The clock struck midnight and Zara’s eyes opened to pitch darkness.
The large bell at the center of the camp would ring soon, and everyone had to gather at the palm yard. She lay still in bed staring at the falling ceiling above her, she didn’t mind, at least she finally had her own space. There were no more smelly armpits shoving their monstrous hairs into her mouth in her sleep, or lack of.
A small shadow appeared in the path of her only source of light, the 5×5 inch window at the top left corner of the wall. It was a songbird that had come every night since she moved into this room, with a voice she had grown to recognize, it reminded her of home, and somehow to Zara, that was what kept her going.
The tunes got so familiar, she hummed along as she closed her eyes and reminisced, rocking on her mother’s lap on the balcony, inhaling the scent of freshly manicured grass that her father had mowed, and listening to her mother hum to the tunes of her favourite songs.
As the years passed, the memories had faded slowly, she couldn’t seem to remember her mother’s face clearly, all she could remember of her father where his words, those ones he spoke late into the night when she would run to him for fear of the monsters under her bed “Daughter life is not fair, you have to fight for what you want”. Those words haunted her, you see he never told her when the fight would end, it had been ten years already…
As she sat up, her butt sank deep into the paper thin mattress that sagged lazily into the rusted iron spring under the bed, almost kissing the ground. Her mind flashed back to the day she came to this God forsaken place. She had been asked by her father to drop her bag in the car, it was her tenth birthday.
“Are we going somewhere?”
“Yes, we have to see your aunty that gave birth. Your mum is there already”
“Yay! I have a mate!!! I’m gonna be the best aunty ever”
“Aunty ke. See this small madam. You’re her cousin not aunty”
“But my cousin Aretha, says I must call her aunty.”
“Young girl, Aretha is 34, that is you times three, then add extra four on top” Her father had said laughing “Go and put the bag in the car jorr, aunty of the generation”
“Ok o” she shrugged and hopped out of the house to the car
And that was the last she saw of her home…
She found herself at the back of a truck, with her eyes tightly covered and hurting from the fabric pressing on them so hard.
“Oh shut up”
The strange voice she heard caused paralysing fear to grip her and she began to scream questions in the direction of the voice.
“Who is that, where am I, where’s my daddy? Are we going to see my cousin?”
“Haba! Questionnaire! You for ask me whether Ghana jollof better pass Nigeria jollof, I for answer that one, shut up jare! If you like yourself”
She started panting so hard. Her heart racing like she was drowning.
“Please sir, please, I promise, I’ve been a good girl, I was not doing anything wrong when you saw me. My daddy just said I should put my bag in…”
“I said shut up!! Did I ask you any question?” the hoarse voice shouted
“Please sir can I talk to my mother?”
“Hey look here, if you wan hear your mama voice again, you go zip that broken pipe of a mouth that you have”
She began to sob profusely, her head aching like she hit them with a baton. She realized a few other sobbing voices were around her.
“Let me gooooo, I want to go home!”
“Mehn, I no fit sleep again. All these cry cry children wey no go let person hear word”
“Where are you taking me? My daddy will be looking for me”
“Just shut up little girl.I’m just a messenger”
“Who sent you? I don’t want to be with you!”
“See this one o, you think say I wan dey here with you? To climb one of my women don dey hungry me since, so me and you dey the same level of frustration”
“Please sir, I beg you, please, tell me what I did, I will say sorry and then you can let me go, please, I’m begging you, please, I want to go home” She begged in between sobs, with her tears stinging her own eyes.
Suddenly she felt something crawl up on her skin and she jumped sharply from the bed, forced back into reality. “Mtchew, stupid soldier ant” she crushed the life out of it. It was then she realised that her eyes were wet with tears.
She decided to do a few warm-ups before they were to gather. Looking left and right, she ensured no one was watching. She was small to everyone, the calmest. So she started out, press ups, wall climbs and a little bit of her martial arts, she needed all the strength she could get today.
Suddenly, a hand came on her shoulder and she turned, only to see the guard in her room
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in” pretending to be scared of him.
“What’s that noise for?” The guard shouted
“Sir, I was j-just trying to kill a rat, a a very big one, you needed to see it” she started demonstrating the size of the rat, shadily comparing it to his head.
“Where is it?”
She had to control herself not to laugh
“I threw it outside o. I don’t like all those things”
“Next time you wake me up from my sleep, I will show you who is in charge here” He said, pulling her by the ear, it took all the willpower in her not to give him a knee punch in his groin.
As he walked out she turned away from the door and mocked him
“Idiot, I’m even taller than his pathetic life”
She put on her overalls, getting set for the palm yard assembly, her only friend, Kazim, was taking the hymns today, and she had to be there, in the front row, to give him sufficient yabbing.
Kazim sat in the corner of his room waiting for the bell to ring. It was his turn to lead the midnight hymns at the palm yard. He often wondered why they called them hymns; they were not songs and the words were very strange. His only consolation in leading the hymns was that it meant he would take the new boys orientation class and that automatically meant extra minutes of sleep behind the curtain while they recited the words of the boring sacred book. That book that got his mind all twisted up. He had memorized it in his first month in the camp, one thing no one else did. He was great at remembering everything he read, but wondered, every second, why he couldn’t remember how he came here, or anything before then. He knew these snoring people beside him weren’t his family, but he didn’t know who was.
As he sat there, he thought of Zara, and the last time he saw her, she had been behaving strangely throughout the week. He should ask her, or he shouldn’t, maybe it was the women’s monthly thing.
The bell began to ring and like a switch, everyone around was up and they began to move as quickly as possible to the door. Well, except Dauda, who scared everyone with his pattern of sleep, he had both eyes open.
“Get up fool!” one of the guys hit him hard in the stomach
They expected him to get angry as usual, but he started smiling awkwardly
“Oh yeah, hit me harder girl” he turned over in his sleep. Everyone burst into a fit of laughter.
“See this cow o, wetin you dey do for dream?”
Kazim just giggled and walked past all of them. He was the room leader and he needed to take charge.
“Let’s go guys. We’re running late” On the bright side, he would have some morning gist for Zara. Something to lighten her mood.
“ Greetings everyone. Welcome to the midnight assembly, I’m sure you all know, but for the new ones in our midst, be informed that we gather every night of the full moon and raise one voice above. Today is a special day as well, we will be having our most respected leader visit, he hasn’t been here in a long while, so we will prepare for that too”
“Bastard monster” Zara said under her breath as she stood in the front row at the far left of the yard. Kazim stood right beside her waiting for his name to be called to lead.
“Careful girl, I heard that”
“Ofcourse you did” She said, with her gaze never leaving the man speaking on the podium. He was called XC, no one knew what it meant, he was a squad leader and every squad leader had initials as identities. She hated him with a burning passion. He was the tutor in her orientation class during her first days here.
“Your parents don’t really want you. They just want children, and new ones can be made easily. They’ll soon have a replacement running around your house, sleeping in your bed. You won’t understand now, but soon, you will” He had told her ten year old self and every other child in the room when she arrived. She had carried that picture in her mind for years. Her mum was pregnant when she left and she already hated that child so much.
She shook her head and tried to bring herself back to reality. She didn’t even want to think about it. Patience was key today. “Calm down Z, calm down” she spoke to herself
“Kazim will lead the hymns today”
“That’s my queue”
“I promise not to make my laughter too obvious” she said, giggling calmly
“You better not”
He climbed on the little podium in the front, knelt down and they entire camp did the same…
He took a deep breath, and began…..
Zara had her head bowed like the rest, but her mind drifted far away. Just before coming she had taken a final look at her plans. It all had to work out perfectly. But she hadn’t told Kazim yet. He knew what she wanted to do, but she didn’t tell him it was today. Was he ready? She needed him. He wasn’t as skilful in fights, but she really needed his magnetic brain every step of the way. Would he leave with her? She had never asked him. He was treated better than she was here, and he had lost all his memory of home, so why would he need to go. Many questions flooded her mind so deeply that she forgot that the hymns were over and everyone was standing.
“Hey who’s that girl!”
The next thing she felt was a kick under her jaw by a guard. Blood flew out of her slit lip as she shouted and fell to the ground.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I I I didn’t know, uhmm, I forgot, no sorry, I was” Shaking in fear, she had to keep her act up.
The guard smiled “fragile young woman, hope that one kick doesn’t give you a stroke” the other guards laughed
Zara smiled… well, in her heart.
“It was actually very painful sir” Everyone laughed at her this time.
The assembly was getting to an end and Zara saw the guard that came into her room earlier. He was whispering to XC. Her heart started beating hard. Had he searched her room? Did she leave her plans carelessly? What on earth was he talking to XC about?
XC stood back up on the podium, he looked up with his signature mischievous smile. Zara tried to find Kazim’s eyes, but he was focused on the damn hymn sheet. Her chest was tightening up.
“I have interesting news. We have a traitor”……….
Zara swallowed down hard…
To be continued……………. 7pm Sunday, 3rd December
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