The soldiers took out the terrorists, one after the other, but they still advanced. Toba knew they stood a chance of being caught, and looking over his shoulder, he noticed that IK had been shot .
The IDPs were all asleep, except the men who volunteered to stay up with army. Toba and IK sat under a tree not too far from the entrance to the camp, they acted as cover for those in charge of IDPs’ gate. Both men met themselves on the battle ground, having been sent from different parts of the country.
It was impossible to fall asleep because they sat under the heavy downpour. After some hours, the rain subsided, and Toba brought out some cigarette sticks; he passed one to Ik and put one on his lips. Toba brought out his lighter, and when he was about to light IK’s stick, IK pushed his hand away, and pointed towards the gate. Toba followed the direction of his hand, and to his amazement, Ken fell all of a sudden.
The others that kept watch with him drew close, and while one person bent over to inspect, three persons were shot, and the others ran for cover. Before they knew it, a shot from nowhere took down one of the searchlights at the gate, leaving them with just one. IK knew what it cost them to get searchlights fixed all around the IDP camp. Those that took cover crawled towards Toba and IK who knew they were all easy targets. Immediately, Toba and IK scaled the tree to get a better view of what was going on; IK saw them first, and made the announcement over the radio.
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To his amazement, it was as though the whole of Zambiza forest moved towards the camp, he tried to get a good view but they hid under leaves and made their way towards the camp in hundreds if not thousands. The terrorists had tied leaves to their backs, and crawled towards the camp on their belly, with the rain as a good distraction and cover. Ik thought of hundreds of women, men and children they accommodated in the camp, it was obvious they were under attack. He looked at Toba who waited for the signal, and when the alarm went off, they all prayed with the bullets from their machine guns while on the other side of life.
Back in the camp, women and children were rallied to the far end of the camp, hidden in trenches that were dug for a day like that –they knew it would come, but they needed to be kept safe before help came. The Major that saw to the affairs of the camp was dishevelled at the situation; he didn’t allow emotions show on his face, least the few men he had on his hands gave up.
They were truly handicapped when it came to men, artillery and provision. He had tried his very best, but his hands were tied to obey the last order. They had only few hours to daylight, and could only count on the searchlights. It was difficult to get the women and kids to hide while his men took to the fronts. He knew that the terrorists came prepared unlike the reports they got from other camps. He looked up, and saw that his men held up as much as possible.
Toba and IK were joined by others, and while they took down the terrorists, more regrouped. They were like soldier ants, and their motive was either to kill or get killed. It was difficult to see their faces; Toba and IK had mounted the watchtower, while others took their aim from ground zero. The rain had stopped, but the leaves still moved toward the camp in their numbers. The machine guns mercilessly combed the forest, and the yelps from those that fell exited it the more. It was as though both were blood thirsty: the terrorists and army, but were insatiable.
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When Toba and IK made to switch places, a shot came from nowhere and found its way into Ik’s neck, and as he fell, they heard the swing of the chopper that took charge of the situation.
Mrs Okafor busily prepared breakfast when the bell rang. She handed over to her cook, and went to see who was at the door. Her husband had heard the bell too from the sitting room, but never knew his wife was already at the door. She opened the door, and to their amazement, a fine young man in an army uniform stood before them. Mrs Okafor smiled at the charmer, but he removed his beret, held it in his left hand, and pressed tightly on a brown envelop he enclosed in his right palm. When Mrs Okafor saw that her warm smiles weren’t returned, her eyes fell on the envelope the young man held. He tightened his face a little and asked:
“Good morning, Are you Mr and Mrs Okafor?”
It was her husband that answered right away:
He adjusted his glasses in order to get a good look at the young man who said:
“My name is Toba Oguntayo, I am friends with your son, Ik. May I come in?”
Mr Okafor placed his two hands on his wife’s shoulders, and then pressed her to make way for the young man.
Toba walked into the house, and the first thing his eyes fell on was a wall, covered by small portraits of Ik from infant to adult. He could not help it, but walked straight to the wall that had been totally dedicated to their son. His eyes fell on a portrait. A voice came from behind, and said:
“That was the day he left to serve his country. He often wrote to complain about the bad condition, but at a point, we felt he got used to it, I guess?”
Toba looked back, and into the eyes of Mrs Okafor. He was short of words. He was full of bitterness and sorrow.
“May we sit? I think I have something very important to tell you.”
The couple sat down, and the man held his wife’s hands, tightly.
Toba opened the envelope, brought out a golden chain with a cross, and then handed it over to Mr Okafor, who looked at Toba expectantly.
“He wanted you to have that.”
The old man caught the message, he replied :
“He was our only child.”
At this, his wife buried her face in his chest, and wept loudly.
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They watched in tears as the army did their last parade for him. The casket was gradually lowered into his grave, and each moment, Mrs Okafor felt nothing far from heartbreak. She had been so furious with him when she learnt of his decision to join the army. She couldn’t stand it the day he was to leave that she made sure she didn’t say goodbye. He was everything to her. She turned to her husband, and with a heavy heart, she said:
“I want to see where it happened.”
He looked at her in amazement, knowing how she felt. He just pats her shoulder, and gathered her into a tight embrace.
A black jeep drove in through the gates of the IDP camp. It stopped not too far from the tents, but very close to the watchtower. A woman in her late fifties came down closely followed by a man. The Major shook hands with them, and took them up the tower. On getting there, Mrs Okafor went straight to the spot and knelt down.
She wailed so loud that those that stood around felt sorry for her. Her husband went and gathered her to her feet. He took her down to the car, but when they were about to get into their car, a little boy and girl ran to their car. Everyone was amazed at their boldness. The Major said:
“These were his best friends. He carried them wherever he went. They were actually orphaned by the attacks. ”
Mrs Okafor smiled for the first time since after the death of their son. She turned to her husband, placed one hand to his chest and said:
“At this point, I strongly believe that we have found fate.”
She opened her arms, and the little ones ran into them, and she gathered them in a tight embrace, all the way home.
Written by Oluoma Udemezue.