This is not a story. So, if you’re one of those people hoping to pass the time by reading this, I apologize. Because this is right here. This is a moment in time.
It began with my last trip to the capital. The news of the day was that of a mass kidnapping by insurgents in a remote part of the country. Protests by citizens abounded, activists and critics alike called for the resignation of those in power, while the government had fingers being pointed left and right in search of the perfect scapegoat.
As an investigative journalist, it is my sworn duty to provide the public with both sides of any story. On that note, rather than follow the path tread by the greater number of my esteemed colleagues – dabbling into sensationalism with catchy front page titles, I decided to find a path that would lead me into the very mind of the dreaded insurgents.
You might wonder why I chose this foolishness. Was it a secret quest for cheap popularity among my peers? Was it that I unconsciously sympathised with these people and wished to give them a voice? Or was this just my way of trying to salvage some self-respect out of the crumbling edifice that I called my life – a string of failed relationships, an underpaid job, the butt of stories shared by family members whenever they got together, the whispers, the sighs, the sombre shaking of heads between my mother and my sisters as they discussed dear big brother, not knowing I was listening. And maybe it was a combination of all the above. Whatever my reason was, it drove me, hard. Like Ahab chasing Moby Dick on the raging seas of Mark Twain’s story, I became obsessed with the idea of unveiling the insurgents’ side of the story.
And so it began, with me taking advantage of my annual four-week leave entitlement, assuring my editor, and myself, that I would return with the news of the century.
The objective of my mission was to interview the feared leader of the insurgent group, known only as “The Teacher”. Many believed he had been killed while fleeing across the border. The military said he was a myth created by the group to bind its followers to their cause. In some parts of the rural north-east, the people revered him as a ghost who had returned to avenge his own death – as it was they who had betrayed him. The tales were numerous, but I was determined to sieve through the chaff, and find the truth. Find The Teacher.
And so began the hunt . I would love to thrill you with details of the ends to which I went in search of my prey, but I would then be oversimplifying a situation in which I should never have been involved to start with. What I will tell you is that by the end of the third week I was no longer sure who was hunter or who was prey. I became a pariah in the community in which I had settled – the indigenes wanted me gone.
I could see the fear in their eyes, in the way they lowered their heads when I glanced in their direction, in the hurried jerky movement of their feet as I approached, in the silence that greeted me when I walked into a canteen or local bar. It was not just that fear of strangers cultivated as an instinctual survival reflex. No. It was as though they really knew I was not who I claimed to be.
By the end of the fourth week, I felt relieved to be leaving the town. I settled my bills with the guesthouse at which I had lodged on the outskirts of the town. I made a show of packing my bags and smiled cheerfully in the stony faces of the staff as they drew up my receipts. I no longer cared about the story of the century.
If I only knew. It was just about to begin.
I boarded a cab to town, from where I planned to take a vehicle to the capital. I figured I might as well spend the final hours of an uneventful trip enjoying the capital.
If I only knew.
The cab driver was rather quiet, but I had long grown accustomed to being given the silent treatment. And his occasional cold glances into the rear view mirror didn’t bother me either. Suddenly, he turned off the road onto a long dusty narrow strip lined with thick clumps of waist-high grass and a scattering of trees.
“Oga wetin happen?” I asked, glancing back at the main road disappearing in a piling cloud of dust.
“Traffic” he replied.
I was just about to ask why he was then driving slowly when a rugged ash coloured pickup truck bolted out from among the trees, racing after us.
“Driver!” I turned to him in alarm. He looked at me and smiled. I realized we had stopped moving. The vehicle overtook us and stopped. I watched, stunned. Two men jumped out of the truck, brandishing semi-automatic rifles, running towards us.
“Driver please.” I was begging.
He practically ignored me, calmly watching the scene unfold. One of the two men yanked my door open, while the other pointed his rifle through the other window, screaming in a guttural tone. I raised my hands as his partner mauled me out of the vehicle.
“Please! Please! Abeg no shoot! No shoot!” I cried.
Without warning, he hit me in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. I doubled over, feeling the pain all the way down in my testicles. I dropped to my knees. A sackcloth materialised over my head and my hands were simultaneously forced into bonds. They dragged me along the dirt road and bundled me into their truck.
The engine reverberated like the angry roar of a monster. I could feel the vibrations travelling through my body as the truck bounced all over the place. I thought “never have I felt such fear in my life”
But there was still more to come.