IT HAD been seven days now since the young Gio boy was forcibly brought into this dungeon by soldiers looking for rebels. And it had been seven days since James Zonn heard about food. He was in danger of dying, becoming weak by the day.
Sometimes he wondered how he had been able to endure such a bitter experience, and sometimes he had felt that he would survive the ordeal.
He could not convince himself why he would be lucky to survive, and neither could he find the mouth to explain why he would die, and his body thrown into the Atlantic Ocean. For the young man, all meant the same. It had come to the hard part of life.
Before he was brought here, there were shootings by the soldiers, and killings of people with their bodies left in the open from street corner to street corner.
He had awoken this late night to a strange sound. Somebody was knocking at the door where he was being concealed, and glaring at it, he could make out the shadow of what seemed like a man standing there, beckoning him to come closer.
With his heart panting, remembering what the big soldier had said to him, he made great effort to be sure the day for his home going, as promised by the soldier, had not finally come. Immediately, beads of perspiration gathered on his forehead, and the room, dark in such an hour, was becoming visible.
Then he saw what the cause was. The man, demanding him to come, had a lantern, and though his attire was that of a soldier, it was apparent that he was there for a different reason. If he was one of those who had promised to come get him, he reasoned, he would not have any reason to stand afar, and ask him with caution to come near. After all, if he were one of the soldiers, he would have known that he was tied to the board to the floor, and he was not free to just move about the room.
It was apparent that the other had seen the boy’s dilemma, and began to do something. James Zonn watched in amazement, as the man, with the help of the light from the lantern, engaged the door, and in a second, it swung open.
“Shsssssssss…” Zonn saw the man’s finger on his lips. Zonn watched as the man moved through the door, and saw that he had a dark brown shirt. Closer now, the man’s eyes and wiry hair increased the boy’s anxiety. But at the same time, the boy had a sense of goodness, since the man was doing whatever he had to do with care. Still without saying a word, he pulled a cutter from his trousers pocket, and cut the rope that held the boy to the board. Right then, a flicker of a smile swept across the man’s face, and grabbing Zonn by the hand, he said for the first time, since he entered the room, “God has sent me to redeem you, my son. Today, I am helping you out of this place.”
Zonn was about to say something, when the man, looking directly in his face, said, “There is not much time. Those who are determined to kill you have been sent on a mission, and before they return, you must be gone.”
Zonn nodded, as if he understood what was said. The man helped him out of the dungeon, and for the first time, fresh air shot through his body. He felt dizzy, the result of the seven days that he had been kept without food. When Zonn straightened up in an attempt to gain his footing, for he almost fell to the ground when the Good Samaritan released his hold on him, he saw a bowl that he correctly thought contained cooked rice, wrapped up and wedged beside the door.
He still wanted to ask a question, when the man said, “There are places you can pass to leave from this Mansion underground. Take this food and after you have secured yourself a good hideout, you can eat it.” The man was still talking when Zonn dissolved in tears, as he heard the man say, “I am Krahn, and I am a Liberian. Let God be with you.”
By now they had walked away from the dungeon and had come through what seemed like an artificial tunnel, which opened directly facing the Atlantic Ocean.
“Walk by the side of the sea,” the man instructed him, pointing his hand to the right. “You will come to a three-way intersection, turn to the one on your right, and go about twenty minutes, the road will branch to the left to Buzzi Quarters, and from there you will be out of danger.”
Zonn, who was few minutes ago walking with difficulty, felt his spirit reviving, and some measure of confidence overpowering him. The idea of having been freed had changed his mood, and now had not only regained his freedom, the Good Samaritan, who, before he could turn around to thank him, had disappeared, had provided him some food for the journey away from hell.
So as he walked away in a hurry, he was filled with thanksgiving, and appreciation for God’s saving grace. He never had the chance to learn anything about the man, just that he was Krahn and a fellow Liberian. Even in these difficult times, there were still true Liberians, he mused. What was more, any attempt he had made to know him had met a stiff resistance. The man wanted freedom for him, and to top it all, he had brought him some food. “God,” the boy asked, “what manner of father are you?” Zonn’s tears were uncontrollable.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic Ocean, as he turned around to watch what appeared to be the deep blue sea, rumbled on and on, in an apparent praise to the wonders of the Creator. The majesty of God’s creation and the appearance of the Good Samaritan reinforced Zonn’s belief in the goodness of God through man. How then, he asked himself, were some people so wicked and unfriendly? The faces of his captors, what they said to him, threatening him if they were to return, and their failed attempts to choke him to death, all convinced him that despite the goodness in man, we can choose what we want to do to others, so long as it serves ours interest.
Though he was a free man, where would he go? There were still soldiers in the streets. From where he was running away to, the sounds of weapons contesting for attention cried out in protest. But it was too soon to dismiss the grace he had been showered. He thanked God, and blessed himself.
“Father,” he said, his voice choked, “the rest of the journey is yours.”
It was then that he heard footsteps behind him.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN was also a soldier for the government, and as he walked away from the dungeon where the young boy was kept for nearly a week, he was filled with revulsion and anger. He felt the strain in his muscles and somehow became agitated. Why? He had done what he felt was a good deed, releasing the young boy who had been brought and thrown into the dungeon for the last six days. It was not strange in this day and age that a young boy would be abducted and thrown into a prison, waiting to be killed.
Sam Dorboh had known all along that other soldiers were rounding up civilians, and were bringing them to the secret hideout at the Mansion and killing them in the dark of night. How many young men and women of Gio and Mano ethnicity had been brought here that he had watched in his hideout, as they were flogged, raped and eventually killed? He had counted twenty; oh no, thirty, and the number was mounting. The young man he had released was the seventh he had been able to set free.
But why was he doing it?
“That’s my nature,” he admitted to himself. “When Moses was killed for speaking against the abuse of the young Gio boy, I knew that my role in this thing was set.”
Sam Dorboh was a father of five, and at the age of forty-five, not only had he participated in the campaign of death in Nimba County, he had watched many people killed. Though he was also aware of the penalty for working against the authority of the president, he felt an element of shame and at the same time responsibility towards those innocents who were being wasted every night. He did not think it was helping the war, to pay with the lives of young men and women for the military’s losses in the bush against the rebels. “We are in hell already,” he admitted, “our butts are being kicked, just listen to the BBC.” But in truth, the fact that the rebels were kicking the butts of the soldiers did not suggest that he should join forces or work in concert against the expectation of the national army. It was apparent that his change in action was due to an experience he had witnessed during one of their campaigns in Nimba County.
The idea of what happened in that campaign always brought a sense of shame to him. It was few months after the rebels announced that they were taking on the national army. He was among nearly fifty soldiers who had been sent to Ganta, one of the major towns in Nimba County, and to their surprise, they found the town almost deserted. Now, with the Gio or Mano man’s natural desire for music, the soldiers decided to set a trap to get all the able bodied Gios and Manos to come out from their hideouts. With the soldiers was a tape recorder that had been seized from some fleeing civilians in Monrovia. It was not apparent that the soldiers meant to carry the tape recorder to Ganta, but since they were taking things from civilians, they were fortunate to have brought the machine along.
AS THE tape recorder was activated, and one of the popular Gio songs blared out loud from the instrument, it did not take that long for the pleadings in the song to affect the hearts of the Gios and Manos. And unsuspectingly, they emerged from their hideouts into the hands of the soldiers – the trap worked to perfection.
Sam Dorboh, as he walked away to his quarters at the Mansion, still hears the pleas and cries of men and women his group arrested, and accused of supporting the rebels. Their murders, which did not spare their children, had been a blot on his conscience ever since.
Of course, he could not convince himself that the army’s losses from all strategic positions around the country was a valued reason to declare war on all young men and women from Nimba County.
He remembered, many years ago, when he attended the Zwedru Multilateral High School. The school had a population of more than six hundred, with students from all over Liberia. There were Gios, Manos, Mandingoes, Krus, Bassas, Lormas, and many others from any of the remaining sixteen ethnic groups.
Nostalgically, he remembered that they had all attended classes together. In fact the school’s soccer team composed of all Liberians who were able to play the game. There had not been any problem then.
Then, why should it be now?
He knew it was the end of the period of time. Was the end time now catching up with Liberians? The whole Liberia was suffering. But again, after all, he was Krahn, and so what? This was a war for power, and not a war to preserve the Liberian nation. He was a soldier who nonetheless believed in the sanctity of human life. He was not making any accusations against any one, but it seemed that the meaning of life had been diminished and all Liberians were suffering and crying.
He could agree that what was happening would become the basis for more horrible things to come that the government could not and would not be able to contain, even if it wanted to. The news from the hinterland was not encouraging. From day in and day out, the BBC, the only radio station still providing news about the war, had been broadcasting the rebel leader Charles Taylor’s triumphant declarations of what, where and how his men were making their way to Monrovia.
As a Krahn, he knew when push came to shove, he might not live. But what did he care? The tears and blood being wasted for personal intrigues were not doing anyone any good, let alone the President of the Republic.
The rebels’ successes, if the BBC should be believed, had inserted fear in the men and women in arms. And what had they gotten in Monrovia? Arresting young men and women was not the right course of action. He was horrified when, just last week, he discovered the heads of five men and four women on the beach, just next to the Mansion.
He had been called to supervise the burial of “some” rebels and what he saw made him think twice on the current war. It was then that he made a vow to himself: never again would he allow those bloodthirsty soldiers to hide in the comfort of the Executive Mansion and capture young boys and girls and kill them for sport.
If the soldiers wanted the enemy, well, they could go on to Kakata, and even Gbarnga, to test their killing skills there. Killing boys and girls under cover of darkness and at a hideout at the Mansion, to his mind, was a war against the people.
Sam Dorboh, the soldier and protector of people, and a lover of mankind, decided right then that the war with the rebels was already lost. And again he knew also that he must watch his back.