Once the attendants came around later that morning he filled his tank with much needed fuel, the boys were awake and quickly converted a part of the wide expanse of the filling station into their playground. His wife appeared pale, tired and worried, she was just short of shedding tears. She however helped the boys wash up right there in the open, while the rest simply washed their faces, brushed and prepared for the continuation of the journey.
He got some roadside mechanic to check on his car and later got some boys loafing around to wash it for a stipend. He called up relatives and friends he knew outside Maiduguri to intimate them of the latest happening. He managed to secure space at his uncle’s place in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja where he planned to leave his family, come back to Maiduguri to process his transfer, then move his property to the new destination where he’d set his sight on, Lagos.
He got light breakfast for his kids, wife and sister-in-law, and though he was hungry he found he had no appetite so he just left his share of the food till such a time he would feel the urge to eat. Before finally getting behind the wheels for the journey to Abuja, he called up one of his colleagues at work informing him of his inability to be at work as he had an emergency to deal with, and to help him pass the message to relevant authority. Many of his colleagues knew his wife’s condition, and would readily think the emergency situation was related to her pregnant state.
Except for the roadblocks manned by military personnel along many of the roads, their journey to Abuja was uneventful. It was just a few minutes after three in the afternoon when they arrived at his uncle’s, he was very tired and had barely settled his family into the expansive living room while awaiting his uncle’s wife to usher them into the space reserved for them, when his phone rang. It was Shettima, his neighbour in Maiduguri. Shettima said he decided to call when he noticed there was no sign of life in his house, and after waiting for hours he decided to call to find out if all was well, and that though he’d been calling severally, this was the one time the phone rang and he got a response. He reassured Shettima that all was well, that he took his wife and kids to the park early in the morning to make a journey to a neighbouring town for a church programme starting the same day, after which he headed to work. Shettima appeared convinced with the explanation and after sundry enquiries cut the call.
By evening of the same day, when his uncle had returned from work, he explained their ordeal and how he planned to ask for a transfer at work to another location. His uncle assured him that his family could stay as long as he could finalize his transfer, for which he was very grateful.
Later that night he got a call from his colleague at work who told him that his house had been burnt down, including an SUV a car dealer had left for him to try out before making up his mind whether to buy or not. Though his colleague hadn’t witnessed the incident live, the time he was informed that the incident took place coincided with the time Shettima had called to inquire about his welfare and whereabouts. The fact that Shettima, an indigene of Borno State from Kyari town hadn’t informed him of the incidence meant that he was not only privy to the arson attack, he probably must have been the mastermind, the much which he seemed to confirm when attempts to reach Shettima via his phone number proved abortive.
Two days later he headed back, this time by public transport to Maiduguri, only his trusted colleague at work knew he was coming. If he’d stayed longer he may have to give a more plausible reason beyond the simple one that was official, not to get sanctioned, and telling the truth was off the radar if he still cared about his life. Though he left Abuja very early he arrived Maiduguri way past midnight. He’d always been a night-crawler, and he knew how to navigate the town without getting into trouble, he’d told his friend he was already in town but decided to check on his house first to see the extent of damage before going to see his friend, where he’d most likely spend the night. Armed with the flashlight incorporated in his Nokia 5310, he made his way from the motor park through dirt paths to what used to be his compound, his doors and windows had been broken through, the charred remains of the SUV that was brought two days before he escaped with his family was still at the entrance to his apartment where it had been parked by the car dealer. Seeing nobody around, he made his way into his apartment to find to his chagrin that besides a few unwanted items lying scattered on the floor of the living room, and burnt out beddings, mattresses and wooden frames in the bedrooms, other valuable property appear to have been looted. In his haste on the night of the flight, he’d forgotten his wedding ring on his reading desk, and that, with other valuables were removed before the arsonist burnt what they felt they had no need for, though he didn’t understand why they burnt the car, supposing that they could’ve towed it away, changed the locks if it was the fact they didn’t have the key that informed their setting it ablaze.
He didn’t wait around much to see who would want to come in to check on the house while he was there before proceeding to his colleagues’ place on foot. He was exhausted, he couldn’t even bring himself to cry, even when the occasion demanded it, though he felt he won’t be considered less a man for indulging, but he couldn’t notwithstanding that his heart was heavy with grief. He’d invested so much into that house, his home, the only territory that had his signature on it, and now it’s all gone, for nothing he’d done wrong. He wasn’t even an informer, though he’d have loved to share some of the information he had with the security agencies except that many who had, or were thought to have done so later turned up dead. He may have just even escaped a hit on his life.
His colleague was very much pleased to see him, especially after learning that he’d been at his burnt house, an action he unreservedly expressed displeasure at, mainly for going there that night. He learnt the full story of what had happened while managing to stuff into his mouth the food his magnanimous colleague had offered him. From what he could make out of the tale, his neighbour Shettima, ratted him out to the insurgents as an informer and indeed had taken part in the looting of his properties before they set his apartment on fire. He wept when his trusted colleague showed him pictures of his house on fire, though he couldn’t recognize most of those in the picture, it appeared that save for Shettima other people in the vicinity had taken to their heels when the members of Boko Haram struck (leaving destruction in their wake), they had also taken pictures of their action and circulated it (which was how his colleague got the picture in the first place) to serve as deterrent to others who may want to act as “informers” in the future, only that this time, as with many other times, they had hit on the belongings of an innocent (who was lucky to have escaped with his life, as well as of his family’s). His colleague told him about another man (a non-indigene) he knew who died with his family indoors, after arsonist suspected to be members of Boko Haram set the house they werein they slept ablaze. He was said to have been an informer, but the real reason appeared to be envy by his indigenous neighbours.
He wondered how his colleague knew all the tales he had told him that night, and on enquiring as to why he kept all that to himself without even sharing, his colleague’s response was that he couldn’t trust anybody and that he was infact “working” his transfer too, only that he’d been told that the company wasn’t treating such requests for now. His heart sank on hearing that.
His host slept off in the middle of their conversation in the wee hours of the morning, while though very tired and exhausted his eyes remained wide open, he had stopped thinking and become numbed by all that had happened, wondering what worse could possibly happen thereafter. At work that day he added flesh to the lie he had concocted of his wife’s condition to those who cared to know, and at the earliest opportunity he had he slipped into “HR” to see the manager, to whom only he told the truth (apart from his most trusted colleague), and who on hearing the reason behind his wanting a transfer had to decline his request though he appeared very empathic and sympathetic to his cause, basing his reason on the lack of space elsewhere but promised to let him know should a space pop up, even if it might not be a location he might be pleased with. At this point, he was well over insisting on choice locations as anywhere but Maiduguri for that moment was safe haven.
He stayed another night at his colleagues, and over dinner they mauled over the options left to him, arriving at the decision to resign. It was a sad decision to take but he had to do it, he didn’t have the luxury his colleague who was also seeking a transfer had, that of time as everyday, and indeed every hour he spent in Maiduguri beyond the absolutely necessary could mean his death.
Armed with his resignation letter later that morning at work, he wondered while the Human Resources Manager was smiling at him, even ushered him in to his office, only to stab him with the news that a space in the true sense of it hadn’t materialized but that there is a member of staff, and an indigene of Borno State, currently in the Lagos branch who would like to switch places, this person hadn’t given any reason why he wanted to leave a relatively peaceful Lagos for a crisis-ridden, security challenged cum insurgency overran state of Borno and Maiduguri for that matter (he could only deduce that such a one was sympathetic to the cause of Boko Haram and wanted to be in the thick of things), just wanting to be close to home didn’t quite cut it for him, especially at a time even indigenes “of means” were relocating.
He didn’t think twice before accepting the offer even though it meant he would be getting a lower position, slightly lower pay, and because he was organizing the transfer in an unofficial capacity, transfer allowance which should ordinarily accrue to the transferee will be forgone in his case. Though the one with whom he’d be switching would also not benefit, other perks such as a higher position and slightly increased pay awaited him, apart from the fact that the cost of living in Maiduguri is lower than that in Lagos. The odds, financially were against him but life was paramount he retorted.
After signing the necessary documents he left for the motor park, it was while the bus taking him to Abuja left the park that he sent his colleague a text message intimating him of the turn of events. He had great plans for Maiduguri, now he’s had to leave unceremoniously, in a way escaping for his life, to start allover again. He regretted not heeding advice to leave earlier, but he took consolation in the fact that his refusal to heed advice didn’t prove fatal. It all made sense now, his father’s maxim, “Once There’s Life, There’s Hope.”