For many days we looked to the sky for a sign but there was none. Not even a soot descended. We despaired. We talked about it in groups, at meal time, on the trees, and in our dreams. It was the hunting season again but the military authority would not set fire to the bush. The Harmattan had dessicated the Sudanian Savanna grass that we could hear the hissing dry winds and the chattering of the tinder bush saying, “Do it!”
One fateful morning, our conspiracy gathered the right momentum, and in a gang of three comprising my elder brother, Ezra, our friend, and I, we revolted. Our mom was in the kitchen so we could not pick the match box. We went to Ezra’s place to get his since he was the only one at home. Then in one accord under the leadership of my brother, we crossed the road and advanced a few metres into the bush being careful not to be seen by neighbours. Squatting and well concealed by the tall grasses, my brother struck a few sticks and before he could touch a grass, the wind blew it out. He passed it to Ezra, his efforts were futile too. With only a stick left, I was delegated the responsibility.
I only had to strike once and the bush was on fire. I have the midas touch. With excitement we stood a few steps back watching how the fire spreads. In seconds, our cheer turned to fear. Immediately, we plucked fresh branches from the nearest tree and laboriously tried to quench it. Oblivious to us, we had flung flames behind us that had snowballed into a conflagration. Our attention was aroused by the heat and bellowing voice of the burning bush that blew us from behind. We turned around and beheld the monstrous flame and were exceedingly frightened and took to flight in different directions like bush rats smocked out of hiding.
With my left hand clutching my loosed shorts and bear-footed, I ran with all my might. I could see neighbours obliquely moving pass me like objects relative to my motion. With the swiftness and manoeuvring of a swallow, I dashed into the house, passed my mom and a guest chatting in the living room, straight to the bedroom and under the bed. While hiding, I could only hear the palpitations of my heart and the sirens from outside. In a little while, I heard voices and loud footsteps in the house; I turned to my left and saw black boots standing by the side of the bed.
I was marched to the blue painted Land Rover after being dragged out of my hiding place. The fire department battled to extinguish the fire under the watchful eyes of the crowd who shifted their gaze at me. I was put in the rear of the vehicle where my co-conspirators were already seated. I wondered where they were picked from till today. No one uttered a word as we were driven to the headquarters. Our minds were busy with the possible consequences of our act. Our dad was far away in Liberia keeping the peace brokered by the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, the multilateral armed force established by the Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS.
When we arrived at the headquarters, we were made to sit on a bench suspended across stones under a big canopied tree behind the guardroom. The RSM, Regimental Sergeant Major, and two subordinate soldiers stood before us. I remember him vividly. He was over six foot tall, had three tribal marks on each side of his cheeks like scars inflicted by a beast. His moustache resembles a cat’s whiskers.
To make us confess to the crime, we were subjected to psychological torture. We were below ten years old and sat according to our ages with me being the youngest. One of the soldiers had brought a metal bucket filled with water, and the other soldier held a whip with multiple strands. At the sight of the whip, my mind raced back to a time my mom and I visited my dad here in his office, I saw how one contractor was brought in handcuffs, shirtless and without shoes. He had been severely scourged with a metal whip with welts covered in blood all over his chest and back. He was in agony.
The hoarse voice of the RSM brought me back from the mental torture I was undergoing to the physical one about to be meted out to us. He addressed us thus, “If you do not tell me the truth, you see this bucket of water and whip, I will lock you up in the cell and early every morning, they will bring you out in the cold, soak you and beat you!” Then he pointed his staff to my brother, and asked, “Who lit the fire?!” It’s not me, my brother muttered in trepidation. Focusing on Ezra, he repeated the question, and got the same response.
Finally turning to me, he asked for the third time, “Who lit the fire?!” “It’s me.” I confessed. Not knowing what to expect. Then he asked who told me to do it and I pointed at them. He asked me, if they tell you to put your finger in the fire, would you? And I said no. “Don’t do it again!” He warned and ordered us to be taken back home. This time around, the ride was enjoyable even though we still kept mute.