To kill a human being is one of the hardest things to do and I have done it before. In war, which is what our adventure in Sierra Leone quickly transformed to, it was either that or I wouldn’t have been able to see tomorrow. But I was soon the find that loving Zara was perhaps even much harder. I particularly felt that now that I was in her life, she should shed no more tears and desist completely from worrying about the things she had lost and focus rather on the future that was before us.
People may say that too much of everything is bad. The truth is that I find this to be false in the case of Zara since I just couldn’t get enough of her. And even now, I can say without mincing words that we were made for each other.
It took a while for her to believe in me the way I believed in her from the beginning though. But I waited for her, knowing she would one day come round. Things came together eventually.
I remember when we first made love. There was no prodding from me, she just took everything off, she was bare just the way she came into this world. There were no visible scars even if she had been through the horrors of war experienced terrors that should not be mentioned. I guess all things come together for those who wait.
But things were not smooth sailing and at a point, I took the sad decision to walk away. Sometimes it is better to reduce pain by turning away from the thing that is the cause of such pain. So when I first went to see her at the refugee camp in Freetown and she was far removed from everyone, acknowledging my greeting with just a node, I thought that all was lost and that like the peacekeeping mission in the West African state, Zara had been a misadventure. The only ray of hope resulting from that visit was the smile of recognition I got from her when first I set my eyes on her when I arrived at the camp. It was a smile of someone who remembered, who recognised that had I had something to do with her being alive that day. It was that smile in the midst of the question that was the refugee camp that communicated to me that surely there was a gem to be discovered beneath the pain she was going through.
“I will find time to come and see you again,” I said, as I took off in the direction of my camp telling myself that things were much better there than the squalour I had just departed. For one, there was a lot of food to eat and the rebels knew that we would give them a fight should they venture close. Zara and her cohorts were not so protected and there had been incidences at some camps where the rebels had taken their filthy selves to camp to do untold harm particularly to the women.
These were the thoughts that occupied my mind as I returned to camp that fateful day. Clearly, it is one of the reasons I went back to see her. I felt that she must have lost so much in the war and needed someone to comfort. If something else came of it, why not. But my initial engagement with her was purely to give her comfort. But then I started to realise that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever set my eyes on. Again, I was far from family and friends and being human also needed comforting and some human contact. But little did I know that our silent encounters were having an effect on the way we looked at each other.
“Thank you,” she said to me the fourth time I came to see her. “I don’t know what I would have done without you,” she added. Coming from someone who had said next to nothing and only smile the three times I had been there, this was like finding gold at the base of a rainbow. I sang the rest of the day even though I had a terrible singing voice to the chagrin of the members of my platoon members who had to endure it all.
“Spare us the terror of your singing, which is worse than having the rebels raid the camp,” one said.
“Do you think this is disco we came here to do. Abeg, let us hear word,” said another. But they let me do my thing. This was after all an interesting departure from the Fela tapes we had been listening to all along. Besides, they knew my story with Zara and like true comrades, were willing to even take bullets to help our cause.
But my tour in Sierra Leone soon came to an end. By which we had crawled to what could be described as second base in our peculiar relationship. Zara had unburdened her heart to me, relaying how she had lost everyone and everything that mattered in her life.
“We had heard about the atrocities for a long time but never believed that our lovely country had gone to the dogs. Hope they say has a great strength on man. So we continued to hope that one day we would wake up and things would go back to the way they used to be. We would go to our farms without fear. But hope also has a slim body that breaks too soon,” she said, unable to hold back her tears, which suddenly started flowing like a river.
I reached out to hold her tight making a connection in the process that has stood the test of time. When the wave of the sudden tears washed over her, she continued her story, telling me how her dad had managed to hide her up in the tree where she had watched the massacre of her entire village; men, women and children. She said she saw how the rebels had raped the women before they killed them. At that point, she said she almost came down from her vantage point on the tree but was saved by her numbness from the strange experience, which she said could only be comparable to an out of body experience or to a dream that stays with you when morning comes.
A long silence overcame us after she told me her story. I cursed all the evil people that had made her suffer so much and vowed that I would do anything within my power to bring her back to Nigeria with me after my tour although it was illegal to do such a thing. The military command had forbidden and even gone ahead to court marshal and even dismiss some soldiers who had done it. I can tell you that it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken in my life but when I look back now, I am glad I did. I have never been happier in my life. I have since left the Nigerian Army and started a business with Zara. We have two lovely children we have been teaching to grow up with love of the African continent and its people. That is why what is happening in South Africa is shocking to us.