My little brother always does that whenever he is sent to wake me up. Playfully, he would pull my ear first before shouting BOOM! I was startled awake that I kicked the bowl of garri I'd been munching to the left, spilling it over my physics textbook. He ran out before I could grab him by the neck. I had woken up around 3am to do my final revision, and then, must have dosed off again before he boomed my ear. I always dread physic exams. I pray Aisha gets to school early so we can revise together before the paper.
The day looks normal as before. The sky was blue, and the weather was cool. I hurried down to school, my mind oblivious of the chipping sound of the crickets and scurrying of rodents in the bush. I was about rounding the bend to the main road when mama caught up with me. "Tabitha," she called out. I stopped and waited for her.
You forgot your crucifix, she said. She quickly tied the thin rope with a dangling cross around my neck. She always tells me to keep it on for protection. I didn't have time for mama's distorted religious mentality that morning. If not, I would have argued and tell her again that pendants don't give protection--especially not one cheap metal cross. I thanked her and hurried on before she starts another prayer session or what my friends call blessings.
I sighted Mr Adams my geography teacher from the gate. He must have been called to supervise that day because it has been over four weeks since I last saw him. His dark, chubby cheeks shone than usual and his protruded belly, bigger. I cooked up a fake smile and walked up to him to offer my greetings. As always, he smells of Shea butter and coconut oil.
"Good morning sir."
"Morning Tabitha," he replied. "How are you today and how is your mother?"
"Very fine sir."
"Hope you are ready for your papers?"
"Okay, I wish you the best."
"Thank you sir," I responded and walked on to join my friends.
I sensed the horror before seeing the soldiers from where I sat close to the window. Aisha was in the middle of explaining quantum physics. Who are they? She asked me as I looked on. I was seized with fear but I remain seated. It is our first time of seeing soldiers this much in school. One by one, they hurled themselves from their truck, while ten other big trucks pulled up behind them. So big and bold they looked. A cold shiver ran through my spine and I grabbed Aisha’s hand. Two soldiers stood close to the school’s signboard with pointed guns pointing sinisterly here and there.
We sat in my classroom alone and watch the leader of the group engage in what seems like a heated argument with Mr Agbo my principal. Other students were in the exam hall. My first thought was to go and join them. But when I saw the man hit my principal in the head with his gun, I couldn't move again. Aisha has started sobbing. My fingers traced up to the crucifix, gripping it while I felt watery in my anus. My principal, with blood-draped forehead was asked to lead all the student out with a gun pointed to his head. It was then I felt the urge to run.
I grabbed Aisha's hand, and we ran. Having spent six years in the school, I knew there is only one gate and it is blocked. The school has been closed for some time for security reasons therefore all offices and laboratory were locked. I could hear the scream of my mates as they were being dragged and shoved into the waiting trucks but I didn't look back. I kept running until I got to the old, abandoned toilet we previously used before a new one was constructed. Aisha followed closely behind, panting and dishevel. The old toilet which reeks of stale urine is out of sight, pieces of paper sprawling haphazardly around. Right behind the old and rotten, broken door lies an empty, rickety drum formally used for waste disposal. I helped Aisha in before jumping in with her. The drum stinks and robust maggots wriggles around my leg.
I couldn't remember how long we stayed there but I held on to the crucifix in my neck and wished so much to see my mother’s face which I couldn't wait to get rid of in the morning. Seconds turns to minutes and all we could do was to cry silently and pray as the sound of gunshot thundered in our ears and the soldiers thrashed the school. I longed to be held by my mother and to see my little brother again. Aisha clung to me, her toes whipping the drum's body unconsciously, while I clung to the crucifix.
The acrid odour from the bin turns my tommy. I peered through the metallic drum and fixed my gaze on the tall mango tree close to the toilet. The leaves waved silently at me, undisturbed by the persistent rain of bullets in the air. To my heart, a quick solace it brought.
…Just then I saw the shadow. The hair at the base of my neck rose immediately, and the only sound I could hear was my heartbeat. I gripped Aisha's hand as the heavy black boot draw closer. I could feel the blood rushing through my veins as the man walked round the toilet, Aisha's eye locked with mine. When he move close to the drum, I quietly place a finger on my lips, instructing her. He walked off, but as if drawn by an invisible hand, he turned back suddenly, lift the dustbin lid and stole murderously into my eyes, his eyes lined with shades of bloodbath, death thriving within them. A loud gunshot snapped me back to reality from the realms of Imagination, Aisha frightened eye peering into mine.
Few seconds later, I heard footsteps and a whistling from afar off. I must have urinated on my body because I felt warm wet in my sandals. We clung to each other, frozen like a pillar as the sound of a feet crunching over gravel grew louder. I closed my eye, stilled my mind, and waited for my imagination to come to pass. Just then, I heard another voice from few distance, in a language that seemed to be calling off the intruder. He shouted back and retrace his steps. Thirty minutes later, I heard series of gunshot and shout of victory. Its sounds more like a thunderstorm. Smoke and the revving of car engine noise filled the air as the trucks bearing hundreds of my colleagues pulled out of the school premises.
Cover Image: Gitty Image