IT HAD been three nights since he was brought here. He could not remember the specific location, but he could admit that because he was seeing the Atlantic Ocean from the dungeon where he had been kept, he was probably being held at the Executive Mansion. The room was not bigger than the average room space in Monrovia.
James Zonn attempted to stand up but realized that there was a rope around his waist strapped to a board on the floor. Though he had been in this dungeon long enough, and could now make out some of its features, he still felt dizzy and weak. This was because the soldiers who had deposited him at the dungeon had insisted that he must confess to them all that he knew about the rebels.
The three soldiers who had interrogated him had proven that they could be mean and dangerous. One, seemingly the commander, since he was always referred by the others as CO, held him to the ground, while the other two soldiers made several attempts to strangle him. During one of the numerous “interrogations,” he had lost consciousness, and had regained it when water was poured on him.
“Who are the rebels?” The question had stunned him, since though he was a Gio, he had no contact with or knowledge of any rebels.
“I don’t know no rebels,” he had said in pain, while the other soldier folded his hands around his neck, attempting to force life out of him. He had concluded that there might be something good in dying after all. Why? The deliberate human suffering, the murder of his mother and the disappearance of his father and sisters, and the wind of fear hovering around the Gios and Manos, were indications that dying was better than living under conditions that were distressing and horrible.
“All you Gios and Manos are sanamabitches.” That was the unmistakable voice of the man who had tried to strangle him the third time. Why he unsuccessful at it, Zonn could not know for sure. At one point, he almost succeeded when he dropped his huge frame, a frame that Zonn considered to be about two hundred pounds, on him while the others held him to the ground.
He had only choked, when in an apparent act out of sympathy, born out of a soldier’s commitment to protect and defend his countrymen, without being selective, the shorter of two soldiers had said he doubted Zonn had any connection with the rebels.
That assistance had generated some argument among the soldiers.
“If he is not a rebel now,” the other soldier said, “he may be one day.”
“After all, this war is a war that is killing all Liberians.” The other had insisted, and in a determined statement, pointed out, “We are all Liberians, if even our tribal affiliations make us different. Being a Krahn is not by choice.”
“Will you go against the instructions of the President?”
“All I’m saying is that our hatred for the Gios and Manos has blinded some of us,” the other said in defiance, “killing this boy may be nothing, but as a man, at least, and a soldier, there should be some conscience remaining in our bosoms.”
The soldier who had come to his defense was truly making some sense, but did he know that his action would lead to his own death? That was what Zonn was thinking, for he knew that any Liberian or Krahn married to Gio and Mano women, and were unwilling to agree for their spouses to be murdered, were also being killed.
That was when the CO or Commander and the second soldier stormed out of the room. And Zonn knew he had no chance of leaving the dungeon alive, he managed to say, “Thank you,” to the soldier. But before he left the dungeon, the soldier had said to him, “I know I will not live very long, and so if you survive, remember, it is not all the Krahn people who want your people dead.” That was true, wasn’t it?
THE DEATH of Colonel Moses Joe came two days after the encounter in the dungeon. And Zonn could not control his tears, especially when he remembered what the soldier had said to him, before parting:
“I know I’ll not live very long, and if you survive, know that not all the Krahn people want your people dead.” Remembering the soldier’s words struck Zonn like he had lost an immediate family member. And of course, he would not have known that the soldier was dead, had the second soldier not come to inform him.
“You damned Gio ass,” the soldier had taunted him, “the Gio soldier-lover is dead and we’ll see how you will get out of here alive.”
Before the soldier left, he had sent a warning to him. “You made us to kill a Krahn person; it’s your turn to die.” That statement had rendered him speechless, and it was the more reason he wanted to die before they came for him. It appeared that the soldiers were determined to kill him. For the last seven days, he had not been fed.
As Zonn reclined on the prison bed, he lost all sources of comfort. However, he remembered the many days he had attended church services and at Sunday school, he had learned some comforting words from the Bible, it was time to use them while he waited for his end.
So while he searched his memory bank for assistance from the Bible, he knew that his days were numbered. How many days left before the soldiers come back and dispose of him? He could not be certain. He had heard many stories of how several Gio and Mano people began to disappear since the start of the war. Their bodies had been found, but their heads were missing. He knew the situation was depressing, but what could he do?
He blamed Liberia for letting his people down. He knew he would die, but at the prime age of seventeen? It was difficult to accept. Then he felt elated, but could not understand why. In the next minute, he understood why. If a Krahn man could lay down his life for him, who was he to refuse, when it came for him to do the same? Here, he admired the sacrifices of Jesus, as he had learned in Sunday school. No, he was no Jesus, but to die without knowing what you had done, was something he could now understand. His stomach churned, demanding food that was not there. He closed his eyes, as the cold breeze from the Atlantic Ocean seeped through the only window in his dungeon. He felt the salty water on his tongue, and dropping his head on the hard board, Zonn, who had deliberately been denied sleep, as a form of torture, received a visit from Providence, and went into a deep slumber.
THERE COMES a time when a person’s worries and all causes of dissatisfaction tend to be only in their imagination. James Zonn was in such a state. It was a situation in which you find yourself unable to understand the outworking of blind fate. But, is fate blind? If not, how come is it that there comes a time under some uncertain circumstances that tends to draw you into what is worrisome and bad all the time?
It is shocking to even imagine why someone should be tormented because of their ethnic identity; and it is also troublesome to consider the level of barbarism that can be engendered against another person of another ethnic group, since in the case of the Liberian tragedy, it was all too clear to see how thousands were set to face their doom.
The saddest part of it was that they were misled to believe that it was a war that knew its own enemies.
James Zonn, as was established in the last chapter, went into one of the deep slumbers that Providence, in a period that it decided to make some amends to the broken soul of the young Gio, paid him a visit. The visit, despite the dungeon, agreed to the physical needs of the suffering Liberian boy, that he followed the dictates of nature. It would be difficult for many, reading this, to understand how Zonn could forget about all his problems, and take consolation in slumber.
One can agree that Zonn had accepted his fate, and was prepared to wait for the final determination of his own existence. I am not sure if in the brief period that he had been overwhelmed by events in Monrovia, he could find any reason at all to condemn the nation that decided he was unworthy of its residence. Zonn, I must confess, had seen enough in this brief period, and with any of those who would express dissatisfaction on the sorrowful state, hunting him down, there was no chance or situation that could have prevented him from his slumber, since I must be honest to state that in life’s various circumstances, and here I must seek yet another assistance, and this time from the Bible, that a person’s soul can be willing, but the body can be weak, providing the momentum and wherewithal for the final conclusion of the weakness of the mind, when hope seems to be nowhere to be found.
It was, by any account, a disastrous situation. Political events in Liberia were deteriorating fast enough to the extent that human life, not that only of the average Gio, Mano, Sarpo or Mandingo, but all who breathed at this period in Liberia were also affected. So, at least the reader can, to some level, accept the tragic resolution of James Zonn, as he lay in the dungeon, facing what he felt and considered could be his end. It was true, and no one could have begrudged him for the realities of the uncertainties he faced in deliberate sufferings that many were describing as beyond insanity.
For a fact, the Gios, Manos, Krahns and Mandingoes of all persuasions were being destroyed, and the disappearances of his family were enough to provide the young man the last idea that was necessary for his self-awakening unto the gloomy future of his life. And since he was brought into this den of no return, being seven days now, food was one thing that he had not seen, let alone had. And so as he “lay dying,” to quote William Faulkner, James Zonn’s mind and heart were at peace.
He was transported into another era, another time in his beloved Liberia, when he was still a Gio, and from Nimba County, the Blue Mountains whose weather people often compared to Europe, of all places. For, it was there that he was born. In this dream, Zonn encountered for the first time, the fullness of his family, and laughed so loud from ear to ear he thought it had been a real experience, he would have wondered how fate could have been so unfriendly, and the unhappy bringer of the message of distress.
In his dream, he was at a Sunday church service, and his mother, father and three sisters were all there. The pastor, Rev. Gongerwon, his lanky frame towering over the congregation, stood up, his right hand held on to the Bible, a smile sweeping across his face, and pacing up and down. The congregation, in attention at the House of God, listened as the man of God thundered one verse after another.
“He is your salvation and the Rock of Gibraltar,” the pastor intoned, eyes gleaming, and feeling great. “Give your troubles to the Lord and you’ll suffer no want.” The Lutheran Church, sitting across the street, was one of the places that Zonn and his family had always found shelter in the mercies of God. How those words and assurances comforted him! How long would such words continue to make him happy, now surrounded by family and friends, in the House of God?
That was when Zonn felt a piercing pain in his rib. Perhaps, they had come for him at last.
JAMES ZONN woke up with a start, and made an attempt to stand up, feeling the pain on his side. He could not, and he realized that since he was brought into the den, he had been tied down on a wooden board. He fought his way to recognize the three men standing over him. He did not hear the door to the dungeon open, but here they were in front of him.
“You ready to confess now?”
The question was directed at him, and after some time, he could make up the features of the three soldiers standing together in the room. He remembered that when the entire episode began, three soldiers had come to him, and on the fourth day he was told one was dead. Now the same number had come back. There was still the tall soldier, standing at six foot nine, yes, the very one always addressed as the CO, that he assumed to mean their commanding officer. The second soldier was bulky, and he saw that he was balding. The man was plump, with a craggy face. He had short, brown hair and hazel eyes. From the brief time he had come to know him, he never saw him laugh.
The third soldier was probably twenty five. He never bothered to assume the ages of the other two; maybe the CO was around forty five, the second thirty nine, but the new addition seemed younger. He did not feel any attachment to the men in green uniforms. Perhaps they had come to conclude how much time remained before he was killed.
“You ready to confess?”
The question, this time had come from the new addition. His voice equal to his stout body, Zonn admitted. What was he supposed to say? On two occasions he had been asked if he was ready to confess, but confess to what? He had told them he was no rebel, as the new enemies in the bush had been referred to. Though the CO suggested, during one of his visits to the dungeon, that if he was not a rebel now, he would be later, and therefore he had to be destroyed. What was that supposed to mean?
But what was happening with the war itself? Had the government been able to destroy the rebels? And why were they paying so much attention to him? He was no soldier, since seventeen year-olds were not supposed to be in the army. But if, he reasoned, the national army was now looking for people his age, and then it went without saying that the war was becoming a dangerous one. It also meant that the enemies in the bush were using people his age, and even younger to fight the national army.
So what would he say to the soldiers? He had protested his innocence, and yet, they still brought him here. His parents’ residence had been razed to the ground; though he refused to accept it, he had a premonition to admit that his father might have been killed, since his mother was already dead.
Then the second soldier pulled him by his collar, and attempted to force him to stand up. The soldier held his collar, and pressed his hands together, choking him. The pain of the pressure shot through Zonn, grimacing in protest. He smelt liquor in the soldier’s breadth.
“Hey you rebel,” the soldier told him, “you have few minutes to confess. If you don’t confess, you will be responsible for your own death.” Then at the end of the warning, the soldier released him; as he fell heavily on the board, Zonn began to sniff, and the tall soldier commanded, “When I return to you again, you’ll be dead, you hear me?”
Zonn’s tears continued to come to his assistance. The thought of being killed, though he had been thinking about it, now made him afraid. The three soldiers stormed out of the den, and Zonn’s tears continued to fall. When the soldiers were outside of the dungeon, Zonn saw the silhouette of one of them taking off the fluorescent light that sent its rays, a flicker of light, into the dungeon. From the only window attached somehow directly facing the Atlantic Ocean, he heard the shrill screams of the eternal sea, rumbling up and down. He had heard much about the life in the ocean, and wondered if that would become his last resting place.
“What about the sharks and all the human eating animals in the deep of the ocean? Won’t they have a feast when I am thrown into the sea?”
HE HAD heard there were man-eating monsters in the deep who would attack their prey at the sight of blood. He tried to find a way to look at the heavens, but his position made it impossible. He wanted to look at the owner of the universe, and if possible, throw him some questions. He remembered at church service, and during choir time, he would join many of the Christian brothers and sisters to sing the popular hymn:
“This world is not my home
“I am just passing through
“Heaven is my home, somewhere beyond the moon…”
Yes that song was his favorite and though he could not remember the rest of the words, that he could remember the few was comforting of sort.
He was not really a good singer, but the memories of that song, whenever they sang it in church, brought him some comfort, as it was doing now. But did the soldiers also know that, like him, this world was not their home? So, if all human beings were strangers here on earth, why would anyone determine how long the other must live? And also, if human beings were mere strangers here on this earth, as the hymn indicated, then why would the soldiers fail to understand that all of them shared equal responsibility in making this earthly home more habitable?
After all, weren’t the soldiers supposed to defend and protect the Liberian people? Which meant all the Liberian people, right? Zonn could, from here, see clearly the sad specter of the Liberian situation. He knew, the current war and destruction would prick the consciences of the soldiers and all those making war in his once peaceful homeland in the years to come. But right now, the soldiers had told him they would be back. And what did they say they would come for? He knew the answer, and with no help coming, he waited for them. “I may go home to the Father of tender mercies at time from now,” was his consoling thought.