In times of war, we realize that every look of humanity that once flushed us, flakes off, in bits, until we become mere branches, leaning on one mahogany, planted somewhere. Mere branches, that is what we are. So you see, all we needed was just a little of the sun and a little of the rain. After all, who knows what will plug us one day from where we lay? And people will always grow in our stead.
On one Friday morning, the sky was blank. There was no trace of the smiling faces we seldom see, and jotted fingers. The sun descended and we dare not leave our skins unguarded. Melodies ravished the open air and it was a sheer delight.
We left our books condemned to the emptiness of our classrooms, and graced the open field with our gauntly bodies in oversized uniforms. We listened to the dreadful songs and it excited us. The songs guns sang. We laughed and celebrated the evil that rained inside our little town, a hour walk from where our school was planted. That was the day I became more aware that we are branches. We danced with the wind. The same wind that will shove us and take the life out of us.
When the guns had stopped singing, smokes ascended into the sky. Thick dark smokes that never heeded the breeze. The teachers drove us into the classrooms. The rest of the day flayed without purpose. We named some of the guns guitar boys because guitar-like-strings rustled in the air the whole while, and we reproduced the melodies with our puerile lips. No teacher came to our classes afterwards, until the bell called us out. No one suspected anything had gone wrong.
On our way home, the long walk home, I held hands with Timi, as always. Our hands stayed burried into each other. Our walk home was always buoyed by exciting talks; talks about our fish traps at home, taunting one another. Sometimes we cast stones on birds that roosted nearby. But today we talked more about the guitar boys. We made speculations as to which politicians might have brought to town boys that owned guitar boys. But once I taunted him about his head. How he has made a bush, a black bush out of his head. I told him creatures lived in there. Demons too. He would shrug and give me a shove on the head. He wanted to be a musician. He wanted the dreadlocks.
We finally got to the town and we met a dead silence. Melancholic faces stared into our eyes. Gauntly bodies jogged with loads on their heads. Bodies that turned gauntly over night.
We got closer to where smokes scampered for shelter and we realized the smokes were leaving with fallen souls. Branches littered the boulevards. A night rained over our heads and for once we couldn’t tell the colour of our little town.
We got home and people were gathered. People that behaved like stranded soldier ants; their dazed looks at us, the tiny road they paved for us, and their lips that wouldn’t stop bickering.
We walked into the house. Father was there, seated, rocking his legs like a palm front in a calm breeze. I am not sure he recognized us. His eyes were drenched in a colour I have never seen. We heard low sobs from the room. Soon the sobs made way for hummings. Loud and light hummings. We knew it was mother.
It was until the following morning Timi and I started our own cries. We sat in the corridor in front of our house and allowed the tears run through our faces. We sobbed too. But we made no noise. Sarah was gone. We realized it was the guiter boys and it pained us the more. We could go back to the previous day in school and stop all the talks about the guitar boys, stage a protest instead.
In the evening, mother crawled out of her room, with heavy darkened bags underneath her eyes. Her face had gone pale, like the colour of the sun in the evening. Her hairs stood on the air like a branched mahogany painted on a wall, uncombed and amorphous. We were standing right in front of the house with our arms wrapped round our chests.
“Solo go and wash the dishes at the back”. She stood over us, throwing her shadow on the ground, then her almost emptied voice.
We turned to look at her face and she was already walking away. She had dropped an obligation carefully disengaged from that blank look. It came to me naturally, because I am the elder of the twins. Because Sarah was dead and I had to bud from same spot she was planted. Sarah was supposed to linger a little longer, her ghost, like a wind rolling on the hairs in our skins when we are lonely. But no, the war gave her no chance. This is why we are all branches.
On monday, the town was almost a desert, a sandless desert. We remained in the town, like the scanty peyote cactus you always look for in the desert, but most times never find. The river pirates left rumours on the shores of our little town that they were coming back to finish what was left of us, and the air was plagued with fear. But father had to stay, because he was the Amayanabo. Because he had to tell the politicians to help resolve the crisis. A predicament the politicians brought on us. We never had time to ask father what started the crisis, but we once heard him in a heated conversation with one of the politicians, blaming the politician for buying guns and aiding young boys who had turned themselves into pirates.
We stayed at home with mother and buried our ears on the ground. Whenever the gunshots exceeded three, we took to our heels. The town had a handful of guns and bullets, just enough to scare antelopes deeper into the forest. So they could afford to waste three bullets in a day. The river pirates seldom made an open show of how dreadful they are and how fearful we were. They would pass across the face of the town with their speedboats and shot sporadically into the air. And we sublimed like heated waters into the forest each time they passed. In one of those days, after waking Timi from his siesta, the guitar boys made him hurriedly clung a wooden stool into his arms and trailed the swarm of fleeing feet. When we returned, I taunted him, and mother also laughed at him until he gave a wry look.
There were times, days, we will walk around the town, like it was all fine. Birds chirped noisily. People took their canoes into the river and cast nets. We see the sun descend on flowers, pulling apart those colourful wings, and then there will be that feeling looking us in the eye, making us forget that the crisis was still on.
Other times we will run into the forest and take shelter under palm trees, and did nothing while the rain poured on us. In all those times, father never ran with us.
Then one day, in one of my dreams, I stood beside a tall tree. One of the branches of the tree came down, and I saw my brother growing out of it.
I knew what it meant when I woke up. In the morning, I took a handful of my clothings and travelled. I left for a remote town. Far away from the sound of the guiter boys. I thought of becoming a fishermen. I planned never to go back to school. I also thought of becoming a tree, my own tree, where branches will crawl out of me. I also thought of Timi joining me someday, and become his own tree, planted beside me. So we do not have to take each others place.