As soon as we settled into the camp, which I later learnt was called Chesha, our lives grew from misery to mystery. We had no idea of what our lives would become as every second we spent on earth; we counted as an ostentatious luxury. In all that befell us, nothing was compared to the cringe I always felt in my stomach, in the camp. It reeked of death: as foul breath swayed wantonly across the nooks and crannies of the camp. It was as if death lurked in the shadows and his smell was perceived across the crevices of the worn out tarpaulin tents. Those tents must have been battered by rains and stormy desert gales.
The stenches of death were so strong, even as the uncanny militias strutted in and out of the various tents, making my feet curl.
We clutched the lives we had with staggering fear and dexterity. Darkness hovered over our existence and our fate was bleak and untold until we were ordered to a large space behind the big tarpaulin tent, a place they called arena. We marched irrepressibly in a single line, which formed another extra eight single straight lines at the turn. I am sure we would have censused more than one hundred and fifty as we stood over those taunting single straight lines. I cast a quick glance at my fellow unfortunate conscriptees and I found out that most of us were young and ruddy, perhaps in our early, middle and late teens. I saw fears in their eyes as much as it was in my eyes. I saw free men that were bound by the machination of cruelty and child abuse. I saw boys that should be in school or other vocational studies. I saw children that would have contributed immensely to humanity. I saw horrors written all over their faces, even as the burden of innocence mounted with great displeasure, threatening to go rogue.
We stood, fixed and docile like lambs arraigned for the slaughter. They were platoons of militias, wielding terrifying weapons and prancing menacingly about as if they had mandates to make opportune moments count impressively.
I clutched my heart in the hands of my mind as we watched a terrifying figure saunter from the shadows and marched towards us with malicious intents. He had more men than the lot that guarded us. I watched him as he stood in the mock podium erected for such events. He wore camouflage with light brown boots and a black scarf tied around his head. He also had a dagger, so massive that it can rip a heart out in a single thrust. He had everything but a smile in that shiny charcoal face of his that was ridden with beads of sweat. As he mounted the podium, a massive black flag, mixed with green imprints was raised high above his head. It floated haughtily with so much gusto in the air space behind him. I assessed his imminent appearance and I deduced he was no older than twenty-seven years old even if he weighed little in the flint scales of fanciful nature. He was quite young.
I watched him as he chanted some words of incoherent prayers before ending it with the one I was acquainted with.
“Allahu akbar” he declared militantly.
“Allahu akbar!” I heard a massive chorus of responsive and miffed voices cry out. He greeted us with “salamaliku” which we replied half-heartedly before he went on to admonish us as being the chosen ones. He charged us to be grateful to the almighty Allah for finding us worthy to be counted among his warriors. He then went on to give the most captivating and inciting speeches I would ever hear. He told us of how corrupt the government had been. He told us of how we have been made miserable by a nation that murders her own children. He told us that civilization had been the bane of growth and development as well as humanity. He spoke so fluently interjecting between a Hausa so pure and Arabic that I lost my detestation for the commission I found myself in.
At some point in his speech, I found my goal slightly concomitant to his course. I had been hungry, poor, homeless, deprived and afraid half of my life, so it was logical that I bought into his course, since I had become privileged to channel my bitterness to the right course. He went on to inform us that there would be a massive reward for us in the afterlife since those who die, fighting a just and holy course ended up in the mansions, Allah has reserved for his faithfuls. At that point, most of us lost our reservations and every other form of humane propriety. His words had hit us in the places where resistance did not exist.
We were dismissed that morning after his speech. It was obvious his speech has registered bitterness in our hearts and it would only need the right situation to express our hatred for the nation, our country had become. Later at noon, we were called up again. This time, we had no hate speeches and lectures. We had a few moments of basic military drilling, which we repeated again at dusk. The next morning we were fully armed. They told us we were ready and we could not agree less.
Three days later, I was summoned alongside a group of thirteen boys that I have become familiar with by the camp lieutenant. He ordered us to be quick as we dressed up in full military kits. I was confused by the whole hasty and fussy atmosphere because none of us had any idea of where we were headed. The militias that were in charge did not speak a word to us. They only hassled us occasionally, making us realize the delicate nature of our first mission. Our movements were calculated, silent and quick as we marched straight to the revving truck awaiting us. I had no idea where we were going to and no one seemed to be privy to such information. We sat quietly at the back of the truck as it dangled off through a path that was strangely unfamiliar. I wondered how a road could be constructed to meet such a ghastly place. We sat in dire silence as the truck galloped its way through the rough paths. Our heavy breathing filled the air- It was tersely tense.
The rhythms of our heartbeat were uniform because it was wrapped in horror. Our eyes shone through the thick darkness that pervaded the truck. Had someone chose to speak, the atmosphere would have been diffused but our choice of communication made tension swell with lofty macabre. The truck plodded away until we made a stop. Our eyes glittered with anticipation and uncertainties as we waited for the next line of action. In the thickness of that darkness, a shimmering black figure came and ordered us out of the truck in quick movements.
We were transferred from the back of the truck to an old rickety bus. We were packed in like tinned seafood before the bus glided from the rough patches of the path into a narrow tarred one-lane road. The bus plied the road for close to six hours, with an amazing reckless speed on the highway.
We plodded steadfastly until we arrived at a minor village, close to Kaduna. We had a stop there as the driver engaged some men in the silhouettes. The conversation was swift and beforehand, we were ordered down. They moved us to a worn out mosque, a place I believe has been deserted for only God knows when. It was godforsaken and it reeked of mixtures of gas and mercury. We sat down by their order, waiting for further instructions as the man who brought us moved into the inner room, where the stench of mercury oozed out from. He returned to where we sat with a brown envelope that had a bulge in the centre. He wrapped the envelope to meet the shape of the bulge, consciously avoiding any eye contact with us. He tucked the envelope into his back pocket and moved into the shadows. I never saw him again; neither did I see any of his aids again.
My heart raced occasionally for no genuine reason. I was slightly shaken by what the future held for me. I felt my death was sooner than later, although I was ready to leave this god forsaken earth to that promised paradise, where all the goodies would be offered to me on a platter. However, I still felt a tinge of fear, welling up in my stomach. In the charades of thoughts, a voice intruded, charging us to change into the costume they have provided. I quickly obeyed and hurried into the clothes, not because I was enthusiastic about the whole business but because I had no choice.
They told us of the script we are about to act. It was going to be a short thriller and we should be mindful that we are not coming back except providence allowed it. That was when I understood what I was in for. I was meant to act like a refuse collector in a certain reserved area of the capital territory: a place that housed many multinationals and international organizations. I felt my pores burst up as it poured loads of hot sweat in that cold twilight as I was handed a parcel that was concealed a large sack. I was told to be strong and courageous that Allah was proud of my heroism. A man with large scattered beards came out and held me by the shoulders. He told me, I was carrying out a holy war that God would definitely win. He told me to count it joy that I was found worthy to be God's tool in ridding the nation from the infestations of the bloody infidels that have refused to accept the biddings of Allah.
I watched him as he repeated the process with my new found comrades. He encouraged us and afterwards, we were handed our different packages and sent to different places. That morning I was led to a small car and carried away. I felt I was not going to see those comrades ever again. Death was imminent for either of the parting groups. My eyes were clouded with loads of tears but I did not allow them to drop, not even an inch.
Two other upstanding comrades joined me in the car as it began to roll slowly out of the compound. I was sure their presence was to enforce the mandate but I was certain their presence gave me a tinge as the one that sat in my left hand kept smoking away like his life was on tobacco support.
We arrived at the capital territory, exactly at 7:15. The road was still quietly busy. Shoals of cars screeched without recourse. There was a sense of diligence in the part of the civil servants as they scurried to beat the eight o'clock mark. I admired the bustle. I had not seen a place so beautifully committed all my life. The Sandy paths of Aruko had been my experience of the temporal word. I had no idea; a place could be desperately beautiful and organized like the capital territory. I saw craft as we drove straight to a desolate compound. There, I saw the instrument of my mission, a rickety and old two-legged truck. It was so dirty that I flinched at its sight. I wanted to throw up and empty my already hunger-plowed stomach but I knew I needed to conserve the energy for the mission ahead. I watched as the two comrades transferred the sack into the truck before shading it with different sizes of worn out utensils and irredeemable electronics. When they finished, they squeezed my shoulder and assured me that God was with me. I nodded naively and began to roll the truck into the major road in the street. I rolled it with cold sweats immersing my young frame. I passed so many beautiful buildings that shut the world out with their gigantic gates and gargantuan walls. I shook my head occasionally at the gulf of disparity between the rich and poor in a nation that is so much blessed that it could carter for her people without much fuss.
I kept rolling, determined to get to the spot I was instructed to stop. My determination soon gathered momentum and resolution tightened when I saw eyes of indifference prying at me from the comfort of wound up windscreens and lofty balconies. Some had no interest in my existence, they just cast a quick glance at my dirty self and went about their business. I felt relieved at how easy the mission was turning out. I took a sharp turn and headed straight to the reserved area where the multinationals and international organizations stood comfortably.
I became nervous when I began to see men on black livery. I knew it had to be them and I was ready for any arrest or harassment as my resolve swayed to its apogee but it was not deliciously complicated as I kept rolling with no one stopping me or asking me any questions, even those in camouflage livery ignored me as they tossed their guns about as if it was the adequate protection they needed.
I stopped at the spot I was told, the one directly adjacent to the famous international organization. I felt my nerve failing at that point as my body shook unnecessarily to the heat of the nefarious assignment standing face to face with me. A policeman noticed my nervousness as his eyes seared holes into my body. He stood up from where he sat with his colleagues, chatting away that early. I was scared as he moved close; with murky bloodshot eyes that accentuated suspicion. Hot piss threatened to pour randomly through my brownish white jalabia. I knew the mission was about to blow up. The man moved an inch further with his stomach quacking at every step. He stopped and stretched trying to catch a glimpse of my truck. He did that swiftly and stood there for a while, saying and doing nothing.
As soon as I noticed his hesitation, I triggered the device as I was instructed and pretended I was going opposite the building to collect imaginary garbage. The man's suspicion suddenly grew and I saw him move quickly in a calculated step, he was neither running towards the truck nor to me. He moved quickly as his stomach throbbed, quaking at every step of the way, forgetting to alert the orders.
I moved quickly in turn, heading into a straight allay. I took off, when I was sure no eyes noticed. I did not run too far before I heard twin booms rocking where I was coming from.