(An extract from the novel August 1990) Chapter Thirty-eight
At about seven o’clock the next morning, the young ladies were led out of the jail and into the yard. Now it was a big place, with rows of apartment houses. There were some military jeeps and trucks in the yard, along with a few other cars, their doors removed and frames painted in graffiti. There were hundreds of rebel fighters, with AK-47 assault rifles slung over their shoulders. Among them were some women and teenage girls, including small boys of about twelve years of age. A group of rebel new recruits, their heads shaven, could be seen marching across the yard and singing at the top of their voices. Some of the men carried wooden clubs. Others were armed with machetes.
The girls were taken into one of the apartment houses, where a group of rebel elderly women waited with towels draped over their shoulders. One after another, they were led into a bathroom and scrubbed with soap and hot water. The women then took them into a large room where their hairs were braided and their bodies oiled until they shone. Then they were dressed in attractive clothing, including very short pants. Among them was a tall, Nubian-looking girl, with big hips and waists that were so small a child could put both his hands around them.
They were then led into another house. There they found a group of distinguished-looking fighters sitting with pistols on their hips, and behind each man stood a bodyguard, with an AK-47 assault rifle slung over his chest.
In the middle of the room was a low, large table, brimming with assorted drinks cooling from the refrigerator, and a tray full of hot jolof rice.
A rebel boy of about seven years of age, dressed in the rank of a colonel, was dancing to the tune of the music, hoping first on one foot and then the other as sweat streamed across his face.
Suddenly the girls entered, and silence fell on the room. The small boy took his seat with the fighters sitting with guards behind them, lit a cigarette, and began to smoke, pointing and laughing at the pairs of short trousers in which the girls were dressed.
One of the rebels rose from his chair. He motioned the girls to the middle of the room. Trembling, they approached and stood next to the table. They were each asked what their names were, and one after the other they answered, their voices shaky. One of the distinguished-looking rebels rose from his seat and began to inspect them. They were told to open their mouths so that the fighter, who looked not unlike a slave trader, could scrutinize their teeth. Each of the fighters, the little rebel colonel among them, then took a girl for himself.
Forcing themselves to smile and hiding their fears as best they could, the girls began to eat and drink with the fighters.
For nearly the whole of that morning the fighters made the young ladies eat and drink until finally they were all drunk and lying on the floor.
Then one of the fighters bent down, put both his hands under the arms of one of the girls, and tried to pull her to her feet.
“Hey! Kola Nut move yor hand from my woman,” one of the other fighters shouted suddenly, pointing at Kola with an army knife in his hand.
Everybody burst out laughing.
He was a man of about forty, his face red and swollen from drink. He had had more Club Beer than any of the other men but did not appear to be drunk.
“Maybe the girl wants Kola,” said one fighter.
Kola said, “Let me take her to my room and give her what she lookin for.”
The drunkard looked up and shot Kola a wicked eye. “Leave my woman alone. I’m warnin you for the last time.”
“Shut up. If you don’t have respect for woman I will kill you.”
“Don’t kill him chief,” said another fighter. “You no Kola jes like woman biznis.”
“Leh deh man jes leave my woman alone,” said the drunkard, “if he don wan any trouble.”
Kola smiled broadly. “I jes wanted to dance with deh girl chief.”
“Find diffren girl to dance with, you foolish boy. This one da ma woman. You hear? If you put yor hand on her again, I swear bamboo will divide kola.”
“Yes sah.” Kola came to attention and saluted, clicking the heels of his boots.
“What’s all this fuss about woman business,” said another fighter, taking a sip from his bottle of beer and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He spoke and in fact had the air of a man of some learning. He was slight in stature and looked in his middle forties. “I believe in times of war women should be made to comfort soldiers. During World War Two the Japanese had these so-called comfort women, which would be a polite way to say they weren’t prostitutes, and kept them in large houses. Even the Germans made dolls for their soldiers’ comfort!”
“The man can lie.”
“Germa made dog for their soldors!”
“I didn’t say dogs!”
“They made dolls because they were afraid that the German soldiers would contract venereal diseases from the whorehouses in France. But whether the Germans used dolls is better than having no woman at all. Besides, we are not Tecumseh Roberts, are we? ”
“Not at all!”
“Talking of Tecumseh, I feel like killing the damn homosexual ten times over,” said the scholar.
Suddenly a group of cars was heard in the yard. Moments later a rebel boy of about ten years of age entered the room. Standing just inside the door and saluting the group of rebel officers, he said, “Deh chief na come.”
Immediately all the fighters rose to their feet and somebody shut off the tape recorder. Throwing out of their mouths the marijuana they had been smoking and snuffing them out onto the floor with the tips of their boots, the fighters grabbed their rifles, adjusted their uniforms and, pushing each other, went out of the room and into the yard where a large group of INFPL rebels were standing to attention.
Outside, they met Prince Johnson. Although the rebel leader glanced at them reproachfully, he said nothing. Instead, he began to walk up and down in front of the troops, stroking his moustache. He had earlier that morning, along with a few of his fighters, left the Caldwell base and returned looking pensive and thoughtful. Probably that was why he had paid no attention to the soldiers, reeking of beer and marijuana.
As they stood to attention, their faces full of relief, the delinquent troops were only too glad for their lives. Prince Johnson spoke with the troops for a few moments. Then he got into a jeep and, along with two military trucks full of INPFL fighters, drove out of the base.
Once the fighters had left the elderly women, who earlier that morning had attended the young ladies and taken them to see the rebel officers, hoisted up one young girl after the other and took them into another room.
It was a large room with no furnishings except that at the window was a yellow curtain that fell in ample folds. The sun streamed through the window, giving an added effect to the bedroom walls, which were painted in yellow. The women lay the young ladies on mattresses on the floor and left.
Nearly an hour later, Prince Johnson and those of the rebels who had not long ago driven off somewhere returned to the base. At the back of the trucks were several men and teenage boys, some with their arms bound behind them while others had been blindfolded. They were all ordered out of the trucks. Those who cried or resisted were beaten severely.
To be cont’d.