Day of Reckoning

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Saah F. Millimono, Author

Editor’s note: The following story is the author’s entry for the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing

By Saah Millimono

I stood in the middle of my childhood home. Tears fill my eyes as I looked ‘round at the blackened walls and the charred remains of personal effects scattered over the floor.

The Liberian Civil War in Liberia had taken its toll on everyone. The house I had returned to, on leaving National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel area, did not look any more like my parents’ house. It had burned to the ground.  For a long moment, I stood there sobbing. Then I turned, walked out of what remained of the house, and walked along a path until I came onto the tarred road that led toward Red Light market.

As I reached the market, I was surprised at the assorted goods on display, the crowds, and how large the market had become. As an NPFL rebel fighter, I had been to Kakata City once and then to Gbarnga, the former reputed to be still a hub of NPFL economy and the latter a stronghold in which Charles Taylor had his mansion. But the markets in these towns had not been as large as that at the Red Light. It was so large that it could take a whole day to go from one end of it to the other. I weaved in and out of pedestrians, stalls, tables, and a multitude of vendors and hawkers selling by the roadside. It was as if Red Light led a life of its own, far removed from the war.

As it had been rumored that a mob at Red Light had burned to death two men suspected of being NPFL rebels, I walked through the market with my head bowed for fear of being recognized. Yet I knew that I was never going to go back to the NPFL. I had left the rebel force without official leave. I knew that if I were captured I would be beaten severely or killed. But I was tired of life in the NPFL; I just wanted to find my parents.  I had not seen them since I was abducted by the NPFL the year before.  Besides, peace had returned to Monrovia, following its capture in 1990 from NPFL by Ecowas Peace Monitory Group (ECOMOG), and the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) rebels. A fellow NPFL rebel and I had looted some money out of a house; I had about two hundred Liberian dollars tucked into an inner pocket of my trousers. I felt it would be enough to survive on for a week or two until I was able to find my parents or one of my relatives.

I stopped in front of a video club and looked at the movie posters on the wall. A local artist had done them and the drawings looked half the size of real people.  In front of the video club, a group of boys and young men, who seemed too old to be idle with marbles, were at play. The oldest of them looked to be about 16, which was my own age. One boy’s black buttocks peeked out of the back of his trousers.  I sat on a cement block next to the video club, to kill time until the movies came on.

Suddenly, at the tarred road in front of me, an army truck pulled up. Many soldiers jumped out of the back. Brandishing AK-47 assault rifles, the soldiers started to chase after the crowd. There were screams, and people darted in every direction.  I looked around me, and found that everyone in front of the video club had disappeared.

Then one of the soldiers, holding a pair of handcuffs, ran toward me. I turned and looked at the video club behind me. A man, who could have been the proprietor, was shutting the metal door at the entrance. I took a deep breath and ran toward him.

The man cursed and tried to grab hold of me but I shoved him aside and ran through the space between him and the door frame.  I heard him slam the door behind me.

It was dark inside the video club except for the dim glow of light that came from the video screen and its moving picture. It took me about a minute to adjust my eyes to the darkness. Then I saw about a hundred people facing the screen. They were sitting on low wooden benches in front of me.

A hand grabbed me by the back of my t-shirt. I turned, dreading to see the INPFL fighter that I had seen outside with the handcuffs. But it was a young man sitting on a chair behind me.

“Where yor money, eh? he said.

I opened my mouth, but words failed me.

“Leave him alone,” said a voice. “The rebels almost caught him but he was lucky.”

The young man let go of my shirt and burst out laughing. Standing next to him was the older man that I recognized to be the man who had been at the entrance when I pushed him. He was staring at me and stood with arms akimbo.

From outside came the sound of a portable generator.

“Go sit down, pekin,” the man said.

“Thank you,” I said with a sigh.

I found one of the nearest benches and sat down, sandwiched between a small boy and a short, fat man, who had removed his shirt and used it to fan himself. He was sitting with his legs sprawled open, his big belly hanging in front of him. The room was hot and airless, like a cramped dirty cell at a police station in Monrovia, and smelled of sweaty, unwashed bodies. In the still air I caught a whiff of exhaust fumes from the generator outside. I turned to look at the walls around me, wondering whether there was a window somewhere. I noticed five or six holes, each no bigger than a man’s fist, knocked  out of  the uppermost part of the wall on my left. So that was the window. I shook my head and turned to watch the movie.

Then suddenly the screen went black, plunging the room into complete darkness.

Immediately there were loud, angry voices. The video club attendant, followed by the proprietor, ran out of the room.

“That rotten generator,” someone shouted at the top of his voice. “It wait to break down wen you enjoyin’ de movie.  When they can’t fix it, they say go come back tomorrow.”

Everyone laughed.

But then, the generator coughed loudly two times and started again. The light came back on; the room burst into applause.

It took about an hour to complete the third and final movie. And then we all poured out of the video club into the vacant lot in front of it, grateful to breathe in the fresh air.

On the wall next to the entrance of the video club, the proprietor and his attendant were tacking up new movie posters.

Then I thought about the incident in the market, the INPFL fighters that I had seen chasing after the crowd, and remembered the one with the handcuffs who had run toward me.  I turned and hastened away.

A girl about six or seven years of age came out of the market and walked to the tarred road. On her head she carried a white bucket with a lid. She walked quickly, her arms swinging. I wondered what she was selling, but then it occurred to me that it might be water.

“Hey, small girl,” I called.

She came quickly and stood in front of me. “You wan wata?”

“Yes,” I said. “How much for de water?”

“One cup for five cent,” she said.

“I removed a five-cent coin from my trouser pocket and handed it to her.

She took the bucket from her head and placed it next to the roadside. Then she lifted the bucket-lid, took out a plastic cup, and handed me a drink of water.

I gulped it down and returned the cup to her. “Thank you yah, small girl.”

“All right,” she said.

I looked at her. Strands of dusty hair stuck out over her forehead.  She was wearing a dirty pair of showers slippers. Her white dress hugged her tightly, a tear under each arm.

She put the bucket back onto her head and proceeded along the tarred road.

A small crowd had gathered to watch a man dancing next to a cassette-booth by the roadside. Others who knew the tune had joined in, clapping and singing. Then the man went from reggae to breakdance, half-summersaulted, and fell flat on his back. The crowd cheered. As I pushed through the crowd until I was directly in front of the man, I wondered if he were drunk.

Later, when the crowd had dispersed, I stood for a long while in front of the cassette-booth. Then a thought struck me. I remembered that I ought to be hiding in fear for my life and not be standing where I could easily be recognized as an NPFL fighter.  Although I did not carry any telltale marks, I had been more than a year with the NPFL. Perhaps someone had seen me at one of their checkpoints, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle as I stopped, harassed, threatened, and took away people to be killed.

I turned and walked quickly. I had to reach where the stalls were close together so I could disappear among them and wait until dark. The sun began to set, turning the sky red and orange. Somewhere a car horn honked loudly.

It was dark shortly after. I found myself sitting on a narrow wooden bench among stalls and tables. Next to me sat four elderly men, each waiting his turn while a woman served food. A jack-o-lantern shined next to the rice and soup pots, the naked flame waving. A small girl squatting on the ground, washed dishes. At four or five other tables a few more women sold and served food.

I gave the woman a twenty-dollar note, and she handed me a hot bowl of buckwheat served with a dollop of bitter ball-soup and palm-oil. The small girl rinsed and handed me a spoon. I began to eat, blowing on each spoonful before putting it into my mouth.

When I had finished eating, I rose from the bench, walked a few steps away and sat on one of the market tables. The market was dark and quiet, save for the dim glow of light that came from the jack-o-lanterns set on the stalls and tables nearby. I looked toward the tarred road. Evening traders were still selling things by the roadside, the flame of their crude lamps were burning like miniature torches.

Then I realized I was without a place to sleep for the night. I looked at the market-table on which I was sitting, thought that it would be nice to stretch out on its smooth surface, reassured by the presence of the people around me. I lay down on the table and fell asleep.

When I  woke, the sun was nearly up. A few traders were arranging assorted goods on stalls and tables. Wheelbarrow men crisscrossed in and out among the stalls and tables, carrying big wooden boxes. The day hawkers had not yet arrived to advertise their wares and shout at the top of their lungs, and except for the creaking of wheelbarrows, the sound of footsteps and the low voices of a few traders, the market was quiet.

As I meandered through the stalls, I watched the faces of the traders. Though I could not tell what the thoughts of the traders were by just looking at their faces, I felt they were too unpredictable and that I ought to be on my guard. I believed that nine out of ten of these people would beat me to death, if I were found to be an NPFL rebel. I knew it would be a day of reckoning when they finally caught me, a day in which I would be made to pay a price for all those people that I had killed. As I looked at their faces, I was overwhelmed by a surge of fear and hatred towards the traders. It was more fear and hate that I had felt toward anything or anyone before. Did they not know that I was abducted by the NPFL, who had taught me to kill, and that I had been forced to take orders, like many other young men?

I walked back across the road to the video club and stood in the vacant lot in front of it. There were no film posters on the wall yet, but the entrance to the video club was open. I wondered what films they would advertise today, and trembled with excitement. I went to the video club attendant, who was sitting just inside the door and eating rice with soup, to inquire about the price.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” said the attendant.

The attendant’s jaws were bulging as he ate, his mouth smeared with palm-oil grease.

“How much for de shows?” I asked.

“One show for one dollar,” said the attendant, and added, “Ehn you de one da wuh in de video club yesterday wen de rebels dem wuh ketchin pepo?”

I nodded and looked him over. He looked not more than nineteen or twenty years of age and was tall, with sharp features and long arms. A thin mustache barely covered his upper lip.

“You wuh lucky to run away,” he said. “De rebels ketch some boys an’ man dem yesteday. I hear their pepo wuh cryin’ for dem.”

I said nothing. But the image of NPFL rebels once grabbing and hauling me out of my parents’ house came back to me with stark clarity. I looked away.

“Leh eat-o,” the attendant said.

“No mehn, I all right,” I said.

“Where you eat?” the attendant asked.

“I eat somewhere,” I said, “so I not hungry.”

“Where you livin’?” the attendant asked, still looking at me.

“I livin’ wif my sista,” I said.

The attendant looked surprised but said nothing.

I turned and went back to join the people looking at the old posters.

A street hawker selling short bread came along. I beckoned to her. The woman approached, swaying her fat bottom. She removed the wooden box, which had a glass on one side, from her head. She placed it on the ground in front of her. I gave her a five-dollar note. She wrapped the bread in paper, handed it over to me, and left. I bought a bag of lukewarm water from another hawker and went into the video club because the movies had started.

The movies came to an end late in the evening. Together with the crowd I came out of the video club into the vacant lot. The proprietor of the video club went to put off the generator. His attendant came carrying a roll of new movie posters.

The attendant turned and looked at me. “My friend,” he said, pointing at me, “please cam help me hold de posters.”

I approached and held the movie posters while he took one and tacked it to the wall until he had put up three posters. Then he climbed down from the cement block and said:

“You comin’ go home?”

“No, I will go to my sista in de market first,” I said.

“If you help me sweep de video club,” the attendant said, “I will let you watch night shows.”

I looked at the attendant for a moment, and then I nodded.

The attendant motioned for me to follow him. Together we went into the video club. From behind the door the attendant removed a short broom made of palm fronds and handed it to me. I stooped and began to sweep the floor, littered with odds and ends. A cloud of dust rose into the small confines of the video club. I sneezed. When I finished, I gathered the thrash onto a piece of cardboard, and took it outside.

The generator came on again a few minutes later. The attendant sat on the stool to collect payment. The proprietor, who had been sitting on a bench nearest to a table that had a number of video cassettes and the TV on it, pressed the on button. The screen came on blue. He inserted a cassette. The first of the movies came on.

I sat on a bench nearest the front row and looked around me. There were a few people sitting next to me, a few others at the back, and on the other rows of seats, but most of the wooden benches were unoccupied. Perhaps there would be fewer people tonight, unlike the crowd that came in the day, I thought.

Finally the movies came to an end. Everyone came out of the video club. A cold breeze was blowing. Red Light market was dark save for the pale yellow light that came from the electric bulb at the entrance to the video club.

A burst of gunshots came suddenly from the darkness, and I trembled, in spite of myself. I wondered whether somebody had been shot and killed or if the shooting had been done at random. Usually rebels would fire their weapons, and ninety-nine per cent of the time nobody could tell why.  It was funny how the war had turned out, I thought, from a desperate quest to remove Samuel Doe from the Executive Mansion to a circus where everyone did as they pleased until one could make no sense out of it. Perhaps the war was senseless, as I had often heard people say.

I looked into the solid mass of darkness in front. But I was not afraid. Perhaps my life in the NPFL had long taught me not to be afraid, and while I did not now have a gun with me, my sense of bravery seemed like a refuge. I turned and walked into the darkness until I crossed Pipe Line Road and walked down a path that led into the stalls and tables by the roadside.

I felt it would be safer not to sleep next to the road, and walked on farther into the market. I found a table I could sleep on and climbed on top of it. I sat for a while. I was alert and listening for the slightest sound that would indicate the presence of someone else close by or if I had been followed. But the market was silent, save for the breeze as it whispered softly through the wooden stalls and tables. I lay down on the table. Unaware of my own fatigue, I fell into a deep sleep.

The villagers did not see the other NPFL fighters and me until we had rounded a path and entered the farm. Ahead of us trudged two village men, whose arms we had tied behind their backs. One of the men had been on the lookout while the others harvested cassava before we overcame him. The other man had, a little before dawn, left to cut palm nuts and had been captured. Thinking we would spare their lives, they had led us to the others on the farm and had promised to lead us to a refuge, where all the villagers had escaped to following the fall and capture of Bomi County by NPFL rebels. We had beaten the two men severely. Blood poured from their wounds. One of the men could barely walk. On the farm were a few men and women.

As we approached, they stood up from their work and would have fled but one of us fired into the air. They fell to the ground, begging and trembling for their lives. We told them to sit up with their hands on their heads. Then we took their hoes and machetes. The cassava they had harvested lay in a small pile.  We ordered one of the men to gather it into an empty rice-bag. Then everyone was marched into the forest.

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 Takun-J.  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,” Takun-J 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,” Takun-J 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,” Takun-J 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 Takun-J 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 Takun-J 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.”

Takun- J 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.

Takun-J 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 Takun-J 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 Takun-J 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 Takun-J’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

The sun was up in a way that assured you that the day would be bright and cheerful. Vendors sat in the open, calling out to passersby. In the hustle and bustle to go from one end of the market to the other, hawkers and pedestrians moved in a steady flow by the roadside, like a procession of ants. Amid the sound of footsteps, the buzz of conversation, of hawkers shouting, from one end of the market to the other, music blared at full volume.

I walked across the road, my feet crunching and sliding onto bullet casings strewn over the asphalt, like words and letters on the page of a book, until I came to the roadside where a man sold gasoline in empty beer bottles. There was a long queue. I stood at the farthest end. However, the line moved hurriedly. After a while, I paid for and got the gasoline, and then walked back to the road, where I had to stop when an army truck carrying ECOMOG soldiers drove by in terrific speed. I waited until it passed, before running across the asphalt.

I had gone but a few yards from the roadside when I heard somebody called, “Pekin. I say pekin!”

I stopped and looked behind me, wondering who the caller was and whether I was the one being referred to when a man walked up to me and stopped. The man was small and thin, stood not more than five feet, and had a heavy stoop. He was dressed in a yellow long-sleeved shirt that hung loose on him, a pair of gray trousers with legs that folded around his ankles, and shower slippers that looked too large.

“Hello, pekin,” he said.

“Hello,” I said.

“Pekin, you remember me?” the man asked.

I looked at him, found I couldn’t recognize him. I shook my head. Could the man be a relation, perhaps a distant one, which I did not know? I wondered.

“You must know me because we met at a rebel checkpoint before,” the man said.

“Which checkpoint?” I asked. I was suddenly tense. My heart started to beat wildly.

“An NPFL checkpoint along Bomi highway,” the man said. “Were you not one of the rebels who use to stop people, take away their belongings, and kill them?”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“I not NPFL rebel an’ I never been to Bomi highway before,” I said. But I was trembling. Sweat had broken out over my body.

So far, the man had spoken quietly.  But now his voice lost all patience and he shouted, “It’s you! You won’t get away! Those people y’all killed, y’all will pay for their blood.”

“What happened?” another man, who just then walked past, wanted to know.

The first man turned to him and shouted loud enough for half the market to hear. “This boy, he NPFL rebel!”

The second man opened his eyes wide, took a step closer, and looked me over.

Several people had stopped. Others on the opposite side crossed over to the roadside where the man and I stood. One by one the people came from all over the market.

I looked round me. I saw that some of the people carried big sticks and that three men held a machete each; that another man carried an ax; that almost everyone had come with whatever they had been able to lay their hands on. I felt somebody pulling on my arm. I turned. I saw that a woman was trying to pull my hand free from the handle of the plastic container I carried. I did not resist. At that point, I felt nothing but emptiness and a need to surrender. I had already heard what such a crowd had done to two men suspected of being NPFL rebels only a few days before, and knew that nothing I could do would be able to save me.

The woman opened the container-stopper. She raised the container to her nostrils and sniffed at it. “Gas! He carryin’ gasoline!”

For a moment, there was quiet as the crowd digested this latest piece of information, like the last morsel savored from a meal which up to that point had not been enough for everybody. Then someone shouted:

“If he NPFL rebel, brin’ de gas. We will burn him! No NPFL rebel mun come here an’go free after they  kill our people.”

“Da boy na kill anybode people?” someone else shouted from the edge of the crowd.

A young man pushed his way through the crowd until he was standing beside me. It was Takun-J the video club attendant.

“What happened, Kollie?” he asked.

I was silent for a moment. Then I said, “I-I wuh carryin’ de gas you sen me to buy wen this man see me an’ say he no me to be one NPFL rebel on Bomi highway.”

“Where de man who say you NPFL rebel?” Takun-J asked.

I pointed at the man.

Takun-J turned and looked at the man.  “Da you say my brother da NPFL rebel?”

“He your brother?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Takun-J said, “he my small broda. Where you comin’ from sayin’ he NPFL rebel?”

“This boy used to be one NPFL rebel at a checkpoint on Bomi highway,” the man said.  “They used to kill  people an’ take their things.”

“I tell you, he not rebel,” Takun-J shouted.

The crowd looked at the man. There was silence for a while.

“I say you man there, you sure da de boy here you talkin’ bout?” someone called out.

“Yes,” the man said. “I would recognize him anywhere.”

“But this one say de boy da his broda an’ he not NPFL rebel,” another voice said. “So who you wan us to believe, you or dis boy who say dis one da his broda?”

“I don’t know,” the man said.

“Foolish man,” Takun J said.

“Don’t insult me-o,” the man said. But his voice had lost its former confidence.

“Shutup,” a woman shouted. “You people should be careful with de way y’all point fingers lookin’ for revenge. You wuh going to get de boy kill for nathin.”

The crowd turned to look at the man. You could see that the people were one against him. Some sucked their teeth, some reached forward to push him from the back of his head, and a number of women let out a string of curses. Then they all turned and walked away, and I heard them drop their crude weapons to the ground. Takun-J took my hand and led me away, and I thought I was dreaming.

On the way back, Takun-J said he was thirsty and wanted to have a drink of water, and would I want a drink also? I said yes. So we stopped by a vendor’s table.  When Takun-J reached into his trousers pocket to give a five-dollar note to the vendor behind the table, I set the container of gasoline on the ground behind him, slipped through a small crowd. And then I fled.

About the Author:
Saah Millimono is the author of Broken Dreams, which was awarded the Short Fiction Prize for the Seabreeze Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writings. In 2013, his first novel, Boy, Interrupted, was awarded Second Prize for the Kwani Manuscript Project. He lives in Monrovia.

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