She tossed right and left for the umpteenth time this very night, she is not sure she have slept for up to two hours in total this very night yet she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it’s that is the cause. She is the second child of Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel Okiro.
Her father had been in import business as long as she could remember. In late 60s when what many believed was normal politicking of tribal leaders snowballed into civil war, her father had been a week in Equatorial Guinea where he buys hot drinks he sell in Nigeria and his family weren’t able to make their way back to the Eastern part where they hail from.
The father who was in equatorial Guinea hurried things up and rushed back to Nigeria but was stopped like others at the borders. He made his way to Cameroon like others that hails from the Eastern part the rest of the country united against to know if he could made his way from there to his village.
He was caught along side others in calabar city by the fast depleting Biafra soldiers and forced into the military. They received hurried training and sent to the battle front.
No way to contact his village, no way to contact Lagos. Biafra land has about ten or more different tribes with more than ten different languages and in 1960s, the literacy rate was nothing to write home about. Many can’t speak any other language outside their tribe's, even the knock-down English known as pidgin, most found difficult to speak. Outside sign language, you’re on your own. That was the predicament Mr. Gab found himself in the military.
Cameroon bordered Nigeria from Biafra side and soldiers on the orders of their commanders positioned themselves at the borders to capture any thing on trousers and sent them to camp.
Grapevine news sips into the camp every day from unconfirmed sources and no one has 5 percent trust in them. Most of the news were all positive and the soldiers suspected that those news originates from their commanders and meant to boast moral. No one has faith in them at all.
Ijeoma had once again another toss and turn night that points to no particular direction and decided that her father’s plight must be behind those restless night and decided to go in search of him or find anyone in that line of business and enquire about her father this is the second month they have not heard from him.
The man she was worrying about thought that his family had escaped to the East, judging from the tale in neighboring countries and that was what prompted his decision to follow others to Cameroon. He had thought that the Biafra army would reason with him when they hear his garnished story. Bearing his 44 years in mind, he had miscalculated that he was above recruitment age and that his 300 hundred cartons of hot drink would facilitate his passage easily but both calculations failed. Both landed him in the camp.
His wife had on hearing what her daughter were planning tried all she could to dissuade her from that plan. Borders both on the winning and losing side are of critical importance during the war. Nearing it is tantamount to becoming a wench or a soldier. That was also the case in the Nigerian-Benin republic border. The winning Nigerian side was losing men at an alarming rate to the Biafra soldiers that behaves like the Ukrainians army. They refused to surrender, refused to cower and were recovering lost grounds at an alarming rate with the locally made weapons they engaged the Nigeria with. Recruitment was also going on in the winning side's borders.
Being a Biafran person in Lagos was dangerous on it’s own let alone nearing borders. The families that lost love ones to Biafran soldiers were into pointing fingers for the military at any suspected Biafran families. Most of the Biafra families unable to escape were passing out as Yoruba’s and truly, Lagos can be no man’s island like some referred to it.
“How can you take such a risk, if your dad is at the borders, he would have found a way of contacting us”
“How sure are you he knows we are still here, he might thought that we escaped to the east”
“ We are not safe here as Igbos, nearing that border is endangering the whole family”
“We have managed to be here undisturbed for two months plus now, what had been helping us would see me through. Nothing kills like not knowing and that must be what our father is passing through too. For more than a month now, I couldn’t sleep. I needs to be sure”
“ This your plan sounds stupid. If those soldiers discovers that both of you are Igbos which they are bound to, you have not only endangers this family but other Igbos in this Lagos. You must include all of us in your plan”
“ And how are those soldiers to find out. I was born here, can speak the language well with their accent and had been bearing their name since war started. So I am covered”
“ What of your father if he is there, he can’t speak Yoruba well let alone their accent. How is he Covered. Do you want to kill him?”
“ It’s to bring peace to him am embarking on this adventure. I know him well. He worries a lot. Anywhere he is now, there is no peace with him. I needs to bring that to him”
“Tell me your A-z plan, I needs to hear it”
“As you rightly pointed out, our father's accent would betray him. I plan to take that route we heard some smugglers use to get to the Benin republic and from the village there, get round to the border. It should be more passable, economical too but it would take about two days to get to the border from there”
“I might be talking and sounding as if your father’s well being doesn’t worry me too but common sense needed to be applied here. Losing one is better than losing two. You’re only 17, a girl and you expect me to support your two days journey in foreign land, foreign language in search of your father?. No, I don’t sanction that”
“ I am not that young and I can speak little French”
“ I said no. If anything happens to you, at end of everything I am the one your father would blame for years. No is still my answer”
Meanwhile, at the other side of the divide. Mr. Gab was in the camp worrying to death how to get information from his village which is three states away from where he was. He had for a week now discussing it with his mates and their contribution had been to request for a transfer from the commander. The hiccups there is that no one had ever heard of such in times of war.
“Does anything like that even exist?” He queries himself.
Such a request would require a miracle to be granted in a situation of this nature. Everyone might queue up requesting for the comfort of his village.
“ Jerry, has anyone ever requested for such to your knowledge?” he asked his friend and without waiting for his answer he knows would be in negative turned and resumed his mopping into empty space which has became his lot for months now whenever family feelings engulfs him. He was still lost in thought when he realized that his friend had been talking to him.
“… You will never know, unless you try”