WHEN YOUR KILLER COULD HAVE BEEN A CHILD SOLDIER

Although the Liberian war is now over, I cannot wish away the memories. There are nights in my sleep when I still find myself dressed in army uniform, AK-47 ready. On these nights I hear the voices of parents calling their children; others joking, shouting: “Where’s your bunker?” The air cracks and I hear the sounds of diving jets and stuttering LMGs. Fire, blood, bullets and bodies everywhere. Things soon simmer to normal as danger passes. People fill the streets, young boys and girls going on various errands. Then he appears in a blood-stained enemy uniform. His oily dark face is teased with abandon. He’s about to aim his rifle at me. In my dreams, he dies in different ways. I’m his killer. Something tells me that he is my son. But I’m too afraid to believe it.

“Daddy, that’s the toy section!”

I manage to smile. “Go on, make your choice. I’ll wait right here.”

My son’s gait is a proud and happy one as he follows one of the shop attendants.

I was the one to survive, not my fellow comrade and best friend, Silas. I think of his family and friends that he left behind. I can only hope that I won’t be called back into action any time soon. The fiery cover of a magazine on the counter grabs my attention and brings me back to July, 2003.

There is no way to communicate with the rest of our platoon. The only option left is to return to base, west of Monrovia. We are barely a meter away from a shelled restaurant when a bullet zings past us. It’s obvious that our enemy is a splinter group with the RUF. Silas returns fire, I quickly take cover. Bullets rain in all directions. Concrete walls and glasses fall recklessly. I fire, ripping off a few arms and heads. Defeated, the last of our enemy limps away and out of view. Silas wants to go after them. I hold him down.

We make our way down narrow streets, pass people staring hauntingly through open windows. Tattered pieces of clothes are hanging on the lines above us. Fresh bloodstains on the walls and destroyed vehicles suggest a recent shootout. This is no sign of relief. I’m about to flip my map open when a shrill cry pierces the air. Silas and I make eye contact; we agree to move after fifteen seconds. Deep down, a new fear confronts me: what if the cry is a signal for some other militia in the area? We scurry off the main pass, find refuge behind an enormous boulder and wait.

No noise. Not even the sound of birds.

We crouch around bullet-ridden buildings and try to avoid the morning sun, lest our shadows give us away. We walk five steps, stop, and then repeat the pattern. The front of a hotel comes into view. Choice point, none of the options are good.

We scan our sides and agree on heading into the building. Just when I thought that stealth had kept us safe, I hear a loud blast. I flatten my back against the wall. Shortly after, I can see Silas’ hand jerking, trying to reach for his weapon.

“Shoot you blaady Nigeria sojah!”

“Please don’t—”

I open fire. A skinny figure crashes into the wall. I hurry over to Silas’ side. As I go down on one knee and hold his hand firmly, he says, “He…a…boy.”

I’m shocked, confused. Indeed our enemy is just a boy who is now looking at me with pitiful eyes, blood oozing from the sides of his body.

“Look!” My son shows me a toy gun. “This is the type of gun I saw in the Rambo movie. I want it.”

I shake my head. I hand the shop attendant the toy and say, “I need you to help Lex to find something else he could play with. I’m not paying for this.”

The young female is clearly baffled.

“But dad, you said I could have anything in the toy shop. You—”

“Lex!”

In an attempt to calm my son, the cashier tries to coax him into taking another toy in the store. “No! I don’t want them,” he pouted.

I frown, then extend a hand to him. “Let’s go, then.”

Slowly he takes it and we walk out of the mini-mart. I try to convince myself that I did the right thing as we head toward the parking lot. Inside the car, Lex begins to sob quietly. He’s trying to fight back the tears. I start the engine and back the car into the street. Half way out, I’m attacked by pangs of regret. It weakens my hands on the wheel so I pull over.

“I’m sorry.”

Lex doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even look at me. I take a deep breath. “I want you to have that toy gun.”

“Really?” his face lights up like bright bulbs on a Christmas tree.

I nod and put the car in reverse.

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63 thoughts on “WHEN YOUR KILLER COULD HAVE BEEN A CHILD SOLDIER

    1. Glad you found time to read my story. Well, I’ve not checked with the website ever since as I’ve been away from the Internet for a while now. But then, it will be a great gift to have other online readers comment on the story.

    1. Wow! Your comment is a wonderful summary of the story. It’s exciting switching off and on those emotions and I’m happy you took a moment to talk about it too.

  1. I’ve said it before and will say it again, you remind me so much of the late Chinua Achebe, he had a way with words, like you do too! Great story, captivating and I’m spellbound. I can definitely see you published not only in online magazines but by a great publishing company that will give you the recognition your books deserve! I didn’t want the story to stop! Powerful!
    Blessings! :):)

    1. Sis, we’ve lost a literary gem. I still remember when I was presented with my first copy of his (Achebe) novel Things Fall Apart. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. And I echo your words about publishing my book someday…God willing. You’ve been so kind and supportive, always willing to share your thoughts with me. Knowing I can learn a lot from you gives me so much joy! Thanks a million for everything 🙂

    1. Oh my! I’m grateful you took your time to read the story. Indeed a lot of emotions came into play. Thanks for being very supportive, Sirena.

  2. Crisp and powerful. You have used the power of words (used with the utmost economy) most effectively. Also, your weaving through the dream, present and past is seamless and easy to follow. A very good piece. God bless u!

    1. My o my! What a wonderful comment MJ. Thank you! It was a tricky one–merging the past and present in a short passage. God bless you too, my good friend!

    1. Oh Diane, that’s a lovely comment from you! Well, with an innocently looking child in the car it could still the better option to get him that toy 🙂

    1. Hello Kaykay! Yup, I took on the present for a change in my writing. It brought a new dimension to story telling. Glad you loved what the read.

  3. Wow. Uzo, this was powerful. I can feel the struggle of this father as he is confronted with his past and his present with his son… You’re a poet at heart and it shows definitely in your words. I echo the words of your other readers. Don’t ever stop writing. This really touched my heart and definitely inspired me.

    1. My-o-my! What a lovely comment from you. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. That was a part I was so keen about–it was the backbone of the story.

      I agree we all could get inspired from the works of fellow writer and poets.

  4. OK, my jisi ike comment should have come here. But since that’s about the only Igbo I know I’m going to have to repeat it. Jisi ike, Uzo. I read the story again and have to say you are really talented. I practically “watched” the scenes.

  5. loved the reflection of thoughts that were so powerful to overshadow the present ! the bitter truth and the wholesome reality both contradict and the way you handled the story is commendable

    1. I guess our past and present intertwine. We are passengers through time with various secrets and stories. Yes, this was bitter at some point. Thanks for the very thoughtful feedback Soumyav 🙂

  6. The jump between the now and the past, is a jolt to the system. I like how the start and finish work together with core flashback..
    Continuity item, you already had the car in reverse when you were half backed out into the street, did you mean to go forward back into the carpark instead, so you could return to the shop?

    1. Thanks Sean for coming back as you promised. And what a nice comment! To your question: Well, I optimized my use of words within a certain limit, leaving the very the logical follow-up occurrence for the reader to fill in. You’d agree with me that no one drives a car for long in the reverse mode.

  7. It has all been said so well by your readers, Uzoma. Powerfull, emotionally stunning, we want to read more to experience the compassion for this warrior and father. Publishers want to know if you have an audience. You certainly do, and we want more!

    1. That’s lovely comment from you, Cheyenne! Yeah, a lot of emotions went in alongside the action–which I enjoyed writing as well. I often wonder how servicemen could be fierce in battle and tender at home. They deserve a lot of praise, really.

    1. Oh thanks a heap! You bestow me with a wonderful compliment–larger than my size really. I’m more than grateful to you for it. Now I must head over to your place.

  8. Uzo, this is a well-crafted story of a conscience in torment, of a conscience that, like a multi-headed dragon, seeks to transform, at every glistening occasion, the daylight of our happiness into the nighttime of war. And unlike Ibsen’s Ghosts, where the sins of the father are visited upon the children, this scarred soldier proposes reversal.

    You have a talent for human drama, for speaking of those matters that bind us in common humanity. Congratulations on having such a wonderful piece published.

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed the story, because you, my good friend, have a talent for fine writing. Whenever I see soldiers especially those on duty, a lot goes on in my mind. I often ask myself if what is their greatest fear: Is it death or end they bring upon their “enemies” in the battlefield.

      Thanks, Prospero, for commenting.

  9. Uzoma, with this story you are telling many stories. I like what each scene reveals. There is no glamour in war. Who is the victor? Who is vanquished? And the seeds of war grow into a forest of what? Thanks for pointing me to this post. I’m glad I came. As always, with your writing, you take us to Monrovia . . . before, and . . . after?

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