Nke abuo On the morning that the chalice tipped over and violence spilled over on Ogboli community, the sky wore the face of a peasant farmer whose wife had just birthed her third set of twins in five years. There were no chubby kids on smart uniforms waiting in front of their compound gates for the daily school buses. Nor okpa sellers announcing in megaphone-like voices how hot and peppery their okpa was and why it was the best thing after oxygen on such a dour morning. Awka Road looked like an expressway in the middle of the Sahara. The air hung with a tepid fear of things unknown, a premonition that something was about to happen even though no one knew exactly what. It didn't surprise me when it started. I already knew from the wailings and muted whispers that followed after Chimezie's body was found the night before. I knew that this wouldn't be swept away like the others. Chimezie was not another of the faceless men we often found abandoned on street corners, gutters, and refuse dumps on most morning. Men with missing limbs or penises, gory holes where their eyes were supposed to be, and sometimes, small incision on their bellies — wounds I was sure must've been done by a licensed surgeon — and internal organs supposedly missing, holes.
These happenings chipped away the little sanity that we still managed. Bit by bit, our senses dulled and crazy things began to seem normal. Things kept happening. Poking, progressively pushing the limits of the horrors we imagined we had the capacity to endure. Each discovery was like throwing a keg of petrol to a burning house. Sooner or later the concrete would melt from the intensity of the flames, and pull the aflame building to the ground. But until then the flames would keep burning and burning.
The violence didn't surprise me. But I never knew we could sustain that kind of anger in us. Ndi Ogboli were never known to be an angry people. Our anger was mostly benign; an anger spelled with small letters and easily swept away by the waves of time and crates of LIFE beer and peppered kpomo. It didn't have destruction in its arsenal. But this time was different. It was one of us. A nwa afo. Chimezie was a son moulded from the most virile Ogboli soil. He was the last person that this should've happened to.
It was terrible waking up to the sight of gutters clogged with already dead, mutilated bodies and feeling waves of nausea, shock, and pity wash over oneself in quick succession because you wondered how the families of these unnamed strangers would feel seeing their sons in that state. But it was another thing entirely finding a known, loved, and vivacious member of the community crumpled in front of St Mary's Bustop, Ogboli, on a wet evening. Like a bag of refuse. It was a visceral kind of anguish that left one's mouth ajar. It was paralyzing. It was a different kind of mad, the kind ndi Onitsha called ara na agba ndi ara. The madness that worried the mad. An insidious wave of rage frothed and bubbled through us all, boiling. It mixed with sorrow and pain. Mama Chimezie's face wore the saddest look one could ever imagine. I used to think she was the strongest in Ogboli. Mama Chimezie that had helped deliver at least half the children born in Ogboli during the last decade. Mama Chimezie that her only enemies — even if temporary — were the needle-phobic little children she gave injections to and the pregnant women who hurled insults at her in that mad moment of searing pain before childbirth. Mmm. Mama Chimezie who was the defacto leader of Ogboli even though she was a woman and couldn't, even across three lifetimes, sit on the Igwe Ogboli's Council Of Chiefs. On that evening, however, her face betrayed a fragility I never knew she possessed beneath those aged wrinkles. Her world shattered with this forceful snatching of her only child. And for that, Ogboli had to crumble the next morning.
It started with Amandi, the Mbaise vulcanizer, who had lived half his life here, dragging two tires to the junction that connected Awka road to Ogboli, spraying petrol from a plastic can, and throwing a lit match stick on them. As the smoke swirled in the dour morning and spiraled to the heavens, there was sudden movement in the erstwhile quiet surroundings. Men with eyes like that of a furious rat flushed out of its gutter home and smashed head first against the floor, eyes that craved revenge and itched for blood — spilled out of their compounds. It was as if the smoke had flushed them all out of their hiding. A wail started from Mama Chimezie quarters. Soon, burning tires had covered every inch on every inch of Awka Road and it looked like a bonfire party was in session.
Machetes were produced and names mentioned. There used to be whispers that the random killings were perpetuated by the local government chairman, Cosmas Madubuko, and his partners in blood: Chief Emerald. Whispers — nothing concrete until yesterday night when the most dubious of eye witnesses claimed that the SUV that dumped Chimezie's body at St Mary's junction belonged to Cosmas Madubuko. I wondered the truth of this. Perhaps the unfettered rage made commonsense disappear and gave room for dangerous conclusions. One plus one had to become four because emotions had gotten in the mix and because it was Amandi the Mbaise man who used to be the best buddy of Chimezie that was allegedly recognized the SUV. I wanted to say this but instead held my tongue. Nobody would listen to my doubts, especially not when they were tipsy with unfettered bloodlust. I was not the one going to make the decisions for the mob. To them, only a certain man's blood would sate their thirst and the option of being a devil's advocate wasn't that enticing. But I could warn the accused. And I set out to do so.
The burning tires on Awka road turned the asphalt black and filled the air with its heavy fumes. As I zigzagged my way around, I noticed that it consisted mostly of men in their youth. Men who smoked igbo with Chimezie most evenings and who held Mama Chimezie in the highest of regard. Some were on Kymco motorcycles and they performed dangerous stunts round and round the burning tires while their engines screamed and screamed while everywhere stank of burnt tires, petrol, and igbo. It choked like an asthma attack. It was impossible not to be caught up in the energy. This was pent-up frustration fighting back. This was more than Chimezie; this was full-blown resistance, a push back. These men were suddenly tired. And while I believed some like Amandi the vulcanizer wanted to exploit this situation to settle ersonal scores, I sensed that the rest were indeed tired of the weak local government chairman, of the little value that the government placed on our lives and welfare, of finding corpses in gutters every morning. ________
Cosmas Madubuko's home sat at the end of the Madubuko Street, the loveliest street in Ogboli. A street with gutters that didn't stink, fenced mansions that actually looked like homes and not houses, a street we could never live in. We were not politicians, nor were we the filthy rich elite allies of Cosmas Madubuko. We were just filth that could only watch his SUVs pass by. Nobody actually liked him, especially since he became the local government chairman and started cruising around in tinted SUVs. It made people who used to know him, like Amandi, jealous that they began to fester the rumors of him being behind the mysterious dead bodies. I didn't know Cosmas Madubuko personally, but I could swear that he wasn't behind Chimezie's murder. His gateman, a wiry hausa man who wore a babariga that had seen better days, came out when I banged on the gates. A chewing stich was wedged in his sinewy mouth that had faint lines running across the lips.
"I have an urgent message for Chief."
"Eii, Shukudi. Wetin?"
"Them dey come for Chief! Na im be the message. Run go tell street. And you, Ahmed, go hide. If them catch you here them go use you do suya."
With that, I turned and fled. ______
We moved like zombies on steroids towards Chief's home. Like tornadoes, things unfortunate to be on the path to Madubuko street were vandalized. Kiosks, signboard, anything that could be pulled off got pulled off. This time, I was in their midst and shirtless. It was unfettered rage. It was destruction on the prowl. I hoped that Chief Cosmas must've fled by now and also wondered if Ahmed had heeded my advice and disappeared. I had done my part and sated my conscience. _____ We were greeted by two parked police vans with over two dozen police men clutching bayonets and batons. I scoffed. The sight vexed the mob and a not a few charged stupidly into the waiting swings of bayonets. The fight had begun. ____ It lasted for about thirty minutes and soon over a dozen men lay cold on the floor. The remaining police men flung their batons and bayonets away and ran for their lives, leaving their two Hilux vans. They were no match with their batons and bayonet and with their fleeing, the carnage began in earnest. The two Hiluxes were set ablaze. The gate to the Madubuko Madison was yanked open. The mob poured in, in their tens. Some held cudgels, other pieces of bottles.
Nothing was off limits. The noise was deafening. Blood lust mixed with adrenaline and the euphoria of chasing away the policemen.
A man was dragged out. He was as naked as an ape. Bloodied. His eyes were terror stricken. I didn't recognize him at first. But when I did, I felt an intense wave of sickness come over me. There was a chill in my blood, then an explosion of emotions. I was angry. It was the bloody chief himself. It was him. The wave of sickness overwhelmed me again and I slumped to my knees instead. I wanted to vomit and scream and I didn't know which to start first. My head felt flooded. My eyes stung. I couldn't watch this. I started to rise but the noise was deafening. I tried to block it out but it was an exercise in futility. Everything was happening all at once. I had seen and witnessed enough.
Scenes flashed before my eyes: Amandi pouring petrol over the naked Chief and calling for matches while a crowd howled and roared and cheered; Ahmed trampled and stomped to death, his babariga nowhere to be found; Mama Chimezie sitting in her corridor and surrounded by dozens of women whispering "ndo" and timing their hisses in mourning unison; and Chimezie himself frowning as he puffed from a Bensin & Hedges cigarette and watched a lit matchstick turn the petrol-wet Cosmas Madubuko into a writhing, screaming body bag. I passed out.