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Soja go, Soja come

Pa Brendan Clark emerged from the bush where he had taken refuge for six days. He staggered the long distance to the shambles that used to be Efuru community, to the spot where his house used to be. It had taken him years to commence the construction of his own building and his entire gratuity to complete the house. But now, there was no house. On the very spot that his house used to stand was a huge shamble. All around him were chaos, blood and fire.

Corpses littered everywhere, victims of the recent mayhem that sacked the entire community. Very close to where he stood was a decomposing body of a middle-aged man lying on his belly. He recognised the blue shirt worn by the corpse. His half-brother Papa Onome had worn the clothes that black Friday when he came to warn him about the reprisal attacks by the government army sent to quel the mayhem unleashed on the white oilmen by the rebels.

Pa Brendan Clark had not been able to understand why anybody would blame these youths who constituted the rebel forces. In his 75 years of existence, he had seen the land ravaged by the oilmen who invaded the community where he used to enjoy so much peace and calm. Pa Brendan Clark and his father many years ago when he was still alive used to go to he local stream to fish and he grew up on the banks of the river, catching little fishes with his bare hands, roasting them in the near-by fire after a hard day’s work and when the fishes were well roasted, he would be throwing them inside his mouth, one after the other, enjoying the crunchy noise.

The generation of rebels did not have that priviledge because things had changed during their time. There were no more rivers or streams to fish in. What used to be their favourite rivers had been declared unsafe and they hardly see clean water to drink.

How could anybody blame these rebels ? They grew up knowing guns as mere toys. How could these boys be expected to remain silent and watch as their farmlands were forcefully taken from them without compensations. Some of those farmlands had since became flow stations, oil rigs and sites for flaring gases. Even the water where they used to fish had become polluted.

Pa Clark watched as a young soldier in combat outfits approached, pointing a gun at him. He wondered what else he expected out of life. Should he die now, he would not be said to be young.

“Move !” the soja boy shouted at him. He was clad in combat camouflage and looked not more than twenty-three, the same age with his last child Oghene.

But what right did he have to threaten him at gun point? He observed the soldier boy’s smooth face and wide mouth. He looked innocent on the surface but his eyes were small and menacing. Pa Clark knew the boy would shoot if he dared delayed to move.

At 75 and with frail limbs, he would not pose any threat to the occupation forces. He studied the soldier boy briefly, shook his head and began to move .

The soldier boy marched him at gunpoint to join the rest of the refugees who used to be the original land-owners and land-lords. Now, they were refugees in their own community with nothing but rags which clung clumsily on their thin bodies.

Pa Clark wished desperately for death. His heart had haboured too many pains and bitterness over the years. He had also haboured too many secrets. If only the occupation forces knew he had been the custodian of the sophisticated weapons used by the rebel forces to terrorise the conglomerates which had also intimidated the occupation forces. But what could he do when fate had bestowed on him the unenviable task of being the father of Gbemre Clark, the leader of the rebels. And who would blame his son and his colleagues who as children had witnessed the invasion on their lands by white men who had come to search for oil and in the process robbed the community of its pride, subjecting it to total deprivation and degradation? Who would blame these youths who had witnessed the rape of their land by the oil conglomerates after forcefully taking away their lands without compensation and yet were offered protection by government?

Over the years, Pa Clark and the other indigenes had suffered acute poverty and neglect. They had suffered land and water pollution and their women had been enticed by the oilmen who raped them and abandoned them. Today, Efuru community was filed with half-caste products of such rapes and illicit relationships. Most of the offsprings were not deemed fit enough to bear the names of their white fathers. Pa Brendan Clark felt sad whenever he saw children bearing names of oil companies, government agencies and institutions.

One of his sons bore the name Government, because he was born during the sale of their land by government to the oil companies . Another bore Chevron, after the oil-company took over their land and built oil wells there without any form of compensation. His third son bore Director, because the child was born the year he tried to open talks with the directors of the oil companies over his seized lands at the end of which he got nothing. His three sons were forced out of the local school when crude was discovered in a farm land very close to the school premises. The pupils were sent packing without any alternative and his sons who were going to a lawyer, a doctor and an engineer never saw the four walls of any school again.

Could his son and his friends be blamed for kidnapping and in some cases murdering the oilmen? There was never any justification for killing but the unsavoury situation in which the community found itself necessitated the kidnappings. Was the foreign oil firms justified in taking their lands and rendering them homeless? Would his son have become a rebel if he had become a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer? Pa Brendan’s unhappiness knew no bounds. What irked him the more was the protection given the oil firms by government agencies.

Was government justified in protecting the foreigners who made so much wealth from oil and in their search for more oil had destroyed the land and impoverished the people and yet did nothing to improve their lot?

If a mere boy in military uniform could march him at gunpoint to join the increasing number of refugees, who then should blame his son Gbemre Clark, now at large for leading the rebels?

Pa Brendan Clark got to the spot where others were sitting like prisoners of war, having been rendered homeless and jobless. It occurred to him then, he hadn’t seen his two daughters Cleopatra and Gloria for ages. He was almost forgetting he had daughters but he wouldn’t blame himself. Cleopatra had moved in with an old white oil man old enough to be his grandfather and had three half-caste children while Gloria had been travelling in and out of the country over a business deal in Europe.

He sat down on a wooden pavement, looking around him to see if there were familiar faces. He sighted Pa Granville among the refugees but he could hardly recognise him. He was bloodied and weak and Pa Brendan Clark knew Pa Granville would drop dead any moment.

He looked at the soja boy who had marched him and signalled at Pa Granville.

“ You can at least help this man. He looks very ill”, he told soja boy.

“ Sharrap!” the soja boy thundered pushing him with the head of the gun. Pa Brendan Clark spat mucous that had gathered in his mouth at the boy who corked his gun to shoot. But just then, Pa Granville slumped and died. Soja boy had the grace to express surprise and lowered his gun. It had just dawn on him that the man that slumped and died was his maternal uncle.

 


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