The World Was Silent While They Died

The World Was Silent While They Died | Olayioye Paul Bamidele | Nigeria

Ladoni bent to fetch from the tributary, fluxing from a fountain and passing through a col. The tributary has been the last source of water since the fall of Harmattan. The other streams have also dried up, turning into mud. Even the once crystal stream, flowing through the axis, dividing Membe and Tanbu, had also dried up — save a little rill, touching brown mud.

Ladoni knows if she lingers a little at this river, the whole of Membe will crowd it. Her mind wonders about the aftermath of drinking from such a river: cholera and malaria. If one gets to the river on time, one will see a rabble of mosquitoes, hovering over the surface. Ladoni will not have worried, if not for the primary health care that had shut down its operations, due to its lack of drugs. The government stopped supplying drugs there for reasons unknown to her. She often hoped for the time of the election, a time politicians with fibbing promises cooking on their tongues, will donate those medicines.

It takes Ladoni some minutes before leaving. She has to cut some huge, hefty leaves to shield the bucket. Doing so will allow the dirt and mosquitoes’ eggs, to settle down to the bottom line of the bucket before turning it to the other bucket. The stream has long inhabited these colonies: houseflies and mosquitoes and to drink from such a stream, caution must be taken.

Onidon is the second to get to the river. “So you came out again today,” she said and giggled.

“Yes. At least, God wishes it so,” she replied, already laughing. Their closeness always startles the villagers, who wondered if they were sisters, separated by mothers and placentas.

“If only God can wish that it will rain, at least once. The river is causing nothing but misfortune to the whole hamlet,” Onidon said, dropping her scarcely fill water bucket, to allow the dirt to settle. Ladoni always knows that whenever Onidon brings up this matter, it is to question Ladoni’s unwavering faith and belief in God. Ladoni has, from birth, grown in her faith in God. Her family background influenced her life: her father was the catechist in St Louis Parish Church, built on the outskirts of the village; and her mother was the women’s fellowship leader. But Onidon sometimes mocks their Reverend, for having a comfortable life with a free-flowing faucet, while the members wallow in thirst. The manservants chase members who steal in to fetch.

“God will send rain again. That, I believe. What is happening to us is just a mere plague, which God will soon erode,” she replied. Her mind recalls something and quickly adds, “In the bible, there’s the story of Elijah who commands the heaven to be locked from rain. And it was locked. After three and half years, he prayed again and it rained again. James 4:5–7. We are yet to have an Elijah in this season. But I hope to be that Elijah.”

“Abeg, don’t preach to me,” she snapped and smacked a spider, crawling on her thigh. “If your God won’t send rain to us now, then let him touch the government’s heart to supply the PHC with money and drugs. Or if he can’t do that, let him send healing by himself, to us.”

“God is able to send healing to us.” Ladoni uncovered the leaves to see if the water was stable. “People are just selfish, withholding everything to themselves. I can’t just fathom why some people will be happy, seeing other people die daily from hunger and thirst. Like the bird flu affecting birds, it’s just sheer wickedness.” She heaved and felt the sun, dancing on her nose. By now, people had started trooping in with jerrycans, kegs, and bowls. “Or what do you think?” She asked.

“Me? I’m still waiting for UNICEF and other international organizations to intervene. I’m not depending on the government of this country. As you said earlier, we need an Elijah. But this time around, Elijah should cry to them for help from organizations like CNN and Club 700. They need to hear our voices,” Onidon said, staring into the sun, and smiling. “I always dream to be an advocate for them, for my people.”

Ladoni chuckled and threw a punch on her shoulder. “You better stop dreaming and let’s go home now. “

Ladoni’s mother stood erect at the doorway to the hut. She is gaunt, constantly reducing from what she was the previous day. Her chest, flat; and her gown hang loosely over her shoulders. Ladoni’s father is the same broomstick as the mother. The only difference is his hoary chest. One can sight the difference between Ladoni and her parents: while Ladoni is chubby, her parents are sleek. Ladoni’s body defies her age: a sixteen-year-old girl, carrying a body of twenty-five.

Ladoni strides from the backyard and meets her mother, still standing at the doorway. Fear engulfed Ladoni’s heart, flattening her courage.

“Good morning Maami,” she said transfixed to the mango tree, opposite the front door.

“What if the morning is not good!?” her mother scowled. “I ask you, what if the morning is not good? You left early to the stream and you are just coming back after the fowl crowed the seventh time.”

“I was waiting for the dirt to settle before coming back. I’m sorry Maami.”

“You better go and start cooking those herbs for my son before I descend on you!” her mother commanded.

She scurried off.

Ladoni often disagreed with her mother about cooking herbs for the poor boy. His sickness burned his body into a hot temperature, escalating and causing sweats to drench him. Although Ladoni has used all the medicines she bought from the primary health care, his body singed sultry. Not even ice-blocks could eliminate the heat. The idea of taking him to the next village, where a clinic was built is thwarted. The maxim: there’s no money. Ladoni resolves back to her faith in God and herbs that a miracle will happen. Something more spectacular than the splitting of tombs will happen.

Now and again, her mind wanders afar as she plucks herbs and roots from a tree. Thirst and sickness. This is more than a plague, more like a pandemic. ‘Lord, why are we victims of this pandemic? Why does this misfortune cream us? What is the PHC saying? I think I must go and see things myself. ‘

The PHC looks deserted when she passes along with the herbs and roots in her basket. She hopes to see someone pop out from somewhere and give answers to her curiosity, to her wrangling thoughts, tearing her apart. But no one pops out. Looks more like a graveyard. She noticed a white notice board and walk up to it to read. It reads: NO MEDICINE NOW, GOVERNMENT ARE YET TO SUPPLY

Ladoni shredded the herbs and roots into boiling water, to simmer and sifted out its nutrients. Her mind is opposite to the ritual. But she must be in consonance with her mom, pending the time government will supply drugs. Nkuru waddled to her side, with her basket filled with leaves.

“Ladoni, good morning,” she said.

“Good morning, and how are you doing this morning?”

“I’m good and you?”

“I’m fine.” Although Ladoni knows the reason why Nkuru came around, she allowed her to spill herself.

“Ladoni, the issues happening in this community are really alarming.”

“Really? What issues?” She asked, feigning ignorance.

“Are you a stranger in this community? Can’t you see how everything is looking scrambled and evil as if we are cursed? For more than six months, we have not experienced rainfall yet the heat of the season persists. Virtually all our streams are dry, and the only one left has given us nothing but malaria, typhoid, and cholera. Our farms are also dry. The health centre has been closed because no help seems forthcoming from the government. We are left to suffer. Please tell me how we are not plagued. Even this leaves I plucked in the forest, I’m having doubts about it. And here you are, also cooking herbs and roots — I’m sure — for your brother. Tell me how we are not plagued?”

Ladoni readjusted the firewood. “Nkuru, I don’t know why you are so troubled. I have told you often that there’s no cause for alarm. God who is enthroned in heaven, and the one I’m serving, is looking and will come to our aid. All that we are experiencing now is simply a change of season — or rather, climate change — and nothing more serious. I believe it will be over soon.”

Onidon wobbled into Ladoni’s hut when she was basking on a bamboo bed. Her brother, lying close to her bosom.

“Ladoni, you are still here?” Onidon asks, panting. Her hands rested on her knees.

Ladoni sprung out of the bamboo bed. “What? What’s happening? Tell me what’s happening?” She ask, holding Onidon’s left arm.

“There’s been rumours that some government officials are coming. See, let’s hurry up to the place now before people crowd there.” Onidon said. Ladoni wobbled back and front, eyes trailing over the walls and her clothes. She opted for her scarf to cover her hair. “Let’s go.”

People, either sprawling or standing, gathered before a dais. A man clad in white robes, sat with others on the dais, engaging in a tête-a-tête. Ladoni concluded that he must be the governor, or a minister or probably one of the senatorial cabal. A rabble soon replaced the scanty people there. A man stood up and grabbed the mic.

“One, two. Testing the microphone. One, two. One, two. Please let’s have your attention.” The noise died down. “Ah, I want to start by observing all protocols. The President, the Vice President, the Senate President and his Vice, the Speaker of the state house of assemble, and the Oba of Tantu Tribe, all protocols duly observed. Permit me now, the honour, to call on the distinguished visitor among us. He sits with the state governor and hears everything he says. He’s Maduka Samson.” Applause echo, and fill the silence with cheering.

“Please, let me have your attention.” The noise died down again. “Thank you so much for the ovation you used to welcome me today. I so much appreciate that. Ehmm, I have been sent by his excellency, the governor of this state. He has sent me to find out about your plights, and with what my eyes are seeing, I can see the gross misfortune that is befallen you. As I was sitting there and discussing with your community leaders, I understood how the only surviving river is a source of Cholera, Malaria, and Typhoid to you all. But I want to let you know that you are not the only one in this crisis. We are also affected as well. According to the researchers made by scientists, they say it’s climate change, and the famine is a direct consequence of it…. “

Onidon’s heart raced with anger, especially when the man claims the governor is concerned about them. If the government was concerned over them, why are they slow in responding to this climate change? Why are they leaving the poor masses and communities to wallow in poverty and sickness? When will the government ever stop pretending that everything is fine when nothing is fine? Why didn’t they supply drugs to these local communities?

“And why do governments highly prioritize urban cities over rural settings?”

“Sorry?” Maduka asked, surprised at such alacrity.

Onidon is shocked to realize that her last question slipped out of her mind to her mouth. Her mind tottered in fear, and so did her legs. What will she do now? Just continue speaking, she said to herself. “I mean sir, why is it that the government always consider urban areas more than rural ones? For months now, we have had no rain. Our stream is poison. Our farmlands are dead. Our health centres are closed due to a lack of funds and drugs. How many hospitals are closed in urban areas due to climate change? How many people die from drinking dirty water? How many even drink from streams over there? None, but borne holes, taps, and wells. We are left to scramble whatever we can to feed ourselves. We use leaves, herbs, and roots to cure a sickness we are not sure of. How many people in urban areas use these elements for curing sickness? Tell us, Sir, is this not another form of localized racism? Isn’t the government’s lackadaisical proving a point here? We don’t have anything, except ourselves. Tell me, Sir, how do the government claim they care about us when they don’t know the kind of life we live here?” She cringes in tears.

A week later, the press travelled down to Onidon’s hamlet to interview her. She became a heroine, carrying the honour of being the first to appear in a TV broadcast. Even Ladoni envied her. But Onidon expressed it clearly, that although she has achieved one of her aim of becoming a political Elijah, she still desired for the rain to fall. The rain of help from the government, international organizations, amnesties, NGOs, civil society etc. Life is still the same for her if this rain has not fallen. Life is still the same: Ladoni returned to her faith in God for heavenly rain and Onidon hoped in the political rain.

Olayioye Paul Bamidele is a writer, journalist, and photographer. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Spillword, Lunaris, Artlounge, Afreecan, Ice Floe, Afreecan, Kalahari, LILAC, IHRAF, Synchronize Chaos Mag, Kissing Dynamite, Kreative Diadem and elsewhere. He’s living in Nigeria.


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