Friday, September 30, 2022

A GIFT FROM SAVANNAH

“Don’t travel on Wednesday’s. It’s not a good day to travel” the voice of my mum still echoes in my head. And how could I have known for she was an acute believer of superstition. Contrary to my own believes, I’m a lover of pragmatism. Despite all the unheeded warnings, I stepped onto the station to her glaring eyes. I knew she wasn’t happy when she threw her hand into a gasping space, yanking something like a wave; a sure sign of a goodbye. She murmured a worried “safe journey.” The car took off few minutes afterwards.

My seat was between that of a plump man, known in town to be a dealer in guns and bullets and a young damsel believed to be an Ewe after she exhibited few linguistic escapades on her phone. Though I was in between these two, I didn’t exchange further words after the usual pleasantries. But as lustful as men can be, the plump man frequently crisscrossed me to have a conversation with her. His English was that of a Ghanaian lower-middle class type as compared to the inherited eloquence of tongue exuded by this lady. I muted, mused and contemplated beyond their lovey-dovey; all in my self-conscious brain. Their conversation punched into my thoughts. But who was I to complain; it happens in public transport. I endured.

We passed checkpoint upon checkpoint. On some, ‘Ghana Police Checkpoint’ was neatly etched across a white and red colored reflectors while others enjoyed the privilege of receiving a ‘Customs Checkpoint’ or ‘Custom Duane’ on deep-dark-blue and white stripes. There were so many that I lost count on them within a short period into the journey as we passed sets of lonely cottages, distanced by villages and further stretched by towns. The towns we passed included Sawla, Bole and Bamboi in the newly created Savannah Region.

Aside the three major towns passed, all the villages, most especially at the cottages, little children and at some point, grownups seated by the roadside waved at us as the bus raced with the wind. I couldn’t ascertain whether they could see us through the baked-glass or not, but their waves showed a certain tendency of uncertainty. A wave into an unknown future. Some of them, holding ablution cans in one hand whiles using the other to wave at us as though obligated, while those at the roadside churches for evening service also sneaked out to share in this farewell tribute as we headed deep into the journey.

This was where I got my first hint on the gory incident–at Bole. The lights mysteriously went out the moment we reached there. And the whole place blackened and darkened. It was a total blackout. My heart began thumping. A certain suspicion permeated my heart and my head developed a swell. Even trees looked like human beings standing on their yam fields minutes after the flashlight of the bus vanished into the spreading dark and winding road ahead. The ensuing silence cracked into corridors of the vehicle. The jarred TV pranks of Kumasi Lil Win and the ever sacrosanct Akrobeto aka ‘who NOSE tomorrow’ eased into a smoothie voice of Cecelia Marfo’s ‘God is the Hero’. We needed no Soothsayer to announce the weirdness of events unfolding. They speak for themselves and their voices were loud enough.

And the most painful aspect was the blanketed darkness that encapsulated a village in between Bole and Bamboi called Carpenter. The dotted lanterns exuding from the round huts eased us into deep ache, panic and suspicion. Few meters after this village, the flashlight of the vehicle fell on a big log across the road. Two masked guys, armed with AK 47 rifles stood meters away from the front light signaling the bus to curve onto the shoulder of the road that looked like it’s going to the next cottage. The bus driver stopped for few minutes, mused and cowed to their instructions amidst rampant gunshots.

The bus stumbled on holes, pushed up hills and descended valleys to get to a spot where bullet case hovered. All this while, we were policed by these armed guys to this spot. But before we stopped, two other guys appeared from the front and faced us with fusillade. They ordered us out of the bus. The driver cautioned us against doing anything suspicious; it could trigger bullets or fatalities. So we all kowtowed. Jumped out in our numbers, face down until we got a comfortable place to lie down. They ordered all of us to face the ground.

A lady that lay near me (who I later realized was the one seated by me), several meters from the goons, raised her hands, face down, and seriously prayed all the prayers she could remember. I heard her whisper to the Good Lord, but as to language, it could’ve been Hebrew, Latin, Greek or Chinese. To me, it was simple gibberish. I watched her disdainfully, thinking of what next she could do if the prayer failed. I silently wished to see the one that had indoctrinated this lady to resort to such whispers even when the gunman ordered for silence.

She reneged, still engaged in her whisperings, which has indeed gained grounds and stultified. She was spotted. They ordered her to rise up. She did. When their torchlight poured on her, it was all but a judder, chain of urine rained down the fitted thighs of her jeans. Her extra widened and teasingly attractive pelvis would’ve gone unnoticed had she not whispered. The flashlight took a tour to her beaming yet contemplative face. In its mixed state, the face appeared more stunning and pageantry than befuddled for a brief moment. Brevity discreetly racked into her mind, she covered her face and issued her own death warrant in the name of a chuckle and waft.

The gentleman standing in front of her readied his gun in all earnest, pointing it directly to her left breast and aiming for a shot as if in a hunting spree. Then a voice sprang from behind, ordered him to wait. The owner of the voice appeared with about five followers. It was a thickly male voice, full of roughness and cackles. He had a perfect punishment for this lady. He took a touristic look from head to toe, sniffing hungrily like a hungry hyena spotting its feed after several days of hunting.

Then he asked her to lie supine. She refused, but subdued to the cackling gunman in front of her and only managed to tap on her knees. An armed lady in their midst, dashed to her, summoned a sumptuous slap on her cheek and it sent her straight into the position of supine without further discussions. The armed lady undresses the wet pants of the lady laid in supine more aggressively than a desperate young man would’ve done at the least chance. When the underwear proved stubborn, she tore it, leaving her naked body to the merciful eyes of the armed men and woman.

The leader of the armed men, who appeared lately, quickly unzipped his black trousers. The whoop sound produced by the zip was more pronounced than a ‘momo’ alert tone. He jumped into the helpless bare lady, hands stretched either ways, and legs parted wide. The rest of us were ordered to face the ground as we heard sounds of both pain and pleasure mixing up. I couldn’t tell whose was what and why. But I knew something egregious was happening between and around the conscious beings interloping. An occasional shout from the lady was promptly reduced to a heavy sigh with a momentary slap then followed by another.

I wouldn’t have noticed their difference because my face only had the grassy ground to kiss. But the little peeps my eyes got exposed me to the kind of legs each had. The first one (their leader) possessed knock-kneed legs; the second got quite straight legs; and the third who jumped on the lady last was blessed with bow-legs. The third guy’s entering of the lady was more pronounced and forcefully. Suffice me to say, he was one of the guys with so much endowment between his thighs. Something ridiculous. A monster. Even the peremptoriness of the armed lady was soon surmounted. Wriggling, warping and sobbing filled the serene atmosphere. I don’t know whose lips produced such sounds.

The gentlest of a man–the plump man–amongst the coterie couldn’t take it anymore. He voiced out his dislike. A voice that sounded more sober and faint. We all shared his sentiment; shared the plight of the lady. But none was bold enough or could muster courage to express this even though we live in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed. Yes, I heard many civil rights enthusiasts say it but not in this situation. The last time someone tried, he met his ancestors unprepared; an untimely death. Instances of this nature were normal in the eyes of these robbers. Many ladies were subjected to such treatment to the oozing eyes of their beaus, families and relatives. Sometimes it makes one wonder whether they’re rapists or robbers. And whichever that they chose, it’s a bad omen.

Here we were dealing with two bad omens at the middle of nowhere. I remembered a story I heard days ago that they made on boarders to capitulate to the act of ‘sexing’ each other. As one friend alluded, this one is even better than being molested by the robbers. It was one of such situation that a guy who sat closer to a lady he tried dating before and his efforts fell on rocks. Now, the opportunity presented itself. The lady denied the guys advance when the robbers ordered them to engage with the nearest lady. This lady resisted. For the robbers attention was off them. And the gentleman reported her to the robbers who weren’t even strict or interested in this demand. But the guy seeing it as an opportunity drew the attention of the robbers to the lady’s resistance to allow him entry.

However, our situation was quite different. All the male robbers wanted to rape this lady if the ‘man of men’ in our midst hadn’t intervened. He did it to his own brutality. He offered himself to the merciless butts of guns held by these goons. He was pounded like ‘fufu’. He crucified himself to save this lady; maybe we just saw a second Christ. In no time, his eyes mounded-in, almost closed. His jaws expanded, the nose clamped into the top lip as the bottom lip dangled in search of solace. He pulped. He was an apology of his former self. Every soul was terrified, deeply horrified and simply hopeless as the terrorization continued on the gentleman. Someone has to do something to stop them before it get somewhere bizarre.

In the midst of the turbulence, the punching and yanking, I raised my head and mumbled words I thought died in my throat, more to me than to even the air around me. But I wasn’t that lucky. They heard pieces of the words I mumbled. Though I prayed they don’t. They did. One of the robbers rushed to where I laid and picked me up. I rose to my limbs, cleaned myself, and raised my eyes afterwards. I wished I hadn’t. But it occurred. It’s a popular knowledge that seeing an armed robber’s face is tantamount to attracting a death sentence; you never escape with it. And here I was, not only seeing the face of an armed robber, but recognizing the voice and face of the human being behind the mask.

I should’ve known better. But how could I hold it back? The hands that held my shoulder was familiar, the voice echoed similar tones and my ears heard right, my skin felt the familiarity of the fingers. I don’t know, whether it’s out of curiosity for safety, or preferential treatment or gut feeling, I mentioned his name. Maybe it was gut feeling. My mind wasn’t promptly prompted to stop. I mentioned it again, this time, more openly and clearly to the hearing of all and sundry. He also recognizes me. He knew who I was. I knew he couldn’t pull the trigger at me, even under any compulsion. But his colleagues wouldn’t waste a second in pulling a trigger.

I tried to somber my own actions but it was too late. The wreckage was beyond remedy. No cure. No defense too. My breath was few drops away from cutting as the haggle between the leader and the one whose name I brought to limelight heated; my life is on the line. My eyes mysteriously welled in on the tormented lady whose body was hacked few minutes ago, then traveled to the man who was brutalized after. I was a free man few seconds back, now no more; these are just laws of operating inside nature. My mind seared into time, space and nature. Such moments you prayed for magic, moments you wish to be superhuman with extraordinary power, so as to fly mysteriously to the amazement of all or overpower the goons and become the hero. But it wasn’t going to be the case. All was lost. No magic, no flying, no saving. I knew my fate already. I was destined for a bullet. This was real, not surreal.

In the middle of their haggling, which was intelligently done in broken English, carefully not to blurt any word in local language–at least that would’ve given a clue of their identities, the leader just turned his short gun at the one whose name was brought to the limelight and triggered a bullet into his thigh. The bullet wasn’t meant for his thigh, it was a miscalculation. He wanted it in his chest but the haggling redirected it to the thigh. In the process of him falling to the ground as a result of the forcefulness of the bullet, the atmosphere became more tensed and weary. Out of nowhere, a siren of the police pierced the tensed atmosphere. The robbers had little or no time to attend to anything again, as they hassled with their wounded colleague into the thickly bush. I was spared. Thanks to the timely intervention of the police.

After the encounter, I saw so many mummified faces, bodies lingered, drained spirits and hopelessness I’ve never seen before. I realized hope is not only a repertoire of the Church or Mosque or Classroom or Workplace. Hope came from the grasses that surrounded us, the chirping of insects in dead world, and anything one can seek solace in. A few of them clamped around the brutalized persons.

The lady who was raped bowed down her face, her tears had dried out; a pretty face turned disorganized as she was ushered into the police van together with the brutalized man and myself to the nearest police station at Bamboi to lodge a Police report. After the report we were released to join our colleagues to embark on the journey to our destination. It was a gift from the Savannah; a gift she will send to the South; and a gift she will never forget. Not a pleasant one, not an expected one but surely a memorable one. An incident, that will linger in people’s mouths forever.

We boarded our bus, more tormented and psychic than we have ever anticipated. Inside the bus, whether by dint of coincidence or intentionally, a Nigerian movie buzzed on the screen of the TV, an interesting movie titled “Edges of Love” as if it was played to soothe the woes created by these hoodlums. And in one of the scenes, a gentleman blurred “Nobody ever died on their way to a dream, unless a fool.” A few giggles here and there. Giggles that were feigned, lacking energy and interest. Giggles that were not giggles.

Minutes into the journey, my phone rang. I struggled to remove it from my pocket due to the pain endured from the pulling and dragging. A guy seated in front helped me in removing it from my pocket. “You showed brevity over there. Did you actually know him or it was staged. Anyways, it saved you your phone.” This draws the attention of on boarders to what happens, they all rushed towards me….

I answered from a deep sleep. I told her I was OK. She insisted on knowing every detail.
But how would I have known. Just how? And how would I have paid heed to her words I often thought as superstitious if this gory event hadn’t occurred. Then she cautioned again “I warned you against travelling on a Wednesday.”

By:
Al Latif Kambo-Naa.

Strictly Fiction

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