I guess you have grown a cubit taller.
You are leaner. You have fasted through half of this leap year. You should have gained the model’s photogenic physique by now. Little flesh on skeleton.
I guess your face hasn’t over-tanned to some leathery wrinkled hide. It should still bear some resemblance to your last passport. That passport is your mother’s collector’s item. It is her comforter; the optical substitute for your presence.
I suppose your teeth have grown golden. You have tasted the alchemy of the chewing stick. A wonder no Pharaoh toothbrush can duplicate.
They have weaned you of four walled insular education. Of domesticated learning. They have gifted you a school in Eden. Romance with wild civilization.
And your terrorist teachers, they don’t strike. Right?
They should have long noticed that you were smart. That you had a magnet for a brain. That your eyes sparkled when your mind trapped a new idea.
You have been absorbing your Arabic lectures. Have you soaked in enough Arabic you now speak it in your nightmares?
Maybe I need to apologise for writing you in English, a language you have been unlearning. A language you have been taught to hate because it rose from the West.
The spies report that Zambisa is the colony of giants. Giants in whose eyes our soldiers would compare grasshoppers. They say it’s a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof. A dreadful place to trespass.
But I have seen a dry leaf mount the chariot of the wind and ride to a far-flung destination. I write in the hope that some benevolent winds will courier this letter to you. That it will sieve through the dense canopy of green leaves and drop within an arm’s length radius of where you hibernate.
But I must make this confession upfront: The most I know about you is that you are the brand. You are the girl whose adjective of identity is her village. You are the Chibok girl.
In the beginning, you were a nearly-insignificant biological project of puberty. Then they looted you; and tucked you away in the woods. And you became a scandal. And you became a radioactive anger. And you became a star hashtag.
And you morphed into a faith. You became omnipresent. In the papers. In the airwaves. In the bars. You became the unanimous mantra of our tribes and tongues.
In little time, we hung you between two divides.
There was the more vociferous. They dramatized their missionary zeal in potent protests and railed against demure spectators. And there was the taciturn. They sat in recliners and scoffed at the street voices for inebriated exuberance and noise pollution.
We jockeyed to define ourselves and others in contrasting terms on the basis of the degree of our affectation of love for you. We bristled over the right to bask in your reflected glory as agitators of your cause.
But like all things orgasmic, our visceral passion was doomed to briefness. We could not prolong the climax. True, we had relished the progressive ascent – even the fact that you animated and galvanized us into willful participants of an intriguing saga. However, once we reached mountaintop satiation, and jerked,we shrunk to inevitable weakness. Spent and self-congratulatory.
These days, you pine away in the relegation zone of extinct injustices.You languish as one victim whose destiny is to reflect the irredeemable injustice of a fallen world.
And you also suffer as the out-of-favour subject of our compartmentalized concerns. You languish as the unsolved constant of an equation.The student has opted to skip the problem.
Little comfort; you are not entirely forgotten. There is a fixture on some newspaper front pages, a little square of precious real estate value, we allocated to keeping count of your days as hostage.
You are the fodder for partisan give and take blackmail. You are the cud in the mouths of spokesmen and media advisers.
And recently, when political expediency overdrew on our ingenuity and we couldn’t think of a more catchy way to improve the President’s campaign, you were the go-to character we cast for the parody.
And the ever energetic Oby Ezekwesili and company still keep their pitch in the streets. They make the echo of your story haunt a country that may have forgotten.
Sorry, I missed starting the right way. I should have placed the first courteous thing first.
What is your name?
What name do you call and answer in your inner monologues. Do you still feel ownership of the given name you responded to in your BC (Before Captivity) days?
What’s the new name your abductors gave you? Have they called you the new name countless times you now like it for a funky alias? Did they ask you to disown your first label? Did you rebel in your mind and spew out the new? Did you divide your heart between the two – like the polygamist? Did you stitch the new to the old – as the tailor joins bits of fabric- so your names could stretch longer now?
What’s your name?
And that veil we saw you wearing in that viral Youtube video.Did you love it? Was it love at first threat – like your forced conversion? Were you told you must wear it or a keen knife would come to the chicken’s neck?
Did you tell your abductors that was your favourite colour? Would you have picked some other colour from the rainbow if you had a menu and choice?
Do you love your veil? Did it help cover your face from theshame you feel because a silhouetted figure snuggles up to you night afternight and bruise you in your woman part?
When was the last time you laughed? Do the terrorists have a sense of humour? Is there any person among your captors who could have done better in stand-up comedy than killing for God? Are you permitted to laugh when you are tickled?
Have you discovered what amuses a terrorist more than the sight of oozing blood and the promise of virgins in Paradise?
When they dumped you at the forest, you were an alloy of panic and despair. You looked about the forest and saw the impossible chance of making good your escape. You were sure your abductors kidnapped you to hack you into scraps. You doubted that salvation would locate you before they would have consummated their wish. You trembled at your looming violent end. You mourned yourself.
And a part of your heart wished prayers. You wished that a rescue team would swoop on that forest and take you to safety. You wished that the escalating rhythm in your chest calmed down. You wished that you were not jinxed.
Well, it turned out that you outlived that long night. And you have survived the successive nights that sum up to one half of the calendar. Iimagine that the relativity of time better confirms its validity in incarceration – that time runs the snail’s marathon where you are.
The most torturous part of your being a hostage must be moderating the debate of your internal thoughts throughout the hours betweenyour waking and sleeping.
Is captive existence perpetual boredom? Are you permitted the pursuit of one hobby? Have you found melody within your wire gauzes? Like Maya Angelou’s caged bird?
So after months living with your abductors, has your initial mortal dread of them thawed – in subliminal degrees- into empathic appreciation. And further warmed into warm camaraderie? Has osmosis made you a kindred spirit? Have you naturalized to their wildlife community?
Do you feel banished to oblivion? Do you feel your country misses you less than a spilled barrel ofcrude oil? Are you bitter? Would you spit on our flag?
Does a tinge of wistful nostalgia run through your remembrance of home? Do you miss your siblings? Does the brotherhood of your abductors more than compensate for a home that is lightyears away?
Do you find them a more close-knit family? Loyal and sacrificial. Do you figure you belong more there than home?
Does their blood-soaked persuasion invoked severally in your hearing now sound logical and lyrical? Doyou now believe the avowal that Western education is a sin and that having recurring carnal knowledge of a hostage minor is holy? Do you aspire to blasted martyrdom? Would you embark on a solo expedition – if you could filch a bomb?
Do you have a crush on the most handsome of the terrorists? Have you fallen in love with the friendliest of them? Do you steal private moments together, a nudge and a wink?
Here’s an update about home: We gave your mother a fat envelope the other day at the Villa. We conceived that money bills would serve as better handkerchief for her tears. Chalk up that kind deed to our thoughtfulness.
These days your mother keeps mum. Maybe it’s her answer of gratitude for the consolation prize. Or she has lost her voice from many weeksof crying herself hoarse.
Malala, the Pakistani friend who said you were her sister, won the Nobel last week.
And the gospel from the Holy Land!
Your captors have agreed to let you go. You will soon behome.
Mum waits. The good news has revived her heartbeat. She looks at that passport and dreams more forcefully you will return.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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