The sound of blasting bombs and shells exploding from mortars far away scared me as I sat down at a corner of the dilapidated primary school building which I was sharing with hundreds other people, refugees just like me. I was clutching my teddy bear, a brown jointed mohair type, tightly to my chest. It was a gift my father had given me the last time he came back home to Enugu. He was a regular traveler to the North, always on business trips, and he was in Kano before the war broke out. I hadn’t heard from him since then.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized I could be the only surviving member of my family. My mother was killed in front of me, her belly ripped open and her intestines cut and thrown on the floor of our living room. I had managed to escape with the teddy bear, the only thing I had left now besides the torn, brown gown I wore now that reeked of different nasty smells.
At one end of the large classroom which we all were huddled inside, I could see a woman combing what was left of her son’s thinning brown hair with a bright red comb, she was awfully thin and so was her son, who I guessed may be the same age as me, but this was no surprise because the same went for everyone in the classroom. The day was what? Monday? Tuesday? I couldn’t tell anymore neither could I care less. Nobody kept track of time these days, we just wanted this war to be over so we could go back to the lives we had… or at least what was left of it.
My eyes rested on her as she slowly combed his hair while humming what must have been his favourite song while preparing for school back then.
She even gave him the popular parting on the hair that most boys in my class had on school days. Tears filled my eyes as I remembered how my own mother always prepared me for school. She would always oil my hair and then gently comb it before placing a flower she plucked from her garden on one side of my hair; she would then straighten my school uniform while singing a song which she once told me her mother, my grandmother, sang for her when she was a child like me. She would finally plant a kiss on my forehead and watch from the front door as I skipped to the school bus which pulled up in front of our house every school day. Those days were bright and sunny but these days were nothing like that.
I sniffed and told myself I would not cry, I had cried enough and I knew it. Two days of weeping was more than enough for a child of my age, but not in this case. A seven-year-old orphan caught up in a war she had no hand in creating was enough to keep the tears coming for a straight week.
I was still looking at the shriveled, doting mother as she cradled her boy when a young man in battle fatigues burst into the room screaming, “The Federals are coming! The Federals are coming!” You see that was what we called the Nigerian soldiers, the Federals. Just then pandemonium broke out, people ran in different directions, trying to escape the Hausa soldiers who were nowhere in sight. That was how much we feared them, we didn’t wait to see them up close before fleeing.
Just then, an explosion rocked the building in which we were. Everyone stopped in their tracks and silence weighed heavily on the air. Someone then cried out, “They are bombing the school!”; then as though brought back to life, everyone began running again. More bombs fell and soon the groans of dying unarmed civilians were heard.
I heard a loud cry and turned back in time to see the woman again, she was bent over the corpse of her son, weeping, his corpse lying under a huge pillar. I wanted to go back and drag her up, to tell her that it was too late for him but not for her but this war had taught me that as long as it raged on, it was every man for himself.
I lost my footing and fell face flat on the ground with my teddy bear a few metres to my left, I made to pick it up but a hurrying foot kicked it forward, I rose up quickly and ran to snatch it off the ground but another hurrying foot kicked it, this time backward.
The teddy was then kicked in different directions by the fleeing mass until it wasn’t visible to me anymore.
I fought back tears as I continued running, I had lost my only link to my father, to my parents. I finally got out of the school building and increased my pace.
Just then, I heard a crackling sound and turned just in time to see the building collapse in an explosion of flames as the cries of the unfortunate ones trapped under it filled the air. At that moment, it seemed that time has stopped around me. My teddy was somewhere in the rubbles, burning slowly. It was gone.
I clenched my fists as I stared at the huge burning mass of wood and stone and made a silent vow to myself. I would survive this war, I said to myself, whether my Maker liked it or not.