‘So brother, tell me.’ Tarasha sat back in the bed after returning the phone into her pocket. Jefa looked away for some seconds, staring blankly at the wall. Then he got up slowly from the bed and walked to the window. He opened the curtains and stared outside.
‘I was sent unconscious that day, so I don’t know how, when and where we were separated. I woke up to find in a strange place with several other of my age mates. Nothing much happened that day, it was late already. Our… My sufferings began the next day. We…’
**Flashback — From May 28, 2014 **
The captives were woken up the next morning with the noise from a giant bell. Those who did not wake up after the bell rang were woken up with strong whips by two evil looking lanky men. Jeffery was part of those who woke first so he didn’t have to receive the early morning ‘tea’ like some others. He even hardly slept, the huge mosquitoes feasting on his body and singing and dancing around like Indian lovers were enough to keep one awake all through the night.
They were led outside the room, could it even be called a room? It was something worse than a Nigerian police cell. One after the other, they all had to bend down to walk out through the narrow-dwarf door.
Jeffery opened his eyes as he got out through the door to see his new environment. Before his eyes could notice any other thing, the faces of five wicked looking men standing in a straight line in front of the boys were the first thing he saw. Most of them had long unkempt beards, their heads were also covered with a scarf like material and a black piece of material wrapped around the scarf to hold to their heads. There were also several cutlasses , rakes and hoes on the floor.
‘Oya, make una bend down pick the one you fit use well.’ One of the man stepped forward and spoke in a thick northern accent, instructing them to move forward and pick their desired tool.
The boys stood still, confused about what they were going to do with the farm tools. Except for those who had been whipped before, no one else picked a tool immediately.
‘Ehen, una no hear abi?’ the man who gave the instruction yelled at them. Slowly and hesitatingly, the boys stepped forward and picked up different tools of their choices.
‘Good,’ the man continued. ‘Now, make una look around.’ he said pointing round the place.
Jeffrey looked around like the other boys, he noticed that apart from the small prison where they been allowed to sleep and the space in front of them, there was only a narrow pathway, the rest of the place were filled with huge bushes and trees, looked like they were in the middle of a thick forest.
‘We wan clear three plots of land to build bigger place for una and to get bigger space,’ he continued, after being satisfied with the view of the place that the children already had. ‘We wan make una clear the thing for three days.’
Jeffrey looked around once more, then he turned to look at other boys with him, they were numbering up to fifteen, all within the age range of 12 to 16. He began to wonder how fifteen young boys were going to clear the huge bushes on the land in three days, especially with someone like him who didn’t even have the experience and knowledge of holding a cutlass and how to use it.
‘Oya make una come o,’ the task manager continued, assigning some boys to his men. ‘We go give everybody im portion and na until you finish am una go chop, una hear?’
The boys answered him with silence and he didn’t even wait to get a verbal response before he turned to the the boys he assigned to himself and led them to the portions of land they were to clear. Jeffrey followed his own man and he was showed his portion, he almost fainted on seeing it, it was surely going to take him days to finish that day’s portion only. However without waisting time, he began to strike the ground with the blunt side of the cutlass until he was corrected by the man. He then began to use the correct side but it wasn’t so much of a difference as he was only striking too much without making the desired impact.
The thought of his younger sister and brother came back to his mind as he did his job. He wondered where they now were, he wondered if they had been made to do the same kind of tedious job like this. He remembered his father and mother’s death too, he thought of their unfulfilled promises and dreams, he remembered how they had promised to give each and every one of their kids an excellent future.
Just few minutes into the job, he was already tired, he looked around to see most of the boys still working, the only ones who had paused like him were the ones who needed the whip to wake up. He summoned courage and continued to work but his strength was failing him gradually. At the time he was thinking of finally stopping was when he started to hear sounds of whips accompanied by loud groans and screams. He also saw the man standing by his side with his whip in his hand in readiness to land it on the first weak person under his watch.
He took a quick glance at other boy who had his portion allocated to him by the same man; the skinny looking boy did not seem to be tired yet and was making quite some progress on his own portion. Jeffrey was inspired by the boy’s attitude and tried to add more strength, he thought to himself that if a boy who didn’t look as healthy as he was could work like that, then he should be able to do more.
As the frequency of the whips heard behind increased, so did Jeffrey’s strength reduce. After twenty minutes of working in total, he fell to the ground for the first time. The man who had been waiting for him to stop working or wait to rest moved close to him and landed him a whip on the back. Jeffrey turned and twitched in pain, groaning loudly as he rolled on the floor. For the man, he was too slow in responding, so he landed another whip on his body. Jeffrey passed out.
‘Sorry brother,’ Tarasha interrupted her brother’s narration. ‘Which forest was that? Can you remember?’
‘Ermm… Sambisa forest, I think. That was their main operation centre then,’ Jefa replied.
‘That’s in Nigeria here right?’
‘Yes,’ Jefa stared at his sister with a surprised look. ‘In Borno State.’
‘Okay, and were the men that were with you Nigerians?’
‘Yes, they were. Why are you asking?’
‘Nothing, I just wanted to relate some things. You can continue please.’
Jeffrey woke up later that afternoon feeling very feverish. At first he thought he was dead and had gone to heaven because his vision was blurry and he was feeling wet, but as the rains poured more on his face, his vision became clearer and he staggered to stand up, that was when he realized that he was in a new environment. He could see some boys running from the rain into an old brick building at the left side. This new place was more of a developed land and had several buildings surrounding a large open space.
Jeffrey trudged forward to the same building he saw the other boys running to, shivering as he walked. He was the last to get there, the door to the building was already closed. He knocked tiredly and waited for a response. A young boy of his age opened the door and popped out his head, he closed back the door and opened it again after ten seconds, motioning for Jeffrey to come inside.
Jeffrey entered, still shivering and the boy closed the door behind. There were several other boys in the room, numbering up to twenty seated on the neat carpeted floor. All eyes were on Jeffrey as he looked around the room, a man seated on a short stool and dressed like a cleric beckoned on him to come closer.
As Jeffrey moved forward, he saw one of the other boys that was at the previous place with him, one of those who were whipped before they woke up.
Later that day, he got to realize that their abductors are from a very organized group which had several sections. He had earlier been selected to the other place because he was seen as strong due to his body structure and rigidity but when his weakness showed during the clearing of the land, they had no choice than to transfer him to this other section where he would fit in more perfectly.
Tara’s phone rang again, disrupting Jefa’s narration. She sighed as she took out the phone, she glanced at the screen to check the caller and then excused herself from never and stepped out of the bed to answer the call.
‘Hello sir… Yes, I’m going to still come but not as early as I proposed… Maybe one hour late…okay.’ she ended her call and returned to the bed. She apologized to Jeffrey and asked him to continue.
‘Isn’t that your boss?’ Jeffrey asked instead of going on with his narration.
‘Yes,’ Omotara sighed, ‘I’ll be going back to work briefly in an hour time.’
‘Ermm… I hope I’m not the one disturbing you, we could continue our discussion some other time, it’s better you start leaving for work now. I even thought you took the day off already,’ Jefa said.
‘Yes, I won’t be going for night duty today. I only have to drop something there.’
‘Then why don’t you go now?’
‘I already told them I’ll be coming in an hour time.’
‘So continue, please.’
Jefa closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he continued his story.
‘I was given drugs to take care of my illness that day, there were no much activities as the rain continued to pour down until night time. The next day, we were not woken up in an aggressive manner like the day before, although, we woke up very early too. I and several other new intakes like myself slept in the same room. We were ushered outside the room and led to another room by the far left end. It was a prayer room. There, we met people praying the Islamic way and we were asked to join them. Those who were Muslims joined them while I and two other people only watched them in confusion. Later that day, we began our Arabic lessons and I started from the lowest class. A year later, I had become a Muslim by force and was still being trained. Although I enjoyed it because we lived in peace; I thank God because I thought my sufferings could have come to an end. The third year when I was beginning to think that our hosts were just nice Muslims like our friends at home was when they started to contort the message they earlier preached to us. They started teaching us violence against non-believers as against their message of peace and kindness which they taught us at the low levels and which every good Muslims believe in. They told us that those who refused to believe in the same message like they did were worthy of death; including fellow Muslims like them; though they majored more on those who didn’t believe at all. They turned the peace loving Islam god to us a monster and a blood sucking viper…’
‘Sorry brother,’ Tarasha interrupted again, ‘is God ever peace loving?’
Jefa stared at her in surprise at the kind of question she asked. ‘Of course, God loves peace and doesn’t command evil.’
‘But…’ Tarasha was looking confused and lost, Jefa was someone who had faced the same challenge as her and he was still thinking that God was peace loving while she always had the mindset of god; if he ever existed, as a blood hungry tyrant and wicked soul.
‘God loves peace Tara,’ Jefa smiled for the first time since he began his narration.
‘But then, why did he kill our parents?’ Tarasha asked. ‘Why did he send his men to do all those things they did to us?’
Jefa smiled again and moved closer to her, he stretched his hand to her face and rubbed his palms on her cheeks. ‘God is peace loving, he is love, he didn’t send those men to us.’
‘But they said…’
‘They lied,’ Jefa cut in, ‘I know this because God has been good to me; he brought me out of prison and gave me another chance.’
‘You went to prison?’
‘Yes, I did. For some years, I’ll tell you how it happened.’
…to be continued.