Each year in Aba never went without a riot of some sort. I always remembered the Muslim/Christian clashes. My father would describe the bodies of Christian men, women, and children that had been slaughtered up North and stuffed into trains and sent back home. I would see the pictures myself in the newspapers. Bodies literally spilling out of the trains. Bloated and blank. And so it would begin. Christians would start killings of their own. I'm sure most Muslims were easy to pick out. Their dress, tribal markings and thick accents could not be hidden easily and swiftly enough. I remember walking out of my compound during a time like this and watching a crowd of people brutally beat a man to the ground. I remember seeing our neighborhood young cobbler, a small boy watching. I remember wishing that he would not stand around like that because he was Muslim and could get killed. My father told me to stay indoors after that because he was afraid people might mistake me for a Northerner because of some of my facial features.
I do remember the burnt bodies.You could smell them a mile away. You could spot the massive vultures forming their ritual circles in the sky. I remember taking about this to my friends in the States and they were horrfied. I would be amused by their faces, each one looking upon my own as though expecting to see some sort of mental damage caused by the what I have witnessed. But let me tell you something, there is none. I have never tossed and turned at night, rolling in nightmares of death. The amount of death I have witnessed is nothing compared to what most have seen. These were not bodies of my friends and relatives. I had a Nigerian professor here in the States who says he still has nightmares involving the religious murders of his extended family and his flight from home. So I am fortunate.
Death is not something that we......well, at least I was shielded from as a child. I remember passing bodies on my way to school and I would hold my breath, and press my face upon the glass. I would strain my eyes for a better glimpse of the corpse. Usually the victims were those who had not been able to get away from the angry mob fast enough. Those who had perhaps stolen a purse and had been chased down. They became victims of Jungle Justice, justice by the people. I would arrive at school and my peers would be just as excited as I.
"Did you see the body by Brass Junction!" one would exclaim. Never a question.
"It didn't have a head!"
"I think they cut it off before he died!"
"No! It was after!"
"The vultures were already eating him!"
Morning conversation. Forgotten by noon.
Now that I am older, I have grown less apathetic towards the matter. As I scroll over my memories, I no longer see simple, blackened bodies. I see people. I still feel no emotion towards them. No pity, no anger, no sadness. But I now recognize them as people who had loved ones. And I feel pity, anger and sadness for those who could still recognize their beloved despite the stench and decay. With all honesty, these emotions are fleeting and soon to be forgotten. But by doing so nonetheless, I feel as if I have paid my respects to the dead that I so blatantly gazed upon.