The recent spate of religious unrest and violence in the northern section of the country exploded in its deadliest form yet. Its bloodied tentacles spread dangerously far and this time encroached settlements as far as the busy, central town of Juba, capital of the Tin City. Even now, on the quiet outskirts of the town where he lived with his family, Chike could feel the tension that permeated the air and gripped his neighbourhood as tight as a boa’s death grasp.
He could see from the beads of cold sweat dotting his wife’s tensed face that even she had not suspected they would find themselves so perilously exposed to the knives and cudgels of marauding fanatics. Grateful that both her kids had returned from school, Ada swung into action. She turned to her husband. ‘Chike, quick, we must leave at once!’ she urged. Chike called out the children and a boisterous young boy and girl of about twelve and ten bounded into the living room. In rapid, fluent Hausa, Chike spoke to them; ‘Ahmed, Mariam, we have to go down into the bunker now. Okay?’ the youths nodded eagerly. For them ‘the bunker’ meant crawling under the ground where they would cradle and play with heavy toy guns as their action heroes did on DSTV. Addressing his wife, Ada, Chike said, ‘Halima, take them down. I’ll pick a few things and join you immediately.’
‘Hassan,’ Halima ejaculated, ‘be careful please… and lock the doors.’
‘alright, alright, now go.’ Chike replied in the foreign language. Until his family was safely out of the north they would live and speak Hausa alone.
Amazingly but unsurprisingly, the bloodthirsty fanatics had made their way into the area, burning and destroying within sight everything they believed belonged to the infidels. The acrid stench of smoke, burning flesh and death-cries rent the air and wafted into Chike’s house, bringing water to his eyes. As he peered through the drawn curtains, he picked out a couple of familiar faces in the crowd marching towards his gate and blinked hard. Quickly, he turned and hurried into the bedroom, locking all doors behind him. Under the bed in the centre of the room, Chike moved a few tiles and crawled into the gaping hole beneath, rearranging the tiles to their former state. Within the spacious, soundproof bunker, the family of four disguised themselves in flowing kaftans and hijabs then settled down quietly to wait out the carnage erupting above.
Ali turned to the short man beside him. ‘Mekan, you say you know this man ba?’ he raised his voice so as to be audible above the din of the excited crowd.
‘walahi,’ Mekan replied in his harsh northern accent. ‘I know am very well. Chike. And eem wife too. Southerners.’ He spat. ‘Na me dey sell jem for them. When I no dey, na Mohammad dey sell for them.’ He added, nodding to a second man beside Ali. The Mohammad fellow stood rigid, lean and dark-faced but he confirmed his friend’s statement. ‘let us be quick.’ He drawled. ‘These people are like rats and will escape if we don’t act fast. It is clear that they are inside that house.’
‘good.’ said Ali. ‘by Allah, we will deliver to them divine punishment. We will smoke them out even if they hide under the earth and crush their bones since they refused to repent or leave our land.’ This he cried to the crowd and chants of ‘Allah is Great’ rang through the air. Cans of gasoline appeared from nowhere as the gates were mowed down and the windows of the modest house were smashed to bits. In minutes the building was ablaze while the terrorists gyrated and emitted ululating cries.
Night had fallen and what remained of Chike’s house was a crumbled pile of cement and wood. The remnants of a great fire smouldered amid the ruins. Tired of inhaling smoke and the smell of burnt flesh, Mekan leaned his back against the high mound of grassy earth behind the damaged house and lowered the weapon in his hands. Unlike Ali thought, he did not think Chike and his family had dug open the ground and hid themselves under. They were ordinary people –ordinary unbelievers-, and their disappearance only meant that another unbeliever must have warned and helped them escape. Still, Ali had ordered him to remain in the compound with four other brothers and keep watch till morning. Yawning, Mekan slid further down and rested his tired legs.
Within the bunker, the youths, Ahmed and Mariam had fallen into a weary sleep. Halima gently picked the toy guns out of their loose grasp and tossed one of them to Hassan. Together, they loaded the weapons with bullets, fixed long, hollow cylinders on them and stole out silently into the world above. Husband and wife moved noiselessly through the rubble, their special military training as clandestine espionage agents taking prominence. They fanned out in the pitch darkness and took out the unsuspecting watchmen one after the other.
Mekan jerked awake. He thought he had heard a sound. Yes, he had surely heard a thud within the destroyed building. He got to his feet and called out for the nearest brother and got a response.
‘Mohammad? Zo. Have you seen anyone?’
‘no, Mekan.’ Came the reply. ‘It’s just us two.’
‘us two?’ Mekan was baffled.
‘yes, my friend.’ and Chike walked into view. His gun spat twice and turned the other man’s cry for help into a deathly gurgle.
With the butt of their rifles, Hassan and Halima dug into the side of the huge mound of earth, weed/grass and stone which the lifeless body of Mekan sprawled against. With some difficulty the hidden cave fell open. Inside the gloomy cavern was a battered Hilux with a megaphone fixed onto its rusted roof. Hassan brought the vehicle to life while Halima returned with the children. Soon they were on the narrow Juba road -strewn with lifeless bodies- heading to the first Southern city of Kachi, the megaphone calling out in the cold night for the northern faithful to root out all unseen unbelievers.