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Ozubulu: The day the Sun set at dawn

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The attacked church

By MUO EKENE STANLEY

Emeka woke up, mind dulled from hours of much needed sleep. He was on the verge of having a well- deserved rematch with Morpheus, the god of sleep and dreams; but against his wishes, he found himself leaving his bed. After all, he couldn’t afford to miss the first Mass in the month of August…

**********

Nkechi woke up early. As early as 5 am. As early as usual. She immediately leapt off the bed and went to boil water to bathe. She was always punctual to the point of it being an obsession. As early as Nkechi, so the children sang. As she idly watched the kerosene stove steadily pick up momentum, her mind wandered off. What type of rice would she cook for lunch? Jollof or white rice and sauce? As she half-heartedly slapped away a wandering mosquito near her ear, her eyes went back to the stove, mentally willing the water to boil faster. She couldn’t afford to be late on the first Sunday in August…

*******

Mama Chinelo stretched her aged bones as she got up from bed. Whispering a quick prayer, she waddled to the toilet to urinate and bathe. She was accustomed to cold water, having used it to bathe in both the cold and the heat. Her ancient bones protested against her dragged out movements and, for a moment, she was tempted to go back to bed and sleep till her aged bones regained the vitality of their youth. She smiled wanely as she opened the door to her bathroom. Age was never an excuse to miss Sunday mass. It has never been and it will never be. And today won’t be the first…

*******

St Phillips Catholic Church, Ozubulu, was quite an eye catching building. The brown and white tiles which complimented the brown, sturdy, wooden pews was topped off by the altar at the front, which was beautifully decorated. The exterior was beautifully decorated, with flowers giving it a quaint, peaceful appearance.

The cream walls with a tower on the left capped off with a cross. The church was in one word: beautiful. As beautiful as the church members who trooped in with their Sunday clothes to worship God. As parishioners greeted each other in hushed tones and broad smiles, none knew what would occur…

*******

Emeka sat at the wing  of the Church. It was his regular seat from where he could sneak off anytime he so wished. His mind travelled even as the priest continued his Sermon. He looked quite fashionable, if he said so himself. His new white sandals matched perfectly with his black trousers and white shirt. He heard some rushed heavy footsteps just outside but he paid it no heed.  (from here, I’ll go to the shop up the street and buy some green. I even have assignment to finish). The rushed footsteps got louder and people on his pew were craning their necks trying to divine the source of the disturbance. Emeka, feeling inquisitive, also craned his neck. What he saw chilled him in the last moments of his earthly life. Men armed with guns! He only had enough time to digest the fact that one of the guns were pointed at him. With a bang, Emeka’s skull erupted in a geyser of blood and brain matter.

********

Nkechi nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the first gunshot. She was at the front, near some of the more important church members, among which were the parents of the person who had single handedly built the church building. She watched as someone was immediately killed, his white shirt suddenly taking on an alarming  shade of red. She closed her eyes and prayed loudly in her mind.

‘’Someone please wake me up from this nightmare!!!.’’

She heard gunshot near her, a thud as a body, nay, a corpse, hit the floor. She opened her eyes one last time, fearless as a certain calm seemed to fill her soul. As the trigger was pushed and death swooped down to collect her, she had one last fleeting thought… ‘’I didn’t finally decide what type of rice to cook’’…

***********

Mama Chinelo sat, her white blouse and CWO wrapper tied round her waist. Her eyes took on the carnage going on. _Be brave_, she chided herself. Despite her words of personal encouragement, tears escaped her eyes, rolling down her skin in a slow, lazy procession. As she watched people die everywhere in a macabre symphony of bullets and death, she grabbed her rosary. Her late husband had bought if for her on their pilgrimage in Rome over a decade back. She watched as one of the armed men pointed in her direction and hesitated. She should have felt a spark of hope, but deep within her soul, she knew it was time. She closed her eyes and said a line from one of her favourite hymns.

‘Abide with me, fast falls the evening tide’’…

As the guns roared and spat balls of death, Mama Chinelo died, Rosary firmly clutched in her hands and a smile on her face…

*****

Chinedu entered the church with the speed of a thousand horses. He had heard gunshots and immediately he saw the people with guns leave, he was one of the first people in the building. Almost immediately, he fought the immediate reflex to retch. Before him, was in one word, a massacre. Blood was everywhere. Once in a while, he saw a perforated skull, open and gaping like the drinking calabash of the devil himself. The white and brown tiles were red. With a wail of heart wrenching anguish which seemed to pour forth from his soul, Chinedu wept.

For the lives that were lost.

For the house of God which was defiled by murder.

For the souls who had gone forth….

********

Chima just had a dream. To his five year old mind, it was just another fantasy. I’m his dream, he saw people looking like ghosts. They floated through the roof of a church and were guided by a shiny angel with big beautiful wings as they floated upwards. He forgot the dream almost as soon as he woke up, but he remembered one thing. All the ‘ghosts’ he saw had on their faces, the happiest expressions he had ever seen and will ever see. Even as they were lifted through the clouds, Chima could swear that they still smiled a smile preserved only for Angels…

  • MUO is an undergraduate at the Department of Mass Communications, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka                                                    Email: spiritman037@gmail.com