There has not been a terrorist attack on American soil since Jack Bauer first appeared on TV. We must not neglect the power of make-belief. This is Nigeria and we shall fight terrorism, one word at a time.
8.02am, 30th May, 2014
She stood before the mirror and frowned at her cheekbones and the bags under her eyes. She ran her hand on her unmade hair and decided that she would shave it off. Her hair magnified the want of flesh in her face; additionally, she had no money to take care of it.
She sighed, walked to her bed and collapsed on it. She was thirty minutes late for work, but her legs weren’t looking forward to the two hundred or so paces to where she worked. The month was not half-gone and she was already broke, she had around six hundred naira in her purse. Too unsubstantial. She had to buy things; the light and house cleaning bills could wait, but her kerosene, water, sugar, vegetable oil, soap, detergents, seasoning, pepper, salt…
She sighed again. No, six hundred naira was a mere stone to the mountain of her problems. Perhaps it was time to ask the headmaster for a raise. How could she teach CRS and Social studies in six classes and write six lesson notes, six lesson plans, mark registers, give tests, mark them, record them and swallow the insults of the ‘senior staff’ for just eight thousand naira per month. No, she would demand a raise.
With this resolve she rose to her height, clad in neat, humble shirt over pant trousers, a textbook school teacher. She gathered her books with weary hands and began a giddy walk to the door. She opened the door and beheld a sadness-infested face of man, made up with a scar under one eye. Her alarm snapped.
‘Can I come in?’ he asked.
‘No, I am late for work.’
‘You won’t be going to work if you hear what I have to say.’
‘I don’t care what you have to say. Give way.’
He remained on her way. Her anger rose from her bosom but fell as soon as it came to her face. What could she do? She turned and walked back to the room. The bed was unmade, the dish unwashed and dresses scattered around, the home of the distressed. She didn’t care that this very strange stranger saw these.
‘What do you want?’ she demanded, ‘and I didn’t ask you to sit.’
He smiled a smile that he didn’t feel. ‘Nigeria needs you Sade.’
‘I am not Sade,’ she said.
‘Who are you?’
She threw her staff ID card on his lap.
He read it. ‘Juliana Bako?’ He laughed bitterly and broke the plastic ID into two. ‘You don’t need this Sade,’ he said as he saw her eyes flash with annoyance. ‘If money is your problem, the government can give you one thousand times what you are paid in this miserable school. Sade, class teacher? No, not when your country boils.’ He rose to his feet. ‘Nigeria is in a serious problem.’
‘Talk to the President then.’
‘The President knows about it and he needs you to help solve the problem, Sade. Anything you want, just name it, the government will wire it immediately.’
‘I want rest of mind.’
He looked at her hard and she returned his gaze without flinching. He fished out his phone from his hip and began to dial a number.
‘Forget it. No one on earth will make me put my life on line for Nigeria again,’ she said.
A moment passed, he spoke rapidly in the phone then stretched out the device. Sade didn’t collect the phone. ‘The National Security Adviser on the line, Sade.’ She didn’t budge. He returned the phone to his ear.
‘Sir, she wouldn’t talk to you.’
‘Put the phone on speaker,’ came the other voice.
The phone was put on loud speaker.
‘Hello Sade, how are you?’
Sade bit her lip but said nothing.
‘Sade we need your help… I understand how you feel about Nigeria but you should know that it is still Nigerians who saved your life and gave you your new identity. The Chinese think you are dead.’
Sade didn’t open her mouth.
‘Sade, help us and get whatever you want.’
‘Sade!… Hello, Sade!’ Then carelessly, the Security Adviser said, ‘There is something you need to know about Dozie.’
‘Dozie is dead,’ Sade said huskily.
‘That is what you think.’
The adviser chuckled. ‘That is what your eyes wished to see.’
She snatched the phone and shouted into the mouth-piece, ‘Dozie is dead!’
‘Everyone on earth thinks you are dead, Sade; now why do you think Dozie too isn’t living quietly somewhere with false name and—?’
‘No, it can’t be! Dozie is dead; I can feel his loss in my heart. If he is still alive I will know; I will feel his breath. No, he is dead!’
The NSA emitted a grunt. ‘Don’t argue with me, Sade, not now. We need you to tackle the insurgents. It is essential you help us… after that, we will talk about Dozie. Adamu will brief you.’
‘Wait…’ the call was ended.
Sade looked at Adamu. ‘Dozie is dead!’
Adamu’s face was blank. ‘I don’t know about that. The NSA should know better. Now, listen, the insurgents are in Kaduna and we have reasons to believe that they are led by their leader Shaka. They are quartered in a nomad settlement inside Takwa forest.’
‘Dozie is dead,’ Sade said.
‘The security of our nation, Sade, should be our problem for now. There are insurgents—’
‘The military should be made aware,’ she said with irritation. ‘I have head ache.’
Adamu smiled with dismay as she took her seat on the mattress, her head on her palms. ‘We can’t involve the military for now. There are one hundred and fifty girls kidnapped from a boarding school last night and we can’t attack the terrorist base and endanger the lives of these girls.’
Sade looked up. ‘Girls kidnapped? Again?’ She was alarmed.
‘Again.’ Adamu was ashamed. ‘We have intel that the terrorists are quartered in Kaduna in preparation for a major attack on Abuja. So we have to act fast. We also need to rescue the girls before it inspires another international storm.’
Sade sighed. ‘Why kidnap girls?’
‘To use them as human shields. With the girls in their midst, we will not use airstrike. And also to embarrass the government. This is war, Sade.’
‘But why girls?’
‘Because they are damned terrorists!’
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘We want you to enter their camp and ascertain for sure that the girls are there, get their position and inform us on how best to strike.’
Sade rose to her feet. ‘Me alone?’
He said yes.
‘That’s a suicide mission.’
Adamu nodded, pained. ‘But you are the only one we can trust. The terrorists don’t know for sure that we are on them and if you are captured we know you won’t talk.’
‘If I am captured, they will torture and molest me.’
Again, Adamu nodded, pained. ‘The chances of capturing you are low,’ he said. ‘But you mustn’t expect the worst; just be prepared.’
Sade made to her desk, opened a tattered massive textbook and brought out a postcard-sized photograph of Dozie. He had his jaw in his palm, smiling brightly at her, his eyes locked in hers. Sade caressed his face.
Ninety-nine per cent of Sade said Dozie was dead, one per cent suspected he was alive… A teasing dilemma. Could she afford to risk her life in order to find out about Dozie, to satisfy one per cent of her?
‘There are over one hundred and fifty girls being abused by terrorists as I speak to you, Sade.’
‘There are fifteen thousand secret agents in the country,’ Sade said.
‘We know no one who can handle this better than you.’
Sade’s eyes were locked on the photo. ‘I am out of touch. And Dozie is dead.’
‘You may never find your man,’ Adamu agreed, ‘you may never rescue the girls, you may die in the terrorist camp, but I know you Sade. You can’t live with the blood of these girls on your thought. You have sacrificed a lot for this country, the girls need you.’
‘I am a school teacher. I teach the next generation. My pupils need me.’
‘And there are a hundred and fifty girls who will never go to school again, who will never have a shot at leading the next generation. Not just because they are kidnapped, but because people like Sade are still bearing old grudges. You can’t let this happen just to show us how angry you are.’
Sade said nothing.
‘Come on, Sade, your boyfriend being a worthy Nigerian will approve of this.’
Sade turned. ‘And where is he?’
‘I don’t know. But I know you want to help us; I can see it written boldly on your face.’
Sade still wasn’t so sure. She had done undercover agent thrice. Among drug dealers in Benin Republic, among traffickers in Libya and among the militants in the Niger Delta. She was found out in the last two assignments and tortured. Interpol rescued her in Tripoli while the militants released her when Amnesty was declared. She was a captive for at least a month in each camp. She was tortured at first then dumped with other captives. She knew that she couldn’t expect such from the terrorists, if they captured her….
‘Sade, we are wasting time.’
Sade put Dozie’s photograph away. ‘How do you want to do this? If I say yes, you will take me on a jet and drop me in the forest?’
‘We will go first to the Secret Service Division and get you equipped for the journey,’ Adamu said, half-successful in concealing his impatience.
If she didn’t do this, the crooked NSA was sure to turn her to the Chinese. And this time, there would be no hope for her. Better Terrorists than dying in the hands of the Chinese, she reasoned. But… was she so sure?… The Chinese won’t rape her nor cut off her head; what they would do was plant a bullet in her head. And they were even. But the terrorists! They would want to eat her cake and have her!
‘Sade, let’s go,’ Adamu’s voice cut through her consciousness. She brought out Dozie’s photo for one last glance…
Crack! Crack! Crack!
Adamu seized his breath, mouth agape; he fell on his knees and spread limp on her feet, blood gushing out of his back. Sade looked up as a tall thin youth wearing a white-turned-brown sleeveless over big jeans trousers, his pistol smoking entered the room. Another youth wearing a dirty white-check turban and wielding a gun across his shoulders like a nomad’s stick came to a stand before his comrade. The first pointed his pistol on Sade’s chest.
Sade shut her eyes. At least she would die with Dozie’s picture in her hand.
She heard whisperings in a language she didn’t care to follow. She opened her eyes when she thought she heard one of them mention her name. A third man had joined them. He was dressed in khaki with his eyes hidden behind dark goggles, between stubborn forehead and fanatical beard. He had a pistol held in his belt. He took off his dark glasses to reveal blood-shot eyes and spoke. ‘I know you,’ he declared, beads of saliva pouring from his yellowed teeth. ‘You are Sade!’
Sade’s heart broke with grief. Now she remembered him; he was Sami, her partner in the Niger Delta. A Secret Agent turned terrorist! ‘She is a government agent,’ he told the others.
‘Why did you become a terrorist?’ Sade asked. ‘Why betray your country after all—?’
Sami hit his fist on her abdomen cutting her speech short. ‘You bagger! So it is you that the SS want to use!’
Sade bent double, clutching her belly as pains tore into her intestines. Sami grabbed her on the hair, lifted her face up and gave her a rock head-butt on her face. She returned to her knees, her bloody nose on her palms. The men surrounded her. ‘Yensu fa?’ one of them asked.
They would kill her; there was no time for theatrics. She suddenly stretched up, snatched the pistol in Sami’s belt and shot away from the men, covering them with the pistol, her back on the door. ‘Take it easy,’ she said to them, jeeringly. ‘Drop your weapons and put your hands up!’
Sami lifted stiff hands above stubborn shoulders. ‘What do you think you are doing? You are already in our hand.’
She didn’t like the smug smile on his face. She—
A heavy object exploded in the back of her head. She didn’t see it coming; she didn’t hear it either. It just exploded, driving her senses out of her as she fell on her kneels then her side.
‘Shegia!’ Sami cursed. ‘Take her to the vehicle.’
‘But Shaka ordered us to kill whoever this SS man came to see.’
‘Yes, but Sade is different; she is too valuable to die immediately. Take her to the vehicle.’
Strong hands lifted Sade off the ground and carried her away.
Forty-eight hours ago, my eldest sister and godmother was delivered of a fairy baby boy, her fourth, my number ten niece/nephew, worldwide, incorporated. Hard Voices wish both mother and child everlasting Godspeed. Now the more kids come to call me Uncle, the more I… I don’t know.
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