My granduncle John is weird, very very weird. I hear people say he was okay until the war chewed him and spit him out dead to his former self. They say he came back half deaf from shell shock and with voices in his head. Some say it’s madness caused by the spirits of those he killed haunting him but Dr Emeka says it’s post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by the horrors of the war. I don’t know about horrors but I think that it’s strange that a man should sit on a stool outside for hours without speaking and staring without seeing.
Some days he seems normal. He greeted people, laughs and tells stories and even buys us sweets.
The other day he seemed normal and was in the middle of a story about his childhood days when the sky rumbled with the sound of a passing jet. He dove to the ground yelling “incoming”. One of the children, Ada tried to rouse him out of his delusion but he held her tightly in his arms crying, begging in a wretched voice that she should not die, that she should hold on until the army doctor arrived with reinforcements. Four men had to wrest Ada from his hands. We watched confused, not understanding what was happening.
I don’t think it’s strange that he never told stories about the war and on his normal days if any of the children asked him about the war, he would not answer and if the questions persisted he would return to his default silence.
One night I was groping about in the darkness trying to find the toilet and ease myself when I chanced upon him seating in the dark. I almost died from the fright. He was normal that night and put one a touch to help me find my way. When I was done I sat with him and he told me that the darkness made him feel better. I asked him why and for the first and last time he told me his story.
He was only 14 years old when he went to war. After conscription into the army, they trained with sticks carved to look like guns at the military training centers because they told them that the real soldiers were using the guns at the war front. He said you couldn’t mention that it was die to lack of armmunition and the embargo by the Nigerian government. 2 months later they were sent to the war front as the new republic desperately needed reinforcements.
This time they handed them old hunting rifles and put them under the command of an old military captain. They were assigned to harass the Nigerian forces trying to cross the Niger bridge and if possible blow the bridge up to deny them passage. He said at the time no one in his squad had killed a man before but it was kill or get killed. By the afternoon of the next day, half of the boys were dead and the remaining were never going to be normal for the rest of their lives.
He said killing took away part of you and it forever smothered the humanity of a child leaving one hungover on the terrible things they had seen and done.
He recalled that his squad collectively killed 170 Nigerian soldiers and that when they detonated the ogbunigwe that destroyed the bridge, they went deaf for many minutes. He said he used to cry himself to sleep every night after the war as his mind struggled to comprehend the evils he had done. He said the cries of his dying friends as the lay on the ground, bulletriden and body parts blown up by bombs haunts his dreams and that the war had followed him home to take up residence in his head.
Then he sat there after his story , in the darkness and I sat with him and his silence spoke volumes and I now understood why.