Timi Odueso is nineteen years old and hails from Abuja, Nigeria. He says, “I love books. A lot. Writing and reading them both. I also love comedy and art.”
by Timi Odueso
It wasn’t your first time watching young soldiers get cut. But this time was different because you were not only watching, you were also waiting in line to get your chance at the stump.
You would watch in horror as the RUF rebels lined the battered young men up in front of the already bloodied tree stump that had an axe in it. You would listen to Cash Tee’s deep voice when he asked, “Long sleeve or short sleeve.” You would listen to the cries of the young men as they begged and pleaded and you would catch Cash Tee’s eyes when he would signal to Chopper on what to do with the crying man. Whenever he winked, the arm on the stump would get cut from the wrist and you would try to block your ears and your eyes as the blood would explode from where the hand had been severed and the soldier would scream and be kicked aside. Whenever Cash Tee raised his brow, then the arm on the stump would be severed from just below the shoulder.
“No more power in your hands,” Cash Tee would always say with a resounding laugh to whatever was left of the already cut soldiers. Cutting was a weekly sport in the camp where you were stationed. The RUF would spend the week catching soldiers and then they would keep them close to the diamond mine and feed them their own shit for days before bringing them before the stump. Almost the whole camp would gather to watch the stump get bloodied and you always knew there would be an orgy of happiness whenever the severed arms and legs were piled up to be eaten.
You don’t complain about the stringy bitter taste of the meat again because the first day you were “recruited,” you asked why the meat tasted so different, and three of the rebels took you to the stump and cut a soldier so you could see the source of your meat. When you began to cry, the one they called Chopper took his knife and gave you what he called “a pretty little scar” and rubbed a whitish substance on it. You don’t remember what happened afterwards. You just remember waking up feeling sore all over. You don’t question what is good and what is not anymore because Cash Tee had told all of you that the only way to get good things would be to be bad.
You were eleven when you first came here. They came in with two big trucks to your hamlet and started shooting. Your mother took to her heels and your father carried you and ran after her. But it was already too late. They surrounded all of you and dragged you back to their camp. You were teary-eyed and you fought the men. You only stopped crying when the tall man with one eye slapped you hard and dragged you off to the wet stump. You looked him in the face and you felt the warm liquid spread through your trousers.
“What is your name?” the one-eyed man had asked you. You were too scared to reply so they beat you up and took you to a dark place and did things to you.
The first time they brought you out, they took you to where your parents were. Your mother was holding onto your father and they were standing with their backs to you and facing a yellow wall with spattered brown designs but you knew it was them because everyone knows the backs of their parents. They gave you a gun and told you to pull the trigger. You said “Shoot where?” and they laughed and slapped you and called you names and pointed to the two people facing the wall. You dropped the gun and said you wouldn’t do it so they took you back to the dark place, mutilated you again and made you eat sand. They brought you out three times, you said “No” three times and each time, your parents looked thinner and thinner. The fourth time they let you see your parents faces and this time you pulled the trigger and watched your parents bodies fall. You thought the fresh red spray of blood added a new depth to the dull brown on the yellow wall.
You ate meat and drank clean water on the day you shot your parents. It was the same day they cut a soldier because they wanted to show you where the meat came from. So the next time they put the rickety gun in your hands, you didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. You had decided you would continue to pull the trigger. As long as they gave you bitter meat and water. As long as they didn’t take you to the dark room. As long as you stayed here and weren’t dragged off to one of the diamond mines.
You tried to count how many “recruits” the RUF had. But you couldn’t because almost every day a new face would be added. But you knew you were more than fifty. More than fifty boys who would kill for a piece of meat. More than fifty boys who had been filled with so much fear of having their parts cut off or being sent to the mines that they endured and tried to enjoy the daily mutilation they gave the patriots of Sierra Leone and sometimes themselves when they were trying to get “stronger.”
You never said anything. You slept on the floor in the room where the boys slept while the mosquitoes had a feast out of you. You woke up, you raged, you pillaged and yet you didn’t feel anything. You couldn’t remember your name or where you came from so the boys called you Ghost. You followed the rebels on their missions and helped them recover diamond mines. But you didn’t help them capture soldiers. You killed the soldiers you saw. Even when Cash Tee asked that they wanted some alive, you would kill as much as you could because you thought you were helping them. Helping them escape from a life of being long-sleeved or short-sleeved or shit-eating. Because you couldn’t think of anything worse than the pain of having a body part severed.
The week before you joined the young soldiers at the line to the stump, you were sitting with the other boys in the sand awaiting the arrival of Cash Tee and Chopper. They had told you all they had fine meat for you. So you sat and waited, your face giving the same blank expression you wore all the time. The expression that got stuck on your face when your saw your parents faces before you put bullets in them. They arrived with two trucks full of young men. You saw the fear etched into the deep creases of the young mens’ faces as they led them away. One of them had a piece of glass stuck in his eyeball but he kept walking because the rebels were using machetes on them. You watched as Chopper brought out two girls who couldn’t have been more than fifteen from the front of the truck. They told you that the commander had sent girls to the other camps too and this was your share. They told you all of you could have the girls but only after they were done with them. You watched Chopper slip himself inside the first girl while Cash Tee straddled the second one. You heard the girls scream and thrash and cry and you heard the other rebels chant and cheer and you heard the boys clap. But you didn’t do anything, you didn’t feel anything. While the RUF rebels and the boys saw two brutal men raping young girls, you saw a yellow wall with irregular red motifs all over it. You saw eyeless sockets and you saw what part of your father was sewn unto your mothers forehead before you shot her.
That night while the rest of they boys had their share, you went to your spot on the cold hard cement floor and you closed your eyes. The boy they called Ishmael came to get you. He shook you but you pretended to be asleep. He told you that they were almost done and you should come and have a “go.” You didn’t listen to him. You heard him but you weren’t listening to Ishmael. You were listening to the voice of Cash Tee as he told you to shoot. You were listening to the resounding pop-pop-pop of the semi-automatic rifle that they shoved in your hands. You were listening to the plop sounds the red blood made when it spluttered all over the yellow wall. You fell asleep to the sounds of howling dogs and the yells of boys high on the cocaine they rubbed into their cuts.
The next day was the day you did what would make your hand touch the stump.
Sometimes, the sound of their voices woke you up. Sometimes it was the stinging way the whip would bite into your back with malice that woke you up. You never had time to examine where the leather had bitten into your flesh. You simply assembled and did whatever you were told.
When they assembled you, Cash Tee announced that there would be meat that night. The boys cheered, the rebels smiled and you watched the dark face of Cash Tee and wondered what it would be like to pump bullets into his one good eye. You went to the well afterwards and took a soapless bath in the open room where the boys bathed. You went to the pit and you took a bowl of hot sugarless pap. You took a walk around the camp and realized that the yellow wall was only yellow at the top and the right edge. The wall was now bullet-ridged and spattered with chunks of brain matter and blood. You didn’t gag at the smell of the of the wall because you had smelled worse. The dark place they put you in when you first came here smelled worse. The way the festering flesh of unwashed bodies smelled when they mutilated themselves and rubbed powder on it smelled worse.
You ran to join the others when you heard them calling. You listened to Cash Tee’s deep voice as he commended the boys and the rebels for their “hard work” yesterday. You were almost shocked when Cash Tee said that the girls were still alive so they would have to help them get to where the Insurgent Kabbah wanted all men to be. They brought the girls out and you almost couldn’t discern if the mangled crawling shapes were human beings or animals. The shapes of the girls were dragged out on chains by two of the rebels and you marveled at how someone could survive that much brutality. You almost collapsed when you saw them fully. Their faces reminded you of blood-stained yellow walls, the metallic rusty smell of fresh blood and the gagging stink of already festering pus. The girls had bites all over their bodies; you couldn’t tell if the dogs or the boys or even the rebels had bitten them. Their eye sockets were full of blood and one of them had an eye dangling. You looked around to check the faces of anyone to see if they had an ounce of compassion for the girls. But the boys were cheering, the rebels were smiling and you heard one of them ask if he wanted the boys to have another “go” at the girls. You heard Chopper reply that only animals could have them now and even that was immoral. You almost laughed at the irony of Chopper who cut hands of crying teenagers and ate them, Chopper who would be the first to disrobe a girl and fondle her, Chopper who had so many cuts on his own body that he didn’t bother to line the cocaine carefully into them could know what was really moral or not. You heard the boys cheer louder when Cash Tee produced the semi-automatic rifle, the same one he had given to you when you stood before the yellow wall. You stared at the rusty iron on the base of the gun till you felt yourself being pushed from all sides and “Ghost” being chanted. You found yourself staring into Cash Tee’s good eye and Chopper’s hand patting you vigorously on your back. You watched as Cash Tee handed the rickety gun over to you and you watched as your scarred hands stretched forward to accept them like an athlete who had finally won a medal. You felt your legs follow Cash Tee to the yellow wall where the girls had been stationed and you heard him say, “Our Brother Ghost has been chosen to help send these young women to where they will await the arrival of the Insurgent Kabbah and his followers.”
You didn’t understand what was going on till he gestured to the wall and said “Aim well.” And so you looked at the shivering naked mutilated girls. The one with the dangling bloody eyeball and bite marks all over her breasts and the one whose sockets were filled with whitish substance and blood and you pulled the trigger and didn’t stop till they hit they ground. The thud sound of their bodies hitting the dusty ground was exactly the same your parents made when their son set them free. The yells from the rebels and the boys louder than the yells Cash Tee and Chopper gave when you shot your parents.
So you didn’t drop the gun. You watched as Cash Tee was cheering and the boys clapping and you pointed the gun and filled his good eye with metal pellets. He didn’t drop like the girls or like your parents or like the soldiers you had shot before. Time stood still as he stood there and his arm twitched and you felt your face smile when you could see what was behind him through the new hole where his eye had been. You were dragged back to reality when you heard Chopper screaming and charging towards you. You knew he was too close to shoot his head so just before he got to you, you lowered the gun and blew out his bowels before turning the gun on the raging crowd. You didn’t stop till you felt a painful blow at the back of your head and the darkness began to take you away before your hand left the trigger, before you even fell to the ground with your own slight thud.
You were very surprised when you woke up. The first reason was because you woke up at all. The second reason was because the only pain you felt was a hard headache at the right side of your head. The third was because you thought they had removed your eyeballs when you awoke but then you realized that you still had eyes but they had thrown you in the dark place. You were in there for a very long time; your tongue was a desert and you drank your own piss but then you regretted it because it only made you thirstier. Rats came and nibbled at your toes but you couldn’t chase them away because you weren’t strong enough to stand anymore. Your nose stopped working after what seemed like forever because you had shit yourself several times and you couldn’t even find the strength to move from the shit. You knew you were going to die there so you prayed to whoever was listening that your parents would understand why you did it when you got to the other side.
But you didn’t die in the dark place.
They came for you and they gagged at the stench and dumped you in a tub of water. You swallowed as much as you could even though it was the same water that was washing your shit-stained body away. The ones who came for you were boys with faces so hard you could have sharpened a knife on them. They told you that you killed Cash Tee instantly and that Chopper died from his wounds after five days, yesterday. They told you thirteen boys and five rebels including Ishmael had died from gunshot wounds and several were still wounded. They told you what was to happen to you and you wished that the rats in the dark place had skewered your throat instead.
They dragged you to where the crowd of rebels and boys were waiting by the stump. You were pushed to join the line of soldiers that stood before the stump. You looked up and saw that a new leader had emerged from the rebels, one that was nick-named Tiger because of the tribal stripes that ran over his face. You saw a new cutter had also emerged, one you knew that had a face so pure but a mind as vile as the old cutter, the rebel they called Mercy. You watched as Mercy chopped arms and legs off soldiers and you felt yourself getting closer and closer to the stump.
You knew what the boys had told you was true. They wouldn’t kill you instantly. They would kill you for a long period of time, slowly cutting pieces of you away, letting you heal and feeding you the charred pieces of your own flesh so you could grow stronger for them to cut you again. When all the soldiers were cut and all that was left was you, the boys cheered, “Mercenary, Mercenary” and clapped as Mercy took your right hand and laid it over the wet stump.
You thought it over and over in your head and you decided what you had to do. You didn’t struggle like the other soldiers did because you were too weak and so no one held your body in place. When you saw the sunlight catch the bloody edge of the machete that Mercy raised up you closed your eyes and brought your head to where your arm was supposed to be as the heavy cutlass came down on the stump.
But Mercy only used enough strength to cut an arm off and not nearly enough to chop a head off. You felt the cold wet metal cut into your neck and your head burst into a world of unimaginable pain. You felt as Mercy pulled and pulled on the machete that was stuck in the confines of the bones in your neck and your screams of pain drowned in the blood that was gushing through your mouth.
You were still drowning in pain when you heard screaming and shooting; you felt a fury of running as the boys and the RUF rebels ran away from the stump to fight off the soldiers invading the camp and left the machete in your neck and your neck on the stump.
The life drained from you for a long time while the shooting was still going on. You died slowly and painfully as the Nigerian soldiers shot and killed everyone that held up arms against them at the RUF rebel camp with the mottled yellow wall.
Copyright 2016 by Timi Odueso