My 2 Month Old Will Not Sleep On His Back The Biafran Recruiters: A Tale From the Nigerian Civil War

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The Biafran Recruiters: A Tale From the Nigerian Civil War

Odera

Monday, January 8, 1968. At five in the morning, Oderah, almost six years old, had been awake for a while. Employed between Kenko and Bartholomew, on a narrow handmade bamboo mat, he scanned the ceiling again and looked repeatedly at the blank walls. Where two walls met, he looked down, pondering the Unukwu-Udu Mmiri, a gigantic wide clay pot containing drinking water, topped with a flat plate on which rested an inverted bowl without a handle.

Oderah and his brothers slept in one of those rooms tucked in the middle of a house. The only rear window attached to the room was closed, so it was hard to tell whether the night moon was late in its rise or the infant sun rose early. Still, all Oderah could think about was how to get up and leave without waking the brothers.

Agriculture, weaving, breeding, selling, scavenging and plowing keep children in excess in a time of war. How Kenko and Bartho managed to still be asleep despite the tasks ahead baffled Oderah as she tried to control her inner turmoil. Maybe they came to lie next to him late at night. This carpet, as smooth as palm oil, made no noise when placed.

“Due to the circumstances of the war,” he sensed, “three brothers are now huddled together on a narrow carpet, on a cold cement floor in a small room. But for how much longer? Whenever one of them got up, he wanted to escape from the others and continue with his own companies.

The adults had been left out of the game, many never to return to their villages; many more, for fear of the recruiters, were in hiding. The children of war will do whatever they can to help, to stay alive as long as the war lasts.

No one does any work lying on a cold carpet. He just needed to reach the doorknob, a meter from his toes. “How useful this knob was,” he thought, “opening the door whenever it is turned, without making a squeak.”

What worried him at the moment was how to get off the mat cleanly, without waking Kenko or Bartho. Once on his feet, he could tiptoe to the door which would give way with the sound of a pin dropping.

If Oderah slept on her stomach none of that would have mattered. Like a monkey on all fours, he would have crawled back, cleaned the carpet and his siblings, and stood up when he approached the doorknob. Regret filled his little heart.

Going from a supine sleeping position to a prone position in such a small space would infuriate Kenko, who would surely, even if he was fast asleep, deliver a precise elbow strike aimed at the offender’s ribs. It was also futile, the carpet being slippery with no grip, the idea of ​​sliding backwards across the carpet.

Only one option remained viable. Next to his three heads, in fact within arm’s reach, was a couch as sturdy as a termite mound, with four iron legs. Time and time again, Oderah had used the couch lever to get off the carpet. This morning should be no different.

Lying on his back, he reached a left hand back over his shoulder to grab the nearest iron leg of the sturdy couch. Similarly, his right hand hooked another iron foot. Using his chest muscles to strengthen, taking care not to tangle with his brothers, he rolled his entire body across the smooth surface of the carpet, like a dice on a board, stopping when he neared the top end.

At the same time as he pulled, like an acrobat spinning his head, he somersaulted, adjusting to a crawling position. Back on his feet, he waited for a reaction. None came. His movement had been flawless, and Kenko didn’t throw an elbow. She tiptoed halfway across the carpet to the door, turned the knob, and crossed the short but wide corridor behind.

Farther and slightly to his right was the kitchen, its door unable to close, open enough for Oderah to walk in without lifting a finger. On one of the low wooden shelves was a box of matches. Oderah retrieved and lit a match and guided the flame to a nearby location ogbeidimbua locally made incandescent device, comparable to a candlestick resting on a hollow glass vessel.

Happiness lit up his face when, scanning the kitchen for clutter, he realized that his drum remained exactly where it had been, in a corner behind the kitchen door.

Grabbing the paint can by its curved metal handle, he lifted it to a low wooden stool in the center of the kitchen next to a mortar and pestle. A metal knife with a hard top edge opened the lid easily each time the inspection came, which was usually several times a day. He picked up a knife, but soon after had a change of heart. One of the rodents might be ready to jump out of the drum and run away.

“Put the knife back on the wooden shelf,” Oderah said to herself. After obeying, he placed an eye on the diamond-shaped vent in the center of the cover lid. Five trembling shadows assured him that the five rodents were still alive.

Delight and dignity descended upon him. He was becoming a man who prided himself not only on keeping peace among these captured creatures, but also on providing for himself. Who knew how far this company could go? If the mice bred and learned to live amicably, he might have enough to feed other children in the village in times of war.

With every delight comes remorse, and so it was with Oderah. Inside the hype, he remembered, was a rat with a fresh wound and a predatory neighbor. The predator, a stocky rodent with tiger-like jaws and a chimpanzee’s hairy neck, had chewed on the hind thigh of its scrawny relative. Looking at the large-necked hairy rodent will, on many occasions, discourage it from threatening its neighbors. Again, Oderah reached for the metal knife with which to open the lid.

Just as he was bending over the box again, a sound came from the yard behind the kitchen. Still clutching the metal knife, he took two steps to the rear windows, unlocked the vertical bolt, and silently opened the glass of the left window.

Even if the moon hadn’t fully receded, there was only a glint of sunlight, not strong enough to disperse the village’s stubborn fog, making it difficult but not impossible for a reasonable gaze from a keen observer to penetrate.

Looking down to find where the noise was coming from, Oderah saw the backs of the two Leopards as they clung to the top edge of the block wall, their feet about to land in the backyard. All the children in the neighborhood knew how the recruiters paraded their captives through the dirt streets of the villages, but no one, as far as Oderah could tell, saw them climb a fence.

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