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The paddle slapped the river just as the sun peeked out of the clouds. Tamuno stopped paddling and stared at it.
“When you see the sun come out, it’s a new day. You can start again.” his mother had said to him when he was a boy.
He continued paddling as he thought on his mother’s words, so many new days had come but they had brought hardships and emptiness. His mother hadn’t even made it to his twelfth birthday, she had died giving birth to his kid sister. He had watched her from a corner of their shack, her body jerking with shivers and her fair skin growing pale. His father had dashed in and out of the shack mumbling pathetically, looking at her bloodied clothes and urging her to hold on.
“I don’t have money! I don’t have money!” he had said over and over again until she went still.
The next morning he sat outside the shack, drank a bottle of gin slowly and stared at the sun. When sympathizers came to pay their condolences and asked how his mother had died, he simply said again:
“I don’t have money.”
Tamuno watched his father sink into the depths of depression, his mother had been everything to him. Poverty had been nothing when his wife was alive, she infused him with hope.
Tamuno had been forced to grow up quickly and take care of his siblings as his father sank deeper into obscurity. His back became bent and he didn’t speak unless spoken to. Tamuno took up fishing, farming, carpentry, and any kind of menial labour that could provide for his immediate family. The shack was still their home and when he was alone, Tamuno would sometimes sit in the corner where he had watched his mother die and imagine what life would have been like if she was still alive.
“Papa, I have found a girl I want to marry.” He said one day, seventeen years after his mother’s death.
“Marry? You want to get married?” His father had asked raising his voice and rising from the bench he had been sitting on.
Tamuno was taken aback, not by his father’s reaction as such but by the fact that he had almost yelled at him. He had seen an old side of his father again.
“You want to get married?” he asked once more.
“With which money? How are you going to feed her?”
“The same way I have been feeding you and my siblings!” he replied.
“And you think that will be enough?” he snickered in derision. “Where are you going to live?”
“I’ll find a place…”
“You’ll find a place!” he said incredulously.
“’With which money? Tamuno, I hope you have not joined the militants?”
“No Papa I would never do that.”
“So how do you want to take care of this girl? What will you do when she starts having children?”
“She’s pregnant Papa.”
Papa Tamuno had kept quiet after that and Tamuno had married the girl. But his father had been right. Tamuno was surprised at how inconsequential his earnings were compared to the responsibilities before him. He took up several odd jobs but as soon as he was paid, there was a waiting need.
Things came to a head one morning, when his wife, with her swollen belly sat by him and said:
“The doctor said there are two babies.”
Tamuno had smiled, he had always been intrigued by twins.
“But he said that I’m too small, that I cannot give birth myself.”
“What does that mean?” he had asked fearfully.
“They have to do something he called a CS…”
By the time she had estimated the cost of the procedure, Tamuno acknowledged that he was in trouble.
“Where would I get that kind of money from?!” he said out loud.
“I don’t know… but if you don’t get it, there will be trouble and I am not ready to die.”
And so it was that Tamuno agreed to carry a group of men across the river to the creeks where they intended to vandalize the fuel pipelines.
“We will pay you fifty thousand naira to take us, and if you help us to sell the oil, we will give you a cut.” They had told him.
As the sun rose higher, Tamuno thought of how joyful his wife had been when he paid the money for the surgery. She hadn’t asked him where he got the money from and he didn’t tell. They were both just glad that her life and that of the babies would be saved. It was a blessing from God.
The twins were born and his expenses doubled. Tamuno had to take care of his immediate and extended family. He went back to his menial jobs but the meagre amounts he received from these jobs now irritated him. How could be grateful for a paltry amount that couldn’t cook a pot of soup?
I will not sell the oil, I will only take them across the river. He said to himself.
Thus Tamuno joined the militants, reminding himself that his family needed it. How could he watch his family suffer when he could do something about it? He would not be like his father who did nothing about his mother until she died.
The leader of the group had sent him to get supplies and as he approached river banks, he thought of his family. The sun was up now and his wife would be preparing the morning meal, would it be leftover pounded yam or warm pap and bean cakes?
Tamuno didn’t notice the eerie quietness of the banks. He didn’t see the movement behind the bushes, and he certainly didn’t see the guns pointed at him.
“Freeze! Hands up!” A deep voice yelled at him.
Tamuno was stunned and watched as several men emerged from the bush in camouflage uniforms and approached him.
“Hands up!” a stocky, dark-skinned man commanded again.
Tamuno did as he was told and realized that he had three options. Cooperate with them, refuse and get shot or, and this last option was foolhardy, jump into the river and hope that he could swim away. He would flee the state and never have anything to do with the militants again. Lagos! He would go to Lagos.
In a flash he jumped into the river, but as he did he felt something warm ooze from his sides.
“Cease fire! Cease fire!!” he heard the deep voice yell. “We need am!”
Tamuno felt himself being dragged and dumped on the ground.
“Idiot! Where you dey swim go?!” He heard someone else say as he felt his body being searched.
“I don’t have money.” he said over and over again, as the rays of the sun slowly faded from his eyes.