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ACROSSS THE SAHARA

Nosa gradually dozed off but was startled out of the beginning of a restless sleep by the bang of a gunshot and the crash of the front door. This was followed by heavy footfalls in the corridor.
He glanced at the time on the screen of his phone. It was 1:47am. Though they had never experienced it, he immediately knew the house was under attack from robbers. He heard them break the door to the first room along the corridor and yell at the occupants. He could tell from their movements that they were more than one. There was no point trying to be brave.
Nosa wiped the sweat developing on his brow with the back of his hand as another door was smashed and his breathing became laboured. He wished he was anywhere else but the room. Unfortunately, the windows were barred from the inside, which ironically was supposed to keep away invaders like those outside. He cursed his luck. He would have been sleeping comfortably at Leo’s at that moment.
He could clearly hear the conversation between the uninvited guests and their next-door neighbours. The robbers asked for their phones, cash and jewelleries. Gone were the days when robbers went away with TV sets on their heads. Things like that were just too heavy and cheap for the trouble, thanks to the Chinese. The neighbour started to explain that he had no money, but was interrupted by a deafening slap. Nosa had no doubt who had been slapped.
He switched off his phone and threw it under the armchair. With the torn bottom of the chair, they would have to turn it over to see the phone. It was the only thing of material value he had in the house, other than his dictionary and his cheap transistor radio with which he listened to the BBC. He was pretty sure they wouldn’t be interested in the radio, and he wouldn’t live to see the day when Nigerian robbers robbed someone of an ordinary book.
Instead of waiting for the robbers to break down their door, Nosa walked over and opened it. There was no point spending money they didn’t have repairing or replacing the door. By now, his siblings were awake and cowering and he could hear his mum praying in the bedroom.
The first thing he saw when the half-opened door was pushed all the way in was the bright light from a torch which was directed at his face. He held up his hands in surrender, while trying to shield his eyes. That’s when he glimpsed the stump of a double-barrelled gun, part of the barrel having been sawn off.
At first, he wasn’t sure if he was imagining the gun beside the bright torch. He was however not imagining the fist that flew out of the darkness behind the torch and smashed his face, the same spot the police had slapped him hours earlier. He threw his hands protectively over his head as he reeled backwards. Pain singed through his face as he wondered why he had been struck. Were they angry because he had deprived them the pleasure of breaking down the door?
“Lie down!” one of them yelled at him. Before he could react, his mum rushed out from the bedroom trembling all over. She was followed by his sister, Ivie. The robbers instantly directed their torch and weapons at them as they put up their hands in surrender.
The robbers focussed on his mum, apparently because she was the oldest among them and they could see she was their mother. “Go bring all una money and phones,” they shouted in Pidgin English and that included valuables, of course.
“I beg o! We no get money,” she pleaded that they had no money. The torch and gun were immediately turned back on Nosa, the tip of the barrel on his head.
No matter how ignorant a person might be of the affairs of modern life in any part of the world, the sight of a gun to the head of a loved one had similar effects. Nosa wasn’t sure if his mum had ever seen a gun from such close quarters. However, that didn’t stop her from realising he was in danger. She dashed back into the bedroom.
Nosa was on his knees with the stub of the gun to his head. The steel was cold to his skin. He was hit by the realisation that a slight mistake with the assailant’s finger on the trigger might mean an early visit to the Almighty that day. A shiver went down his spine and spread all over his body as his bladder threatened to spill its contents.
His mum was back in no time with her ọza, in which she had all the money she had made the previous market day. She threw it at the robbers and knelt in front of him. Head bowed, Nosa couldn’t tell exactly what was going on. He heard footsteps move into their almost bare bedroom and search around. The footsteps came back and after a few movements in the living room, the sounds of the robbers receded. The whole affair lasted only a few minutes.
For fear it wasn’t yet over, Nosa and his family stayed right where the robbers left them for a while after they left. They heard doors being smashed and shouts all over the house.
Sometime later, the house fell quiet, but not silent. The robbers had left, and in their wake was a grateful group of people, grateful because they were still alive.

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