I still remember when the thought of Christmas would make me feel so excited, I would do anything to pick a number on the balloon chart. It was always delightful to get the biggest balloon every other child eyed. I remember struggling with my siblings to get the biggest cup so as to get the most plenty quantity of wine. Daddy would mock me, “Nne bring a drum if you like.” My mother would scream at me to come fry the chicken, because if it landed in my sister’s hands, of course Christmas was over. She would pinch it till it would be gone. I would stand afar off and watch my younger brother shoot the fireworks, it scared me as much as it excited me. The new dress mommy would buy, big, bogus, gowns, with a hat, socks, and handbag to match, it thrilled me.
In church all the pastor would talk about was the birth of Jesus, his mother Mary… Well I have heard that sermon one too many times. I could recite it with him if he wanted me to. Maybe pastor Chidi read my mind or God answered my prayers, because he ended the service just as soon as it had started. One person who captivated me in church was Aunty Jenny, the choir director. She was fair, a very beautiful lady. She had the most sonorous voice I have ever heard. She was my role model. I hoped to grow up to be able to sing like her. I would linger around in church just to hear her sing during choir rehearsal; of course I got my mother’s scolding for that, but it didn’t matter so long as I got to hear my Idol sing.
Another thing which made me very happy was my pastor’s son Chima, whom I had a crush on. I was glad he would get to see me on my new dress, and would probably want to be my friend. I changed my walking style, thanks to the new shoe mommy bought for me. It gave me the “koi koi” sound I wanted. I usually stole a few glances at him and purposely sat some seats close to him. He was a very handsome dude, chubby, and light skinned. He always looked good in his Christmas clothes. I wished I could tell him what I felt for him, or probably touched him.
During praise and worship, I made sure to sing very loud, so he could hear me and at least notice me. I adjusted my clothes quite often so in case he looked while I wasn’t looking, he would get a nice picture of me. During offerings, I made sure to walk slowly, in order to meet up with him so as to brush my hands against his. I would chuckle at the mere thought of it. Those were childish fantasies. Just a day after Christmas, Hoodlums from the neighboring village attacked our village. I can’t remember what the fight was all about, but I can remember listening to some elders discussing it. They were fighting over some boundary land. My village Amafo, wouldn’t let go of it, and so the other village, Nwagulu was ready to go extra miles to claim it.
Our village chief had positioned some men at the boundary between our village and Nwagulu to ward off the hoodlums, but I guess in the fanfare of the season they relented. I don’t blame them, who would have thought such would happen during Christmas? The Hoodlums struck. Oh! They hit us very hard. That day is still very fresh in my memory. I can remember I was playing a game of hopscotch in front of our compound with our neighbour’s daughter Nkechi. She loved to cheat at games and I wasn’t going to let her win. In my left hand was the meat mommy had given me, I was biting it slowly. I was really having fun. That was when I heard the shouts. People were yelling and running toward every direction. I was confused and very scared. I rushed to see what could have caused the rampage. The sight was horrific; dead men, women and children lying everywhere. I could hear some villagers shouting, “Nwa m o! Hoodlums! Hoodlums! I turned round and Nkechi was nowhere to be found. I wanted to run when I heard, “Nne m! Nne m!” I stopped on my track.
I recognized the voice, it was daddy’s voice, I turned to look at him he was already wounded, I wanted to help him, but in his eyes he was pleading for me to run. I saw him shriek in pain as a bullet hit him, he gave me a faint smile as he hit the ground. My mouth was open, yet no words came out. I found my legs racing very fast as I ran with the other villagers. In and my head it kept ringing, papa is dead, mine has finished. My daddy is gone. My heart was in chaos as it struggled to contain the shock. I didn’t know where I was running to, but I ran. I didn’t know how long the attack lasted, but I was able to find solace in a bush. I hid in-between trees and cluster of shrubs, tired, scared and hungry. I wanted to close my eyes and open them to see that all that was over.
As I hid in that bush, the thought of snakes crossed my mind, I was very scared. I have never felt so alone my whole life; but I had to be strong. I had to stay alive. I sobbed when I remembered daddy’s dying face. My clothes were very dirty and torn. Ii didn’t mind them, we were at war. I think I had fallen asleep in my tiredness.
When I heard the sound of breaking twigs and rustling of dry leaves, I knew someone was around. I laid still and held my breath, but it was of no use. I think the stranger had been there for long and had been observing me while I slept. As he approached me, he looked quite tall. I couldn’t make out the face as it was already dark. I think he was in his middle twenties. I had never seen him before. I didn’t think he was from our village; he was probably one of the Hoodlums who took notice of me in my ragged clothes. I cuddled more to myself, I tried to use my clothe to cover some of my exposed body parts. It was of no use.
He was holding a knife. He brandished it very well so I could see it. I knew what he wanted. The way he looked at me said it all. The knife scared me and I was too weak to fight; so there was no point trying. However, I knew I just had to survive this somehow. I prayed to God for strength. The stranger pulled me out and straightened me, he tore through my clothes, and found my pant. He licked his lips with his eyes filled with lust. He then found his way into me, it was the most painful thing I ever felt, with each thrust, I felt like he was tearing me into two. Hot tears streamed down my face. I don’t know if God heard my silent pleas. As I turned sideways, my eyes fell on some object, it was the stranger’s knife, he probably had dropped it and was too busy to notice, I was going for it.
I grabbed the knife and stabbed him in the throat. I didn’t know what came over me. I pulled it out and kept stabbing him. His eyes were open with shock, his mouth and nose dripping blood. I was angry. I was hurt. I was filled with rage. I stabbed him the more, when I remembered my daddy’s face. I stabbed him much more till he wasn’t moving any more. He laid there lifeless. I held the knife firmly, his blood dripping from it. I held it like my life depended on it. That night I was ready to fight to survive. Somehow I felt new strength creep up inside me. That day, they could have taken my father from me and taken my pride as a woman, but I found new strength, new hope. I still had to fight, life is war. I pulled the man with the little strength I had left and covered him up with palm fronds. I was no longer scared. I held onto the knife to see if anyone would come to attack me, but none came. I stayed back in the bush; I must have slept off out of exhaustion, because when I woke it was already morning. I could hear birds chirping and the morning dews falling from trees onto my body. I picked up my weary self and looked around. It was all was quiet.
It looked as if nothing ever happened, I decided it would be fine to step out of the bush. I was worried about my mother and siblings. I really needed to go back home. With measured steps, I wade my way to the road. I was still with the knife just in case I needed to use it. As I walked, I saw some of my villagers, some wounded, some searching for their loved ones and some were dead, already bloating. It was a terrible sight. It reminded me of my father, my ‘mpa’ (daddy) as I fondly called him. I got home safe, Mommy was alright, my brother Chinedu was wounded, but my sister Nneka was fine, just some bruises. I couldn’t bring myself to say what had happened to me in the bush; mpa’s death was enough. Mpa was to be buried soon, he was already decaying. All through that ordeal, mommy didn’t cry. She didn’t even allow her hair to be shaved. I screamed and yelled as he was being laid to rest. mommy just looked on, she had this faraway look in her eyes. She never said a word.
I don’t know where she got her strength from. Chinedu was comforting me or I was comforting him, as we couldn’t help ourselves. The pain was too much. I kept asking myself, who would fight for me? who would tease me? many times I kept looking at the entrance to our house, expecting to see him coming home, smiling and calling on me to come and help him carry his bag. I was shattered. Weeks passed, it then turned into months, the village was never the same, everyone lived in fear.
One fine day, mommy came into our room, for the first time since mpa died. She said to us, “We are moving.” That was all. I searched her eyes for more, but there was nothing there. I had not known life outside our village. When she left, I crept to my sister’s bed. She seemed happy. She said to me, “I overheard her talking to the village bus driver that we would be going to Lagos. I heard it’s a very fine place. I’ll get to make those hair-do I see on the television, the type that Mr. David’s daughters flaunt in church during holidays. I would get to wear those elegant dresses, and see those places our teacher talked about. Oh! Lagos here I come.” I laughed very hard.
“I heard it’s a very busy place. You could get lost very easily. I was told there are plenty of cars there, it’s nothing like our village,” I told her. Brother Nedu, as we fondly called Chinedy, stirred in his bed. I noticed he had been listening. He was smiling naughtily. I tickled him. “Why are you smiling?” I asked. He laughed. “So we are finally leaving? I will get to see those fine girls Chinenye talks about when he comes home for holidays. I will get to wear those fine jeans. The big shoes and all those ‘bling-bling’ stuffs,” he said. I laughed at him. “Foolish boy, that’s all you know. You no go do make God use you,” I teased. I knew mommy could hear us, yet she said nothing. I wondered why she behaved that way. I still had nightmares, I could never forget what happened to me in the bush. I still couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone, sometimes in my sleep, it felt as if the dead stranger woke and would come after me, I couldn’t have been happier to leave the village.