By Adaobi Nkeokelonye
Many nights have gone and you are not home. The other me seems lost, lost because you are not here. At first I tried to think it will be for a day, but one day passed, then another and another. Many nights have followed, you are still not here. Sometimes Mama thinks it was your voice she just heard, we still hear your giggle and imagine your young and beautiful frame swaying around the house in colourful African prints. Time and time again, we gaze on the side of the bed where you sleep, on your favourite little wooden chair where you sit, hoping you will just appear on them in a flash. Your clothes are here, but you are not. These days I inhale their smell, I grab your dresses close to my nostrils, hoping to cling to your smell which lingers in my head but is now disappearing for lack of your touch. But how can this be? How could you go with the night? Women and girls were never taught to befriend the night. Oh, how you cried dear little sister? Even now I hear your cry piercing the forest as you are being forced in the cold black night? I am hurting; we are broken, because while men slept, the enemies came and snatched you all away.
In the days you have been gone, it was as though the leaders did not care. I had wondered what calibre of leaders sleep sound when children especially daughters are not home by midnight? What father or husband waits for weeks to calm a broken wife, mother or sibling? Just when did protection elude our daughters? When did they become endangered species?
But then morning came and leaders are wiping away the comfort of yesterday of their eyes. Since then, you have become one thread that runs through humanity. The world is enraged, the social media is in frenzy, #bringbackourgirls, #bringbackourdaughters, #wewantourgirlsback is the loud cry everywhere. You have gained more brothers and sisters of different race, tongue, lands and clime. Our women are willing to march naked into the forest to bring you home, people who know not your name, your faces nor your life before now have showed they care. Nations and leaders of the world are offering their hand to pull you out of captivity. Yet in all of this, one thing is clear, as a nation, our battle is between us.
I am sorry that our fathers could not at least afford you the uncivil security we had years ago. In my teenage years, violence was music on the street but not the loudest, girls were not missing and our boys were neither slaughtered. But life is changing and our days are fast turning into night. These changes have altered your lives forever. Far from the city, deep in the forest where men dread to go, not because of the wild animals, but for the fear of wild humans who dine on human blood and glory in trading innocent girls is where you are now. We are not afraid you will be attacked by lions and wild animals; we are troubled that these men with their misplaced rage will leave you with scars that will traumatize you daily.
I know not all your faces but I know you look like me. I feel your pain; it is becoming so long, so strong and so visible that I want to cut it quickly with a knife. Your captors are killers; they stink with blood on their hands, anger blows through them, they fight with everything in the name of their angry god. Perhaps in trying to reinforce dominance, they will violate your will and desecrate your deepest recess. With force, they will try to inject shame into you. Dear Sisters, never accept shame, for this shame is eternally theirs and not yours. They may cut your dignity and self-esteem and slice them apart, but still, come home so that we will stitch them back together.
I imagine that your hearts are roving the wide forest landscape each sleepless night wondering what Papa and Mama are doing, wondering if the world cared to rescue you all from the rusty chains of your kidnappers. You ask yourself, do they hear when we cry? The other you feel lost, the part that was free. Day after day, your faith in freedom is nibbled away but please do not lose hope. Dear little sisters, they may be more than you now but they are not more than all of us.
You are not lost, remember that. Unknown to you, your captivity has made you silent revolutionaries. Yes I hear the sound of the coming storm. Your roaring captivity is gathering the storm of revolution. It is my hope that your freedom will be an epoch for dusting our society of despair.When finally this day comes, I hope it will be the epoch for the future where our daughters are safe again, where our bodies are ours again, where the daylight and the nights are kinder to us.
For now, we stand anxious, firm and hopeful at the gates of freedom. We wait for you to arrive and run into our waiting arms. We wait to lead you home to the safety of your warm beds again. Until then, every night, I will send you myrrh to heal your bruises, aches and sprain with a prayer that if hell exists, then to your captors, I wish the devil’s speed, a high speed to the hottest recess of its inferno.
Adaobi Nkeokelonye is a Fellow of LEAD (Leadership for Environment and Development). She presently explores the linkages between fiction writing and international development issues on her site . http://fictioningdevelopment.org Twitter: @adankeokelonye