It has been twenty-eight days since the bad men came to get us from school.
I do not know where we are right now because we are blindfolded whenever we are on the move, ever since senior Jumai tried to run away the second day after we were taken. She had managed to get past the guards at the entrance of the camp where we settled and started running into the forest, but somehow they found her and brought her back. She was screaming so loudly I was so sure my eardrums would burst.
“Please, oga, I will never do it again, please don’t hurt me!” She kept saying, with tears streaming down her face. But her tears did not even seem to register with the man who was dragging her back in to the camp grounds.
The man who brought Jumai back was scary looking. He had an unusual face, with blotchy patches of skin. It looked like his skin was peeling off. I remember Mama saying some people were not content with the way God made them that they tried to make their dark skin go away by using a particular type of cream, so I thought this man had tried to do that. It looked that way anyway. He also had a jagged scar along the right side of his face which stopped right before the corner of his mouth. He made us call him Mister J, but I tried to never get into any sort of trouble to prevent him from even noticing me. He was a very peculiar man, and he seemed so angry all the time. When he brought senior Jumai back from the forest, he was holding her by her hair and shouting “You stupid girl, where did you know you were going that you ran? You think you are smart? I will show you pepper today.” That was the last time I saw her. I often heard other girls whispering that she had been taken to the other side of the camp where we saw the men going off to after their shifts to drink and play with the women, but I try not to think about it or what could be happening to Fatima there.
I sit on a sandy patch of ground just slightly away from the other girls. They are trying to learn the prayer chants we have been forced to recite since the raid. A loud announcement wakes us every morning at five for prayers. We have to dress in our kaftans and hijabs, and then form straight lines of six before we can begin. All I can remember is “Allahu akbar” and parts of the Basmala from memory, so I mumble the parts I don’t know. I should join them in learning the rest, but I just cannot focus on anything. I start thinking about Mama again, and I cannot stop the tears from falling. The last time I cried, the man in charge of my group told me to shut up or he would give me a real reason to shed tears, so I wipe my face really quickly before anyone notices, and focus intently on drawing circles in the sand to take my mind away from Chibok and Mama.
I wonder if anyone is looking for us. No one here really knows what is going on, just that we are always changing location and that all the men look a little nervous beneath the brave faces and big guns, if you look at them long enough. Most of the time, the men ignore us if we do what they say, but some girls are finding it harder than others to co-operate. Yesterday, one of the men slapped a girl because she said it was too hot to wear her hijab. I could not hear most of what he was saying to her, but whatever he said must have frightened her so because she got up immediately and wrapped her hijab so tightly around her face as if she was bandaging a bleeding wound.
I can hear someone talking loudly a few steps from me. I think it may be time for dinner or evening prayers, because the girls across me get up and look like they are walking towards the little tent where we go to get our food. They mumble something to me but I am not really listening to them. All I can think about is home, and how I would pretend to be asleep whenever I heard Abba coming back home from the farm so he could tickle me till I was out of breath and begging him to stop. I can feel tears threatening to get me into trouble again, so I tilt my head upwards till they are gone, get up, dust the sand off my kaftan and join the other girls. I still do not know where we are going, but I follow them anyway.
I turn around and look at the rest of the girls with empty, blank stares just like mine, and mumble a quick prayer for God to send someone to take us back home.