Jomo: Enemy Circles (Novel) – Season One, Episode 8

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This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Enemy Circles - Season One

Jomo, a young nomadic man betrothed to a fellow clan’s girl Bonajo and they were to be married during the merriment of reuniting at the designated reunion camp in mountains of central Africa. Unfortunately, a huge war campaign was to prevent that simple thing from happening until after more than three years.

Read the previous episode

FOR FAMILY, FOR HONOUR

“Why will there be a war? There was never a war for a long time.”

Jomo said, searching the faces of his friends reflecting the camp fire. The night was warm and balmy from the abundant succulent grass that matted every inch of available earth. The wind had long gone, making room for that cosy ambience of the plateaux that Jomo could not find anywhere on earth. The three friends would stay up all night, sharing their different experiences at different places during those times when they were grazing solo.

“War comes when it comes.” Malle threw a wig into the fire increasing its intensity.

“And like I said, it was only a rumour; I heard it might not even be true”.

Malle’s tale of war upset his two comrades, who heard nothing of such nature when they were traversing to the reunion camp, but then they arrived earlier.

“It better not be.” Mandano said. “We have too much merriment this year to afford a war.”

Jomo knew where he was heading. The only merriment he was referring to was his own wedding.

“Even if it is true you know we will never be part of it.”

That is if we have a choice, he thought to himself

Enemy Circles on Memorila
Enemy Circles on Memorila

“True, except when unrest is awakened only God knows who and who would pay the price. The instigator might not even pay any price as the innocent would do.”

Mandano was nervous, Jomo noticed; who wasn’t. If Malle’s story turned out to be true, sure there was a problem. But then, even Malle was not sure himself.

“Come on my friends, our family will soon join us. If the war broke we can stay off the war zone until it’s over. Is that not what we always do? Let’s even hope Malle was lying.” Jomo suggested playfully.

“Lying?” Malle took the bait.

“Why would I lie of such thing?”

“I don’t know, to appear to have the biggest grazing experience.” Jomo was trying hard not to laugh, pretending he was serious about his accusations. Mandano rescued Malle.

“Don’t mind him; he is eager to see his bride, that is why he is making all these up.

“Who asked you, calabash mouth?” Jomo started, laughing finally.

“Why don’t you leave me to tease him a little?”

“No way, officially you are the only person in the whole wide world legally allowed to be teased, by virtue of your marital status that is about to change.” Mandano refused.

Malle got it. “Ok Let’s hope the war didn’t break soon…” Malle murmured. “…If it ever will.”

A distant wind carried a faint sound, echoing on the walls of the valley. The topmost part of the mountain, where the three friends awaited their relatives to join was less windy and faint sound though from afar was not impossible to discern. A perfect place to avoid the deadly mosquito that colonized the valley bed, the top mountain was also fortress of a kind; it was a difficult terrain with only one possible track to trade upward. The freshest air there, they believe will also give them and their cattle healthy refinement from all the dust and dirt they endure during their traverse. A sound different from that of the natural environment easily alerted  the knowing ears of the three friends.

The sound was that of a bell, which could only mean one thing. Malle smiled after a brief concentration.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?”

Mandano threw his blanket and dashed out as if an agitated lizard entered his shirt.

“They have arrived!”

Jomo and Malle followed his suit to the tricky foot track that wound round the mountain side.

In spite of the darkness the trio managed the track with the dexterity of someone who knew a territory well. Not long after taking the second curve on the hill side they perceived the glory sight of whiteness of cattle. The alarm bells they carry around their necks jingled merrily in the sweet night breeze. Ecstasy filled Jomo’s mind. Even if there was going to be a war it won’t affect him and his cattle, he said to himself.

After another ten minutes of decent they meet the new arrivals. Healthy cattle of fat milk-loaded cows moved happily among the dewy grasses. With them were Kamido, Shagaro and Midan. Shagaro carried a weak organic oil lamp to light their way.

Not the body of the main clan Jomo realized, disappointed. He wanted to quickly ask if the main clan was a couple of miles behind. But Shagaro was here, Jomo snippily pulled back from the happy exchange between the friends, trying to be less visible within the shadows.

“Hey Jomo, how is it going?” Kamido approached the shy lad.

Shut up, you fool. Jomo cursed Kamido silently for that little effort of exposing him.

“I am fine, and you?”He answered, his voice a fraction quitter than that of the rest.

“Wait a minute.”

Kamido turned to look at Shagaro, who was busy chatting with Malle as he registered Jomo’s effort to stay out of their line of sight.

“You knew?”

Jomo nodded, his eyes pleading with Kamido not to start criticizing him.

“Hey Shagaro have you not seen Jomo? Here he is.” Kamido broadcasted. Jomo said the Kalimatis Shahada (La ilaha illallah) expressing his desperation, knowing that Kamido had just put his head on the guillotine of jesting.

Mandano laughed in the fresh air, happy that Jomo’s discomfort due to their jests was restarted once again. Shagaro extended a hand to shake Jomo’s after closing the distance between them, saving him the walk of timidity.

“I can see you already knew that you are going to marry my sister.”

“What?” Midan, who was lost in the mischief, was dying to find out so he can play along.

“Jomo is betrothed? Somebody throw me down this valley, please! You are the first to get married amongst us? Unbelievable!”

Midan was almost shocked by the surprise, further amplifying Jomo’s shyness.

The latter fabricated a poor grin, influenced by embarrassment. “I guess, I am.”

“Are you not going to kneel and greet your elder brother?” Mandano teased.

“Don’t kill the poor dude before his wedding”. Malle pleaded on his behalf.

“I should help them do just that, though; a few moments ago you even had the guts to want to tease me.”

“No, he is still a friend. Nothing has changed.” Shagaro tried to ease Jomo’s embarrassment.

“No, he is your little brother now. He will do your chores and do as you ask him to.” Kamido’s high pitched voice carried an extra douse of jesting.

“Come on kneel and greet him.” Mandano pressed on, jumping up and down like a cane dancer.

“Kneel! Kneel!! Kneel!!!” The remaining boys chanted in unison.

Jomo wouldn’t take it anymore. He snatched Shagaro’s cane standing enticingly next to him and chase after the torturing gang, scattering them in the dark night as they filled the clean air with their raucous laughter.

 

***

There were more than two thousand cows at the reunion camp, from the addition of the recent arrivals three days ago. The new arrival cattle mélange with those they found and mixed up like they knew one another. A couple gave birth the following morning. The contrast of green grass and well fed white cows was the most glorious sight Jomo would want to spend his lifetime absorbing.

What of when everybody is here? The camp will literally burst, Jomo thought, looking at the sea of the white bovine beasts in front of him. The undulating mountainous background with its sky at the horizon had green hue, faint powdery clouds streaking at the near apex of the higher mountains, a background that contrasted with the cattle and made it stand as if in a testimony of God’s mercy on earth.

Since last night Jomo never allow himself to come near Shagaro, and he him. Shagaro, seeing his brother-in-law’s unease, decided to give him a breathing space. The teasing was about the only entertainment in the camp, though it turned Shagaro into an elder to the boisterous youth, since he was not to tease or be teased by virtue of his relation to the bride. Other times, stories were shared before someone remembered Jomo and the whole teasing began afresh.

Jomo gathered from Kamido that their main clan body was somewhere between Djenne and Gao, because he and Shagaro left them and decided not to be part of the lazy movement. They met Midan somewhere between there and here. Unfortunately, they too talked of war. They confirmed Malle’s tale as not a rumour. In fact, they saw the fresh military camp at Takedda. Jomo was worried this war talk was getting too serious for his liking. If the military has started mobilizing, it could well mean that the war was imminent as he feared. And with their people somewhere between Djenne and Gao, it only meant that they were at the heart of the forthcoming war. His friends were having fun; not caring about what he thought was a reason to be worried. If he dared as mention it they would tease him until he reasons with them. They might be here, safe, in this beautiful and serene place, but their people were not. He felt they should be concerned about the war, or even pray for the safekeeping of their people.

He was about to abandon his thoughts and find something meaningful to do when he saw Midan and Mandano cut a corner carrying an exhausted Jalli up the arduous mountain track. His heart skipped a beat. He rushed to meet them. Kamido was already running in the same direction, while Malle and Shagaro were not within the vicinity.

“What happened to him” was all Jomo could ask, on reaching the rescue party.

“We don’t know. We thought we saw something at the foot of the mountain. When we checked there he was” Mandano answered. “Let’s get him rested, we can find that out later.”

Jalli cried louder the more he looked around the camp, like he was seeing some invisible evil in the beautiful mountain top camp. It makes the remaining young men more anxious and worried about him and what came to possess him.

“Lay him down inside the tent, I will make him something to eat.” Jomo went about preparing food for Jalli. “Mandano, please fetch me some milk. Kamido go find Shagaro and Malle.

Back in the tent Jomo tried to pour some water down Jalli’s throat with no success. The latter’s lips cracked at several places; he seemed not to have eaten something for quite some time.

“Nobody makes it then.” Jalli’s voice was too weak to register meaning in the concerned ears of his friends.

“What?” Jomo was not sure Jalli was not possessed by the nightly ghosts. They sometimes told stories of mysterious apparitions in the woods during their grazing periods alone. Some such stories were exaggerated, though, to make the subject look brave in the eyes of his friends. But generally, it’s everybody’s belief; the existence of jinn and its ability to poses human souls.

Shagaro, Midan and Malle busted inside the tent. At the sight of Jalli, they all froze with shock.

“What happened to him?”Shagaro dropped by the sick’s side.

“He is too weak to talk.” Jomo answered; in his mind he feared what Jalli would tell them when he recovered some strength to do that. He wished it had nothing to do with the war, whatever it was.

Malle felt Jalli’s temple. “He has a nasty fever. God, what happened to him?”

“May be he was attacked and robbed by bandits on his way”. Jomo offered. “He arrived without cattle, apparently they took that from him.”

“He looks kind of bizarre, maybe he was possessed by a jinni.” Mandano said.

“I would stick with robbery.” Jomo insisted.

“Yeah, that could explain it.” Shagaro said.

“It could be the Hausa people; they and their governments are non-different. The last time I passed through Kano I was charged heavy tax that I felt like I was robbed. And the option of not paying the tax in cowries or coins is surrendering a portion of the cattle. They call it Jangali or whatever.”

“Those people are plain robbers!” Kamido added.

“They tax people until they run out of livelihood. I had the same experience in Kano that is why I avoid their towns and environ as much as I can, like I would the cities of thieves.”

Mandano entered with the supplies he was demanded to provide. Jomo handed the milk gourd to Shagaro, who cradled jalli’s head on his lap.

“Try feeding him some of these, he won’t drink water. It will restore his strength. I will go make him some scrambled eggs. He should be able to eat that.”

Jomo once again left the tent, praying silently that what befell Jalli was not beyond robbery, even the idea of him being possessed by jinn was too sinister for him to entertain.

When Jomo returned with the cooked eggs Jalli was sitting, the milk obvious did its wonder. “How is he?” He asked.

“Still coming around.” Midan answered.

“Jalli, what happened?” Jomo could not wait any longer without hearing exactly what happened. He noticed that nobody asked him the question yet.

Jalli stared from one familiar face to another like he was capturing the images and locking them somewhere safe in his mind, forever.

“Please, tell us, were you robbed.”

Shagaro demanded from the sick.Hot rivulets of tears followed the traces made by their predecessors. Jalli’s anguish was felt by his listeners.

“They are all trapped in the war zone if they are not here already.”

“Who was trapped and where is that?”

Jomo’s confusion was deleting his rationality of putting one and one together. The mention of war shattered the rare flicker of hope he held to his mind. All his fears had solidified into reality. The war was real. Jomo’s heart sank. Ya Salam!

“…The main clan.”

Jalli busted into fits of sobbing again.

“Jalli, look at me.”Jomo was trying to hold himself together.

“Tell us what happened.” he could tell he was not the only one on the verge of hysteria and trying hard to stay put. Oh Allah, make this not happen. Jalli had to be wrong or something. They couldn’t have been trapped – the war had not come yet. Now, he wished Jalli was touched by nightly jinn that were messing with his memory.

“There was the talk of war when we were about to leave Gao; Lado insisted we pass by the city because he wanted to buy a silver ring in the market.” Jalli tried to calm down as he began narrating his story.

“The empire was in a chaos soon after, they started forcing young men into the military. When we saw how things were turning we decided to return to Djenne where we left the clan to warn them and hence leave immediately. They caught us as we were trying to cross back to Djenne. I, Lado and Sule, they took our cattle, telling us that we can’t take out any food stuff out of the empire, and by the new law we are to be recruited into the army.” He resumed crying.

None of the friends wanted to believe what their ears were registering for them. One thing was for certain, though, the war was right at their face, and they were neck deep in it.

“Where are the rest – Sule and Lado?”

Shagaro broke the deadly silence that was punctuated by Jalli’s sobs. The latter calmed again.

“We decided to run away from the camp, even though we were told times without numbers that the penalty for running away is death, they said so to set an example.” He let out a loud outburst of sobs.

“What have we done to deserve this?”

Nobody could answer him.

“We did run away, the three of us and a couple of others, but we were pursued. We split and arranged to meet at a particular place before we parted, because it was too risky to return to Djenne. I spent two days at the meeting point and neither Sule nor Lado came. I assumed they were caught and taken back to the camp for persecution. Since I left the meeting point I hadn’t rest, nor eat or sleep properly I wanted to reach the reunion camp with the faintest hope that the clan has escaped the war somehow. Seeing only you around here, without Sule and Lado confirmed my fears that the clan has been trapped in the war zone and that Sule and Lado were executed. They couldn’t rescue their cattle, God they couldn’t even rescue themselves.”

Jomo hated the confirmation of everything in addition to the news of probable death of his friends. This was it, time for speculation was over; it’s time to make decisions.

“Jalli, eat this food and rest, we will find a way out of this, God willing.”

Jalli only stared, as if in a loss of words to Jomo’s ignorance. He had no idea what it was like now in the empire. How could he possibly hope to find a way out of it?

“Rest, OK. You need your health back as soon as possible. God, you can’t even walk, see the way your feet are tattered from the long walk.” Shagaro comforted Jalli when he saw the despair in his eyes.

“Guys, let’s go outside, give him time to rest.” Jomo sternly said to the congregation of his friends. The six of them left the tent, each having a mindful of thoughts.

“What do we do?” Jomo asked immediately, as they gathered around in the open. “We have to make a fast decision.”

“Of course…” Shagaro interjected. “..We can’t sit here and wait while our clans’ people are somewhere struggling to survive, not to mention that our friends and brothers are in danger of being forced into army with a death penalty for attempted desertion.”

“We can’t fight an empire to save our people.” Mandano think this was crazy. “Can’t we just stay here and pray for Allah to deliver them? There is nothing we can do.”

“Have you not been listening?”

Anger was welling inside Jomo. He was almost not the same shy, groom-to-be the past few weeks.

“Nobody can leave the empire with his cattle. Can you begin to fathom how disastrous that could be? It will mean than our clan will choose to stay within the empire and wait for a miracle to end the war, than surrender their cattle at the border and come down here empty handed. Not to mention the fact that our brothers cannot come with them even if they choose to leave, because by law they too now belong to the emperor. It will mean that they are trapped in the war zone for all times.”

“Jomo its OK…” Malle put a hand on his shoulder.

“..Mandano, that was not an option, something has to be done. We can’t sit here and wait, as Jomo puts it.”

Mandano shrugged.

“I have an idea.”

All eyes turned to look at Midan. The shy, lanky boy was timid at the attention focused on him suddenly.

“Last year I discovered a secret route that quickly connected me to Kano from Djenne. There is no big village and certainly no towns and cities on it. I discovered it by accident when I lost a cow and was trying to trace the animal; I got lost myself, and wandered about, since there was enough posture where I was. I think if we can reach our people in Djenne in time, it will be safe for us to use the route without being found by the empire border officials. That way we can save our people as well as our cattle through the same secret route.”

Everyone was looking at the timid guy with admiration.

“That is it, then.” Jomo’s enthusiasm was fresh.

“We have to use this road of Midan’s discreetly to enter the empire, and extract our clans people and retrace it back here. And we have to do that while the war hasn’t gone full-blown, since according to Jalli they are still at the preparatory stage now. It will make a lot of things easier that way. If we travel without the cattle and camping, a good seven days will suffice for our mission.”

“I agree.” Shagaro said without hesitation.

All the others gave their consent.

“Two of us at least will have to remain in the camp.”

“Why?”

Kamido asked, when Jomo pronounced the unexpected words. Nobody would volunteer to stay and miss the chance to do something that would be told amongst the clan people down to several generations. Bravery is a rare commodity; particularly the one that involved protecting the lives and livelihood of the clan, and every able bodied youth would want to be identified with it.

“Because, while we cannot take all these cattle with us, Jalli has to be taken care of by someone while the others are away. We are going to take not more than ten of the cattle for sustenance, and in case of the rainy day such as taxpaying, since we have to pass through Kano. We shall move very fast to make it to the clan and come back on time.”

The truth of his decision dawned on them.

“Who is staying, then?” Malle asked.

This is going to be hard. Jomo thought, nobody would want to stay back.

“Midan is definitely coming, because he knew the route.” Jomo started carefully. “Shagaro or Kamido will help us with the precise location of the clan to save time.”

“And you the master planner will need coming too, right?” Mandano asked.

“Yes.”

Everyone looked at Jomo.

“Who are you to decide that?” Mandano charged.

Jomo’s calm resolve put out Mandano’s anger instantly.

“I need to come along because I have too much people trapped in there.” He observed, in reference to his friends’ plan, challenging them.

“I have a family and a betrothed to save.”

He said without a tinge of timidity. He felt he had the right to be part of the expedition, him being the one worried all this time, and he was not going to apologize for it.

Under normal circumstances what Jomo just said would have caused him to be jested at unceasingly. But this was not normal times and nobody teased him.

“He should be in the team. While he was trying to make us realize this danger we were busy not listening.” Shagaro said with finality. “The rest of us will take a vote.” He folded four papers, two with a ‘yes’ and two with ‘no’ written on them. The four friends took a pick from his straw hat.

Shagaro and Mandano picked yes, it meant Kamido and Malle were staying.

 

***

The outskirts surrounding the walls that enclosed the famous city of Kano was deserted. The high mud stone walls were magnificent. Jomo stared in awe. He never saw Kano walls before. He hated cities and avoided them at all costs. But this was something. The walls went up like they would never stop. Climbing over was totally impossible. At the foot of the walls pools of water had collected, further making the city impregnable by external aggression. Midan told him that those were dug purposely for protection. A gate made of heavy wood was locked like it was never meant to be opened. In the environs, lush farms were everywhere, other than that no sign of living soul could be spotted, not that we needed that, Jomo thought.

Jomo heard of Kano, but most of the times it was about their heavy taxing of pastoralists and raiding of towns to capture slaves. Whenever he heard about Kano it was one horrible story or the other. Most of those story tellers would admit they never went beyond the gates, and into the city. The walls and carefully tended farms were, however, revealing about the Hausa people he didn’t know about. He wished he do enter cities once in a while like some of his friends, even if it was for the sake interaction. City life was not for him he knew, but it will be such bravery to be surrounded by friends and families as tell the story of how he entered the city and resurfaced. Most of the times, he told himself that bragging was not for him, if he was out for grazing that was what he should do. Life in the city ought to be lazy and unadventurous. A real man belongs to the woods. These were his beliefs, but he was beginning to see a different aspect of life now in Kano. The people that built those walls must be really talented people. He would want to know what it took to achieve that feat.

“Jomo, let’s move on, we don’t want to stay here all day gawking at this monstrous wall, we have a long journey ahead of us.” Mandano called when he saw Jomo’s awe was taking him away.

Suddenly the heavy gates busted open like they were rammed by the heaviest of the mightiest iron hammers from inside, and riders in war outfits spilled out. The four travellers instinctively withdrew their knives.

The riders fanned out and surrounded the four Fulani men. They numbered more than fifteen; their heavy turbaned heads made them seem larger than life. The leader of the entourage moved inside the circle.

“Who are you?”

He asked in Hausa. His wide dark face reflecting the indigo of his dyed turban. Tightly arranged ropes crossed his chest made formidable armour for the rider. His long pointed iron spear held with ease, as he used the other hand to handle the reigns of his horse.

Jomo and the rest knew very little of the language but Midan did.

“We are only Fulani herders passing by, we mean you no harm.”

“But you do.” The rider said cantering on his horse. “Let’s see, have you paid your taxes?”

“But I swear by Allah we didn’t graze, we have just arrived and have no intention of staying at all.” Midan was becoming scared and his friends as well as their enemies could see that.

“That is the lie you always tell to evade paying your taxes.” The rider pointed his shiny spear at Midan, scaring him further. “You let your cattle eat up our crops. You do that all the time and you still think that is not harming us, if tax evasion isn’t harming us then this certainly is.”

“No sir, we just arrived, and we have only ten cows, we haven’t even camped. You have to let us go.” Midan’s voice was shaking.

“You are coming with me.”

Jomo didn’t know much about the exchange but he could tell that Midan was having bad times at it.

“What is happening?” He asked Midan in anger. Now these are the real Hausas he heard about, oppressing and intimidating. It was not hard to guess that much.

“They are arresting us.” Midan revealed, with a shaky voice.

“I don’t think so.” Jomo pulled his cane from his back sling.

The rider looked down at the four young Fulani men; they will have to take them by force, he thought. Four additional men and ten more cows were not bad for an operation executed right at the gates.

“Arrest them.” He ordered and pulled back.

Jomo didn’t need translation for that. He leaped at the nearest rider with his sharp knife. The rider was a split second late to see the flashy move from their prey. The knife lodge in his thigh and punctured the horse’s belly. The other riders withdrew their swords quickly. Two converged on Jomo and the other three took after the rest as the leader watch.

Shagaro and Mandano were as skilled in cane jousting as Jomo. In a few minutes time about seven of the riders were dislodged off their rides. The canes landed unexpectedly and do their job. But the numbers were against the boys and soon they were overpowered.

Jomo was quickly wounded and tied down. As he looked around he saw Shagaro and Mandano tied too, but Midan was laying, blood forming a nasty pool around his stomach.

Oh my God. Not the innocent boy. Jomo anguished. He didn’t even fight. He never fought anybody in his life. He tried to leap to reach him and make sure that the blood he was laying in wasn’t his, but he was suppressed down by two heavy Hausa brutes.

“Too bad we don’t have someone to translate for you that you are in a deep trouble.” The leader moved in, looking down at the pathetic prisoners as he used his spear to turn Midan over, in the process displaying to the full view of his friends the gash of spear thrust in Midan’s gut.

 

***

“They killed him” Jomo continued chanting to himself in the dingy prison, somewhere inside the dreadful walls of Kano city. Shagaro was sitting opposite him, looking dejected. He didn’t know where Mandano was.

When they were marched inside the walls Jomo was too shocked to notice what the inside of the city looked like. He didn’t want to know or have anything to do with this evil people and their evil city. Midan was the gentlest of all their friends. In fact he was the most soft-hearted person he had ever known. Why would they kill him?

After their capture they were taken directly to the prison. Their verdict, it seemed, was done at their capture; they were charged for stealing crops to feed their cattle and for tax evasion, hence now the cattle belonged to the government and they are its prisoners.

“Now we will never know the secret route.” Jomo heard Mandano’s sad voice from a dark corner that he couldn’t discern anything at all.

“Please, shut the fuck off. I hate this stupid Fulfulde language, it gives me migraines.” Some prison mate barked from across the long begrimed prison room. The smell of men and excretes were so overpowering it can knock consciousness out of the strongest man. But Jomo was not bothered at all by it. His mind was staler than the prison room.

“What do we do now?” Shagaro asked Mandano, seeing that Jomo was still in shock for such a discussion.

“Are you kidding me?” Mandano was hackling up.

“We are prisoners; it means we can’t do a shit. God, this room smells like shit!”

“I swear by the god of the hilltop (a Hausa pagan god in ancient times) if you didn’t shut up I will kill one of you.” The mean prisoner bellowed his threats again.

“What is he saying?” Jomo asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t understand this lowly Hausa language, I was surprised Midan could.” Mandano shouted back from wherever he was in the room.

“You don’t want to know what he was saying, just keep your voice low as you talk amongst yourselves.” Somebody near Shagaro offered.

“My name is Audu,” the new comer introduced himself, in not-so-perfect Fulfulde, as he sympathized with them and wanted to rescue them.

“Your Fulfulde sounds different.” Shagaro said, curiously.

“But adequately understandable, I guess.” He said. “My mother is a Fulani from Katsina. This man shouting the lowly Hausa language is threatening to kill you if you continue talking in your stupid Fulfulde language that he claimed gives him migraines. I will advise that you comply; he is in the capacity to do that.”

They felt silent.

“Better.” They heard the brute called.

“Where are you from?” Audu whispered so low his voice sounded like the constant swishing of bodies in the prison room.

“We are nomads, we don’t settle.” Shagaro answered in a whisper too.  Mandano kept silent by virtue of his position. “It doesn’t matter now, as we are settled in this awful prison and now we can’t reach where we were heading for.”

“Where was that?” Audu asked. His eyes went wide when Shagaro told him that they were on their way to Djenne.

“Are you folks crazy? Haven’t you heard of the war?”

Everybody knew about the war for quite a while except them, Jomo thought, as he listened to the conversation without taking part. If they knew about the war earlier on they could have been more useful to their clan. Now, here they were, captured as prisoners before even reaching the soils of the main empire where their people needed their help.

“We actually know about it, and that is why we were going there, our clans people are trapped.” Shagaro explained

Audu believed they were crazy. “It had been the nightmare of every prisoner here ever since it began. The talk of a magical weapon that would turn you blind and mad filled the dreadful prisons. “They are sending us there to fight.” He told Shagaro, his own dread showing.

Shagaro heard the words like in a dream.

“You mean they send prisoners to the war front from here?” He asked. Even Jomo was paying more attention now.

“Yes, except I would rather not go. The first batch was sent a few weeks ago, another was sent last week. We understand they don’t send the sick and weak, so I will play one of that when next they come to pick. Unfortunately for you, you put a fight during your capture. That ultimately qualified you to be transferrable to the war front.” Audu thought they were not shocked enough.

“Have you heard of the weapon?”

“What weapon?”

“Aha! No wonder you headed right into the front without caution.” Audu said.

“The enemy has a weapon that uses magic. It disables you before you even raise your hand to fight back.” He shuddered. “Do you see why I don’t want to go?”

That was fortunately some good news, Jomo thought. Without Midan and his secret route and as prisoners now their only chance of reaching their destination was to follow the army, later they can work something to escape. Anything would be better than staying in a Kano prison.

“Are you discussing something?” Mandano shouted from his corner when he couldn’t bear the silence no more.

“That is it, I am crashing your skull, you undernourished nomad rodent.” The brute grunted at hearing another fulfulde word.

 

***

Audu was not the only prisoner who played sick, surprisingly, even the prison brute with death and torture promises, and who had to be begged to spare Mandano’s life for shouting in his room, was sick on the day of selection. Nine thousand and fifty prisoners including Jomo, Mandano and Shagaro were marched alongside heavy carts carrying mean looking, iron-tipped spears and tons of grains. Several hundred cattle were in tow also – Jomo recognized some of theirs. The transporters made sure that the prisoners were chained to one another foot to foot, their goal was to hand over the bunch of criminals to the Songhai military at Takedda camp, what happens afterwards was none of their concern; they have fulfilled their end of the bargain.

Jomo and Shagaro were next to one another while Mandano was somewhere at the back. Even Jomo hated that they kept separating them. Their journey to Takedda camp had begun.

As they moved from the prison yard to the gates at the west Jomo noticed that it was not the same gate as the one they arrived at. He also noticed the tightly packed building of the city centre. He even saw the king’s palace, which was a magnificent edifice beyond his imagination, and very close to the slave prison. Inspite of the beauty of the city and all, he was happy when they put the gates behind them. The woods and openness lifted his spirit once more. He felt like something that had been taken away with his capture was restored. He prayed for Midan and for the bigger mission ahead.

There were fifty guards escorting the army of slaves, all of them in war gears and ready to contain any skirmish by the slaves, even though not very likely. They also carry leather whips and spears. It is going to be a wicked trip, thought Jomo.

“How do we escape once we reached the empire? That is where they are taking us right?” Shagaro asked Jomo In whispers.

“I don’t know. We will have to wait until we arrive there, then we can analyse our options.”

“No talking.” Whip cracked on Jomo’s back. It was one of the guards, from the way he unleashed the whip one can easily tell that he was a professional slaver.

***

It was nothing around plans. The Takedda camp destination changed a lot of things. Jomo knew Takedda. Though, like in any other city, he all the times chooses to circumvent it on his grazing ways. He was expecting they were going direct into the heart of the empire. He knew that Takedda was far away from Djenne, and nobody had any idea when they would be going to the capital. All hopes of escaping were slowly shattering. Since their arrival about ten people were killed for attempted desertion. According to the story spreading in the camp no one attempted to run away and succeeded. But he knew it was not true. There were hush-hush stories of those who actually succeeded without being caught. However, the propaganda that no one escaped was working because there were continuous attempts for running away.

Jalli’s story about Lado and Sule also dampened any decision of trying to run away. Shagaro advised to wait another week, if they happened to be amongst the next batch to be sent to the empire, it would reduce the risk of being in trouble with the recruitment officials. His argument was based on the fact that after arriving at the camp and got more information on the status of things, they learnt that the war has not begun anywhere within the empire, and that it might not even begin now or ever, though he was careful not to believe too much in what the camp officials decided to inform them about the war. That made them relaxed and allowed them time to plan on what to do next.

The training was keeping Jomo’s mind off the worry of being held back at the camp. His only assurance was that the war had not begun yet, and that soldiers from that camp will be the first to be deployed to the war front when it begins. He was using that opportunity to prepare himself for the long mission ahead. Shagaro and Mandano were obviously thinking the same. At Takedda camp one was freer than in the Kano Prison, provided you are not harbouring ideas of running away. They sat together and discussed about their mission more freely. Their language gave them considerable secrecy during their talks.

Most of the times like today, however, Jomo prepared to sit alone when they are not training, to think about how fast everything changed with the appearing Jalli, and what possibly laid ahead. He marvelled at how Shagaro and Mandano could make friends in the camp. He saw the two talking with some guys a moment ago. He wasn’t sure where they were.

Mandano suddenly appeared, running towards him.

“Hey Jomo have you heard?” Mandano was joyous.

What could possibly be joyful with their situation? Jomo had no idea.

“What is it?” he asked blandly

“The three of us are among the selected three thousand and fifty to be transferred to Agadez for desert fight training.

Great…Another deviation from the original plan… Jomo thought. “And it is a good thing that you are happy?” …Was all he could utter.

“Of course it is. It means that we will soon be going to the capital, not to mention the power we will have at hand.” Jomo thought about it.

“What power?” “We will be first class soldiers. We can carry weapons and have immunity that nobody will question us as we move our people to safety.”

That wasn’t dumb. “Where is Shagaro? We need to talk.” “Let me go and find him.” Mandano run off.

Continue reading HERE>>

Series Navigation<< Jomo: Enemy Circles (Novel) – Season One, Episode 7Jomo: Enemy Circles (Novel) – Season One, Episode 9 >>

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Bashir Kabir

Born, raised and studied in Kano State, Bashir Kabir has a degree in Physics and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Physics, all in Bayero University, Kano. He is married with a kid and currently works at Kano State Public Complaint and Anti-Corruption Kano.

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