We squat at the mouth of the open gutter. Our backs are to the dirt road, our legs folded beneath us like overgrown frogs in dirtied pants. I lean forward from my squat, pointing at a rather large tadpole: “There!” Sani sucks in fuel from his running nose, hawks a thick glob and hurls it at our victim, rippling the sea of foul-smelling wastewater. He giggles and nudges me, thankful. My turn. I scan the sewage for my prey, squinting to see beneath my reflection and that of the setting sun. I roll my ball of phlegm, pushing forward with my tongue and readying for the launch. I do not hear the din of a frightened throng of witnesses. I do not hear the roar of truck engines approaching us. I do not take notice of Sani’s warning nudge; my eyes are on the hunt. When Sani jumps to his feet, though, I begin a slow intake of my now noisy neighbourhood, mildly irritated that my tadpole got away. Two trucks stop in the middle of our road and gaunt men jump to the ground, clad in the greyscale of the Resistance. Their arms are heavy with rifles and their shoulders shine with rows of ammunition belts. He steps forward from their midst and grins, growling a guttural Hausa from a tobacco sore throat. A few mothers flinch; he said the same thing months ago when he stole away their children: “I will give you strength. I will give you power.”
In the year that Batu stole away my childhood, we were forced to raid towns camouflaged as federal soldiers, searching out the non-Hausa. “They are weak! We will chase them from our lands. They do not own this place. We will show our superiority. We will show our strength. Strength comes from the kill”, Batu would growl, “power belongs to us!” He would cleanse our towns; his war was holy. His horde would get excited at the thought of burning homes and charring flesh. “Daukaka!” They would shout, “Glory!”, and toss us rifles in amusement as we dribbled salt-rain on our uniforms inside out, in innocence. And when I stopped wetting myself, it was for fear of the herd. But Batu commanded, we would pillage, molest and maim. And whatever seemed good we would take. After a series of raids, he ordered that we wear our own greyscale brazenly. That providence supported us.
Curse him that led us away from home. That molested our memories. There was no day we did not fear, the underlings, death. None that I did not sleep less in anxiety. But he would urge us on. Where we were feeble, he was bold; a conqueror. What is valour? What is glory? Are they not folly when the earth gorges on our blood? But Batu would not fail, they said. So I followed him, I and other fools, blindly. Ah. In the day that the federal troops poured against us and I saw the insides of a man’s head; the sweltering Sun was more comfort than Batu’s failing courage. He was lying crumpled when I found him, his uniform caked and brown, foul with the smell of corruption and singed copper- and pleading for the mercy of death.
Batu was wrong. The strong do not plead. Not for mercy. The strong grant mercy, I have learned. Strength is born of will; power from guts. I surrendered, willingly. Infidel? Ah, no. I quit the war. But I am Soldier still; I am he that survives.
“For brave men and boys, whose curse is to war.”
-The Insanity Exhibition, November 2016.
Artwork by Kenart