The joy of motherhood is exaggerated to a large extent. No one ever tells you about the sleepless nights associated with a colicky firstborn or days when you forget to get important work done because you have the ‘mommy brain’ syndrome. I had barely closed my eyes to sleep when I heard someone whispering. No doubt, it was my husband. Our friends gave him the nickname ‘baby whisperer’ because he was the only one who could whisper Zara to sleep. A skill I found very handy ever since she got sick with colic. I heard him mumble under his breath and this time around, he shook me awake. I was ready to rain fire and brimstone on him when he held his hand over my mouth and told me to be quiet. “they’re here Zainab, get Zara and go to the basement now”. I knew exactly who he was referring and on many nights I had prayed to Allah on bended knees that we would never have to come across them. They were the same infidels who raided Inak, Nurban and other cities across the country and took women and children captives. No one knew who they were or the reason for their actions. The only thing we knew was that they never attacked the same place twice. The infidels were like the mythical creatures our parents warned us about, they were always characters in stories just to make us understand how dangerous it was to go outside to play.
I took out the duffel bag under the bed and headed to the nursery. I was panicking but I knew better than to make any noise. I looked behind me and noticed that Aminu was not following me. “Aminu, hurry we have to go, I have the duffel bag with me”. I whisper-yelled. “go ahead, I’m going outside. I won’t stay inside and hide like a coward when my city is under siege”. I should have known Aminu would choose this time to be a hero. It was one of the reasons I fell in love with him when we first met. However, today was not going to be one of those I give in to his stubborness. “in case you have forgotten, Zara needs her father more than this city needs you. This city has soldiers, let them defend the country”. He seemed to be comtemplating this and I was glad when he followed me to the nursery.
The wooden floorboards held a well concealed secret. A basement where we could hide out for a while in times like this. I carried Zara from her crib, she looked so peaceful and I didn’t have the heart to wake her up. Aminu opened the floorboards and I went down the basement first, I placed Zara on the mini-bed and turned around to give Aminu a hand. Alas, my husband had triggered the lock and shut me in with Zara despite my warning not to. Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, the reality of the situation dawned on me. My husband was out there and I had no idea if I was ever going to see him again. A wave of anger hit me, he could have stayed. He could have choosen Zara but like always his country came first. Zara started to stir in her sleep and I knew her loud wailing would fill the room so I decided to prepare the bottle. I had tried breastfeeding her when I gave birth but my milk never came in and I refused to hire a wet nurse. It was bad enough that my body decided to betray me, I was not going to be humiliated by another woman. I finished making the bottle and I decided to empty the contents of the duffle bag and take account. If we were going to be here for a long time, I needed to know the amount of resources available.
Two tins of Cerelac, one tin of milk, a new pack of diapers and two pairs of clothing for Zara and I. I looked around the basement and my heart sank because I knew the food was not going to last longer than a week. I pinched my nose feeling a throbbing headache in my temple. Imagine hiding from the infidels and dying of starvation instead, how ironic would that be? Just like I thought, Zara started crying and I stuffed the bottle in her mouth. We couldn’t afford to be heard and we were at a disadvantage already, not knowing if some of them were in the house already. “Allah, please protect my husband. I promise never to berate him for leaving clothes everywhere, I won’t even complain when he doesn’t put down the toilet seat”. I looked at my daughter and saw that she had fallen asleep again. I put her down and began to pace round the room. It felt like my heart rate was skyrocketing and the stress wasn’t helping matters. I waited for what seemed like hours and I must have fallen asleep because when I came to, I could see a ray of sunlight through a tiny hole.
Determined not to sit around anymore, I strapped Zara to my chest and began to hit the floorboards above us with the hammer I found beneath the bed. After a few tries, the floorboards broke and we made our way out. The stench that greeted us was enough to tell us the horrors that had befallen our town. There were blood trails everywhere but no sign of Aminu. I went outside the house and the world stopped around me for a minute. There were dead bodies everywhere. The smell of dead carcasses corrupting the air. I stumbled on a mutilated body and I was ashamed to be relieved that it wasn’t him. Wailings, mourning songs, crying babies, dazed mothers, another moment in history that would never be forgotten. I felt a hand grab me from behind and fear rippled through me. Alas,it was Aminu in torn bloodied clothes and a missing arm gasping for breath as he struggled to stand upright.