They just came to take papa, exactly seven days after they took mama. The day looks the same; the timing is almost the same. The only difference is the fear that is in our hearts this time is greater than the usual fear that lives with us in these turbulent times.
I was feeding the chickens out of my hand when the van, raising dust after it, sped to a stop outside our home. Our half blind papa had struck his walking stick twice when he heard the engine quench from where he sat at the verandah. It was basically a warning for me to run and hide in Mama’s closet. I only turned back to look at him and my little sister, Sara who was seated on his laps and continued feeding my chickens.
If there was something I could do, I would have done it. Neither parents owned weapons, so I was no match for the men in weird army like uniforms, coming out of their vans, fully armed. Yet, I continued feeding my chickens. Last Sunday when they took Mama, I had fought them hard, kicking and pushing at them, but they’d only laughed at me and kicked me into the dirt.
I managed a momentary glance up. Like my mother’s captors, these soldier like people covered their faces with black masks. Only their eyes were visible. They approached me and tried to scare me off. They only succeeded in scaring off my chickens. I stood up and turned to my papa who was beginning to stand up. Sara was thankfully nowhere in sight. She would be in Mama’s closet. It was the agreed secret hiding place.
I wondered what they would do to my Mama. I constantly wondered if truly they were torturing or raping her. It was what papa said they would do to her. She brought it upon herself, he said. Why won’t she allow the war times to be peaceful and quiet for them an average family, he lamented.
It horrified me to think they would do those things to my Mama. But what wrong had she done? Papa said the law of our land was crap. That the terrorist group that took Mama ruled the country, not the president.
I gulped hard hearing those words.
I watched my papa’s creamy brown skin glisten with sweat as the men finally reached him. They had no words for him and unlike Mama’s arrest, in which they’d had to resort to violence, papa’s taking was peaceful. Papa offered himself, hands thrust out. They cuffed it and pushed him down the stairs.
“Malaika, take care of your sister” he said lips trembling. I watched his full lips quiver, unable to cry. Why was I unable to cry? Why was I taking it all in as if, this was routine and normal? I placed a hand over my heart. I wanted to beg the men, convince them to bring back my mother, tell them I would die without my parents.
I heard my sister’s fast footsteps, I heard her sobs. I held her to my side, my chin on her hair. I couldn’t tell her everything was going to be alright like I’d done on Sunday. That would be a lie.
When my papa was finally in the van, his face looking out the netted window, I managed to talk to the last soldier.
“Sir, what about us?”
He gave a short nervous laugh “you don’t want to go where you papa is going. You’re in heaven, stay here” Was it sympathy I saw in his eyes or nervousness I heard in his accented English? No, the hard hearted man could have no sympathy.
I wondered how this, my current situation, and that of my neighbors, who were probably watching the scene through their window was heaven. I wouldn’t blame my hiding neighbors. Any resistance and the resistor would be in the van too with my papa, away from his family to face the fury flames of hell. I took a deep breath and watched as the dust circled after the van even when the van was not in visible sight. I turned to the elements. I watched as the sun spread its wings across the earth. It seemed a massive cobweb, ready to take domination of the world.
A few minutes later, Nkechi’s Mama was on our lawn, approaching us.
“Come,” she said “I would take care of you, everything would be alright.” She smiled sadly “your mama was a good woman. She said things that were true, things that didn’t make the bad people happy. She condemned the bad people”
It was unfortunate that Sara and I would hear a different story in a few minutes. “Mama Nkechi, I told you not to bring these children in here” Baba Nkechi said strolling around his room, bare chest as we entered his parlor. His stomach told tales of beer and drunken nights. It told tales of heavy meals after 8pm. It told tales of sleeping while his mates were working.
“Baba Nkechi, they are my friend’s children”
“oho, why din’t you tell your friend to stop running her mouth like water. Ehn? Abi you din’t know this evil would come upon her, da way she was always going paparampapa all over da place. As if she’s da only preacher in this town. da woman was a dumb fu—’
“Baba Nkechi, watch your language in front of the children” she warned
“I dun care” he said as he settled into a sofa that sunk under his weight “read my lips, I dun care, this is my house—”
“Children, please go outside” Mama Nkechi said
We went outside to sit by the steps with Nkechi. I didn’t know what to do; I just kept the weight of my head under my palms and looked at the approaching night darkness as it covered us with a cloud of doom and sorrow.
I wondered, thinking it weird that, if only my Mama had shut up, we won’t be facing this. I considered it strange because we’d been groomed to speak up. Mama taught us that there was nothing wrong with having opinions. I wondered who wanted Mama’s life for saying the truth. The person must simply be horrible.
The net that covered the front door of Nkechi’s house suddenly came to life as it was snatched open and slammed, and then snatched open and slammed again. Mama Nkechi was running after Baba Nkechi. “Where are you going to, there’s a curfew, you’ll get yourself killed”
He hissed and looked at me with blood shot eyes. “Now look here boy, I dun want you in my house no more. I dun want them to torture me as they’re doing to your goddamned mama. Do you know that they cut off her ear just yesterday because she was preaching Christianity? They’re making her convert to their religion, and it’s either she breaks or they kill her. You know that right?” he laughed, mocking me gently, staggering off like a stallion in a game. He wanted me to believe him. He was guessing. He didn’t know what was happening to my mother. No one knew.
I bit my lower lips, and let the tears flow down. I watched as it hit the floor and then covered my face in shame. Nkechi took my left side. She held my hands tightly. In another life, she’d have been my girlfriend. I tried to smile, but the more I tried, the more I cried. Mama Nkechi ran inside the house, her frustration, obvious.
“Your mama is a good woman” the older girl said. Usually, I’d have looked down at her maturing breasts, distracted, or studied her lips, enchanted, but today, my eyes saw her soul. “Your mama was helping us. We are a minority group in this area, we Christians. I’ve read in the books that the war is against western education and corruption. But I think otherwise. Teacher from down the street says this war is against Christianity. She’s right because they’re constantly killing and kidnapping our kind. Despite this, your mama was unafraid and unashamed, speaking at the market square and public roads. She was speaking out for all of us. My papa is a coward, I’m afraid. I want to be like your mama”
“Why did they take my papa?”
“It is part of the game of torture” she said carefully “i’m suprised they didn’t take you and Sara. You must be lucky. unfortunately, the luck won’t last. they would be coming after the two of you soon.”
She squeezed my wrist
“isn’t there something we can do” I asked
“the police don’t care, the army have a hard job catching this terrorist group, the pastors would pray, as they should, the president is giving silly excuses like he has or had no shoes so he cannot do his work, I don’t know.”
I looked at her disregarding the humor.
She looked back with a gentle smile.
“Be prepared Malaika. Be prepared”
My little way of celebrating human rights day (December 10th) has been to write this story and share with you Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The following are fundamental human rights enshrined in the 1999 constitution and accorded to all Nigerians. –
2. Right to dignity of human person – Section 34: Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of person and accordingly no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.
3. Right to personal liberty – Section 35: Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty.
4. Right to fair hearing – Section 36: In the determination of a person’s civil rights and obligations,every person shall be entitled to fair hearing.
5. Right to private and family life – Section 37: The privacy of citizens,their homes,correspondences and telephone conversations is guaranteed and protected.
6. Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – Section 38: Every person shall be entitle to freedom of thought,conscience and religion,including freedom to change his religion or belief.
7. Right to freedom of expression and the press- Section 39: Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions.
8.Right to peaceful assembly and association – Section 40:Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons or political party.
9. Right to freedom of movement – Section 41: Every citizen in Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.
10. Right to freedom from discrimination – section 42: No Nigerian shall be discriminated upon on the basis of his community, ethnic group,sex,place of origin and political opinion.
11. Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria – Section 43: Every Citizen shall have right to own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. 12. Right against compulsory acquisition of property – section 44
Can you point out one or two contravened human rights in Malaika’s story?