Disclaimer: This is a fictional account of the Crisis in Nigeria regarding the kidnapped schoolgirls. The names, characters and incidents are inspired by the actual events but are a product of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual events is coincidental.
“Maira! Stop!” My suitemate yelled as she slapped my hand away from her face.
Lidiah and I bursted out laughing uncontrollably. We loved playing tricks on Mercy. This time I convinced Lidiah to watch me as I waved a smelly undergarment over her nose. How hilarious it was to watch her sniff in her sleep!
“Both of you should be sleeping. We have exams. ”
As I sat gigging on my bed in the darkness of our suite, I noticed her long limbed body shift towards the wall. She began mumbling, “Jesus Christ, why did you give me imbeciles as suitemates. I’ve been good to you. I go to church, I pray. Aaah!”
“Allah, why did you give me a bore as a suitemate? How can I live a life of fun?” I asked in my attempt to mock her.
“Mercy, have mercy on us!” Lidiah exclaimed as she threw her head back in laughter. I loved it when she laughed. Before she laughed, she would look at you and raise her eyebrows in anticipation as a nonverbal way to invite you to share this moment with her. Her pearly teeth shone brightly even in the dark.
“We are restless. How can you sleep with all this crackling and noise?” She continued.
“Aaah, nonsense. No excuses. Maira is restless all of the time. She never goes to sleep on time for curfew. And she has conditioned you to do the same.”
It was true. I never followed our school’s curfew. I felt like it was too early. Why should I go to sleep at 10pm when I spent most of my day in class or studying? I need time to unwind, relax, annoy my suitemates or explore the boy’s dormitory.
I went over to nudge Mercy.
“Live a little, Mercy. Plus, Lidiah is right. The noise outside is very distracting and it is seems to be getting louder. Stay up with us.”
“Leave. Me. Al….”
BOOM! The noise startled us.
We sat silently.
Mercy sat up. All fun and games had dissipated from the air and was replaced with quiet panic and fear.
“It must be Boko Haram.” Mercy finally said.
“What? But they have never come to terrorize Chibok. We’ve been safe and peaceful.”
“But Maira, it has been in the news. They’ve been kidnapping, killing and burning people in our surrounding towns all in the name of getting rid of ‘sinful western education’. Of course they would come here. What would make the people of Chibok so special? In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t raided our city earlier given that we have the highest Christian population in the Borno State’” Lidiah explained.
“Maira wouldn’t know that. She is too busy skipping classes to even bother to be informed.” Mercy stated in her usual matter of fact way that could get under my skin.
I rolled my eyes.
She knew me well. Out of the three, I cared the least about school or news, well, except for the latest song or fashion. Mercy stayed in her books more so than the news so I was still quite surprised that she was as well informed.
She was oblivious to anything outside of school including boys. How could anyone be oblivious to boys? I could usually find her in the library hunched over a textbook with a highlighting marker in her left hand.
I expected this from Lidiah, who not only excelled in school but still kept updated with the latest news including the latest fashion, styles and Beyoncé’s newest song. She was also what she liked to call a “hustla” an American slang for someone who finds any way to make money or to make it. I have to admit she lived out that slang because she was always selling something. Whether if it was selling sweet treats to students during exams or braiding someone’s hair for a discounted price, she found a way to get some extra naira.
“Hopefully, it’s just a scare.” I said.
“Even if it is a scare, tomorrow it may not be. These people want to be recognized. They want the government to notice them. Let’s pray that whatever the Boko Haram decide to do that they do it after exams. I studied too hard to miss my exam,” Mercy joked with a playful yet weary smile on her long face.
“Oh, now you want to joke, when it comes to something serious.” I bantered.
We all giggled. Our mood was lifted for only a moment when he heard a loud crash into our dorm and felt the building shake. Next thing I heard were screams.
Mercy and I looked at each other. And just stared.
Lidiah broke our trance and walked over to the window. It was midnight and too dark too see anything.
“We can’t jump out, they’ve surrounded the building, they have guns.” She stood there analyzing next steps.
Then we heard intense knocking on the door.
“Open up!” a girl’s voice said. “We are not in trouble. They are soldiers.”
It sounded like Aishah, a petite girl from down the hall.
“Open it up!” I said.
“No. She could be lying.” Mercy countered.
Lidiah walked over and opened the door.
Behind Aisha, we could see other girls gathering in the hallway. I looked out the doorway to see men dressed in camouflage leading the girls outside.
One lanky soldier said, “We are taking you to safety because Boko Haram is attacking the town.”
He noticed me peeking from my doorway. My suitemates and I were hesitant. He walked over to us with a tight smile on his face.
I didn’t trust him but I didn’t know what to do.
“Come on, you all need to get out before Boko Haram comes!”
Aishah left and he grabbed Lidiah and me and shoved us to the hallway. He went into our room and grabbed Mercy’s arm.
We walked out of the dorm.
Once outside, the gunmen began to chant ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great] as they set the school buildings on fire. I and the other girls watched, puzzled, as the gunmen broke into a school kitchen, grabbing pots and utensils. That was when we realized we were in the hands of Boko Haram. It seemed that no one dared to consider escape, because we could tell that they were ready to shoot any of us who tried.
My heart began pounding inside my head and I felt like I couldn’t breathe or move. This can’t be happening to me. This can’t be happening. I watched them move like robots, some standing in front of us with guns pointed to us. Some were moving in and out of the school like machine ants taking what they can.
Mercy was silently mumbling a Christian prayer. I could hear her say “thy will be done”.
I couldn’t pray. I hadn’t prayed in a while. All I could think was, ‘please let this not be Allah’s will‘.
After they finished raiding our school, they forced us into trucks, buses and cars, some of which were loaded with food and petrol. Luckily, Mercy, Lidiah and I were loaded together on a truck. I could sense Lidiah’s mind working in overtime. I could see her scout out the surrounding. I knew she was planning a way to escape. However, with gunmen on motorcycles flanking the convoy, it was impossible to jump off the truck and flee.
The truck began moving and I closed my eyes and willed myself to believe that this was a nightmare. This isn’t happening. I’m going to open my eyes and look over to Mercy and laugh as I watch her eat in her sleep. As I began to daydream, I felt a thump as the truck struggled to drive over the stubble and high grass of Chibok’s roadless paths. I could tell they were heading towards the Bush.
We were headed for a long and tiring treacherous journey and I knew hope for rescue was getting dimmer by second. No one would be able to find us in this dark forest ridden with snakes and wild animals.
I still felt like my body was in a fight mode yet I remained paralyzed. My body wanted to jump out of the truck but my mind didn’t allow it.
About a mile into the Bush, our truck broke down. Mercy stopped praying.
Lidiah was sitting near the edge of the truck, I in the middle and Mercy on my side.
“This is our time. We have to flee.” Lidiah whispered.
At that moment one of the gunmen ordered us to cram into another truck. He opened Lidiah’s door and stood in front of her. He was walking backwards as he faced her to keep watch. I followed suit with Mercy close behind me.
Pop! Another loud noise and it seemed that a bus broke down. The gunman turned to see the commotion when Lidiah yelled.
“Run!” She ran without looking back and Mercy quickly followed. I turned to see a few other girls run off. I stood in shock when Mercy turned back to grab my hand. Her hand was enough to get my feet moving. I started to run faster. She was surprised by my speed and she tripped and yelled in pain. By then the gunman turned and had begun to run after us.
I turned to get her but she pushed my arms away and whispered “Go! Maira! Go!”
I didn’t want to leave her.
Sensing my hesitancy, she yelled and pushed harder, “GO! Run for your life!”
I obeyed her command. For the first time in our friendship, I listened to her.
Bring Back My Friend. Bring Back My Mercy. Bring Back Our Girls.
By Esther Leonard