By Chisom Ugwu
We had been going about our daily activities as always; Pa Dooga chewing his stick and complaining about his misfortunes to whoever cared to listen, Mali and Tema the two newly married women cooking and exchanging new gossip like teenage girls, Ma Dooga casting her nagging husband evil looks every five minutes from her weeding of her pepper garden. The day was relatively normal.
That was until Ma Chenke ran into the compound covered in blood and dust, a bloody gash stretching across her forehead,
“War! WAR!! Everyone flee! The Nundi people are coming!” She screamed like a raving lunatic, flailing her meaty arms in the air as she disappeared into her hut. In mere seconds she reappeared with her young son Chenke tied to her back with a wrapper before dashing into the bush without another word to the spectators.
The other members of our large compound gathered to discuss Ma Chenke’s strange display.
“Perhaps she’s just seeking attention.” Mali sneered.
“Yes! The Nundi people have no reason to attack us. Ma Chenke just loves being the center of attention” Her gossip mate Tema supported.
“But she might be saying the truth, the Nundi people are very bloodthirsty. Did you not see her injury? There’s no smoke without fire,” Pa Dooga inputted, earning him a scathing look from his wife.
As they argued on about the authenticity of Ma Chenke’s warning, I slipped into my hut and quickly began gathering a few necessary items into a small wrapper bundle. I had heard enough stories of surprise wars from my father when I was little. Enough in fact, that I knew never to take warnings like that for granted.
With my bundle ready, I bent over my seven year old son who was fast asleep on the raffia mat and gently shook him,
“Dimi? Dimi wake up.”
With a yawn, he sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes , when his eyes focused, he smiled at me, “Yes Mama?”
After the death of my husband, I had defied tradition by refusing to marry his younger brother. His family saw it as an insult to their name and overnight, the once warm and loving family I had come to know became cold and cruel. They mounted a lot of pressure on me to ‘save them from the disgrace’ of having a widow in their family when a suitor still lived.
Remaining true to my vow to my husband, I rejected every attempt until finally, I was sent away with my two year old son.
As though the heavens thrived off my misery, my parents did not welcome me into their home, saying that I had disgraced them by defying the custom.
With that final rejection, I erased all links to ‘family’ and struggled to survive alone with my son.
Which was exactly what I was doing at the moment; surviving.
“Dimi, we have to leave now. There’s trouble.” I whispered.
He widened his sleep laced eyes at me in surprise but said nothing. Clambering to his feet, he picked up the wrapper bundle I had prepared without instruction and followed me into the bush, just like Ma Chenke.
Dimi and I wandered in the forest for two days, moving across the damp, cold soil at a quick pace and only stopping to rest and eat wild fruits when the hunger became unbearable. Dimi hadn’t complained since we set off and he never showed any sign of sadness. His attitude towards the situation both impressed and scared me.
On the third day, we stumbled across a sort of refugee camp hidden in the heart of the forest. The camp offered refuge to about forty of our people, the Ikom people.
Men, women and children. All survivors or the smarter ones who fled before disaster struck. Dimi and I happily increased the count to forty two.
A week later, our food supply which consisted of whatever some of the refugees could grab before escaping began running low, and the children were beginning to starve, so we held a meeting.
Ma Chenke who had risen to rank of leader, simply for being the first person to take refuge in the clearing which was now the camp, stood to address us,
“Sokun, you will lead all the women to Dwale village, they are just on the other side of the forest. Tell them our predicament, so that they’ll help us with some food. Take some of the younger children with you, so that they’ll feel pity” She ordered.
I had wanted to take Dimi with me, but the other women complained that he was too big and wouldn’t help the Dwale people pity us.
And so, although I really hated to, I kissed his forehead before setting off with the other women and younger children, leaving my son in the camp.
Our journey was successful, and we sang celebratory songs in our dialect as we carried the food items given to us by the Dwale people back to our camp.
Sokun began a popular song and we all joined in, laughing and momentarily forgetting all about the gloom of war and death.
After a journey of eight hours in total, we neared the camp. But as we arrived, the sight we beheld was enough to have a grown man cowering in fear.
A scarlet puddle was slowly growing in the heart of the camp, trickles of blood seeping out of headless or injured bodies of men and children all pooled into the puddle of blood, staining the earth with the sickening red.
The makeshift huts we had put up to protect us from the elements were torn down and some were ablaze. Some bodies were charred and burning too.
Women who saw their husbands or children among the dead were the first to snap out of the shock, throwing their items to the ground and slumping in an overly dramatic way, wailing and tearing their hair to depict their grief. Some went as far as throwing themselves against the dead bodies and getting stained with the blood too.
But some children emerged from the forest at the sound of the mourning women and ran to hug their mothers, hiding their faces in their mothers’ wrappers and trembling in fear.
“Mama, when you left the Nundi people found us!” One crying child told her mother, quaking and sniffling uncontrollably.
I wasn’t really bothered by all that because my eyes kept scanning the bodies and the survivors, looking for one person.
“Mama can you believe that Dimi tried to fight them?!” Another child said to his mother.
My eyes snapped to the speaker immediately, I recognized him as Kazan, one of Dimi’s playmates since we arrived at the camp.
“Did you say Dimi? Do you know where he is?!” I demanded agitatedly.
Kazan scrambled into his mother’s arms at the sight of my wide eyes and flared nostrils. “I don’t know Ma! But he wasn’t with us in the forest. He picked a stick and tried to fight off one of the Nundi men, that was the last I saw of him!”
Kazan’s mother shot me a dirty look for scaring her son the more, “Go away! Can’t you seen he has been through enough today?! Look for your own son to yell at.” She snapped angrily.
Ignoring her, I moved my feet in the direction of our village in search of my son.
“Dimi?!! DIMI?!!!” I called out till my throat hurt, tears were streaming down my face and blurring my vision as I stumbled blindly in the forest, praying that nothing had happened to my boy.
“Mama?” a feeble voice called.
I was at alert , tracing the voice that I could make out anywhere, my heart was pounding against my rib cage full of hope and happiness that he was alive… until I saw him.
My son. My Dimi. An innocent seven year old boy was lying on the cold, leaf littered forest floor which was covered in his blood. His right arm had been cut off at the shoulder, bone and flesh hanging out in a grotesque manner. His body was covered in tiny machete cuts.
First of all, I bent over and vomited, before falling to my knees beside my child. Cradling him to my breasts, I sobbed and coughed, wailing louder than the day I lost my husband.
But Dimi just smiled at me, “Mama don’t cry, it doesn’t really hurt. When I get to heaven I’ll tell the king of gods to watch over you. He’ll keep you safe.”
He moved the stump of his arm in an attempt to wipe away my tears, before realizing that he had no arm and settling for another angelic smile.
“D-don’t talk l-l-like that! You’ll be fine. Y-you’ll be f-fine! I’ll take care of you” I cried quietly.
He shook his head, smiled, then threw his left arm around my neck in what was meant to be a hug.
Suddenly, he started coughing and convulsing till blood trickled out of his mouth and nostrils. His eyes rolled to the back of his head as he convulsed violently, his breath hitching continuously.
He was suffering. I couldn’t let him suffer any more.
With more pain than I could ever imagine bearing, I pinched Dimi’s nostrils closed and placed a palm over his mouth so he wouldn’t breathe. He struggled and thrashed, trying to take deep breaths but getting nothing, and although I felt like a million poisoned daggers were plunged into my heart, I maintained my grip till he stopped… and just went limp.
Scribbler’s note: Sorry to cut your reading short or something, but this is Story 1 in the Tales of War stories or something. Haha.