“We are not taking any sides in this senseless war, and that is final. We must remain neutral” the young king reiterated, looking all the chieftains in the eye. They avoided his eyes for though he was as young as their sons, but he was their king and custodian of all they live for. They were disappointed, but they all stood up bowed and filed out of the red-bricked hall in town centre where meetings and public matters were addressed.
Madoko was the last of the elders to leave. It was a strain on his fragile bones but he bowed slightly to the young king and with his crude staff cut off the branch of a guava tree he guided cautious steps towards the exit praying silently that he never bumped into any stump on the way. His sight was failing gradually, but he felt shameful to admit it. He piqued his ears hoping that the young king would call him back to seek once again his wise advice, but he had gotten past the mango tree stump and yet his king hadn’t called him.
“The young and their ways,” he sighed, swaying his aged head in regretful pity, the sparse wistful strands of perfectly white hair ruffling in the wind with the effort. There was nothing much he could do, he had tried to have the king’s attention, to advise him on the path to follow in the circumstance, but then the young king had insisted on a position of neutrality.
The war had stretched for months now. They had gotten news form the Federal side that the war would be over in two weeks time but then two weeks had rolled into two months but the war had become fiercer. Theirs was a small clan close to the forest land that bordered the Federal North from the secessionist South, but had been occupied since the inception of the war by the secessionist troops. They had watched while houses situated at strategic sites were commandeered overnight by the Biafran soldiers to be used as a base while the original occupants had to hastily pack their belongings into the houses of neighbours and extended relations. Curfews were set up from twilight till sunrise, strangers were harassed and questioned by the soldiers before they were set free about their businesses and the people were forced to pay monthly tax of food to the commander of the troops stationed there. However, the soldiers never touched their women nor plundered their flocks and livestock, apart from the ever presence of men in khaki, life in the clan had been fairly normal until things started to take on a different form.
Airplanes began to fly very low over the land, dropping off bombs from their wombs like birds laying eggs in midair. The soldiers dug out shelters and taught the villagers how to take cover whenever they sighted the malicious monstrous birds of the mercenary Egyptian pilots. The raids became more frequent, but then the villagers became more cautious, never staying too exposed far away from available cover for too long, but then their crops in the fields suffered as whole farmlands were reduced to cinders. The grains in the stores and tubers in the barns were fast running out, livestock were starving as goats and sheep were kept in their sheds for fear of bombs while out in the bushes pasturing. Households began implementing strict rationing of food, an austerity unheard of to the gluttonous villagers used to festivals that saw huge quantities of food and drinks consumed and wasted too. The federal troops had set up a blockade to prevent the supply of relief materials reaching rebel territories; they had also applied starvation as a weapon of warfare, not targeted at breaking the limbs but the spirits of the people.
Anxiety began to mount; young men began to agitate for a solution to the impending starvation looming in the distance. They wanted a solution whether it was to join ranks with the Biafran soldiers rather than become sitting docks in the crossfire or with the Federal troops and sabotage the Biafrans and drive them with their ill fate off their land. They were not Ibo, neither were they Hausa nor Yoruba, they were just a small clan of indigenous introvert natives caught up in the geo-political engineering of the British lords years earlier. They were indifferent to the affairs of the new nation to which they had become a part of; they had only wanted to survive as a people just as they want to survive the plague of starvation that hangs like a dark cloud in the August sky.
Their king had reiterated his stand on absolute neutrality on the war and so they had all left the arena to their homes close to the raid shelters, waiting to see how things played out as their king advised. They got restless still as they watched with horror their store of grains get depleted day by day. The young king however promised to put an end to the tribute of foods paid to the Biafran troops.
Dark clouds stood over the sky that morning, holding out the arrival of dawn and the villagers had remained snuggled up into the warmth of their beds reluctant to face a gloomy day. That morning, an infantry of the Federal troops invaded without resistance; the Biafran soldiers had retreated quietly under the cover of darkness. Soldiers broke into homes, rousing everybody from their beds before torching the houses to ensure nobody was in hiding. They rallied everybody to the open square, man, woman and child. Everybody stood in shock as some were sparsely clad, shaking in the drizzle of the morning. A rough looking soldier addressed them in a thick accent that suggested a Hausa origin, he looked very much like one in authority, obviously the commander.
“Who tell the soldiers we are coming?” he asked, his hands joined behind the back of his slim figure as he paraded up and down before the crowd of villagers. The other soldiers stood like stick figures, eyes on the alert, and their fingers to the trigger of their AK-47 rifles as though they were awaiting an order.
“Nobody want talk?”
Nobody dared talk. They might have been thinking this was a new authority come to town, trying hard to assert their authority, watering their hearts with fear before sowing the seeds of loyalty.
“So, all of una be saboteur ‘kwo’? All of una dey support the ‘nyamiri’ abi?”
He simply turned his back and strode away from the crowd of villagers and then as if on cue, the soldiers opened fire, shooting sporadically into the crowd of villagers, grinning with exhilaration as death cries filled the air.
Madoko felt a hot sting in his shoulder blades and then saw himself lying on his side on the wet sands. He couldn’t understand but he noticed people fall like match sticks about him. A body fell like a piece of brick upon his leg and he cried out in pain; his fragile bone must have snapped. He fought the urge to fade into the darkness that seemed to cloud his eyes, for he knew what it was, he had been expecting it all these while, but not this way, definitely not this way. He felt numb all over but he was wide awake to see the young king led by soldiers flanking him on either side. They stopped a few inches away from the commander. The young king looked proud and held his head high before the commander even as his hands were bound tightly behind him with a three-piece cord as though he were a thief. The commander was smiling, he was talking to the king, demonstrating with swings of his arms as he talked. A soldier handed him a machete and in one swift swing, he chopped off the king’s head where he stood. The headless leg stood on its feet a long while, the blood spurting through the neck like a faulty fountain, but the body stood on its firm feet as though it defied the earth forbidding to land were the head with eyes caught open in death had rolled on to. The commander pushed the standing body with the sole of his jungle boot and it fell backwards.
Madoko saw it all and he tried to sigh, he tried to shake his head, but it had started raining in torrents, wetting his wistful hair with blood and mud. As the darkness closed in on his vision, he knew in that fleeting second that he was the last of his clan still alive.
The thunder clapped heavily that day as, little streams of erosion washed away the blood of the clan from of the face of the earth and the memory of humanity.