Amaka’s spirit did not depart the day the rough looking men came to her school in their rusted brown trucks and buses, while she and the other girls were writing their final exams, spraying bullets in the air. She had thought the guns looked too sophisticated on them, such guns she saw in the American movies she loved so much. Her American-looking guns in the black, sun-burnt hands of the crude and unrefined attackers, whom she would later discover were terrorists, displeased her. It was such an unbefitting match. It was later,in one of the few buses they had squeezed her and the other girls into, that she remembered her teachers, with a sudden realization that the men hadn’t sprayed bullets into the air with their American guns. They had sprayed the bullets into her teachers.
The men started questioning them one after the other, after they arrived at the cleared bush land where they camped them, asking for their names and the religion they practiced. Amaka’s spirit stayed with her when one of the men yelled at her to tell them her real name, threatening to shoot her if she didn’t answer. She remembered her teachers lying on the ground with the bullets from the American-looking guns riddled in them. She spoke up and when he heard her name, a fast flow of words in his native came from his mouth; ‘infidel’ was the only word he had said that she had understood. While he rambled on she imagined that his words were knives instead, going out of his mouth to slice the throats of each of the attackers and a final one taking a turn to slice his own throat. She imagined that the words were snakes, or razors or shards of metal, anything to make the men be no more.
Amaka’s spirit didn’t leave her on the cold nights when the men came to them, to seek warmth in their bodies. After they slipped into her, she faded into the blackness and when they left she felt more cold than warm. No. Amaka’s spirit fled on a dry Thursday afternoon when the men showed them the nation’s news on a strangely new television set. A report of their abduction was in the news, but it was amongst the other news lines; as if to say the abduction was just one of the ordinary events reported in the news for self justification, to make it seem like it mattered when it didn’t. But that wasn’t what made Amaka’s spirit run.
Her spirit took flight when she saw on the new television set, a news report showing the nation’s leaders at a political party banquet. She saw them in their expensive white caftans and brocades, with armed bodyguards at a close distance from them; she saw them holding glasses of wine, sharing jokes, with each person trying to outlaugh the other. Amaka also saw the men watch the news with them, with a satisfying smile on their faces for a point made to the girls -that their abduction however unpleasant would soon be long forgotten. It was then she realized that it was these men on the television, laughing so heartily in their white brocades, it was them whose throats should be cut by the knives that came from the man’s mouth, who the snakes, razors or metal shards should harm. And with this realization came a loss of all the false hope she had, a death of her fighting spirit, and that little light of optimism in her went out.
Amaka’s spirit departed the day she realized who the real enemy was.
It’s been 592 days.
May we always remember.
This isn’t a matter that concerns only those in the Northern part of Nigeria. It is not a ‘Hausa people matter’. It is a human being matter.