It was a beautiful morning in August somewhere in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria. We were on holidays so all we did was wake up in the morning, complete a few house chores, grab a quick breakfast before going off to play with the other kids in the neighborhood.
I stepped out of the house that morning feeling excited, my little round stomach stood firm in front of me attesting to the meal of Tuwo Masara (Corn recipe) with the tasty miyan kuka (Baobab leave soup) my mother made for breakfast.
I looked up to the sky and the sun seemed to smile down at me. The spotless blue sky was breathtaking and for a moment, I gazed on imagining what it felt like up in the sky.
My elder brother had always wished to become an “aeroplane driver”. We looked up each time one passed searching for it. Usually, kids will chorus “Arofla” as they turned their gaze to the sky, then a kid somewhere will scream “I have seen it”, pointing a tiny finger in the direction of the airplane helping others find it too.
I had no idea what it took to become an “airplane driver” neither did my brother, but I had dreams of flying in an airplane one day when my brother would have become a pilot. “He would take me and mama to the sky and into the cloud.”
I ran swiftly to join the kids in the field as though I was late to the playground.
Ahmadu’s father had bought him a red rubber football from his last trip to the city and the kids were dividing themselves into teams for a game of football.
“It had been a while since we had a football to play, today is indeed a beautiful day,” I thought.
We played and played until the kids began to fade from the field one by one, a usual occurrence around the time of lunch.
Soon enough, I heard my younger sister Aisha shouting my name from a distance. Obviously, it is lunchtime. I also vanished.
The other times Aisha called out for me like that were times when mama needed me to run an errand or when baba just returned from work with goodies that my five-year-old sister wanted to share with me, usually not willingly.
Baba taught in the community primary school where we went to play football but during the holidays, he spent most of his time working in the farm or transporting farm produce to the city with his old 1989 Nissan truck.
I took my place on the mat and balanced a plate of “Dan Wake” before me. Baba loved his “Dan Wake” served with “Zogale” (Moringa leave) and smoked fish but he had left for the city and won’t be returning until the next day.
I quickly ate my meal like it was the Passover so that I could re-join the other kids soon enough to get a slot in a team.
After dinner, mama called baba on her phone and we all spoke with him. As is the case whenever he traveled, I felt like he had been gone for months.
It was a quiet night, the moon showed up in all its glory blessing the night with her tranquil radiance while the community slept but I couldn’t get any more sleep, I had something close to a nightmare and it kept sleep at bay.
I laid facing the ceiling, my nine years old mind struggled in vain to make sense of the dream while my brother slept peacefully by my side. I looked through the window, the moon stood above the lintel like a big white dot in the middle of a stainless blue sky and guessed it was around 01:30 am.
I had barely shifted my gaze from the window when I heard a loud bang. It was so loud it jerked my brother up from sleep. We held our hands panting fearfully, we listened for a few minutes but there was no other sound. Mama rushed into our room carrying Aisha in her hand. The poor girl was so scared she couldn’t even cry.
We had heard of attacks in other villages but they were miles away from ours.
“Mama, is our village under an attack?” I managed to let those words out of my trembling lips.
“No my son, we are not…”, kakaka-kaka.
Mama had barely let those words out of her mouth when we heard what sounded like gunshots, it was sporadic and it was near, it was in our community. Our community was under an attack. We heard voices, people screaming, mothers crying and calling their children, fathers calling their families, we heard scrambles amidst the gunshots. Mama hastily gathered my siblings and me and hurried to exit carrying Aisha firmly on her side.
As mama unleached the back door, she whispered to us “Run straight into the bush, don’t stop don’t look back, just keep running.” With those words, we unleashed power into our frail legs.
Outside was hell. Houses were up in flames, as families ran wild trying to escape from the wrought that the terrorists had unleashed on our community.
I saw bodies lying lifeless all around, some had their stomach ripped apart with bullets. I was scared and I ran as fast as my legs could take me behind my elder brother. The last time I checked mama and Aisha were running behind me. I saw Ahmadu ran past me before hitting the ground uncontrollably.
We managed to escape to safety deep inside the bushes and remained there, hiding until morning. Only when we reached safety did I start to feel a sharp pain under my left foot, I had picked up a deep cut while running.
In hiding, I wondered where mama would be. We hoped that she was hiding somewhere in the bushes too and couldn’t wait to be reunited with her and Aisha in the morning.
Once it was daybreak, people began coming out of hiding one by one. It was as if a solemn assembly had been called. Some families members were reuniting, others were looking for their family members. Mama was not in the bush with, we believed she was hiding somewhere else.
A group of men decided to go back into the village to check if it was safe to return, they returned with a clear signal; they said a joint task force of the military and police had arrived at the village.
Our village had been raised completely; every house was burnt down. The authorities and a group of social workers were collecting dead bodies. We looked around, mama was nowhere.
We found Aisha in the care of a female social worker; she had cried herself to sleep with a bandaid around her right hand. The women said they found her near the bushes injured.
Families identified the remains of their loved ones and burst out crying and cursing. In the long line of dead bodies was Mama, she was hit in the head. Lying next to Mama was Ahmadu.
Baba saw the attack in the news and rushed back to the village wishing he was there for his family and hoping that nothing had befallen any member of his household, but that was hardly the case.
Mama his beloved wife had taken a long walk home.