A short story by Elnathan John
You knew. You didn’t care. That he didn’t believe your Jesus was son of God. That he smoked shisha. That he knew what you felt. He made it easy. He asked. Told you what he saw. In your brown slant eyes. He made it easy. To fall for him. He fell for you.
He didn’t care. That you didn’t pray to his God and would not change. That you drank beer, that your mother also did. That it would be hard to convince your people.
He met your mum. He loved her, the way she smiled. Your mum loved him more, the way he was with you. She didn’t care, what he was. She married her type and look what it got her, she said. The uncles in the village would object though.
He was tall and slim with a sharp nose, like the men who attacked their village. “But you are not like them, not like your people,” your mum said to him, looking in to his eyes. Not asking him. Telling him. Not hoping that he was different. Telling him. He had to be different. Then the uncles wouldn’t matter. She knew how to get her way, your mum assured you both.
You met his mum. Tall like him. Gentle like him. Pointed pretty nose, like him. Her husband had died. Like your father. In an accident. Your father on the way to Makurdi. Her husband on the way to Lagos. She said great things about her husband. Every time she could. Your mum said unkind things about your father. Every time she could. You told him about the sister you and your mum discovered before your father died. You made him promise he would never get another woman. Like his brother did. Like your father had. He made you promise, you would remain sweet. Like you now were. Like your mother. You promised. He promised.
Your mum convinced the uncles. To give him audience at least. His mum let him do what he wanted. His mum didn’t make you promise anything. Not like your mum made him promise. You both set a date. To meet the uncles.
Their faces were stern. The uncles. One by one they asked him questions. Hard questions that made you cry. That made you want to tell them all to go to hell. Your mum knew. She held your hand. So you wouldn’t jump and scream. Spoil it all. They asked about his people, why they attacked your village. He swore he didn’t know why. He didn’t care for politics. It was unfortunate for anyone to die. But he was a civil servant and sold cows once in a while. Nothing else mattered to him. They got tired. The uncles. They said they would think about it. They would tell your mum the verdict. Your mum smiled. She knew that was a roundabout way of saying yes. She was happy. You were happy.
He asked if there was a hotel in the village. You didn’t want him to sleep in the village. Your mum agreed. There were rascals in the village. People still angry about the last attack, one month ago. But she would stay. To smooth things with the uncles.
He drove you home. It was two hours away from town. You passed many checkpoints. Scary looking guys from the joint patrol. They flashed lights into your eyes. And waved you past. It was getting late. But it was worth it. He was tired. You were even more tired. He was glad it didn’t end as bad as he thought it would. You were glad he kept his cool while they grilled him. It was nothing, he said. He wanted you. He was sweet, you said. You wanted him too.
The last check point you saw looked funny. There were logs and stones instead of barricades and sand bags. There were bare chests instead of uniforms and bullet proof vests. Machetes instead of guns. The screaming boys hit the car as you stopped and demanded that you both get out. He stepped out first. He was always the one to confront things head on. You realised they spoke your language. You were relieved. You spoke to them, asked them what happened. Someone had called someone about a man who was found dead in his farm. Arrow in his stomach. Slit throat. Hands chopped. Just like the ones last month. They heard you speak the language and told you to get back in and pass. He shut his door. You shut your door. Then someone asked who he was. He was your husband, you said. Technically, he was. The uncles were going to agree.
They looked at him again. He looked too much like the people who came last month. They asked where he was from. You started begging instead of answering. He started the car, bold man that he was, and tried to drive through. The stones. The logs. He couldn’t. They dragged him out. They dragged you out. Separated you. They made him strip. Tied his hands. They made you watch. Tied your hands. He tried to speak, bold man that he was. It was not him that hurt them, killed them. It was not him or his family. He was an innocent man trying to marry their sister. You wished he didn’t speak at all. The leader said angrily, that his people killed them and now tried to take their women. The leader spat on him and struck his head with a stick. They made you watch. You begged. For his life. It was you who brought him here, you said.
He sat back up, his head bleeding and looked the leader in the eye, bold man that he was. Killing me won’t solve anything, he said. Bold man that he was. The leader went mad and used the machete on him. Your man, he didn’t shout. Or cry. Or beg. Bold man that he was. Even as you watched his body squirm, you were proud of him. Your man.
Then they took turns with you. If you could do it with him, the enemy, you could also do it with them, the leader said. Some hit you. Some cut you. Deep. They wouldn’t kill you they said. Just a lesson for sleeping with the enemy. The tears flowed. You grit your teeth. You refused to beg. Or scream. Not even when you realised they would kill you. Like him. Your man.
Elnathan John was born in Kaduna, and went to the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and is currently in a postgraduate program at the Nigerian Defence Academy. Elnathan enjoys poetry and literary criticism and is currently working on a second collection of short stories.