Maiduguri

Maiduguri

 

21st January 2013

Dear Rachel,

I thought I’d write to you now that I have a little time. It’s been crazy here, and I miss you like a little child. Soldiers are human too, you know? It gets very dusty and cold and many things are new to me. We’ve been through briefings and training and will be starting patrols soon.

I made some new friends, my roommates at the barracks. There’s Timi from Delta state, a chronic Urhobo man who often breaks out in dance in the middle of morning devotions; it’s just hilarious. Then there’s Panshak from Jos who never smiles, but one day I’ll make him smile, I promise. The food here is different, everything is different, even the people.

I’ll write you again soon, I have to go now. Tell mama I’m doing fine and I can feel her prayers.

Love,

M.

 

………………

 

14th February 2013

Dear Rachel,

I went on my first patrol today. It was a stop and search mission, through the old market and the traders quarters. I could see fear in the people’s eyes as they stared at us; I could see fear and resignation. I think they have accepted that this is their fate; they have given up the inner fight. And for some of them, there was just blankness in their eyes. Panshak said to watch those ones carefully.

And a happy Valentine’s Day to you. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to bring you a gift or take you to dinner. I’m working hard to make sure you can have a country to call yours a few years from now. You’ll write me and tell me how your day went, won’t you?

How is mom holding up? I know you’ll look after her while I’m gone. Please tell her I’m fine. It’d be easier to call her, but the networks in this part of town are mostly down and we are not allowed cell phones at this time due to the nature of our work.

Never forget that I love you.

M.

 

………………

 

17th February 2013

Dear Rachel,

Today, I killed a man. I cried a little. I didn’t want my patrol team or roommates to see me. My roommates saw my red eyes anyway. Panshak said I’ll get used to it. I have spent most of the night praying. It’s 3.00am as I write this. I feel like there’s blood on my hands, and everyone was proud of what I’d done except me. They said I saved my team from a suicide bomber.

Would you still look at me the same again?

M.

 

………………

 

25th February 2013

Dear Rachel,

I dreamed of you last night and it made me realize how much I’ve missed you. It felt good to hear you say you think of me every day. I think of you too, through the endless days on patrol and the sleepless nights. Sometimes I say your name out loud.

I think the scariest part is not knowing who the enemy really is; and because he is everywhere and nowhere, he could be anyone. He is everyone. Perhaps we have become our own enemy.

This is a lonely place. It’s crazy the way people die, but we have become numb to the death. Death has lost the power to shock us like it used to.  I have to go now; I have a long day ahead.

You’re the only thing that keeps me going.

M.

 

………………

 

4th March 2013

Dear Rachel,

Today we lost a man. He was a good man.

A car full of explosives, cooking gas cylinders, nails, ammunition and petrol slammed into the side of the building by the Barrack’s gate. One person died and about thirty-seven were injured. The suicide bomber, he was just a kid—couldn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen. How do you take a thing as beautiful as a young man’s mind and train it to believe salvation lies on the path to mass murder? But this is our reality and we live it daily.

I wonder about God a lot these days; the things the world has done in His name. Why doesn’t He do something? Does He still love us? My faith is not shaken and I hope this grows it; but as far as growing faith goes, this place is a desert. And faith is a mustard not a cactus.

I hope you have been alright? Sometimes I feel like these letters keep me sane, like the words themselves are therapy. I hope they don’t sound too gloomy when you read them.

You complete me.

M.

 

………………

 

7th March 2013

Dear Rachel

This war changes a man.  You’re never the same once you get involved, and it’s the reasonable ones who suffer most, for reason is not a thing you bring to a war.

After a while you know you hate something but you’re not quite sure what it is. Maybe it’s the impunity with which they kill; maybe it’s the politicians and their rumored complicity; maybe it’s ourselves. There’s a lot of rage bottled up inside the average soldier fighting this war, and we don’t know where to direct it.

We went on a house-to-house search today, and the soldiers let their rage out, burning buildings, breaking bones, and shooting a suspect who tried to escape. He didn’t die from the first shot so they shot him again. I didn’t stop them, and when other reports came to me, I didn’t discipline them. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what made me different from the enemy.

In this war, Rachel, we are all casualties; the innocents, the soldiers, the enemy, our faith. And someday, perhaps our unity will follow. The broken pot-holed roads will glisten with blood and we will become another Somalia. Or maybe we can fight them back with their own kind of fear; we can kill them all now and deal with the guilt later. I think these thoughts daily, and then I ask myself how I became this person. One thing hasn’t changed though:

You’re still my best friend.

M.

 

………………

 

13th March 2013

Dear Rachel,

Today, I made Panshak smile. Heh! I knew you’d be proud of me.

He came in fuming at his boss, expecting some sympathy, and I said, “It’s okay little girl, would you like a lollipop?” He was trying hard not to smile but he couldn’t help himself when Timi broke out in a mock Urhobo song while howling with laughter.

We’re going on our most dangerous patrol next week, and then I will need all the prayers I can get. I’m not afraid, maybe a little anxious, but not afraid.

I am constantly comforted by the thought that you’re in a safe place. I’m fighting for you, and for the unity of our country, and for our unborn children so they can have a home to call theirs. So I will be fearless. I will be brave, and when I see you again, I will tell you my stories. There is a lot to tell you, and I am excited because I’ll be home for Easter. You hold on love, it won’t be long now.

This hell would’ve been more hellish without you.

M.

 

………………

 

22nd March 2013

A quiet sadness settled on the Barracks that evening. The bodies of the ambushed Patrol Team lay spread out in front of the command center.  There were no survivors. A young Urhobo Officer made his way through the small crowd to where the bodies lay. It was the third body from his right. He walked slowly to where it lay, then he knelt down beside it and began to cry.

He walked back to the small house they had shared to gather the dead soldier’s things. There was a small journal on his table with the word ‘Rachel’ engraved on the handcrafted wooden cover. His friend often said it was the last gift his late wife had given him before she died in a car accident. He flipped it open to the first page and began to read:

21st January 2013

Dear Rachel,

I thought I’d write to you now that I have a little time…

He began to cry again.

 

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Hi! My name is Ashiwel; thank you for stopping by. If you like this story, consider sharing the link with a friend. You could also leave a comment, say hello on twitter {@iamashiwel}, or subscribe to this blog to get new posts as soon as they are published.

10 Comments

  1. n · June 26, 2013 Reply

    Wow…aint U jst talentd!nyc

  2. Faruk Illo · June 26, 2013 Reply

    Keep it up guy…this is so cool

  3. Prosper · June 27, 2013 Reply

    Wow! Ochui, U’re undoubtedly the next Achebe!

  4. Ael · June 28, 2013 Reply

    Waoh, this is lovely, just like a pantomime… And I absolutely love the way it goes back to the beginning. Nicely weaved…

  5. Obinna Ekpo (@obisco) · June 29, 2013 Reply

    Im really glad i too time out to read this.. really consuming story.. nice work.. thanks for sharing…

  6. Moyosoluwa · July 1, 2013 Reply

    Beautiful and Touching. U sure are a gud story teller.

  7. David Sparrow · July 8, 2013 Reply

    Awww…now this really touched me. D guy is kind of a wuss though.

  8. Okizle · October 30, 2013 Reply

    This is Fantastic! It is awesome! Well done. Much Love to our soldiers fighting for our unity!

  9. Chidi Igweomoke · November 27, 2013 Reply

    Nice job Ashiwel, I never doubted your writing abilities right from our time at secondary school….I knew u would take it to the next level, thumbs up…

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