Entry By Eneojile James


TALES FROM OUR TOMORROW . Prologue. May 25th 2015. Dear Diary... Today, I had a dream. A very bad dream. But why am I even making a fuss out of it? Its almost normal with me. I always have bad dreams. Not about ghosts and demons, but about corpses. People killed, not by accidents or natural occurrences but by their fellow man. The things that go on here makes me cry, but then I know its part of the curse. A curse that has now consumed us all. One thing is certain though, it wasn’t always like this.

April, 1993. I was born in the year when the great rain fell. Mama, I was told, was outside our compound, chatting gayly with the neighborhood women that Saturday, when she began to feel pains. Mama Ismaila, our Margi neighbor, then told her to go take a rest inside. Mama obliged, but the pains came on even stronger. The women were confused, Baba was not around. He had travelled to Bauchi for a toll delivery and was to be back the next week. The scan had said I wasn’t due till two weeks. The women walked Mama to the State General Hospital, confident it was just little pregnancy problems. “Its not the child…she can’t be this physically strong with a child coming” Mama Zuwaira had said with certainty. They were then all surprised when Dr Radvon, the head pediatrician, the white man mama always described as having a face like a flattened O, said mama was to be immediately admitted. Mama’s labor was short and quick. And so with shrill and piercing cries, I announced my arrival to the world. The story of my birth is one, mama told me so frequently that I began to feel as though I was there when it all happened. I could almost see mama in her green buba chatting gayly with the women that Saturday, when I was born. It didn’t matter that the dress wouldn’t fit in with her pregnancy, it was always the green buba.

Mama only had to take one look at me to notice the resemblance I bore to her father, and so she named me Sanusi, after my grandfather, a great man I never got to meet. Tongues wagged around as to why mama would name me in Baba’s absence, but it wasn’t a thing Baba bothered about. Baba never really bothered about anything. Not about travelling such a long distance leaving a heavily pregnant wife behind, not about the fact that his wife could be alone on her very first childbirth experience. If there was anything baba really cared about, it was beer. His love for just anything that could intoxicate was unrivalled, and so baba visited them all, from high class bars to local joints that served shots of burkutu.

It was the reason why baba was never at home. And so whenever there was any emergency at home, mama would send me to the local joints to find my Baba. I rarely found him though, and on the rare occasions when I did, he would shout, curse and yell at me to the amusement of his drunk friends. I would then walk back in shame, a kind of shame that consumed even an eight year old. If there was a reason to leave Baba, Mama had many. He never truly cared for her, and so I silently wondered about the love story that brought them together. On many nights, I would awake to the sound of heavy blows and cries. I would freeze, I knew it was baba. He would then storm out, and I would hear mama, sobbing. I would ask mama about the cut on her face the next day and she’d tell me she slipped and fell. “Why did you marry him” I asked one day. “Sanusi, your father is a good man” she would reply. “ I would never be like him” I would say empatically. “Stop it! Stop it son, he gave you life, a son must…” her voice would trail off. “I hate him for that mama, I hate the fact that he gave me life” I would cut in. Mama would then wrap me in her arms as though to suppress the tears that trickled down her face. We would hold each other for long, listening to our heart beats and silent fears. “You will be a good man, Sanusi…never let anyone change that fact”

March, 2009. I was only 16, when it was certain my life was falling apart. Mama’s health was deteriorating, one minute she’d be and doing and the next, she’s lying weak and tired. Her drugs where inconsistent. Baba was still his same old self, and the only money that came in was the leftover from Baba’s drunk escapades. Mr Gana, our teacher had noticed the change in me, he knew there was surely a reason why his best student was failing just every subject. “Sanusi, is everything okay at home?” he asked me after a literature test. “Yes sir…everything is okay” I replied absentmindedly. If there was anything I learnt from mama, it was not to go on telling everyone your problems. They had theirs to deal with too. This trait then became my greatest strength and yet my weakness, for it shut me from the world and from genuine care, in the later years. We were at the hospital one day, when the doctor said mama needed surgery. It was as though my world was falling apart when he said those words. Money was far. Only a few relatives could really help, and the ones that could had problems of their own to worry about. So it was down to me and baba. But baba always never had money. He rarely even visited mama in the hospital. And whenever he did, it was as though he was in a hurry to live there. But mama still asked me if baba ate well. The woman, even in sickness loved her husband to a fault. I came to the hospital one day to see a little crowd around. Our relatives and some of neighbors were there. My heart flew, I knew it was mama. I first sighted Uncle Garba. He was coming to me. “What has happened to mama” I asked desperately. “Sanusi…nothing happened…just relax…we just…” “Tell me! Uncle tell me!” I yelled. I knew he was hiding something. “She’s gone Sanusi…She died calling your name” he finally said, sighing. The news hit me like a tsunami would a beach house. My world was helplessly falling apart and I could do nothing about it. I thought about the fact that I wasn’t even with her when she died. “Just sit down…please” Uncle Garba ventured. “Please take heart...maybe we should go all home” Mama Ismaila suggested. I ignored them all. I turned and did what my head told me. I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I could hear Uncle Garba calling out my name but I ran still. I didn’t even stop to catch my breath till I reached Mama Salami’s beer joint. I quickly sighted Baba drinking with abandon and made straight for him. “She’s dead! She’s dead! Are you happy now” I yelled, crying. Baba stood there confused. The man believed Mama would forever be there, she was to him indestructible. the same way one would pride in a strong old vehicle. Mama’s funeral was far from what I imagined, if I even imagined her funeral at all. The imam rung out verses of the Quran while I watched silently as Mama’s body was lowered to the ground. I looked around at the women, all teary eyed. I hated them all. I hated everyone. They could have done something, Mama should never have died, and here they were, trying to act out as though they cared. The day after mama died, I packed the few things I could term as belongings and without a word to Baba, I made ready to travel. It wasn’t as though I had anywhere in mind, but I was desperate to leave the town. All I had was what well-wishers had squeezed into my hands during the funeral. And so with resolve, I went to the bus park determined to make it to Damaturu even though I knew no one there. But that was the biggest mistake of my life, for there was never a wrong time to travel. The nation was on fire! Damaturi to me was a different world, but It was not the busy life of the town that bothered me. I knew it was neither the shouts of hawkers around the streets, nor the bus conductors that would yell ”post office...post office”. But living a town where I knew no one and being without mama, summed a life that was too strange for me to accept.

October 5th 2011 It looked like a normal Saturday. There was nothing strange to give a hint of what was to come. i had all but settled in my job as a truck pusher at the metro bus station. if there was anything I wanted badly, it was to carve out an honest living for myself. it was the least I could do for Mama. I knew this wasn't the kind of life she had always dreamed about for me, and so I badly wanted to make mama proud, but I knew that everyone at some point needed a break from reality to at least hold on to the thin thread of sanity they possessed. I thought of how life would have turned out for me if Mama were alive, Mama would have given anything to see me through college. A sound jerked me out of my reverie. I knew it was him, Gbenga, my yoruba friend, the one that had the unwanted reputation of spreading news even faster than a company of market women combined. I could hear him, for not only Gbenga’s loud voice gave him away, he had an annoying way of dragging his feet on the floor, as though it was a siren that announced his impending arrival. “O boy, wahala dey o... there's a riot going on in Potiskum”, Gbenga announced. “Where?… how? Are the bokos on rampage?” Kofi the Ghanian boy that lived beside our compound asked, startled. Being a foreigner, he was the most scared of the lot. He desperately didn’t want anything to disrupt his ‘puff puff’ business. “Oga Ghana, it definitely can’t be Boko haram, it’s probably a bunch of angry Kanuri boys making trouble”, I said, with a certainty that surprised even myself. “Sanusi allow the young man to be scared...Ghana people don't like puff puff.” Gbenga said and we all laughed. But it was not a laughing matter everywhere. Battle was looming around town, but it seemed we were the only ones unaware. That day, enroute to the bus station where I kept my truck, a strange feeling struck me, it was the same way I felt the day mama died, but I dismissed it, just the way Julius Caesar dismissed his wife’s dreams about the Ides of March as mere superstition. I took the last turn to the bus station that day, when it happened. Whenever I think about it, I find it difficult to place my hands on details because it happened really fast. But I could remember that people were running all around. The sound of gun shots reverberated all across the streets, children were running, women were screaming. I turned too and I began to run. I looked back and saw blurred figures running towards me and so I ran even harder. But as though in a flash, I received blow to my back and that was all I could remember.

I awoke to the sound of voices, shouts and yells. As soon as I registered the situation, I made to run, then I discovered that I couldn’t move my legs. They were tied to a young boy who was about my age. I looked around, I was in a sea of several young boys who had also been kidnapped. it was then, it all came to me, we had been kidnapped, and these weren't just cheap criminals! They were the Boko Haram! "Cows! Fools! Stand up!"A voice rung out. We all turned to where the voice came from. A huge looking man came to fore. His face was scarred with long marks that ran across his chin. " Stand Up! can these cows not hear me?" We then began to struggle to stand, each one of us, rising and falling much to the amusement of the other terrorists who wore large caftans and held huge guns. "You see...you are all slaves! The system robs you of your very right to Manhood! It ties your feet yet asks you to stand, but here we give you freedom! Life!.." He paused. I knew he wanted to see the effect of his words on us. "Every man who lives with a cause to die for id not worthy of living at all!..Tomorrow, your training begins...and here, you either train or die! The weak would be left behind!" From that day, we were taught to be tough men. Our minds were reconfigured. We were taught the creed of warriors. it was weak to show emotions. They told us the pen and paper and in fact, education, was rubbish and could bring us only slavery and so we did all that was asked of us, for we desperately desired to survive.

Epilogue.

I think of the man I am now and I know Mama's heart would bleed if she were alive. She had always wanted me to be a doctor, saving lives and helping people. All I did now was destroy things and kill people, but then I knew, that every man decided his life, so I still dream of an escape from this dungeon. I still dreamt about, a normal and quiet life. I know, that one day, my time would come. But even if I die, my words would live on, People would hear my story, for the pen is mightier. The greatest revolutions have been engineered, not from gun barrels or canons but from the intellect and inks of men. The pen is mightier!