As I looked up, I saw the old man looking away to the far southern end of the river where the mangrove trees drew a thick pattern as a well-cultured flowering garden. There is another river coming out at that point to join the main artery which tapered off into the far end as it curves off to form another stretch.
I followed his gaze and noticed that the sun has gone under a thick grey cloud, casting a deep reddish appearance over the river in the western horizon. I looked up to the east, as if on cue, and saw the water blending off into the tall mangrove, curving into the left, going far away into the hinterlands.
From that end, I could notice the eastern horizon bearing the night as a sheet of dark velvet curtain, spreading over a static earth.
“War is an ominous evil that mankind has invented to solve frail egos and gain position and authority, which left in its wake despicable destruction of the Divine order,” he said, breaking the silence.
“Whenever I hear the sound and drums of war being played, as is the case now, I sympathize with the man. They will never learn. You cannot settle your differences by trying to kill your opponent.
“War takes away the peace of man and visits him with pain and sorrow, grief and destruction beyond his imagination. In the frenzied atmosphere of the sound of the battle drums, and war-cry, only very negligible voices will cry caution; that will easily get swallowed up in the strident sound of the drums.
“Even now, I could hear the drums of war in the distance, and rapidly getting louder,” he finished with that faraway look, seeing into time beyond our realm, I guessed.
“Sir, there has always been a war fought in one part of the world or the other. Which one are you referring to here? There is already a war in Nigeria. Isn’t there?” I asked.
“There is a war being fought now which you hear on the News wave. They still consider it a distant tale from a fairyland. For those that have not experienced war firsthand, it sounds like an adventure that one could pursue.
“But what they did not realize is that only a few come back to tell tales of their experience, and even those lives a nightmarish life for a considerable part of their remaining life. War bears in its wings tales an observer cannot tell, unless the participants.” He looked at me sullenly with a suppressed grin and patted my shoulder.
“You had a childhood experience of your old war.”
“Yes I do,” I agreed, my thoughts going back to the first soldier I ever saw in my life.
A fat-bellied man, wielding a long rifle; he appeared from the corner of a building, looking grim and threatening. I have gone with my mother to Akpede market in the peak of the civil war, to sell fish on a particular market day.
This fat soldier also came to the market with some of his colleagues to buy things. When I saw him, I exclaimed at his appearance. My mother had to slap my mouth shut with the back of her left hand.
Over the years, I kept on imagining the enterprising spirit of the people in those dire days of the war. The people from the riverine areas will bring goods like fish, salt, and other marine-based products to this border market to ‘exchange’ for food and other product.
‘Exchange’ it, because most of the trade they were doing then was by the batter system, as the currency of exchange of both the Biafra and Nigeria notes were not accepted as a legal tender across both sides of the border; that was long before the soldiers started converging in our villages and fishing camps, burning and destroying everything.
(To be continued).