“Even in the next world, I will marry you again,” Biyi, Titi’s beloved husband, said to her.
Titi smiled, breathing in and allowing the words to sink into her heart. She looked away because she didn’t want him to see her blushing. The only light in the room was a dim lantern. They had not had power supply for five days which was all right. Expecting power two villages away was like expecting snow. Those people did not use mobile phones because there was no power to charge them. Those who could not afford the old pressing iron folded their clothes neatly and placed them under their mattress to straighten, at least one week before it was to be used.
“I just want you to get off this sickbed.”
“Surely! It is just a broken bone. The doctor said it will be fine,” Biyi, her beloved husband, replied.
“Yes, but you cannot move the leg. You cannot walk.”
She loved the way he carried his shoulders high when he walked. It made her confident. She recalled when she met Biyi, her beloved husband. Well, not when she met him — as in seeing his face for the first time — but when he first talked to her. Biyi, her beloved husband, though an orphan, was the delight of all the beautiful girls in Katija. Though he had the required height, aura, and body-build, he did not have enough money. The girls would not mind dating him, but they all dreamed of marrying a rich person who lived in Ado-Ekiti. Titi had the same dream too. She was born in Katija; a change of environment was not too much to ask. But then, Biyi, her beloved husband, happened. Though ten years her senior, he treated her like a queen. He worked so hard to make her comfortable. She might not have the luxury of Ado-Ekiti, yet, but she would make Biyi, her beloved husband, move to Ado-Ekiti when the time was right. She held on to that dream when she married him. She held on to that dream when she was in labour. Even when the pain seemed unbearable, and the nurses whispered that her eighteen-year-old body might not endure the pains any longer, Titi refused to die. Biyi, her beloved husband, would take her to Ado-Ekiti one day. She must live. With that resolve, she pushed one last time and her son, Femi, slid out faster than honey would from a plastic can.
Femi was two already, but Titi still held on to her dream. Biyi, her beloved husband, her handsome, hardworking, loving, caring man, would relocate to Ado-Ekiti. Who knows, she might one day become the first lady of Ekiti State. It was possible, at least in her dreams. She felt Biyi, her beloved husband, tap her. She turned to look at him.
“Where is your mind?”
What would she reply? That she was imagining herself dressed as a first lady and lounging in the government house? She smiled.
“My mind is here with you, my love. What were you saying? Sorry.”
“I said that the fall is temporal. I fell just today, and you know palm tree falls are always bad. The doctor even recommended me for breaking only a hip bone.”
“All these local doctors! Do they know what they are saying?”
“He does not know, but he fixed the hip back, abi? It will heal do not worry.”
She rubbed his arm. “I just want you to be okay. I have never seen you ill before.”
“I am not ill. It is just a broken hip bone.”
She sighed. Her only child, Olufemi, slept peacefully by the corner of their room. He did not give so much trouble again before sleeping. She looked around the room for unsuspecting mosquitoes. She slapped one, splattering blood all over her palms and looked around again for another. She viewed past their clothes — that were supposed to be in their ghana-must-go bags but have buried the bags over time — scattered all over the place. She and Femi always slept on the bamboo bed that had a weak mattress on it. But because Biyi, her beloved husband, who slept on the floor, had a broken hip, he had to sleep on the bed while she and Femi would sleep on another weak mattress on the cemented floor whose potholes were as large as those on the federal government road around Ajaokuta steel industry.
She loved the peace and serenity of Katija. She loved her life. Even if she did not have all the money in the world, the love and happiness she enjoyed were priceless. Everyone in her town knew everyone and everyone’s child. They did not have addresses. They would just call their parents’ or grandparents’ name and their house would be placed immediately. Not just their houses, even their farms. “My farm is near Fayemi’s house.” That was enough description. Farming was their famous occupation, so food was cheap. Recently, however, an occurrence which was becoming the new norm, and which bothered Titi so much, herdsmen and their cows destroy their farms and products. The cows fed on their corns, uprooted their yams — whether the herdsmen helped the cows uproot the yams or not, no one knew — ate their vegetables and everything else they planted, except pepper. Food became expensive and scarce. They complained to the police, but, just as all the other times, the police collected statements and did nothing. She was glad that just a few weeks ago, Gbenga, one of the irate farmers — who was also a hunter — took matters into his hands and attacked the herdsmen and their cows as they destroyed his farm, killing one cow while they fled. He gathered the town’s young men who carried the cow to the village square where they victoriously shared its beef with everyone. Gbenga became everyone’s favourite. Titi still had her share, smoking in her sieve-basket, hanging above her fireplace in her kitchen. She had used some and saved some for another day. She just hoped Gbenga had taught those schmucks an everlasting lesson because they had not been back since.
The village was silent and peaceful. Titi knew the routine. Every family must have finished eating supper, turned off their lanterns, and gone to bed one by one. She was still awake waiting for her husband to sleep, enjoying the peace and the silence. It was suitable for her daydreaming.
Unexpectedly, she heard faint screams.
“Did someone scream or what?”
“I think I heard same,” she replied, suddenly alert.
There was another scream before a full-blown babel of voices. She got closer to the window. The sounds became louder and closer and her neighbours trickled out of their homes.
“Kilonsele? What is going on?”
The answer came running towards them in a face covered in blood. He fell in their midst and leaped up. They gathered around him, asking for news.
“Run for your lives! The village is under attack! They are killing people and burning houses. They are coming this way. Run!”
Chaos erupted. Titi ran back into her house, and in a state of severe trepidation, broke the news to Biyi, her beloved husband.
“Titi,” he held her hand tightly. “Be strong. Take all the money I have here from that trouser, take Femi and run. Take my wallet too. My debit card is inside. The pin is…”
“I cannot,” she burst into tears. “What about you?”
“Titi, I cannot move.”
Tears rolled down his eyes. “I will delay you. Run! Save yourself and our son.”
“I cannot. I cannot leave you.”
She heard her neighbours running out in a panic. Titi was torn between the devil and the deep all-colours-of-sea.
“Titi, go, don’t waste any further time!” he screamed at her bringing her back to life.
She wiped her eyes. “Get up let me help you. We can escape together. We are running en masse. There will surely be people who will join me in helping you.”
“I cannot get up. I will be a burden. My love, please go. Take Femi and run or you both will die here too.”
“I want to die with you. I…”
“Titi! Take that boy and get out of here! Now!”
She saw everything in his eyes: anger, fear, love, but most especially, death. She shut her mind, quickly retrieved the items and two lappas. She secured her son firmly on her back, took one last look at her husband, and fled into the night along with the other villagers, weeping all the way.
She heard voices and that of her crying son. She opened her eyes, sat up and looked around her. She was lying on the grass. Why was she not on her bed? Why were people seated everywhere? She hugged her son still looking around perplexed. That was when she remembered. She recalled running up a hill. She recalled crying uncontrollably. But she did not remember when she slept off. She tapped the woman closest to her, her buttocks spread all over the ground, and asked her whether they were still to keep running.
“We are waiting to hear from the men,” she replied.
“But do you think we will go back home?”
“We might, but we risk those herdsmen coming back again to finish us up.”
“Herdsmen?” Titi asked, shocked.
“Yes, the Fulani herdsmen. They were the ones that ravaged our town yesterday, and from the rumours I now hear, they killed a lot of people. I do not know what we did to those people. Why did that useless Gbenga kill their cow?”
Whatever provoked the herdsmen was immaterial as Titi just wanted to know if her husband was safe.
“Have they gone? Are they still in the village?”
The fat woman snapped. “I don’t know.”
Titi carried her son. She went to meet one of the men standing at the peak of the hill, where they sought refuge, looking down at their village.
“Ekaro, sir. Please are they gone?” she asked, looking at the smoke emanating from their town at the foot of the hill.
He did not look at her. “There’s no sign of them anymore.”
Titi took off, running down the hill, clutching her baby. The man called after her to come back, but she paid no attention. She ran even faster. He ran after her, and soon, a lot of other people followed in the pursuit. Titi got to the village and saw the gory ruins. Everywhere was black. Corpses were littered all over the place. Titi saw Wale, the two-year-old son of the plantain seller, with a slit stomach lying beside his dead mother. She saw Ogundiran, the blacksmith, with an arrow in his neck — that apparently stuck him from behind. He must have been running when he got hit with the arrow, and he fell and died with his eyes and mouth open. Ironically, he died from the tool he played with at work. There was Temileyin, the newlywed and pregnant woman, whose stomach was slit so deep that the hand of her dead baby was visible. There was Popoola, Adeniji’s boy of not more than eight, who was stabbed in the heart, and he had dried blood all over his face and mouth. He must have gotten lost while they fled. His mother threw herself at him, painting herself with what liquid was left of his uncongealed blood. She saw Ronke, the pretty ten-year-old daughter of Jade, the carpenter, her didi cornrows were neatly plaited, and her hair was very long. She was naked, and her neck was slit so deep, it almost separated from her body. Lying dead beside her was her father, Jade, the widower. Titi shook her head, burying her son’s face on her chest to protect him from those frightening scenes. Her leg kicked a stone, and while she leaped in pain, she realised it was not a stone but Dele’s head. His dead eyes stared at her as if angry that she kicked his head. She screamed, covering her son’s face the more.
The people’s wails deafened her. They rolled on the ground, screaming. Nobody could console anybody. Titi walked slowly to her house, shaking, afraid, weak. When she approached, she saw the place looking black. She still moved closer hoping to get there, and it will not be her house. But it was her house indeed. She held her baby tight and ran in. Still lying on the bed was her beloved husband, Biyi; only that he was crispy black. His arms were outstretched, his legs still straight, his teeth were visible and brown like a roasted goat. She could not stand it. She could not let Femi see it. She ran out of the house, threw herself on the ground and let out a loud ear-piercing scream that could reach her dream town: Ado-Ekiti.
Kasimma is an alumna of Chimamanda Adichie’s Creative Writing Workshop, IWP workshop, and SSDA Flow workshop. She’s been a writer-in-residence in artists’ residencies across Africa, Asia, and Europe. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming on The Book Smuggler’s Den, Jellyfish Review, Afreecan Read, Orbis Journal, The Puritan, Kikwetu Journal, Kweli Journal. Her collection of short stories is forthcoming by mid-2021 in the United States.