Again, I lost details of how long I sat there. But the sun had subsided when a group of soldiers arrived and spoke through a megaphone.
“We will like everyone to line up here” Yet, it seems like nobody heard him
“I repeat, we need everyone on a file. Mothers should hold on to their children on this line and men should be on the other line”
The message was a command, therefore everyone ran to make the lines according to the instruction given. Another soldier arrived and gave an additional information.
“If you have no number, come with me” lots of people followed him.
We were told to be calm until the streets are safe for us to go to. There is a 24hours curfew for now and no one should falter. I didn’t know how I managed to hear those words but I was sure of what the soldiers meant. The secondary school in the army barracks was of great help because it served as lodge for some people.
It was getting dark already and the barracks was already filled to the brim. People pitched their tents in the open fields when the school couldn’t contain us all. I moved slowly but searchingly. Looking at people relating in units. I searched for dad, mum, and Pedetin. I encountered a woman trying to pull 5 of her children together. Several thoughts crossed my mind and wondered where they all are presently.
I noticed that everyone including the kids wore a tag with a big number around the neck like chained dogs. I looked down on mine with the print ‘refugee 86’. I wondered if they had printed this before the incident or, well, I don’t know.
I walked past people once again and I felt that I do not belong here. I have not even seen someone I know or maybe can’t recollect faces. I saw strangers and strangers they were. Some soldiers arrived in a truck and instructed that people line up for dinner. Women struggled to get on queue and for a while argued about who got to what position first. I wondered if they had this all planned out. For heaven’s sake, the food will go round, I concluded. The tag was a permit to get fed. A soldier was giving out bread while another was giving out water.
I closely watched a woman who got hers and quickly held up her baby’s hand to get one too. This is comedy I guess. But is it really comedy? She is a nursing mother for crying out loud. What will remain of her after the baby sucks her dry? All these while, I wasn’t on any queue because the drama around the collection itself was food for my soul.
Some soldiers made campfires and sat round it. I saw a man fanning his sleeping children. I pitied him more than I did for myself. Where on earth is their mother? Poor man. He didn’t even stand up to get bread and water for his children at least. The man laid beside his children and slept off too. Everyone was busy eating, moving around or doing one thing or another. Then, I saw this young man who tried to steal from the man fanning his kids. He had moved like he was part of the family, sat beside the sleeping man and gradually removed the man’s wallet.
I couldn’t hold this anymore, I dashed towards him like lightening being pursued by thunder. The young man was smarter I guess. I can’t remember what he did or how he did it but in the twinkle of an eye, he changed the story and I became the thief.
That night was spent all alone in the guardroom with mosquitoes as guests. I just felt Iike ending it all. Life worth it no more. I didn’t sleep all through the night, not because I decided not to sleep, but it wasn’t my decision to make. It was that of the mosquitoes. I was released the next morning and told never to repeat such act to which I accepted repentance genuinely.
I overheard the soldiers saying that the curfew is now 12 hours and that it’s effective from 6-6. So, I concluded that it should be 6p.m to 6a.m, that’s the only logical time frame. I wasn’t sure of the time presently, but judging from the face of the sky, the time should be about 8a.m.
I walked straight to the gate unsure of where I was heading to. I strolled past the soldiers and was waiting for them to stop me but nothing happened, so immediately I passed the gates, I took to my heels. I trekked a great distance and discovered burnt cars, shops and houses. So many structures have been pulled down. Fear gripped me to my soul when I started to notice that the streets were bright, yet dark. They were relatively quiet. It was like a bright middle of the night.
Soon, I approached a junction which was watched over by soldiers. There are no moving cars or motorbikes on the road except for the army convoy. I walked behind some shops and hid behind a structure. I peeped at the soldiers through the broken fence of a burnt building. Six people were involved in frog jump and the soldiers were at alert, it became dawned on me that the curfew was still very valid and those people broke the rule.
I heard the sound of a motorcycle from my back. A soldier rode towards me and I rolled on my back towards a close dunghill. He drove past without noticing me. I decided to move away from the vicinity. But the more I moved into the heart of the town, the more unsecured I felt.
I maintained a great distance from the major road and walked in between remains of burnt cars, motorbikes and houses. Suddenly, I heard what seems to be an uproar ahead of me. I wasn’t sure what it was but it seems like some soldiers are trying to control a violent crowd.
I wondered what was happening over there and I wasn’t ready to witness more scenarios. Coincidentally, everything turned gray and I began to feel dizzy. Looking around. I discovered that I was standing in front of a restaurant. So, I took the broken table in front of it for a couch.
I must have been day dreaming or maybe the reality of my environment crept into my subconscious. First, different feet moved past me in darkness. Then, I saw a procession of elderly people in red, and black outfits. They really scared me. I began to wonder about the kind of activity that was going on, such that will be referred to as obscure. Then, a woman on white appears, sprinkling water with palm fronds from a calabash. It seems like a purification rite. I looked away, not knowing exactly what’s going on, in town, barracks and everywhere.
I lost track of time and day. Someone must have carried me, from wherever they saw me. But I viewed the barracks once again, from the back of an army van. I discovered its days now without Dad, Mum, and Pedetin. Maybe I should have waited in there for them to arrive just as others. Maybe I should not have suffered myself to go through the blight. I was so tired and dirty looking.
I was definitely worn out that I fell to the ground the moment I dropped from the bus. A soldier walked towards me and grabbed me by the arm while others remain unmoved. He dragged me up and placed a tag on me. I looked down on my chest and saw the inscription, ‘refugee 2731’, in great pain as I stood, I struggled to keep my eyes opened against shutting unto darkness.