Heartbreak and redemption by Sol Cross de Idialu

It was my day off from work, and it had been raining all morning. It wasn’t until sixteen hundred hours that the rain stopped. Having been indoors all day watching movies in bits, I was feeling a bit boxed in, so I decided to go for a little drive towards the outskirts of town.

Putting on a fresh Tee to go with my shorts, I grabbed my key and made my way out. That sweet soothing smell-petrichor hit me. 
Definitely a lovely time to take a slow drive around town. 
After driving for about fifteen minutes, I hit the freeway. 

Cars were few and in between, probably because it wasn’t rush hour, nor was it the weekend yet, when folks will usually be rushing in and out of town.

Taking in every little detail as I drove, I came close to the bridge that led to a couple of suburbs and also led out of the city. 

Then I saw her. 

She was no taller than one hundred and forty-two centimeters, and couldn’t have been a day over thirteen.
Standing in the middle of the bridge and staring down into the water, I wasn’t sure of what to do. 
What would a child so young be doing by the bridge alone, I wondered. 
As I got closer, I noticed that her clothes were badly stained and thorn in some places. 
Instinctively, I knew something wasn’t right. 

“Hello” I said.
“What are you doing out here all by yourself?” 
She didn’t flinch, nor turn in my direction, nor respond. She just continued staring into the water as she fondled her Jesus piece absentmindedly.
I moved closer gently, just in case she was a jumper or turned out to be something else-don’t blame me, I have been watching a lot of “The Walking Dead” lately. 
I could see the dirt all over her, as well as little wounds and swellings that were probably caused by running through a bush filled with thorns. 
She also did not have any shoes on, and I could perceive the smell of dried sweat from her direction as I got closer. 

“My name is Josh, what’s your name?” I said to her once again. 
Perhaps she doesn’t understand a word of English, I thought. I whipped out my phone and was about to place a call for assistance, when I heard a scared crackly voice speak up.

“Za..in….ab….my na….me is Zainab” she said with a slight disinterested glance in my direction. 
“I think you really need help.”
“Is it okay if I drive you to the police station?” I asked.
The police were usually of no good, so taking her to them was the saner thing to do rather than hoping they will turn up.
She got into the car without saying a word after a couple of minutes. I got in after her, and we drove to the station.

Zainab Yusuf-that was her full name as I learned much later. She had a story to tell, but she wasn’t sure anyone cared to listen. 
On getting to the station I told them about how I found her, and perhaps, I could take them to where I picked her up. 

“Oga, we no get fuel, if you no get money for fuel to give us, free us abeg” one of them replied.

I was flabbergasted and was too shocked to reply. Where was the honour in serving and protecting? While I was still lost in my thoughts, one of them spoke up. 

“Take paper write statement, we go look into am.”

After writing, I told them I was done, and asked them what their next move was and what they will do about her. They said they will investigate and place a call to Child Services. 

“Can you do that now before I leave, please?” I said rather frustratingly. 
“Eh, we don hear,” someone said 
“If you care so much, you can take her there by yourself.” 

“Meanwhile, anything for the boys?” said a corporal. 
Looking at Zainab who was still in shock and disbelief, I shook my head and told her to come on, and we headed out.
We headed over to my apartment, but not before we made a quick stop at a boutique, where I got her some new clothes and a pair of shoes. 
I was trying to get through to Child Services at this time, so that proper steps could be taken.

I did finally get through after trying for a while. They collected my details and asked me to stay put that they will be coming over in a jiffy. 
Naturally, this could mean an hour or two in Nigeria.
As we waited for Child Services to show up, I managed to convince her to have something to eat, after she had taken a shower and had had a change of clothing. 
For some reason, she seemed to take to me and also have a level of trust; we had developed a strong bond in such a short time that I could not explain with words.

Jos, Nigeria used to be a haven for expats, primarily for the weather and landscape, but these clashes with religious and political undertones had chased almost everyone away.
On my part, most of my time was spent in the capital, Abuja which was a two-hour drive from Jos. 

It was about this time Zainab spoke up and told me her story, while we waited.
She had definitely had some education I could tell, for her English was flawless. 

“It was a little past six o’clock, when I went out to get some wood to help mother prepare dinner. “ she began. 

“The ones we had in our store were not enough to prepare the meal, so I went a little bit into the bush, where we had a little farm. I had just gotten to the farm to get some from the ones covered, which we usually stored there, when we could not take everything home. 

“Four weeks ago, we received news that they had attacked a village that was not very far from ours. They had placed calls to the police and army to come and save them that they were about to be attacked, but no one came. The attack lasted for a very long time, and it seemed as if the police and army were told to stay away, because of how long the attack lasted-that is what father said. 

“Some Muslims managed to hide some people, but most of the village was burnt down, and almost everyone was killed. 

“We all ran away for about two weeks, thinking it was all over; but a week after most of us returned, we were attacked. 

“Just as I was about to remove the covering over the firewood, I heard the sound of non-stop gunshots. Running closer to the edge of the bush close to our house, my fears were confirmed, as I saw them-the Fulani herdsmen that have been terrorising us for some time. 

“Some had machetes, while others had big guns. They were speaking Fulani, which I don’t understand.
“From their gestures, I could tell that they were trying to round up everybody. People started running in every direction, as they went searching from house to house. Some were shot instantly, while others were cut in pieces like animals. 
I saw them kill the priest and burn down the church, along with our houses. 

“Then I saw some of them dash into our house and dragged father out. 
Fa..ther ha…d been sick for some…time, and was not as strong as I knew him to be before. Mother came behind pleading, and she was shot instantly. She fell down, never to rise again.

“Right before my eyes, they forced father to kneel down. At that moment, it seemed like he saw me, but that I can’t be sure of, as it was beginning to get dark.

“As he knelt down there, they made fun of him. Some kicked him, while one tall man spat on him. After they became bored with him, they killed him with their machetes; giving him cuts all over his body. 

“I screamed at the sight of this. They heard my voice, and began making their way towards my direction. Running as fast as I could, I ran deeper and deeper into the bush. They shot at me, but they missed. 

“I became very tired, and could not run any longer. Thankfully, they were no longer chasing after me. 

“I was shaking a lot and just kept on walking, not really knowing where I was going. After walking through the bush and forest for a long long time, I got tired and fell asleep.
My feet were swollen and hurt from walking for so long, but there was nothing I could do. I lost my slippers when I was running, and I was not really worried about it. 
There was no village to walk back to, so I kept on moving as far away from the village as I could, and kept to the bush, in case they were still around.

“I wondered if my brother and my sisters were still alive, because I did not see them come out. Perhaps, they had been able to escape or hide, I do not know. 

“All I could think about was them and getting as far away from the village as I could. I walked for about two days, before I got to that big road, and was thinking about everything that had just happened, before you came a few minutes later. 

“I was wondering what I was going to do. Perhaps, there was no longer a reason for me to live. Many thoughts had crossed my mind, and now I feel lost and alone, with mother and father gone in one day.” 

Holding on tight to me, the tears came running down her face. Since the tragedy occurred, she had not had time to truly grieve and come to terms with her losses. 
The sad reality had just set in, and she was like a little child that she was, once more-very much different from the little lady I met earlier, who was thrust into being responsible for herself-a task she wasn’t really prepared for, or expecting to come anytime soon. 

And then it hit me. All she wanted was to feel wanted by someone, needing to be reminded what it felt like to be loved, and also love someone back. 
She just wanted a hug, which will reassure her and let her know that everything was going to be alright in time. 

I sat there, just wondering how many other kids like Zainab were out there in different parts of the world, and were not fortunate enough to meet someone that could be bothered.

Zainab is one brave little lady, and I knew these events will scar her forever, but she had the choice to use it to become a better person, and see it didn’t stop her from having a great life. 
She had to see that not everyone was a monster, and there were still great people out there, who will never hurt another person. 
It’s a cruel world, but there will always be some beauty left in it. 

I gave her the longest hug I have ever given anyone as we sat there, waiting for Child Services to turn up, while a million other thoughts flashed through my mind.