(An excerpt from the novel August 1990)
By Saah Millimono
Along either side of the dusty path from the Pipeline-Red Light intersection were thousands of roadside vendors. Usually this made passing that route a difficult process, especially for motorists. There were no zoning laws then. Even more absent in the streets, with the possible exception of ECOMOG peacekeeping soldiers and INPFL rebels, was the typical Liberian policeman.
As Kollie made his way through the market, he could not help being surprised at the assorted goods on display and how crowded the market was. He had been to Kakata City once and then to Gbarnga, towns considered the focal point of NPFL economy and which were then still in rebel hands. But the markets had not nearly been as large as Red Light. They were even less crowded except only on market days. But here was Red-Light; here one felt as if the war had ended and a new beginning, far removed from the conflict, had begun. Probably it was the presence of the ECOMOG force that left people feeling a little safe and able to move about freely. But Kollie doubted if the INPFL rebels, whom he had heard would beat, shoot and kill innocent people for little or nothing, could do it all by themselves. But what if the foreigners had not come? What would happen then? Would his people have gone on killing each other until there was nobody and nothing to kill? He thought about the dead bodies he had seen, about the people he had himself shot and killed, and about the massacres he had heard were being done in one place and another. It made him tired thinking about it even. He just wished now that the war would come to an end. But as to just when the end would be, he could not be sure. That year had, of course, seen the entrance in May of 1991 the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO). This would be one more warring faction that would usher into the Liberian Civil War its own brand of terror.
Weaving his way through the market stalls, the thousands of human bodies that rubbed against his shoulders, his sides, his back, and which moved ahead of him, he wondered if he were hiding at all. Among all those people it was possible that somebody would recognize him. But it would all be his fault because he had been too stupid to be in such a crowded place. If only he had money – and the thought burned him like hot iron – he would go back to the video club and watch movies until night fell. Then he could sneak out and find some other place to spend the night. But here he was – a known child soldier who had might have killed a relative belonging to somebody in the crowd around him. But here he had come to find his own kin, as if their lives were the only things that mattered most and that if he had killed someone else’s relations, then it was theirs, and not his, fault. But surely won’t those who might have lost their people go looking for them? Probably they could do so now or after the war. But would those missing relatives ever be found? God alone could tell? But what he felt was more important, though he did not believe in it himself, was that those who had done the killings be forgiven and that every effort be made towards ending the conflict. Many people would, of course, probably not be able to find those who did the killings. But even if they could, what then would be their next choice? Seek a path of reprisal until the whole country became drowned in a bloodbath? No, people ought to forget, however pain that was. It would lead to hope, to order, and to a need to rebuild a once beloved and sweet Liberia – now and forever after the war.
Such were his thoughts when finally he got onto the tarred road. There was still a large crowd on this side on the market. But one could move more freely along or across the asphalt. Wind had blown dust and sand onto the tarmac, along with trash. A sudden breeze now sent pieces of discarded plastic and paper swirling into the air. It was dusk; the sun had gone down. The cool evening breeze left him feeling good. But his throat felt dry, like sand paper. He felt he needed a drink of water.
A small girl came out of the market. She walked onto the tarred road. She was about six or seven years of age. On her head she carried a slim white bucket that had a laid on top of it. She walked quickly, her arms swinging at her sides. But the bucket sat so steadily it seemed to be glued to the top of her head. Kollie wondered what she might be selling. But then, it occurred to him that it might be water. A few days before, he had seen a small boy sold water from a similar bucket he carried on his head.
As the small girl approached, Kollie felt an urge to stop her and ask for a drink of water. But he did not have any money. However, he suspected that the small girl had gotten the water from a public tap and could not have paid for it. But even if she had done so, what would it cost her to give him just a drink of water? he wondered.
“Hey, small girl?” he called. “Come here.”
She came quickly, swinging her hips. She stood in front of him. “You wan water?”
To be cont’d.