Pa helped me out of the grave, placed a loaf of bread and a cup of milk in my hands; I looked at him, bent my head, and silently wept.
The sweet aroma of baked bread from Pa Sariki’s bakery could make one’s stomach turn from hunger; the thought of his bread always filled our mouth with saliva. Immediately we smelt his fresh bread in our sleep, very early in the morning, everyone would rush out to stand on the line before it is even day light. Sometimes, we never took our bath or brushed our teeth before we queued up; we just washed off the saliva that drew lizard-tail on one side of our face while we slept. When it got to my turn, he would call my name:
Pa usually gave me a wide smile, took my bag, and put extra bread inside. It was something I enjoyed twice in a week. I would quickly run home, put the extra in my school bag, and rush to take my bath in order to get ready for school. My father usually went out to the Ministry, where he works, before I was out from the bathroom.
My mother tidied up the house, ready to leave for work, too. I took my time to eat my breakfast: I dipped my bread into my milk. My mother always watched me through the corners of her eyes, and when she was done, she would come and seat on the dinning with a smile that hung on the tip of her jaw. She watched me over and over for fifteen years while I dipped my bread in my milk.
She knew the joy that came with Pa’s bread. She told me stories of her growing up in Borno; she met my father on her first day as a Youth Corps member. She too ran like me to stand on the queue to buy Pa’s bread when she was my age. When my mother moved in with her husband, she was surprised to meet the same man her parents sent her to buy bread from as a little girl, Although at times, she would shout and say:
“Mebe osiso. Be fast!”
It usually sounded like a pat on the head than a spank, but I didn’t mind, because she said it with a glint of smile on her face. I would jump to my feet, do my dishes, and was right in front with her as we rode to school.
The first thing I usually did whenever I got to school was to hand over the extra bread to Jamil, my best friend. Jamil lost the use of her sight from a sandstorm. Nobody knew who her parents were, but she came to school very early in the morning before every other person. Jamil, on taking the bread would smile, and say:
“Ada. Thank you. You always have me in your heart.”
We would hug, and I would run back to my seat, waiting for the teachers for the day.
During play time, we would walk around the playground; usually, she told me how it felt not to see, and what she could remember before she was caught unawares by the sandstorm which took her eyes away. Jamil always wished to see the leaves grow green in our farms; she could not remember how the road to her house looked like. She could not wait to see her mother’s newborn baby:
“Although she cries a lot, but I will do anything to see her face. To hear the cry of a baby, the shuffle of feet on the floor or the smell of burnt bread, is not enough for me, Ada.”
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She would just look away, and she wept. I knew it hurts, but I did nothing but listen. Whenever I got home, I joined my mother, and prepared dinner, and while we did so, I told her all about Jamil.
I usually saw Jamil from the corners of my eyes, just like I knew my mother watched me each morning; Jamil traced her letters and words with her fingers; her lips moved along with what she read, and each time the teacher asked any questions, she would be among the first to raise-up her hand.
It was as though the letters ran like ants under her fingers. Jamil always wore a smile that hung off her jaw, just like my mother. Each day after school, Jamil packed her things and waited, while the rest of us moved out of the classrooms.
School dismissed early, and the teachers gave us take-home assignments. We all left early, but Jamil waited as usual. My mother and father came home early, because everyone had been asked to go home. Before we knew it, it was night; I finished my homework, and went to bed. I was awoken in the middle of the night by loud stamping of feet on the ground, and before I knew it, the feet left the floor, and kicked our door open.
I jumped off the bed, and ran to the door; I tried the door, but noticed it was locked from the other side. I heard men shouting at the top of their voice, and my parents just pleaded for their lives. I peered through the keyhole, and I saw their faces; men with guns, long swords, and axes. My parents were asked to kneel, and they did; before I could take a quick breath, one of them shot my father in the head, and he fell.
My mother wailed at the top of her voice, and when she dragged my father’s body, one of the men took hold of her, and threw her to the floor; her nightgown was ripped open; they all laughed. I squeezed my eyes away from the door, and crawled back to my bed. I gently opened the window, and as I quietly jumped out, I heard my mother’s shouts:
A second shot followed, and everything fell calm.
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I crawled on my fours, and took the back way that led to Pa’s bakery. He saw me before I could crawl into his house; it was as though he expected me:
He took me by the hand, and led me through the passage way, and when we passed a room, I looked into it, and there was Jamil, sleeping like an angel in her room. Pa was Jamil’s father, but she never told me. Pa took me to a room, removed a thick rug off the floor, and behold, a grave waited for me.
I jumped into the grave, and he covered it back with the rug, and a chair. As soon as he did so, heavy feet followed him, and a mean voice asked:
“Where is the girl?”
“Your neighbour’s daughter.”
“She is just a child. I hope she runs away.”
I heard as they beat up Pa Sariki, and when they were done, the same voice said:
“You hid an infidel? Stupid-old-fool!”
I heard them turn everything in the house upside down: bottles and glass were smashed against the wall, and piece of furniture were thrown all around the room, but after awhile, I heard them no more.
Written by Oluoma Udemezue.