Monday, 23 October 2017

The Long Trek

As dawn broke, he awakened with a heightened level of anxiety. He had trekked several kilometres from a village close to Abuja; the last village a truck had volunteered to drop him. He was seeking the place he believed was his destiny to find. He got up, and rolled up his sleeping baggage; a set of very old blankets he had grabbed from what was left on the bed he slept on for years. He went to a nearby tap and washed his face and rinsed his mouth, after which, it was time to begin a series of actions he had set up to achieve by the grace of God. It didn’t take long before he was noticed. A dissident loitering a few metres away from an Embassy was always going to draw some attention.
Approaching him in confident and combat ready strides, two security officers pushed fear deeper into him as they inched closer. As a matter of precaution, they however stopped at a safe distance. He was already shivering with fear, and felt for a moment, that his mission may have ended as quickly as it started. No! He was determined not to waive. So, he stood upright and looked them in the eyes.

“What do you want here?” one of the officers asked in a brisk tone. No answer came from the young boy. “You can’t stay around here. Please kindly pack your belongings and leave,” said the second officer after a brief moment. The young boy stood there and gaped, not because he was stubborn, but because he didn’t know what to say to the officers. “Let’s go. We will observe him from the gate,” said one of the officers. As the officers turned their backs to leave, “I wish to see the Ambassador,” suddenly sprung from the young boy. His demeanor morphed into that of confrontation as he stood at ease and raised his chin with a frown. The officers turned and faced him. This was now concerning to them since they knew he could speak and he was asking for the Ambassador. One of them raised his walkie-talkie and spoke to a superior officer. After a while of correspondence through the walkie-talkie, the officers left the young boy standing there with his ambition for company, and without a word, they returned back to their duty posts.

When pure determination drives an individual, only a tangible form of hopelessness can deter progress. The young boy laboured in his thoughts, and went about laying his siege for the Ambassador for some days under a heightened level of security. Since he was not in close proximity to the Embassy, he was not an immediate threat, and therefore was closely monitored. After two days, he had exhausted whatever little money he had brought with him from wherever he came from. Cold nights spoke to him with whimpering sounds and treated him very harshly. He looked up at the sky at night and whispered silently to his creator, “Please, do something soon because I know you can.”

On the fourth day of his adventure, dawn swam up on him quickly. He was still curled up in his ragtag beddings when he felt the light and heat of sun rays on his skin. He raised his eyelids slightly to find that the day was getting old already. He also saw what looked like a flashy black sedan car drive up the gate of the Embassy. This alerted him, so he sat up quickly. If something was going to happen, it had to happen that day or his condition would degenerate immeasurably. He was beaten, scotched, hungry and losing hope fast. Something had to give. An involuntary rush of adrenaline drawn from the brief self-appraisal of his condition pushed him up, and he began to float his energy-spent body in the breeze towards the black sedan. He felt dizzy and only realised how weak he was when he began to walk. As he inched closer to the gate, each stride he took left a piece of his remaining strength behind him. His haphazard dance to stay upright alerted the security officers and they immediately deployed emergency response protocol. They rushed out towards him while the gates opened to allow the sedan to quickly drive in. However, the last thing the young boy saw before collapsing to the ground, were the two security officers who rushed to contain him. He finally succumbed to the darkness that haunted him.

The security officers jogged to a halt over the motionless body of the young boy. Finally, the young boy had caught the attention of the Ambassador who was actually seated at the back of the black sedan and had watched the young boy’s dance and fall. The Ambassador asked for a briefing on the situation after which he instructed that emergency medical aid be provided to the young boy. The situation which was initially a security concern had quickly become a medical emergency.

After a thorough search of his body, he was taken to the dispensary which was close to the gate. The young boy opened his eyes to discover he was on a bed and had a syringe stuck to his arm. He was frightened. His fright kept him still, as he rolled his eyes around to document what was going on. He could see the officers who ran towards him earlier chatting by the doorway, he could see a nurse seated by a table and jotting down something on a paper. He followed the needle and tube stuck to his arm and discovered a bag of liquid hanging over the bed on which he laid. He had reached a crossroad in his mission. What was he to do next? He had no immediate thoughts so he relaxed and allowed fate to take control. He had tried his best.

A few hours later he woke up from sleep. “You are awake,” said an excited nurse who had spent into her off duty hours because of him. She asked him to sit up and gave him a glass of water to drink. “Please where can I ease myself?” he asked. The nurse turned to the security officers who also heard the question. She was silent until one of the officers said “follow me.” The security officer showed him the toilet which was theirs and he eased himself. “Can I go now?” asked the young boy. “The Ambassador would like to have a word with you, so if you don’t mind, let us go back to the dispensary.” The security officer was devoid of empathy. This was not his routine ‘used-to’ kind of day. To him, this was just another less privileged boy who sought alms from the wrong place. A waste of time.

The boy waited for the Ambassador. Minutes turned to hours. The boy watched as security and dispensary personnel changed shift. After many grueling hours of staring around the small dispensary room, someone came and fetched him. The room they entered seemed like a dining area. There was food on the table in nice dishes. Momentarily, another door opened and two white men walked in and seemed to be chatting about something of interest. They sat down before they noticed him. After he was introduced, the man who ushered him in, left the room. The boy stood there in awe. That was his first time of seeing a white person. He now had two in front of him for comparison. He kept looking at their hair. He felt they looked silky and unkempt. He watched as they stuck little napkins into their collars before each picked up a fork and knife. His gaze was stuck on the plates of food before him so much that he was inattentive when he was asked “are you hungry?” The sound of snapping fingers brought him back to reality. “Are you hungry?” asked one of the white men again. “No” answered the boy abruptly, and suddenly, he answered “yes” thrice in quick repetitions. “Of course! Grab a plate” said the white man. He nodded and stumbled clumsily towards the table. He was extremely shy and was told everything to do. He sat some seats away after dishing a sizeable portion of the rice and stew in order to give the white men some space. He wasn’t spoken to again after he had dished his food. He couldn’t really understand the conversations and they would not stop talking. The white men talked all through their meal.

After all plates were cleaned up, the white man that had been speaking to him left. The boy was under the impression that was the Ambassador. He was now left with the one that just stared, and happened to be the Ambassador. The Ambassador cleaned his hands and looked at the boy for a while before asking “what did you want to see me for?” Even though that question was what the boy had endured so much to hear, it came out so simply that he was lost on how to begin to answer it. So, he did what he felt was the right thing. He started by saying his name.

“My name is Usman Haruna” and then, he went on. “I am 15 years old. I was an orphan, and until last week, lived in a local orphanage home at a country side near Jos, Plateau state. We were about twenty that lived in the home and Mama Hamisu was our mother. She and her helpers took care of us. I was the oldest. We only attended primary school because it was free. There was no money for Mama to put us in secondary school. So, those of us old enough helped people with farm and domestic work and got paid for our work. We gave the money to Mama who used it to care for us with whatever she got from elsewhere.” The boy paused and dropped his head before he continued. The Ambassador listened with rapt attention. Just then, the other white man entered the room and sat down almost unnoticed. 

“Last week Wednesday, we all had dinner and went to bed. It had rained heavily in the evening so the night was cold. Very late in the night, we began to hear people shouting desperately. We all woke up terrified. The village was under attack by bandits. We were hurried to run into the bush. It was horrifying. We couldn’t see anything in front of us. We just kept running and running. Even Mama Hamisu ran with us in her old age. After a while of running, we stopped at the foot of a hill and packed ourselves up under a tree. Mama Hamisu and the helpers told us to keep absolute quiet. That was how we were able to hear the shouting from the village which continued unabated. We slept at the foot of that hill that night. In the morning, we discovered many other villagers too had run with us to the foot of the hill. We were so many. When we got closer to the village, the wailing we heard grew louder. People had lost loved ones in numbers. The whole village including our house was burnt down.”

The boy began to sob loudly as tears streamed out of his eyes without ceasing. The white men stared on in absolute silence. After his sobs became hiccups, he cleaned his face with his shirt and continued. His head was still dropped.

“The destruction was total. So many people were killed including women and children. Fortunately for us, it seemed we had escaped early enough. Mama Hamisu told us it had happened before and that was how most of us came to be with her. We packed a few light belongings, mostly clothing. We trekked with Mama Hamisu to a very large camp where we met hundreds of other people from other villages that were also attacked. The camp was a school and we had to share a classroom with many other people. There was very little to eat and very little water to drink. I could not cope after about five days. I found myself crying every night and asking why life was so unfair. I told Mama I was going to get some help. She tried to talk me out of it, but I told her I was leaving regardless of whatever she thought. She gave me 500 naira and prayed for me. I have trekked from village to village and rode at the back of trucks. When I got to Abuja, some people were kind enough to point me in the direction of the Embassy. This is my story.”

The white men looked at themselves and adjusted in their seats. After a brief moment of silence, the Ambassador asked the boy, “What do you want me to do for you and why didn’t you go to your government?” The boy answered, “Before I left, I told Mama I was coming back with help for them. I have no other place to go and my time at the orphanage is over. I have no future in this country, and I wish to leave all these bad memories behind. I am a very good footballer and I can work very hard too. Please take me to your country, and I promise to be very hard working, finish my education, and play a lot of good football for you.” The Ambassador smiled thereafter and the other white man with him smiled even more. After sharing a few chitchats, the Ambassador sent for someone and said to the boy, “go and have your bath and get some rest. We will discuss help for Mama Hamisu and the other children in the morning.” As millions of people are being displaced by conflict and natural disasters around the world, humanity has been called to action. We must now demonstrate our willingness to sustain our kind through selfless acts of service, love, honesty, kindness and brotherliness. This is dedicated to all displaced persons globally.