We didn’t care that the neighbours could hear our voice; we were very happy that Papa approved our visit. It was our first visit to Jos. Solomon and I ran from one room to the other, and we screamed at the top of our voice. Mama, Papa and Miss Elizabeth brought down our bags from the car, while we surveyed our new home for the next two months.
It took two years before Papa agreed that we could come and visit. It took all our uncles and aunts to get him to agree. He sternly disapproved, and each time he would keep a straight face and say:
“No! You don’t seem to understand.”
But we couldn’t understand, because all we wanted was to play around the big house and it’s big compound. We knew that Papa lived in a very big house, because he often sent some pictures to Mama.
“Solomon! Come and see!”
I called my brother out to the terrace. We didn’t care that we were already cold. The view was breathtaking, it was nothing close to the hills that surrounded our boarding school. Papa and the rest were already done; he saw the adventurous look on our faces, Papa came up and joined us, and he told us all about Jos, and his move to cold city.
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The New Job
Papa got a good offer from a popular cereal and beverage manufacturing company in Jos at a point. When the offer came, he didn’t think twice before he accepted, because my brother and I would soon gain admission into the university. It was a long awaited opportunity, but it was too far from home. Later, Papa and Mama agreed that he would go, and visit as often as possible.
But when Papa left, there was a change of plan, we had to go to a special science boarding school, leaving Mama alone with Miss Elizabeth : we didn’t get the opportunity to see Papa, each time he visited. One holiday, we came home and met some pictures that he dropped off for us. Snow! It snowed in Jos, and he made pictures for us? We could not believe it, in fact, we terrorised his ears, each time he called: we wished to visit Jos. At a point, Mama stepped in, because she didn’t see anything wrong in us visiting our father. Papa promised to have us during the long vacation, some months before Easter.
Papa took some time off from work, and drove us round Jos. We visited the wildlife park, amusement park, Shere hills, and University of Jos. Papa took us to his office, and introduced us to his colleagues. Each day, we left, and came back to a hot dinner. It was good for us, especially for my brother, Solomon, who was very ill before Papa got the new job, years back. The first month was filled with lots adventure, and afterwards, Papa went back to work. We only saw him at night, when he came home very tired. We busily warmed up for the snow season in two months time.
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Few weeks after Papa returned to work, we noticed a sudden change in his activities : he left for work late and came back early, Papa and Mama usually discussed in low tones and behind closed doors, and Mama warned us against playing too late into the night. We locked the gates earlier than usual. It was few days to Easter, and we waited in anticipation of snowflakes.
One day, we got a call from Mary; she informed us that our WAEC results were out, and we were among the best in the school. We could not believe our ears; we both got up, and rushed into our parents’ room, and to our greatest surprise, we met Mama crying, and Papa saying:
“Mabel, we must leave tonight.”
I could read the naked fear in Papa’s eyes. At the same time, a radio broadcast was live: it announced that there was serious crisis in the state: the Muslims and Christians were at it again: everyone was advised to stay indoors. It was the first time I heard such an expression. Papa knew we were only kids, he said:
“Grace, take your brother to your room, and pick whatever you can. We are leaving right now.”
When I made to move, we were interrupted by loud spontaneous sounds of gunshots, followed by loud painful cry for help. The cracking noise proved that some houses had been set ablaze. My foot pressed too hard to the cold tiled floor. Papa hugged Mama so tight, and we ran to him, too. He embraced us, and said:
We ran to our room, drew out our small box, and threw our things into it. Loud bangs came from the direction of our big gate. We heard voices that commanded us to open our doors, it was too late. They kept on banging , and some scaled the fence. I looked through the window, and saw them, some hung their long riffle on their shoulder, while others held gallons in their hands. One gave the lock one last aim, and it gave in, our gates flew open, and what seemed like a drone of bees rushed into our big compound.
The first voice we heard was Miss Elizabeth’s; She shouted at the top of her voice, and a loud shot went out somewhere, and her voice was heard no more. Papa and Mama ran into our room:
“Grace, stay here, Solomon, go with your mother.”
I didn’t know what to do, because everything happened so fast. The next voice I heard was Papa’s voice, he begged them to kill him instead, but leave his family. One person rushed into my room, he blocked the doorway, and from there, his eyes travelled through my body, and settled on my small breasts. He smiled to himself, and walked towardsI remembered that our room overlooked the terrace. I gradually nestled towards the door, and when he saw what I was about to do, he rushed forward, but I was faster. I threw the door open, and it hit his face. I rushed out to the terrace, and behold, Jos burned before my very eyes: I heard cries that ran cold chills down my spine, I smelt burning flesh. A voice spoke somewhere from behind me, I turned and saw that his forehead bled. He walked forward, slowly, and I looked over the terrace, and back at him. He gave me a devilish smile, and said:
“I must have you. You infidel.”
He rushed forward to grab me,
I mounted the bars and jumped, and my eyes saw light no more.
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Something felt cold on my nose. I flickered my eyes open, but I couldn’t feel any part of my body. There were others like me on their bed, and men and women in uniform went about attending to people. Papa’s face appeared from nowhere, he was covered in blood. I remembered my brother:
I tried one more time to get up, but couldn’t . Suddenly, Solomon appeared on the other side of the hall in white, he busily played outside of the hall, while snowflakes dropped gently all around him, but not one touched him. A nurse ran and shut the door. I looked at Papa, he didn’t want to say it, but I knew Solomon was gone with the snow flakes.
Written byUdemezue, Oluoma.