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The train that took tomorrow

The train that took tomorrow
June 11
10:45 2022

BY TOYIN AKANNI

It has been two months since we heard the news, but my little brother still waits by the gate for Mama and Amina to return. He leans against the concrete wall, ignores my pleas and sobs silently. How do I explain what happened to him when I struggle to make sense of it myself? A simple journey to escort our sister to university has led to my family’s complete demise.

Five years ago, we buried our father. “He was a hero,” the school principal bellowed during the funeral. “He lost his life protecting our students from the vicious kidnappers that attacked our school,” he continued. “Fifty-six students survived that day because of him. You should all be proud.” We nodded our heads in silence, but I was irritated by his latter statement. We were already proud of him. He was the sun in our sky, a brilliant biology teacher and a fantastic father. His life didn’t need to be snatched in such a cruel manner. Sometimes I feel it was God’s mercy that he died when Ahmed was still a baby. At least my brother doesn’t have to deal with the anguish of remembering that our father’s body was riddled with bullets.

I recall the look on his face when he told us he once got admission to study medicine.

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“I couldn’t go further because of my parent’s financial situation, but your mother and I will do everything to ensure you girls go further than any of us,” he said sternly. That day, there was a resolve in his voice that still echoes in my heart.

With Amina inheriting his brains, it wasn’t a surprise that she got a scholarship to study agricultural science at the University of Kaduna. For the first time since papa’s death, we danced around to the music from his old CD player. Even though I felt a slight pang of envy, knowing she would have the university experience, I was okay with it. We had our plan, and it was a solid one.

About a year ago, Mama and I discussed the dire issues around safety and inflation. “These herders’ attacks have made food expensive. They invade farms and kill farmers.”

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“But Mama, why hasn’t anyone stopped them?” I asked.

“My daughter, I wonder the same thing o. The Nigeria I know before no bi the same as today, but may God continue to keep us,” she sighed.

“We should have our own farm in a safe area,” Amina whispered.

We didn’t realise she was listening. She usually has her head buried in a book somewhere.

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“With the cost of food going up, there is a chance we can make a good profit. I’ll focus on growing the crops, and you both can sell them.”

There was a twinkle in her eyes as she tried to mask her timidity. She knew we were shocked to hear her speak in such a manner.

“No problem, Amina, we go try our best.”

“Latifa, you nko?” She glared at me.

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“Ah, Mama, sorry you wouldn’t like this, but I don’t want to go to university.”

“God forbid! All my children will go.”

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“Mama, abeg, I’m good at selling. Papa always said to be the best at whatever you do.

So, I will be the best market woman.”

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“Entrepreneur, you mean,” Amina interjected.

“Yes,” I laughed. “ENTRE-pre-NEUR, as she said.”

A teardrop splashed on my arm, jolting me back to reality. I wiped it quickly before Ahmed could see it. An uncertain future and the responsibility of looking after my six-year-old brother weighed heavily on my heart. It has been challenging coming to terms with the truth since I identified Mama’s body. She was one of the eight victims killed instantly by the kidnappers who attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train on the 28th of March. There is still no update on Amina, and the other passengers are still missing. Some news reports claim that more victims have been killed. Others say that they are being used as tools for negotiations with desperate family members. Nothing is verified, and nothing is being done.

Last night, the news reported that the kidnappers have started using passengers as human shields. In his speech, President Muhammadu Buhari said that this has made it difficult for the military to carry out a rescue mission.

“What have they been doing all this time?” I wondered, kissing my teeth.

“Is sister Amina dead?”

I didn’t realise Ahmed had woken up. I tried to respond but choked on my words.

“Please go back to sleep,” I replied coldly.

He ran to the bedroom and started crying again. I wanted to go after him, but my own pain paralysed me. Mama’s final words to me were, “I will be back tomorrow.”

That train took our tomorrow.

Toyin Akanni is a freelance writer with the PSJ UK team of Nigerians in diaspora advocating against the killings and insecurity in Nigeria www.psjuk.org

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