It was to be my brother’s last day on the farm, before my uncle came for him on Sunday. We had already traded our things, and he promised to call, as often as possible.
The sun made home too far. The ground was too hot, that we barely stepped on it while we dragged our tired feet home. The heat crept through our dusty rubber sandals and brown socks; it bit the soles of our feet. We endured as much as possible, because we knew that food waited at home. My brother and I had gotten used to walking many miles to school, after the missionary church was burnt down. Ashes of the catholic priest were swept into a black bag.
We were all busy in class, when they arrived. We were too engrossed in the paper before us when we heard the sound of loud engines and power bikes. The dust that rose from their noisy arrival fell on our white examination sheets, and coloured them brown. They had big guns with them, as tall as our corn stalks, and some had chains with something that looked like spikes, tied around their tall necks.
Our teachers quickly made us rest our heads on the table and shut our eyes. We heard them break the door that led to our classrooms. I was too frightened, because I was worried for my brother. We heard them turn over tables; they shut at what remained of our blackboards. We heard them tear our books, curse out at our teachers, for teaching us the ways of the west. Before we knew what went on, we heard a loud bark, and our teachers came over, and quietly matched us outside the classrooms.
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My heart pounded when I looked around, but my brother was nowhere in sight. We closely watched as they brought out our principal, the new priest, who had just been newly transferred. They barked that they would use him as an example. Right before us, they brought down yellow cans from their big trucks, and each of them went to empty it in our classes.
Before everyone, our classes went up in thick ugly flames. But before we had the chance to move back, a shot went off; it was the priest that was shot on his left foot. He screamed at the top of his voice, and before we knew it, he was pushed into the flame. The men with guns laughed their hearts out; they made us watch. We couldn’t see their faces; they were hidden behind black dirty scarves.
The priest screamed and begged for mercy, until we heard his voice no more. It was as though we smelt his flesh burn; it reminded me of the smell of raw cow, whenever mother brought one home for food. His voice stayed with me, even after so many years.
We had to hurry with our food; mother waited at the farm. My brother was faster, because he had to get home early, and prepare for his final exams. He was to live with our uncle in Abuja. Uncle was not happy the last time he visited.
“Jos is no longer safe at the moment.”
But I didn’t understand. He said that my brother would be better off with him:
“There are good secondary schools in Abuja.”
He wanted me to stay back and help our mother; he didn’t want her to be lonely. We finished our lunch and rushed out with our hoes.
At the farm, we bent over to see to the weeds that suppressed our young stalks. We worked on the farm for two months, and in no time, mother would harvest so much for her hard work. She owed so many people, because my brother was made to take exams. The money would certainly free us from all debts and we would have enough to save.
Suddenly, I noticed that the stem of our maize shook, and my feet shook, too. I looked back, and saw what looked like a flood of bright light. As it came closer, I saw what looked like horns, rushing towards us. Someone dragged me from behind, and soon, I felt my brother’s body on me; his hand covered my eyes and my mouth. I watched while a million hoofs drove by; I watched while their bodies pressed against our young cobs, breaking them into two, and their hoofs dug up our stalks.
They fed on our corns as though they ate grass. I watched as our hard work went in vain. Within a twinkle of an eye, they were all gone with our hard work in their belly. Our farm which was formerly covered by green vegetation looked newly ploughed.
We locked the door for the night: nobody said anything, and we didn’t want to bother mother. We felt we couldn’t console her. Neighbours who came to mourn our loss were far gone: nobody knew whose farm would be next. We couldn’t cook, because our stomachs were already filled with what we saw, and with time, we fell asleep with hunger in our stomach.
Deep in the night, I felt as though the house was about to fall, and before I knew it, I heard a loud noise; it sounded like a thousand feet on the ground. I got up, and peeped through the hole by the corner of my bed. They looked more like humans, running by the house, than a herd of cattle.
I put my head back on the bed, but a second voice pushed me to my feet. I heard what sounded like the engine of big trucks; it was followed by loud screams, and for the first time, I understood what my teacher meant when he read about ‘continuous gunshots,’ from a book. More voices were heard; they screamed for help.
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I ran to my mother’s room, and saw my brother with her. Our eyes locked, and I ran to them. We all were covered in sweat, from head to toe. My mother was busy with her phone, a gift from Uncle; she dialed continuously, but it rang as many times, but no one picked.
“Where are the police?”
The shots drew closer, and closer, that it was as though their tires already descended on our door. We heard doors being knocked down, and people running out of their houses, and getting shot. I began to cry, but my brother held me tight. We heard our neighbours open their doors, and the soles of their feet taking a good run. My mother looked at us, as though trying to make a decision, but she was interrupted by loud banging on our door:
“They are here! Save yourselves!”
Before we knew it, loud shots rang out, and we jumped back. The voice was heard no more. Heavy feet descended on our door that it tore into two. They were so many that rushed in at once. Their eyes were hidden behind their black scarves.
“Take the boy!”
They dragged, but he held us too tight. His nails dug deep into my skin and I felt my flesh cut open. When they forced his arms free, he ran. A loud bang followed, and he froze in his tracks. I watched my brother descend to his knees; his eyes looked back, and caught the last moment when all fell silent.
Written by Oluoma Udemezue.