What choice can one have when one has no knowledge of the causes of it; no imagination for grotesque human cruelty; no recourse to justice in one’s lifetime? For the Igbos of South-eastern Nigeria war meant no choice. It was short, sharp and very nasty. It hit like a grenade, detonating everything, ha n’oge gara aga, ha ugbu a, ha ga-eme n’ọdịnihu. (Their past, their present, their future)
Jaja was only fourteen, when the very bad and stupid game chose him. Some war-like soldiers had randomly selected him like any other civilians that are now suffering or had died. For him and his seventeen-year-old brother Mano, the cruelty and unjustness of war had all started when they were trying to make their way back from an old dispensary. Like many others, Jaja and Mano’s day seemed to be normal. Their Mama Anola had only told them to try getting her some antibiotics for their sister Ijeoma. Apart from being hungry and exhausted, the forty-five minute walk from the dispensary to home was a common routine for the boys. They were as if drunken by the sun that burnt the back of their earthly brown necks; dehydrated. Their slap-slap slippers made tiny puffs from the dusty ground as they walk-raced saying ‘who could get back first.’
Running teasingly back to their village in Lagos, Mano could hear the weeping voices of their neighbours singing off-key. As they got closer and closer the noises got louder and clearer. “Politics pụtara ikpe ziri ezi adịghị” (Politics means no justice!), “Ikpe ziri ezi bụ ihe dị anyị mkpa” (Justice is what we need!). Mano knew something was wrong the moment their road ahead got visible. He could easily grasp at a horde of people holding placards in the air that read: God Bless Biafra.
‘Look Mano, look!’ Jaja shouted, whilst his hand pointed like an arrow at the thick black acrid smoke that curled into the sky.
Mano quickly glanced at the sky panicked, thoroughly looking around his surroundings. ‘Uncle, uncle what’s happening?’ he shouted as a shirtless man breathlessly ran pass him in the direction they were walking from. ‘Gbaa nwa m!’ (Run my child!) The man’s fading voice said.
Mano thought about running. He rapidly pulled Jaja’s arm the moment he began to note an unusual sound that made his teeth clenched. He could tell that Jaja did not notice. Jaja was too busy staring at the suffocating smoke spreading everywhere. Mano continued to look where the sound was coming from just before he sighted at an army truck. The truck made an unusual rusty squeak before pulling up to the far end side of the road, he was planning to walk home. His eyes meet Jaja’s.
‘Everything will be ok.’ Mano states, clutching his brother’s hand firmly. In a hostile way, he pulled at Jaja then began to half-run half-walk to a pile of wreckages to hide.
‘Why are we running Mano?’ Jaja asks, whilst he swiftly releases his hand from Mano’s. We do not have to run anymore, remember what Ma Anola said: “They will never attack us, never again!” I heard the news on the radio too. It is all over. We are Biafra now, Jaja cheerfully declared.
‘You senseless boy Jaja, how stupid are you?’ Mano shouted as drizzling rain slobbered from his mouth sprinkling Jaja’s straight face. Do you see what is happening to the sky?
‘Me, nzuzu?’ (Stupid?) Jaja inquired whilst pointing to his chest. ‘It has been three weeks now Mano,’ he yelled.
‘Yes! Jaja’ 3 long weeks since Chief Odume said he would return to Lagos and speak justice, Mano replied with aggression.
‘But he promised to protect us Mano,’ Jaja said proudly whilst staring at him.
For that moment, Mano had a slight pull down in his mouth corner; his upper eyelid dropped and made him lose focus in sight. He did not reply. He thought about the Chiefs’ swearing words too, then about the Hausas army that had just ruined their town and killed countless innocent people. He thought even more about whether that black smoke was still due to the remains of bodies and rubbles burning in their village or was it all starting over. He burst into tears.
‘Where was he Jaja…? ’Mano continued while drops of tears kept felling from his eyes. Where was Chief Odume when those Northerners attacked Lagos? Until this day, we do not know why. It has been three long weeks now; we have been listening to the tune of wounded and burnt neighbour screaming in agony.
The boys stood within the rubbles for a period of five minutes, arguing about the previous attack just before they notice…
‘Shhh!’ Mano whispered, quickly pressing his fingers against Jaja’s lips. Did you hear that? He questions whist grabbing Jaja to stoop down.
The boy’s did not realise the truck had unloading a large gang of soldiers. Their awareness came from the trampling boots that crunched against small braches as the soldiers cut paths through the rubbles. Without hesitancy Mano rushed off. Jaja followed when he heard the heavy voice trailing closer toward him.
‘You stop there!’ one of the voices kept shouting.
‘Mano, I am sure he is talking to us,’ Jaja said, as each word seemed to tremble. ‘Let us stop!’
‘Are you crazy Jaja?’ Mano asked, while his eyes open wide at him. You had better run, he added. Ma Anola is waiting for Ijeoma’s antibiotics.
They breathlessly continued to run until a loud POW! from one of the head soldier’s called Jamo gunshot went off. It was so alarmingly close that Jaja knew he could not escape fast enough. His running got slower as he anxiously searched his body to see if the shot had drilled itself into him, but he was safe. POW! again went another gunshot. This time the increasing loudness caused him to lose control of Ijeoma’s bottle. His hands had become slippery with sweat, causing the glossy bottle to slip. It was all smashed before he could grab at it; everything was kwafuru (spilled). His running had completely ceased before he knew it. He had became an unmoving body as drops of sweat slowly trickled down his forehead, towards the inner corner of his eyes, then left an unbearable sting. For once, he did not mind: he was too focusing on watching as Mano continuing to run.
Mano was still struggling and puffing just before the third shot had fired, POW!
For about seven seconds Jaja stood with his mouth wide open. Gulp, he tried to speak, but his voice was barely audible. It was as if a giant boulder was laid on him and he couldn’t straighten up or catch his breath entirely. He suddenly crumbled to the ground trying to call Mano; it was too hard. He was too numb to even think about crying. It was then Jaja knew he had no choice: he had to witness his innocent brother shot through the back by Federal Governor Military Troops…
A group of soldiers followed the direction Mano was trying to run, while two others rushed to grab at Jaja. Biko! (Please!) My Mama Anola is waiting for me Sah, Jaja kept crying whilst Jamo ran up toward him; it was no use. When the second soldiers got closer, the first thing Jaja saw was the blood paintings on the black pair of canvas he was wearing. He then slowly looked up and saw their faces; camouflaged with mud. He thought they were like doctors surrounding a patient during surgery, except there was no assurance for life. The only tools he saw were their guns; the only sent that linger was the mixture of burnt gunpowder and musty blood. Jaja knew he was about to play the game.
“Get up!” shouted Jamo. Get up now you nzuzu (stupid), join them standing over there!
Yes Sah, Jaja pronounced in a wobbly voice as he strained to stand up. As he manages to press his knees to the muddy ground, a twofold Wapping from the second soldiers’ gun flattered him down back. He lost control of his bladder when both soldiers pointed their warm mental at him, shouting: ‘get up’. Without hesitation, Jaja ran on his hands and feet to join the other men standing.