A BEFRIENDED ENEMY

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THE DISMAY

Chapter 5

An attendee got up to express his displeasure. He addressed the crowd using his bass voice to his advantage. There was no need for him to request for the microphone as his voice was deep enough to be heard.

“all side attractions are scrapped? Hope food and other refreshments are not inclusive? If yes, to what effect is our wait all morning” he asked with disdain.

Everyone couldn’t agree less with the man. He just spoke their minds. Although the program is not centred around food, they all need to fill their already empty stomachs. Most of them skipped breakfast to be at the event early enough.

Apart from that, the generous packages of the delicacies served at the program yearly is one that lingers in one's memory for a long time. Coming to terms with the absence of such luxury that most of them could not afford, this year, would be difficult.

Some one else stood up to buttress the first man's point.

“...we are very much aware of the amount of money the multinational company budget for this event annually. Remember some of our brothers work in this same company, so we are aware. What has changed? And I ask again, What has suddenly changed? We demand to know"

There was an uproar in support of the second point. Yet another man continued:

“I support my brothers. We are no fools. We may be poor but we have blood running in our veins. We either have the event the way we've always had it or else we demand a convincing explanation" a third man said.

Following that, side-talks and comments that insinuate a looming trouble arose from every corner. A fresh mayhem was gradually building up.

The important dignitaries as well as the excos of the company became restless. Each one had something to say to the next person, although in whispers. The discussion going on around them was getting too heated-up for comfort. Fear was written on their faces as they re-adjusted their seats every now and then.

The guards, however braced up. They were bent on protecting their masters. A group of them quickly sorrounded the row where the special people were seated while others re-positioned and got ready to discharge their duties. Drastic situations call for drastic measures.

The first speaker got a tap from behind. He didn’t respond at first and was still engrossed in talking to whoever cared to listen. He got the second one, this time he turned around and beheld some guards.

Catching a glimpse of their intimidating muscular chests and eyes almost spiting out fire, hot sweat broke on the man's forehead.
He was seized and bundled away from the crowd like a powerless toddler who was throwing tantrum in the presence of a disciplinarian. Although, he didn’t stop talking, his tone changed to that of plea. His legs were prevented from touching the ground. He was taken away from the hall against his wish.

Simultaneously, the second speaker was taken in that manner too.

Seeing how events were unfolding, the third man changed his utterances.

“My brothers, My kinsmen! We should know that what we've always enjoyed is only a privilege, not a right. The earlier we settle down to get the most of this short program, the better for us all. Let’s co-operate with the organisers. Time is ticking fast.....really fast!”

The guards drew near him but paused for reasons best known to them. Perhaps because the speaker now appeared to be steering a good course and they also seemed to be contemplating whether to take him or not.

The man did not stop erring his fear-borne opinion. He also didn’t stop throwing pleading glances at the guards as he pacified others around him. He believed that the success of this diplomatic exercise would guarantee his freedom, so he continued.

No one knew the fate of those that had been taken. They feared for their arrested brothers but they feared for themselves even more. Most of them thus decided to stay calm. Since the third man’s effort was yielding a positive result, the guards let him be.

A few stubborn attendees however, who remained adamant and refused to be bought over, were taken away without hesitation.
Either by hook or crook, the chaos in the hall soon died down. The program continued once again.

Echoes from the amplifiers reached Obi who was miles away from the event centre. He was thrilled that he wouldn’t miss too much afterall despite not being present in the hall. Nevertheless, he wondered why he just started hearing the reverberation since he started running. But there was no time to think it through. He concentrated on his run.

He was barely half-way and may miss the most important part of the program if he slowed down due to excitement. Worse still, both friends will, if he didn’t make it back on time. He doubled his speed as he continued his race to his Chidi's house.

It took him only about a quarter of the time it would normally, to get to his destination. He was panting heavily. Echoes didn’t reach him again but was glad to have reached his destination.

Chidi's compound was however under lock and key. It was obvious he had left home. There was no point waiting as time was ticking. Obi dashed back for the program in the same tempo that brought him there.

“he wouldn’t have gone any where else except the award giving ceremony” Obi muttered under his heavy breath as he rushed back. He was confident of that fact.

He exhaled a long hot air and sprinted back to the venue. As he raced, he occupied his mind with how he would receive his award in grand style, smiling and thanking everyone. Plus the warm welcome he would get at home. He just couldn’t wait. He raced on. Soon he began to hear echoes of the amplified voice of the spokesperson again.

“.....without much ado, the five beneficiaries of the land category please join others on the podium"

Obi intensified his already stretched effort. He was nearing the venue and couldn’t afford to relax now.

“...Once again, please mount the podium upon hearing your names: Nwankwo Uche, Emma Ekweme, Usifo Amadi, Chidi Nyeson, and Nkem Uzor".

Obi’s breathe seized for a while on its own accord when the fifth name was called and it wasn’t his. He had been following the program despite being on top speed. He heard the names clearly but his wasn’t among. His heart did a terrible summersault, he stumbled and that caused him to slow down.

He replayed what he heard again in his mind. First, there was a mention of land category and five names followed; one of which was his friend’s. His heart summersaulted again; the umpteenth time. He slowed down even more. He was certain there was a mix up somewhere. Hence, the need for him to get to the hall as fast as he could. He charged on but at a reduced speed.

His brain tried to process the information yet again but his wobbling legs seemed to be interfering. He gradually broke into short and fast walks, so he could hear or think well.

He had not been concerned about the rush of today’s event until now. He was sure the terrible mix-up was because of the sudden rush in event. He was confident that he would correct the mistake once he gets back to the program. Hence he continued with his new momentum.

Suddenly, Obi's legs went limb. His legs suddenly lost the vigour with which they were moving. He was panting heavily too. He exhaled hot air through his nostrils and ears. Salty sweat dripped touched his lips as his mouth was ajar. He had to sit on the dusty mother earth so as to clear his fuzzy thoughts.

After a while, he drew the very last of his inner strength to thrust his limbs further. He needed to get to the hall to right the wrong that had been done. He was supposed to be one of the beneficiaries. He really should be....! He couldn’t run again but could only drag his feet in walks.

Soon, the community hall came in view, a mix feeling of happiness and sadness engulfed him. He tried to run again but his feet lacked the will to. He was tired physically but more so psychologically. He needed rest but not as much as he needed to get to the podium inside the hall. He kept on keeping on, each step more difficult than the previous.

An idea of entering the hall through the quickest means struck him. That would be less stressful for him. He therefore approached the reserved door for the special guests of honour. That door is the closest to his seat and the podium. But he was denied entry.

Obi met a strong resistance from the body guards at that entrance. And to add salt to injury, he was also rough handled.

The guards didn’t take pity on the condition of his legs. They saw him as a threat to the peace that had been earlier restored and he was treated as such. He was pushed far away from the hall and he landed with a thud on the dusty earth once again.

This scene caused a little distraction and made the program stop for a while. People peeped from inside but dared not talk aloud. Everyone wondered whose turn it was to be humiliated.

They only fed their eyes, whispered and remain seated like obedient kindergarten pupils. The program continued shortly afterwards.

Obi was furious at how things were unfolding. How could this be happening to him? First, a gross omission of his name was made on the award sheet. Secondly, how was he to call the attention of the organisers to their mistake, if he remains outside?.

“This has to be a bad dream and I need to wake up this very instant” Obi stood up with a soliloquy.

The MC spoke again:
“.....moving on to the other beneficiaries of another categories of the awards, please step on the podium once your name is called"

Not giving up, Obi approached the hall again. He needed to be in there before they moved on. This time he chosed to enter the hall through one of the commoners door; at least that's the category he belonged.

He stood up from where he was thrown like rubbish. He bore the pain in his legs but couldn’t bear the one in his mind. The palpitations of his heart was evident of this. Very determined, he made for the hall again.

Obi walked calmly this time. Partly because he couldn’t run but more importantly because he didn’t want to be denied entry. He was still covered in sweat and dust and that called the guards’ attention to him as he approached them. He met a stiffer resistance as he was just about to enter the hall.

He had guessed this could happen so he tried to explain himself

“I am Obi.....Obi Eze. And I am one of the beneficiaries of the land category.....I mean, I am supposed to be one of those called on the podium.... ”

That was all he could mutter incoherently before some guards seized him from behind. All they saw in him was the determination to hinder the success of the program.

Obi wasn’t a calm person in nature but he allowed himself to be taken. He hoped to achieve an ambient situation where he will be heard and understood. So he didn’t resist the arrest. At first, he was thankful that he wasn’t thrown away like the previous time. But when the guards approached the rear of a vehicle where other defaulters were tied and dealt with, the untamed part of him awoke.

He attacked the two closest guards to him and wrestled with the duo. He vented his anger on those. Others were taken aback at first and called for back-up. More guards came and they all got a dose of Obi’s frustrations. He gave them all a good fight. But they soon overpowered him and he was pinned down.

For some minutes he allowed himself to be down. It was a strategy to allow them lower their guards. When he was sure it was time to strike again, he charged at the men like a wounded lion that he was. He didn’t care about getting his name on the award list any longer, he didn’t care about the pain in his legs or heart, he didn’t care about anything anymore. His ego had been bruised.

He took them on once again and gave a reasonable number he got hold of, a beating of their lifes. It was only the sight of the riffles pointed at him by the military personnel that subdued him.

The happening outside the hall caused the program to pause yet again. That resulted in an uproar. The attendees had bottled-up their angers for too long, so they vented it.

Many men trooped out of the hall at once and charged at the guards who had been humiliating their very owns. The guards in turn dared not face the crowd let alone allow themselves to be caught. They retreated and took to their heels at once. Only one unfortunate one fell into their trap and he was beaten to stupor.

The important dignitaries were not spared too, the common men made for them. At that point, they forgot about their status, some cried, some hid, some crawled while some ran. The few guards remaining with them couldn't help them. Everyman was for himself.
The military personnel had a more pressing duty call than to overpower Obi. They left him and took the responsibility of taking the honoureess to safety in their cars. They escorted the convoy as they all drove out of danger.

Some men from the hall quickly came to their brothers’ rescue. The guards guarding them were no where to be found, leaving the vehicle with the arrested men behind.

The program came to an abrupt end. That had never happened in the history of the award giving ceremony.

In the midst of the pandemonium, Obi got up and made for his home, dejected.
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