Enemy Circles – Season Two, Episode 22

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This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Enemy Circles - Season Two

Jomo, a young nomadic man was 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.

LETHAL COINCIDENCE

Spent soldiers with only the spirit of victory supplying them with the required energy to march on, flooded the pebbled Marrakech streets, smiles perched on their faces. Children and women with veiled faces lined up the street sides, yodelling and throwing leaves and flowers at the victorious soldiers even this early in the morning. Others threw rotten vegetables at the captives. There were captives for the soldiers to proper display to the citizens. Several wagons and carts filled with plunders and wounded soldiers were also drawn by the equally exhausted horses. The slaves strode behind their victors, chains chiming on their bare feet. The scene was so clichéd and common place that it was like history repeating, or rather confirming, itself that the blacks served the Arabs.

The prisoners were tired beyond exhaustion; apparently they walked the desert separating the two warring kingdoms by foot. Their dark skins were further tanned by the unforgiving sun of the desert and were ashen from dirt, with lips dry and broken, and heels cracked. Their afro hair was caked with dust and moisture enroute, and now from the rotten vegetables thrown at them by the city dwellers. Apparently they were not allowed to touch water during the traverse, not even in for performing the obligatory abolition for the five daily prayers.

Jomo was not aware of this humiliation. As far as he was concerned, he was already humiliated for the umpteenth time, and there is no amount of vegetable-throwing that could come close to being equal to that. He lost his friends, family, and cattle; and finally he lost the fight against those responsible for all that. He felt he didn’t want to live any longer. After all, life has nothing to offer him.

He had been thinking of ways to end his life while they were still crossing the desert to Maghreb, but not without causing a major disaster to the enemy. He was disappointed that even commander Pasha was never close enough for him throughout the terrible journey, to sneak a chance and draw a dagger through his heart. All he had in his caravan was some moderately high ranking army officials, whom he felt he could not sacrifice his life to kill – they were too insignificant, he told himself. That was when he decided to live and reach the city, may be if he is lucky he could take the King’s life himself, and that, he agreed, is worth dying for. As a result he endured travelling through the desert and the extra humiliation.

A smelly tomato landed squarely on his forehead. For the first time he took note of the assaulter; an elderly woman with hundreds of strokes of facial marks. The woman stuck her tongue at Jomo when she saw her missile had made a perfect hit. But when she saw the fire of hatred in his dark eyeball, burning like a log of wood consumed by a magical incendiary, and a lip that snarled like a cornered cobra, with tensed arm and shoulder muscles that convulsed under a plastic-like black skin, the woman cowered behind the mob.

Enemy Circles on Memorila
Enemy Circles on Memorila

Their sons and husbands invaded their lands, killed their children and enslaved their women, and now they are presented to them for mockery. How he couldn’t wait to cause a calamity that would turn this whole goddamn city into the finest of dusts.

A happy-lashing corporal extended his whip to Jomo. Either the man anticipated Jomo to wince at least once when he least expected to be whipped, or he just hated the fact that the black warrior never reacted to his whip, even when asleep. Nevertheless, the corporal always whipped Jomo with or without reason. Jomo could kill the man in less than a minute with his large bare hands, but luckily for him, he and his girly whippings didn’t exist in Jomo’s volcanic mind. He wanted to kill someone more important, someone with a larger share of responsibility in destroying his land. Judar Pasha or the King himself; a close family member, someone very dear to these two like their wives, sons and daughters are all good compensations for his life, not some poverty stricken old woman living in the ancient burrows of Marrakech or some bloody corporal that served tea to high ranking army officers and looked after slaves. He wanted to wreak a real havoc.

Jomo bumped into the person standing next to him. He didn’t know when their procession came to a halt. Audu winced when the shackles on the big man’s foot scraped him from the incidence.

“Hey!”

Audu was the only person Jomo ever talked to during his capture. He quickly remembered the man from the Kano prison that warned them about the prison inmate brute. After Jomo escaped the war at Gao bleeding and the ghastly sight of his best friend’s dead eyes, and not knowing where the other was or what happened to him, he went to Timbuktu with the sole hope that their elders might be there by chance. There, too, he met moors giving the city the treatment they gave Gao. They unleashed mayhem and fled once again.

Without the hope of finding any of his clan’s people, Jomo became a hit and run assassin, until he was captured several months after the war was over. As soon as he was thrown among other slaves to be transferred to Marrakesh, Audu popped into his face with a knowing annoyance. Jomo wanted to ask the man how come he was at the war zone and what happened to his pretence of sickness, but was too angry with everything to talk of anything as trivial.

At the beginning he saw the Hausa man as an annoying character that he once met at the Kano prison, someone with no sense of pride, because he barely complained about his situation and was always trying to be happy. Later Jomo realized that it was his nature and not a bad companion. Then they got to talk, but Jomo never told him what happened since they last met, and what he was planning in his mind.

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They were standing at the gates of the palace. Even Jomo, with his miserable thoughts of murder, found himself staring at the magnificence of the edifice. He testified that was by far more magnificent than the Hausa, Toureg and even the Songhai buildings. It was something he could only describe as unbelievable.

It was nothing compared to the palace in Gao, this is a wonderland of marble and glass. He could only recall those descriptions of magical palaces in those stories from the book A Thousand And One Nights, which was not fully allowed to be read among pupils due to its immoral scenes, when he was learning the Islamic religion and Arabic language. Symmetric arches upon arches form the façade of the one story edifice. Another spectacle worth beholding was the array of pretty women at the higher levels of the building, staring down at the procession. This is definitely Baghdad, he thought. He quickly abandoned the beauty of life and returned back to his scheme of a high class avenger.

He cursed his luck for not even having the chance to see Pasha first hand. He heard of him during the war, before he was captured; he hated the man and wanted his life. Now he is in the city of the enemy, on display like some kind of a wild boar in the zoo, but still no Pasha within sight. He gathered from his Hausa co-captive that Pasha will enter the city tomorrow; it is a way of displaying his victory before he displayed himself. Jomo hated the pride of the man, but wondered how his friend gathered all this information.

In a voice that scared even the Hausa companion, Jomo asked. “Why is the King not here?”

Audu flinched before he started. “I don’t know, man. I didn’t promise to present you the King…”

Before Audu’s last word finished landing, Jomo felt the corporal’s whip made contact with his bare shoulders. Jomo straightened up, without acknowledging the impact. The sound of the whipping caught the attention of the onlookers. The corporal saw the attention of the onlookers was with him and continued to whip Jomo for the benefit of his amused audience. He cracked his leather whip again, gathering all his strength, to send a formidable momentum across Jomo’s back. The prisoners around him started drawing away from the lightening of the whip that is descending on Jomo senselessly. In less than ten minutes everybody’s attention including that of the women on the balcony was directed at the new spectacle, which is breaking the monotony of the procession since they entered the city. The corporal was glad to be the centre of attention, and was trying his best not to let his onlookers down.

At the centre of the universe, with the stupid corporal taking advantage of Jomo’s captivity to gain himself a cheap popularity from cowards that never saw how the battle he bravely fought was like, time seemed to stand still. These cowards that couldn’t even fight man-to-man, and can only depend on using the lethal fire arms with the tendency of killing a whole village at once, have the audacity to even claim victory. And now this weakling of a corporal, whom a simple village lass could kill with her bare hands, was here claiming bravery beyond doubt to such an absurd show. Jomo’s heart started boiling. Time seemed to have resumed moving.

People were amazed at the lack of reaction from the black slave; who seemed to have no stimuli at all. While the corporal was sweating with the effort of raising his hand to deliver each stroke, Jomo’s eyes were fixed on the chains on his legs. The intensity with which he was staring at them was high enough to melt the metal. The corporal felt he was losing the battle, and as people began to laugh at him he got angrier and went straight to Jomo and started kicking him. The crowd cheered him in mockery for not having enough strength to make the slave cry.

Closing the few meters between them was all the corporal had to do before Jomo seized the jugulars supplying his body. In an instant he started thrashing, seeking for quick help. Seven other corporals converged on Jomo kicking with feet and hitting with mini clubs but it was like the death itself, his grip never slackened.

More soldiers descended at the scene and wrestled Jomo to the ground, along with his catch. Dust rose up from the panel beating Jomo was receiving from the soldiers, but he never let go of the whipping corporal until he was sure the man felt like a bag of sand in his hands. He couldn’t see the job but he was sure it was well done. Afterwards, it seemed to him like that high level edifice carrying the pretty women collapsed on him and all went out blank.

 

***

“Take this water you crazy Fulani idiot. You should thank the merciful God that you are still alive after what you have done.”

Jomo could still feel those mini clubs descending on him, his head felt like it was four times larger than it used to be. He gingerly pulled himself up and sat against the mud wall. The container Audu was extending to his lips contained quite tempting clear water.

“Where are we?” He asked, after taking deep gulps. There were at least five other people alongside the walls of the moderately sized cell room.

“Where else do you expect to find yourself, in the King’s chambers sleeping on his bed? You are inside a damn prison, of course.” Audu answered, as he busied himself wetting Jomo’s fore head, something the latter believed was the reason for his coming back to life.

After the scenic event of their arrival Jomo was beaten out of his senses. The victorious generals saw his action as defiant and unacceptable. He could have been executed on the spot but it seemed the story has not ended for him and may be not before he carried out his mind’s burning desire.

“What about the King, have you seen him yet?”

“Unbelievable! You are even asking of the King. What is it you want with the King?” Audu dropped the wet bloodied rag he was using to clean dirt and blood from Jomo’s head wounds, as well as cool his furnace of a body. He sat, facing Jomo with disbelief.

Jomo was not looking his way.

“I never understood you, my friend.” Audu started, with a calmness and seriousness that was never his.

“But what I know is that you have some crazy thoughts going on in your mind, or you are simply going out of your mind to kill that corporal.” He continued, when it seemed to him that Jomo was listening. “And the fact that you are still alive is a mere miracle, considering the wickedness of these Arabs. Taking an additional black man’s life atop the thousand they have slaughtered across the Songhai Empire would not have been a big deal.”

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“You have no idea where the King might be, have you?” Jomo asked

He wasn’t listening; Audu just looked at him, mouth agape. This dude is not made of here and now. “You are not planning to kill the King are you?” Audu’s voice held enough degree of sarcasm.

“Yes I am! You are not planning to herald that in the main city are you?”

Audu stood and paced the cramped corner that belongs to them by the general consent of the prison guards and mates. Even though they wanted Jomo to live, until the next day, they don’t have the intention of taking care of him. Luckily enough for Jomo, Audu offered that service free of charge. Hundred other prisoners who were happy with the bravery Jomo had shown in killing the wicked corporal could have done the same, though.

As the friend of the brave, Audu was both proud and surprised at his Fulani comrade, but he also knew that heroism could easily claim his friend’s life soon enough. He listened if there was anyone at the other side of the door listening at their conversation. Satisfied no one was, he sat down again.

“Look, I admire your bravery. Everybody does, except the corporal you murdered and his family. But I think you are definitely crazy. How could you have such thoughts of killing the King? Do you want to get yourself killed, really? Don’t you thank God for sparing your life yesterday? In fact don’t even start thanking Him yet because may be He has not spared your life beyond tonight, may be you are going to be hanged tomorrow or late this night. How could you be reckless with your life?” Audu was hoping his lecture would turn Jomo around back into reality.

“Reckless with my life?” Jomo asked, with as much bitterness as to make Audu pull back inches away from the beaten-up man with ideas of killing the King sitting right next to him.

“So now it was my fault that we were invaded. It was my fault that our empire was razed to ashes, our families killed and turned to slaves, our cattle scattered, huh? It is me being reckless with my life that I ended up here as a prisoner, instead of being somewhere feeding from and counting my halal. It was my entire fault?” Jomo’s voice began rising and that alarmed Audu.

“OK, OK, just calm down. But my friend I lost as much. May be that is why I want to have you alive, so we can have each other.” Audu was trying all aspects of consoling to persuade Jomo to give up on his plans.

Jomo looked at the saddened Hausa man. “If I could remember during our one way conversation you said the war never reached your lands. Obviously your village is intact. Can I say the same?” When Audu said nothing Jomo continued. “I am sorry my friend, I know you want me to live, but I don’t have anything left in this world. I allowed myself to live up to now because I want to kill the King, otherwise you would be having a different cellmate by now.” Jomo’s eyes hardened, forgetting the pain all parts of his body were screaming of. He had that fire burning again.

Audu thought for a while, as he too got consumed in his own thoughts. Jomo was right, there is no hope for them except as slaves, and he can understand how Jomo is having difficulty to have that as an option. He knew how the Fulani people enjoy their freedom as free roaming people. They are a proud tribe that served no other tribes as slaves or subdued others to serve them. They do their menial works that earn them their living. The idea of them being slaves to others is totally alien to their thinking. Now Jomo is willing to give his life away than to live a life of slavery as an option.

“Jomo, he is not here.” Audu said

Jomo’s fire quenched a little, as he heard the subdued whisper from Audu. “Who is not here?” He asked slightly confused.

“The king”

Jomo looked at his co-captive. He saw the desolation of hope in his eyes. “You don’t have to come near me so that I don’t implicate you, because what I am planning to do involves sacrificing my life, which I care not about now.” Jomo said, as Audu’s pity took its toll on his blazing mind. He couldn’t help his state of hopelessness. It was impossible that he had a shred of pity left in him.

Audu smiled and patted Jomo on his aching shoulders. “I meant it when I said I want to have you as a friend, even in your crazy ideas, which I still believe they are like super crazy.”

Jomo suddenly had other priorities now, to save this man, the last shred connecting him to what he used to be.

 

***

“My lady you missed out the spectacle outside the gates.” Jango enthusiastically narrated the news of what happened at the palace gates to his friend-boss.

“Oh, I would rather stay where I am than be outside watching human beings disgraced for no justifiable reason. Particularly that I share a lot with those human beings.” Bonajo cut Jango short, as she smothered her cushion and prepared to lie down. “By the way, how could you think the spectacle that displays nothing but the defeat of my people, and destruction of my way of life, would appeal to me?”

Jango felt guilty. “I am sorry my lady. He sat down on the chest against the wall. “I sometimes lost my identity deep down inside. I subconsciously identified with the Arabs in ideology and when it comes to taking sides I forget you don’t have similar psychology.”

Bonajo now reclining on her bed directly looking at Jango’s slump posture picked a succulent grape from a silver tray. “It is not your fault. You have been born and raised among them; it will be unfair of me to expect anything different.” She wanted to be there for him when he is sad, not easy in similar circumstances, though. “By the way, what was all the excitement about?”

Jango did not allow Bonajo’s artificial interest to affect him almost instantly.

“My lady it was one black brother. That man was something! Today I understood what you mean when you said your people are brave and proud people. This man I am talking about killed one corporal with his bare hands.”

Bonajo was actually attentive and listening now.

“He shouldn’t have gone near him because even I from my standpoint I could tell how angry the man was when the corporal whipped him for the general spectacle of the people.” Jango recounted the remaining story as it unfolded.

“He killed him, you said? Doing that with bare hands, he must be very brave and strong.” Bonajo wanted to know everything.

“Yes, he did it within minutes of seizing his neck. Everyone was talking about his bravery because more than ten soldiers could not save the corporal’s life once he was in his grip. My lady you should have seen that man.”

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Bonajo indeed wanted to see this man. Here is a man that was not about to take humiliation from his captors. He reminded her of herself when she first arrived in the palace. She had her plans of escaping at all costs. But now she let herself be transformed into a pampered doll. What happened to my values and beliefs? She asked herself. This man, whoever he was, was awakening something familiar in her. Agnes called it pride, the same as Jango did.

Jango didn’t know that this story he was relaying to Bonajo, which she was reluctant to listen to at the beginning, had rekindled the old fire of rebellion in her. Coupled with the fact that the king was expected in two days’ time, which meant that she will be visiting his chamber by night fall, a fate she still couldn’t get herself to accept, created a conflagration within her that not even Jango’s friendship and pity would stop her this time around.

She could have been brave enough to sacrifice her life like the brave prisoner, instead of throwing in the air her values and beliefs and become this. What was she even thinking of when she allowed herself to relax that much? Bickering among some silly women with no sense of patriotism?

“You are right; I need to see this man.” She said, with as much calm as she could muster. She learnt that to get what you want, you have to keep your cool and have a plan. She would use that.

“My lady, you are not going to attempt seeing someone like that. In fact for all I know he might have been killed by now, except I have not heard such news up until now. But the point is it is unbecoming of you to be seen around this brute.”

Bonajo smiled and actually succeeded in relaxing the agitated eunuch. “You have forgotten who I am, haven’t you, my friend?” Bonajo’s expression was calm and confident. “I was a similar brute, and brutes don’t take no for an answer. I need to talk to him, that’s all.”

“Don’t start, please.” Jango’s bright eyeballs twinkled from the noon light. “Should I regret ever telling you the story? I should not have told you the story with my wide mouth. I have a bad feeling about this.”

Bonajo said nothing but turned her head to face the wall in a silent dismissal, which Jango found terrifying, since he could persuade her no further.

God! She is tougher than the Queen. We have created a monster, Jango thought, as he hastily retreated.

Bonajo looked at him left. The prisoner’s thought never left her mind for a second. She felt like this was what every able youth from her clan would do in a similar situation. She remembered how fearless they used to be in the whipping context. She bitterly smiled at the thought of a Fulani guy flinching from the whipping of an Arab – a cowardice that would make scorn and disdain linger for decades in the grazing fields or reunion camps.

If the man was Fulani then he killed the corporal because of something more than the pain his whip is inflicting. Something she used to feel towards these people that destroyed her land and people. What happens to those feelings? Has she finally accepted the life of prostitution, as she came to terms with what being a concubine meant? Or was this the chance she had been waiting for? Whatever the answer to that, she felt she had waited and relaxed long enough; time to take action.

 

***

“My lady, I beg you for Allah’s sake, don’t do this.” Jango was kneeling at Bonajo’s feet, kissing her feet in the Arab fashion of utter respect. “If Moalama finds out, I am as good as dead”.

Bonajo pulled her feet away from the man’s grabs. She felt disgusted at the gesture.

“I understand it’s about you and your ambitions of becoming respected by the Arabs in a way of having ranks within the walls of this palace.” Bonajo sang icily.

“I am sorry I don’t have similar ambitions. Gold, silver and all of these fineries are not what I wanted, I gave them a chance but they never satisfied me. I want to be away from here as far as my feet can take me. I won’t blame you if you don’t understand that we are a free people, Jango. I can’t be somebody’s property, not even the King himself. I played along for your sake, I can’t do that anymore.”

Tears were freely rolling from Jango’s diamond eyeballs. She looked away.

“Jango, you are a handsome, kind and intelligent man with strength and wisdom given to you by your Creator.” She said, still looking away. “Outside these walls you could rule a kingdom, be respected by men and loved by women. You can become what you want to be. You still have that chance. They changed you from who God intends you to be and subdue you to inferiority” Bonajo allowed the gravity of her words to sink into Jango, whose head was still down, dripping tears.

“You can help me or simply stay out of my way. If you are lucky someday you will taste freedom, only then can you tell the difference. But not even death could stop me from escaping, at least not before it takes me.” She said with finality.

As she finished her last sentence she stretched her hands to Jango to take the dark cloak she asked him earlier to provide, without telling him her intentions behind the order. Jango raised his head from its downward position and looked at the small girl in front of him. Her resolve was as hard as the stone of the palace walls. He had never been complimented for anything good he had ever done before in his life. No one ever told him that he was handsome or intelligent, even though he could do tons of intellectual work, which many couldn’t. For the first time he felt a real sense of self worth. He might never become a king, or return the love of a woman anywhere in the world, but he wanted to taste this freedom Bonajo was talking about, which could make him respected by the larger world for who he was.

He rose from his kneeling position and stood his full height. Bonajo realized that he was a tall man, at least six feet two. She felt so small in front of him she was afraid he was going to seize her and report her. But he didn’t do that, instead he extended the cloak to her still outstretched hand.

“I will lead the way Bonajo.”

“What?”

“I am your guide to escape.”

Bonajo could only smile her own version of the heartfelt smile.

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Series Navigation<< Enemy Circles – Season Two, Episode 21Enemy Circles – Season Two, Episode 23 >>

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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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