Gilbert Punished and Taken: Memoirs of the Nigerian-Biafra Civil War, 1967-1970
At five o’clock, Gilbert surrendered to the recruits. Even in his fear of death, Gill was annoyed at how thin and short the angry recruiter was. With a bit of temporary authority, such a thin man had now turned fierce. But the angry recruiter didn’t quite bow. He had a big belly the size of a soccer ball. Gill estimated her age to be around twenty-nine.
Before Gilbert had time to inspect the other recruiter, the skinny punched him twice. A punch landed directly on the nose; the other blow, more forceful, landed in the mouth. Gill staggered, but out of vain and manly pride he held his center of gravity. Seconds passed and he felt a stream of blood run down his nose into his slightly open mouth. Several teeth were missing or loose, her red, swollen tongue confirmed.
The thin, angry recruiter was preparing to hit Gilbert for the third time, when his partner, a big guy, stopped him by coming between him and Gilbert. With all the misery and hunger that plagued the Igbo as a result of the war, Gilbert wondered why this recruiter was so strong, almost like a sumo wrestler. However, most of his weight was on his head and face. On the back of his neck he had a hump the size of a baby’s buttock. He looked like a man in his forties; his beard was an exact replica of the one worn by the Biafran leader, Emeka Ojukwu.
Hold it, push it! the giant roared at his partner, who was pushing himself to hit Gilbert in the eyeball.
What the great recruiter was interested in at the time was not punishing Gilbert, but getting him out of the backyard, out of town and into a war sector. His punishment would come in the Abagana sector or at the Npkor crossing, where the war was fought like a double hell.
Although they expected some bleeding, the recruiters winced when they saw how much blood was gushing from Gilbert’s massive nose, and in a show of mercy they allowed him to clean up a bit. Nervously he smeared it on his trouser leg.
“What a fool,” the hunched-necked recruiter muttered. Move quickly! If you don’t fight for the Igbos, who would you fight for?
“Men who want to fight have already gone to war,” Gilbert wanted to say, but he didn’t, lest he reveal his insight. He was still planning to pose as an idiot.
Some dew had fallen overnight, and Gilbert felt wet sand on his bare feet as he walked with his captors from the backyard to the front. A keyless metal gate separated the patios. With bloody hands, Gill opened it and the two recruiters followed. Three meters beyond the metal gate, the recruiters were able to see the exterior wrought iron front door of the house.
Something he saw at the outer door put the great recruiter into defense mode. Two pillars, one on each side of the door, supported some kind of creature. “Hallux,” he whispered, “bring the flashlight.” Hallux took a dim torch from his back pocket, tapped his hand on the bottom a couple of times to get some shine, and pointed the beam at the door.
‘Tails of two giant pythons; ornamental, I think, ‘said Hallux.
By now, the moon had danced for the last time. From somewhere in the cosmos, fragments of sunlight had begun to flicker over Eziama, making every detail of creation more noticeable.
Gilbert made a monkey face and chuckled mindlessly. He quickly leaned over and grabbed a handful of damp soil, popped half into his mouth, and began to chew and swallow.
Taken by surprise, Hallux opened his palm and slapped Gilbert across the mouth. Half of the sand came out of his mouth. It was red and sticky.
Gilbert laughed and thanked the angry recruiter for the slap.
Suspecting Gilbert’s motivation, the huge recruiter said: ‘He is a fool who fights without fear of death. You are exactly what Biafra needs to win the war: men who feel no pain.
‘Say nothing. If you do, speak gibberish, ” Gilbert warned himself. He knew they were provoking him to speak, to disagree to confirm that he was not a fool, he was only playing one.
Actions, not words, he told himself. To survive it had to be credible. “Act like a goat,” said an inner voice. Gilbert leaned over and planted the four branches in the ground. The recruiters were ready for him. They moved to his side, grabbed him by the elbow, yanked him, and straightened him. ‘Keep moving.’
Soon they reached the outer door. All of Gilbert’s hopes of staying alive depended on the closed door. How would they get away without opening the door? If the angry recruiter tried to break open the door, the noise would alert the villagers who would be gathering and persuade them to release him. Until now no one had come to his rescue, but that would not last. He could feel that, as is always the case, no one wanted to be the first to rattle the cat.
” Okokpa, the red comb alpha rooster, ” he had chanted non-stop since Gilbert’s ordeal began, and that should have alerted all the villagers that all was not well in Eziama. Where was Jimmy, the village dog, who heard and investigated all the events in Eziama?
God, not man or animal, will set you free. You worry too much, ‘he warned himself, but the worries didn’t go away. Why didn’t his captors bother with the closed door? Were they willing to throw it through the peaks and into the narrow streets? If they tried to force him to climb over the fence, he knew what to do: Refuse. His disappearance here behind the door, where in the morning everyone would see his body and bury it, would be better than death on the battlefield.
He wished he could predict the future, what would happen to him in an hour and at the end of the day. That the future was hidden from him made his fear worse. He could face death, but please, God let him know the time, the day, so that he could prepare, he prayed.
Calmly, the giant recruiter reached into the lower left side pocket of his jacket and pulled out a rattling wool purse. He untied the rope, pulled out five rusty nails, held them between his lips, and began to exchange them, one after the other, to open the lock.
On his fourth try, the lock opened. Gilbert felt his soul flee from his body. By giving up so easily, he had contributed to his own death. Fooling around, he had let the recruiters take advantage of him. Direct confrontation with his captors would have had a better result for him, he reflected, regretting that he had gone the fool’s way.
Methodically, the fat recruiter returned the five nails to the bag, secured the rope, and put it in his pocket. Hands free, he tugged on the door ties at the same time.
“Move,” Hallux ordered, followed by a kick to the rear. Gilbert staggered toward the narrow, lonely street.
“Which way, Max?” Hallux asked.
It took Maxwell several seconds to clear his mind and get it right, then he pointed his finger and the recruits turned right with Gilbert.