Chapter 2. When they Came Knocking

I woke up on top of the mat in my room which I shared with my younger brother. I was subconscious of how I had gotten to the room. Mother must have carried me inside.I thought I should be the one taking care of her. I remembered my father and ran off crazily waking my brother with the shuffling noise. Mama was at the backyard boiling water in the separate thatch used as our kitchen.

  “Good morning mama!” I greeted, she stared at my direction, nodded her head and kept on with what she was doing. I was really filled with curiosity, I wanted to know where my papa had gone and if he was back. “Mama, is papa back yet?” I asked waiting patiently for an answer that I didn’t get. She kept mute and this heightened my anxiety. “What if something bad had happened to papa, to my papa” I thought subconsciously. My mind kept on imagining crazy things, Papa shot dead lying in one of those forests. Our community was no longer the way it used to be, it was peaceful and serene but that was in the past. Presently  we are living in such a mess, everyone has been getting their fair share of death tolls. The spillage has been spoiling our crops and most times, there will be a big blast which kills people near the leaking pipeline. Papa had warned us sternly not to go near the pipes and we always adhered to it . When there was a spillage, Papa would stay home to make sure that none of us went out even for  second. Papa was a meticulous man especially when it was affiliated to his family. 

When there was a spillage, there would be a lot of commotion as people would rush out with their children to get a taste of their natural resources but not Papa and Mama. They adhered strictly to their norms “people are causing more harm to themselves” Papa would always point out. My papa was not scared of anything, he would be bold even if a death threat was hanging on his neck. He always had the maxim saying “fear no one except God”.

This was one of the reasons why he was skeptical about the war. “it is our civic right to protest even in a military government”. Papa was a graduate of the University and sometimes was referred to as a human right activist (I didn’t know what that meant then). Most times politicians came to our house to solicit for papa’s vote and the people’s but he never collected their gifts. A specific politician was nearly torn with grief when papa rejected his gifts. 

“If it’s really legal, give it to the people” he told him, the man was infuriated that he stormed out of the house. Everyone knew for sure that Papa was an honest man. A man of the people, he knew who was right for his people and made sure that the right objectives were realized but now where was my Papa.

It was unlike my father to stay out at night, I can’t remember him staying late into the night, he was always back in the evening and would never leave the house, he would spend as much time as he could with us, he’d interrogate us on the happenings of the day. 

I heard the sound of Papa’s motorcycle in front of the house, I ran off immediately and saw Papa working on his motorcycle. I really felt glad and excited to see papa, he was whistling a song unto himself as he worked on the motorcycle. I felt like hugging Papa because I’ve literally missed him, I’ve been so worried about him. 

“Good morning Papa” I greeted very much elated, the whistling stopped, he stared in my direction and smiled broadly.

“Good morning son, hope you slept well?” 

“Yes” I replied with enthusiasm 

“Boy, come help me over here” I rushed forward to aid him “Hand me the screw” he ordered which I obeyed immediately, he went on tightening the screw for some minutes then sighed with relief” this is fit to go he laughed. I hope you took good care of your brother and mother while I was away. I nodded my head in affirmation while he scoffed although he disbelieved my reply 

”Go and tell your brother to wake up and get ready for church, we are leaving in an hour”

I rushed in to signal to my brother that my father was the pastor so it meant we should be in church before everyone else.

“Ikem!” I called shrugging him to wake up “We need to dress up for church”. He stood sluggishly, I really pitied him, he needed more sleep especially on a Sunday but we couldn’t dare be late for church. I filled the bucket with water and we went to our bathroom which was in the backyard covered with a zinc and hurriedly took our bath. 

Papa was honking his motorcycle horn “We have to go!” he called out but mama seemed to not listen to what he was saying “Eze, brush your hair and wear that shirt” she would complain about how we were looking haphazard. Mama always said that though we were poor, we shouldn’t make it obvious to people to everyone that we were living like a mice. She would buy us clothes whenever she had money to spare. Mama was very neat, she would wear the same clothes in a week and you won’t even notice that it was the same cloth.

Atlast, mama was through with her complains while papa was tired waiting for us.

“Are you through with everything?” Papa asked when he saw us coming outside.

“They had to dress smart” retorted mama with a finishing knot to her headtie “Eze, zip the back of my lace” I zipped the lace and she smiled jovially “Now we are set to go” Papa sighed and started the engine of the motorcycle, we climbed into the motorcycle, my brother at the front while mama and I occupied the back seat as we drove off to church.

***

“Amen!” chorused the congregation. 

The church was not quite spacious but least it was comfortable, most of the people in our community ere members of our church so were almost familiar with everyone. Today illustrated that people were scared, some of our members have fled the community.

My father held the sermon on “Do not be afraid” but somehow he couldn’t convince the people that they had no need for fear. The people really had much to be scared of the morrow. The coup had installed a head of state who was unfavourable with our ethnic group. There was strong speculations that it had only selected people from the other tribe to represent essential part of the government. My father always complained about the new Government because of their policies “They do not take other peoples mind into consideration”. He would always complain once he was on the radio.

“Praises are prayers, so let’s praise God for what he has done in our lives" my father concluded while the church burst out with series of praise and worship. We sang and danced our problems unto God, somehow we felt consoled by the concept of a metaphysical being, one who understands our complex problems. The service ended as we were on the normal propaganda of paying greetings to everyone who came to the church. Sometimes, they would draw my cheek and imply that I was really growing fast than I was aging. We were in a friendly or mutual environment when it happened, the first act of there is fire on the mountain. 

My gaze met the man, he was staring blankly at my father, I know I had seen him before in our house. He seemed to bring a tragic news because Papa complained a lot after he had gone. “What was he doing in our church” I thought vehemently to myself. The man started coming closer to our direction, he had come with a group of men who seemed to be soldiers. “Papa” I called when his attention to the odd men. Papa was scared when his eyes first met them, we all knew that the soldiers spelt doom for us. Some people started to fidget, no one could understand what these men wanted in our church. Papa walked forward to meet the man who smacked his lips, they talked for some time then Papa beckoned on me to come nearer.

“I’ll be back, take care of your brother and mother for the moment”.

What! Where was Papa going off to this time, probably to their dreaded torture camp. The torture camp was a place where the soldiers practically punished the people who had failed the orders of the government. 

I held on to Papa, I was terrified, scared of losing my papa, I started crying aloud while my mother rushed to the scene creating commotion “You’d better kill me instead of taking away my husband without telling us what he had done”. A military dictatorship government enjoys the right of an absolute opinion, he could do anything without the consequences… there were no consequences, the military was literally involved in deciding if you live or die. It was not their priority to protect their lives but to decide who lives and who dies.

Mama should have seen it coming, the soldier hit the gun on her stomach and started stomping on her, I rushed to shield my mother just to get the same punishment. Papa was handcuffed after series of assault and taken away in their van which sped off from our sight immediately. Mama burst out in tears lying on the ground, Ikem joined mama in tears, I wanted to cry but my father had handed unto me the responsibility of being a man. I held unto mama trying to draw her away from her insanity “He promised that he’ll be back, he will be back “I tried to convince her but I couldn’t even eradicate my doubts that I might not see my papa again.

When they came knocking, we were unprepared and they took papa. This was a moment to know that everything was not fine, if this escalates then the real fear will come…

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