Rubble and Emotional Scars



The aftermath of war... Tales of the anguish that continues; told from a young African boy's perspective.

For many years, I was tormented by the emotional scars caused by the war. It wrecked my life. And I didn’t even realise the extent to which I was devastated until long after we returned to our village; away from the forest where we hid to avoid the Nigerian soldiers. All around me, I saw people slowly and painfully rebuilding their lives just as my mother did too. The place where our house once stood had become a pile of rubble, blown to the ground by the shelling. My mother had to erect a structure with mud and put a thatch over it all by herself. Everybody else was too preoccupied with their troubles to care about us. It made no difference that my mother was so  heavily pregnant and frail; with a young child to look after.

The end of the war heralded even greater anguish. Although it had been  said that there was neither a victor nor vanquish in the conflict, it was clear to me who lost and who won. We lost everything, a loss made profound by the fact that we could behold our losses while counting them one after the other. The war might have been over, yet to us it persisted. We suffered! There was no food to eat. And there was no hope to hold on to.

I was just a child yet I had suffered enough hardship to last a life time. The civil war destroyed my life in more ways than I can describe. It took away everything dear to me starting with my cousins. Their deaths were unprecedented, occurring while they were out scavenging for food as they usually did. They never returned. And after a day of their disappearance, my father had gone in search of them. Unfortunately, he too never returned home. Those were the first direct devastation I incurred from the senselessness called war. And then I lost more relatives- aunties an uncles who either died of natural courses or were shot dead...

After the war ended, the only relatives I had were my mother and the child in her belly; the result of her last romantic encounter with my father right before he disappeared. There was also my last remaining uncle, a man who saw his own share of tragedies and gave up hope. He reminded me of my father every time I set eyes on him. This was so because they both bore an uncanny resemblance to each other. Sadly, remembering my father was something I hated to do. I wondered whether he was dead or alive somewhere, perhaps captured by the Nigerian soldiers and forced into perpetual slavery. I wished he could someday return to me along with my siblings, because only then would everything go back to normal. But then I was only being wishful. Possibilities were that my people were long dead, destroyed by the ravaging bullets and bombs of Gowon’s army.

For long, I struggled to overcome my sadness and my grief but failed. And at the end I could only manage the trauma the best way I knew how. This was by becoming extremely stubborn. I found comfort in being extremely disobedient and doing just as I pleased. I could care less about how much my bad behavior hurt my poor mother. And this didn’t help her situation considering how she too was caught up in her own anguish, heavily pregnant and utterly miserable in life. She was so sickly and gaunt such that the only visible aspect of her life was her protruding belly. I wish I had been a better son to her…

Meanwhile, as bad as life was after the war it still felt good to not have to hide under the canopy of the forest anymore. We no longer had to run for cover as we used to do every time the shelling began. Therefore, my new found freedom was dedicated to feeling good with myself. I played the entire time with the other kids, kicking about the human skulls that were littered across the place as if we were kicking footballs. Those were the skulls of those who were unfortunate enough to leave on time just before the soldiers overtook the village. Those ones were massacred! The genocide that occurred in my village!!!

One of those whose skulls I was playing with was a man named Eze. He was said to have been a very brilliant Science teacher who unfortunately became just shortly before the war. His madness was blamed on the too many books in his brain. And then he was brought back to the village so he could be treated by the herbalist and cared for by close relatives. After the war broke out, Eze would sit in his late father’s easy chair (right in front of the house) while yelling at all those who cared to listen that the Biafran warlord Ojukwu was capable of crushing the Nigerian military. It so happened that on the day the Nigerian soldiers finally advanced deep into small town Igbere, Eze remained seated in his chair and refused to escape to the forest. He believed Ojukwu would save Biafra. But Ojukwu never did.

When we returned from the forest, we saw Eze’s skeleton on the easy chair right in front of his father’s house. His skull was however missing, apparently cut off by a matches owned by a Nigerian soldier. His and those of the sickly/ elderly were the skulls we played football with. There were also the skulls of those who had been courageous enough to venture home in search of food and valuables but unfortunately got captured by the Gowon’s soldiers. I often wondered whether my father’s skull was among those I played with. Yet, this possibility never quite made me stop. We disregarded the warnings of the elders that we could get seriously injured by the bones. What greater harm could possibly befall children who have narrowly escaped bomb shrapnel cutting them to shreds and seen people dismembered right in front of them? We already saw enough violence to last forever, and so the risks posed by playing with human skulls (their jagged and sharp edges regardless) meant nothing. So I thought some of my mates eventually got wounded and infected by the skulls. Some even died, and this finally prompted the elders to gather the bones and incinerate them…

Three months after the war, something else happened to completely change my life yet again. It was a windy rainy night, a situation that caused our makeshift house to collapse while we were sleeping inside it. As the wall collapsed, my mother managed to drag me out to the open court just before the entire building came down. It was so unbelievably scary, and unknown to the real scary stuff was still about to happen. I realised this when my mother suddenly went into labour right there in the open courtyard with the rain still falling heavily. At first, I had no idea what was happening. And by the time I did realise it, I had ran so blindly through the dark and rain towards my uncle’s hut. As I banged on his door, I screamed at the top of my lungs.

“My mother is dying” I said. “She is dying…please help her!”
My uncle’s door flung open almost immediately he heard the urgency in my voice. The sleep was out of his eyes and panic had overtaken his wife who came rushing with us towards my mother.

“What happened?” my uncle asked.

“Our hut has collapsed and my mother is in pain…” I narrated briefly. Before long, we were at the spot where my mother wreathed in pain. And almost immediately we got there, my uncle’s wife raised the alarm. Soonest, the small community was gathered, running helter-skelter as the women struggled to deliver the baby. My uncle’s hot had been converted into a makeshift delivery ward and I stood outside and listened to my mother’s agonizing screams while she tried to deliver the baby. The labour/delivery lasted throughout most of that night. And the whole time, those haunting screams came coming from my uncle’s hut…
It wasn’t until the next morning that the impacts of the previous night dawned on me. For one, the downpour had wrecked havoc across the community as several of the newly constructed mud houses were collapsed, their thatched roofs blown in different directions. And the worst of it all was my mother; she had died after several hours of struggling to give birth. Although nobody immediately told me that, I sensed it. I sensed it in their hushed conversations and in the way people were looking at me pitifully. And by the tie my uncle later told me, I went numb. And then I felt guilty because I wished I had been a better son; given her less troubles after we returned from the forest. It’s rather saddening that all my life I saw my mother in agony and yet was unable to do anything to help her...



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