You know you do not believe the country will change for the better this time. But you are determined to try once more. You can still feel that little flicker of hope. That tiny flame that held the last straws of your sanity together.
The last time you came out for a protest, you had nearly lost a limb. No, you had almost died. Your friend Uche had been the one holding your hand when the bullet hit him. The fear had struck you like a sledgehammer. You had always wanted to be a martyr; to die in the field fighting for a just cause. But when Uche’s body hit the tar, and your arm burned from where the bullet had grazed it, you realised you weren’t yet ready to embrace death.
“Ovie, you dey come abi you nor dey come?” It was your friend Musa. He was standing by the gate, an expression of impatience ingrained in his face.
“I dey come make I wear helmet. You know say na bike we wan take protest today,” you explain.
“Abeg do quick. The other guys don dey call me. E be like say dem don reach junction already.”
You nod in acknowledgement, your mind going over the things your Mom had told you earlier. You hesitate a bit, wondering if there was still time to change your mind.
You had returned from the bathroom earlier that morning when she walked slowly into the sitting room. You could tell she had aged well beyond her years. She had made you sit down, an air of melancholy washing over her shoulders. You could see the grey of her hair standing out all over her sadly shaking head. Her hand shook a bit as she held tightly to the walking stick that was her constant companion since the stroke.
“My son,” her voice had sounded like a whisper.
“I am proud that you’re following the footsteps of your Father.” She had paused for breath, making sure you understood every word. “Your Dad always walked fearlessly into battle. But please don’t go out today. You are all I have left.”
Your face had immediately registered your disagreement. You were determined to protest today. There were so many relying on you. Too much was at stake.
“Please Ovie, listen to your mother. If you die, who will take care of me? The government won’t even pay my pension anymore. This sickness has left me dependent.”
“Mama,” you had said in the most placatory tone you could muster, “I won’t die today.” You had had to look away. You couldn’t bear to see the tears running down her cheeks.
“Just listen to me please”, she had objected. “The government does not care about you, me, or anyone else for that matter. Wowo. Stay at home today. Please my son. Please.”
You had been heart broken. You were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Your mind had flashed to your Campus days, when you were SUG President. You recalled how you had made stubborn lecturers tremble. You thought about your Dad for an instant. How he had always been your pillar, before the insurgency in the North East cut short his life.
“Guy!” Musa’s voice ended your reverie. He looked even more impatient.
You wipe the lone tear from your face as you sit astride your Dad’s motorcycle. You can feel your Mom’s eyes burning holes into your retreating back. You know she knows you might not return home tonight.
The junction is a bit deserted when you arrive. But the young people of your neighbourhood who had joined you and Musa as they saw you drive past, soon fill up the square.
You remove your helmet and let your dread locks fall free. Your muscled arms feel a bit sweaty in the cold morning breeze. You smile reassuringly at some of the young people looking up to you to lead them. You are determined not to let them see your fear.
In the distance you can make out truck after truck loaded with Policemen. You wonder where they had been with their armoured tanks when Itohan your neighbour’s daughter was kidnapped last week, or when armed robbers raided your street for close to five hours a month ago.
You cannot understand why your government feels more threatened by peaceful protesters than by bandits, insurgents and kidnappers. You however shrug it off as one of those things.
“Baba, how e dey be nah?” The young man that had spoken isn’t more than twenty years of age by your estimation.
You smile at him and make the peace sign with your fingers. “We move bro. We move!”
“Baba Ovie, we believe you brodaly. We believe you too much. We must resist this tyrannical government. We die here today.”
Before you can respond, you’re surrounded by excited young people. Some ask you to inspect their placards and tell them what you think. Others want your opinion on a number of ideas.
You’re caught up in the frenzy. Thoughts about your Mom’s concerns recede to the background. You take the microphone and begin addressing the crowd.
“Disperse now! Go back home all of you, or we’ll open fire!”
You look at the middleaged policeman who had given the order. You make sure to read his name tag. He is carrying an old service AK 47 with his finger to the trigger. The others are behind him already firing tear gas canisters at your protesters.
You look back at your crowd. None of them has moved an inch. It’s a face off. You see the determination in their eyes, the purpose in their silence. You are emboldened.
Even as your eyes begin to smart from the fumes of the tear gas, you disembark from your motorcycle, lift up your megaphone and scream at the top of your voice, “Oga, we nor dey go anywhere. Allow us pass. We’re not armed and we have a right to protest.”
“Una go just die for nothing o. I say break up this crowd now. Or else!”
You see the policeman raise his AK 47. Instinct makes you dive to the ground. The next moments happen in a flash.
Gunshots rent the air. You hear screams. You can barely see through the smoke. You begin to choke.
Your mind tells you to get off the ground and break through the police lines. You know it’s a stupid thing to do, but you’re determined to do it. As you make a dash for it, you can hear others behind you.
Just as you get to the line, your legs buckle under you. A bullet had found it’s way into your knee cap. The pain almost drives you crazy. You roll over screaming at the top of your voice.
Next thing you know, you’re being loaded into the back of a Black Maria. The protest has ended for you.
You are filled with disappointment. But you realise you gave it your best shot, even though your country stopped you short as she falsely marked Democracy Day.
© Oselumhense Anetor, 2021.
Photo Credit: © Chika Onuu Photography