I was with my family in our house at 9th mile, Enugu when we heard explosions. My mother who was breaking palm kernels with me and my siblings grabbed my hands with screams of “Ewo, Ewo”. Despite the sharp pain I felt from her grip, it soon disappeared as my own heart was also racing. My father, a carpenter whose shop was nearby, ran to the house and called out to my other siblings, our hearts racing, the transistor radio off. I watched my mother grab some of her wrapper and my father shout at her in confusion. “Fire,” I heard from a distance, the continuous rattle of guns. I was eight and I understood fear but what I saw that day, I cannot describe.
I quickly grabbed one of the books that my father had recently bought for me but dropped it after I realised that I only had one option: to take the book or save some kernels in my trouser. “Chi m,” my mother had started to say when she checked the window and saw some of our neighbours’ homes in a distance being set ablaze. “Nwanyi, me chi onu gi, ogini ne me gi,” my father screamed at my mother, ordering her to shut her mouth.
I, gripped with fear, looked at my brother who was clinging onto my father as if his life depended on it. Fortunately, there was a bush nearby. The bush was often a cause of quarrel between our neighbours and my parents. Once in a while, we would see animals and insects come out of it. Although my father would complain about the bush path, this was where he said we would use.
We ran into the bush with my father and spent half a day trekking to Agbani. One thing that hit me then was that I saw the people in Agbani also run once they saw us. I think they were scared that the military had reached their community and would not let us sleep in their homes. We slept in a public school that night. I cannot remember the name now.
We moved from there to Ugboawka. Still unsettled, we ran to Nenwe. Unfortunately, it was also on that day we arrived Nenwe that Federal troops bombed the market. Unfortunately, it was here that one of my brothers went missing. My father, who had taught me that a man does not cry, broke down. We arrived and saw dead bodies littered in the market like it was nothing, and soldiers shooting at us. How we managed to escape there, I would not be able to explain.
My mother didn’t have the time to mourn for long. In the days to come, we would sleep in the bushes and I would hear my mother cry silently. By now, we were joined by some who were also escaping. It was one of the families who had come from Nsukka that taught me how to hide coins inside bars of soap. You break the soap in two and hide coins. We also saw many people die from kwashiorkor because the Nigerian military stopped the food access to those of us in Biafra.
At the end of the war, we returned to Enugu where we met a soldier at Ihuokpara who questioned us and we told them we were from Enugu. My father had to get a pass (a Nigerian working permit) to allow us to move freely. I started to sell coconuts and my father started his business at Artisan market.
As for my brother, he would come home to say that he slept in the bush and ate grasscutters and lizards (which we also did) to survive. And the scar that would remain on his leg until now, is the bullet that lodged in his leg during the war.
Emmanuel is now in his 50s having retired as a civil servant and also a tailor.
Disclaimer: Emmanuel spoke Igbo some of which were left untranscribed to maintain the original expression of the storyteller.