I met Deborah at the officer’s mess. Her friends had come to visit a Colonel when I saw her confidently seated all by herself sipping on her chilled soda. She had told them that she will wait by the mess than go into the Colonel’s apartment with them. As I beheld her, an irresistible sight, I didn’t want to take my eyes off as it seemed that if I did she may disappear in an instant into thin air and I may never see her again. For the first time in my entire life my legs where jittery, my palms moist. As it seemed, they wanted to bail on me. Maybe it was the way she looked at me, not withdrawing her sight, like we had known each other, like there was no introduction necessary. But for the sake of courtesy, I garnered my legs, rubbed my palms together and walked up to her. Then, I pronounced my usually irresistible introduction, “I am Captain Odumegwu.” I expected her to be bowled over in awe as do other ladies on whom I used similar lines on. But to my utmost surprise, her defiance startled me, her indifference, nonchalance and unavoidable expression of so what made her at that instance a chalice I had to strive for. She had baffled me, disregarded my ego, and almost squashed my emotions in a debased manner.
She watched as the dream she had with me was being flushed down the drain by the same general I served loyally, dutifully and wholeheartedly. She didn’t drop a tear. She was tired of crying. She had known that I, her Odumegwu was gone when the General on National Television announced the execution of the officers who wanted to overthrow his government. She had sternly watched on National Television as Major General Ike pronounced close to four dozen officers guilty at the first tribunal, guilty of treason. She could only imagine the fury, the unforgivable spirit, the untainted unresolve in the General’s demeanour when he instructed Major General Ike to make them pay. She had always seen it and had always told me – the untainted unresolved, the demeanor but I kept debunking her rash qualities of my general borne from her fears. She would always reprimand my continual defence of the general, saying, “power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I called him my general for his courage, for suppressing the attempted coup in 1976 by walking into a radio station unarmed. If the God who granted my juvenile request had sent an angel to prophecy to me as did an Angel to Elizabeth about John the Baptist that I would be charged and likely executed for a coup against the General, I would have still doubted Him.
At the first Military Tribunal headed by Major General Ike I was exonerated, let to see Deborah, fall asleep on the cushion with my arms draped around her and her always straightened hair stroking against my hairy chest. I was relieved because I couldn’t bear not spending time with her. The thought of losing her or would I say her losing me was unbearable. Her curly smile that grew dimples by her cheeks, dimples so deep that I could fit the tip of my index finger in them. When we were released from detention after we were exonerated and the convicted were carried away to execution, they pointed fingers at us, saying that some of us had been released on grounds of god-fatherism and our connection with the oligarchy. I didn’t care whatever reason set us free. But I was grateful that I was free. I was gratified that Deborah would be in my arms once again, an emotional feeling I didn’t possess the ability to let go. If someone had told me that we would be arraigned again in September of the same year for another Military Tribunal – the Yah Kure Tribunal, I would have doubted it. What would have stirred up the second trial could be the skepticism from the statement of those already executed. All I wanted was just to be declared not guilty as I was from the first tribunal. I earnestly hoped to be exonerated yet again as I had hoped to become a soldier as a boy and had been granted my wish.
Since our second detention, I was never allowed to see Deborah. She was not allowed to visit me. The thought that kept me going was to reminisce on the moments I had created with her and the largeness of the Great Wall of China that people walked on. I tried to imagine if anyone had ever fallen off it. I also imagined the thick Igbo accent of Mr Ekwe in the way he pronounced Da gret waal of chaaiinaa. It amused me and for the moment made me to forget the predicament I was in. At the last tribunal, we were declared guilty as the first group was without fair trial and legal representation and was driven back to detention awaiting my end. It wasn’t then I knew it was over but I waited for it to be over.
It was a cool evening, the afternoon sun had set. The sun was turning to orange and illuminating the whole sphere. I saw this orange from the iron barricaded tiny window more than twelve feet above me for ventilation. I cherished the sun’s colourfulness. After I was declared guilty with some others, things had begun to have clearer meanings, colours began to pierce my heart with a kind of ineptness I had never felt before, memories began to be iced in a section of my mind that was not erasable. It could be true that when someone is about to die that life descends a whole new meaning to the soul. Not until the stiff and unbroken thick iron bars were opened and we were matched into a Black Maria that I knew the end had finally come. My eyes were filled with tear drops, not for my death but for Deborah, my Debby who was going to live in the world without me and the baby she told me in the middle of august that was growing inside of her. What would she name her, if she becomes a girl, would she name her after her mother, Ekenma, a name I had always laughed about and teased her for sounding too ancestral. If a boy, would she name him after me, Odumegwu, and nickname him The Soldier Boy because I had told her countless times the story of how I came about the name, the story she was never tired of listening to.
We were driven through Lagos in the Black Maria, escorted by a staff car. We alighted still in chains at a place that was supposedly the outskirts of Lagos. It was an Army Shooting range. I had never been here. Maybe one of us had been here. But this, I didn’t care. The first batch was lined up, tied to the already prepared stakes and shot. I was among the last batch. How more painful could it be that one watched how he was going to die. I was lined up on the stake with other men. The headlights of the Black Maria shone directly on my face as if for the executors to see the pink liquid that will gush out from my abdomen, my chest, shoulders and everywhere else that I would be shot. Then I was tied, a restraint that kept me still and ruffled my dark skin. When the shots came in and pierced my chest, my abdomen and my forehead, it was cold, it was peaceful and the tinge brought to my soon decaying mind Debby’s metallic face of smoothness, curly smile of dimpled cheeks and her moist palms and her dream of attacking soldier ants, until I heaved my last breathe.