Wiping the tears running down her cheeks as she walked down the road leading to the refugee camp, she replayed the events that led to that day in her head. It was a windy harmattan afternoon. The sky was hazy and the air dry and windy. She unconsciously licked her crackled lips as the falling leaves from the swaying trees along the walkway travelled across her face before gently gracing the ground.
God, please let her be here, she prayed. Takwa had visited all the camps in Southern Ayema in search of her to no avail. As soon as she heard the news of the surrender, she packed a few of her clothes and her passport and boarded the first bus she found heading to the South. She had heard the news on the radio at the Government General Hospital, Hage the country’s capital. She had begun working there after she was rescued that day.
It had been two years already but she always felt a cold shiver each time she remembered. The 5 year war ended 15 days ago with the Coalition Movement, the rebel force surrendering to the Government Forces of The Republic of Ayema. The civil war began when the Coalition forces launched an offensive bomb strike on the National Military School Headquarters, Hage. This marked a series of events that altered the courses of many lives forever. Takwa’s was no exception.
She could still feel the throbbing ache in her feet. She had no choice but to walk the distance to the camp. The military had still not lifted the ban on vehicular movement in the newly occupied Wagbe province. She had walked this same road during the siege. She recalled it was bathed with blood, and decapitated bodies. She had vomited on the side of the road at the mere sight of the gory scene. Takwa had covered Sami’s face with the scarf around her neck. Sami was in her arms and couldn’t stop crying as they both ran to safety.
A truck with the emblem of the Ayema military on the side, drove past her and came to a halt. She was unaware of the vehicle even as she walked towards it.
“Excuse me. Young lady” the soldier in the driver’s seat said
She was so lost in her thought that she couldn’t hear a word.
“Madam. Hello!” He exclaimed
She was jolted back to reality this time.
“Yes”. She took in the soldier and his mate beside him. He reminded her so much of her husband Deyi. They were in their smart uniforms and shiny medals hung from their suits.
They definitely just got awarded. Look at them she thought. So happy. I’m sure they’ll be promoted soon.
She felt a sadness overcome her. This could have been her husband.
Do they have wives or children to go home to? Did they lose someone special like I did?
Takwa and Deyi met a year before the war and got married four months later. He was a lieutenant in the army and resided at the Military Base, Hage. They had met at the hospital where she worked as a doctor. Her parents and many of her friends were opposed to the marriage.
“How can you marry a soldier? Common soldier. Do you want to be a widow at 25?” her mother ranted.
“Deyi is the one for me. Besides being a soldier makes me love him more?
“Oh really. You couldn’t find a doctor like yourself or a politician like your father ehn”
“Ma, he defends our country. At least he’s way better than Dad who swindles this nation’s resources.
“Shut up. Let me make this clear. It’s either your stupid soldier or this family. The choice is yours”
Takwa made her choice. One that may have changed the course of her life forever.
“We can give you a ride ma’am. We are heading to Magbe Camp. Where are you going?”
Oh. Sure. That’s exactly where I’m headed. But is there room for one more? She asked.
“Yes. My good friend here would seat at the back.” His partner nodded and got down from the front seat.
She walked to the other side of the car and hopped in. She cringed as she saw their rifles laying on the back seat. The war had ended but it would take a long time to forget, she admitted.
“Thank you” she said as she turned to face the driver.
“Not to worry. You’re still quite far from the camp. Beside, it is hard to access because of the large crowd at the entrance.
She knew that already. All the camps she had visited so far had been crowded. There was a stampede at the last one she searched.
“Looking for someone at the camp?”
“Yes. My daughter”.
“I’m Sergeant Aije. Sorry, soon to be Second Lieutenant Aije. “He smiled.
She nodded without uttering a word.
They rode in silence. The young soldier tried to start a conversation a while after. This time she ignored him completely. She had enough on her plate than to start a conversation with a complete stranger.
Will she be here? Fear creeped into her thoughts. This was the last camp in the region Sami could be. If she eventually couldn’t find her, where else would she search? Some refugee camps were in the neighbouring countries. She would cross the border to find her. She had no money left but that wouldn’t stop her. She’d do anything to see Sami again.
Takwa was three months pregnant with Sami at the start of the war. Days after the National Military School was bombed, they both decided that she was safer at another location far away from the heat at the capital. Besides, Deyi would be enlisted soon to go to the front. Days later, she moved to Wagbe, a province in Southern Ayema, to stay with his aunt. It was far away from the crisis and was most likely not to be taken over by the rebel forces. Or so they thought.
She said goodbye to Deyi amid tears. He promised to send word as soon as he could.
“Don’t be scared, the war would be over soon. These rebels are so divided and that’ll be their undoing. Trust me”, he reassured her.
“I’ll try. Be safe. For me and the baby. We need you.” she cried.
“Deyi, please don’t die. Please.” She cried.
“I won’t. I promise.” He said.
That was a promise he couldn’t keep. Deyi died in a bomb explosion two years later . He never got the chance to see his unborn child.
As they drove towards their destination, she could see faintly the large flux of people walking towards the camp.
Magbe Camp was established specifically for the displaced people in the neighbouring Wagbe province. Two years into the war, the umbrella of rebel groups formed a Coalition movement which saw their rise in control of many provinces in the South of the country. Wagbe was one of the government forces held provinces until the Siege of Wagbe by the rebel forces started. It was a shock to all because it was a strong hold for Ayema.
Takwa had received the news of Deyi’s death a week before. She was still distraught and heartbroken. Her daughter was eighteen months old and had just begun talking. She became over protective of Sami. Never letting her out of her sight. Sami was all she had left and she’d do everything to keep her safe. On the eve of the siege, Takwa and Sami had gone to the hospital. She had been carrying Sami to work for days now. Her ward rounds were just completed and she was about to lay restless Sami to sleep. Just as she closed her eyes, the noise from an explosion rocked the hospital. The intensity rocked the hospital buildings that the incandescent lamp on the ceiling above broke shattering the pieces over them. Anyone could tell that the incident was not so far away.
The explosions didn’t stop and Sami burst into tears. Takwa knew at that instance that many casualties and injured would soon be brought to the hospital. She had to be ready but there was nowhere to keep Sami. She couldn’t leave her by herself. She decided to strap her on her back with the blanket she put her to sleep with. She tied her scarf around Sami’s eyes. If she wasn’t prepared herself to see the sight to come, Sami would fare no better. As she got to the emergency department, people had arrived at the hospital. The entrance was obstructed with mutilated victims and rescuers. Blood oozing from people’s wounds had completely disfigured the white tiled floor. She could see people writhing in pain while others laid lifeless on the bloodied floor.
They are just too many. Takwa, still confused, said to herself. We can’t save them all. Oh God, what is happening? She got to work immediately. The nurses had to separate the victims that weren’t seriously injured from others that would most likely not survive. This was terrifying for Takwa. Sami was surprisingly still through all these. Takwa had to shrug fervently to be sure she was fine. When Sami replied by calling “Mummy”, she knew her daughter was trying to help in the little way she could.
She got prepped for surgery amid the confusion. As she ran down the aisle towards the operating room with other doctors and nurses, another explosion rocked the building. Takwa was pushed to the floor on impact and this time, Sami yelled. The affected area was the emergency lobby where she had just left. The air was clogged with smoke as she heard screams echoing from the walls. People scurried from the ground with other severely injured laid still. Takwa saw one of her colleagues with a shrapnel sticking from his throat. The blood dripping from his neck had stained the collar of his white coat red. He lay with his side on the floor and his eyes stared right through Takwa as she stood up eventually. That would mar her dreams from years.
Before Takwa could fully grasp the severity of the disaster, men armed with rifles and grenades stormed the destroyed building. They began to shoot everything they saw. Men, women, children, the injured, the walls and ceiling. They shot everything in their way. The screamings intensified and more bodies dropped dead to the ground. It was pure horror. Takwa fell face down to the ground on reflex and prayed Sami stop crying.
“Shh. Sami, Sami. Stop crying” she begged.
Sami was too terrified to stop. Takwa knew she had to get out fast. She crawled to the rest room on the aisle leading to the operating room. Immediately she got in, she locked the door behind her and got Sami off her back. Sami still was weeping. Takwa had started crying too.
She knew what was going on now. The war had caught up with them. How could this have happened? They couldn’t have defeated the Army at the Southern front. Oh no. Is this a dream? She knew she had to think fast but she was so scared and the tears wouldn’t stop. She heard gunshots just outside the door. She could recognize the voices of her colleagues as they begged for their lives. The shots followed and all was silent. Not until then did Takwa realise she was holding her breath. Sami had become quiet too. “Good girl” she mouthed to her daughter. She tied her child around her again and opened one of the stalls. She climbed the toilet seat and escaped through the open window. She landed on the grass outside checking immediately for any injury on Sami’s body. When she found none, she held her tightly to her chest and ran as fast as she could.
“Out of the way! A vehicle coming through. Out of the way!” Sergeant Aije yelled at the crowd in front of him.
They were finally at the entrance of Magbe camp. Takwa was so nervous that her hands began to shake. This was the last camp in the country. She prayed her daughter was here.
“Don’t worry. You’ll find her.” Aije said reassuringly.
The truck finally escaped the crowd at the entrance. They drove to the vehicle stop in the compound before halting.
“Well, here we are.”
“Thank you. “She managed to utter.
They all alighted from the vehicle. Aije walked over and stood in front of her.
“The large green tent over there on your left is the identification centre. You’ll have to search for her name. The name goes with a picture. Do you have a means to identify her?
“Yes I do.” she nodded.
She turned to leave then stopped and walked back.
“Thank you so much. I’m sorry I have nothing. How can I repay you?” said Takwa.
“You don’t have to. Just find your daughter.”
She smiled and walked towards the tent.
The camp was still filled with a lot of people because many had nowhere to go yet. She increased her pace as she got closer to the tent. There was an array of boards lined at the front of the tent. People were gathered around it and Takwa had to stretch to see. It was the identification board. It had the names of each refugee in the camp and their photo. She squeezed her way to the front. As she stood in front of the first board she thought of Sami and the last time she saw her. She would be a big girl now she muttered as she recalled their last moments together.
It was the evening of the seige. She had ran for hours after escaping the hospital. While walking the bloodied Magbe link road, she had trampled on the bodies laying lifeless on the roadside. She tried to hide from plain sight. She made up her mind on what to do. She was going to head to Magbe. Hopefully the government forces would still be there. As she tread the bushes she heard the sound of moving vehicles. She hid immediately behind the vegetation. From her hiding spot with her hand to Sami’s mouth, she saw that the vehicles were trucks and vans carrying men from the direction of her once peaceful home. They were chanting a song she couldn’t recognize. Now they have control of Wagbe she thought. How long until they took over the south. This meant the war was going to be longer than she had imagined. Her life had already been distorted enough. Her thought were of Deyi’s aunt and her family. She recalled overhearing a victim saying that their neighbourhood was worst hit by the attack. She knew there was nothing she could do. She just had to get Sami to safety.
She continued walking till nightfall. It was a full moon and the sky was peaceful like it was unaware of the hell below. By that time, she had walked to the outskirts of Wagbe. She would get help here. Maybe the Ayema military will be on standby. As she reached the nearest town of Ije, she knew she was wrong. Ije was on the outskirts of Magbe province and the closest town on the highway from Wagbe. The moving crowd she met was unbelievable. The only source of light asides the full moon came from some parked vehicles everyone was headed.
People, most likely residents had their loads on their heads walking to a group of buses. Takwa could see mothers carrying their babies with baggage dangling from both shoulders. She could hear a lost child crying out for his father. The commotion was disturbing for Sami. She wailed frantically. Takwa was too disturbed by the noise. She walked towards the parked vehicles. She saw a man in uniform directing people. She could see that not everyone entered the buses. Families were separated with mostly women, the elderly and children boarding. She got in front of the man and shouted at the top of her voice.
“Excuse me. What is going on?”
The man ignored her completely and continued his job. She dragged him by his sleeves so she was right in front of him.
“What’s going on? Where is the bus heading?” she asked again.
It was probably because of her coat she still had on from the hospital or because Sami’s cry was pathetic to his ears. This time, he answered.
“The rebels are getting closer. We have been ordered to evacuate the residents of Ije. We believe this is their next target before moving to Magbe.” he screamed above the noise.
“Where does the bus go. “She questioned as she nodded.
“I don’t know for sure. To the closest refugee camp I guess.”
She attempted to get inside the bus.
“No. You can’t get in this one. It is full. As you can see, we can’t take everyone.” He said as he stopped her from entering.
“Another rescue is on the way. You could wait.”
“What! You said it yourself, the enemy will be here any minute” Takwa was outraged.
“Ma’am there’s nothing I can do.”
She ran off to the other buses. All was full.
She had to get on one of them.
The buses had started leaving and Takwa and her baby were not on one.
She had to do something. Like an epiphany she had an idea. She rummaged for a sharp object in the pockets of her coat and found a pair of forceps in the left pocket. She must have placed it there in the confusion at the hospital. As she put it out towards Sami’s arms, tears welled in her eyes.
“I have no other choice.” She wept trying to convince herself.
As if she knew what was about to happen, Sami began to struggle.
I’m so sorry. She took Sami’s left shoulder and began to inscribe Sami’s name.
Sami’s wail was amplifying. Takwa wiped the tears swelling in her eyes before she continued.
M-I D- .
She stopped. The last bus had its ignition on. She tore her scarf and tied it around Sami’s pierced shoulder. The bus had started moving. She ran with her daughter tightly held around her and stood in front of the bus. The driver stepped on the horn but Takwa didn’t budge. As he moved closer he had no choice but to stop. She ran instantly to the passenger door and begged for it to be open.
“Madam it is full. No space.” the driver yelled.
“Please no. My baby! My baby. Just take her please.”
“Look here, there is no room. We have no time”
Takwa continued to beg amid tears. She ran to the passenger’s window.
“Please help me. Take my baby. Please take her.”
She ran back and forth desperately for help. An old woman summoned her.
“Bring her here” she said.
“Oh thank you. Thank you.”
She carried Sami over the open window and the woman took her child from her.
“Her name is Sami Deyi. Sami! Sami!” Takwa said.
“Please she’s injured.” She added.
Sami face cringed in a cry. Takwa didn’t let go of her hand until she was settled on the woman’s laps. She couldn’t let go. When she summoned up the courage and released her grip, Sami yelled.
She began to cry as the bus started to move. Takwa couldn’t bear it. She turned and tried to shut out Sami’s voice.
Takwa held her arms around her body and ran away weeping. As the bus went out of sight she could still hear the faint sounds of Sami screaming Mummy.
What happened next was still blurry to Takwa. The Coalition Movement rebels landed soon enough but by then, the town was almost deserted. Those left behind had taken refuge in the town hall. Fortunately, troops from the Ayema army arrived and both sides were locked in combat for hours. Eventually they were rescued. Takwa returned to the hospital in the capital to work. That was the only thing the war hadn’t taken from her. She dedicated all her time at the hospital. If she couldn’t save Deyi or Sami, at least she could try saving others. But she swore that as soon as the war ended, she wouldn’t stop until she found Sami.
Three years after and this was it. She continued to peruse the boards but to no avail. She couldn’t find her name. Didn’t they see the scar on her arm? That should have been enough to identify her. Her disappointment could not be concealed. She struggled out of the crowd and walked aimlessly away. Could she be dead? This thought had never crossed her mind. It was over. This was it. She wandered into the camp and arrived at the make shift clinic. She saw a wooden bench right by the entrance and sat. With her face in her hands, she let out a sign of resignation. She had no plan. No next move.
She could hear the sound of children playing. She looked up and saw three little girls playing feet away from her. Something caught her attention. She had no idea what it was but she took a closer look at them. They were about four or five years old. Their clothes were worn out. She took them in one by one. The one who caught her eye was a little girl in a green floral gown. She had her back to Takwa. Soon she turned with her left side in her direction. Then she saw it. On the girl’s arm were marks. Takwa stood abruptly and walked towards them. It can’t be. As she walked closer she could see more clearly. On the girl’s arms were a series of scars in the shape of letters. They read SAMI D.
Takwa couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Sami! Sami!” She screamed.
The little girl and the others turned to face the caller. She had no idea who Takwa was.
Takwa got in front of Sami, went on her knees and took her long lost daughter into her arms. Tears flooded her eyes. She was so overjoyed.
Finally. She found her. She found her Sami.
The little girl was perplexed. She had no clue who this teary woman was but she hugged her anyway.
Written by Adefola Toye, 2018
Note- This short story has previously been published in the University of Lagos Architecture Students 2018 Year Book.
No part of this work can be reproduced or stored in any form without prior permission of the publishers.
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