nghtfall in tunga

# # # NIGHTFALL IN TUNGA BY ZAINAB UMAR

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No parts of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage retrieval system without without any written permission from the Author.

****
This story is dedicated to every girl, boy, man, woman out there who have been a victim of BH, who have been killed, molested, displaced, mutilated, and abused in any way.
To the victims, I say, this war will end and time will heal your pains.
To the people who have fuelled and sponsored the war and killings in one way or the other, may your wealth and power buy you a lifetime of pain and woes.

*****
•Nightfall in Tunga•

I killed him, and slowly removed the switchblade from his flesh, relishing the feel of metal against flesh and blood. I turned the blade here and there, getting a feel of the sturdy handle, tracing my fingers on the inscription made by my father, I twirled the blade in a slow circle and caught a sharp glint from a falling star. A drop of blood slithered off my nose and dropped, tainting the cool, green grass.

*****
The sun that crawls over Tunga this time of the year is merciless, I was weary and tired barely minutes into the morning. I walked to the communal tap with my bucket balanced on my head, sweat dripping off my brows like petals of pearls.
I watched the others as they fetched water from the tap and then proceeded to do the same when it got to my turn.
With my bucket balanced again on my head, I walked down the road, heading home.

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!

I melted into the darkness in my heart, the chant ricocheted through my head and triggered my heart into pumping excess blood, I quickly glanced towards the left and when I saw that the framed picture in front of the mosque had changed, my breath caught in my throat. In place of the peaceful visage of the Prophet stood the menacing water colour pallet of the war- harbinger. Men with their eyes drawn back into their heads chanted on like programmed bots, unwavering, lost in the grips of the building insanity.

I grabbed my bucket tightly with both hands and hurried home.
****

Father was already dressed, a pile of cloth lay in the corner, under it our collective wealth.
Like clockwork, we all moved in sync to already laid out plans. I quickly packed half a dozen of hard bread, two rolls of dried kilishi and a big mug of water. Mother’s face was a study of confused energies, pain etched in deep grooves and in place of beauty, lay an eternity of pain.

No one uttered a word as father moved stealthily out of the house, mother retreated into the inner room and fell on her face. My brother picked up the kitchen knife, latched the door and sat cross-legged, by the threshold.

***
My name is Zefinat, I am 14years old, the daughter of a Baptist Minister.
I am almost 6ft tall, very light in complexion, lithe and swift on my feet. I took after my father, from his light-brown hair, to his long nimble fingers. My life is a study of conflicting angles, one day filled with hymns and songs and happy moments, another with the chants of war, swords, blood and severed limbs.

I used to have a 10yr old sister but she fell like the rest, to the chants of Allahu Akbar!, the clash of swords and the war of people filled with love for their gods.

****
Hours later, the chants died down and mother came out from the inner room. We unlatched the door and brother wandered into the streets to pick up the vibes of things.
Soon, the sun gave way to the moon and the atmosphere became calm and quiet. The whole place was eerie, and when the big and small hands of the clock stuck 12, a scream rose in my throat. I woke with a start from a light slumber, went to the door to listen and moments later, I heard a tiny scratching sound, tip-tap, scraw-scraw, tip-tap…..
My soul screamed but my mouth clenched in loud silence. I moved away from the door and went into my fathers room, quietly, I picked up a sharp scissors, stood by the mirror and hacked off my very long hair. I then chose from his array of garments and donned his buba and sokoto. It fitted my lean frame and the folds of the big buba hid my budding breasts. When I looked into the mirror again, my father stared back at me, he was about 20 years younger and I gasped with fright as I backed away from the mirror.

I went back out and watched my mother and little brother sleeping, my brother still clutched the kitchen knife as he moved restlessly on the bed. I gently extricated the knife from his grip and kissed his furrowed brows. Even in sleep, the frown etched on his face was clear and deep.
Oh god! There is no peace here. I thought about my father and wondered if he had gotten to the hiding place. The church, our house, our lives, our hope.

I moved to the door again and after listening for a while, I went back into the room.

****
I did not know when I fell asleep but my eyes opened to the distinct sound of approaching footsteps. I quickly picked up the switchblade and hooked it to my pants. Stood up and stepped into the inner room.

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!
The door crashed in one fell swoop and my heart crashed with it.
I saw the number of men this time and I knew the end had come. I hid in the kitchen and immediately the first group surged in, I joined them from the kitchen and joined my voice with theirs as the shout of war rented the air.

The one that kicked the door to the inner room open came back out, clutching my mother in a vise grip. They searched everywhere for my father and when they couldn’t find him, a loud cry rented the air. A gallon of gasoline was passed from hand to hand and as the leader of the group unsheathed his word, I turned around and joined the group of men already exiting my house, to search for their next kill.
All the other times, they always left whenever they found out my father was not in the house. But this time, with the gasoline came a match, sharpened swords and praises to the most high.

*****
In fevered craze, we went from house to house, fishing out the infidels, many heads rolled and many houses burned to the ground. At about 6am, my father’s church was torched and I watched as everything my father had ever believed in curled in protest against the raging flames, gave in and yielded to the fire of war.

The flames curled and curled into the sky, burnt offering to the most high, Allahu Akbar!

****

I am not an infidel, I am a 14years old girl.
The nights that followed the big raid saw me sleeping in the general mosque. I would roam the market places searching the faces, hoping for just a whiff of their scents, that sharp turn of his shin, my brothers squinted eyes in the sea of heads. I thought my mother frowned too much, but I would give my life-blood to see those furrows once more.
I roamed and roamed, no one paid attention to me, like every displaced person, I was on my own, like the dirt littering the grounds, non-existent.
I could not go back to my community, my house already a pile of ashes, and my loving neighbours would sell me out with just a snap of their fingers.

****
One day, I lay under one of the trees in the mosque as usual. When I heard the sound of vehicles, I turned on my belly to behold a group of uniformed men jumping down from what seemed to be government buses. I crawled to my feet and dusted my father’s clothes.

We were picked up one after the other and questioned. I explained everything to them and we were later piled into the waiting vehicles…..

Hmmmmmn! Sometimes, I wonder why we hold on to life when death could end all the pains[/i]

The ‘officers’ took us to a place where we were housed in make-shift huts covered with corrugated roofs. I told one of them that I am a girl when the time of the month came, he only smiled and gave me change of clothes and toiletries.
They told us we will remain in the ‘camp’ until they determine the fate of our parents. I could not say I was sure my parents were dead, I hoped for a miracle.

Slowly, I adjusted to life in that place, woke up to partake in chores but kept mostly to myself. Life became a endless roll of days, we were like prisoners of war, isolated, yet outside the walls of our abode, people moved around, living and loving.

[i][b]One country, one war,  yet in certain corners of the Nation, people only read about the bloodshed and endless raids. The war, mere articles in several tabloids, yet torrents of blood continued to flow in Northern spheres, broken lives, smeared souls, shallow graves of destinies cut short[/i][/b]

*****
A month later, insomnia joined my horde of problems and I would move restlessly on my bed from dusk to dawn. It was this period that opened my eyes to the night activities in camp.

Needless to say, I was hurled out of bed one night, two officers led me to the back of a vehicle and I stood, mute and aloof as questions were hurled at me:

Officer 1: We have been told you are a prostitute.

Officer 2: Why did you leave your home?

Me: *stutters*

Officer 1: If you wish to continue to stay here, you have to do as you say else we will return you to the streets.

Officer 2: You are a prostitute.

Officer 1: Go into the back of the van quietly and remove your cloth.

Me: I am not a prostitute *shivering*

Officer 2: *Turns to officer 3* Go and bring 2 more. Choose from the young ones.

Officer 3: *salutes* Yes Sire!

****
I did not see the hands that pulled up my skirt but I stumbled as I was shoved roughly into the back of the van, my knees scraped the iron seats and I felt a palm fumbling with my drawers.

Moments later, it was over, I was numb but I knew the night had just began.

****
Two other girls joined me, and we were passed between 12-15 officers. They were all waiting in parked vans, we were always shoved on our knees, taken roughly from behind.
When they were sated, I stumbled from the van unto the floor, curled up and began to draw the pains inward. I thought about my mother, my father and little brother. I thumbed through their faces with my mind-eyes and slowly, my pains eased.

I did not recall passing out but I was startled when strong hands lifted me off the floor. We were taken to another section of the camp, our status had changed from that day.

****
In that section, a rag was tied over our eyes, we were never allowed to join the others.
Men began to troop in several times in a day.
The suppressed screams and groans would reach my ears and I had began to shiver, retreating into my shell, waiting for groping hands once more. I couldn’t count the men that took me as I couldn’t see them. Time had blended into an endless whorl.

Cries and moans emanated from every corner and nothing mattered anymore, except the sound of doors opening and banging shut.

We were led into an alcove after one week, our blindfolds removed and we were asked to clean up and also to brush our teeth with leaves.

As I sprayed the cool stream water over my body, I looked around and saw dozens of young girls looking back at me. I shivered and for the first time, I let out the pain. I cried bitterly, water joined my tears and my chest heaved as I looked down at myself. My ribs stuck out and like all the other girls, I was emancipated and filthy in and out.

As I struggled into my clothes, I suddenly remembered my switchblade. Left with my father’s clothes in my former room in the camp.

If only!

****
After the bath, our blindfolds were replaced and more men trooped into our abode.

I lay frigid and still as the next hands probed me. Without a sound, he turned me over and like a corpse, I turned without moving a muscle and then I almost jumped out of my skin when he said:

Him: Do you wish to leave this place?

Me: *twitched my toes*

Him: *continues to ram into me*

Him: I could take you far away, sell you to anyone in need of a wife or slave. You are very pretty and young. When we are through with you here, your womb will fall out and we will butcher you and throw you into the pit at the back of the camp.

Me: Are you people police men?

Him: *slams into me some more*

Me: Are you solders?

Him: Make up your mind. If you want to leave here, stop breathing right now.

Me: This cloth is filthy, please go into the other camp and ask for Muktar, tell him Zefinat sent you, he will give you my bundle, bring it along with you when next you come in here.

And I stopped breathing.

****
Hours later….

The door to the abode banged open again and several feet shuffled in.

Officer 1: I was ramming her when she stopped breathing.

Officer 2: Get her out of here then. Keep her in your van till evening then drive far away from camp and take care of the corpse. I think the other pit is full, you can go with one officer to dig another.

Officer 1: Okay Sir.

Officer 3: But how come they always end up dying mostly under you. Why? Your snake must be poisonous.

*laughter rented the air*

Officer 5: There’s another one in that corner that hasn’t moved since morning. I think she is dead too.

Officer 2: Get her out of here then. Check all of them properly. The very weak ones should be taken out for burial in the pit. We will replace them this evening. Ask the sergeants to drive into town, they should comb the streets, check the mosques and churches and deserted streets. Bring any one roaming the streets back here.

Officers 1,3,4 and 5: *Salutes* Yes Sire!

My still form was hauled from my corner and carried into a waiting van. The other girl too was carried in, the van was locked and the officers left.

Minutes later, I moved from my position and poked the other girl in the ribs. She didn’t move. I slapped her face lightly and her open eyes gazed back at me. I looked into her eyes and fingers of dread crept up my spine. It was as if she was accusing me, I did not realize I was crying until fat globes of tears dropped on my open palms. I reached over to close her eyes, to shut her soul out, and gently lay back down, death my companion.

I heard the van door creaking open and I quickly held my breath. Then something flew through the air and landed on my chest.
I remained still until the door creaked shut again. I opened my eyes and felt the bundle on my chest. My eyes flew open and I ripped at the bundle, scrambling, searching, hoping, until my fingers curled around the smooth handle of my switch blade.

…..and death smiled in the darkness.

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