When the news of Mario’s death reached me that afternoon; the whole world stood still like the mid-night dusk.
I had been in contact with her all the time until for about weeks there was no communication between us.
When I eventually put a call through to her adoptive parents and the news of her kidnap was broken to me, somehow, I felt within me that this was it; the moment I feared most for her, had finally arrived.
I had the premonition that I would never see her again.
Our friendship began way back during our Secondary school days at Government Girls’ Secondary school Kafanchan.
We both come from Zango a village in Zango Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
Mario was not a Kataf like me but her parents had lived there for a very long time that they had no other place to call their home.
She was from a Moslem background but this had nothing to do with our friendship.
The area around the southern part of Kaduna is dominated by Christians from mainly the efforts of the European Missionaries from Sudan Interior Mission. They had succeeded in establishing the Evangelical Church in West African,ECWA as the main indigenous Church of most people from my area.
My father joined the SIM and was ordained a priest some years back.
I was born as the third child in the family and the second Female, and later my two brothers Philemon and Micah were born.
We had a happy family that moved from place to place due to constant posting of my father from one parish to another.
As children, we enjoyed the constant postings as it gave us the pleasure of seeing different places and meeting rooms people and friends. Not all the places we moved to were eventful, some were remote localities that had no life at all, but the combination of the taste of no life and rural interactions with local people afforded us the unique experience that most children of our age lacked. My father’s job took us to many towns and villages within the Southern part of Kaduna, we had only been to kaduna city once but didn’t stay up to a year before another transfer came.
One afternoon my father received a mail from the zonal Headquarter of the church in Kachia announcing his transfer from Zonkwa where we had lived for the past two years to Kafanchan. Everyone was excited except my father who was visibly perturbed by and news and for days he wore a pensive look and sometimes because irritable. We children could not understand at first but we later learnt from our mother that father didn’t like going to Kafanchan because of its past record of religious crisis.
The crisis usually led to the killing of pastors and church leaders with the burning of churches but there was little anyone could do about the transfer. The pastor at the zonal headquarter had instructed very sternly that every church worker must accept their postings in complete obedience to the will of God. Father had no choice than to obey.
Our movement to Kafanchan brought so much change to our family but especially me. It was there I truly knew what it meant to be a Christian. The missionaries who brought the gospel to us perhaps were too busy turning us away from our idolatrous life and tradition than converting our souls to the God whom they spoke so much about. Our physical bodies followed their teachings but our hearts were left far behind meticulously gripped to the old custom and tradition. Those who embraced their teachings became so religious but preserved their self-indulgent lifestyle with the support of the church. For the local natives where I belong, drunkenness was a plague and biblical rules on marriage were constantly and openly flaunted, thus an entirely new religion was born. The indigenous priest carried on with the same gospel that at most had only messages that was devoid of power that changed life. For men like my father, the service in the mission was just an ordinary employment that provided daily food for the family or perhaps for the pride of being called missionary priest.
We arrived at Kafanchan on a hot afternoon in January after the new-year celebration, into the large premises of the mission which housed the church auditorium, a primary school, a small administrative building, the pastor’s residence and the challenge Bookshop situated in front of the gate.
Kafanchan presented to me a colourful picture of a place I had always wanted to be. Of all the places we had been I have never fallen in love with the environment like I did here. I was soon to learn that the town was the former North Central Headquarter of the Nigerian Railway before it was moved to Bauchi, a neighboring state some years before our arrival.
The evidences were still there. The large but old rail station stood imposingly in ruins, and there were the abandoned coached and wagons that hung tenaciously on their rails, helplessly. I loved the whole scenery especially walking endlessly following the long and winding iron rail route. At that time I was ten years old and had finished my common entrance examination, waiting to move on to secondary school when my father’s transfer came. At first my father thought of sending me to one of his aunt at Kagoro to live there and attend my school but was prevailed upon by my mother who had her way in the end. I have overhead them arguing one afternoon in their room. Not that I was eavesdropping but I just wanted to be sure it wasn’t a quarrel. My parents never quarreled with each other, or maybe they do in privacy of their room but we children never caught them in the act.
“Ziporah will stay at Kagoro for her secondary school” my father had informed my mother when he returned that evening.
“who will she be living with there” mother asked in a very soft tone.
“With my sister of course”
“Haba! Baba, how can you send a small girl like Zipo away at this age?” My mother tried to argue.
“She’s already ten”
“She’s still too tender,Baba”
“Bina will take proper care of her” my father tried to assure her.
“Please let’s take care of our girl by ourselves” mother pleaded.
At last my mother won because the issue was never raised again and I was not sent to live with aunt Bina. Had my father succeeded I would not have survived living away from my family. I would miss the company of Murna my elder sister and Philemon our last born, whom I had grown very fond of. Life would have taken another turn for me.