The Journey has been self published by Conrad Jones today with this fabulous new cover! Make sure you check out the reviews on Amazon as they are pretty amazing! So I’m sharing an extract today to whet your appetite!
About this book…
The gripping story of a young boy and his family, driven from their home by war and indiscriminate violence. Like millions of others, they attempt the treacherous journey across their war-torn continent, trying to reach the safety of Europe.
The truth is, Europe doesn’t want them and thousands die every month at the hands of thieves and profiteering men to whom life is cheap. Kalu believes that he can lead his family to safety, he has planned for this. They have money, a plan and Kalu is, after all, the smartest man in Monguno.
The story is fast-paced, at times funny, at times heart-breaking but it will pull you along at 100 miles an hour. It will make you think, it will make you question your perceptions. Most of all it will make you ask, if your family was in peril, what would you do?
Available here at Amazon UK
The sun was glaring down, making the air almost unbreathable. Beb was hot and thirsty; his black skin was wet with perspiration. There was no breeze to bring relief from the burning African sun. Across the road, in the trees, underfed cattle moved lethargically, flicking their tails to move the swarms of flies from their skin. The scorched earth was reduced to a terracotta coloured dirt, which would turn to mud in minutes when the rains eventually came. A minibus whizzed by, the radio blaring, leaving a trail of red dust billowing behind it. It was travelling at a dangerous speed, busing workers to the town of Monguno, where Beb was from. Black faces stared at him through the windows, some darker than others. Their eyes were filled with sorrow, staring blankly at the world outside as if all hope had been sucked from them. The bus hit a bump in the road and almost took off. It crashed back onto the road with a deafening clang. Some of the passengers looked frightened. He had never seen a local work bus travelling so quickly. They usually trundled along as if there was nowhere to be. Maybe the driver was running late, he thought.
‘Hey, Beb,’ his friends, Omar and Gamyu called from behind him.
‘Hey,’ Beb said, smiling as his friends caught up. They clapped a high-five and then gripped hands and locked fingers with practised ease.
‘Did you see that bus flying down the road?’ Gamyu said, laughing.
‘I have never seen a bus go so fast,’ Beb laughed. ‘I didn’t think that they went that fast!’
‘The driver is a crazy man,’ Omar said, pointing to his forehead with his finger. ‘Mad as a box of frogs!’
‘When have you seen a box of frogs? Beb asked, sarcastically.
‘Never,’ Omar answered, putting his hands on his hips. ‘But I know that they would be mad.’
‘Why would they be mad?’ Gamyu asked, confused. ‘Because someone put them in a box, stupid!’ ‘That still doesn’t explain why the bus was going so fast. I don’t
know why they want to rush to be in work!’ Beb said. ‘I would drive very slowly to work,’ Omar agreed. ‘The bus was packed too,’ Gamyu said. ‘Were they from out
of town?’ ‘I think so.’ Beb nodded. ‘Foreign workers?’ ‘I think so. There are more and more of them every month.
My father says there will be no work for local people soon.’ Beb’s father had told him that busing manual labour into the towns was big business nowadays. The indigenous population were becoming worried that their jobs would be taken by migrants from neighbouring countries. The border towns in the north of Nigeria had become an eclectic mixture of sub-Saharan migrants. Sectarian violence and civil war had driven millions from their homes into neighbouring countries where they worked the jobs
that no one else wanted to do for a pittance. ‘My father lost his job last week because they hired men from
Mali for half the wages. Why do they have to come here?’ Gamyu asked, angrily.
‘My father says mostly it is because of Boko Haram,’ Beb said, sounding as wise as a boy his age could. ‘They are attacking villages and towns and killing lots of people. The people are too scared to go home, so they come here.’
Gamyu shrugged. He didn’t look impressed by the answer. ‘If they came here, my father would kill them,’ he bragged.
‘They have machineguns,’ Beb said. ‘That wouldn’t matter.’
‘Does your father have a machinegun?’ Omar asked, raising his eyebrows.
‘He would take one of theirs.’
‘My father says they are very bad men,’ Beb said, pressing home the point. He didn’t think Gamyu’s father would kill the Boko Haram rebels. In fact, he didn’t think his father could kill anyone. He was a very small man with a withered arm. Beb wasn’t even sure if he could hold a gun, but he didn’t say anything. Lately, Beb had heard the news reports about unrest and conflict moving closer to their town and the grown-ups talked about it all the time. He thought that they worried too much. Grown-ups always worried about stuff. Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do the other. Life seemed to be a constant battle between what he wanted to do and what he was allowed to do. Being an adult was like being the fun police. He couldn’t wait to grow up so he could do whatever he wanted.
‘How come you are off school?’ Omar asked Beb. ‘They sent us home early.’ ‘Me too. My teacher said there’s been trouble on the border.’ ‘Same for me.’ ‘Did you hear the news about all those schoolgirls being kidnapped?’ Omar asked. Beb nodded but Gamyu shook his head. ‘The television said they took 300 away.’
‘Yes. My father said it was Boko Haram,’ Beb said, nodding. His father was very clever and rarely wrong.
‘How does he know?’
‘He is always talking about them. One of the girls taken was my mother’s niece,’ Beb added.
‘Really? You knew one of them?’ Omar asked, pushing his index finger up his nose. He pulled out a green bogey and inspected it before rolling it and flicking it away.
‘I don’t know her. They are from near the border somewhere,’ Beb explained.
‘But she’s your mother’s niece?’ ‘Yes.’
‘So, what relation is she to you?’ ‘I don’t know. Just my mother’s niece, stupid.’ ‘Funny man!’ ‘So, your father thinks it was Boko who took them?’ Gamyu
said, trying to get in on the conversation, although he had no idea what they were talking about.
‘Probably. Boko are bad men.’ Omar threw a stone at a tree as he spoke.
‘The worst, my father says,’ Beb agreed.
Beb thought his father was the font of all knowledge. Whatever he said was correct as far as Beb was concerned. He had finished his medical degree in London and worked in a hospital there for two years. Beb was very proud that his father had studied and worked abroad. No one else in Monguno had a degree from England. As far as Beb was concerned, his father was the cleverest man in town and that made Beb proud. He talked to Beb about things that he wouldn’t discuss with his sisters. They were easily frightened. Beb and his father had discussed the activities of Boko Haram, the extremist militia that plagued the northeast of the country, attacking government targets and Christian settlements with increasing ferocity before disappearing like ghosts across the borders into Niger, Chad and Cameroon. They were also attacking the less fanatical Sunni Muslim communities, which was beyond Beb’s comprehension. He did not understand why Muslims attacked Muslims. His father described it as being ‘not Muslim enough’. Beb had heard him talking about the approaching violence to his mother in hushed tones, thinking their children were asleep. He also heard him talking on the phone to his brother, who was also a doctor and still lived in London. They talked for hours and his father would sigh and shake his head a lot during their conversations. Beb had never heard his father sound frightened before but he sounded increasingly concerned lately. He was the rock on which the family stood strong and it was unsettling to see him so worried. The cleverest man in Monguno should not be as rattled as he was. The fact that he was worried, worried Beb.
‘My father is the same,’ Omar agreed, poking his finger up the other nostril. This time he came up with nothing to show for his troubles. ‘He talks about them all the time. My mother tells him to be quiet in case he frightens my sisters but he doesn’t listen to her. She starts to sing whenever he talks about them so my sisters can’t hear but he just talks louder, so she sings louder. It is like a madhouse sometimes. I don’t know who is worse.’
Beb turned his head when he heard an engine revving loudly. A car approached at high speed, travelling way too fast to take the bend safely. It careered towards the curve, back end twitching in the dust; the driver nearly lost control. He managed to right the vehicle at the last moment and sped onwards towards town, honking the horn as he passed. The driver looked wide-eyed and focused on the road.
‘Another crazy man. What is wrong with people today?’ Beb asked.
‘It is hot. People are crazy when it is too hot.’ Omar threw another stone.
‘It is always hot, you fool.’
‘People are always crazy around here,’ Omar shrugged. They laughed and kicked at the stones as they walked. Beb chuckled to himself. The man driving the car was in a hurry. He must have somewhere very important to be, he thought. Maybe he needed to get to the toilet quickly. Maybe they had all needed the toilet. There was nothing in town worth crashing into a tree for. And no one who lived there was in a hurry to do anything. Life was laid back. The town where they lived was a world away from the madness of the capital, Lagos; the politics of the capitol and the wars that raged in nearby countries seemed surreal to Beb. His family had been sheltered from the storms that raged across the continent. Beb’s parents were industrious people, their father was a successful doctor and their mother a seamstress. They earned enough money to make sure that their children wanted for nothing. Beb and his three sisters knew little of the violence and poverty that epitomised childhood in Africa for millions of others. They were the lucky ones. Hunger was a stranger, their neighbours were friends and family, and their water was clean and safe to drink.
‘Where have you been today?’ Omar asked Beb.
‘Delivering some medicine for my father.’ Beb picked up a stick and poked it into the dust, leaving a snake-like trail behind them. He turned around again when he heard a motorbike engine. The bike emerged from the trees and skidded around the bend at a dangerous speed, throwing red dust high into the air in a fan shape; then it straightened up and whizzed past him in a flash. The rider had a worried expression on his face and kept glancing behind him, probably checking for vehicles overtaking him, Beb thought. Maybe he was racing someone.
‘Everyone seems to be in a hurry today,’ Beb said, smiling. ‘I want a motorbike when I am older.’ It would make his deliveries easier and more fun too. Earlier that morning, his father had asked him to deliver medicines to the Christian minister, James, who lived a few miles away from the edge of town in an enclave called Christown, inhabited by his flock. Beb’s father had a clinic there twice a week in a small building which acted as his surgery. ‘Girls like guys with motorbikes. Although, I don’t think that I would ride it so fast. He was a crazy man.’
‘I told you it is too hot today. It makes them crazy,’ Omar said. ‘Where did you take the medicines for your father?’
‘To Reverend James.’ ‘The Christians?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘My father says that I shouldn’t go there.’ ‘Why?’ Beb asked, surprised. The Christians were a community
of about sixty families, who had flourished there since the seventies. Many of them were treated by his father. Beb liked going to the village. ‘I don’t understand why he would say that. They are nice people.’
‘He says they are different to us and that I wouldn’t be welcome.’
‘They pray differently but that is all.’ ‘Tell me what they are like?’ ‘They are like us!’ Beb laughed. ‘They have nice houses and
they always have biscuits and home-made juice.’ Beb’s mother didn’t cook biscuits. She said that they made people fat and that her daughters would not be fat. Finding a husband was difficult for fat girls, his mother explained whenever food was discussed. She warned Beb not to marry a fat girl as she would be expensive to feed. You need to marry a nice girl with all her teeth and her own job, she would say. Beb would listen politely and nod and his sisters would blush and giggle.
‘My father would be angry with me if I went there.’
‘If you go there, don’t tell him, stupid,’ Beb chuckled. He didn’t understand why Omar’s father was so wary of the Christians. ‘If he met them, he wouldn’t mind you being there.’ Beb couldn’t see much difference between the two communities. He shrugged and smiled and said, ‘Go and see for yourself. They won’t bite you!’
Beb had a smile that lit up his face. It made people feel relaxed with him. There was a hint of mischief in his eyes too. He was ten and tall for his age with gangly limbs and wide shoulders. Football was his passion and he was good at it. He was strong and fit and could play all day without becoming tired, if he was allowed. Reading was his second favourite pastime. His sisters, who were older, would pass him the books they had read. Reading books was a massive issue for the extremists. The way the Sunni Muslim schools were teaching students, especially girls, was attracting the wrath of Boko Haram. They didn’t want girls to go to school. Beb’s father had told him that Boko Haram translates to, ‘Western education is a sin.’ Reading anything but the holy book was a sin, they said. Beb couldn’t comprehend that either. How could reading be a sin? His thoughts were disturbed by the sound of diesel engines approaching from the trees. This time there were lots of them.
‘Can you hear that?’ Omar said, excited. He squinted against the sun to see what was coming. ‘What is going on today?’
‘I don’t know, Omar, but something is wrong.’ Beb turned and looked back down the dirt road, his eyes were narrowed against the glare. A cloud of red dust spiralled above the trees and it was moving quickly towards them. It was a convoy of some kind and that was very unusual. He was confused at first but instinct told him that they were in danger. Convoys were rarely good news. Beb looked around for a hiding place. ‘Run, Omar!’ Gamyu panicked and bolted down the road towards town, his shirt flapping in the breeze. ‘Gamyu, hide!’ Beb shouted after him. There was no way he could make it to town before the oncoming vehicles did. It was too far.
‘What is wrong with you, Beb?’ Omar asked, calmly. ‘Something isn’t right. We need to hide, Omar. Run!’ Running from the road, Beb tried to climb a Marula tree.
Its leafy branches offered him the best cover. As he clawed at the trunk, the engines grew louder. Beb jumped up and grabbed the lowest branch. His fingers closed around it and he pulled himself up. He pressed his sandals against the trunk to gain momentum and he was nearly there when the branch snapped and Beb crashed to the floor, landing on his back in the dust. The fall knocked the wind from his lungs and he couldn’t suck air in. He felt like he had been punched in the kidneys. Sweat trickled into his eyes as he tried to push himself upright. Omar was standing next to the road, transfixed by the approaching convoy. He stood and waved at the oncoming vehicles, a wide smile on his face. Maybe it was government troops looking for the kidnapped schoolgirls? It was about time they did something about Boko, Omar thought.
‘Omar!’ Beb shouted. He sensed that the convoy was not friendly but Omar couldn’t see it. Beb cupped his hands around his mouth. ‘Hide, Omar. Get off the road!’
The first vehicle came around the bend in the road and he could see men with guns riding in the back, clinging to the roll- cage. He suddenly realised why people were driving so fast, they weren’t in a hurry to get somewhere; they were running away. The pick-up truck roared towards them. Omar saw the guns and sunglasses too late but he was stranded and Beb couldn’t help him. If he moved now, they would see him. He crouched behind the tree as the first pick-up truck sped by. His throat felt dry and his hands were shaking as a second vehicle appeared around the bend. A dark green army truck hurtled towards him; the bed of the truck was loaded with armed men. They held machine guns and were draped with bullet-belts. Some had berets and camouflage uniforms, others football shirts. They were not government troops, he knew that much. He saw machetes hanging from their belts and their mirrored sunglasses glinted in the sun. Beb couldn’t tell if they were looking directly at him because he couldn’t see their eyes. His breath was trapped in his lungs as he cowered behind the tree trunk. He dared not peer around it as four more personnel carriers roared by, loaded with militiamen. They were followed by a dozen more pick-ups. He heard two shots ring out and he put his hands over his ears. More troop carriers passed in a seemingly endless stream. It seemed like hours before the convoy had passed. The smell of diesel fumes filled the air, mixed with red dust; it was choking. Beb covered his nose and mouth with one hand and rubbed his eyes with the other as he waited for the sound of the engines to fade. He didn’t dare move. It was at least ten-minutes before he broke cover, feeling vulnerable and exposed as he left his hiding place. There was no sign of Omar or Gamyu and he hoped that they had run and found a hiding place in the bush.
‘Omar!’ Beb shouted. There was no reply. He moved from one tree to another and called again. ‘Gamyu!’
There was no answer from his friends. He looked both ways and tiptoed towards the road. The dust was settling and there was no more traffic. Sweat ran into his eyes as he moved stealthily from one tree to the next. His heart was pounding and his hands were shaking. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves and moved towards the edge of the treeline. As he reached the edge of the trees, he saw the broken body of his friend, Omar, face down in the dust. There was a bullet hole in his back and his limbs were bent and twisted at unnatural angles. A tyre mark ran from the base of his spine to his skull. Beb stifled his tears. He opened his mouth to shout for help when the sound of machine gun fire broke the silence and then the screaming began.
Esse, Beb’s mother, was working at her sewing machine when the rebels swamped Monguno. When the first shots were heard, she thought it was a vehicle backfiring. The following short bursts confirmed her worst fears. It was persistent gunfire and it was coming from all directions. She knew her husband’s worst fears had materialised. The rebels, Boko Haram, had come to Monguno. Her first thoughts were for her children. She needed to know where they were, find her husband Kalu and get them all home safely.
‘Is that what I think it is?’ one of her younger workmates asked. Her eyes were wide with fear. The sewing machines fell silent and the women gathered at the front of the workshop. They listened to the gunfire and watched the street for signs of the invaders. ‘Is it Boko?’
‘I think so,’ Esse said, trying to keep her voice calm. She was the matriarch in the sewing shop; the other women were young and easily panicked. She had to set an example despite the burning desire to scream and run home to find her children. She knew the girls would be at home or on their way. Sometimes, they dawdled. She prayed that they were home safe. Her heart was pounding in her chest, thinking about them. The girls were vulnerable and naive. Beb was a different matter. Her son had no off-switch. He couldn’t keep still and hated being indoors. She swore that he would sleep in the garden if he could. He was always off exploring and always late coming home. She hoped that he was nearby, somewhere safe. More gunshots echoed down the street. ‘It has to be them. I can’t see any other explanation.’
‘I heard that they had sent all the pupils home from school this afternoon,’ another added. ‘But they said it was a precaution because of trouble on the border, not near here.’
‘Obviously, they were wrong. The trouble has come to Monguno,’ Esse said, quietly. Kalu had said it would. His voice rattled around in her mind. She had been sceptical but he was right. ‘We need to get home to our children immediately.’
‘What do we do then, Esse?’ a youngster asked.
‘Yes, what do we do?’ another asked, her voice high-pitched with panic.
‘First of all, we stay calm. Get a grip of yourselves!’ Esse said firmly, looking along the roads. She walked to the edge of the workshop, which was open to allow air to circulate. There were walls on three sides but the front elevation opened onto the street. She looked up and down the road. Vehicles were speeding past in both directions and people were running, terrified expressions on their faces. ‘What is happening?’ she shouted to a neighbour who she recognised.
‘It is Boko!’ he shouted, without slowing. ‘Go home to your children!’
‘Pack up your things and go home,’ Esse said, clapping her hands. She didn’t require any more encouragement. ‘Find your children and lock your doors until your men come home. Do not open your doors to anyone but your families.’
‘Why are they here in Monguno? What do they want?’
‘Whatever they can take,’ Esse said, beneath her breath. Kalu had told her what Boko were responsible for. A cold shiver ran down her spine. ‘Hurry up, now. Don’t delay with silly questions. Go home as fast as you can!’
Suddenly, a convoy of trucks appeared from her left. Militiamen were hanging from the sides of the vehicles, their weapons glinted in the sun. The women stood still and watched as the convoy came to a standstill directly outside the small parade of shops. A dozen militiamen dropped from the trucks, aiming their weapons at the townspeople, before the convoy moved on to deploy troops elsewhere. Esse looked along the shopping parade. Traders and customers were trapped where they stood. It was too late to run. There were five small businesses operating there. A mechanic, a carpenter, a butcher and the sewing workshop. The fruit and vegetable stall next door had been there since she was born. Its owner, a wizened woman who Esse knew well, was standing defiantly in front of her produce. She glared at the approaching troops, almost daring them to steal her goods.
‘What are you doing here with your guns? You are not welcome here!’ she called. ‘We don’t have anything for you! Get on your trucks and go back to where you came from and leave us in peace!’
A militiaman wearing a black beret and mirrored sunglasses grinned from ear to ear. His teeth were white and straight. If had he been born on a different continent, he would have been a popstar. He approached the stall and picked up a melon. Using his machete, he cut into the flesh and then bit a chunk from it. He chewed it slowly and looked around.
‘This is good, Grandma,’ he said, grinning. ‘I am not your grandma. You are a thug!’ ‘Why are you being so disrespectful, old lady?’ ‘Are you going to pay me for that or are you a thief with a
gun?’ the old woman asked, scathingly. ‘You couldn’t spell respect if you tried.’
‘Pay attention, people of Monguno,’ he shouted.
The rebel took out his pistol and raised it to her head and pulled the trigger. One side of her head exploded in a pink mist. Esse was covered in brain splatter. She touched her fingers to the pink goo and tried to wipe it off her cheek without going into a panic. Her hands began to tremble uncontrollably. She wanted to run. They had killed her without blinking an eye. The Boko knelt next to the woman’s body. He snatched a gold chain from her neck and wiped the blood from it on her hair and then put it into his pocket. He took her takings bag from her waist and scooped out the money, stuffing the notes into his camouflage trousers. Kalu had been right. They were evil men.
‘Unless you want to end up like Grandma, you will be quiet and you will step out of your shops,’ he said as he looked around. ‘Outside now!’
‘We do exactly as they say,’ Esse whispered to her workmates. Beads of sweat trickled from her temple. ‘Do not resist them. Get outside.’
‘Shut up!’ one of the rebels shouted. ‘Separate them and take them to the square.’
The militiamen began rounding people up. They were loud and aggressive and quick to lash out with their weapons. The butcher was floored by a blow to the back of his neck with the butt of a rifle. Esse didn’t hear what he had said to them, not that it mattered. A man went to help him up from the floor and he was felled too. The rebels seemed to be enjoying themselves. Two soldiers walked into the workshop. They leered at the younger girls. One of them put his hand onto the breast of a teenager. He licked the side of her face with his tongue, leaving a sticky trail on her skin. The teenager couldn’t believe that a man would touch her that way in public. Her eyes were fixed open in shock, her mouth dropped in shock. She tried to speak but her voice had deserted her.
‘I like this one,’ he said, pushing her against the wall. He pressed his groin against her. She closed her eyes and held her nerve. His breath made her feel nauseous; a mixture of tobacco and meat. ‘I think she likes me too.’
‘If you like her, take out the back,’ his colleague said, matter- of-factly. ‘Do it before the sergeant sees you.’
‘Please don’t!’ the young woman sobbed.
‘She is with child,’ Esse said. Sweat ran down her back. She didn’t want to speak, didn’t want to stand out but she couldn’t stand by and watch her young workmate being raped. ‘You cannot touch her.’
‘What are you saying, woman?’
‘She is pregnant, leave her alone,’ Esse lied. The soldiers turned and stared at her. She couldn’t see their eyes but the menace was there nonetheless. Seconds ticked by in silence. She thought they would kill her. ‘You shouldn’t touch a woman who is with child. You know that it is a sin to take a woman who is already with another man’s child. You cannot touch her!’
‘Maybe we’ll take you outside instead,’ the soldier said, letting the young girl go. He sneered at Esse. She was tall and lean with bright eyes and high cheekbones, attractive for her age.
‘What are you doing in there?’ an angry voice shouted from outside.
‘What is wrong in there?’ The rebel leader walked towards them, shouting at his men.
‘Nothing, sir,’ one of the men replied. ‘We’re on our way, sir.’ He turned angrily to his colleague. ‘I told you not to let him see!’ he whispered.
‘Shut up crying like a baby!’ his friend replied beneath his breath.
‘Get those women out here quickly!’ ‘We’re coming, sir!’ ‘We do not have time for fooling around,’ the sergeant
scolded them. ‘This town is not under control yet and until our captain says that it is, you will follow your orders to the letter, understand?’
‘Get those women to the square immediately,’ the sergeant shouted. ‘You’re wasting time!’
Esse and her workmates were herded onto the road and forced to walk quickly towards the square. The other traders were ahead of them, walking in a line. Esse tried to stay calm but the young women were crying. She put her arms around the youngest girl, who was sobbing; tears streaked her cheeks. Her stomach was twisted in knots as she thought about her children. She was desperate to reach them. There was no way to escape and get home. All she could do was hope that Kalu had avoided capture and that Beb was somewhere safe.
‘Don’t cry. Everything will be okay,’ Esse whispered, her maternal instincts taking over.
‘Shut up, woman!’ a soldier shouted. His face was a twisted mask of hatred. Esse could feel the hatred oozing from the rebels.
‘If you speak again, I’ll kill you!’ She thought twice about testing his resolve.
‘I’m very sorry,’ she muttered, avoiding eye contact. ‘Move and keep your mouth shut!’ Esse squeezed the young girl to comfort her. All she could
think about was what was happening to her family. Her daughters were young and attractive and she had seen for herself how the militiamen treated women. The thought of her children being raped was unthinkable, yet she couldn’t clear it from her mind. She would rather they were dead than suffer that. The overwhelming feeling of total helplessness was smothering her. There was absolutely nothing that she could do. Her limbs were shaking and her hands were trembling. She wanted to let go of her emotions but she couldn’t crumble. She wondered if she would ever see her family again.
Kalu was visiting an elderly patient on the outskirts of town when the shooting started. He knew immediately what it was and who was responsible. He checked his mobile phone for a signal and cursed under his breath when he saw there was no coverage in this part of town. His eldest daughter had a mobile, much to the contempt of his son, Beb and her younger sisters. He had drawn a line in the sand on her last birthday. She was allowed the phone and could use Facebook with her friends, under the supervision of her mother, Esse. The other children would be allowed the same privilege when they reached her age. Kalu sent a text message quickly.
‘GET YOUR SISTERS AND GO HOME!’
He knew Beb was out of town at Christown and he hoped that he had heard the shooting and hidden somewhere.
‘I need to go home to my family,’ Kalu told his patient. He stood tall. His shaven head was shiny with perspiration. ‘Keep taking the tablets and the infection will shift.’
‘Thank you, doctor,’ his patient replied. ‘What is all the shooting, is it Boko?’
‘I think so,’ Kalu said, packing his medical bag. His white shirt was open at the neck, tucked into his khaki trousers. ‘Let’s hope that I’m wrong but to be on the safe side, I need to go home to my family and make sure they are okay. You need to lock your door and stay inside. Do not go out for anything and do not open the door, okay?’
‘Okay, thank you.’ His patient offered a gnarled hand. Kalu shook it. ‘Good luck, Kalu. I’ll pray for you and your family.’
‘Good luck to you.’ Kalu walked to the front door and looked outside. People were running here and there, self-preservation pumping through their veins. The gunshots were much closer already and he could hear engines approaching. He stepped out and closed the door behind him. The sound of the lock being slid home came from the other side. He tucked his bag under his arm and sprinted across the road. Bullets whistled above his head and he had to duck. Fifty yards to his right, a woman screamed and collapsed in a heap. He could see that she was heavily pregnant. She rolled onto her back and clutched at her stomach, her hands slick with blood.
‘Help me!’ she cried weakly. ‘Please help me! My baby is coming!’
Kalu thought about his family, his wife, his daughters and his son. He thought about ignoring the stricken woman and heading home to them without stopping to help her. The thought was alien to everything he had done in his life. Helping others had always been his priority. He turned and ran to her, kneeling to help. As he opened his medical bag and applied a pressure pad to a glancing wound on her stomach, the first Boko vehicles appeared from the corner of the street. Soldiers deployed from the trucks and began to herd the townspeople. A militiaman approached him and gestured with his machinegun.
‘Move over there, now!’ he ordered. ‘This woman is having a baby,’ Kalu said. ‘I’m a doctor.’ ‘If you don’t move now, you will need a doctor. Get over there!’ ‘Keep pressure on the wound,’ Kalu said into her ear. She
nodded, eyes filled with tears. ‘I’m sorry,’ Kalu said, standing.
‘I like that watch,’ the Boko said. Kalu looked at his wrist. His father had given him the Omega when he had graduated from university. He didn’t want to part with it. ‘I said, that I like that watch.’
‘I heard you. It was a gift from my father.’ ‘You can take it off or I can cut your hand off and take it?’ Kalu capitulated and unfastened the clasp. He handed the watch over without a word. The watch disappeared into a grimy pocket and the rebel gestured with his head.
Kalu raised his hands above his head and stepped onto the road, joining the ragtag bunch that was being jostled towards the town square. He looked over his shoulder at the pregnant woman and hoped that she would be left alone to deliver her baby. The Boko was standing over her. A burst of automatic gunfire dashed his hopes and silenced her moans. He closed his eyes and looked away from her dead body and tried to focus on finding his family. He couldn’t save everyone. They were his priority now.
Oke avoided making eye contact with a group of boys who always hung around near the market, kicking a football. They looked at her and her sisters, Isime and Kissie, whenever they passed them, making lewd comments or trying to be funny. Mother had warned the girls that young boys only wanted sex and nothing more and until they were married, they were to stay away from them. Oke was old enough to recognise the hunger in their eyes but her younger sisters were still too young to understand. The boys whispered and giggled as they approached. What she didn’t realise was that they were laughing at their hair and clothes. The girls looked like triplets, despite their age difference. Their hair was braided close to their scalp in cornrows and their long grey dresses were identical. They were pretty girls but a little aloof with the poorer kids.
‘Ignore them,’ Oke said to her sisters.
‘Who?’ Kissie asked, looking around for a potential offender. She had been thinking about what would be for tea and had no idea what Oke was talking about. Boys weren’t on her radar. She couldn’t see anyone to ignore.
‘Hold my hand and cross the road,’ Oke told them. She looked each way and they crossed, just as the first shots were heard. They reached the other side and stopped. Kissie had her mouth open. Isime looked up at her older sister for an explanation. A text message pinged her mobile. She looked at it and started to shake. It was from her father.
‘We need to go home, quickly.’ ‘What is wrong, Oke?’ ‘Father says we need to go home immediately.’ Oke knew that her father didn’t panic unnecessarily. He had been wittering on about the rebels in the west for as long as Oke could remember. Her mother used to roll her eyes to the ceiling every time he mentioned them. It looked like he had been right. As machinegun fire began to intensify, the first trucks appeared, sealing off both ends of the road. There was nowhere to run. Oke froze to the spot. She waited to see what would happen. A woman tried to run and a soldier raised his weapon and shot her in the back.
‘He shot her,’ Kissie whispered. ‘Is she dead?’ ‘I don’t know, Kissie,’ Oke whispered back to her. ‘Who are they?’ Isime asked, clutching her schoolbag tightly.
‘What do they want?’ Oke looked around as troops jumped down from the trucks, firing their weapons in the air. To their right was a service road, which ran behind the market. She thought about running away for a second until soldiers turned into the other end and blocked it. Her mother had warned them to stay somewhere public if anything bad happened. She told them that when things turned violent, being in a public place was safer.
‘It is Boko Haram,’ Oke whispered. The rebels were rounding people up. Anyone who questioned them was shown no mercy.
They watched as a teenage boy was beaten with the end of rifle until his face was a bloody mess. ‘We must do as they say until we can see a way to run, okay?’
‘I’m scared,’ Kissie said. ‘What will they do?’
‘They will steal things, Father says,’ Oke said, squeezing her hand tightly. She didn’t want to tell her the truth about what Father said about them. He said that they were rapists and murderers, not to Oke herself but she had heard him talking to his brother on the telephone. She was old enough to know that three pretty, young girls needed to stay in a public place. The soldiers were moving towards them, herding a group of twenty or so townspeople. She felt their eyes on them as they neared. Two of the rebels looked at each other and grinned. Oke knew the seriousness of their situation.
‘Hey, girls,’ a young soldier called to them. ‘Do not look at them,’ Oke whispered. ‘Hey, girl, I like you,’ the soldier persisted. ‘What does he want,’ Kissie asked.
‘Just ignore him.’ Oke was starting to panic.
She looked around for help. A large woman who she recognised waved her hand. Oke knew that she worked with her mother sometimes.
‘Oke,’ she hissed. ‘Get over here near me.’
‘Cameela,’ Oke said, smiling nervously. She pulled her sisters towards her. ‘I’m so glad we saw you.’
‘Come and walk with me,’ Cameela said, shepherding the girls around her as if they were her own. ‘Are you okay, little one?’ Kissie hugged her as if her life depended on it. The Boko men looked disappointed. The young girls were no longer alone and vulnerable. ‘Do not make eye contact with these animals,’ she whispered.
‘Where are they taking us?’ Isime asked, her eyes wide with fear. The Boko men were scary, their eyes covered with mirrored sunglasses, machetes and machineguns glistening in the sunlight. They had never seen anything like it. ‘What do they want?’
‘They want us to go to the square,’ Cameela said, looking around nervously.
‘Why?’ Isime asked.
‘Will Mother and Father be there?’ Kissie asked. She looked close to tears.
‘You there!’ a teenage soldier barked. He pointed at Cameela with his gun. ‘Hey, I like your daughter!’ Oke felt his eyes all over her. He was leering like a fool. Cameela didn’t turn her head. She ignored him. ‘I am talking to you, woman!’
‘That soldier is talking to you,’ Isime said, frightened.
‘Shush, Isime! Ignore him,’ Cameela said, looking forward, never acknowledging the soldier. ‘We stay with the group, no matter what they say. If they separate us, we are in trouble. Ignore them until we get to wherever they are taking us, understand?’ The girls nodded that they did. ‘He is no older than you and some fool has given him a machinegun. They are the most dangerous. Do not answer him no matter what he says!’
‘You there! Woman with the children, stop!’ the soldier shouted louder. He was crossing the road towards them, intercepting their path. ‘I am talking to you!’
Cameela picked a different track and kept on walking. She held the girls close to her hips. Some of the townsmen sensed the danger and moved closer to them. They formed a human wall around the girls.
‘They are children. Leave them alone,’ one of the men in the crowd shouted. The boy soldier didn’t know who had said it but it had angered him.
‘Who said that?’ the young soldier said, turning. ‘They are children, you dog!’ someone else called out. ‘Who said that?’ the boy snapped. The crowd moved on,
ignoring his frustrations. ‘Say that to my face, whoever said it!’ ‘What is your problem, stupid boy!’ another voice called out from the back of the crowd. The Boko pointed his machinegun into the group but couldn’t identify a target. His anger was rising and he felt foolish. The townspeople were making an idiot of him,
disrespecting him. ‘Who called me stupid?’
‘You are stupid,’ a woman near the back taunted him. The soldier turned on his heels quickly but couldn’t tell who had said it. ‘Keep walking and mind your business!’ the soldier barked at one of the townsmen. He slapped him hard on the back of the head. The man turned to retaliate but Cameela put her hand on
his shoulder. ‘Don’t give them an excuse to kill you,’ she said in his ear.
‘That is what he wants. Keep walking.’ He listened to her and stepped back.
‘Keep moving, all of you! I am talking to this woman.’ The group kept moving, shuffling around the girls to make it awkward for him to get near them. Cameela didn’t look sideways once. She focused on a spot in front of her. ‘I am talking to you, woman!’
‘She doesn’t want to talk to you. Leave us alone!’ Kissie shouted. Oke put her arm around her and her hand over her mouth.
‘You’re not going to get near them,’ another townsman said, stepping close to the girls. There were nearly a dozen people huddled around them now. All walking, all blocking access to Cameela and the children. ‘If you didn’t have that gun, I would snap you,’ another voice said from the crowd.
‘What did you just say to me?’ the young Boko growled. His face was creased with frustration. The townsman didn’t make eye contact with him. He continued to walk towards the town square, shoulders touching the next man, protecting the women.
‘You’re going to have to kill all of us to get near those children,’ a voice from the group added. The Boko glared into the crowd but he couldn’t see who had said it.
‘Who said that?’ he shouted again. The crowd ignored him. Some of the other soldiers were watching the situation, smiling at each other. It appeared to Cameela that the young rebel was not popular amongst his peers. ‘Who said that?’ The group kept walking.
‘You won’t touch those children, idiot,’ a townsman said, loud enough to be heard.
‘Who called me an idiot?’ the Boko shouted, his face flushed with anger and embarrassment. ‘Who was it?’
No one replied and the crowd walked on. Despite his weapon, the boy felt defeated, like a baby hyena too small and weak to bring down a buffalo from the herd. He saw his colleagues laughing at him and slowed down his step, allowing the group to move away.
‘Keep walking!’ he shouted as his parting shot. Cameela felt a sigh of relief as he gave up and dropped back. She looked down and smiled at Kissie, rubbing her hair gently. The girls were attractive and young and very vulnerable. Keeping them safe would be a mammoth task. She could only hope that Kalu and Esse were safe.
Beb covered the distance to town quickly, using the cover of trees, the bushes and the occasional outbuilding. There was no sign of Gamyu. The closer to town he got, the louder the gunfire became. He could hear men shouting and women screaming. A dog barked somewhere in the madness. The staccato retort of weapons made him flinch with each shot fired. He had to get home to his family. Panic was driving him on; fear was telling him to turn and run the other way but the urge to reach his kin was overwhelming. Running into the trees and hiding until the soldiers left was the sensible thing to do but he couldn’t do that. His mother and his sisters would be frightened. He had to find them.
As he approached town, the dust road changed to tarmac and the trees became sparse. A line of single-storey buildings marked the edge of town and he took a deep breath before running towards them. The gunfire was deafening now and the sound of screaming women curdled his blood. He could see the faces of his mother and his sisters in his mind. A high-pitched scream pierced his soul, spurring him on. He kept low and sprinted behind the buildings as tears filled his eyes, blurring his vision. The image of Omar crushed in the dirt was branded into his psyche. Leaning against a wall, he sucked in the scorched air and closed his eyes and listened….
Conrad Jones is a 50-year-old Author, originally from a sleepy green-belt called Tarbock Green, which is situated on the outskirts of Liverpool. He spent a number of years living in Holyhead, Anglesey, which he classes as his home. He worked in management at McDonalds Restaurants Ltd from 1989-2002, working his way up to Business Consultant (area manager) working in the corporate and franchised departments.
On March 20th 1993 he was managing the Restaurant in Warrington`s Bridge St when two Irish Republican Army bombs exploded directly outside the store, resulting in the death of two young boys and many casualties. Along with hundreds of other people there that day he was deeply affected by the attack, which led to a long-term interest in the motivation and mind set of criminal gangs. He began to read anything crime related that he could get his hands on and links this experience with the desire to write books on the subject.
He signed a three book deal with London based publishers, Thames River Press. The Alec Ramsey series is now 7 books long with an average of 4.8 stars from over 2000 reviews. Conrad has also written The Soft Target series, which has received critical acclaim.