Feature Article of Sunday, 23 December 2012
Columnist: Foofo, Fafa
It’s very easy for an otherwise peaceful, lawful and democratic protest to degenerate into violence. This is a short story to humanize the dynamics of protests in the hopes of perpetual peace in our homeland. Fire Soldier, Fire.
“I don’t want to hear it” Ayeh was screaming now. “You are not going, Saeti. That’s final. What’s wrong with you at all?”
“Don’t tell me what to do and what not to do. I am a grown woman!” Saeti retorted
“Why? why Saeti? Are you serious? don't be so naive! Do you really think it's going to change anything? Do you? Come on. He says he won again. That’s ok. What does it matter? Who cares who wins? it’s all the same. It doesn’t change anything” Ayeh was frustrated.
“I don’t know. I don’t care. They are going. The people, our people are going. Listen - do you hear them? Do you hear their voices? They are going now. I am going too!” Saeti was adamant. She grabbed her favorite yellow headscarf, the one with the black designs at the edge and tied her hair, breathing slowly, watching her fuming husband. She was determined not to cave in. “Saeti, listen, the doctor says you need rest” Ayeh held up his rifle “This is not a play thing, you know. They don’t call in the soldiers unless it’s serious.”
“But...” Saeti began.
The shrill sound of a car horn interrupted her. His vehicle had arrived. Ayeh stormed out. He didn’t hug Saeti before leaving. He always hugged Saeti before leaving.
/// “I told you police school was for women” Archie laughed as Ayeh jumped into the military vehicle. “These women we have for a police force can’t even control a bunch of kids with nothing to do.” Archie shook his head in disbelief, looking towards his childhood friend. Ayeh was in no mood for small talk. He said nothing. He looked on straight ahead, into the distance as though focusing on something. There was nothing there.
“What’s wrong with you today?” Archie shook his head. “You are just like a woman - overly emotional. You should transfer to the police” Another military vehicle sped past them. Archie recognized the flag flying in the wind. He saw the number on the vehicle - #112. That was Gbemi, the commander. “Shit” Archie cursed. “I am not doing any press-ups this morning” He leaned back in his seat, stepped on the accelerator, and sent the vehicle speeding after Gbemi. Archie too starred into the distance as he drove, his left hand clutching the steering wheel tightly; his right hand caressing his AK.
/// “One, two, three; our votes must count” they chanted. “One, two, three; our votes must count” The din was now something of a thunderous uproar with thousands stamping their feet; chants and drums uniting into a discordant cacophony. The only intelligible line amidst the noise was “One, two, three; our votes must count! One, two, three, our votes must count!” They marched forward slowly, as though in hesitation. Sometimes they doubled their steps only to slow down and move a little backward as they approached the column of soldiers. And so it continued - a little forward, a little backward; a little forward, a little backward. “One, two, three, our votes must count!”
Suddenly, a few of them began to throw stones and hurl other projectiles at the soldiers. Most of them hit the screens mounted in front of the soldiers, causing little damage. But the frontline of the column of soldiers faltered slightly, moving back a bit.
“Stand your ground” Commander Gbemi shouted in his loud hoarse voice. The soldiers edged forward.
Then, a gunshot rang out in the distance. Someone had fired a shot. Who had fired? Archie, quick eyed, looked around, turning his head left and right. Ayeh was by his side. Where did the shot come from? Where did the bullet go? He was still looking, twisting, turning, looking for the culprit. Another shot went off. The protesters were scrambling now, trying to run - left, right, forward, bumping into one another. There was nowhere to go. There was too many of them. A few of them had guns. A few of them returned the fire.
“Stand your ground” Gbemi ordered again. “Do not fire, I repeat, do …” He stopped in mid-sentence. Archie instinctively looked left at the far end of the column where the commander stood. All the soldiers did same. They saw Gbemi, holding his arm and wincing in pain. His uniform was drenched in blood and he staggered a bit. Gbemi had been hit.
Gbemi was still standing, holding his arm to restrain the blood flow. “Fire” he said “Fire soldier, fire!”
The soldiers responded, firing at will - some aiming at the skies, some aiming at the protesters. Archie dropped his crowd screen and lunged forward, firing, without much care.
“Fire soldier, fire”
Ayeh now dropped his own crowd screen, and held up his rifle, taking care to aim way into the skies. But before he could fire, he saw in the distance a yellow scarf with black edges. He knew that yellow scarf. He knew. Shivers run down his spine. The gun shook a bit in his hands, he couldn’t steady it. “Saeti...” he whispered “Saeti...”
Archie was still firing, with his characteristic nonchalance. He fired one last shot as his round run out. The yellow scarf came tumbling down in the confusion of protesters running helter skelter. Ayeh was shaking violently now, his mouth agape. He couldn’t believe it - his wife? his child? The gun was shaking in his hand. “Saetiiii!!!” he screamed, still staring blankly, in shock. Only three words registered in his head - yellow scarf down, yellow scarf down as though in a daze.
“Fire soldier, fire” Gbemi barked his orders again.
Ayeh suddenly awoke from his painful reverie. He steadied his hands and aimed the gun. He knew his target. His heart was pounding. He locked unto his target. He pulled the trigger and the bullet blasted off into the distance. Archie fell backwards, clutching his neck, screaming in pain. Ayeh knew it was over. Gbemi was watching the scene. “Such undisciplined officers” he said, still holding his arm oozing with blood.
“Fire soldier, fire” Gbemi took a couple steps forward.
Ayeh run forward too; like a madman towards the yellow scarf, towards Saeti. Gbemi left his wounded hand and grabbed his AK. No soldier murders another in his unit and walks. This is the army. He sent a couple shots Ayeh’s way. Two of them found their target. Ayeh fell onto his knees right before the yellow scarf. “Saeti.., Saeti...” he called. She couldn’t hear him. He closed his eyes and laid his head on the yellow scarf.