Fiction

The Front of the Past: A Short Story By Omale Allen Abdul Jabbar

Aiiiicchi! A sneeze. He slaps himself on the back then he cursed. He cursed all the past leaders especially those and everyone who has contributed directly or indirectly to ruining the country. Then he yawned. A long powerful yawn like an exhibition of a terribly tired hippo lounging lazily at the zoo.

And like the hippo, he never even bothered to cover his mouth. It was a very sweet yawn, one of the few things still free to man in this modern day and age – especially Nigeria!

The man. Grey haired, tall and lanky, terribly light in complexion as if rubbed with yellow…

Now what shall we make of him? What would you prefer?

Good! Let us make him a retired soldier, terribly bittered and burdened with memories of the war and the painful hustle-bustle of everyday, of life and living. That done, let us make of him a guard at a bank – Diamond Bank PLC Kano. Then situate the Bank along Niger Street in the neighbourhood of the Hotel Royal Tropicana.

He’s outside. Waiting patiently where guards wait in front of banks. This day, a grey dirty day. December. The Harmattan wind reached out a hand to scup up fine red sand and throws it in the faces of passers-by. Now the wind has become a cyclone, a whirlwind strong enough to fall down a man and even possibly, carry him off for a short trip in the air, free of charge.

The world around me dey rich, people dey enjoy, he thought. And yet I no chop inside!

Before Before, soja na good good work! In fact na di best work for we country…uniform nko? E correct. e clean and e bright. Kwuma dem dey pay money well well dat time.

But you no be soja now, you be mai guard abi you forget? A voice whispered inside of him and angrily he fired back:

Bloody Civilian! Advance to de coconut! Did you fight de war? Eh answer me? Answer me right away. I say did you fight de war?

Silence.

Very angry now, he stood up suddenly. Still very smart for his age, typical of die-hard old soldiers.

In the next minute, he is going to start again, he will start all over, to re-enact the war – come on! Let us give him a gun. Just throw it in the air, as if from a tree, from the hands of his comrade in the jungle, in Burma or Congo.

…Yes Adekunle throw down the SMG. Captain…move! Advance! No retreat, No Surrender. Death to the enemy forces…

grrrrrr ratatata tatatata… he charges into the jungle…

Burma! Liberia! Congo! Germany! Biafra! – Look my teeth he exposes stained tobacco-friendly teeth but no on one is missing. I am a fine old man! Which of de war you fight? You wan correct my English.

Silence.

Two stories up. An opened window, the assistant manager tapped on the manager’s shoulders calling his attention to the antics of the guard busy fighting his war in Kano sun.

Sergeant Okonkwo! Sometimes he thinks the war is still on…

But the war is still on…when you pause to think of it. The things that led to the Nigerian Civil War in the first place is still very much going on … the ghost of Biafra is haunting its murderers to their early graves, its hunting the Middle Belters, hunting the Niger Deltas and the Yorubas, in the last two are the loss of Ken Saro Wiwa and Moshood Abiola ;the acclaimed winner of the aborted June 12 Presidential elections in Nigeria… The manager. A pro-Biafran.

But he can’t keep this antic on in the Bank premises, its bad for our image and will scare away our customers.

You’re right Suleiman. But he’s an old man. We can’t just sack him. Let’s transfer him somewhere quiet.

*          *          *          *

            …So if tiefs or arm robbers come now, to rub the bank, wetin you go do? You be old man – you supose to dey village de farm, wetin you think? What about de Sharia wahala we den dey talk sey e dey come? Make you go home! Old soja fit die too.

I be soja! No be farmer. When …he sits down suddenly. The antics has tired him. Now he’s thinking. An epiphany It is coming. This time to a retired and tired ex-soldier in Nigeria. An Igbo man living in the North.

When I be small piken…I no de like farm. I de like fighting for wrestling, for village…Na him my uncle visit our village for Orlu. Dat day I beat nonsense comot for Mosis head. When dem see di blood for everywhere, na him everybody con say I must to go  for Lagos, to join di army – becos of stubbornness.

Silence.

Army de good dat time. Generals self no plenty like now. Na only white man fit to be General. No be like now.

So hope still dey for the country?

Hope! He’s still lost in the past and the questions catch him unawares.

Under Babangida and Abacha, Nigeria don see pepper since independence…

O Yes! Independence. Now he’s back. First Tafawa Balewa come. Him no sabi rule di country. De politics too much for am. Na him soja come take over inside coup. Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu! Hmmm. Dat Man! dat man! dat man! dem do coup for 15 January, 1966 come remove Balewa, Ahmadu Bello – kill Hausa people plenty!…He gives up the account, Nigerian history since independence.

Abi you no remember the history again?

Leave me! Dat no be my problem now.

Wetin be your problem den?

Silence.

A long pause. It breaks into an in-ordinate one. The voice. The inquirer. His conscience. It’s finally quietened. Like a storm weathered after a long riotous night of quacking and madness.

The storm. It’s quite significant. Look at it this way. Thunder brings Rain. And Rain makes tender music on zinc roofs, especially when its about to stop. And if this happening is at night, then couples can dream soft dreams.

And a dream is still the highest point of a life! Couples mate very pleasurably on nights like this, to further enhance the processes of creation and multiplication, to keep faith with God’s injunction, to flower the corners of the earth.

Oga!

Yes sergeant Okonkwo, what is it?

Now two hours has passed since the thunder and Rain.

Oga. I thank you for de work. As you employ me to work for de bank.

The manager is about to enter his car, driving out of the bank premises. Around, people are coming and going, some adorned in all kinds of peculiar, turbans, depicting their cadres and levels in the society and announcing without doubts of any sort that you are in the North. Kano to be precise.

So what is the problem now? I’m going out as you can see.

Oga, I wan go home.

You want to go on leave?

No oga, I wan resign. To go back to my place, Orlu for East, to farm py papa land.

Old soldier never die! Is the war over now? You don fight finish? You were fighting again today.

Oga manager. I no fit to lie again. The discussion takes a friendly tune.

I don tire!

I no wan fight sharia war add to all de war. I dey go East!

The manager has left. He is now in the accounts session collecting his money. There are tears in his eyes. Visions of the past cloud his brain with pain and sorrow.

No be wetin we plan for di country be dis. No be wetin we plan for our children. He dries the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand.

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