Third Place, Fiction: “Male ears, Dead End,” by EbunOluwa Ojebode
Grade 12, The International School, Ibadan, Oyo, Nigeria
Male ears, dead end
“PAAAAPAAAAAPAAAAA” “PAAAAPAAAAPAAA!” That was the village lookout, sounding the kakaki in a peculiar way. Everyone knew what this meant— the village was being attacked and it was time to flee. Chaos broke out.
“Yumam! Yumam,” women and children screamed.
Fulani herdsmen had attacked villages in Benue State for many years, but a few days ago, they had leveled Daudu, a neighboring village.
Dooshima was shaken to the bones as she heard the shouts of people. Like others, she had expected the attack to come in the night. Now, she was faced with a dilemma. From her father’s farm, she could safely flee to the next village, but that would mean leaving her family in danger. Amidst desperate cries, she headed for the market, the boiling point, to rescue her mother and siblings.
“Dooshima, where are you going? Everyone is dead, they behead anyone they see,” her friend Targuma said, panting.
“I must go back! Mama and Papa are in the market, and my siblings are in the house.”
“Shoo, Dooshima; no one is alive. You won’t survive, let us go,” Targuma pleaded.
Fired by filial love, Dooshima ran to the market, but it was no longer a market. Instead, it was a scene of pain. The slain lay still. The dying begged for help. Smoke oozed from the stalls.
Dooshima turned sharply and there in the debris was her mother clutching her bleeding stomach.
“You have to flee now; they are heading to the farms to graze their cattle.”
“No, Mama. I won’t leave you. Mama, get up. We will make it!” She sobbed trying to no avail to lift her mother up. Both holding each other and crying. A strangled sound came from afar. She knew the herdsmen were close by. Her mother was coughing blood. Dooshima gasped as her mother pulled out the knife from her stomach and collapsed.
“Who is that?” One of the herdsmen shouted from the bush. Dooshima’s eyes widened in horror. She had been spotted. Glancing at the dead body, she took to her heels, running with adrenaline as she could hear their footsteps close.
Passing through her uncle’s mango farm, she knew she was close to home. Her sister’s corpse, burnt huts, and more corpses were what was left in the compound. None were alive except …
“Shima,” a voice sounded. She turned, and there was her three-year old sister hiding in a big waterpot. She grabbed her and dashed for the bush, praying to God.
They ran towards her maternal uncle’s village, just a thirty minute walk from hers, but when she reached her uncle’s compound, there was no one around. This must be a dream. Everyone has fled, she thought, until she heard some noise behind her. The armed herdsmen again! She jumped into the nearby empty well, her sister tied to her back.
“Achi, achi!” Shima heard someone cough violently. Whoever it was, was on the verge of death. “Disciples, before I die, achi, you must kn … know the secret of our survival. The day you attack a compound with Surumpu leaves, that day you would all die. Surumpu is a symbol of our ancestral covenant. Any compound with it must never be attacked!”
Shima knew the person who spoke was the bandits’ leader. Her eyes widened in realization, she knew their secret.
Waiting till it was dark, Shima climbed out of the well, and began the long trek towards Anyiin, another village. Before leaving she had searched her uncle’s house and taken some food items. When she reached Anyiin, she was immediately spotted and taken to the Zaki Anyiin. Due to her tiredness, she was allowed to rest till tomorrow before her questioning.
The next morning, a meeting was summoned with the village elders. With joy, Shima ran to the meeting place to tell them about the herdsmen’s secret. Her message was simple: “plant Surumpu everywhere and we will never again be attacked!” Sadly, no one wanted to hear her.
“Woman? Who consults a woman in matters like this?” Taver, a muscular elder said. Everyone burst into laughter. “The day we begin to allow women to attend security meetings, that day I will cease to be a man,” another man joined in. Louder laughter still.
“But … but… our fathers, I have a solution to all our problems and pains,” Dooshima begged.
“Hear that! If you had a solution, would your village be overrun? That is how a woman talks. Leave here now or else your head will part from your neck!”
Scared, Dooshima left. The men hissed, issuing sterner threats against her and all women who did not know that they should be quiet and not meddle in security issues.
Over a period of two weeks, Dooshima made several attempts to talk to the men privately but as soon as she broached the subject, she was told to shut up, or even threatened! She spoke with elderly women but they told her not to bother because men do not listen to women.
And so it happened. Armed bandits in large numbers invaded Anyiin one dark night. The men fought gallantly but were overpowered. Many were slaughtered; many were raped. Anyiin was wiped out. Few escaped. As the dust settled, Dooshima spotted a badly wounded man and moved to help him. It was Taver.
“Why wouldn’t you men listen to me?” Dooshima asked, tending Taver’s wounds.
“Because we have male ears,” Taver replied.
“But do you see now? Male ears lead to dead ends,” Dooshima said.
Kakaki: an instrument that is blown when there is an attack.
Zaki Anyiin: Anyiin village head.
Yumam: save me
“What I found disturbing about the Tiv culture was that they did not involve their women in decision making. The worst part is that the women have come to accept this. I used to view my culture as one in which the women made trouble about having equal rights. After this research, I now view women of my culture as strong independent women.”
~ EbunOluwa Ojebode
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