The cold breeze blew over the field of grass. It carried water in it & the water whipped our faces even though we could not see it as we ran through the tall grass, pursuing butterflies & grasshoppers. The sun was still out but you could smell the rain in the air, if you sniffed it. It smelt like water, like the river when we played in it. There was also a hot smell that was not of the sun in the air too. My elder brother, Junior, used to say it was a sign that there will be thunder.
Whenever my father said there will be thunder, he usually meant another bomb going off again at the border that separated our town from the military base where soldiers were being trained on how to diffuse bombs. My father and his friends worked in the base but they were not soldiers. My father was a journalist working the war beat as my mother used to say. My father had a loud voice and a rich laugh. He loved his beer, his cigars, his notebooks, his gold pen and my mother, not necessarily in that order.
Junior was not with us as we ran through the grass. One morning, I woke up to my mom crying and from her muffled words on my father's chest, I heard that he and some of his classmates from the university had joined up with the rebels. I did not really understand then. I thought he would return when holidays came as he always did but he did not. Not long after, some stern soldiers came to our home and took my father away. When he returned, my father no longer laughed and the bed in my mother's room stopped moving at night.
I caught a butterfly then I opened my hand and it fluttered away, its wings a blur of colour. Just as it passed from sight, a fat drop of rain touched my lips. I licked it and looked up. The clouds were bunched together like the back muscles of one of my father's friend, the mechanic, Jide. He used to give me rides on his back when I was younger and lighter. The rain dropped faster and the laughter of my friends reached me. We ran together through the brush, the undergrowth of flowers my mother had planted around our home years ago. My friends stopped at the door. They have never entered the house with me. I waved them goodbye and turned to see my mom watching me.
"Your friends?" She asked.
I said nothing. I just stood there scraping my big toe on the tiles, tracking mud on the mopped floor. I heard her sigh. Then I heard her turn and walk back into the house. In the sitting room, my dad was seated by the window. He was watching the rain, an open book on his lap, a worried frown on his face. I walked along the corridor to the tap attached to the outside wall. I turned the knob and washed my feet. I walked back into the sitting room and found a seat.
After dinner, which had become a sombre affair after Junior left, I tried to read a book with the candle light. The power authority had cut us off from the power grid while we were eating. The candle's light was poor but it was better than darkness. Besides, I needed something to distract me while I struggled with insomnia. As I sat listless in the silence of my father and the nervous busyness of my mother, lightning flashes across the windows and I saw a face then it disappeared. I almost got up but I didn't want to explain what I had seen to my mother. It would earn me a push to my bed.
The first time I told my father that I had seen two men running with rifles across the field, he had rushed into the house to get his old rusty machete, thinking some of the rebels had crossed into our land but when he came out, the men were gone. Asking around, none of our neighbours had seen anything. One of our neighbors, Mr Jordan, has two sons who were bullies. They told my dad that I might be having the same mental health issues that led my elder brother to run away from home. My dad said nothing and he did not look at me as he went back in.
After that day, whenever I saw anyone I kept silent. Somehow my mom seemed to know. I never told her about my friends. I didn't even tell her that they told me things but somehow she knew I had friends that no one could see. She calls them my imaginary friends. I don't try to correct her. The thunder rattled the windows. I looked hard but the face did not show again. As I settled back to read, a knock sounded on the door. My dad went to open it and on the door mouth was my brother, Junior. He was back. He was stained with mud and there was a soiled bandage wrapped around his head. My mother gasped and covered her mouth with her hand then she ran and enveloped him in her small frame. My father just stood there as if he had seen a ghost.
We watched him as he ate. He looked thin and scared. His eyes kept moving around, refusing to settle on anything or anyone.
"Where have you been?" My father asked.
My mother touched him on his shoulder and he rubbed her hand absentmindedly. Junior did not reply. He drank the water in gulps then he stood up.
"I just came to warn you. Something is coming. This military base has been targetted and you are going to be collateral damage if you don't leave now," Junior said.
My mother gasped again. I could hear the steady thrum of rain like a sound track to the bad movie playing in our sitting room. I looked through the window and lightning shattered the darkness in the sky and for a second, I could see my friends dancing in the rain. I wanted to go to them, to be a part of their freedom but my family needed me.
"If we leave here, we will die," I said. I didn't know when the words left my mouth.
The three of them turned to look at me as if I was mad. I felt so small but it was right to tell them. They turned away as if I was invincible.
"Why are you doing this to us, to your mother and brother?" My father asked.
"Papa, it is you who is blind to what we are fighting for. We have been oppressed and our wealth stolen dry. It must stop. If the government will not seat at the table with us, we will drag them there by force," Junior replied.
"O junior, where did I go wrong? Why don't you come back home and we can fix this?" My mother said.
"Mama, you people live in a bubble. Your closeness to the base makes you think you are safe. No one is safe mama! Take my warning, pack your things and leave immediately the rain stops," Junior replied.
"The rain will not stop," I replied.
Nobody answered me but I was correct. The rain fell for seven days and seven nights. We lived on the top floor, I and Junior in my room and father & mother in their room. We did not sleep though. I heard Junior breathing on his old bed and mother's bed creaked as both of them tossed and turned. In the morning, each day for that seven days, we came down or rather tried and saw the water level rise slowly but surely. By the time the rain stopped suddenly, the water was on the last stair. We watched the river of the world..
On the seventh day, though the rain had stopped, the whole area was still flooded. I watched Junior as he fidgeted near the room window. He wanted to leave. He thought the plan he had concocted with his new friends was still going to work. I wanted to tell him that they were all dead but I knew he would not believe me. I sat on my bed and watched him pace around the room then return back to the window.
Three days, after the heavy downpour, my father joined a rescue team to go around giving aid to those who had faired poorly in the flood. When he returned, his face was pale and his hand shook as he took the glass of water from my mother.
"The base is gone," he said.
Junior whooped as if it was his hand that had dealt the blow. My father did not even look at him.
"The ketu dam broke and poured water into the valley. The base and the farms in the valley have been swept away. The soldiers were airlifted but a lot of machineries have been lost," He added.
"What about them Ajurus, them Kalimos? Did they make it?" My mother asked, fear on her face.
My father did not look at my mother as he shook his head. He turned to stare at me.
"How did you know that it was going to rain?" He asked.
"My friends told me," I replied.
There was silence in the room. Only Junior's face showed surprise.
"What friends?" He asked.
"Your brother has imaginary friends who he talks to all the time," mother replied.
Junior shifted. It was quick. I could have missed it but I was expecting his withdrawal. Mom placed her arms around my shoulder and drew me to her. I felt bitter. He was my brother. He should have had my back.
"If you must know, I called you back. If you had stayed you would have died too like your friends," I said, my voice loud in the stark day.
My mother turned me to her. Her eyes were wide like a hole in the wall where a socket used to be.
"What do you mean, Ben? You called Junior back? Did you know where he was?" She asked.
My dad came and pushed her hands off me then gently brought me to the bed.
"Tell me, how did you call him?" He asked.
"When my friends told me that the world was ending, I told them to bring Junior to us so we would be together when it happens," I replied.
"The world? Ending? Everybody shouted in unison. I nodded but kept silent.
"What happened to my friends?" Junior asked, his hands pressed into my shoulder blades.
Just then a loud bang echoed throughout the house. My parents and brother rushed to the windows but I just sat there. I knew what was coming. My friends had told me so.
I have not written prose in a long while. I miss this. My apologies for the roughness of this tale. It has been a while. I hope we are safe and doing well. Namaste