Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Innocent Children

The sun rays spiked through the thick foliage of the flamboyant trees that lined the pathway as four innocent school kids trudged home. They had opted to take the bush path instead of the busy sidewalk because they loved to meander and play on their way home.

The mushy yet crunchy sound that fallen leaves made as their sandaled feet plonked on them, the feel of the blades and leaves of grass and shrubs as they brushed against them, the little insects and reptiles they spotted and gave short chases as they went… all these made the bush path far more fun that taking the busy sidewalk would ever be.

Of course, their parents would scold them if they ever found out they went this way instead of using the ‘safe’ sidewalk, but they wouldn’t because none of the kids would ever tell them. Neither would they tell them how they sometimes went deeper into the small, densely vegetated forest that hugged the path on both sides, plucking mangoes to munch on as they walked.

The four of them, comprising of 3 males and a female and ranging from the ages 9 to 11, were all in the same class in school and lived in the same close, hence they always walked to and fro school together; inseparable little friends.

Today as they walked, they threw little pebbles at any animal they sighted; grasshoppers, lizards, even canaries in the trees… But soon, they got bored with that.

“Last to reach the bus stop is a nincompoop,” one of them suddenly yelled; filling in the need for something interesting to do. The bus stop was at the end of both the bush path and the ‘safe’ sidewalk they should have taken.

They all broke into a run, in response to the challenge. No one wanted to be last and, even more importantly, no one wanted to bear the tag of ‘nincompoop’ for the day. It was an insult their teacher always used and they were certain it meant the biggest fool alive.

The child that had spoken was named Tolu, and he was the unofficial leader of the group. The other three always listened to whatever he said, and always did his biddings. This was because Tolu was smart and was always right. He was the one that had first suggested they start taking the bush path, that it would be more fun than their usual boring route, and he had been right.

As they ran, Tolu, having the advantage of moving first, led. He was closely followed by Chiedu, a good runner, and then Austin. Alero, Austin’s sister and the only female in the group, was as usual, coming last. At the last moment, Chiedu overtook Tolu to arrive first at the bus stop, and Austin came third. They all paused there, panting and waiting for Alero ‘the nincompoop’ to arrive, looking forward to jeering her to tears.

What seemed like aeons but was actually just three minutes passed, yet she did not show up. They got impatient.

“Let’s go back and look for her,” Tolu decided.

No one argued with him.

They trudged back into the bush path and started yelling Alero’s name when they did not see her immediately.

“Has something bad happened to her?” Austin whispered, scared. The others were scared too. It was unusual for Alero not to have been close behind them in a race to the bus stop. They each thought of a million bad things that could have befallen her; a python could have swallowed her, a lion could have eaten her, or maybe she fell into a pit and broke her head…

“Did you hear that?” Chiedu suddenly stopped. “It’s like I heard someone shout just now. And it sounded like Alero.”

He started running in the direction he had heard the sound come from.

“Let’s follow him,” Tolu said to the others.

They went into the forest, moving as fast as their little legs could go and, suddenly, Chiedu stopped. The other two stopped too, gasping at the shocking sight that met their little, unexposed eyes.

Alero was on the ground, in a small clearing in the forest and a man was kneeling over her. He had her school gown pulled up to her chest, exposing her panties which he was dragging off her body with one hand while the other was buried within it, touching her private part.

Austin shouted, “Leave her alone!”

The man stopped what he was doing and looked up, then seeing they were just kids, he just picked up Alero in his arms and made to run deeper into the forest.

Tolu picked up a big stone close by and hurled it at him. He missed.

Chiedu followed suit, and his connected with the man just as he almost disappeared out of sight with their friend and sister. The stone hit him right at the back of the head and he dropped to the ground, falling on top of poor Alero.

The trio rushed over.

They rolled the unmoving man off Alero and she got up, crying loudly.

“I think he is dead,” Tolu whispered, kicking at the unconscious man’s body. He was dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans, both looked worn-out, but not tattered enough for him to be a mad man.

Austin held his sister’s hand tightly, wiped her face and begged her to stop crying, while Chiedu urged Tolu, “Let’s go.”

But Tolu had other plans. He dropped to his knees beside the prone man and began searching his pockets.

“What are you doing?” Austin asked him. “Let us go.”

“I’m looking for his phone, so we can take it,” he responded.

The others watched his search without another word. He produced an android phone, a Tecno specifically, from the man’s pocket, along with a wallet. They all looked into the wallet as Tolu unfolded it. There were some naira notes in it. Tolu counted it and said, “One thousand, two hundred naira. The phone and money have become our own now,” he added. “We can spend the money and be using the phone.” The others nodded in agreement.

At that moment, the sleeping man stirred. He opened his eyes and saw Tolu kneeling over him, his possessions in his little hands. He had not been dead after all, just unconscious! He grabbed Tolu by the collar of his shirt, gripping it so tight that the little boy began to choke.

Chiedu ran to the rescue of his friend and tried to release him from the awakened man’s grip, but he couldn’t. The man began to get to his feet.

In desperation, Chiedu found and picked up another rock, hitting him on the head with it again. The man fell back to the ground, but Chiedu did not stop. He hit him again and again. Tolu joined him by kicking the man anywhere he could; his stomach, his chest, his groin.

It was only when Alero began screaming in horror that both lads stopped. They looked at their attacker. His face was a bloody, soggy mess. Chiedu had bashed it to a pulp with the stone. His shirt too was now a darker red from blood splotches, as a result of the numerous hard kicks from Tolu. There was no doubt he was very dead now.

With Tolu still clutching the wallet and the phone, the children left the clearing, walking silently back to the bush path and towards the bus stop. Tolu stopped the others when they were about to exit the path. He shared the money from the wallet amongst them and threw the phone, now switched off, into his school bag, repeating, “We will be using it.” Then he added, “All of you, swear that you won’t tell anybody what happened.”

Chiedu, Austin and Alero swore.

They resumed their trek out of the path and were soon smiling and laughing again, back to the being just ordinary, innocent children.

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