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Wednesday, 10 February 2016


(Image source: www.dreamstime.com)

"I am the police! You are the thief!" Nine year old Odudu told her playmate, Ekom. "If I catch you, you’ll become the police." She told the half naked boy as if he did not know the rules already. "I know! I know! Come and catch me...you will never reach me!" Ekom challenged his female playmate before speeding off with heels of chariot. Odudu ran after the meandering boy who was turning round every nook and cranny of the compound but was no way close. Ekom knew she was not a match for him so he slowed down, turned and faced her. "Catch me! Catch me!" He said in a taunting manner. He waited until Odudu came close before he ran off again. "I’m not playing again. You don’t want me to catch you. I’m not playing again." A panting and sweaty Odudu complained and was about giving up before Ekom agreed to switch roles and be the pursuer.

At the other flat, Mama Mfoniso’s kids were inside taking their garri and okro soup. Their Mom had just brought them back from school and instructed them to eat and take their naps before she rushed back to her workplace. Mfoniso was eleven, three years older than her younger brother Emediong. "They are playing police and thief outside! I will go and play!" Little Emediong said excitedly, barely able to remain in his skin. "But Mommy said nobody should go outside. If you go, I’ll tell her," Mfoniso discouraged her little brother. "Please don’t tell her now, I will give you my meat. Take." His pleading eyes sitting on his chubby face was not enough to soften her protective sister’s mind until he dipped his hand into his soup and transferred his meat to her plate. "Hmmm, this your tiny meat is what you are giving me. Oya, you can go and play but if Mommy comes back and catches you, I’m not there o!" "She will not catch me. Yeahhhh...let me go and play police and thief!" He dipped his hands into the wash basin and washed hastily, wiped his mouth and zoomed out.

The sun was high and the noon was scorching but Odudu and Ekom only felt the fun of running after one another in turns. When Odudu spotted Emediong running out to join them, she jubilated as the game would become bigger and better. "Emediong is here! Ekom wait." Emediong’s grin beamed as he ran towards them with his round belly and big navel. He was always the spice in every play; he always built the best sand house, he always cooked the best soup when they played Mommy and Daddy, his hiding spot was always untraceable when they played hide and seek, he was the best storyteller during moonlight evenings (though most of the stories were unimaginable and highly exaggerated for excitement purpose). "Police and thief is not sweet now, I want us to play hide and seek," the little boy announced. Everyone agreed happily. Ekom and Odudu were already getting bored of the cat and mouse race. "Put your feet here, let us count and know who will be the seeker," Ekom said, his body gleaming like groundnut oil. "Mfoniso, come and play with us, we will not tell your Mommy," Odudu invited Emediong’s sister. Mfoniso was leaning on the steel post in their veranda, looking so hungry to join them at the same time, trying not to disobey her mother. In fact, it was just her body standing there, her soul and mind was in the game. She so yearned to join her mates. "Mfoniso come now! See, your brother has mind more than you. You are doing like taa-taa. Fear fear. Come, we will not tell your Mommy." No, she was not a taa-taa. She was a big girl and wouldn’t want to be seen like a cowardly being, especially when her younger brother was there. She slowly and shyly came down the steps and joined them in the center of the compound. She included her right foot for counting in the circle of feet. "If-your-leg-is-too-dir-ty-please-take-it-out-and wash-it-clean!" Ekom sang the regular counting song, pointing finger at each foot according to the syllables of the words. After the eliminations, Mfoniso was left as the seeker. She was to close her eyes and count to twenty while others used the short time to find hiding spots. Anybody she found first would join her to search for others.

"One...two...three...four...ten...fifteen...nineteen...twenty! Here I come." Mfoniso opened her eyes after the count and started searching for her mates. The compound was made up of old bungalows of the ‘80s. There were many corners suitable for hiding especially behind one of the bungalows where there was an uncompleted and abandoned storey building. Ekom had climbed the grassy stairway to the first floor which was covered with weed and creeping plants. He found a room and hid himself quietly. Odudu was a little scared to go that high so she went under the stairs and squatted in a very dern position. When Mfoniso started her search, she checked inside their house first in case they decided to pull a fast one. She found no one. The second place on her list was the storey building. They had been warned several times not to go there but they didn’t understand why the adults always wanted to ruin everything that gave them fun. She climbed the steps and while she was on her way up, she heard a giggle and regressed. Odudu was found. Together, they went up and fetched Ekom. The last man standing was Emediong. The three stepped down to find him.

They searched the whole compound and their houses but there was no trace of him. The rule of the game was that if you were not found, the person’s name would be yelled round for him to emerge from the hiding spot. They did that round the compound for minutes. They went out of their compound to the nearby compound and asked the kids there if they saw him but they all shrugged in denial. An hour had passed and there was no sign of Emediong. The three kids looked worried and were unwilling to report to an adult as they assumed it was one of his funny ploys. It got to two hours and their worries mounted. "When he is tired, he will come out. Me, I will go to my house and stay." Odudu said and walked away, wearing a frown of annoyance. Mfoniso was the most worried. Their mother would be back in few minutes and everything will be on her head. If only they had obeyed and took their naps. She started to sob out of fear. "Don’t cry now, let us go and tell my Mommy and tell her everything. She can help us," Ekom consoled, hoping the suggestion would be effective.

Together the kids went and reported the situation to Mama Ekom who was turning foofoo over firewood and a tri-stand fireplace behind their house. At first, she took them for granted but when she noticed Mfoniso was sobbing, she taught better of it. "You these children, when they say sit down one place, you will not hear. Now you see! Mbok wait let me put down this foofoo before anything else." In few minutes time, she was done with her engagement and rose to assist. As they turned to the front of the house, they saw Mfoniso’s Mom returning. She noticed from their faces that all wasn’t right. "Mfoniso, nsido? Ayinukaa?" She asked the daughter what the matter was. After hearing the story, it was Mama Ekom’s intervention and conviction that stopped her from caning the hell out of the sobbing girl for disobedience.
It was 6:30pm and still no sign of the 8year old boy. Other neighbours had been alerted by then and the whole neighborhood joined the search. Mfoniso’s mother couldn’t hold her emotions anymore. She burst out weeping and lamenting. "Oh! Akpan mmi o. Ebo ke akpan mmi aba mó? Oh! Kase mien!" The other women consoled her not to lose hope, though none of them could come up with a suitable explanation of her son’s whereabouts. The days were evil and there was recent news about money ritual abductions of kids. That was their greatest fear but no one could dare mention that.

Few minutes to 7pm, a vehicle drove into the compound, catching the attention of all the members of the search party who were gathered at Mama Mfoniso’s veranda. They all rose in expectation for the worst. It was a pick-up truck. As soon as the headlamps went off, a man stepped out to meet them. The other door opened and a small boy stepped out too, obviously the subject of panic, Emediong. The man held the boy’s hand and took him towards the standing crowd. "Is this your son?" The man asked the woman who rushed out to sweep off the boy in an embrace. "Yes sir, he is my son. Mbók where did you find him?" The man gave a breath of relief and told them. "I did not know he was hiding at the back of my parked truck until I had driven all the way to Ikot Ekpene. He was lying flat and covered himself with this material. I had to drive back to Uyo and return him. I’ll be leaving now. I’m not sure I’ll meet up with an important meeting I had. Good night to all of you."

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