By 10:00 AM, the garage square was filled to capacity. The garage was the name for the place where people usually came to board vehicles to their different destinations. At least, that was its primary function. If it was a stadium or football match, a lot of people would have left. However, there was a serious issue to be discussed. The elders who had been in support of a resolution through speech had done a good job of convincing people to attend. It seemed the whole town was in attendance:

“Violence is not the answer” they had preached to the impromptu gathering of youth the day before “The soldiers have called all of us to a meeting so as to resolve all issues. As you all know, the people had posed in military uniforms and caused destruction to our parts. They killed some people too. We asked the soldiers who said they know nothing of it. We, the elders, cautioned patience and forgiveness. You children with the hot blood of aggression we are known for, decided to avenge the pride of our village. The rapes and ravages had gone too far. The Kumbu people had indeed gone too far.


“Still, our grey hair has taught us that this isn’t the answer. We have seen the Biafran war, the Boma war and know that though both are holes, the mouth is a far better talker than the barrel. You thought with your hands instead of brains, as youth is wont to. Six of the military dressed men were seen in a part of the village. Whether they were our previous visitors, we cannot say. You caught them and brought them to our headquarters, Gbaagol. You stripped them and humiliated them publicly.

“In a ‘feat’ not known to our parts, you cut them apart, organ for organ before burning them. The smoke went to the skies and spread all the way to the barracks where their absence was noted. The soldiers came and picked the offenders. They wanted to crush us but we, the elders, intervened and reached a truce. They said they would meet with us at the garage by ten a.m. for a meeting of the two sides. We suggested the town hall for its symbolic stance but they insisted they wanted a wider place. They insisted. Let us thank God this is a democratic country now. Only God knows what would have happened if they had the right to instant might as then. Still, they are the holders of our guns and we have to cooperate with them. Remember ‘mistaken fire’?” They all laughed at this. Mistaken fire was another name for ‘accidental discharge,’ a situation where people of the armed forces shot someone and claimed it was a mistake, an accident.
“Everyone is meant to be there. The focus is men but still; bring your wives and children so they can learn. The women are the teachers: When they watch such things, they usually learn how to instruct the little ones in ways that they should grow.”
Igba, the elder, would have been delighted at the impact of his words that had brought so many. It did not matter that the farms were not in season and that the garage was in the market which enabled people to excuse their wares in a few minutes. It did not matter that a lot of people were just plain bored and needed some entertainment which they believed the public redress would bring. It also did not matter that a few people were afraid of what would befall their town if the soldiers met an empty park. What mattered was that an elder had spoken and people had decided to hearken to his words. The old order of the wisdom of the elders was coming back. Technology and civilisation had surely not taken everything after all. These were people who loved peace.
They all came, noting the soldiers at the gates. They noted that soldiers were in full gear too. Well, who knew what they wanted to demonstrate to the people? The women tried their best at controlling their children who kept running about. The time moved on as everyone waited for the Army Chief – the Big Oga, who had promised to come. The elders seated regally in the centre, began to fan furiously, ceremony lost. Of all days, the sun had decided to up its heat notches up today. The elders began to question the wisdom in wearing their traditional uniforms of thick materials of black and white stripes. On cold days, it was a pleasure as it kept them warm. On this day though, they served as punishment. The others who custom didn’t force to put on such, smiled. They were sure happy not to be that old, for once.
At 11:00, it was getting obvious that the Big Oga was not going to come. The people, who were highly uncomfortable as it was, began to disperse. The gates were barred, sending puzzles. Then,
A shrill whistle rang freezing all civilian movement in shock. Not so for the military personnel whose lightening precision held everyone more shocked. The gates were locked, all exits blocked. The ring around the gathered people was noticed in that instant. There was absolute silence till the cry of a baby tore it. It seemed the order or agreed sign, for the (more than) numerous holes began to spit out fire in that instant. Several people dived to the floor, trampled as others ran in varying directions on them and more, falling; all being brought down.

Tratataaaaaataaaaaaaataaaa!! sang the song of the moment. The dance to the tune was immense as several fallings and dodging ending in eventual falls were seen. The old tried to muster the energy lost in youth to pull tables or whatever to take cover. It was useless for the space was open, the shooters experts. The choice hadn’t been a mistake. Slowly, the pile rose up till not a single person was left standing.

The khaki wearers jumped down from their various vantage points as their leader led the way. He kicked over the bodies to be sure. The babies lay with bullets designing their cherubic features, torn: Women with red all over reminiscent of pregnancy, menstruation and others: Pregnant women lay down too with bullet poked and riddled stomachs. Thus lay unborn babies tasting the realities of a harsh life before being born into a world they would never see. Able bodied men were left useless by metals, smaller than the finger of babes, enough to end their destinies. There lay big bellied elders whose wisdom the bluntness of bullets had wiped out in brains splattered all over.
A soldier pushed a body aside to be sure. He saw the man breathing heavily, groaning. The heavily black and white striped cloth didn’t help much.

“Wh – wh- wh – wh…” he struggled to say something, a question perhaps. A bullet to the fore head completed it for Chief Igba.

“Anofia!” the Sergeant shouted sending a ball of spittle to end the sentence, the bullet not enough. The word, translated, meant ‘wild animal.’ “Next time, they would know who to mess with. Boys! Let’s go!”

Su’eddie Vershima Agema won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Joint Prize for Poetry 2014. He blogs at, @sueddieagema on Twitter. He can be reached at

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