WHOEVER SAID ‘seeing is believing’ had it right, James Zonn considered since his present predicament was in the hands of his own countrymen. It was a situation that the young Gio found distasteful but acceptable. Who would have thought that while a Krahn Good Samaritan overlooked the misdirected vengeance against his so-called enemies and sacrificed to set him free, fellow tribesmen would do just the opposite. Now thrown in a windowless shack wedged on the grasslands of Mount Barclay, he saw his chances dwindling, and his sense of hope growing dimmer.
What was more, his companion, held in another windowless shack shrieked from time to time. Just before he was thrown into the shack, he saw a couple of hurriedly constructed sheds, with somehow crooked ceilings scattering this way and that way. It had occurred to him that the shacks were sometimes used by the soldiers to pass away the boredom, whenever they were setting ambushes for their enemies. How wrong his estimation had been.
This was a case of seeing the true colors of some of his people. He would not want to know what could or what was going on in Klubor’s mind. How long had they known each other? A day and a half? He had just been released from his den, when Providence, perhaps, caused them to meet. He had known all along that the war in Liberia had divided the people, with the Krahns, Mandingoes on one side and the Gios on the other. The Sarpos, on the other hand, had just become mere victims, since the rebels had placed them alongside their Krahn cousins, and had declared them suitable to die.
A while ago, something like a woman’s shrieks reached his ears. It was when they were carrying his companion to the women’s shack, a stone’s throw away, that he thought he heard the moaning cries of a voice that he could swear was that of a woman. And despite her tears, some loud noise like the muzzle of a gun had exploded and the woman’s shrieking had stopped. He was convinced as hell that the rebel soldiers had killed her; no they had rather murdered her.
His heart and his mind descended into some doubts, and he could not make any sense of what was happening or what he was witnessing.
He was becoming more afraid the more he considered some of the stories he had earlier heard from several other civilians who were on their way to seek shelter or refuge elsewhere. He now thought deeply about the young man’s description of the horrors meted out to Liberians of all persuasions by his native Gio brothers.
“The worst man to hold a gun,” the man, a large scar on his face, his right hand in a self-made sling, had said, “is a Gio or a Mano man.” Zonn had listened to the man’s tears in disgust, and had been able to ask him, “Did they do that to you?”
The man’s eyes had widened in horror and with some difficulty retorted, “the Gio rebels did this to me. They said I looked like an AFL soldier?”
Zonn, in apparent disbelief, which did not mean that he did not completely believe that his people could inflict such a wound on a civilian of no consequence or threat to their ambition, nonetheless, in a voice full of consolation and sympathy, said, “It may seem that we are all in danger in this country.” It was not that he completely believed in what the badly wounded man had said, but with his own personal experience of what the soldiers in Monrovia were capable of doing, he felt there was every chance that his countrymen could do worse.
Now, he must endure his own agony simply because he tried to protect a woman, a fellow Liberian, whose past suffering joined them together, to elude the enemy and seek safety in the confines of those who had been telling the whole world that they were fighting for freedom.
Now that he had been told he would die in thirty minutes, he saw his anger, his worry and disappointment returning to overpower him. He had initially believed that the national soldiers were taking the issue to excess, and was bitterly angry at their disrespect for life. What he had heard and was seeing in this rebel territory, in Greater Liberia was evidence enough to render him incapable to understand the tragedy that had befallen the Liberian people. It was evidently a situation in which the ordinary Liberian caught in the divide had nowhere to hide. The shack he was being kept in did not possess anything worthy to name. Since the rebel war started around 1989, no one had heard about any prisoner of war. In fact there was no place where those who had been accused for whatever reason were sent to be interrogated and possibly released. From stories he had recently learned, even for a civilian to possess an identification card of any kind could be the cause for one’s execution. It was apparent that the rebel soldiers did not know an enemy from a sympathizer. For, how could they have failed to understand that all those Liberians streaming into the areas they controlled were seeking a safe haven? Why would women and children, as well as the infirm be subjected to endless searches, floggings, and rape? Zonn now realized that the current war was a war determined to kill Liberians for sport, since the rebel soldiers and the enemies did not care about their suffering. Zonn then realized the grand opportunity that his countrymen, due to their desire to kill, had missed. He knew that had they behaved differently, they would have been welcomed as liberators, as the real heroes. And in truth the Liberian people had hoped for a redeemer to end the chaos, a wish that the rebel soldiers failed to uphold.
He knew, from the way things were going that his life was in a balance and could end in death; but on second thought, he had a sense of hope that God, once again, could perform an amazing feat for his survival. But, then what would he do if his companion was eventually killed, since of course and in truth, she was a Krahn? “That won’t be possible,” he said to himself. It was not that he had any confidence anymore left in his expectation for his freedom. The delicate nature of the present situation rendered him incapable of understanding the kind of war that was being prosecuted in his country. The kind of rebel soldiers he had seen the morning they arrived, their behavior to each other, and their lack of respect to even the guns they slung across their backs and on their chests, indicated to him that the rebels themselves stood at the brink of self-destruction. Take for example, the boy called “small soldier.” A ten years old, the weapon across his back, the M16, dictated his every move as he huddled behind a weapon of death. How could such a child understand the value of his own life and those of the hundreds seeking shelter in Greater Liberia? Zonn was totally convinced of his brief experience with the rebels, and from where he was held, he knew death could come and even to these children that he considered already as ‘endangered species’ at any moment.
Zonn did not have the luxury to cry over the calamity that had come to his country at this time. He would go in peace and meet his maker, if that was what had been written in his star.
Suddenly the door creaked open.
“BIG BROTHER come out. Big brother you must come over here quickly.” The voice, shrill and calm, repeated the call. Zonn’s heart thumped repeatedly as he ventured outside to the call of the unknown voice. He had been placed in a shack, waiting for the final determination of his life. After all, thirty minutes was not too much to waste any more precious time. But now things were changing. He eased himself out of the small door to meet a flush of fresh air, and squinted to adjust his eyes to the immediate glare of daylight.
“Yes?” His voice rose faintly above, and he saw one of the rebel soldiers, Small Boy Soldier, standing there, his M16 slung across his chest, his right hand indicating to Zonn that he meant no harm, beckoning him to follow him. Zonn wanted to ask about his companion, but the Small Soldier did not allow him the chance, when he said, “don’t worry, she is safe.”
He followed the soldier, and they moved along a narrow pathway. After several twists and turns, they arrived at a location bordering a rubber plantation, and it was there that he saw Klubor sitting at one of the several benches lined up on both sides of a clearing center. His heart leaped in his chest when their eyes met.
Then another man, probably a rebel soldier, emerged from between two of the zinc shacks, and beckoned Zonn and his companion to move away, towards the direction of the main road. None of them had exchanged any communication, and Zonn realized that some power above man had intervened to save him and his companion. Zonn looked up in the heavens, and said a silent prayer.
In his heart, he kept repeating, “Lord you’re in control.”
About five minutes later, Small Soldier moved swiftly to Zonn and handed him a bunch of cash, but Zonn hesitated, and looked Small Soldier in the eye, demanding to know why the generosity. The other, standing about four foot three, looked at him with a smile, and indicated by pointing his hand towards him, asking him to accept the money and be gone. Zonn, whether he wanted to cry or smile, looked at the soldier with surprise, and then grabbed the money, and muttered below his breath, “Thank you.”
Small Soldier, apparently, with some appreciation, told him, “we’ve killed many of our brothers,” his right hand sweeping around his neck, to indicate the manner they had used to kill fellow Gios and Manos and other Liberians, “Go away and don’t come back.”
The morning sun was gaining, and Zonn felt warm. In his heart, he credited the God of Heaven for His show of mercy, which he knew many other Liberians had been unfortunate to miss. His survival made a deeper impression on him, and whatever he considered from now was deciding to make amends in God’s service. With the report of murders of thousands of Liberians, the fact that he had been spared on two counts were not only miracles, but an act of God’s undeserved kindness. What else could he do to show his appreciation for the Lord? True, his parents, sisters and many thousands of Liberians had been wasted, victims of the war that would not end. Perhaps, their murders could mean a new direction that he would take. But, why?
Probably, surviving meant a message for him to follow the Lord, and to make disciples for Him. It was also true that the young men and women in arms in the bush needed redemption. He remembered thinking about that aspect before. Now, he must demonstrate his calling to the
Lord, and someday find a way to make some of them, if possible, all of them, and turn them into children of God.
Presently, they continued to walk away from the checkpoint, and at a reasonable interval, another soldier, who had apparently been instrumental in their rescue walked to meet them. It was then that Zonn recognized him. Earlier when Zonn and his companion came to the Paynesville Red Light district, they had come across a man who had requested for financial support. In fact he had come begging for money, and without giving him any hard look, Zonn had conferred with his companion, and had given him ten Liberian dollars. Afterwards, the man had hung around wanting to talk, but Zonn and his friend were too much involved in their troubles that they did not pay him too much attention. Here, he knew it was payback for a good deed.
“I didn’t know you were a soldier,” Zonn told him. “We’re grateful to you.” The other had simply responded with a smile, and grabbing Zonn by the hand, pumped it several times to indicate that everything was fine.
“I have an advice for you,” the man said, “As you travel through the areas we are controlling, there will always be some of our friends who want to do you harm. And so joining the army here can be the difference between your personal safety, and how you are treated from here on.”
“A soldier?” Zonn’s response might have shocked the soldier, but he only offered a dim smile, and looked away. The idea of totting a gun, and going into war was something he had always hated. And yet, he realized that despite the harsh treatment he had suffered at the hands of his fellow countrymen, there were still other Gios that still had a level of humanity in them, and could reciprocate a good deed done in silence.
“Two miles from here,” the soldier broke his thought, “you will come across a bus stop, you can take it, and when you get to Gbarnga, you will be safe.” Zonn could not control his tears, his pent up emotions, which had sided with him when he had every reason to take consolation in it, now came to his assistance. He turned to look at Klubor, and her eyes were filled with tears too, her emotion already spent. Holding her by the hand, they walked briskly towards the safe haven they had been directed.
Thirty minutes later, Zonn and Klubor boarded a bus bound for the central Liberian town of Gbarnga and arriving there sometime later, he saw many young boys and girls with AK 47 assault rifles on their backs. Some of these solders were smaller than the ones he had earlier encountered and there were also many weapons that convinced him of the danger the ordinary rebel soldier faced. He realized that the young boys and girls in arms were the first victims of the war.