14th May, 1968.

The Civil War was in its second year and the death toll had steadily increased. Innocent lives were snuffed out every day. The Resistance soldiers fought resolutely for their freedom from the Republic. The Federal soldiers fought with all their might to recapture the cities already taken by the rebel soldiers. The sound of gunshots and shells became the national anthem of the disintegrating country. No place in the country was safe.

The little village of Atani was not left out in the fierce battle between the Federal and the Rebel Troops. The serenity of the beautiful Tuesday morning was shattered by the sound of fighter jets flying over the hitherto peaceful town. As they flew over, they dropped bombs of various sizes causing explosions here and there. People began to run for their lives. The Federal Troops pounded the city from the sky. In a matter of minutes, the bombings ceased. The buildings were levelled, houses had their roofs blown off and some were out rightly flattened.

Then the foot soldiers marched in, guns blazing, bullets flying with deadly precision. They cut down every living thing within the range of their sight. Those who the jets spared, the footmen finished off. The little village soon turned into a chaotic killing field. The soldiers formed an arc and concentrated their fire on the villagers as they ran. Men, women and children of different ages ran for their lives as the bullets found their marks. The falling went down with a cry, the fallen too silent to make any noise. It was a senseless massacre.

Soon, the Commander, Captain Mansa, asked his boys to cease fire. Then they took to rummaging, pillaging and looting the village. They brutalized the survivors, raped the women and burnt the men on stakes. At last, dusk settled in and the whole town was swallowed by an eerie silence.

Inside one of the dilapidated houses, an oil lamp cast a dim glow around the room. The place was turned upside down. The rubble of the damaged building filled one part of the room. Only a corner of the room was cleared for dwelling. One part of the building was blown away by a shell that blasted its way through. Fear and tension was thick in the air. Yet, somehow, there was life in room.

Obiageli sat in the corner with her 18-month child clutched to her chest. The child suckled blissfully on his mother's breast. Tears dribbled down Obiageli's cheeks as she recalled the scene where her husband was shot in the head by one of the Federal soldiers. She was now left alone to cater for her small baby. At the age of 28, she was already a widow with a baby to cater for. It was a miracle that she escaped today's onslaught. She had managed to hide herself in one of the buildings at the outskirts of the village. She silently prayed that none of the soldiers would find her. After sometime, she drifted off to a blissful sleep with the baby still suckling.

The sound of the door being kicked down jarred her back to earth. Her heart began to beat fast. It was as if someone was pounding yam in her heart. She quickly tied her wrapper, wore her blouse well and gripped her baby tighter. As she attempted to stand up, she looked up and saw six Federal soldiers looming over her. They had wicked grins on their faces as they leered at her. One of them suddenly broke out into a guttural laugh.

“Do you really think you can hide? Eh?”

She couldn't reply. The soldier, who obviously was the leader, turned to one of his boys.

“Seize the child”, he growled.

Obiageli's senses went into hyper drive; she clutched her baby tight and began to back away until she hit the rock solid chest of one of the soldiers. The soldier behind her grabbed her hands in vice-like grip while another wrested the baby from her arms.

“No!” she screamed, “not my baby.”

Tears began to flow down her eyes. Her scarf flew off her head leaving her hair scattered. She struggled to free herself from the grip of the soldier.

“Let me go!”

Wrested from his mother's arm and a blissful sleep, the baby began to wail. The leader of the group held the baby by its ankle, dangling him upside down. The child's wailing increased as blood began to rush into his tender brain. Obiageli screamed, twisted and turned as she cursed at the madman dangling her baby like a pendulum. She managed to free herself and launched forward. The leader stepped aside and lashed out with his right hand. She stopped dead in her tracks, her head snapped back as the leader landed a vicious backhand slap on her cheek. She felt a trickle of blood where the ring on his finger made a gash on her cheek.

As she managed to regain herself and pushed forward, she felt the boot of the soldier hit her stomach in a vicious kick. This knocked the wind out of her; she doubled over and reeled backwards. From behind, one of the soldiers lashed at her with his belt. The belt landed on her back with a sting. Red welts began to form as she screamed and shouted. The pain coursing through her veins was becoming unbearable. The other soldiers laughed at her misery as one of them walked up to her and gave her another slap. He then held her head in place so she could watch their leader dangle her child.

The demented leader of the soldiers swung the child back and forth, his ears deaf to the heart-rending wails of the baby. Suddenly, he opened his palm and let go.

Obiageli opened her mouth to scream as she watched her child drop from the soldier's hand. Then with a sickening crunch, the baby hit the floor, his head snapped and he went silent. Her scream was carried on the wind to every corner of the village. No one dared to come to her rescue. She felt someone yank her hair backwards as she reached towards her baby. The child lay spread-eagled on the ground. His head bent at an odd angle.

Another soldier gave her a lash of his belt. She arched her back as the sting went straight to her brain. Then she saw the leader walk up to her. His bloodshot eyes gave her a quick-over. The wicked grin plastered on his face. She spat on his uniform, a mixture of blood and saliva. Her action drew another slap from the leader's calloused palm. This time, she could not cry out. She simply threw her head backwards and opened her mouth in untold pain. Her voice lost from her previous wailings. The leader then looked at his boys. This time, the two words he spoke registered deep in her mind.

“Prepare her.”

She began to struggle with the soldiers. She struggled with all her might as she felt her blouse being ripped apart. Then her wrapper followed. Soon, she was naked before the six soldiers. One of them ran his finger down her spine. Shivers ran through her body as she made an attempt to wriggle away from his touch. Another soldier planted his foot squarely on her back and she fell face down. Her body was weak, her bones almost broken, her voice gone. She trembled with fear, anger and pain. Tears flowed freely from her eyes. The sight of her child further pained her.

Then she felt calloused palms grope at her exposed breasts. She felt the leader of the pack manhandle her delicate breasts. She made a feeble attempt to stop him but he pushed her hands aside. One of the men pinned her arms down as their leader loosened his belt and unzipped his trouser. She tried to wrestle with him but she was no match for his tremendous strength. She felt him violate her body while raining curses on her.

When he finished, he spat on her and handed her over to his men. She laid there helplessly as two, three, four, five other men used her broken body like a toy. When they were done, she could barely move her limbs. One of the men urinated on her and another kicked her side with his boot. She just rolled limply as the kick carried her.

When they were gone, Obiageli could no longer cry or make any sound. She had been broken, battered and used. She slowly began to crawl towards her son with tears flowing down her cheek. The boy lay blissfully on the ground, his broken neck inconspicuous. As she crawled towards him, the image of her husband falling down as the bullet struck him, flashed through her mind. She pushed further until finally, she could no longer move. Her outstretched hand dropped just some inches away from her child.

Her strength failed her as she dropped her head and sunk into oblivion. Her last shred of sanity and humanity, torn away from her by the Federal Soldiers.


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