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The International Writers Magazine: Africa: From Our Archives

Lakunle Jaiyesimi

Sundays are unusually hot days! Nature has her ways for perfect orderliness. Or maybe, it’s the Sun god at work, who has chosen that day for itself alone. The god comes out in full armour, with bristling rays poured on all the earth without discrimination.

What a god, worshipped with trembling, who resides up in the sky – where it comes and goes, trailing in repeated revolutions like the sound and echo of thunder.

That Sunday was unusual, for in starting, it started on a strange note different from what has become the norm. Troops of legs, on a usual note, paraded these bald-paths linking our Huts and the bijou house that swallowed the legs in a jiffy. Once in the belly of the house, voices were raised and supplication made to the ONE that resides where the Sun god comes and goes – the sky. It was the belief in one God, an awesome one.

However, this Sunday was unusual, with the dawn breaking like the setting of day and the sky dull with sockets filled with unshed tears. The voices laced with beats, tunes and singing-trumpets escaped through the window panes, brushing aside the crimson florid curtains and journeyed to nowhere but our sleepy ears. No blankets or well-stuffed cushions would filter off the noise without blocking life out entirely from our auditory orifices. So against our wish, we were roused from sweet slumber; and yet, with dizzy eyes, we heard heavy thumping on the thatch of our hut. It was the fall of heavenly bodies to earth. They revolted their expulsion from the bliss of heaven, and they must have carried looks that assured an onlooker that they were once visitors on earth, who knew the bitterness and suffering the earth has been plagued with. The thumping came much heavier and we had to peep out through crevices (that were in actuality gaping sores) bore into our mudded-wall by the veteran but savage moths that had been our neighbours, since mother died. She was used to cleaning the house and ensuring it was rid of moths, but since her death, they had taken over all the available crevices and created even more.

We peeped out and the heavenly bodies had turned fluid, covering the face of the path that spread right before our hut. It must be a heavy rain; it never happened in this neighbourhood on a Sunday! The water-flow was threatening and biting off the plasters used for the foundation of huts. Swallowing the mud into a homogenous friendship, it was momentarily termed the ‘SANDY WATER’ by the children who could manage to get inside the rain and catch some fun.
In spite of the rain, the voices escaping the bijou house did not feel cowed as it added numerous musical strings to its mellifluous concoction and spurted out like from the deep passion of an oppressed slave given a singular (one-time) privilege to freedom. The songs continued to roll out as egregious symphonies, to the delight of the window-blinds and the sway of the flood that had now taken over every part of the town, preventing the transportation of pedestrians but swimmers.

Good enough, shortly before a large chunk of the foundation plaster was bitten away, the rain stopped and the heavenly bodies called themselves to order, but the ‘SANDY WATER’ was still teasing the foundation of the huts. The God of Thunder struck, according to the belief of the people of Dagoba, and silence engulfed the whole town. The symphonies stopped! The voices were drowned in a curious silence that was ominously present. The silence was more of an obvious figure than the mellifluous songs of the ‘saints’. A stolid silence that frightened the very cause of it!

The cause must be the thunder…for nothing else feared the people of Dagoba, who were renowned for their bravery, except such thundering sounds. What was more frightening to these people were gunshots for they had expected that one day, the Military would invade their town plundering it and assaulting the men, their wives and children.
Dagoba was an oil-producing village with ditches everywhere. They only had poverty to show for their being blessed with a national natural resource. The plants had aged and died; or rather, they died young from poisons. The roads had stroke and were absolutely worthless; they had become spontaneous rivers of oil and rain, in an admixture. Everything was bad, and the only consolation they had was in the bijou house that promised heaven and earth only if they had patience. Some had died but others were still waiting, patiently. That was their only effective consolation.

The silence remained, unyielding; unyielding to the tranquilized movement of the flood; unyielding to the gentle breeze; unyielding to the heavy thumping of the hearts of men of Dagoba. The common question was; ‘Is it now?’ ‘Has the time come when our poverty would be promoted to ruin – individual and communal cataclysm?’ Everyone was troubled in the enveloping silence, but barged-in by the humming sound of flood directed at pockets of gorges on the roads.

Dagoba, being the village of brave men, had for long tolerated the pillage of the Oil Companies that situated in their neighbourhood. However, they could not condone this disregard and insensitivity to their plight any longer than would the people of neighbouring villages. The young, able-bodied of the men of the village had organized themselves into groups of protesters and led the cowards of the other villages into an armed expedition, where they took hostage some high-profile Chiefs of the villages (who were in the habit of collecting bribes to keep the Companies doing their businesses as usual) and many of the personnel of the Companies. They kept them in secluded parts of Dagoba until an appropriate ransom was agreed on and paid, in due course. This was an afterthought to their initial plan, as they only wished to take them hostage until something concrete is agreed on to develop their villages by the Companies, but the relatives of the hostages preferred to pay a one-off fee. The village protesters were popularly referred to as Militants.

This was what the Government was reacting to by intending to send the Military to the village to level it down, in a bid to dissuade them from such acts.

The thunder struck again, and the silence became even more pronounced. The thunder strikes were now sporadic that it was almost certain they were not such strikes but gun shots from the nozzles of the guns of Military men. The flood was clearing, but now it was mixed with spilled oil and following closely, it was mixed with blood!

The blood of men and women; of Chiefs, who refused to call their boys to order; of innocent victims; of strangers who only came to Dagoba, visiting. The flood was mixed with the blood of all categories of people; more obvious was the flush of the unsullied blood of young children.

The shots went louder and louder for a while and like a sudden collapse of a card-house, total silence engulfed the air again. Just then, my mother took me in her hand with my other siblings, and we trotted away from the hut. I noticed the troops of legs that had paraded the bald-paths started to trail after us. We moved in the same direction into town, where the central market was.

There, the make-shift stalls had fallen apart; the umbrellas had been turned up; the valued wares of women scattered in all directions and carried away by the ignorant flood – those heavenly bodies that knew nothing. Here, brown has turned red, as the eyes of everyone shifted from the sky and air to the bodies on the floor covered in the red of rose, but fluid, fluid…fluid without the intention to recover. The bodies were stone-dead! The guns were nowhere; the military men had gone but they left behind their mark – the blood of men like them; of children and wives like theirs; and more, they left their footprints in the earth, but it was washed by the flood. The image remained in our hearts; who can remove such an image of the footprint of men that killed your kinsmen?

It was an unusual Sunday, beginning with an omen and ending on a bad note. We all returned to our quarters at night to pretend to sleep; carrying with us the heaviness of hearts, the burden of lost kinsmen. Many households lost their people but the Military men had gone back to their base to rejoice and celebrate, drowning themselves in the heat of alcohol.

It was a bad news waiting to announce itself when we got back to our quarters, as no hut remained standing. Everything had been razed to the ground. Clothes were scattered everywhere; and half-cooked meal throwing up it’s aroma amidst the pungent bitterness of hate lay helplessly bare to our drooping sight.

We all scuttled around, scanning the area looking for the same thing, whether or not it was still standing. It was the hut that provided the only consolation to the people of Dagoba – the bijou house, but it was gone. It was in ruins, cluttered amongst the fragments of the common huts of poor people.

It was a wailing season in Dagoba; a day that started with egregious symphonies escaping the bijou house through the windows; but now ending with the wailings of bewildered people in an open air without a home, without food, without kin, and without the slightest of hopes in the world.

© Lakunle A Jaiyesimi August 2008

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