“We interrupt this program to bring you an announcement from the Southern Cameroon Armed Forces Ruling Council.” The FM station which faded in and out on the solar radio announced.
Emi knew almost instinctively what was going to come next. It was the third such announcement in as many months. The SCARC command had changed again. As if it mattered she thought and continued with the handful of egusi on her lap. It was her favourite pass time as there had been no electricity for almost a year after the transformer which served the area had been blown up. There was little to indulge in by way of entertainment. The radio station she received simply barked out intermittent public service announcements while the local TV station had been bombed out of the air, putting up a satellite dish was simply an invitation to some very unfriendly company. So, she kept her hands busy, in the knowledge that the egusi she decorticated would be on the shelf for sale later.
She wondered why she kept the store open, there was barely anything on the shelves. Currently, on the counter was a loaf of bread as hard as the bar of Savon it lay next to and a last bottle of local whiskey or “Affofo”. The can of Kerosene, which although was the main thing she sold, was bone dry because her supplier, E’lele had not returned from his weekly supply run to Limbe.
Emi did not know how he did it but E’lele was always able to shuttle through the gauntlet of militias and the highway brigands to get to Limbe in a dilapidated truck that was as more likely to abandon him on the way than get him there.
But got to Limbe he did and when he returned the prices he charged seemed to make the perilous trip worth his while. Nevertheless, the hazards of the route were not the only things keeping prices high. Inflation was in triple digits and she constantly wondered if she would make it to the next day. Prior to the war, she had businesses, she had bank savings, “njang-ehs” and property.
On the day war had broke, the banks had shut and never opened again – because they all the banks had been systematically looted and torched. Her “njang-ehs” had dissolved with the death, or the fleeing of members. It was of no consequence anyway, the value of any savings had been decimated by the current inflation. As for her property, the last she had heard of her “mini-cite” in Molyko was that it had been mortared to dislodge snipers in a battle between the many militia groups struggling for control of the area.
Though there had been many close calls, she had survived. But, the thought how she had survived filled her with regret and self-pity. Her consolation was that, it was better being alive for the sake of her children, than dead. Yet, there were few children about. Those who had unlike hers had not been sent across the Mungo for safety and education, were kidnapped by the militias, trained to kill their enemies and deployed in the field. Her sister in Douala who had taken her children in had asked her to come across as well but she had refused.
She had stayed behind to tend to her bar and store, the only thing even in these harrowing times she enjoyed doing, plus there was Molimo, the militia leader who came home some nights to make her feel like no one ever did. Her feelings for him were mixed. She was terrified of him and the companions he kept but still cared for him. She felt gratified when he wolfed down the food she cooked and listened with detachment to the stories he recounted of their latest raids, shootings, beheadings, stabbings, garrottings, maimings and other ingenious ways they devised to terminate the lives of their adversaries. It was war and her emotions had been keratinized so that the pity she once had for their hapless victims they talked about and the judgement she once cast had been lost in web of relativism. Besides, Molimo always had money and was generous to her, always leaving her with a wad of notes as he made off for the day’s business. She hoped the money today would be enough to pay E’lele for her supplies because the currency the territory had adopted had plummeted against both the CFA and the Naira and the simplest of provisions that she sold were out of the reach for many.
She scratched her head and winced at the amount of dandruff she had accumulated, with a shortage of water she had not had a bath in days. A blue bottled fly buzzed idly by, she flickered away accumulations of dry skin from her broken and unpainted nails, and resisted a descent into a reverie of how things used to be.
She was usually up before dawn, and her taxi drivers would be there to pick up their vehicles. A driver would take her to Mile 15 to check on her fruit stall before continuing to Limbe, where she ran a cold store, to meet with her favourite fisherman Pa Doti, who operated the largest fishing fleet at Down Beach. She supplied fish to a growing network of restaurants and private individuals. This provided her with enough income, and combined with her husband’s from a thriving furniture business, they had built a home and had two of their children in Saker Baptist College in Form 1 and Form 3.
She sighed at the memory of Saker Baptist College. All schools had taken the full brunt of the war. Having been blamed for promoting a foreign culture they had been targeted and now their pork marked and bullet riddled enclosures bore no resemblance to their former status as centres of learning which had given formation to Doctors, Professors, Judges, Engineers, Artists, Ministers etc. now, they were more likely to be used as training grounds and for the various militias in the town. There were men and children with guns everywhere. An arms embargo had done very little because as soon as the conflict started, weapons had come from all over. Emi had heard Molimo mention suppliers both from the Middle East and Far East.
With that many groups vying for control of territory, it was little wonder it now took days not minutes to travel between Limbe and Buea. In fact, except for the likes of E’lele, it was out right madness to attempt. Although it was difficult to distinguish between these militia and the highway robbers, Emi had no doubt that she preferred to fall in the hands of robbers who would take money from you and leave you alone. However, the militias were known to do horrible things to those they did not take a liking to – in addition to robbing them. A fate her husband had tragically suffered.
Her emaciated dog trotted past, snapping at the flies milling around the sores on its ears. There had previously been two dogs but the other had mysteriously disappeared. She had searched for him for almost a week before giving up. Someone at the store had mentioned that she had seen it across the wrestling field, but that had been four days ago. She supposed with meat being such a rare commodity, the hound might have made simply it to someone’s dinner table.
She called out for Suh, the little boy she had adopted. She had rescued him from a mob who were about to do what they had done so many times before, to kill him. Her intervention had almost cost her own life, but for the timely intervention of Molimo, who had scolded her for risking her life for the “little mojili”. But there was something about the boy that dissolved the emotional corn she had developed during the troubles. He was five but the innocence of his youth had been robbed the day a mob had sacked their house in an episode of revenge killing, terminating the lives of his mother, father and two siblings. He had survived only because he had gone to buy “puff-puff ” but by the time he had returned his world was no more than a smouldering pyre. He had wandered dazed and confused for a week and ultimately fell into the hands of a militia, “Keep Fako Clean”, whose raison-d’etre was to remove all foreigners from the area. It was an argument for whose turn it was to dispatch the boy that brought Emi to his rescue. She had clothed, fed and given him shelter. However, she had heard of the grumbling of some members of the “Keep Fako Clean” militia that it was only a matter of time before they did what they had to do. This was war and there could be no mercy in the South-West, as mercy was not being shown in the North-West, they argued.
It had been a war like no other, with a rash of tit-for-tat killings at a rate of which the world had never seen. Communities hitherto living in peace had turned against each other in a frenzy. Those from the North-West against those from the South-West. Those whose main language was English against those who spoke French. Those who were for continuity in a United Republic vs. those who wanted to secede. Those who were for ten state vs. those who were for a two state federation. Ethnicities within each of the region were also at it, settling old and new scores, making it gory orgy of violence in which the likes of Amesty had not only lost count but their voice as well, as they pleaded for peace.
But the fuel for the war was unspent as the North-Westerners had turned against South-Westerners for being supporters of the Republic Of Cameroon (which was also fighting to reclaim its breakaway territory) causing South-Westerners to flee for their lives taking only what they could carry. In retaliation, the South-Westerners (who blamed the North-Westerners for bringing war into their lands in the first place) repatriated all the North-Westerners from their territory, seizing their lands and property. In this fast fluid situation, no one had thought about the consequences of the two refugee populations meeting at Mamfe. The resulting violence and savagery was of the order like the world had not seen since Rwanda and by the intervention of the UN, French and British troops three quarters of a million had died in a couple of days of violence. Their presence had created safe zones and reduced the killings. The TV Cameras had panned out and pulled out as the global attention zeroed in elsewhere. So, the war had raged on in other areas beyond the safe and no-fly zones. Areas where the UN could not agree on a mandate to do anything about.
The drone of republican aircraft, the chatter of guns and the sound of an explosion woke Emi from her reverie. She got up emptied her hands into a bowl of pale white decorticated egusi and headed precipitously towards the back of the house and a cavern she had dug in the ground. As she opened the hatch, a pair of eyes stared up at her. There was no fear, just an acknowledgement of the will to survive they shared. She got in crouched down beside the young boy, took him in her arms and not for the first time since the war began, she wept.
By Lloney Monono, UK
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either products of the authors imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.