Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Inner Strength (04/20/06)
TITLE: But I'm here
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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The footfalls got nearer. Thousands of them. I slid further underneath the bed then scolded myself. Of course underneath the bed was the most logical place for anyone to hide. It would be the first place they checked.
I couldn’t tell how many people were coming at me. All I knew was that they were many, armed, and unforgiving. My crime; being a Christian in a Muslim dominated state.
I had been hiding for three days and my nerves were ragged, frayed, ready to do a fast one on me. I had replayed my family’s conversation a zillion times these past three days.
“Timothy, Kano is getting more and more dangerous for Christians. Why don’t you just leave?”
“Leave? Where would I go? Kano is my city and I love it to pieces. Besides, I can’t leave church right now. I’m still showing the new pastor around”.
The new pastor was no longer new, and my services were no longer needed. But my work was in Kano. My fiancé was in Kano. My heart was in Kano. How could I leave?
“God will keep on protecting me. This isn’t the first time we’ve had religious strife and it won’t be the last. Relax mum. I’m going to be all right.” Those had been my words when mum, dad and my three sisters left Kano forever. They didn't recognize the city anymore. War instead of love. Muslims against Christians. Christians fighting back. The uncertainty of life. Kano wasn’t Kano anymore. According to mum, it had no semblance to the city where she had brought us up. Not anymore.
So they left. And I stayed.
Several hands began to pound at the front door. My heart pounded faster, racing away like a bag-snatching thief. Of course I was hungry and my head felt faint. Riotous thoughts ricocheted against the emptiness in my skull. I was trembling, fainting, dying…
I could see my mum, bowed down at the waist and weeping, saying she had told me so. Cursing that I had willingly given myself to Kano Muslims to be killed.
“Declare yourself now.” A hoarse voice shouted, ringing in intensity in the empty house.
I might be afraid but I wasn’t a fool. Why would I declare myself?
Declare yourself now, I heard within me, don’t deny Jesus.
“I’m not going crazy.” I reassured myself.
“Declare yourself now or else…” the voice boomed at the door again, amid several poundings.
Don’t deny me. I will give you the required strength if only you would trust me.
“I am sane.” I declared to myself, “They can’t find me under the bed.” But I knew I was lying. Lying to myself. Lying to Jesus. Of course they would find me. And then what?
I shuddered. I didn’t want to be a martyr.
I am not asking you to be a martyr. I am asking you to trust me.
I reluctantly and painfully came out from my dumb hiding place. “It’s up to you Jesus. Strengthen me.”
I walked slowly towards the living room, hoping that Jesus would dump this crazy idea and ask me to go back into hiding. He didn’t do that.
They weren’t up to a thousand but they were close. Fierce faces. Gallons of petrol and sticks of matches. Worn tires. Did they mean to burn me?
“Our father who art in heaven…” I began to recite.
“Who opened this door?” the apparent leader asked stupidly as the door creaked open.
“I did.” I answered.
He didn’t seem to hear me. “This door was locked one minute ago. Now it’s opened and I can’t see anyone. Did you see anyone open the door, boys?”
Disbelief echoed on every face. “You’re in front. You should be able to tell us if you saw anyone.” Someone replied him.
“I didn’t. Let’s go in and kill all the infidels. Declare yourself, all of you…” he began to shout as the mob shoved me aside to enter.
“I’m here. I am a Christian and I stand for Christ and Christ alone.”
“Anyone here? Declare yourself.”
I watched, my heart racing faster now, as they tore my home to shreds. Underneath the bed. In the closets. In the kitchen. Every room, while I followed them.
“No one here. They must have fled.” The leader announced after several minutes of searching. “Let’s go.”
“But I’m here.” I protested.
“No one here. Boys, straight to the next infidel home.”
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