Day of Reckoning

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As we NPFL fighters did not know the path, one of the village men led the way. I walked behind him, an AK-47 assault rifle slung over my shoulder.

After a while, we heard sounds in the distance: the voices of men, women and children not far ahead. Then the forest came to an abrupt end. We entered a clearing and found a rice farm and about four thatched huts in the middle of the jungle. The man ahead led us down another path. We came upon more thatched huts and found the villagers we had heard a few moments before. Before us were a group of men: four young ones sat under a tree, some were splitting wood and five or six other men were sitting on the ground plaiting bamboo mats; another group of the men were building the walls of a thatched hut. There were also a group of women, teenage girls mostly. A few were tending to the day’s meal. A small group of children were at play.

When they saw us, they tried to flee like the others before them. But a volley of gunshots fired into the air made it clear that any attempt at escape would be futile. They stood trembling, unable to believe we had found them.

We told them to sit on the ground. Then we ransacked the thatched huts, took the men into a bush nearby and shot them. The women and children we herded into the thatched huts which were set on fire. And then we broke into song:

Anybody say no more Taylor,
We will kill you like a dog;
O Taylor, our leader
O Taylor, our leader.
Anybody say no more Taylor,
We will kill you like a dog;
O Taylor, our leader
O Taylor, our leader

It was the memory of sound of us singing and of the women and children screaming as the thatched hut burned that woke me up. I sat up on the table, my body covered with sweat. I looked round in the darkness. I could make out nothing except the wooden stalls and tables.

I remembered that I had had that dream before, and many others like it.  Perhaps that was one of the prices I had to pay for my life as a rebel fighter, a life in which I had killed so many people that sometimes I saw their bodies filling the ocean.  I hated having those corpses floating up and returning to haunt me. If only I had marijuana, I could smoke and try to forget. It amazed me that ever since I came back from rebel territory I had not felt the urge to smoke. Perhaps it was because I didn’t like cigarettes much. But I did not know where to get marijuana.

I lay back down on the table and was trying to sleep when the sound of traders and others returning early to the market filled the morning air. I climbed down from the table, avoiding the stares of passersby who looked surprise at finding me asleep on a market-table. I walked through the stalls and tables until I came out onto Pipe Line Road, crossed it to the other side of the market, and walked in the direction of the video club. As always in the mornings, the smell of thick, rotten garbage hung like a blanket over Red Light market.

The video club attendant was out earlier than usual tacking movie posters to the wall. He saw me from a distance and smiled broadly. “Cha, pekin! Where you comin’ from so soon dis mornin’ so?”

I said nothing until I had approached and stood a few yards in front of him. “My sista put me outsa,” I said, and kept my eyes averted.

“When?” the attendant asked.

“Yesterday.”

“An’ you na tell me?”

“I wuh shame to tell you.”

“Don’t be shame. You suppose to tell me an’ I wuh goin’ to leh you sleep wif me in de video club. But where you sleep last night, eh?

“I sleep in de market.”

“Where in de market?”

“On a table in de market.”

“Cha, my fren! You brave-o.”

I said nothing.

“Don’t go sleep in de market again,” the attendant said, “because somethin’ bad can happen to you. Anytime it get in de night, ask me and I will leh you sleep wif me in de video club. You hear?”

“Yes, and thank you-o.”

“All right, pekin. But looka your clothes, mehn. I see you wear dis one clothes for three days na. Looka de shirt sef, it fini tear on your back. You don’t have no clothes?”

“No.”

“Come, I’ll give you some of my clothes.” The attendant tacked the last poster to the wall, got down from the cement block on which he had been standing. Together we went into the video club.

From behind the door, the attendant removed a travel bag, carried it to one of the benches, and sat down, then placed the bag on the floor in front of him. Motioning for me to sit beside him, he zipped the bag open and from it removed a pair of trousers and a t-shirt.

“Go behin’ de door an try them on,” he said. “I tin dey can fit you.”

I got up and went behind the door, carrying the clothes in my arms.

A moment later, I appeared, dressed in a blue pair of denim trousers and t-shirt that fitted nicely.

The attendant smiled. “You see, I tell you de will fit.”

I went to sit beside him on the bench.

He looked at me and said, “You lookin’ good, mehn.”

I smiled. “Thank you for de clothes.”

The attendant nodded. “My name Peter.  And you, wuh your name?”

I looked at the floor and was silent for a moment. Ought I to lie to the attendant, especially after he had been so nice to me? I wondered. “My name Kollie,” I said.

“We can be fren,” Peter said. “De rebels dem kill my parents in 1990. I wuh na havin’ no place to go until somebode took me to one orphan home. I use to leave de orphan home every day to come to Red Light market an’ walkabout an’ play marbles, like de boys dem you can see outsa. Then one day Mr. Saturday see me an’ ask if I can help him in de video club. I say yes. He tell me to sleep here an’ mind his things.”

“Da Mr. Saturday de man wuh can come here to put de video on?” I asked.

“Yes,” Peter said. “But don’t worry bout him. He good man so. He will be happy sef if you here because you can sweep de video club wen de shows over an’ I will geh somebody to sleep with me.”

We laughed.

“But you mean to say I can sleep here every night?” I asked when our laughter had subsided.

“Yes,” Peter said, “an’ we can talk to your sista sef?”

“My sista?”

“I thought you say you livin’ wif your sista.”

“Oh, da one woman I live wif but she na my real sista.”

“But where your people dem?”

“I don’t have nobode.”

“You mean to say your one here in Red Light?”

“Yes.”

“Oh!”

We were silent for a moment. I wondered what Peter was thinking. But then, he asked, “So how come you start livin’ wif this woman?”

I looked at the floor and was silent. So far, I had told Peter enough as to convince him that I was telling the truth. Now I wondered whether I should replicate his story, omitting only those parts as not to make it seem so obvious. “De woman sell cold bowl in de market,” I said, finally. “One day I help her wash dishes an’ she tell me to stay because she wuh na havin anybode to help her.”

Peter nodded. “Plenty chilren dem like you an’ me, Kollie,” he said. “No famly, nowhere to go. At de orphan home me an’ de other chilren dem wuh so plenty sumtaim I tin de fall from de sky, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in de movie ‘The Terminator.’”

We laughed.

Peter got up and said suddenly, “Oh, kollie, I forgeh sef-o. We suppose to buy gas for de generator before Mr. Saturday come. Go cross de road and buy some. Da supermarket da got burn near de road, one man can sell gas there.” He went behind the door and came with a plastic container. He gave the container to me, took out a few notes, and handed them over. I took the notes, turned, and walked out of the video club to the market outside.

As I walked across the market, holding in one hand the plastic container with which I was going to buy gasoline and in the other the money which Peter had given me, such was the relief that I felt that it was almost as if I were dreaming. Now I would have a place to sleep, and Peter would probably see that I got a meal every day, maybe even twice a day, if all went well. It was an opportunity that I felt I needed to make the most of. And I would not only sweep the video club but would have the floor scrubbed and the benches dusted each and every day. I could offer to wash Peter’s or Mr. Saturday’s clothes, even. I would also keep a lookout for odd things they might want me to do, and not wait until they ask. In this way I felt I would be able to stay long enough in Red Light until I found my parents or perhaps one of my relatives.

To be cont’d.

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