Seeing Red (Short story)

Seeing Red (Short story)

This story reflects a typical riot incident in a Nigerian city and the psychological effect on the innocent victims.

Zabi ran to the other side of the market and abruptly turned left. He leaped over baskets of vegetables, over sacks of grains, heaps of fruits, and swept through a narrow passage between rows of meat shops. He jumped over a giant tin of oil and nearly upset it. He staggered from the impact, stumbled and fell. But he would not stop. He sprang up and ran on. He would not stop till he caught up with the woman. The woman in a red.

The woman looked very much like his missing wife, he thought. She must be the one, for no two people ever looked so alike. Yes, even though he hadn?t seen her face, he was sure she was the one. No mistaking ?the height, the shape, the gait and? Yes, the smile he would see on her face. And the look of surprise. And the questions she would ask him. The first question would surely be on the riot; how he survived it and how come he didn?t come to look for her and the kids all these days, six days after the riot. Did it mean he no longer cared about them?

Then he would reply her:

I do care very much about you and the kids. Why not? Are the five of you not my life? You are my everything. The fact is that I?ve been searching for you since I became aware of the riot. You know, while leaving for the farm that morning I promised to return around 2 p.m. I was in the farm up to the time, not knowing that trouble had broken out shortly after I left home. I got the first signs of the trouble only on my way back when I got to the major road leading to the town. I met a crowd running from the town; men, women and children. It was a woeful sight. The red light of death was in the eyes of everyone. What?s the matter? I asked repeatedly. But none of them could answer the question. They just passed me by, hurrying away from whatever it was that was chasing them.

Eventually I saw one of my neighbours among them and he obliged me an incomplete answer.

"Riot!" he said.

"Riot? About what?"

"The difference."

"What difference?"

"I don?t know?" He was gone before I could utter another word. Difference? What difference..?

Instinctively, I broke into a run, manoeuvring dangerously through the chaos of human traffic, narrowly escaping head-on collisions. Whatever this difference was, I wasn?t going to allow it to kill my family.

At the outskirts of the town my survival instinct offered me an idea. And I seized it by the waist: I removed all my clothes except my pants. I tied the trousers round my head and the shirt round my waist, and moved on.

The trick worked out well, for all the gangs of rioters I came across did not bother about me. To them, I was only a mad man. Their target was the sane; those who still had a future. When they sighted someone, they would rush him, beat him repeatedly till he fell. Then they would slaughter him. The more a victim pleaded with them the more brutal they became. After slaughtering such a victim they would set the body ablaze. I can?t recollect how many of such incidents I encountered before getting home. For, as I passed through the gory sights I had only one thought in mind: To save you, my dear wife, and the kids from the monsters.

On reaching home, however, I discovered that it was no longer a home but a raging flame of disaster. Not just our house, the entire houses in that part of the street was ablaze. And everywhere was littered with corpses. Some were mutilated while others were burnt beyond recognition. Where were my family? Did they escape before the monsters arrived? Were they among the dead? I took a look at the corpses one after the other. I couldn?t figure out any of the burnt ones. But I recognised quite a number of the mutilated ones. Most of them were our neighbours. Some were close friends. But I didn?t find you and the kids among them.

Of course, I did not expect to find you among the dead. I had done nothing to warrant such a calamity. How could they visit such a calamity on me when I did not know what the fight was all about? How could they, when I had nothing to do with the contentious difference? I had no hand in the crisis so I was sure you were safe. You were taking refuge somewhere? But where? I could not tell. So I went about searching everywhere I thought I could find you. Throughout the three days of killing and destruction I was out in the streets searching for you. I searched the police and army barracks where some of the survivors took refuge. I searched the hospitals where the wounded were admitted, and the mortuary where the dead and the half-dead bodies were dumped. I searched everywhere, even the most unlikely places. I searched throughout the days and nights non-stop. I could not even stop to retrieve my clothes as they fell from my head and waist, leaving me with only the pants. Still I could not find you. I could not find you despite my effort. Wherever I went in the course of the search, people stared at me, thinking I was mad. They couldn?t understand.

I believe you will understand. I know you will understand and not take offence that your beloved husband is going about naked. I?m sure you won?t feel offended because you know that now that I?ve found you, everything will be all right. I will buy new clothes for you, the kids and myself and then I will build for us another house, a better house. Believe me, the bad days will be perfectly put behind us, now that I?ve found you. From here we will go to where you kept the kids, then we will all go to a place where we could stay for a while and sort things out. Now that I?ve found you...

He rushed the remaining distance between him and the so-called woman in red, who was in reality a man in black safari.


(c) Sumaila Isah umaisha

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