Victims – Episode 29
A Story By Rosemary Okafor
She had the nightmare again, but this time it was so scary, each night was always more dark and scary than the other. The sound from her ceramic plate hitting the floor and smashing to piece had saved her from being swallowed by the river in the dream.
‘she saw them again, all of them including Ifeoluwa and Ogugua. They were leading her deep inside the forest, like children of the dark they ran into the forest with ease while she teetered like a head without eyes, branches like the witch’s claws slapping and scratching her skin.
She had called out for them, their names tore the forest and their giggles filled her ears as they kept on deep inside the forest. Until they got to the river, she saw them walk into the river like it was paradise, she had stand at the bank and called, she had beckoned on them to come to her yet they moved on, deeper in the belly of the river.
Then she heard her name, chorused by them all from the belly of the sea. Like a spell, she was drawn by the familiar voices, pulling her like invincible ropes until the river covered her up to her neck, and she couldn’t find them again, they left her to be swallowed by the river, his laughter tortured her, his strong arms held her head down and his own children filled her lungs …”
It could have been that she was struggling in unconsciousness and had kicked the wooden table, sending the plate crashing and waking her up.
She didn’t know whether to be grateful for breaking the plate that reminded her of her Late husband or to be angry that another memory of him has vanished.
She has had her dinner of two pieces of yam and had slept off seated on the chair. It was becoming a secret ritual, she bringing out five plates every night and gazing out of the window waiting for her own that may not return.
“Okey…this one is your food…”
“Ogugua… wait first allow your elders to take before you…”
“Ifeoluwa take that one over there…” she would mutter like they were all there with her.
Ukwuoma shivered, she stood up and closed the window before setting out to the street where she would hawk Kunu while searching for Ifeoluwa and Ogugua.
It was still the second week of the new year 2002, the street was still scanty, some non-indigenes who had traveled for Christmas, some must have probably stayed back to do some farm work or business, while some had spent their transport fare back on nkwobi or defending titles and may be waiting for free trucks going to the north so they could hang like ‘Ewu awusa’ back to Jos.
Like two years ago when one of their tenants almost spent the whole of January because he spent his transport fare on ‘ukwu sarambara’ whom didn’t still agree to marry him at the end of the day.
The market was dusty when she arrived with her
“Fine woman, you don land na na…” Baba Ahmed said to her as he helped her eased her wares
Since the day Ogugua left, she had roamed the streets until someone that knew her brought her home. She had said nothing to anyone since then, and didn’t go back to teaching the visions of the shadows that hung around her kept popping up.
“I been tell you make you come marry me, I go do you well…you no gree…” the old man teased Ukwuoma who would come to the market, seat at a corner without saying anything to anyone.
Sometimes she would go home with her wares while sometimes she would go with little remaining.
she was about to hand a bottle of Kunu to Baba Ahmed when she saw her; at the other end of the small market a young girl fought some group of men who wanted to bundle her inside a Toyota Hilux while a well-dressed woman stood by the Hilux, giving orders
“Ife” Ukwuoma founding her voice muttered, ignoring Baba Ahmed who was handing an old ten naira note to her and who was equally shocked that Ukwuoma could actually speak
“Ifeoluwa” she said louder, the young lady turned sharply as she heard her name. Ukwuoma increased her pace, the wrapper she had on top of her ‘ [i]Bubu[/i]gown ’ fell off,
“Ife! Ifeoluwa!!” she was running like her life depended on this moment. She was barricaded by the well-dressed woman who had a not-pad on her hand her eyes were covered by a tiny eye glasses, yet she stretched her hand and threw her face towards the struggling young girl
“Na my daughter! Abeg na my pikin!!”
“Wait!” the well-dressed woman ordered the men, Ifeoluwa was now inside the vehicle,
“She is your daughter?”
“Ehn…I have been looking for her…”
The lady was surprised at the ease Ukwuoma swung into English but she didn’t voice it out “well, this young lady has been roaming the street for some time now, I feel I should do all I can to help her get her sanity back, she is still young…”
“please I can take care of her, she is my daughter…” Ukwuoma pleaded
“I am sorry Madam, you cannot take care of her, look at her, she cannot stay under your care for a day…you will need help…”
“Then let me help her…”
“The only help you can give her is to allow her get help, I assure you, she will be under my care…”
Ukwuoma looked from the lady to the girl peering from the hole in the truck, her eyeballs roaming and absorbing the environment like that of an owl.
“Where are you taking her to?” she finally asked
“Synapse services Abuja”
“Let me go with her…” when it seemed like the lady wouldn’t agree to this she added more pressure “She is all I have now, I lost the others and will not survive here knowing that I may not hold her again…”
The woman turned and walked towards the truck, yet she followed, creating a scene as few people had gather and were observing what was going on “let me hold her hand and rock her head on the journey, she knows me…look…” she pointed at Ife “She is looking at me…” Ukwuoma held the lady by the hand and pleaded “Let me go with you…”
The lady didn’t plan for this, she had come back to spend the holiday with her family after she was away for three years. She first saw the girl three days before new year. She had walked away that day, but as she kept seeing the helpless girl who limped with a stick as she walked round the street aimlessly, she knew she couldn’t ignore anymore;
“Obum” the lady called one of the boys “Make room for her to seat with her daughter and watch out for any violent move”
With her Kunu abandoned, and her house forgotten, Ukwuoma climbed at the back of the covered Toyota hillux. The lady watched them from the opening behind the front seat;
Mother crutching and talking to a daughter who seemed not to recognize her, a daughter who tilted her head from side to side trying to recall who the woman before her was, a scene that brought tears to the eyes of a spectator.
By the time they got to Mongu , the girl had her head on the woman’s laps and the woman was humming a song with her eyes closed.
Yusuf watched the phone vibrate and ring for the tenth time that morning, he was enjoying the turn of event. The caller had started with screaming and issuing orders in Hausa, Yusuf had cut the call after a short conversation and waited for the caller to call back.
He had chosen a Friday morning to make the first contact, he could feel his uncle jumping out of his skin
“I have your son Umaru” Yusuf had said
“What son…who is this…what are you talking about?”
“how many sons do you have old man? Umaru is alive and he is with me and would become meat for the birds soon…”
“Wait! Please where are you? who are you? Where did you get my son?”
“I didn’t call you to answer questions, I just want you to know that I have finally decided to carry out the holy war for Allah one more time, but this time, Umaru would be the vessel which would be used to fulfill Allah’s command…”
Yusuf would soon dispose of this new phone for another one, he destroyed his formal phone when he got back to Abuja with the boy.
The Phone Rang Again, this time, Yusuf picked it;
“Son…Allah would forever torment your soul in hell if you allow yourself to be used by Iblis…”
Yusuf chuckled at the words of the Imam, Husayn was playing the religious trick on him but this time, Yusuf was ready;
“Oh ye who believe! Fear Allah as he should be feared and die not except in the state of Islam, Surah Al-imran, 175 . Imam, your son is dying for Islam, Allah commands it” Yusuf said, using the same manipulative voice Imam Husayn had used severally.
“Please…whoever you are…don’t let my son die, he is the only son I have…I can give you anything you want but please…”
‘You cannot give me my mother back, neither can you give Fatima back, not even my father whom you sent to Jail! ’ Yusuf wanted to scream
“No Imam, only Allah’s wish would be done, and it is his wish that your Son becomes the vessel, you will be rewarded greatly”
Yusuf would leave this hotel to another one, staying in the same hotel for more than three days with a child may draw attentions to them which he wouldn’t want.
Imam Husayn damped his sweaty face with his hanky, the news he heard that morning was worrisome. He son Umaru was alive after all, but he was in Captivity.
“I have another job for you” he said without responding to the greeting of peace offered by the receiver over the phone
“But… sir…I am still following…”
“forget about that for now” he retorted “My son has been held in captivity there in Abuja…find him!”
“Sir, what son? How do I find him…you are not giving me any clue…”
“I will send you his picture, find my son and kill the b****** that have him, make his death painful…please save my son”
He cut the call and took a look at the photo of his Son sent by his captor, ‘In Abuja now…may not be too long’ the message that came with the picture read.
For the first time in years, he covered his face with his palm and cried.
To be continued