The Neighbours’ House

What bit have I done?

“Did you hear about the two-seventy-something girls that were kidnapped from a secondary school somewhere in the north? Chi… something, I think.”

I remembered being exhausted from my day at work but also knowing the importance of sharing experiences and thoughts with the wife at the day’s end. It was lubrication for the relationship. “Yes, I heard.”

“So sad. I can only imagine the trauma those girls are going through. And their families too.”

“Yes. Terrible. Unfortunately for all of us, the government seems not to be handling the crisis properly.”

“May God not allow such evil come to this part of the country. Let them keep their violence to their side of the country, I beg.”

“Amin oh!” I responded. I remembered wondering whether I and others like me, who saw ourselves as concerned or well-meaning citizens of the country, had done enough – or anything concrete for that matter – to try to take back our country from the evil grip of incompetence, corruption, profiteering and hidden agendas that were responsible in no small measure for this burgeoning violence. Taking back our country would require unity across ethnicity and religion. Unfortunately, the only things that seemed to unite people across ethnicity and religion in this country were money and personal ambition.

That exchange with my wife in the April of 2014 played through my mind as I was being herded through a forest on a gloomy February evening in 2021. I had been driving from the city where I worked to the town where I lived with my family, both in the western part of the country but separated by an hour and half’s journey that included an interstate road bordered on both sides by a forest. In a sudden turn of events, I and other road users behind and in front of me were ambushed by fierce looking men with rifles and machetes who emerged suddenly out of the forest that bordered the interstate road. The men – I counted ten – spoke aggressively and with an accent that I recognized from having studied in the northern part of the country for my bachelor’s degree. The forest-men let us, their prey, know that they would waste no time in “wasting” us if we did not cooperate. So, through the forest we trudged, captives, terrified, compliant, uncertain, under the eagle eye – and at the mercy – of our captors.

I prayed to God to have mercy on me and let me see my wife and kids again in one piece. I did not want to die. In this dark place I realized that evil had finally made it to my doorstep and, as I had on that evening in 2014, I examined myself in the light of the state of my fatherland. What bit had I and others like me done to help our neighbours when their house was being raided by thieves? Other than observe, grimace, comment in hushed tones and pray from the distance and safety of our houses, what had we done to stem the tide? What could we have done?


This is a work of fiction.


Photo by Roya Ann Miller on Unsplash

By Chetam

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