Diary of a Warrior Boy(6)
It is that scent, the cool breeze, the riddles in pidgin, the hardened yet innocent and caring looks of the people that got baptized by her streams, streams of water and blood that had made the city different. The accent stays magnetic as I beg to call any stranger I hear with her majestic lingua, brother. Warri was a pleasant place growing up. Most of my sharpening days were in Warri. Yeah they say we learn every day, it was different here, here they say; “na once black man dey wise”. The white man must have learnt the “fool at forty” proverb from us.
My family moved to Warri from Lagos in the year 1995, I had only very few memories of that place – Lagos. My primary and secondary education all took place in Warri, it was great, really great.
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The Europeans had loved the shores of this city since their first arrival – by the Portuguese – in the fourteenth century. Her rivers empty into the Atlantic Ocean directly, through her passages of numerous creeks and her Forcados and Escravos boundaries more southwards. Warri must have taken her form since the early fifteenth century, from historian records. The Urhobos, the Ijaws and the Itsekiris are the ones recognised as the original inhabitants of the land. Interestingly, it had always been the evening sojourns of the bats that had always given me the joy of evening glance. They migrate every evening from the Escravos region and fly all the way towards the Forcados area. They have greatly reduced in population now, owing to the free burning lighters of the smoking refinery located in Ubeji, a small town about one kilometre south-west of Warri.
I am very familiar with the health hazards a refinery poses to its host communities: the stench of burning hydrocarbons and the black soot that dabs freely, the canvas of its environs.
Business around Warri started with the large and profitable empire of slave trading. After her abolishment, the Brits proceeded to palm oil trade, to power their fast growing industries that produced soap and candles, rubber trade and also timber trade. Sapele, Koko, and Warri opened quickly because of these trade; the people got enlightened broadly and they also adopted the groovy lifestyle.
In Warri, a British company had acquired a large parcel of land to situate its factory with the promise of provision of drinks during one of the king’s annual ceremony, we had been baptized with the greed for quick satisfaction. This kind of mentality has left the people impoverished for years and their environments heavily polluted by oil mining operations – the outcome of which is series of violent conflicts in the area.
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Tales and tales will always go on, reasons and reports, facts and arguments so I concluded that we should all live as best as we could and be as peaceful too. Talking of peace, the people I grew up amongst, a people that at the slightest show of provocation, tempers are avalanched and there is only a cooling down: when the volcano is done spilling all her lava. Such were the events during the Warri crisis which spanned for about two whole years. It was simply caused by provocations by two different communities and the pulling (a luring to join in the fight) in of another. Lives were lost, properties destroyed – investors, organizations, and firms walked away.
Still there were different tales of sympathy from the different parties to justify their respective reactions to the other. On one of those nights, as a young boy that was intrigued by American action movies, I was woken up by the rushing sound of panic. It was the panicky moves the grown-ups had thought could be hidden maturely from us, the kids. We could see huge flames, flames of inferno rising from a distance, panicky roars, the groans of the bereaved, and the rolling sounds of automatic machine guns, as in Hollywood movies. Some people later said, “If you see the gun wey those boys carry, you go don reach heaven before dem shoot sef.”
My parents thought of running with us to the federal government college nearby. It was a territory immune to the reach of any ethnic fang, they were certain that every other place outside there was going to be razed that night.
I later got admission to that same school. Always like a fresh scene was that of the red lit sky that night. The sky was lit with the glowing redness of bullets freely shot into the sky. The feeling was that the bullets had a mind of their own and travelled where ever they wanted, maybe that was true. One of the bullets had landed on the roof of our building and rested on the chest of one of our tenants – papa Bevis. He was from the opposing fighting clan but he felt comfortable living amongst us. We all grew as a family, I and his kids ran around and they called me bros, I was very young though, but they were much younger than me. Papa Bevis was taken to the hospital later when there was some calmness from the fighting.
Those memories linger on. I could always differentiate the sound of a real firearm from that of a firecracker, and I had learnt calmness even in the direst situations. This had earned me respect in different places I had been afterwards, because I had got an instinct to always carry on.
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Enough of the hyping sha, it is really me. I still appreciate all the quiet tutorials from my city – Warri. I loved the old people here, they had the real content. That had all been in our neighbour, Mr Edema. Mr Edema was an elderly man in his eighties, and he was an Itsekiri. I knew him as a kid growing up, his wife had been a nurse, a very good one. She had been of help whenever there was a medical emergency in our home. I had just come back to town and I thought it wise to pay him some compliments. I met him at his gate and greeted warmly; as though he was expecting me, he happily said “My boy, how are you?” He told me he had talked with my father concerning me only two days before.