The first day Zakka had met Nneka, he was attracted to her curvy figure, but didn’t think of having anything to do with her because, as a soldier on the battlefield, he was a walking corpse. He could die anytime. But he could not leave there, where he met her—a cave. She squatted in front of an emaciated boy, about three years of age, giving him water from a water-bottle she had found among the kits of a dead Biafran soldier several meters away from the cave. The boy seemed to have some difficulty in drinking the water. The first time she had thrust the bottle into his mouth, some of the water poured down his bony chest and then trickled uphill to his bloated stomach. She removed her head tie and wrapped it around the boy’s sunken buttocks. She didn’t like the way his skin sagged like there was no flesh—only skin covering the bones, and the way his shrunken penis hung between his thin legs.
Nneka shivered as she heard some grasses crunch under foot behind her. Zakka had been standing there for some time as she attended to the boy before he took a few steps closer, his rifle in hand. “Your brother?” he asked as she turned towards him, holding her breath.
Nneka shook her head, her eyes fastened on his hand holding the rifle.
“You have been here how long?”
She didn’t answer him.
Zakka had just lost a partner some hours ago. His partner, though an igbo man, was fighting on the side of Nigeria. He had seen a ripe guava and scurried to go pluck it when he stepped onto a buried mine that exploded under him. Zakka had shut his eyes tight at the deafening sound of the explosion. By the time he opened his eyes, his friend had been ripped to shreds of flesh and warm, sticky blood.
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
“What do you want to do with my name?”
“Nothing. I just want to know.”
“Before you shoot us?”
Zakka looked at the boy’s sunken eyes and brown hair. He looked around and then dropped his rifle, moved closer and stood right in front of her, almost stepping on her foot with his old boot. “I hate killing people.”
“But you have been killing us.” She noticed his eyes settled gently on her cleavage. She quickly turned and adjusted her breasts.
Zakka moved towards the boy and took his feeble hand. He wiped away some tears from the corners of the boy’s eyes with his other palm.
Nneka turned and looked at him.
“Where is your family?”
She pointed at the boy.
After a long pause, looking at her flat nose and full lips, he said, “I’m sorry.”
She scratched the side of her large hip without a word.
Suddenly, he moved towards his rifle and picked it up.
Nneka looked at him with no sign of fear in her eyes. As he was about to leave, she asked, “What’s your name?”
“When will you people stop killing us?”
“I’m sorry I can’t answer that question—you go tell your brother, Ojukwu, to stop the war. He…”
Tired of standing, the little boy sat down on the ground, his thin legs stretched in front of him.
Zakka made to walk away, but she called him back. He paused, turned towards her.
She brought out two coins from the hip pocket of her gown and stretched a hand towards him. “In case you see food anywhere, please help us buy.”
He glanced at her palms. The coins were a two-and-a-half Republic of Biafran shillings each. He wondered where she had been since the war started, that her light skin still seemed to glow. “I am not coming back here.”
With her hand still stretched towards him, she said, “Just in case you do.”
Looking straight into her eyes, he dropped her hand gently. “Keep it. You will still need it.” He glanced at the boy and said, “When I find some food, you’ll see me. Otherwise…” He then walked away.
Meanwhile, in his village, Gbakunta, there had been heavy ominous cloud covering everyone. The apprehension that hung in the hearts of the villagers was so palpable one could carry it like a hoe to the farm. Zakka, who had ‘confessed’ to being a wizard, fled when amuamua were leading him to go dig his grave where he would be buried and burned alive. Nobody had ever heard of such a thing—that someone escaped from the hands of amuamua.
The chief priest said that Zakka had only invited a curse that would wipe out his whole family—all of them would die one after the other and Zakka too would not live a day longer from the day he had escaped from the village.
Prior to Zakka’s escape, people were dying in droves after bouts of stooling and vomiting. This had gone on for weeks till when some elders went and consulted with their family chief priest and he advised they needed amuamua to cleanse the village. So, in the dead of the night, amuamua went round the village, chanting. Hours later, Zakka appeared, mumbling around his father’s compound. And then the amuamua surrounded him. His mumbo jumbo was interpreted as a confession of witchcraft—which he said he was the one who had killed his two step-brothers.
In the morning, he was taking round for all to see as one who had been causing the ‘mysterious’ deaths in the village. His punishment was that he would gather all the firewood needed to burn him alive after he had dug his grave the size of his height.
But Zakka had escaped and when he learned that the Nigerian army was recruiting soldiers to fight the secessionist, he willingly joined, hoping that it would take him far away from his village where they must be searching everywhere for him to kill.
Amaka was on the ground, crying. Her little friend was dead. This was the closest she came to really feeling the loss of someone. Her father, who was a rich businessman, was not at home and most of her family members had fled for their lives when some Nigerian soldiers invaded their community in Afor Umohiagu village, near Owerri, shooting and throwing bombs.
Amaka didn’t see any of her family members bombed or gunned down and could only remember running haphazardly amongst other confused and terrified people. She did not know where her family members had run to. She didn’t even know how she got to that cave. But she picked the boy beside a dead woman while wandering along the way. She never asked the boy if the dead woman was his mother or sister, and the boy never said a thing to her all along.
She had been with the boy in that cave for only 6 days, but she was devastated when he died. Not just because he died, but because she thought about how the death of her own family members would meet each of them—would they die of starvation like her little friend? Or thirst? Or gun shot? Or air strikes? Because the enemies had no mercy—they bombed refugee camps and even hospitals.
The boy’s death also brought her face to face with her own death—how death had become so ubiquitous on the land just because some two coconut head soldiers disagreed. She didn’t care about their reason for disagreement. She only wondered about how life, as she knew, suddenly evaporated into thin air—no, not thin air—how life became so confused, uncertain, bloody, and meaningless.
“He is dead?” Zakka asked, standing behind her with his rifle hanging over his left shoulder and some food items in a small old sack.
She turned and faced at him, her eyes red and glistening with tears.
He walked up to her and took her into his arms gently. “I’m sorry…”
Her nose touched the strap of his rifle, and then she looked up at it.
“I’ve brought you guys some food.”
After a long silence, she said, “I don’t want food…”
“I’m sorry he died, but I love his kind of death.”
Nneka disengaged from his embrace and gave him a curious look.
“It was a peaceful death, wasn’t it?” He said and almost smiled.
She wiped away tears with the back of her hand…
Meanwhile, the place darkened from the quick gathering clouds above the sky.
“His flesh and bones are together, at least. They wanted to burn me alive where I came from. I escaped only to come and join this… I have seen my colleagues’ hearts riddled with bullets. Some had their flesh scattered all over the ground like over-ripe banana in the hand of a toddler.”
She folded her arms tight across her breasts as it drizzled. “His wasn’t a peaceful death.” She said. “It was slow, painful and hopeless.”
For the first time, he didn’t have the right word for her. He looked at her quietly as the downpour caused her gown to stick to her curvy figure.
She wiped away some rainwater from her face. “Please remove this.” She said, looking over his shoulder.
His heart began racing under his rib cage. He searched into her eyes.
She nodded, as though she understood what he was trying to say.
He dropped the sack and began to unbutton his shirt.
“No, not in this cold weather. I meant the gun. I don’t want to see it.”
He paused and looked up. “So God is bringing us rain—no more miserable thirst.”
She held the strap of the gun and slid it down and out of his hand. She dropped it faced down against the wall of the cave and then drew him into her arms.
“It’s for our protection — the gun.” He said and ran his hands over her thick buttocks, feeling the lines of her panties.
As she reached for his button with her right hand, Zakka shrieked, blood splattered on her face, clothes and around the cave.
“Bastard wanted to rape her!” she overheard a husky voice say in Igbo, before she saw two blurry figures brandishing their rifles and one of them dancing in the rain.