A short story by M D Zigo
At first, I thought it was a dream. No. Indeed, someone was at my door. I perceived my world would soon collapse, again. Reluctantly, I pushed the thick blanket off my body and dragged myself out of bed. I listened. It was a chilly and quiet night, so quiet I heard only the faint, tick-tack sound of my clock. I checked the clock - just a few minutes after midnight.
My heart started to beat faster than normal.
Had they finally come for me, as they warned weeks before? Not long ago, I returned home from a maximum-security prison. I spent a little over six months in that place. My only crime? Possessing a newspaper that carried information on the crisis in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon. The uprising had escalated since my 'miraculous' release. My incarceration in one of the worst places in the world did not stop me from doing my job as a freelance writer, or reading more newspapers. My detention taught me one thing; being cautious. Fear and uncertainty had engulfed and paralysed the people of Buea. Everyone felt the presence of security officials in town. Plain clothes policemen patrolled the streets, ready to pick deviants at any time. The Ambazonia Restoration Forces promised days ago to invade the city. A civil war loomed in the horizon.
I used a reasonable part of that evening on some articles on Ambazonia, that I wrote days back. These contained damaging facts on both the government and restoration forces, mostly on the abuse of Human Rights. I feared they came for me again. So, I made a prompt decision to hide my articles. I cleared the table and shoved the content under the bed.
A frightening thunder followed a sickening flash of light. There was no electricity in my room and I fumbled with the candle before I lit it. My visitor chose that time to knock again, this time he banged at the door.
''Open the fucking door, or I would break it down!'' he thundered. Before I mustered the courage to ask who and what they wanted, the door opened after a loud bang, and behold, a soldier walked majestically into my room, a gun in hand, tall, huge, fiery and combat ready. I retreated to a corner as his figure filled my dwelling place. He took off his helmet and placed it on the floor.
''My Man!'' he said with a smile.
I shook, shocked but relieved. He was my childhood friend and classmate, from the Center Region of Cameroon. We met when we both enrolled into Sasse College, one of the best schools in the country. He spoke French and only a little English at the time of enrolment. We became friends. Over the years, we shared the same classrooms and dormitories. We went to same places and did things together. We spent almost every inch of our time together until JP went into Military School at the Nation's Capital and I enrolled into the University of Buea, after we both left High School. We kept our friendship. I attended his graduation a few years back. He came to celebrate with me, when I finished my degree in Journalism and Mass Communication at Uni.
The last time I heard from my good old friend was when the president declared war on the 'terrorists' in the English Speaking parts. Leadership instructed Jean Pierre Marie and his team to teach them ( the terrorists) a lesson to always remember, because they rebelled against the fatherland.
''No light in here!''
He pulled a chair.
''None. It's been darkness for days.''
''Not good. I thought I could stop by and give you something real to write on, about the war. Everything's locked in my phone and the battery's down. What's in my keeping can bring down manipulators and I would gladly give it to you, so humanity can breed''
''We can wait till tomorrow.''
''Wait? Non, mon ami. I came on a mission. No time to waste. We would go for a walk.''
''Oui. Nous.'' A scary thunder followed another flash of light, and a storm pushed the already compromised door opened and threatened to sweep off the content of my room.
''It's over midnight. There is a thunderstorm and you destroyed my door. The whole town's dark, and we currently live in risky times.''
''No arguments, mon frère! Get ready for the walk, period! Now, move!' He grabbed his weapon and pointed at me. 'Move, the riffle's loaded.''
We stepped out. The storm and downpour welcomed us.
''What do you know about pain, buddy? Your people in the villages presently dwell in the bushes. They would murder for a cup of rice. They don't have access to portable water, hospitals, medication, in fact, no supplies of any kind. Women give birth in the bushes, unattended. Imagine a mother in the wild with her new baby! Do you know what it means to be delivered of your baby in the forest? Tell me, do you understand what it means for parents to be separated from their kids- from their loved ones? How does it sound when families abandon their dead and escape? Do you...''
He hit my rips with his gun.
''Start moving,'' he said.
We treaded into the rain.
''Under arrest?'' I asked
''No. How can I arrest my best friend? I just want a walk with you, to strengthen our friendship. But you would be dead if you do anything stupid- that I can guarantee you! Stop, stop there! I changed my mind. We should go out instead. Get into that car. No, the black one. I stole it. Please, drive the car!'' He surrendered the key to me. I stared at him, worried what happened to him.
I opened the car's door and slumped into the driver's seat. He sat next to me, his handgun pointed at me.
''Where should we go to?''
''Anywhere,'' he replied vaguely.
I pulled the car into Campaign Street and he told me to speed up towards Bongo Square. I did. The rainstorm raged on as we tore through the deserted roads.
''Turn right towards Molyko,'' he said when we arrived Bongo Square. Police Men stopped us as we turned. They'd mounted a check point, one of the many checkpoints along that line. They kept us for a few minutes.
''These once peaceful Streets!' he exclaimed. ''These once beautiful sites! We once paraded these lanes. Do you remember when we escaped from the dormitory to enjoy nightlife in this city?''
''Oh yes. But not anymore,'' I said, a sigh of regret. ''We retire indoors before dusk. We think twice before setting out of home. There are indiscriminate shootings, forceful pickups, rape, torture, collective punishment and threat of danger. We are living in very difficult times. Why are you here?'' I asked him.
''I am running away.''
''Sincerely? Nothing indicates you are running away.''
''Don't believe me, if you don't want to, but I am. I saw and did enough. I am doing my last days or hours.''
We remained silent for a while. We sped passed Baptist High School, Great Soppo, Bonduma, the hill at Santa Barbara, and Bilingual Grammar School.
''This is a meaningless, messy and dirty war, Danny,'' he used my name for the first time. ''How can the army do what they did to helpless citizens. How can they burn habitats, destroy crops, domestic animals, shoot guiltless people and push them into refugee centers away from home?''
''You tell me. Aren't you one of them?''
''I am,'' he sighed. ''I put myself on harm's way to do the right thing. You won't believe how many times I got screwed by my colleagues and superiors who wanted me be the bad guy in my line of duty?''
''I am listening.''
''I did many evil things. I buried someone alive, raped a girl in front of her parents, tortured and eliminated civilians. Once, I summoned an old, ailing grandfather from his home and burnt it!''
We both stayed speechless for a while.
''No, don't tell me we are at war. I served in the North-West when the protest began in November of 2016. When the president walked away from the path of peace and declared war, I was reposted to the South-West, in Mamfe. We had as task to stop the rebellion, root out the 'terrorists' and punish them. At first, we became excited. We thought our task would be easy. Our excitement lasted until reality set in. We were pitched against a powerful movement - a people dedicated to their course and ready to take back their statehood...
What happened next was pathetic. It is sad but true, that majority of those who ran into Nigeria had done so, not because of the cross fire, but because of fear of the government's men and women in uniform. We had been humiliated, and we resorted to burning down of entire neighbourhoods, torturing more of harmless and vulnerable individuals, carrying out illegal arrests, etcetera. Whether we gained anything in Manyu remains questionable, but what I know is that our actions radicalised a people and widened the rift between us.''
''When things heated up in Menji, in Lebialem Division, I was redeployed there. The inhabitants had left, some into the hinterlands, others to towns and cities. It was a fearful place to be. Hunger was common. Food and other amenities could not reach us on time. Most of us broke into shops and houses to find food, money and other valuables. Almost everything had collapsed: governance; the economy. The transport system had crumbled. No cars were driving either in or out. The town was under occupation. We patrolled one end of the town to the other, with heavy armoured vehicles. Those we encountered looked angry and unfriendly. The weather and topography of the area drew tears. How on earth could someone survive in a rugged topography like that of Lebialem, with mountains, deep and frightening valleys, densely forested zones and useless roads? Many of us didn't fight because we loved fatherland. We fought to maintain the status quo - to keep few in power. So, orders from above, and we executed it, irrespective of the effects on the local population.
When a Divisional Officer got shot and a delegate killed, we went crazy. We burnt down homes, hunted and assembled young guys who were severely punished, guilty or not . The Red Dragons promised to revenge, and they did. They fired back. They were the ones fighting for their statehood in that part of the region. Determined, they knew their terrain and were using guerrilla warfare. Many of our fighters and equipment just disappeared...''
''Stop here. No, turn left into Malingo Street.'' Thirty-five metres into the street, he asked me to park by the roadside.
''I met one of those UB 'wolowoss' (prostitute) when I last visited.'' He told me, stepped out of the car and approached one of the Hostels located along the road. He knocked on a door. A while later, he disappeared into a room.
I wanted to drive off. I didn't. I just sat there and waited, as though under a spell. I tried to understand the events that were unfolding in front of me. My friend broke into my room and kidnapped me. An opportunity to take off and avoid any calamity that may follow just surfaced. I did not move. One thing was certain. Jean Pierre needed help. He looked 'off-course' and unpredictable. How could he even be stable after seeing and doing what he did?
Twenty minutes later, the door opened. A girl ran out into the rain, sheets rapped over her body. JP walked out of the room and returned to the car..
''Did you see that?'' he asked me.
''Don't look at me that way. I didn't molest her. I paid her good money and she accepted it. Not the first time and not my fault she couldn't stand it. You know, been long. She wasn't ready for that kind of thing! Let's go.''
I started the car and made a U-turn, back to the main road. This time, I didn't ask for directions, but at the junction, he told me to turn left, towards the Mile 17 Bus Station.
''Where did I end...?''
''You were telling me about your clashes with the Red Dragons of Lebialem.''
''That's right. During fierce clashes, many of us were slaughtered and armoured cars destroyed. Ammunition changed hands. Some of our men abandoned theirs and ran into the wilds. Our losses were kept a top secret. Instead, reinforcements came.''
''By decree from above, I moved from Menji to Azi, Seat of the Fon of Fontem and where some of the fiercest battles took place. There, as usual, our team went crazy. They looted and raped, shot and killed people and either threw their bodies in the swamps or buried them in hidden graves. Every time we sustained injury, innocent people paid.''
''During one of the battles at Azi, I took a final decision to not be part of the senseless war again. Yes, the war could have been avoided, if only the government listened to experts from the very beginning and took appropriate measures. During the struggle, at my convenience, I took the challenge to read the history of Cameroon right from the pre-colonial times. I realised Cameroon did not only need healing, but also that the Anglophone problem was ideal and genuine.
Anglophones had been neglected for so long, their institutions eroded, and their people marginalised. For instance, after a year and a half, the conflict that is threatening to split the nation into two, has not yet found a suitable place for discussion in parliament.
Had the option to declare war advanced this beloved land? Since declaring war, the situation has deteriorated. Both government men and so called secessionists lose their lives every day. Innocent civilians have become the biggest
victims? Isn't the human condition worst? There is fighting going on now between the both warring camps all over the Anglophone territories.
Children are out of school. More than 300,000 people have been displace, many of them living and dying like paupers in neighbouring Nigeria. Businesses have come to a standstill. And while we fight and kill each other, as we believe we are defending homeland, a handful of people sit in the comfort of their homes and offices, exploiting us all to qualify as the next millionaires- enriching their pockets with State's money! Very soon doom will envelope the whole country. Yes, we would metamorphose into a failed state. No. I decided to not be part of it any longer..
'I'n the heat of one of the battles, I defied and despised my Commander. Before, he messed me up in so many ways. He made sure I raped a girl in front of her parents. He sent me to abduct patients in a hospital. He'd, under the barrel of the gun, asked me to do terrible things. I knew my opportunity to square him would come and when it came, I used it. I shot, killed him and collected his weapon, which I later traded to safe my life. I escaped into the forest and got lost therein for days. I ate wild fruits and raw meat and drank from fast flowing streams to stay alive. I wandered like a vagabond, like the Biblical Cain. I am tired. I believe I am living my last days.''
We both remained silent. We made a U-turn at Mile 17 and were on our way back to Buea Town.
''Can you do me a favour,'' JP asked me.
'Kill me. Shoot me. Use this. End my life now! See, learn.' He pulled the trigger and the bullet shattered the front screen of the car. I lost control of the car for a few seconds. It could have been fatal. When I regained control, I stopped by the side of the road.
''Here, take the gun. Press here,'' he forced it into my hands.
''I am done- done with everything. Please, do it or I'll take both of us along!''
''I can't,'' I told him.
''Yes, I can't.''
He seized the firearm from me and trusted his phone into my hands.
''Share the videos. The world should see it. I have a son and a wife. Tell them I love them. Now, get out!''
I stepped out into the
stormy weather. Without saying another word, he swilled the car
around and took-off, like a mad man. We parted ways, maybe for the last time.
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