Kanma was shocked at the emptiness that welcomed her in Okafor’s compound. She was sad that Oma didn’t say goodbye. She knew Oma would have loved to, but her family seemed to have left in a hurry. Oma mentioned that her family may move to her aunt’s place in Port Harcourt if things got worse. She wondered when and if she would see Oma again.
As she walked back home, she thought of Miss Rita. She must have left Aninta too. She would get married to a rich man in the city and never return. The thought of the changes that would come with the disaster pierced Kanma’s heart like a thorn. She decided to visit the river one last time. Everyone had left the village, so no one would see her going there. She needed to see it. To bid it goodbye in case it be their last.
The once busy path to Osu was now lonely and dry. The trees seemed naked without their leaves. The chirruping of birds and the shrilling of insects were barely heard. She wondered if the ever-cheerful insects and birds had also left the village. The sound of her feet against parched grasses made her shiver. As she approached the river, sweat, and terror ran through her skin. A voice in her head begged her to go back, but another urged her on. ‘There is nothing to fear.’ The later voice assured her. The struggle went on for a while in her head. The farther she went, the louder the voices. As she stopped and decided to turn back, she heard it. This particular voice was not one of those in her head. It was familiar and threatening. Kanma gasped and ducked.
‘Who is that?’ The voice called out. ‘I heard footsteps. I think someone saw us. Comb the bushes until you find the person.’ The voice instructed.
Kanma buried herself in cassava leaves and grasses. She tried so hard not to cry, but her tears seemed to have their own mind. She heard footsteps approach her. She covered her mouth with her hands to stifle the sounds that came out of her mouth against her will. The footsteps came even closer. She closed her eyes and tried to stop her body from shaking. Then it passed. After about what seemed like a lifetime of the men searching and Kanma holding her breath, the men returned to the familiar voice that seemed to be the commander.
‘We’ve searched everywhere. The noise must be from an animal. We’re the only ones here.’
‘Yes, boss. The coast is clear,’ the second man said.
From the conversation, Kanma concluded they were three. She sat still in the shielding of the leaves and grasses. Again, she heard footsteps receding. From where she sat, she could see their backs. They seemed to be arguing over something. The men were distracted. That would be her best time to escape, she thought. She took her slippers in her hands, took a careful look for the last time, and crawled out quietly from her hiding. But as she made to run, a hand gripped her. Kanma screamed.
‘Where do you think you’re going, little rat?’
She looked up, and Officer Johnbull was looking down at her. Kanma didn’t get enough time to express her shock before the interrogations began.
‘What did you see?’ He yelled.
‘No-no. No-thing. Nothing, sir.’ She stammered.
‘Liar. Tell me what you heard or I’ll tear you into pieces.’
‘I didn’t. I didn’t hear anything sir.’
‘Tie her up,’ Johnbull ordered.
‘Please, sir. Please let me go. I am from Aninta. I am Nwanmiri, daughter of James Amadi. Please let me go. I only came to see the river for the last time. I didn’t see anything.’
‘Shut up. I know exactly who you are. Jaja, tie her hands. She’s coming with us. I’ll decide what to do with her.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Jaja responded.
‘Please, let me go. Leave me alone. Let me go.’ Kanma cried and kicked as Jaja dragged her to the canoe that danced to the rhythm of the soft wind. It was the only canoe floating by the shore of the river. Others were abandoned offshore. The men were four, not three. Jaja did as he was told. He tied her hands behind her and made her sit in the middle of the men. As Jaja pushed the canoe to set sail, Kanma kicked and screamed for help.
‘Let us know some peace child!’ Johnbull shouted.
‘I didn’t see anything. Please don’t hurt me. Let me go.’
As they paddled deep into the river, Kanma’s screams faded into the distance. The evening wave made the sailing uneasy. Johnbull was frustrated and feared that the boat, which was too small for five people, might capsize.
‘Keep quiet, you lousy child. You will kill us all. Keep quiet this minute!’ He yelled.
‘Throw me into the river. Just let me go. Please, please, let me go.’ Kanma cried.
Johnbull couldn’t bear the screams anymore. He struck her on the head with the only gun they had. Kanma fell, lifeless. The men paddled away.
Nwammiri will be released on January 23, 2024.
Preorder Nwammiri here: Cookingpot Books
Excerpt from NWAMMIRI published by Cookingpot Books. Copyright © 2024 by Adaeze M. Nwadike.