I was in my village; tormented by the emotional scars left by the conflict I had experienced most of my life. The war was over and we just returned from the forest where we hid for more than a year, away from the Nigerian soldiers and their ammunition. All around me I saw people slowly and painfully rebuild their lives just as my mother rebuilt ours. The place our home once stood was rubble, blown to the ground by the Nigerian bombs. For days after our return from the forest we stayed in the open yard until she managed to erect a structure with mud and a thatch roof over it. I wondered why she was doing all those all by herself. She was yet to explain where my father and my three brothers went to…
The end of the war was characterized by anguish. It was said that there was neither victor nor vanquish, yet the situation on ground made it obvious who won and who lost. People were suffering, perhaps even more so now that they were out of the forests than when they were in it because they could see their losses; counting them one after the other. There was nothing to eat, and most of the time I was hungry. My poor mother couldn’t do much to abate my malnourished condition; neither could she provide food to take away my hunger. It was a horrible time to be alive.
I was just a child, yet I was suffering enough hardship to last a life time. The civil war destroyed my life in more ways than I can possibly describe. Three of my siblings died in the forest, and my father had gone to look for one of them that went missing but never returned. Many of my uncles and aunties also died except for one in whose hands my survival in life would one day depend entirely on. But in the immediate time after the war I had my mother. But she was pregnant, the result of her last romantic encounter with my father right there in the forest shortly before he disappeared. I often wondered if he was dead or alive somewhere, captured by the soldier and perhaps sold into slavery. Would he someday return to me, I wondered. Probably not; if anything he was long dead, his head blown off by a Nigerian bullet. Left alone with my mother and her pregnancy, I was unhappy, traumatized and frustrated. And as the days went by, the only way I could let go of my frustration and the trauma was to become very stubborn. I don’t know why this was the case, all I recall is that I became stubborn and I liked it more or less. My mother tolerated my behaviour and tried her best to be a good mother to me even though she was caught up in her own anguish most of the time, unwilling to let go of the life she had completely lost. Looking at the situation now, I really do wish I had made the situation easier for the woman. She was so sick and gaunt yet pregnant and having to take care of me. She was in much distress, yet I had failed to be the reason she smiled. My bad! But then I was only a child and my entire childhood was messed up by the catastrophic war I had just witnessed.
Meanwhile, as bad as life was following the end of the war, it felt good not having to live under the canopy of the forest. More so it felt good not having to run for cover each time the shelling began. So to feel good about the situation, I dedicated most of my time playing with the other children. There were quite a number of us, and we played football with the human skulls that were littered right across my community. My father’s skull could have been among them, but my young mind never considered that possibility because to me it was just fun. We never saw the need for goal posts as we simply kicked the skulls about with our bare feet, ignoring the elders’ warnings that we could get seriously injured by the bones. We were young and frees, never caring about the risks of life. After all what more violence could befall a youngster like myself who already saw bombs shrapnel cut people to shreds, scampering to safety as the bullets rained down the forests. So we continued to play with the skulls until the older people had no choice but to gather and incinerate the bones especially after their worst fears began to come through.
My middle of 1970, my life changed yet again. It was a windy, rainy night and our makeshift home had been destroyed by the elements. We were sleeping when part of the wall collapsed, and my mother had just managed to drag me out to the rain when the entire building went down. I couldn’t believe it. But then what I couldn’t believe was my mother going into labour almost immediately after we escaped the collapsing building. At this time not much people knew what was happening, so I ran through the dark and rainy night to my uncle’s hut. He heard the urgency in my voice and was out in seconds, his nakedness covered by the torn wrapper across his tummy. “My mother is behaving strange”, I said to the man just as his wife also emerged through the door. They went with me to the spot my mother laid, and without wasting time they raised the alarm. The community ran helter-skelter as they struggled to take care of the woman in labour. Soon my uncle’s hot was turned into a makeshift hospital just as I stood outside and listened to my mother’s agonizing screams. Her screams pierced trough my heart and cut my soul, and for the very first time in my life without being beaten, I broke down and sobbed.
By the next morning the impact of the downpour was visible across the community. Several of the mud houses have collapsed, their thatched roofs blown to different locations. But those destruction were not the main reason most people were sober that morning; my mother was. She was dead, shortly after creating another life. Somewhere deep within me I felt entirely guilty for her loss. All my life I saw her in agony and yet I did nothing to alleviate her suffering. And then she was gone forever before I could even express my deepest love for her. I wish upon all things she had survived that night. She was the best thing that ever happened to me.
This story is the beginning of a chapter from Emmanuel’s manuscript for his upcoming book titled “Forlorn Gaze”. Let’s anticipate it while enjoying this one. Feedback is highly welcome.