The loud screech of the J5 engine blasted in my ears. The dark smoke from the exhaust slipped into the bus from the half open boot filled with sacks of onions. My tears were tearing up. I squirmed on my seat as I was squeezed among five people on the second row. The driver was playing a loud Highlife track by Osadebe on his music player as he hummed it aloud with a thick Igbo accent.
I leaned away from the fat man on my left, adjusting my blue dress so it doesn’t touch him. His flowing kaftan screamed for water and detergent. He reeked of gworo and heavy Hausa perfume and with his beads, he was reciting his Quranic prayers. I fought the urge to pin my nose. My face creased at the effort. Ebuka took my palms in his hands, his eyes peered into mine.
Don’t worry, we will soon get home. Ebuka consoled.
I leaned onto his body. He was just two years older than me but at 23, he already had our Father’s carriage. His full beard, tall frame and deep voice commanded my respect.
He shifted to make room for my comfort, his left shoulder sticking out of the window. His tall legs clasped together. I knew that he wasn’t comfortable.
No… Ebuka. Sit well… Okay. I said.
“Don’t worry, dear. We will soon be home. Ebuka assured.
Home… I thought, was still 14 hours away. We were still in Zaria and we were still heading to Abuja from where we would board a vehicle to Imo state.
I thought of the Oha soup mother would prepare for us; the royal welcome that awaits her two children that were schooling in Ahamdu Bello University, Zaria. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
The bus crawled along the road, swinging from side to side at the weight of its load. I reached out and pushed the window glass aside. Cool air rushed into the bus. I breathed deeply. The woman seated two seats before me was admonishing her child. Her rapid Hausa rang through the bus. The child answered with a loud wail and the woman didn’t make any attempt to appease the child. This unwanted music was what I must endure. I rested my shoulder on my brother’s at least as I prayed for sleep to distract me.
The bus came to a stop. I jerked forward. My head crashed into the back of the seat in front of me. Tiny blood slipped through my torn lips. The driver opened the door. The bus had hit a log, I heard the student behind us say but he didn’t complete his sentence when we heard loud screams all around us from the bush. About 20 young men with bare torso and guns and cutlasses were headed towards us chanting: Allah Akbar.
I began to tremble in my seat. Ebuka was alarmed too. He reached for my handbag and brought out my scarf and threw it at me. I quickly tied it around my hair.
Bring out the infidels… the leader of the group ordered.
He was young, a tall lanky man who was wielding a dagger as if it were a toy and a long gun hanging on his neck. They chanted as they hit our bus with their machetes. The glass windows of our bus were shattered. Our driver went to them and was trying to speak to them. I saw them push him away. He fell down on the middle of the road. In no time at all, tyres placed on him were set ablaze at the centre of the road and his body became a roasted meat.
Eferbody kome down! I said kome down, their leader ordered.
The two girls sitting behind us began to pray aloud pleading the blood of Jesus at the peak of their voices as tears flowed down their eyes. One by one, we stepped out of the bus. Ebuka whispered to me to claim to be Muslim if they ask. I almost laughed at his directive. Beyond my tied hair, I was wearing a pair of trousers and a tight shirt. How do I explain my Islamic origin with my dressing and my conspicuous Igbo accent?
Christians… This way, their leader pointed to the left.
Muslims that way, he pointed to the right.
Ebuka drew me with him as we rushed to the right. The fat Hausa man on the dirty blue kaftan bellowed in laughter as he saw us running to the right. The leader turned to him and after a few seconds of rapid Hausa conversation, the leader pointed at me.
You… Yarinya… Go there. he ordered pointing to the left.
Ebuka refused to let go of my arm. Tears swelled in his eyes. A blast of rapid Hausa was hurled at Ebuka but he held firm to me, he pleaded that they let me go. Three of them advanced towards him. He staggered. Fear crept into his eyes.
”Amaka, Run!” He screamed. His voice lashed out like a dry fig burning in the harmattan.
I dashed off, racing for the bushes. They descended on him: their clubs hitting his spine, their daggers piercing into his ribs. I heard his wail, the loud crack of his bone, the sharp puncture of his belly. But I kept running, faster. Jumping spikes and avoiding trunks. I heard them coming after me. I felt a sharp pain on my back. My hand reached behind, an arrow was nestled in my back, blood sipped on my blue gown. I didn’t stop. I didn’t cower. My brother must not die in vain.
Read also ADESUWA
A short story by Chioma Ngaikedi.