The True Winners By Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema
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The True Winners
By Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema
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The True Winners
By Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema
Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema is a thirty year old school teacher and writer. He lives in Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.
I could not find it in my heart to let the machete descend. I looked into the thin face, now rinsed in blood-soaked fear. The whites of his eyes were browned with the flash of inevitable death. Was the razor-sharp picture of life just before death racing past his eyes? His mouth worked feverishly but soundlessly.
"Ejike," he mumbled, his Hausa accent, all but mauling the Igbo name, which had been rolling off his tongue with ease for the last five years.
The demons had turned my skull into a swell of charged veins. Even the machete Okonkwo used on the head of the court – messenger was not as bloodthirsty as mine. My eyes glittered with the bloody real life, mass of flesh and blood, gore and death, hacked limb and life, which I had seen barely twenty-four hours ago.
"So, so this is what your people do to us? Why, for God’s sake? And you ask me to spare you?"
"Please! I am not responsible! Why …?"
"Mechie onu!" My voice was Amadioha’s deadly thunder. Tears threatened to block my sight. God, so Dee Uchenwa was gone! Chopped to pieces, grinded to bloody stockfish powder, quartered like anu ewu for no other reason that he was an Igbo and a Christian living in Maiduguri. He, his wife, their two children and apprentice were among the corpses who turned up so rudely yesterday morning in the heart of Upper Iweka. The buses had traveled overnight, bearing their cargo of death. A berserk Mama who had seen the bodies had run home to tell the family and the world had disappeared in a hellish horizon for me. As soon as I set my eyes on them, the spurt of thirst for vengeance shook my being to the core. Someone had to pay, and fast.
But now why was my machete unable to descend? Outside, Onitsha was boiling. Blood was frothy on the streets; uncensored madness reigned supreme as mobs, including damsels who on a sane day would not have dreamt of carrying a bread knife, let alone a butcher’s cutlass, roamed the streets, baying for the blood of Hausa and Fulani people. Anyone who looked like a non-Igbo was fair game. Ekwensu had taken over people’s hearts; thick emotion mingled with dust and sweat to burden the air. The precariously placed basket of seeming religious harmony in Maiduguri had been upset by violence against Christians, especially Igbo, by Muslims enraged by cartoons in Denmark, a country only a handful of them could locate on the map. The chickens overturned the basket in Onitsha when the cargo of death arrived at Upper Iweka.
My heart heaved.
"Please!" croaked the young man who, until twenty-four hours ago, had been a mite below my blood brothers in my affections.
The bloodthirsty mobs raged outside. Gunshots filled the air. The police and the army were having a hard time checking the advancing onslaught of Ares.
Dee Uchenwa! How could I let go anyone who was associated, even if indirectly, with the butchery of a man who had become the sun, the moon and the stars of my family after Papa died two years ago? Dee Uche was a trader who had spent thirty of his forty years in Northern Nigeria. He had taken over the education of my sister, brothers and I even before Papa died, precisely five years ago when he went down with diabetes and stroke. He had shown great love for our family, going well beyond the duty of a brother-in-law. Papa’s brothers never liked him much. Their non-conformist sibling had turned his back on their family religious traditions, discarding Anglicanism for membership of the Grail Message. As if that was not enough, he had married a Wawa woman. No sane man from my hometown of Amaigbo married a Wawa. Don’t ask me why – all of them are Igbo! But perhaps the icing on the worm-infested cake was the fact that I did better than their headstrong and naira-spoilt sons at school.
I looked at the cowering, one-armed youth before me. Almost immediately Dee Uche’s voice filled my ears: "Love is the glue that holds life together. If the alligator kills in the name of hate, the sea will be uninhabitable for him." He had uttered those words some years ago when I visited him shortly after a religious fracas in Kaduna.
Hamza was my friend. My crippled soul brother. My paddy-man. His parents were from Sokoto but he was born and reared in Igboland. My folks knew and liked his family. As soon as the violence began my thoughts had gone to him. I found him absolutely helpless and immobilized in his abode. Since these were times when devils ruled pulpits, I hid him in a place I knew no one would spot. No one in my family knew what I had done. We agreed that I would return to sneak him to a mutual Hausa army sergeant-friend.
But Dee Uche’s bloated corpse changed my plans.
"Hamza," I said quietly. "Uncle Uchenwa is dead. He and his family were killed in Maiduguri."
Hamza’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. The shock and grief that mingled with his fear was stomach churning. He knew Dee Uchenwa.
"How did you know?" His voice was a whisper.
"Two buses came in yesterday from Maiduguri, bearing dead Southern Christians. Dee and his family were among them."
An awful silence filled the room. Our eyes bored into each other’s soul. Hamza gasped. "Allah." He eyed my machete fearfully.
"Why?" My voice cracked at the edges. "What did Dee Uche do to deserve this? Tell me, you, you …" My weapon hand had gone up with the crescendo of my voice. Hamza’s mouth was already a wide O of terror.
Close-by voices and feet pierced my consciousness. God! The hideout was about to be discovered.
"Mechie onu!" I whispered harshly. My weapon had involuntarily come down. "Let us get out of here now."
Hamza gasped in amazed terror. "I can’t. If they catch you, they won’t spare you. Go."
Dee’s words continued to dance on the stage of my mind. I could not allow anyone touch a hair of Hamza’s head. Keeping him alive suddenly became an overwhelming debt I owed Dee Uche’s memory. "No way. Come on," I said urgently.
We sneaked out the back way.
It was a nerve-wrecking experience. The bloodshed was still going strong and the blood shedders were bent on painting the River Niger red. All the highways and byways of Onitsha were full of dangerous people.
But Dee Uche’s spirit was guarding and guiding us. We ran into an army patrol commanded by no other than Sergeant Damaturu. The stalwart soldier’s eyes glowed with barely concealed tears as he and his men surrounded us.
"Allah nagwode," he gasped. He had been unable to reach us since the madness broke out.
At Damaturu’s army quarters, Hamza knelt before me and said; "Forgive me, Ejike."
"What on earth for?"
"For what my people did. I don’t know how and why a good man should be killed in God’s name. I beg for forgiveness on my people’s behalf."
A hot hand seized my throat. I bent my head to hide my tears. Gently, I raised him to his feet. "They will never win, be they misguided Muslims or Christians. They will never win. Forgive me, too, if you can."
Damaturu who had been watching us wordlessly stepped forward and put his arms round us. "Come on, boys, you are our hope. We’ll win."
I smiled amidst my tears. Dee Uche had also won.