We walked down the road not afraid of the rain which was pouring down on us heavily since we left the church. I was silently listening to the two elder women Agnes and Eva chit-chatting. They did not talk about anything particularly, they kept jumping from one topic to another. I could not chirp in as I was young, but I enjoyed listening to their gossip and their sarcasm as they described the people that you would have thought they were friends while they were together.
It was so gloomy for an early afternoon, but the dark clouds had forced the people in their houses. muddy shoes kept on dragging me behind and the wind was blowing like crazy. I had to hold on tight to my umbrella as well as my open shoes. I was wearing this pink floral skirt and a plain blue silk blouse and a black blazer.
Suddenly, the rain stopped and the path we were now taking seemed so dry and as if it had been so long since they received the rain. Eva had taken a different route and it was only Agnes and I. where she was taking me and why I chose to follow her I did not understand. We came across a white lady, Rose, sitting along the way and the lady we were with greeted her and it was evident they knew each other well. We walked together for a while and come across this big dam that seemed to have been formed as a result of faulting. However, only one side had dark swamp water. The white lady was telling us how the people around this area could not save a child who had fallen at the edge of the dam.
“perhaps they were afraid, this place looks way too dangerous than it seems,” I said.
“it’s not, let me show you,” rose said removing her slippers. She jumped in without hesitation. I gasped with fear. She didn’t even sink; how did that happen.
“now it’s your time,” Agnes said coming at me with this murdering look in her eyes. It scared me. This woman who had seemed so sweet and caring a few minutes ago came at as if she wanted to take my life away. Why? I did not even know her.
“no, no, I don’t know how to swim,” I said walking away from her quickly, but she kept on coming and coming. In the process of running, I slipped and fell down the empty dam. Luckily, I did not get hurt. However, I was trapped. When I looked around, Rose had vanished, and Agnes was nowhere to be seen. Where could Rose have gone, that end of the dam seemed swampy and if she could get out, she would probably need help. Perhaps Agnes helped her. Why did she want me trapped here?
I tried climbing up the cliff but every time I would end up falling at the base. I kept on walking to the other edge to see whether there was something that could help me or a less high height until I came across very tiny houses built in the middle of the cliff. The houses were closely built together. I was glad and without much difficulty, I was able to climb to one of the houses. I clawed inside. It had two pieces of mattress on the floor only and It was tidied up. There were people leaving here for sure. I looked inside the other hut and it was clean as well. I was so tired and decided to rest there for a while. As I sat there, I wondered why I had followed the two women, I did not know them well. They had just joined our church two months ago. The only thing I know is that they came to me after the church service praising me for leading such an awesome worship song. I had said my ‘thank you’ and then I had followed them without questions.
A few minutes later, I heard voices coming from all directions. There was an opening at the roof of this house, and I stood to peep. Where did they come from? I wondered. There were so many people as if coming from a party. I climbed above the house and hide in a shrub which had grown in between the rocks. They were around thirty people who walked into those around 10-15 huts.
I climbed up to where they had come from, but it seemed as if I was walking on a different planet. There were big bamboo trees along this well-maintained road. Without knowing, I entered a new small town. People here looked at me strangely and suddenly, I felt out of place. They were wearing clothes that seemed a decade ago. I had this strange feeling as if I was somewhere that I would never go home again. I was so terrified that I did not know what to do. Then I calmed myself down reassuring myself it was one of the towns in our country. After all, I had not walked that far.
The town was in the middle of a large maize field and most of the food was sold on the street. A boy around five years who was wearing a torn blue shirt and a dark brown short approached me walking around me, gazing at me as if I was diamond which had landed from heaven.
“he will be here soon, and he will make you one of his own,” he said at last. I did not understand what he said but it scared me. I bent down to his level.
“what is your name dear,” I asked tenderly.
“it doesn’t matter what your name is here,” he said looking straight into my eyes. What that meant, I did not understand.
“you are so beautiful, he takes all the beautiful girls,” he continued. I looked around and true, there were few young-aged girls and sincerely those present were not that attractive. There were many elderly women and men as compared to younger male and female. The children were few too. The total population of this place was approximately 300 in which, the ratio of elderly ranging between 40 and above was 3:1. They all wear clothes that seemed so old and out of fashion. I wondered where they did their shopping. This somehow, made me stand out and be easily identified.
“who does? And what is this place?” I asked still shocked. He shook his head as if he did not want to tell me or maybe he was not allowed to. But he was five years old so probably I was asking too much from him. He was wise though and so eloquent. I liked him. I gave him some money and asked him to buy something to eat as I was starving. He ran to one of the street food-vendor and came back with smoked and peppered cassava. It was enough for two. I held his hand and led him to an open green place. We sat and without caring how dirty our hands were, we ate. He was comfortable around me and I liked him.
“you don’t know your name?” I asked touching his long unkempt hair. He nodded.
“where are your parents?” I enquired looking at his torn face. He shook his head sadly. He was only five years and he seemed as if he had no one. No one to take care of him. How sad was that?
“you have me now ok, and I will call you Jack. Do you like it?” I said smiling at him assuredly.
“Jack, I like it,” he said smiling. He hugged my legs tenderly.
I have to find a way to get back home, it was getting late and soon the darkness would fall. Jack had told me that ‘the master’ as they called him was sometime ruthless and cruel to those who did not obey him. What did he want, and what business did he run in this weird place? Whoever he was, he sure was a dictator. The people talked less and mostly in a whisper. It seemed they were afraid. Whatever he was doing was illegal. How the people tolerated him in this free democratic country I did not understand. However, I was only 18 to wait and see myself be imprisoned in this God forsaken place. I had to get back the way I came and find the means to climb the cliff back to where I had come from.
“come on, we have to get out of here before the dark fall,” I said holding his hand. He held tightly to my hand without resistance and followed me with his small foot-steps. We walked back to the main path and we kept on walking and walking. The more we walked, the more I felt we were going in a circle. There was no dam, no cliff nor anything familiar from what I had seen earlier. Something was not right. I was sweating and I could tell Jack was tired. I carried him on my back and headed back to town. In the entrance of the town, I met with another young man about my age or probably 2-3 years older. He was 6ft tall well built and he was wearing light blue bell-bottom jeans, a black shirt which was torn around the neck and black rubber shoes which exposed his big toes. I decided to ask for help even though people here felt weird and scarily.
“hi there,” I said halting him from walking past me.
“hi,” he said stopping
“would you mind helping me, I’m lost, and I need to go home,” I pleaded. He looked at me with pitiful and sympathetically.
“everyone is lost here miss. This is your new home now,”
“Mercy, call me Mercy,”
“please help me, please. I will pay, I have money,” I added suddenly tears falling down my cheeks.
To my surprise, I found out that this young man had also been trapped in this place the same way I did. He had searched for the means to get back to no avail. He said he had tried several means to run away but every time he ended up getting back to the same place, at the entrance of the town.
“there must be a way to get home, “I pleaded sobbing and Jack held my legs as if his life depended on it.
“there is still one way I have not tried, perhaps we can try together, “he said soothingly. I found myself holding his hand saying ‘yes, yes’ this meant there was still hope. When I looked up at him, he was shocked and startled probably by my reaction. That is how I am anyway. I never hide my excitement. My grandma always thought it was one of my fine quality. I withheld my hand from him tapping his slowly.
“shall we get to it then?” I said eagerly.
“sure, but we have to stop somewhere for direction,” he said calmly.
“what do you mean?” he explained how a certain elder man had told him that he had once found a way to escape.
We passed the maize field as he explained how he had fallen at the same dam as me and ended up here five years ago. since then, he had to build a small hut for himself and observed daily as a certain covered soldier came each day to seek whether there were any young girls who had turned up. Apparently, everyone had a responsibility in this village, to tidy it and the few young men like himself were picked early in the morning and with folded eyes, taken somewhere underground for constructing very elegant underground buildings. They were paid in cash a few coins that helped them buy basic needs. They were allowed one day of rest and this Sunday was his rest day. No one knew where the beautiful girls were being taken. They never saw them ever again after they were taken. People were not allowed to make friends probably because whoever was in charge knew that friendship would lead to revolt.
Jack held my hand and followed us silently. We had been walking for quite some time and I could tell he was tired. I decided to carry him on my back but then George, he said that used to be his name, put him on his shoulder saying I would drag them if I carried him. The sun was beginning to set.
“just pay me, in case we get caught, you will probably not need it,” he said surprising me.
“how will I trust you then, you work for something before getting paid right,” I said.
“I was just trying my luck; I want to get out of here myself. I miss my parents,” he said emotionally.
“I’m sorry,” is all I could manage.
“don’t be,” he said.
“how much further?” I asked.
“will get there before night fall.”
Why did he stay so far? The master had caught the old man, he is known as grandpa, and some other men trying to escape, and he had decided that he had to stay at the far end, away from other people to avoid influencing others. The other men had been taken away and no one had ever seen them since then.
The darkness was beginning to fall when we were getting out of the maize field. It was going to be dark soon as there was no sign of the moon at all. How would we find our way in this darkness? George assured me that he would get there even with his eyes closed. He had visited the old man since he met him at the market a few days after he had turned up here. He was kind to him and when he knew his place, he would hide and get there at night without any of the guards who appeared at night noticing. He explained to me that the guards had dogs who only smelled someone new. That scared me, he assured me we would find a way to get there before then. I liked him. He was kind and charming and he kept me well informed and entertained throughout the journey and even though he did not seem sure of whatever he said, he tried his best to reassure me that all will be well. it was clear he detested this place, as he described it as a prison only worse than his parent did not know where he was, and no one would even visit him. The only person he had ever felt close to for the last 5 years was the man, grandpa.
It was already very dark, and I had to walk closely behind him. I had tripped several times and despite that he was still holding my little jack on his shoulder, he would always give me his hand to hold on. After a while, we had the dogs barking and several sounds accompanying the noise. This was it. I was not going to get home; I was not going to get the poor little Jack out of here either. Who would take care of him? My mum would die if I never went home. Dad would be devastated, and my sister would wonder what came over me. Will they know that I’m trapped here? Will I be miserable like George was? At least George had hope. Where did they take girls? What did they make them do and why did they not return to the village like other elder men and women?
“please don’t let them take me, George,” I pleaded holding his right arm tightly. I didn’t know how afraid I was until now. He removed Jack from his shoulder and carried him at the back. He told me to hold onto him and we started running until we came to a big tree. He immediately put Jack down and hurriedly helped me climb the tree. He described the tree vivid and after getting to the first branch, he described the next and next until I felt I was far from the ground. The dog for sure would know I was here, and we sure did not know what to do next. He took Jack to hide a few metres away in shrubs and came back. what would happen to him if he was caught? They would even kill him. I was not going to let that happen.
“thank you for everything George, take that and get out of here. Promise me you will never give up looking for means to get out of here,” I said throwing my handbag down after removing my scarf. It had seven hundred shillings in it, a bible, notebook, my student id and a photograph of my family; mum, dad, my teenage sister and I. He did not answer.
“you are of no use to me when you are dead, take care of Jack. Promise me,” I pleaded with a sobbing tone. The barking was close, and the flashlight was visible now.
“I promise I will come for you.” Seem he was sobbing too.
“thank you. Go now. Go,” I said feeling his resistant. After a few minutes, I heard his footstep walking away. I felt more frightened. He had been a comfort and now I was all alone. I did not know what would happen to me next. I knew I would be forced out of the tree in one way or another, but I decided they were not going to get me without a fight. What did they do to beautiful girls? Enslave them, make them their wives and rape them over and over again, or steal their organ and sell them for money? My head was spinning with these thoughts. Tears were dripping down my face as if a jug of water had been released in my eyes.
They were seven guards each with an advanced AK-47 gun hanging on the shoulder. Three dogs kept on barking until one of them ordered them to shut up. They stood next to the guard with that stand of a police officer, ’attention’. Their flashlight blinded me, and I had to cover my face. I was at the topmost part of the tree and as I remembered how I climbed with just description I would not believe I would climb such a tall and huge tree.
“get down here little girl, don’t you know how dangerous it is to climb such a tall tree, what if you fell?” one of the guards said. He spoke as if he cared. He was possibly luring me to get down and then he would grab and lock me up with other girls. And anyway, I don’t think I would be able to get down. At least not on my own.
“what do you care?”
“there might be snakes up there, and it is dark, I wouldn’t like you ending up as some of those wild animals’ dinner while we can help you,” he had this deep voice that felt like concern. I was afraid of snakes, but I knew too well he was trying to terrify me. I was not going to give in though. I was going to stay right here and if someone tried to climb up here, I would fight back.
“You are not going to scare me, I’m not easily frightened sir. I’m staying right here and if anyone tries to come up here, I will not be responsible for what happens to them,” I said convincing myself I was strong, and I would do this. They whispered something among them. Five of them left with two dogs.
“for your own security, we have decided we will camp here, and you can come down when you are comfortable,” he said starting a fire a few feet away from the tree. He spoke with this warmth, fatherly warmth that touched my inner core. He was good at luring young girls. Perhaps that’s why he was in charge. Few things were going through my mind. What if the man was right? What if there was snake up here? What if George was wrong about these people? Where were all the girls George had seen being taken? There was conflict in my mind, and I did not know which side to lean on until I felt something touch my leg. I moved my leg instantly without remembering I was on top of a very tall tree. I slipped and before I would hold onto something, I was falling and falling. I gasped. I was going to die here in a strange place…….
I woke up. I was covered in sweat all over my face. I was breathing heavily. I switched on my bed switch to make sure I was still on my bed.
Yes, it was a dream. Perhaps the craziest dream I have ever had. In it, it had felt so real and terrifying. I had to reassure myself severally that I was alright and in my own house. My little sister was sleeping soundly curled in her bed. The handsome George in my dream was not here nor real and there was no little Jack who was calling for my care and attention.