By the time I woke up, it was already late in the morning, and to my surprise I wasn’t tied or thrown into a hole like I had thought, I was just alone in the tent, I touched the side of my head, it didn’t hurt as much, but I still felt the pain, probably from the memory of the blow, I still lay down and stared at the tent ceiling, it was rather hot inside,
and the sun shone right through the roof, the intense heat motivated me to sitting up, and when I did, I heard a bell ring, I stopped and looked around, then I tried standing up, and then I heard the ring again, I looked down, and there I saw it, and realized the reason why I wasn’t bound and thrown into a pit like I had expected, a small bell had been attached to my ankle, and locked in, so that for every step I took, my movement would be announced. I smiled, to me it was foolish and childish, but I silently heaved a sigh of relief, because it could have been worse, my feet could have been chopped off.
The bell was already serving its purpose, because immediately I stood to my feet and the bell chimed, one of the armed men was immediately inside the tent, smiled, pointed the gun at me, and told me to move, I did as I was told, stepping out into the day, the sun hit my eyes and I squinted, I looked around, and it seemed normal, well as normal as things where here anyway, because in a normal and sane world, nothing here is normal, but I wasn’t going to question what I saw. The armed man followed closely behind me, until we arrived at the opening I had seen the previous day, but this time the women were not studying, they were sitting around as if waiting for something, the armed man told me to join them, and as I walked towards them, the crowd gradually began to grow silent, then I realized my bell had done a good job of announcing my arrival, such a stupid contraption.
I looked around, to see any familiar faces, and yes I saw some of the girls from my school, they waved gently to me, and I gently walked towards then, trying as hard as possible to keep “my” bell from ringing, they were happy to see me unharmed, and I was happy to see them, I asked about my friend Lami, they all said they hadn’t seen or heard about her, I was told the men came back with just me, and made no mention of the others, I tried in my heart to believe they might have escaped and had gotten back home to their families, and in turn would contact the security authorities and they would come and get us, but deeper down inside, my heart sunk, because a part of me knew I would never see her or my family again.
We sat in the open for a while, and then we were fed, and it wasn’t until I saw the food that I realized how hungry I was, I realized that I hadn’t eaten for a full day, and without asking questions or fear of the food being poisoned or drugged, I ate and drank, while I ate I looked around again, and realized the small make shift kitchen by the corner, manned by the same covered women we had met upon arrival. After we ate, we were ordered to take our plates to the make shift kitchen, and at this point different duties were delegated, some were ordered to fetch water, apparently there was a nearby stream, so were ordered to mend torn cloths, mostly belonging to the gun men, others were assigned to kitchen and cleaning duties, and some others where attached to laundry, I was part of the laundry group, and I am very sure I was put there so I could be watched, and when I looked around I saw some of the girls immediately blend into their new surroundings, like it was a normal occurrence.
Many things that went on in the camp bothered me, but two bothered me the most out of all, the first being that they forced us to learn new ways of prayer, and tried as much as possible to fill our heads with all sorts of new information on religion and their cause, and the sad part of it all was that many of the girls were beginning to buy into it, well up until now, I don’t know if it was a survival tactic or they really believed it, but every now and then, the covered women would pick a few girls who showed aptitude, and they were taken to a semi advanced class, and all their extra duties were stopped, so they could concentrate on learning, the second thing that bothered me was the screams we heard in the dead of night, some of the armed men would come into the tents, with the covered women, they would ask for those who were not on their cycles, and if nobody answered, the women would carry out manual checks, and the unlucky ones would be taken away, safe to say we never saw them again, the girls I mean, although we all knew what they did with the girls, but no one ever spoke of it.
The days were better than the nights, at least during the day, we were busy, we talked and even dared to laugh, it made time go by faster, but in the still of the night, when time stopped, my mind would travel back home, I could see my mother’s face, I could see her smile, I could hear her voice, I could see my father and brother, and I would wonder what they were doing and how they were feeling, and then I would sob silently until sleep came and took me.
The hours turned to days, and the days turned into more days, and then into weeks, by then I had lost count, with our daily routine, I couldn’t keep track of time or days, all I knew was that morning came and night came. I realized it had been about a month since I was taken, when a familiar abdominal pain began to surface, it was what I had dreaded ever since we arrived at the camp, I had completed my last cycle a few days before my exams, so it had now been a month since we arrived, “oh God we are still here”, I said to myself, the pains became slightly more painful, and so with a lot of reluctance, I went to see the covered women, and they did as expected, they gave me cut strips of a cotton like material and showed me how to use it, I almost threw up at the thought of using it, tears welled up in my eyes, but I didn’t have much of a choice, and they didn’t let me leave, I was informed I would be isolated from the general population until I completed my cycle, the isolation didn’t bother me, what bothered me was their refusal to remove the annoying bell still attached to my ankle.
I sat in the make shift lavatory, trying to make sense of everything happening around me, trying to make sense of why we were taken, what was our purpose, why bring us here and treat us like maids or women in a harem, I stared at the piece of sanitary ware and I cursed them with every fiber in my body, and then I wept.
Two days after I was isolated, I lay in bed trying to sleep, when I heard a loud bang, it was a bomb, unmistakably, and what followed was gun fire, screaming and more loud bangs, I jumped out of the bed on instinct, and just in time too, because just at that moment, some bullets tore through the tent, I looked at the bed beside me, the girl on it had been hit in the head with a stray bullet, she was dead.
I immediately crawled out of the tent, and outside was chaos, it was a war zone, I couldn’t even think, all I knew was this was another opportunity to escape, and this time I was going to die trying, so I crawled on my stomach, ignoring the pain I felt from the constant cramps, there were people running everywhere, gun shots rang in the air, bombs exploding and screams of anguish and pain filled the air, the mix of gun fire and explosions lit up the night, so visibility was no problem, I crawled for what seemed like an eternity, I saw armed men running in all directions, one of them even fell over me, but couldn’t care less if I was trying to escape or not, he just picked himself up, and ran in the opposite direction, gun in hand, so I figured whatever was engaging them was far more superior to them, and then I thought to myself, could this be our rescue, a sudden burst of hope made me rise to my feet, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me, I saw different men running, some I could instantly recognized from their attire, others I couldn’t, but the peculiar thing was I didn’t see any of the girls, not a single one, and this got me worried, but I ran none the less, I ran until I dived into a nearby bush, it was thick and absorbed most of the gun fire noise coming from the camp, I hid myself and prayed silently.
After about a few minutes, the shooting and bombs stopped, it was all silent, save for a single shot here and there, and I could hear voices, loud voice barking out orders, the voices were different, they had authority and purpose, I didn’t move from my hiding spot, and then I heard one of them say, “we are the army, and we are here to protect you, are there any women out there”, those words sounded familiar, and I wasn’t about to fall for it again, so in that instant I decided to make a run for it, but I guess I didn’t calculate my movement properly, because I ran into one of them immediately I gave up my hiding place, he had a helmet on and was also in green, I stood frozen as I stared at him, he stared back at me and asked me if I was alright, I remained silent, he took a step forward, and that was when I went crazy, I attacked him, kicking and clawing at him, I didn’t care if he had a weapon, I had decided at that moment that I would rather die, than go back to that camp, he was strong, he held both my hands and wrestled me to the ground, he kept telling me to calm down, gradually I began to calm down, “I am with the army, we are here to take you home”, he quickly pulled out his ID card and shone some light on it, his words and proof of identification melted my soul, I burst into tears and I held his hand and kissed it, I murmured both a thank you and a thank God prayer to him, he smiled slightly, picked me up and led me to waiting trucks, similar to the ones that had brought us here, and there I saw lots of girls, they had probably been rescued before the fire fight had started.
I was reluctant to get on the truck at first, until I began to see some of the girls I knew, but that still didn’t convince me, I guess one of the officers had seen my hesitation, he walked up to me and presented me with his identity card, and assured me they were the good guys, I got on the truck and hoped this was real, and that it all wasn’t staged.
The trucks roared to life, and our journey began, this time back home to our families, and as we put the camp behind us, I could see the smoke rising in the distance, and still wondered why we had been taken, I thought of the covered women, the girls whom had been isolated for their scholastic uses, the girl that had been shot beside me, I wondered if Lami would be with my mother waiting for me, and then in fear I wondered if the armed men would come searching for us again, I checked my ankle, the bell had been removed, probably by one of the covered women, while I slept.
The journey back home was quite long, but am guessing, the anxiety also played a part in that, and I realized when had been on the highway, and I added that as proof that the army in green we were with now was legitimate, they drove out in the open, which signified nothing to hide, or was it still all a ploy, and then I realized I had become very paranoid, so I decided to clear my head, sit, and wait.
We arrived at the school where we had been taken, the place was filled with people, I recognized many of them, they were from my village, and many of the girls did too, because suddenly there was a lot of screaming, the trucks came to a halt and the men opened them, and one after the other we all alighted, parents came forward to look for their girls, there were screams, and tears of joy, I eagerly scanned the crowd for any member of my family, suddenly I saw my mother, I rushed into her arms and cried until my legs gave way and we both sat on the bare floor and cried together, it was such a relief to see her again, she held me tight as though afraid to let me go, I asked after my father and brother, she said they were on the other side of school, checking the other trucks, at this point my cramps had gotten worse and I was very soaked, I whispered to my mother and she asked me to remain where I was, she would be right back.
I saw her walk away, I looked into the crowd, saw different faces, the men from the army held their weapons looking around, I closed my eyes for just a moment, and everything went silent, I opened my eyes and everyone was gone, the people, the army, the trucks, my mother, everything and everyone was gone, I jumped up, looked around, my heart racing, what was going on, I called out, but no words came out, I heard my name very faintly, I turned around and saw my mother in the distance, calling out to me and waving, I ran towards her, but the more I ran, the farther she became, I could hear my name more clearly now, but my mother was so far off, and suddenly, a hand grabbed my shoulder, spun me around, it was my friend Lami, I was confused, and before I could react, she screamed “wake up Bathula”, she struck me across the face, and then I woke up.
The girl beside me had been trying to wake me up, ”you were having a nightmare and screaming for your mother”, she said to me, I stared at her, her face was clean, no blood, she was alive, I stared around the tent, everything was in order, I raised my leg, the bell was still there.
It had all been a dream; tears welled up in my eyes, at the realization that I was still stuck in this God forsaken place, I sobbed silently in her arms, she consoled me and sang a local song.
The morning didn’t bring any hope, there is no hope as long as I am held in this place, because with my family is where I’d rather be, but I am stuck here and it’s getting harder by the day keeping my sanity, the distance, the isolation, the uncertainty is killing me gradually.
I hope my mother doesn’t forget me
I hope my father doesn’t forget me
I hope my brother doesn’t forget me
I hope the real army in green doesn’t forget me
I hope they come for us
I hope they don’t forget us
THIS STORY IS A PURE WORK OF FICTION, ANY DATES TIME AND EVENTS SIMILAR TO REAL LIFE EVENTS ARE COMPLETELY COINCIDENTAL
DEDICATED TO ALL THOSE TAKEN AGAINST THEIR WILL, I HOPE WE DON’T FORGET THEM
Written By Arome Ameh (The Priest)