Old Soldier[An excerpt]

in fiction •  last year 

I haven't posted for days due to a combination of few factors. But it's all good. So, I decided to share a part of the short story I'm currently writing. Still on the first draft though. See below:


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After three years, when Old Soldier had managed to acquire a wooden sign post whereon the words “Military Zone. Keep off.” were inscribed with charcoal and stationed near the entrance to his compound, some of his kinsmen defied the order to pay him a visit. They had come to advise him to take a wife and not allow his father’s lineage to quench.

The men took turns to speak but the only response Old Soldier had for them was “Hannibal would not allow it.” So the kinsmen went away, for how could they engage a man who had been made mad by the war?

On a second thought, what man is there that would hand a mad man his daughter for a bride? And where has it been heard before that madness was rewarded with marriage? So, those kinsmen learnt to mind their business—and, again, who on God’s earth was Hannibal?

Those were years ago, when Old Soldier was younger. It had been over forty years since the war ended, and Old Soldier was now a sulky, weary old man—the more reason he was now called Old Soldier.

He spent most of his time at the local pub, drinking palm wine, and by virtue of the goodwill of the younger customers who frequented the pub with him—other times, due to his reputation as a war veteran—Old Soldier never paid for his drinks. Whenever he was asked by the young men to tell war stories, Old Soldier would close his eyes for long, as if in a bid to remember all the details, the men bound by suspense to hear what he has to say. But Old Soldier would remain that way until sleep steals him off.

Other times, when he would say, “okay, let me tell you all about the war,” he starts off by asking them “do you all know Major Hannibal?” and this question would be met by a no from his listeners. Then Old Soldier would sigh, gulp from his cup of palm wine and sleep off on the seat he had so much grown used to. And the men had learnt to leave Old Soldier to his sleepy old age.

Some years back, when Old Soldier started growing older and weaker, and could no longer work his farmland, he retired to his house and settled for being the village's town crier. Nobody knows how Old Soldier got the job but everyone knows that he is always the man for the job. He would wear his full Army regalia—a light green khaki uniform—and pick up a bell with which he slammed into the air to draw attention at strategic locations of the village before making his announcements. Age groups and family heads patronized him, and the man was always paid a few hundreds of naira.

This was Old Soldier’s new means of livelihood. And it was hard to imagine, with Old Soldier getting older by the day, anyone else who could do this job of his. For this, even Old Soldier himself came to learn that in a man’s life, there can never be a time when he can be truly said to be useless—even the mad man is useful in the day of madness, for how can one tell of madness if there were no mad men? And, had it not been said that the war had made Old Soldier mad?

Apart from his job, there was only one other occasion that always compelled Old Soldier to appear in his full service uniform—the Biafra Remembrance Day. On such days, Old Soldier posed by the entrance to his compound with his khaki uniform from the old era. Then he would cry and cry.

If anyone happened to be passing by, Old Soldier would tell them to wait and observe a minute silence for the fallen heroes. He would even try to tell them an incoherent, jagged pieces of stories about the war:

“The Hannibal wasn’t a bad man, they misunderstood him. We lost the war at Port Harcourt. But didn’t we hold Owerri longer than they thought we could?”

For this, people learnt not to pass by Old Soldier’s compound on Biafra Day.

Old Soldier would have probably gone down as a man who was unable to tell his war stories. Whenever he tried, he lost track of it and ended up mentioning The Hannibal. Maybe, he needed the motivation that drive storytellers. Or maybe he just needed to find himself at the pub on a certain day.


©@chidiarua

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