A TRUE STORY
September 29, 2012. Maiduguri, Nigeria
I remember waking up feeling excited. I always feel excited when I have a studio session and that Saturday was no different. It was the first production job I was taking on since resumption (I’m a music producer and an engineering student) and so, I was feeling more excited than usual. The semester was still young and the past few weeks had already been quite uneventful. Academic activities were lazily picking up pace and I was making plans to start studying by the next week. I haven’t been too serious with my academics these past three years and my performance hasn’t been up to my standards.
“This semester is going to be different!” I promised myself and I really meant it.
A cock crowed somewhere nearby and jolted me out of my reverie. Lazily and quite reluctantly, I opened my eyes (I love sleeping and so I always find it difficult to leave my bed). My room was unusually quiet and it took a while for my brain to boot.
“Where is everyone?” I thought to myself.
I usually wake up to the voices of Abdul and Halima – my two very close friends that were hopelessly in love – cheerfully chatting or having one of their funny arguments. I smiled at that thought. They were one of a kind! Most people still believed them to be siblings and they helped spread the rumours themselves (they really enjoy doing that). It didn’t help matters that they closely resembled one another. Abdul and Halima have been inseparable from the time they got to know one another. That they would end up dating each other had always been evident to me even though Abdul always swore heaven and earth that it would never happen. I laughed to myself as I started going down memory lane. Abdul was my closest friend and so, I knew him just as much as he knew me, we could always tell when one was lying to himself. So many escapades we’d had and…
A distant explosion rattled my window pane softly as the shockwaves from miles away reached my room. I sighed to myself and lazily rolled out of bed. Maiduguri was getting worse by the day and the whole world didn’t seem to care anymore. The sound of gunshots and explosions were now as common as cock crows and we’d all gotten used to it. Every day was on orgy of bloodshed between the warring factions in the state and the innocent citizens of Maiduguri were hopelessly caught up in the crossfire. The body counts would probably be running into thousands if the media were to be truthful in their reports and the majority of the people slain were people who were in no way related to the fighting. Innocent passers-by when a bomb exploded, more innocent passers-by when the inevitable gun battle that ensues after an explosion erupts, targeted assassinations… factor in all these things and the body count in a day would quickly be running into hundreds. At night, numerous assassination gangs plagued the city and every morning, countless people would’ve been slain for one sentimental reason or the other. Most times, these villains would lay waste a whole family, few times sparing only the women. These were stories we heard every day and what more, every once in a while, one of these numerous innocents would be someone you knew. This was the Maiduguri we were living in and the future wasn’t looking positive. Why then, you may ask, were we still in Maiduguri? Why have parents been allowing their kids to continue schooling in a war torn state? For many of the ordinary citizens, Maiduguri was and is the only place they have ever known. Most people literally have nowhere to run to. Furthermore, the crisis rocking the state capital has largely been concentrated in certain slum areas such as the Custom and Gonge wards, and though there was usually some spill over violence, one was usually safe if he or she avoided those areas prone to crisis. The things to fear for most people were the numerous assassination gangs that plagued the city at night un-encumbered by the dusk till dawn curfew in place. These blood-suckers were the real terror for most people living in the state capital for they caused people sleepless nights, as no one could predict where they would strike next. Still, there was a pattern to the madness and their areas of operation were usually limited to certain places. In these areas, terror reigned supreme. Needless to say, some of us such as the university students and lecturers stayed on because our campus was situated in an area that had, by the mercies of God, not been overridden by the violence engulfing the state. Since the dawn of the crisis a few years back, places like the UniMaid campus, old and new G.R.A, Pompomari and so on, have had almost a zero occurrence of violence. These could be attributed to many things such as the calibre of people living in these places and so on but I would rather attribute it to the mercies of God. Thus, we all continued schooling with the hope that the status quo would remain unaltered for if we stuck to our campus, we were largely safe from the violence. The only problem was when you inevitably had to go to town for some business (such as going to the banks). Going into town in Maiduguri was more like gambling for you never knew where or when the next battle may erupt. You could literally walk right into a bomb explosion or a shootout between the warring factions and so, it was always a risky business that was best avoided. So, we stuck to our campus and the surrounding areas of the university and we were relatively safe. Still, we were very much aware of the carnage going on in town for we could hear and feel the bombs exploding on a daily basis in town, as well as the gunshots that seemed to be constant background chatter. I pushed all these thoughts out of my mind as I quickly took a shower and got ready to go out. Still wondering where they were, I looked out of my window hoping to see Halima’s car. Not there. I picked up my phone and was about dialling Abdul’s number when I suddenly remembered that they hadn’t spent the night in my place. ‘Fool!’ I jokingly cursed myself for being so forgetful. It wasn’t entirely my fault (I am a really forgetful person though) for I was so used to having them around and so their absence was weird. Abdul and Halima had been spending most of their nights in my place in campus since we resumed this semester. My mum didn’t mind having Halima over in our house anytime for she knew the nature of me and Halima’s friendship as being totally platonic. I and Abdul had rented a place for him a year ago in 202 Housing Estate, a student populated area opposite the university campus gates and the rent had just expired. Thus, he was staying with me full-time in my mum’s university staff house until we could find a place for him. We’d decided that he should move in to campus for though the areas surrounding the university such as the 202 and 303 Housing Estate were relatively safe, the violence in the state had been steadily escalating and we were all beginning to be uncomfortable with being anywhere other than school. Halima was also trying to get a space in one of the new girls hostels, since some of the girls hostel blocks in Unimaid are quite comfortable to live in unlike the boys’ hostels. Thus, ladies were usually quite content with taking up accommodations in school. but until then, she usually slept over whenever it go too late to go back to their family house in town for there was a curfew in place and night wasn’t a time to be moving around in a place like Maiduguri anyways. So every night was usually fun in my house with Abdul and Halima around, cheerfully gisting, playing Call of Duty on the Xbox 360 or doing some other crazy thing. Last night however, Abdul and Halima had gone to sleep over in Halima’s family house in town and so I had spent the night alone. I checked my time. I needed to be on the move. My phone rang and startled me a little. I picked the phone,
“Hello”, I said.
“Von D! How far, now? I still dey wait for you o!” Mykebo’s voice replied on the other end.
“No vex abeg, I don already leave house”
“No wahala. Ina jiran ka, dan Allah. Ka jii ko oga!’ said Mykebo.
I chuckled when he called me ‘oga’.
“Habba mana. No dey call me oga, abeg. You know say na you be boss” I chipped back.
And so we continued, until we got tired of calling each other oga. I dropped the call after promising to be at the studio in ten minutes. The studio was just a 5-minute walk from my house, opposite the school park and was situated right at the heart of the students’ off-campus residential area. It was however not well known and that suited me just fine for I tend to like serene environments. I had only recently begun working with the studio just after my friend Mykebo took over management of the studio. In the few weeks or months we had spent running it, we’d managed to churn out quite a number of songs and some of them were quite popular with the students. I went through a checklist of the things I needed to do for the day in my head as I walked deliberately slowly to the studio. I needed to call A-Maz, I’d already called Dino and told him to meet me at the studio, I needed to call Abdul and Halima too. I put off calling Abdul and Halima for I guessed that they would sooner or later come to look for me wherever I was. I felt queer as I stepped out of the university gates. There was always a feeling of danger that came over you these days whenever one stepped out of the university campus. A military van sped past as I was about to cross, closely followed by an armoured car. The soldiers in the leading van were all wearing some sort of masks, fashioned out of red handkerchiefs and camouflage material. They looked like ninjas in camouflage wielding guns and cutlasses. It almost looked like a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie. Civilian cars hurriedly moved aside to create a path for the military convoy. I shook my head and sighed. Soldiers in Maiduguri had become like demigods, having the power to do and undo. Military blockades covered every nook and cranny in the state, causing a traffic bottleneck that choked and almost ground to a halt the already dysfunctional economy of the state. The soldiers themselves… well more on that some other time. I watched the convoy disappear in the distance and the familiar ache and sadness over the current state of affairs returned to my heart. Traffic returned to normal after the passage of the military convoy and I crossed the road and hurriedly walked to the studio. Deep breath! I closed my eyes and savoured the feeling of being in the dark studio. Mykebou was outside fiddling with the gen, trying to make it come alive. Here at least, is a place where I could get lost in my own world, creating tunes while remaining oblivious to the carnage and madness that was raging on all around me. And lost did I get, for I completely lost track of time as I immersed myself in the song we were trying to compose. The next time I checked my wrist watch, it was already past four in the evening and that was late by Maiduguri standards. Dino had at some point joined us in the studio and he was heartily gisting with Mykebou and Sammy. I needed to get moving. I closed my eyes and absentmindedly played some chords on the Yamaha PSR keyboard in front of me.
“Von D, we go enter beach today, abi?”
The sound of my name jolted me back to reality and I turned towards Dino who asked the question. ‘Beach’ is not an actual beach but a drinking joint we frequented a lot. Dino obviously had plans for the evening. I however was feeling a little bit downcast for no reason and so I wasn’t in a ‘going out’ mood.
“Men, Dino, I dey on a low o! I no too hold bar like that. Abi you gallant?” I replied.
“Bros, you know how things be now. Me self I dey empty.” Dino said.
“‘See your head! You wey just come back from Jay yesterday. You wan tell me say you no hold ground? Gerrout jor!”
I frowned to make him think I was serious. Dino laughed for he saw through the ruse. I heartily joined him and the conversation soon turned to more trivial things.
“How far now, I never see Shizzy and Heych today o!” someone said.
“Me self. Them suppose block me for studio but I never hear from them. I sure say they don go relax for one joint now na why I never see them. If they enter area sha I know say them go find me”, was my reply. “I suppose call Shizzy self” I said again.
I picked up my phone but changed my mind for no apparent reason. I reasoned that Abdul (Shizzy) was probably not nearby and so I made up my mind to call him later.
“Abi make we go track them for 202?” Dino asked me again.
“Emmm… make we go ATM first abeg. E be like say I get some small change for account. We fit use am flex small if we jam with them. At least, make we no dull ourselves now. How you see am?”
“Idiot! So you get money self. See your head.” Dino fired at me.
I laughed at him and stood up, hailed everyone and stepped out of the studio. Dino was right behind me and we briskly strolled into school, all the while, talking about music and other random stuff. Ten minutes later, I had withdrawn the little cash I had in my account and was contemplating going into 202 with Dino to meet up with Abdul and Halima. I was however, still feeling a little down and so I changed my mind and decided to head home. Dino was disappointed for he had wanted us to hang out a bit before it got late. I shared the little money I had with him and we parted ways. I walked home slowly, enjoying the cool evening breeze. The university campus was after all, quite serene. One often forgot that he was in Maiduguri when on campus, except for the distant sounds of bomb blasts and gunshots that occasionally pierced the otherwise calm environment. I stopped by briefly at a shop to buy some packets of Indomie. Abdul and Halima (Heych) were definitely going to meet me at home sooner or later and they would definitely be famished as usual. Got home by about 6:00pm and turned on our generator set. I lay down on my bed and played around with my phone, all the while expecting to hear the familiar hum of the engine of Halima’s car driving into our compound. A-Maz and Alfred (Ola Blaq) came over at some point, and we all settled down to play some soccer (PES 2011, I think). I think I dozed off for a while. It seemed more like 5 minutes to me but when I looked at my watch, it was already around 9:00 o’clock. A-Maz and Blaq had already left for their place. I checked my phone and saw about 5 missed calls. Snazzy! I sighed and lazily stretched on the bed. Where were Shizzy and Heych? It was already past curfew time and I still hadn’t heard from them all day. It was a little bit queer that Snazzy would be calling me so many times at such a time in the night. I was beginning to get a bad feeling. I picked up my phone and dialled Snazzy’s number.
“Snazzy, how far now?”
“Von D… e get one funny rumour wey just dey fly around o! I no know whether you fit clarify am for me?” Snazzy’s voice was shaky at the other end of the line and I immediately sensed that something was wrong.
“Guy, wetin happen? Tell me wetin you hear”
“Men…Person just call me now dey tell me say…Shizzy and Heych were found covered in blood in 202…”
…my mind went blank. I felt dizzy and my room suddenly felt icy cold. I chuckled and thought to myself it is just a joke… but is it?