We were dragged to the village square where more horror awaited us. I could see our homes up in flames, children were crying, corpses lay on the floor. I could recognize some of them—they were boys of my age grade and some men I’ve known all my life.
I felt muscle spasm hit me. My thoughts froze with fear. “Mama! Where is Mama?” I searched frantically among the human beings laid to waste but she wasn’t there.
Everyone in the community was made to kneel down, hands tied to their backs. Some men bled profusely, others hardly scarred. The fight which had taken place in our absence told themselves on each men.
I saw white humans for the first time in my life, they each carried a long stick around their necks and long blades. I was awfully confused! I remember thinking they were beaten by the sun to become white.
They were like a paradox in which I was given but little time to begin to comprehend and truly a deep source of confusion. I have always thought there was only of our kind. I wondered what else was out there—outside the boundary that separated our world and what may truly exist.
Then I sighted Mama, she knelt among the women, crying and searching for father. For a moment, my confusion was kissed by anger. I screamed and made to run towards her but a blow met me on my head. Mother’s mouth welled up tears as she closed her eyes as if that would take the pain away.
“Biko, nna m, don’t resist them. Do whatever your father is doing,” she simply shouted.
Father was doing nothing! Absolutely nothing!!
I didn’t want to do nothing! This was a woman who fed me and prepared my bed. She was well respected in the community, she didn’t deserve kneeling to no man! I was angry in my spirit, but I had run out of options and had no clue of what to do.
“What do you want with us?” father asked. Akala Muo held father’s jaw in his hands and smiled evilly.
“I am selling you all to the Ndị Ocha and they are willing to pay quite a lot!” he sneered.
“I don’t… I don’t believe this!” father objected, swallowing hard, “I always knew you were a selfish man but I didn’t know you were this stupid! What makes you think they won’t come after you when you do this? It’s not too late to change…”
He slapped father with the back of his hand, held father’s face in his hand again.
I closed my eyes, my pain was rising against its thresholds. I hated being powerless. This was no feeling for a man! “Why was I born wretched and weak?” I asked my Chi. Even the clouds turned their faces.
“I’m the one doing the talking here. Now listen to me,” he said, bringing out a funny shaped object that showed his reflection, he tilted his head to take a look, turned again to father and asked, “Do you know what this is? Ndị Ocha call it Mirror but we call it ‘Ugogbe’ you know why? Because you don’t have to wait for the stillness of the Mmiri Ocha to behold your reflection anymore with this.”
Father shook his head and laughed, “Because of Ugogbe, you are selling your people into slavery? The only reflection you need to see now, Akala Muo is the reflection of your sins!”
“Enough chatter!” Akala Muo announced.
“There are many more amazing things we’d be exchanging you all for. Just wait and see, I would be the first man to have beautiful things belonging to the white man. Other men are doing this business now and truth be told, it’s very lucrative. Now take them all away.” He signaled to the men.
We were all fettered and led across the hills, towards the River that gives willfully to others. We trudged along, nursing our wounds in our hearts, our children still crying, unavoidably hungry too.
Our women broke into a wail of songs:
“Our tribesman have sold us
for few dingles of shekels.
We are chained with thorns and shackles
Down the River Niger we marched;
Our past and memories a single step away to forgotten.
Dark, deep clouds, to our misery sign, belch;
feet slippery and our hearts squelch.
In solemn prayer, Chukwu Okike, send not the rain
for we are more dotted than the terrain.
Freedom—a much sought after seven letter-word!
How on this perilous day,
We lost it to your talking sticks and swords?
Hands and feet clenched to chains and forward, dragged,
In our urine, faeces and woman flow, we are left ragged.
How had we become a loot?
We’re set to lose touch with our root!!
Our home are engulfed in flames.
Our warriors bow heads as a sign
they’ve shamed our names
They fought hard but we lost our freedom!
Now we’re north bound to a strange kingdom.”
We trotted—seventy-five of us, chained and unable to nurse our wounds, our little ones nor our fears. At the end of the River Path, we boarded a large, white container (ụgbọ mmiri)—The Schooner York, which we later came to know as ship.
The Captain, a man with more beards on his face than an iota of conscience, weighed each of us like Mother would weigh her roosters for sale on the auspicious Eke Market day.
Down the darkness of the vessel we were abandoned to our fate and misery. We were scarcely fed with overcooked oats and a handful of water for days.
Occasionally, we were let up, to receive air and wash ourselves. Father was never allowed to meet mother, daughters and sons were separated from fathers and mothers. Father’s long stares said so much.
I would watch Mother cry anytime she saw me. “Nwa m, nwee ndidi, ọ fọrọ ntakịrị (My child, have patience, it would soon be over)” she would always say.
I would nod in agreement and hide my tears from her. Men never cried in the presence of their Mothers. Mother didn’t know I was no longer a boy—she never knew the white men have forced me to be a man in the stretch of days.
I longed for the sound of the Ogene, where we would twist our waists and dance to the burning of the woods, in the scent of the evening but instead today, Father sang in our dialect.
A mutiny was being hatched through songs— in a native language not understood by the white men. The white men looked on, as they taught we sang as usual.
“We were not born slaves, men of the Evening Sun,” father chided. “And we would not die as slaves. If we die, we die as free men.”
“We would not die slaves,” the men chorused, singing in laden gyration.