Subsidies | Fredrick Agaga | Nigeria

Murkushe Militants attacked Gurara right on time for a bountiful harvest: fuel had become so costly that working-class settlers hardly attended to their city jobs and only a few kids still made it to school.

Cars had been parked, electric generators off, stomachs mostly empty, mouths as silent as libraries. When a mouth receives little, it tends to give out even less.

Chidiebere was listening to a phone-in radio program when Abdul panted into his compound with the news. A young woman had called in and was lamenting: “If they say we haven’t been paying for fuel in full and must do so now, why didn’t they soften the effect….”

Her cries got lost in the dry evening air once Abdul broke the news. Chidiebere’s belly, large from late-night beer, began to rise and fall inside his slacked vest.

“Aboki… it is a lie. Murkushe Militants? In Gurara? Have they finished emptying the villages? They can’t skip all those places to come here — ”

“Oga, no too much turenchi. Hannatu and Bilkisu dey for shop. I go now, dem follow me, we run. Tell Madam and Baba. I carry us. We follow lungu for far bush for back, I know am well-well. Za mu gudu.”

Chidiebere had another question rolling out when he heard the first round of gunshots from a mile or two away. He breezed into his flat and Abdul fled to his little kiosk to find his wife and little daughter.

Oluchi’s scream alarmed Njideka from an early sleep. “Who told you?” She searched through a jewellery bag in the dark candle-lit living room. Njideka joined her parents in the parlour.

“That aboki down the street,” Chidiebere said.

“Why don’t we leave with Babajide’s car?”

Oluchi knew graves had left their yards more times than Babajide’s car had left the compound since a litre of fuel went past three thousand naira.

“Chidi,” Oluchi continued, “We have three gallons of fuel in the store room. Let’s fuel Baba’s car and leave this place — ”

“Ndi ofe mmanu. Those gallons are for my shop. We’ll run with the aboki and come back for other things when peace returns.”

Babajide, the man whose family lived next flat, reminded him of his older brother Onyeka. Ten years earlier Onyeka called him from Osun and cried, “Chidi… pray that God saves me today. I’m closing my shop… the Yoruba boys are coming… they said we have hijacked their market….” Onyeka hung up. Chidiebere tried to phone back without success. It was the last time he ever heard from his older brother.

Chidiebere had gone as far as instructing his wife to talk Bose (Babajide’s wife) out of calling her mama Jide. Bose began to call Oluchi mama Jide because ‘Jide’ seemed to pass as short for ‘Njideka.’

When the Chidieberes and Babajides found themselves out in the front yard, each family stood fairly apart under the shadowy umbrella of terror more tangible than crude.

Chidiebere could see the words in the women’s eyes.

He knew his wife was fond of Bose and it irritated him. Oluchi had certainly mentioned the fuel to her. Bose’s eyes seemed to quiz through the boundaries, penetrating the awkward space: “How about the gallons of fuel you said your husband has?” He saw his wife’s eyes respond: “I mentioned it to him.…”

His wife’s eyes asked: “But Baba has sworn he’ll never take anything from us.” Bose’s eyes responded: “Should we fold our arms and watch them?”

Babajide’s mouth finally pierced through the silence.

“Ahhhhnn, omo Igbo, I’m going to that kiosk myself. How long are we supposed to wait?” He had a mean stare at his Toyota Carina, dragged a long hiss and sped out.

The violent attacks in Garzo State began four years earlier, just before a gubernatorial election. Anonymous loyalists of the National Alliance Party (NAP) sent word around, creating awareness about what they called “the religious plot of idiots devoted to foreign ideas.”

The unidentified writers alleged that the plotters must be stopped before they spread the cancer of disunity, for too many indigenes had come under “Nyamiri” influence.

They expressed concerns that the opposition, the Pan-Nigerian Democratic Congress (PDC), was fielding non-Muslim candidates in the state and that it posed a threat to the purity of their values as a people — PDC had already made strongholds out of some grassroots communities. They seemed ripe for state-level governance, throwing Garzo cabals into a panic.

“We’ll be crushed if we don’t crush,” they claimed. In no time a certain Murkushe Militant group surfaced, targeting settlements dominated by non-Muslims and leaving only dust and rubble behind.

Babajide left the others behind as he made for Abdul’s kiosk. Chidiebere followed shortly. As they edged close to the kiosk, they saw a squad of gyrating young men, mostly Igbo, wielding machetes, daggers and Dane guns.

A smaller group gathered at a corner. They bent towards the gutter by the side and were striking downward.

“Have you seen that aboki that sells here?” Babajide asked one of them.

“Ewu-sa,” one of the young men said, pointing to the smaller group. Babajide and Chidiebere ran down there and broke through the sweaty walls of bodies.

And Abdul laid right there, butchered, his tongue out and eyes popping.

“Dem tink say we no prepare for dem? Im brodas don kill our neybore,” one of the young men said. “Im go run us street if we no run am first.”

The words had just left him when a bullet hit his side from some distance — unknown trucks had announced themselves on the lane. The unfamiliar men opened fire.

Babajide and Chidiebere stood side-by-side, stuck in a small crowd bound to dissolve in no time. It was the closest they had ever been — they breathed flames into each other’s warm and slippery skins, producing more heat than Garzo State had generated power that year and the one before.

Fredrick Agaga is a graduate of Mass Communications from Bingham University, Nasarawa, Nigeria. He’s a storyteller who has been published in African Writer Magazine.

More than anything else, he writes fiction with a penchant for the medieval epoch, African history, pre-colonial life and a dystopian world — or worlds since the future is whatever he says it is.

He’s wild with exploring his imagination and telling intriguing stories. Fredrick considers himself a fit for Readers Boon because his stories not only stir readers to feel but provoke them to act.

Country: Nigeria

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Fredrick Agaga

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