It was exactly four months after government troops had taken over the town where Ube lived with her family. Although there were brief guerilla activities and raids on neighbouring villages, miles away. The battalion commander was a hollow-cheeked man with dark, gleaming eyes and a wide curved mouth, the shape of a crescent moon.
The town’s secondary school had been converted to a camp. Sandbags could be seen all around the village with concertina barb wires and gunners to keep out any guerilla raid, which were mostly sneaky hit-and-run attacks. The town was boring, making the soldiers itch for action. The commander was a brute and everyone called him Major; a name which had stuck since when he was a drum-major while he was at the Academy where he graduated.
Sex and hot drinks were his most favorite past-time despite being one of the best officers in the Army. His closest companion, apart from the bottle, was a large tabby cat which he cherished even more than his own mother.
Major wore a bandage on his left hand as a result of a grenade shrapnel during an encounter with rebel fighters. He was a ruthless officer when dealing with the enemy. He had also placed a curfew on the town following reports that rebel informants were there. His soldiers had orders to shoot anyone on sight immediately after dark. There were some occassional bursts of gunfire which made the villagers think someone was being shot. But next morning no human being was amiss; only the he-goats which the owner’d never know its wherabouts, save for some goat hair that might be seen in the bush.
“Newly posted men. Names?” Major asked some newly-arrived men from Army H.Q
“Dan Poilane, sir.”
“Ezekiel Malarepa, sir.” The rest of the six new arrivals also announced their names.
Then Major’s Captain read from a paper. “Poilane and Malarepa are both First-lieutenants, to be attatched to our special commando unit. Both are well-trained.”
“Just what I need to lead these over-stuffed monkeys on special duties,” Major said.
“Show them around. And you’ll take orders from just me. Dismiss.”
“Yessir!” chorused the fresh men before they left with the Captain.
“Bloody fools. Trained for only five months, and that’s what H.Q calls ‘well-trained’,” he said to his cat, snorting. “Anyway, I am God here and I own them.”
The Major’s aide-de-camp knew Ube like he knew his own face, so he allowed her into Major’s office without questions. She was a regular visitor there. Major had bottlenecked the town, and movements in and out of the area was very restricted. Daily activities of the people were restrained, most of the children were drying up with kwarshiorkor, in need of milk and protein which the battalion had in excess from the city. Nothing went for nothing; the soldiers and officers traded these life support for only sex – nothing else. Only a few who had farms around the town were lucky and they sold their crops at exhorbitant prices. Major already had his eyes on Ube. He had threatened her family with hunger and swore to torture their son, Agbo, on trumped-up charges of sabotage, until he finally got Ube.
She sat on a fussy settee, twitching her fingers, remaining silent with the thought of the ugly development the war had brought her. Hours passed as she sat, fearful of her tormentor, nervous of what she was going through and uncertain that he might soon tire of her and kick her out like a rabid dog to torture her family. The Major busied himself, wrapping a roll of marijuana engrossively. He loved getting high and stoned before drinking liquor. It was his own way of blinding himself from the realities of the war. The war has its own ways of claiming casualties; soldiers getting killed, kids being forced to fight battles even before they’d stopped using diapers, and girls ending up as sex slaves risking veneral diseases and pregnancies.
By now the sun was sinking in the west and it lay only an inch or two above the horizon. As people began to hurry back to their houses to heed the curfew, Ube was eager to leave but she had to wait for him to say so. She kept looking at him, feeling she wanted to spit in his face.
“Remember that boy, the albino – where is he now?” he asked.
Ube knew the boy who lived next door. “I………I don’t know, we never saw him again.”
“You sure you know who I’m talking about?”
“Yes. He was caught trying to sneak out of town.”
“Good, good. He confessed that he wanted to go and inform the guerillas as he usually did,” Major dragged on his smoke. “He and his friend, I had them shot this morning. Warn your brother not to try same, okay? You know, I’m in charge here, if an order comes from me, the soldiers must carry it out.” Then. “You would like some more special food?”
A gust of rage shook Ube even as she nodded calmly. The man had an empty hole where his heart was supposed to be. Maybe the rebels were right to revolt against the government.
—–>>> To be continued.
Watch out for Episode 8