MY BIAFRAN STRAGGLER GHOST
The thoughts of the salted stockfish had haunted me for days' end, even as we prepared for an “attack”. The thoughts of my stockade “marara” running out were worse. I was just tired. My palms were now rough from some ingenious conversion of cassava tubers to some kind of soap — ones we used to wash off blood stains and filth, the same ones we used when we washed off brigade commander Fred’s blood-stained jumper. I longed to be home, even when I knew that salt in that little metolito “metholatum” was nine pounds. I did not want to join the “combing” troop anymore, the ones that went to retrieve our dead and salvage whatever was left. I craved home knowing that I might not come across those corned beef that had some oil. The thoughts of “ofe-mkpukpu” and elile were on my mind all week long. I was tired. I wanted nothing more than the rats and lizards that served as protein — the same ones we sold at “eke-nmewuoha”. The thoughts of that powdered milk from Redcross were overbearing, that same one that gave explosive diarrhea to kids, the ones that gave semi-adults like us bloated tummies. I was just tired of hiding behind the plantain trees or the mud houses, scared of the penetrating forces of the bullets from the Nigerian gun — ones that were far superior to the Dane gun I shared with Ebere and Nnamdi, a far cry from the mach4 — ones I had seen just once, those that sounded better than “Chaka-kpum”.
I was tired of the war and just like the wind, I had dropped it all, muscled all courage, and became a straggler — one who ran away from the war efforts, one who had seen it all.
Okoko-ndem had done it for me, without lifting a finger. He had said over the radio that a Nigerian plane had been shot down by a mere catapult, I overheard it while on that “fatigue” we had embarked some days ago, one that had left me worn out, with my head and neck sore from hauling big baskets of cassava that we had raided from Ubaha, all the way to the brigade quartered at Alaenyi-Ogwa. Okoko-ndem even said that the machetes we fought with were a better arsenal against the British bayonets, that if held in front of a high-speed bullet, were capable of deflecting it and I had just seen Okeruo die right in front of me, felled by the same bullet. Okoko-ndem told us not to fear the Nigerian soldiers, he said we were all human “ogbunigwe” and we should approach regardless — an outcome that took nkutu’s mother as some bomb fell in Umuduru.
Okoko-ndem jiri onu gbuo oji— “anyi jiri aka zowa ala”
I knew fables. I knew lies. “I will not die following Okoko-ndem’s mouth”. I escaped at night and ran all the way home. I had it all planned out. I was going to stay away from wake-keeps, which was where the majority of straddlers were recaptured. I was going to remain in the bushes during the day and head back home at night. I will stay away from “ndi sabo” saboteurs. I will listen to the women returning from “attack” for inside brigade gist and will live happily ever after. “Nkwucha awugi ujo” — one lives to fight another day.
This was Biafra of 69"— today’s straggler would be dead at home. The stragglers of today will be killed by one of their own. The stragglers of today will not be welcomed home, they will be ostracized by their kith, handed over without remorse to a friendly enemy, ones that will end life without flinching. Stragglers of today will die of hunger and thirst, they will not have the option to find succor at home, they would become marked men who even disguised in a wake, would be pointed out, branded saboteurs, and shamed. What was once a thirst to head home to warmth, away from the cold natures of death and hardship has now become mayhem, the norm on the homefront threatening to wipe out a generation.
Ala ajuola njo hooha.