“It is too early to leave,” Aunty IJ’s voice echoed through the house. She was talking to her husband, brother Emeka who had insisted on traveling that early morning.
“Calm down, the pressure is down already, nothing will happen.” He rubbed her shoulders.
I stood at the staircase watching them; the parlor still smelt of incense that Aunty IJ burnt in the night.
Aunty IJ was still on her sleep wear, the singlet exposed her bare shoulders and stomach, she looked panic-stricken. She quickly grabbed the kitchen towel she dropped on the couch and walked towards the kitchen.
“I will go with you.” She blurted. “Blessing, help me check the stew on fire, I need to bath.” Her voice was low and firm.
Aunty IJ wasn’t the finest of all the women brother Emeka brought to the house but she had the best behavior, her smile would melt the heart of everyone she came across. She was always firm with her decisions and had a way of making brother agree with her all times.
Brother Emeka was dressed in his black jogger and white polo, he always wore joggers while traveling, he said it made him more comfortable to drive far with. He had few clothes in his traveling bag.
“You are seriously travelling to Nsukka on a sit at home” I asked like I would convince him better than the wife. He was sitting on the couch, his hands akimbo; he was tapping his feet like an old man worried about his grown children.
“Mama is sick; there is no one else in the house to take care of her.” I saw the worry on his face.
“Should I come with you?”
Emeka is the third among my mother’s children, I is the last born. I started staying with him after my WAEC, he just started his business then and had only few things to his name. I watched him grow from jumping on a bus to owning cars in his garage. He made sacrifices to give me comfort till I was done with school, I moved in with them after my graduation. Brother Emeka was a part of me that I would prefer being in pains to him being in pains.
“You don’t have to come with me.” He yelled.
“I have to.” I hurriedly turned off the gas and rushed into the room, picked up few clothes to travel with him.
Coming down stairs I saw Aunty with her bag too, she wore a jumpsuit and sweater, the weather was cold, the cool breeze from the ceiling fan blew lightly through her hair and made it move. She was carrying her small pink travelling bag that contained her clothes.
“Let’s all travel together.” She walked towards the front door.
“You two should stay back, you can come tomorrow, let me take the risk alone.” Brother stopped at the door blocking us from going outside. He frowned; his light face was turning red.
“No, who will stay with her in the hospital, who will cook when you are in the hospital?” Aunty IJ asked.
As for me, I could only stand and watch them argue, Aunty IJ will always win every argument. It will only take few minutes for brother to succumb and let us drive home together.
“I can call Azubuike to help.” He suggested, he already looked tired from Aunty IJ’s stubbornness.
“You have forgotten so soon how you were accused for using Azubuike for ritual, let’s just go, nothing will happen.” Aunty who was standing in front of brother pushed her traveling back and he made way for us to pass.
I smiled, stuck out my tongue and made face for him, he slapped my back playfully and walked behind us.
We left Enugu by 8:30 am.
“It’s just 45mins drive to Nsukka, we will get their by 9:15am”
Emeka adjusted his seat belt and urged us to do same. I sat directly behind brother Emeka.
Aunty prayed before we left.
The street didn’t look like there was sit at home, people sat in front of their houses, group of boys were playing ball on the street road, and some were cleaning their compounds. The shops on the streets were open but most of them opened only the windows.
“It is not as serious as I thought.” I mumbled.
We drove out to the road and found the road empty; it was quiet and it seemed like it is dead, I only heard the sound of our own vehicle and the soft breeze.
“Mama’s help left two days ago for no reason at all, there is nothing that girl asked for that we don’t do for her, I don’t know why she left” Emeka said as though we were unaware that she left.
He talked whenever he was tensed, he didn’t care if you have listened to the story before.
The road was deserted.
We drove through new market, traders were not there. Just few Hausa men and seated in some buildings.
“This sit-at home is seriousoo” Emeka said it in a thick Igbo accent.
“It has always been serious, people see it as a god day to rest, and they tend to sleep longer on days like this, that’s why there is no one on the road except us.” Aunty responded blandly.
“It even makes our journey easier” I said to ease the tension.
I glanced at Emeka through his mirror, our eyes met and we both smiled.
At Abakpa, we saw a Keke parked at the corner of the flyover, there were four boys inside, all dressed up in a black attire. As we approached where they parked, one stepped out of the tricycle holding up a stick, he signaled us to stop and whine down the windows.
His face was so mean that you can’t trace a smile on his face, his eyebrows were lowered and pulled closer together, his lips tightened.
He matched to my brother’s window and placed the stick on his shoulders.
“Where are you going to?” His voice was coarse.
“We are going home to see my sick mother”
“On sit-at-home?” he frowned and hit the stirring with the stick.
Brother Emeka fidgeted, his hands were trembling. “We just need to get home to her, she is alone.” He stuttered.
He walked round the car touching the sides.
“Hey, is that your brother?” my heart fluttered when I noticed he was already at my window, his breathe smelt like a mixture of gin and weed. His teeth were white, he had a no mask on, I could clearly see his face and red eye that looked like that of a wounded lion.
“You are beautiful” He touched my face and I shifted my face from him.
“I don’t want to see this car on the road if I open my eyes”
My brother drove off in high speed.
No one talked about what we just experienced. It became a quiet drive; Aunty IJ turned up the volume of the song playing in the car and sang along. It was Flavour’s “Ijeawale.”
I knew my brother wanted to talk about us going with him but he kept quiet with his face focused on the road.
We got to the Army checkpoint. There was a car parked by the side of the road. The Army waved for us to stop.
“Where are you headed?” he was neatly dressed with his camouflaged trouser, Army green polo neatly tucked into his trouser and a thick belt that went round the belt hole on his waist. His trousers were tucked into his booth.
“We are going to Nsukka.” My brother responded without looking at his face.
“I need to check your car” he wasn’t smiling; he hung his gun on his shoulder and signaled us to come down. We stepped out of the car and he searched the whole car.
“Can this man join you to Opi junction, his car broke down?” He pointed at the chubby looking man that stood close to the parked car; he had a traveling bag clutched to his shoulder. He wore a black hoodie and a blue jean, his face was gloomy but it didn’t hide how handsome he is. He walked towards us, I saw how perfect his eyes were, he had a nicely shaved beards and neat haircut.
“Sorry to inconvenience you sir, my car broke down” he said as he joined me at the back seat.
He had a baritone voice, the wave and power of his voice gave a very strong sound.
“It has been a rough day for me; I left Port-Harcourt since 5 am. I never knew the sit at home was this serious.” He said to no one in particular.
“You are coming from Port-Harcourt?” My brother asked as if he wasn’t clear enough.
He glanced at him through the mirror.
“Yes, surprisingly Enugu is more peaceful than Abia. There is road block through Aba, I was attacked twice by some hoodlums, I am lucky to still be alive” He dipped his hand into his side bag and brought out his phone, he swiped and showed us the pictures of some hoodlums he captured.
“What made you leave Port-Harcourt to the east on a day like this?” Aunty asked him.
“Tomorrow is my sister’s traditional marriage; I honestly didn’t know it will be this serious.” He sighed and placed his phone back into the side bag. I saw a cut on his left hand, it was still a fresh wound but the blood was dried up. He rested his back on the seat and pushed his head backward.
“It has been serious; I don’t go beyond my street on a day like this.” Brother replied him.
“So, the government is not doing anything about it?”
“Where will they start from? The sit at home or the attacks”
“At least let there be enough security on days like this, it will give people confidence to come out”
“Two police men were killed at their duty post some Mondays back, no one knows where they came from”
“I heard the killers had masks on and they came in a tricycle” Aunty chipped in.
We were driving along the lonely road filled with bushes, and no other vehicle on sight. It was drizzling; they were sprinkling on the grasses like a gardener’s hose.
Few months ago, Uncle Chuks, my Mum’s younger brother was kidnapped on the same road, he had travelled with the wife for his friend’s burial but they were held hostage by group of bandits.
It was rumored that the bandits were Fulani herdsmen but Uncle insisted they had no Fulani accent, meaning they are not Fulanis.
“You said you were attacked?” my brother asked, his eyes focused on the road while he caressed the stirring.
“Yes, with two other cars behind me” he sighed and robbed his laps.
“I am lucky to be alive” he continued, “they waved at the car ahead of me to stop with stones in their hands, he sped off, I also sped behind him, they threw the stone at me but I was lucky it missed, I saw them throw fire ball at the car behind me, it blew up in flame.” his hands were visibly shaking, he took a deep breath. “They chased us in Keke before we lost them, I saw death staring at me but I escaped.”
His eyes were teary; I offered him tissue from my handbag.
“That was a terrible experience.” Brother Blurted
“I think it’s while I was trying to escape that nail punctured my tyre
“Sorry about that.” I said feeling pity for him. I have been quiet since we left and only talked when necessary, I scrolled through my phone to keep myself distracted from their conversation.
“Enugu is calmer than Aba, I hope it remains this way”
“They attack Enugu too; it’s just that no one knows where they come out from.”
“At least there are checkpoints on the road, it will reduce the attacks”
“But there is no security in crucial places like the market” Aunty IJ who was munching on the cashew nut we bought at the checkpoint stated.
“If there is enough security in strategic places, people won’t be scared to come out then things will gradually come back to normal.” She added.
At Opi Junction, the drizzle had stooped and the wall was breaking through. Some shops were open, bike men parked at their park waiting for passenger, chattering of “o na-aga’ ‘I choro bread’ rolled from every corner.
“I will drop here; let me get a mechanic to fix my car, thank you very much man, he shook hands with my brother, safe journey.” I and Aunty waved goodbye to him at once.
We parked at a store to get bread; I stepped down from the car to check bread to pick.
“Unknown gun men, hide, lock your shops!” someone racing down from the fuel station at the junction was shouting with his hands in the air.
It happened so quickly, we ran inside the lady’s shop and she jammed the wooden door.
We sat on the floor of the shop, the shop was dark, the ray from the sun entered through the window.
The shop had only one window that looked like it has never been opened; we heard sound of a bike stop in front of the shop. Everyone was quiet; we could hear each other breathe.
I peeped though the space at the door, I saw three men with guns, they were all masked, they moved round the shops.
“Bend down, they will see you” Brother Emeka commanded me.
There was silent on the street, we could only hear the sound of her wall clock ticking.
“This is why I don’t open on Sundays, if not because of what my kids will eat, I won’t be here” the bread seller muttered amidst tears.
The few minutes we spent in the bread sellers shop felt like eternity, I felt like a cow waiting to be slaughtered. I heard a footstep approaching the door; I heard a slight knock on the door.
Aunty IJ who sat closest to me was whimpering. She held my hand firmly while she shivered.
The knock stopped, I noticed someone move away from the door.
After some minutes, we started hearing voices outside.
“They are gone,” the bread said as she looked through the door hole.
Outside, people gathered in pairs chattering indistinctly.
“A man was shot down there”
A bike man that came up from Enugu road said to another man standing next to brother Emeka.
“He is putting on a black hoodie and a blue jean trouser.” He described with his hands.
“Is he breathing?” my brother asked him
I wouldn’t know, I was running for my life.
That was the description of the cloth Mr Uche wore. I grabbed his name when he was explaining to my brother how his sister would react if he gets home.
“Brother Uche, you risked today for me” he changed his voice to sound feminine and we all laughed.
“You people should wait here, I am coming.” Brother jumped into the car and started the car engine without waiting to hear what we had to say.
“I need to close my shop and go home, you people can wait in front of the shop till he comes back” she asked as she made to lock her door
“Could you please wait till he comes back, I will give you money for your kids” Aunty IJ pleaded
Brother Emeka came back faster than we thought.
Mr. Uche was groaning at the back of the car, his left leg was wrapped with brother’s polo.
We joined the car and brother drove us to the hospital.
To Be Continued….