Naked Coin follows the travails of an Igbo family in the era of the Biafra War who though lived outside the Biafra land were nonetheless affected by the tribal strife and patriotic overzealousness surrounding the pre-war years and its antebellum.
Ikenna’s family found wealth; they lost it all and would be driven to search for it again by all means. Ikenna found love before the war, he did foolish things for it and counts on love to see him through the horrid times as they ran from jungles to villages and back to jungles running away from war zones and deaths.
In the end, deaths caught up with them, penury did too, love failed them, and an assumed brotherhood betrayed them.
Ikenna and his family, or what is left of it must relearn to forge new survival paths around the same things that punished them; family, money and love.
“I see,” was all the man said, from the way he sounded he never expected such a reply. He walked up to Nne, and pushed me aside not even looking at my size, he held her and licked the left side of her face from chin while others grinned then turned to Papa and said “You have a fine wife,” they all laughed, then he left her and looked around the house saying “And I hear a fine daughter too, where is she?”
Mama began to beg from fear. “Please don’t touch her,” she begged.
The man looked at her then to Papa and said, “According to the Biafra law you have committed a crime because you’ve not housed, neither have you fed any of our soldiers in battle. That is punishable and I decide what punishment is fit,” he looked at the other standing soldiers and asked “am I right?” they all echoed “yes you are.”
He looked around again, bit his lips then licked it and ordered his boys “Find the girl and bring her here.” Two stayed behind and the other two started for the rooms, Mama was pleading but the leader just threatened to slap her. The other two soldiers had checked the first room, about checking the second when there was sporadic gun shot in the air in front of our compound.
They all paused and looked at themselves, waited to hear if there would be another spraying of bullet but there was none. They came close to each other and were whispering to themselves, I managed to hear one tell the rest “that is not the sound of our gun,” they turned towards where we laid on the floor when the gate was banged open, they peeped through the window but saw no one. They were getting scared, I could smell that.
The so called leader gestured they all go out and find out what was going on, they held tightly their guns and Nne shouted, one turned and threatened to hit her but didn’t. They got outside of the house, saw no one and as they turned to head back into the house, the next thing we heard were gunshots from one end to the other. Soon it stopped but none of us was bold enough to raise our head and check what was going on, even Mama went silent and began to pray. We heard a footstep come our direction, it entered our house, paused and probably looked around from the look of it, the sound of the heavy feet got closer and we knew it was coming for us then a cold brutal hand grabbed me and Mama and said “Are you alright? Where is my sister?”
If there was one thing Nne was thankful for, it was that her son came to her rescue just when all hope was lost. It was a near death experience for all of us except for my sister who hid under her bed yet was so scared that she peed herself.
Was it that Nna knew Igbane would come or was he just audacious because he is the man of the house and had to? Whichever it was, he got a peck from his wife and it sure did make him feel manly all the more.
With the realization that I had a brother in the army willing and ready to defend me no matter the cost came a certain kind of impudence that made me want to take any kind of risk. The only risk I wanted to take was to go to the post office and hope I would by chance meet Ivie there or somewhere close by, assuming she had not been hurt by the bullies in our city.
I waited for Nna to narrate our ordeal to Mr. Oyibo who seemed to be concerned of our wellbeing than The Rotimi’s. He claimed they had lain down in their home; his daughter even held her rosary and began to recite the creed.
“The creed,” Papa retorted mockingly, “does she even know how to recite that? She barely ever goes to mass.”
“It made me laugh myself,” Mr. Oyibo replied laughingly.
The roads were emptied. There were no vehicles to convey people from one place to the other, the Biafran soldiers had burnt them, and the ones that managed to escape their brutality was taken forcefully and used for their own purpose.
It was just few hours past noon and the clouds still guarded the sky with its blue armor which seemed to be fading by the seconds. The air was warm and damp, no wind coming or neither going nor rain threatening to cry upon the earth, everything was working in their favor, their general had mapped the attack perfectly, there was no better August break for them than now.
I walked quietly in careful steps, my mind focused on what I might see at the post office. Would she or would she not be there, I kept wondering to myself. I knew she wouldn’t but I just wanted to try, it was a risk I had to take for the one I love.
I was mad, I knew it.
How I can I claim to love someone and still don’t have the slightest clue who she is or where she stays. I didn’t want to think the worse that she had been a victim of this Biafra madness which has brought Benin to a standstill.
I got to the Post Office and met the gate locked. I looked around and she was not there. I went to our tryst and waited for few minutes almost an hour then left back for the post office, hoping I'd ask the old boring receptionist if he had seen her. I squeezed myself into the compound through the locked gate, everywhere was quiet.
I stopped on hearing whispers ahead of me inside the office, this definitely couldn’t be the old man talking, and I listened closer and realize it was a group of Biafran soldiers. Suddenly, a small boy popped out his head towards where I stood listening, his gaze met mine. I took to my heels and he alerted the rest.
I heard him tell them “there’s a spy getting away,” I just kept on running not caring what he said. I imagine they must have sighted me to see I was a young Ibo boy so no undue force was applied to make me stop, so I continued running.
I soon found myself in Lagos street where the Hausa’s in Benin were based, there had been rumors of mass killing of most of them by the Ibo but I didn’t care I just ran on. I finally hid behind a building unnoticed by anybody but they kept after me, this time slowly, knowing I was hiding somewhere close by.
From nowhere a group of northern looking fellows jumped out of a building to attack the soldiers, they were without guns but they had daggers. I knew it was my opportunity to escape or else whichever party survives comes after me.
I got home only to meet furious Mama and Papa waiting for me. Igbane sat beside Ndidi and was carried away by her gist then I walked in with guilt written all over my footsteps.
“You are very stupid,” Mama berated not waiting a second after I had walked in. “You want to give me heart attack and kill me before my time, don’t you?” she was about to come hit me when Papa held her hand.
“Nwuye take it easy, at least let’s know where the boy is coming from first.” Papa turned to me, swallowed his anger and let out a deep breath.
“Where are you coming from, young man?”
“I…..I….,” I mumbled.
“Don’t let me wear my anger, you won't find it funny.”
I paused for some seconds, how could I tell my family I risked my life hoping to see a girl I fell in love with, who I wasn’t sure reciprocated my love. If she did she would have tried to find or communicate with me. I've been deceived by a kiss, I sighed. I looked at Nna, he was beginning to lose his forbearance, Nne was only waiting for her husband to finish for her to descend on me.
“I went to the post office,” I told them.
“Post office.” Nne said, “What for?” she asked rather curious than furious.
“I was supposed to meet someone there,” I lied. I couldn’t tell them I hoped to. That would be worse, and reveal my stupidity. They all froze to rethink what I just said, they knew I had no friends, at least not since we moved to the big city.
Nna looked at me and burst into laughter, uncontrolled laughter. Igbane wanted to join in the laughter but didn’t know why he laughed so he grinned instead.
“And why are you laughing? Aren't you suppose to discipline him, won't you even find out who this friend is in the first place?” Mama lashed out.
“What is there to ask,” Nna replied in his laughter, “why don’t you ask him yourself.”
“Nwa nwoke,” Mama drew my right ear, “you better not lie to me, who did you go to meet?”
“My friend, Ivie.”
Papa busted out into a full blown laughter, Nne was lost, wondering what the humor was that she couldn’t see.
“Your girlfriend you mean to say.” he didn’t ask, he just stated it out. Igbane finally caught the humor and joined in the laughter, it took Ndidi seconds to grab it too, only Mama didn’t laugh, she was more disappointed than amused.
“When a man fall in love a new Mumu is born,” Papa added. They all increased their laughter and I didn’t know if to join in or just play the innocent for Nne wasn’t as humoured as the rest were.
“How did you survive out there, did you come across the resistance group?” Igbane asked.
“I was almost caught by the Biafran’s, but some northerners came to my rescue...”
“That’s a fraction of the resistance group, there are more around. You are lucky they came to your rescue,” Igbane said boldly. He never spoke to me with such boldness or in such tone of authority, but he did now, after all, he’s the savior of our family.
“Resistance group?” Papa asked.
“Yes Papa, some force of loyal natives have been raised to combat the Biafran’s, some are even joining willingly.”
“You mean it? That’s nice, at least that will do us some good until the military come in full to save us from this nightmare.”
“Yes Papa, till they come in full,” Igbane said.
As the days went by, the resistance groups formed made impact in the demoralizing of the Biafrian soldiers.
“It has gotten out of hand,” Nna told Mr. Oyibo when he came to tell Papa that he had joined the resistance and beckoned on Papa to join too. “I would have loved to join, but as you can see, age permits me not to carry out such endeavors.”
“I understand you perfectly well, even Baba Rotimi has joined which I know but he claims he hasn’t. You know he is a snake, just be careful with him,” Mr. Oyibo warned.
“I know him. Have you noticed that harassment and killing of non-Igbo civilians is now on a daily basis.”
“I am surprised, I thought this was between the north and the east, why have they included the Midwest?” Mr. Oyibo wondered.
“I don’t know what their plan is,” Nna replied, “but whatever it is it is failing and they have no back up. I hear Victor Banjo the man who led their attack had a secret meeting with our hiding governor David Ejoor. Think he too is tired of this invasion and he has been summoned from the top back to the east, you can guess what will happen to him for his disobedience.”
“That’s their business; in fact they should all kill themselves. I even hear that in Delta, some soldiers were drowned by the native Irhobo locals when they went to the water areas in search of Hausa communities.”
They both laughed.
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