thrill through my reclining form. I heard the "swoosh" of blood flowing in my aching head. My fevered brain seemed to be cooking in a fire of its own making.
I was becoming delirious.
The lone flame of the lamp became a pair of eyes – blue with a circle of fire. The shadows of my two tenders became grotesque creatures with dark wings.
The fever rages! My mind burns!
Leaping tongues of fire lick the skin and beyond to the bones. Strip away all screens, revealing the ugly skeleton beneath the pretty flesh. The dark wings beat up a cloud of ashes; cremated desires and hopes.
The fever rages!!
A thousand shadowy forms, hovering, circling the rooftops; Myrmidons of The Dark. A howl. A scream. The baring of the canine. Shrieking hounds yearning to let blood.
My mind burns!!
Night children emerging from the mist – cruel contortions. A swirling mist of darkness bubbling from the earth. Echoes of eternal agony at its wake. Chasms of horror gape in foul eructations. Pale apparitions drifting in and out the belly of night.
The fever!! It burns!!
Ghouls seeking the heat from the body. Their claws scraping the stones, whetting their points. Clinging to this suit of flesh. Gnawing.
The fever burns!! It peaks
Like a bunch of thunderclouds. A branch of lightning unzips the clouds.
Dark drops fall. Rain. Gorgon’s blood.
Far away in this abysmal darkness, I heard my name being called by a pinpoint of light. I turned around to answer. The dot of light was floating towards me. The shining point grew bigger. It became a disc. Then a bowl. Then a blanket of white.
I was engulfed.
Ivie was calling out my name when I opened my eyes. My body glistened with the scour of sweat beads. Every skin pore was a stream, oozing brine. One of which coursed a rivulet down my aching forehead and lodged itself in the inner corner of my right eye.
The salt water stung!
I blinked repeatedly. Brushing my hand over my face . Ivie helped me with a dry cloth. The open window let in a gentle flurry of night air. A chill rippled through me. Father, son and daughter were there.
"We thought we had lost you" Nehi said
"Water" I said in dry, parched tones.
He bent his ears to my lips. I repeated my call
The days that followed were exacting ones for my God-sent hosts. They answered to my every need as best as they could And I was supposed to be the enemy. I recovered my health in inches. The wound at my side healed and in two weeks I could afford to walk out of my room.
"Any news about the war?" I asked one evening over a meal of eba and ogbono soup
Nehi’s eyes wandered from his bowl of food to me.
"The word about, is that Federal Troops have overrun Asaba"
My spirit sank. I was behind enemy lines.
Ivie read my thoughts.
"You can stay here until it is safe for you to leave" she said
"You all have risked too much for me. I can’t endanger you any further."
"Any attempt to head toward Biafra is certain death for you" a voice said from behind me.
I turned to see their father enter the room. I rose to greet him. But he stayed me with a gentle hand on my shoulder.
"You can not go. At least not now."
"You gamble too much sir. The Federal soldiers".
"They don’t come this way".
"Someone might slip a word to them."
"Not likely. No one knows you are here".
"They might with time"
"You could pass for a Bini man. We could say you are a cousin of my late wife – she was from Iguobazuwa."
"I can’t speak Bini"
"You grew up in the city and never learnt the language. You came to spend some time with your relations."
"Will this work?"
"We wouldn’t know until we tried. Think about it. The final decision I leave to you."
Baba, as I later came to call him left the room to me, my thoughts and his two children.
"Sorry about your mother" I said
"It is okay. I think Baba is right" Nehi said
"Why are you helping me?"
"You need it"
"I am an Igbo"
"And we don’t hold it against you. While I do not support the idea of secession, I know also that the leaders of Nigeria have not been blameless either. Both factions should share the blame for plunging the nation into war"
I stared at the young man in front of me as if for the first time since the two weeks I have known him. What nobility of spirit. What courage flows in the veins of this household. My gaze returned to Ivie, seated quietly on a stool at the foot of the bed.
They were right. I yielded to their appeal. But I feared for their safety.
"How did you find me?" I asked.
"On my way from the farm. You were unconscious beneath a rubber tree, not far from here."
Silence came off the walls. The room became unusually quiet – such silence as is often said to occur when an Angel walks by.
"Were you a soldier?" Ivie asked. "I mean before the war."
"I was a teacher. I taught Literature in a secondary school in Umuahia."
"I am in class three. Nehi is in four." Ivie said.
"Teacher turned soldier" Nehi said.
"A soldier rises up in everyman in the face of oppression" I said calmly.
"So you have actually killed people? Ivie asked
"Only those who tried to kill me" I said half smiling. "What do you think?"
The first pale prickling of twilight began to descend on the verdant countryside like a hush. The blue sky turned a deepening gray as the growing darkness chased the ageing sun. We chatted on not minding the hours - the evening, stealing quietly upon us.
* * * * * *
Another day. And another evening finds me here again. The days strung themselves in weeks. And the weeks lined up in months. The months stacked up in a growing despair. And I am still here.
The reports about the war that filtered into the village were comforting even in my despondency – Biafran troops were holding out against the opposition.
For how long? Only Heaven knew.
The facts about the war became distorted rumours as quickly as they were borne from ear-to-tale-bearing-ear.
* * * * * *
20th November 1968.
Today, I begin to keep a diary. To etch my heart in black and white as they say. Four months have scurried past, since my rescue in the woods. There was a change in the winds – they whispered their intentions to the trees. The dry season was setting in. Soon the Harmattan wind would blow southwards bringing in its pouch its sheaves of dry days and dust.
1st December 1968.
It is difficult to imagine that there is a war out there. It is a good place to hide from the prying eyes of the outside world – this village. The traditional New Yam festival was marked today. The air was filled with the excitement of it. I could only watch from a distance. I might betray myself if I became too involved.
7th December 1968.
"Let the stars which slept by day, stir from their slumber and dot the sky in celestial sway in glittering sparks, unnumbered". . . . I write these words as I gaze up at the night. It is always amazing how different the night sky looks when viewed from a village – away from all the appurtenances of urban life. The light bulbs, the beacons and the florescent tubes in the city seem to drink up the enchanting gleam of the moon and stars.
12th December 1968.
No news about the war. Nothing has changed.
19th December 1968.
23rd December 1968.
Ditto! Ditto!! Ditto!!!
* * * * * *
Christmas morning. And I am still here. The celebration is for the whole community though not all of them are church goers. It comes at the end of the year – and for many it is a fitting time to rejoice over the fortunes of the dying year and to lay plans for the next..
The Harmattan was at its peak at this time in the rain forest region – its plaintive prowling extended its domain beyond the already pauperized savannah. The trees, the rooftops and the air itself - all clad in a thin vapour of red dust.
The flurry of the dry gust engaged the trees in a deadly romance – harvesting the withered leaves of an ill-weathered love. One whiff, and one could smell the year’s death on the sweat-less brow of the arid wind.
The yuletide came and went. Information from the outside suggested that Biafran troops had lost grounds. There were rumours that the great bridge across the River Niger had been blown up. They say that "surrender" was the word on the lips of the seceding nation.
I have a brother, a father and mother back home. I wondered how they were. If they were still alive.
It is evening. The days pass quickly here. I was supine on my bed staring at the ceiling. My heart, quiet within me. My mind, miles away. My straying thoughts, in the four winds.
A dog howled in the distance.
A continuous grating sound reached my ears – the cashew tree by the side of the house nudged the roof with its branches.
It was a gleaming night. A full moon hung above – a polished disc of silver against the glassy night sky.
No games today?
I turned on my bed.
As if in answer I heard the song of children calling out to their mates to play in the moonlight. The night rang out the lyrics in Bini.
no ma riorere,
no ma riorere,
no gha gbereko rua o
no ma riorere.
imhua mwen tiere
ima tie ni waen o
no ma riorere,
no ma riorere.
if you do not come out to play
if you do not come out to play.
the meal of pounded plantain,
the meal of pounded coco-yams
will lodge like a rock in your stomach
if you do not come out to play.
i call to my mates only
i do not make this call to my elders!
if you do not come out to play
if you do not come out to play.
"Would you mind a walk?" she asked
Ivie was at the door.
I rose from the bed. A walk would be better than lying down here brooding. In the lively calm of the silvered night, we walked through the village.
hia, hia! hia, hia! kpo!
hia, hia! hia, hia! kpo!
This was the chant in Bini that precedes the telling of a story and it came from a section of the village square where children gathered around a woman..
There was a natural and unsoiled aura about the scene before me. My mind reeled back to my childhood. The music of moonlight children. Innocent hearts worshipping Night’s goddess with the song of the storyteller.
It is at such times, on picturesque evenings such as this, that the heart goes out for a stroll also. And who knows where it may wander off to.
For Beauty walked with me that night.
And my wandering heart was coming home.
1st January 1969.
A feathered shaft strikes my heart. I am slain. Conquered. Mastered by the "weaker" sex. A new year dawns with love on its wings.
And I soar!
She said little; When I took her in my arms. On New Year’s eve; beneath the canopy of a pear tree. Her breath on my face – when I brushed her lips with mine. And told her my heart was hers.
She said little; Her right arm stole gingerly around my neck. Her left palm, tenderly on the scar of the wound she nursed. Her body soft and warm, yielding to mine. Volcanoes erupting within my frame.
She said little.
The eloquence of silence was enough.
Dawn crept upon the waning night in sure but light-footed steps. In a robe of dew it came – on the wings of the morning. Into the embrace of the newborn day. Into the love of every blade of grass.
My sleeping ears caught the song of an early bird . . .
And a gentle tapping sound on my window.
It creaked open and Ivie’s face peered in. The fullness of her breast on the sill. She gazed at me. I know that look. . .
It was the same look that conquered me.
"I am off to the stream. Want to come?" She asked.
The morning ripened. The sun’s rays like liquid fingers, bathed in light everything they touched. The road to the stream was rocky and downhill. The blue green water beckoned to all.
She washed clothes while I sat on the trunk of a felled tree.
It was high noon when we set out for home. We had reached the summit of our long and tedious climb when we met Odia – a young man, dark and good looking. His torso was bare revealing a broad chest. I had seen him a couple of times in the village. He smiled when he saw Ivie.
He spat into the sand.
"I thought I would meet you at the stream at this time" he said
"I finished early" she replied
He spat in the sand again!!
I wondered why he did that. Spitting the way he usually does.
He turned to me.
"Hello. I hope your cousins are taking care of you?"
"I couldn’t wish for more". I returned
His attention went back to Ivie. He touched her on the shoulder and mumbled a parting greeting and left. I cast a questioning look at her as we walked on.
"He says he likes me " she said "and has been at it long before you came to live with us."
"So?" I asked calmly
"So? What?" she said. The remnant of a smile still twitching the corners of her lips.
"He is good looking you know" I teased.
She nudged my side with her elbow. I gasped. Her right hand slipped around me to my side – her fingers digging into me – tickling me. I dashed away from her choking the welling outburst of a paroxysmal laughter.
I sneaked around her and my questing fingers found her sides also. She squirmed – she twisted. Her laughter like bells – tinkled – then rose still further on the prompting of my fingers that still continued their mischievous duty. The melody of her outburst filled the air around us.
Enveloping us like a benediction.
"Chi . . .chi. . .ka p. . .p . . please" she squeezed out the words between waves of laughter that washed over her like the dew in which she came this morning to bid me arise from sleep.
The basin of washed clothes fell from her grip. And into the dusty red earth it came.
"See what you have done now." She queried, still chuckling.
"You are going to wash these clothes again" she added.
"In that case," I said moving towards her " I might as well go all the way."
"Help!" she cried in mock horror as she fled.
I kept at her heels.
I caught her in the midst of the trees and held her to me. Her upturned face searched mine with a glow of love. Her eyes, the sparkle of jewels, stared into mine with childlike innocence.
My lips found hers.
The world faded from view.
A pleasant nothingness enclosed us.
Our throbbing hearts swung in their frenzy like censers – passion, burning like incense. Rising with the sweet smell of the offering.
The trees took up the song of our passion. The birds hummed it. Its rolling melody surfed the crest of the breeze.
Nature’s orchestra – an exalted symphony of unbridled love.
* * * * *
2nd February 1969.
The path of war has brought me love. Love has bound my heart to a nation. A nation that my hands went to war to free myself from.
And I am here.
Dining with the enemy!
9th February 1969.
Poetry. Everyman in love is a poet I believe. I wrote this, two days ago and showed her today. A few modest lines – for the one I love.
For Ivie. . .
Is it the moments
When my hands are in yours,
When your eyes rest on me,
Kissing mine with a look.
Or times when love’s store in us
Is so full – only silence
Can find expression.
Times when laughter ripples our faces,
And our spirit soar
Above our bare surrounding – as one.
Times when you pointed me
To your sister – the moon,
Hanging in the sky,
Blessing our lips - as they meet.
Times, that you love.
Times, that I love.
Times; now and forever – you and I.
Ivie said he pestered her before. And that he pesters her still – Odia, that is. He asks for her hand. She could not before. And cannot now – give it to him. But he remains undeterred.
"He is handsome you said" she began as we sat in front of the house one quiet evening. Nehi had wandered off into the village with some of his friends. Baba had gone to bed. He usually turns in early.
" but he does not have a handsome heart to match."
"How do you mean?" I asked
Odia is mean. And very bad-tempered" she said "Not to me of course – yet. But my instincts tell me that I will matter no more than the sand on which he stands once he has had me."
Her hand sought mine in the semi darkness. I took it and cupped it in both of mine.
4th March 1969.
Enugu is taken by Federal forces. I heard. But the heartland of the Igbo nation remains resolute and still stands in defiance. How much longer can they hold out .If help does not come soon, all will be lost.
15th March 1969.
I went hunting with Nehi today. We shot nothing but one of his bush traps caught an antelope. It was still alive – dangling upside down from the string that held its hind legs. One swing of the merciless, razor-sharp machete and blood gushed out the side of its neck. Its staring eyes became duller as the last dregs of life was drunk by death.
31st March 1969.
They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I have always doubted that. Now I am certain that saying is wrong. The way to a man’s heart is through his eyes, his ears and probably the touch of his fingers.
When Ivie tells me that she loves me, - my heart swings like a pendulum. When she is with me, it is a blessed experience and when she is not there, my sweetest memory. She has overwhelmed me with those little nothings that mean so much; those trivial niceties that never satiates but tickle the heart to more longing. She has loved me with all the passion that heaven could give to a woman and with a desire so fiery it could have scorched the very flames of hell. I bask in the warmth of her love. I wonder at her eyes – clear, sparkling and the powers within them that could arouse such passion in a man.
It was evening when they came.
On the 7th day of April 1969. The yawn of the western sky had swallowed up the ball of the setting sun. The stars were particularly bright that night in their procession. The curved slit of a new moon, liked curved lips smiled down on the world. There was no ripple of discord in the air. – no hint that my dream was about to become a nightmare.
They were about a dozen in number. All holding torches and machetes. A gun shot rang out, followed by an incessant pounding on the door of Baba’s house.
We were all inside. We just finished supper.
Baba called out to know who they were. The reply was that they were the youths of the village. He opened the door and went out to meet them, Nehi and Ivie just behind him.
I peered through a crack in the window and saw the horde. I saw many familiar faces- young men I have come to know in the past eight months I have been in Evboesi.
I wondered what they wanted but instinctively I knew the answer.
Odia was at the head of the group.
"There is a Biafran soldier in this house" I heard him say.
"That cannot be true my son" Baba replied.
"The person you call Osarobo. That has lived here all these months as your relation.
"How can you say such things" Nehi said moving forward. "He is a cousin of ours"
"A cousin of yours" Odia sneered. " A cousin of yours who does not speak Bini. Who I have seen holding Ivie like a lover. I have even seen them kissing when they thought no one was watching. And how do you explain this item which I found at the back of your house beneath a pile of firewood?"
Odia thrust forward a camouflage military uniform. The same which was torn from my body on the evening they found me.
There was a momentary silence. In the somber light I saw Baba’s crestfallen face. Ivie came back into the house to join me.
"You must leave now. Odia and his hoods will not spare you. If they don’t kill you themselves, they will hand you over to the Federal Forces in Benin."
"I got your family into this. I can’t leave now" I protested.
"If you are gone, we would be safe. They will not tell on a fellow townsman. We did not hurt anyone. It is only Odia’s incurable wickedness that drives him to do this.
"And you?" I asked.
"I will be fine. I love you. But you must get to safety"
"Do not forget me" I said "keep me in your heart. When this war is over I will find you."
She ran into my arms. A hug, a quick kiss and I grabbed my sheathed dagger, a small bag and made for the back door. From the front of the house the argument was heating up.
"We only helped a man in trouble" Baba said "and he has hurt no one. Has he?"
" He is a rebel" was the general chorus.
"Ovbigbo dan" one of them shouted in Bini.
"You call him a useless Igbo man Nehi said. "We found him wounded, bleeding and near death. We could not leave him to that cruel fate. In the blood of men, there are no tribes."
The group became restive. Two of them dashed off towards the plantain trees by the house and sunk their machetes into the soft pulp. They were cutting down the trees, threatening to set the house on fire if Baba did not produce me.
At the back door.
I cast one last look at Ivie, by my side holding a kerosene lamp. My heart was in shreds but I had to go. For the sake of this family.
"I will find you Ivie. Hold on to this hope. I will come back to you when this war is over".
I yanked the door open and made to bolt into the dark night. There were two men standing a few meters away. I recognized one of them.
He was pointing a hunting gun at me. A malicious grin on his face. I appraised the situation. I came forward slowly.
"You are going nowhere" he said "we must hand you over to the authorities in Benin.
"How has he wronged you" Ivie said coming to my side.
He spat in the sand.
"It is for this nobody from a rebel republic that you refused me?" he said
He spat in the sand again.
He turned to his companion. He told him to call the others who were still raving in front of the house.
I saw my chance.
Like a flash I bolted towards the bushes, not far away. From the corner of my eyes I saw his gaze turn back on me. His lips came apart in a snarl as he aimed his gun at me.
The corner of me eyes;
I saw Ivie dash towards him. Shouting at him to stop. I saw her frantic legs trying to cover the distance between them. Her arms flailing in the air to get at the gun and push it aside.
The corner of my eyes;
I saw a flash. I heard a deafening boom and the clap of the attendant echo. I heard a blood curdling scream. I saw, being parted by the evening breeze a blue cloud of gun smoke.
The dull thud of a body falling halted me in my tracks. I turned to see Ivie on the ground and Odia holding on to her calling out her name. I ran towards the scene. I pushed him away, bending over and holding the limp body of the one I loved. She stared sightlessly at me. A gaping hole was over her left breast. Blood, thick and fast streamed over her blouse. My hand went over and pressed the opening but I knew it was useless.
She stared at me, the luster in her eyes fading fast. She tried to speak. Her lips moved but no words came. She placed her hand on my forearm and gave it a weak squeeze.
And she was gone.
The heart within me burst. It was the crazed animal cry of a moan, a howl and a groan that cracked the night air as my anguished soul swept my spinning senses. I buried my face in hers bathing it with my tears.
I saw some in the group begin to leave hurriedly. Odia and maybe two others were still about, standing not far away. Baba and Nehi joined me by Ivie’s side. The torture of their cries made worse my already unbearable sorrow.
Then a rage, terrible and livid possessed me!
I let go of the lifeless body. My hand went to my sheath. The other to the hilt. One jerk and there was a gleam – a gleam that only the temper of a deadly steel blade can produce. I ran towards Odia. He raised his gun threateningly. I did not care. I kept my run towards him.
I was an animal.
I was in the wild again were brute instinct held sway.
The ring of battle was in my ears.
And I did not care.
I feinted to the left. He took the bait – his barrel went that way. As quick as a thought I came at him from the right. He tried to duck but it was futile. The glint of the steel blade flashed towards him with the speed of a striking snake. Driven with cold brutal force, it tore into the base of his neck.
My hand came up again.
The second blow buried the dagger to the left of his chest.
* * * * * *
We buried Ivie that night at the back of the house. Odia’s body was carried away by some village youths to his parents house.
That same night some elders in the village visited Baba. They sympathized with him but I felt the malice in their eyes when they looked at me.
"We have to report this to the authorities" their leader said
"The news is all over the town and would spread to the neighbouring villages." Another added.
"If we don’t report ourselves, we would be in trouble – more so if they hear from outside sources. Whole villages have been wiped out because they harboured enemy soldiers"
Baba’s head was bowed with grief throughout. He did not say a word. He understood the dilemma. What they said was true. Military men will be at his doorsteps soon.
The elders left as quietly as they came – filing out into the dark womb of the night.
"We must leave here at once" Baba said
He set about gathering whatever he would need. Nehi packed a bag
"We would go to Obiaruku. I have some friends there and they will never think of looking for us there" Baba said.
"And hopefully what happened here would not have traveled that far" Nehi added
The night was far spent. My mind went to the fresh mound of earth behind the house. A stiff body holed up in a pitiless grave. A fresh pang of sorrow stabbed my heart.
I made up my mind.
"I will not go with you" I said.
"Why?" Nehi queried.
"I am the wanted one. As long as I am at large they will look for me – and invariably for you. But if they find me, they will be content. And you would be free."
"Don’t be ridiculous Chika" Baba said
"I speak the truth. I will wait for them here. Let them arrest me. I will not resist."
"You can’t throw your life away like this. This is suicide" Nehi said.
"Don’t waste your life my son" Baba added.
""This breath is all I have left. Let me be prodigal with it. The waste will not be in vain if it saves your lives."
They said nothing.
"This war" I continued "has not ended for me. It is ironic – I started out fighting for Biafrans but I will end it fighting for Nigerians – three Nigerians who have risked their lives to save mine – and one of them is dead."
I urged them to leave. This I believe is what fate has purchased me. They had done their best. I could ask for no more. The world does not lack good men, it only lacks courageous ones – anyone can be wicked, but it takes courage to be good. Such courage as this household has shown.
I brought death to this home. Their kindness must be repaid by giving myself up. Only my capture will make them free.
It was an unusual gathering in that little house that has been home for me. Both our nations were at war, but here we were bound by a love and courage that defied all borders.
They set out that same night. I watched them go, knowing I will never see them again. They gave me back my life and made it worth living. I owed them a debt I could never pay in this life.
I laid on a bench in the sitting room, the flickering flame of the lamp, my only companion.
Awaiting what I knew must befall soon.
Forty eight hours later I was in a Military truck taking me to the Benin Prison. I offered no resistance when the five Federal soldiers came charging into the house. Handcuffed and blindfolded, I was tossed into the truck. They asked of the Uwagboes but not too keenly. They had gotten what they wanted – me.
In my cell I met other Biafran prisoners of war. I learnt from them that the hope of the Biafran nation was dying fast. The war was a lost course.
I may have lost in the campaign to forge a new nation but I did not lose the battle to save Baba and Nehi. They were safe now. My burdened heart received what little comfort that brought.
I was arraigned before a sham military court for Odia’s murder. The proceeding was swift. The outcome was obvious. I expected nothing different.. I wrote a letter to my family, explaining my ordeal in the last one year – this and my diary I gave to a fellow inmate – a Biafran prisoner of war who I knew would be freed when the war finally ends.
* * * * * *
I shall die tomorrow.
At 6.30 a.m. I shall stand on the podium of death with a noose hugging my neck like a lovers embrace. The signal shall be given and I shall dangle, swinging between the earth and sky. I do not hope for mercy to be spared the final quietus – the noose shall do its work and I shall be stilled.
The night is half spent. The other half only speeds along to bring death with the rise of the sun - Let my tether to life be cut. Let the earth unbind me.
I have no regret. I welcome it.
It is a cold night. As cold as death I guess. From my cell I can see the sky – dark and friendless. A star can be seen here and there - faint flickers in a moody sky – more light than there is in my heart right now. I came within the glimpse of a dream – Ivie’s love. But like the horizon, that one may strive to, but never attain, death has mocked my efforts and perished my dream.
They say that at the point of death, a man’s entire life flashes past him. I hope that when that memory of twenty three years confronts me, I shall see some good in my life that will comfort me. . . As I go down those walls, wet with the slime of age – those walls that frame the blurred boundaries of the grave.
The snoring of an inmate reaches my ears. I cannot sleep. I must count the hours as they go by. I must stand watch tonight and flood my grief with the memory of a cherished love. And wait to see for the very last time, the blink of sunrise. But soon the noose would hug my neck and make this ache inside me cease. And sleep – eternal and I hope peaceful, would be mine.
I can see the first quiet stirrings of the herald of dawn. The eastern sky has a thin rim of light at its horizon – the sun itself has come to bid me farewell. The shadow of night recedes further away from the birth of day. I could hear the sound of some activity coming from within the prison yard.
Then I heard it!
The unmistakable sound of walking feet, down the passage way to my cell. Without hesitation, the footsteps came towards my cell door and stopped in front of it.
I muttered a prayer to God for mercy.
The click of metal against metal reached my ears as he turned the key in the lock and the door swung open.
The hour was here. . .
They had come for me.