|| Prologue.

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Clouds of dust rise to the sky, tall buildings collapse under the weight of the bulldozer, the ensuing thud drowning out the voices of the fleeing traders. Hardware, plates, pans, spare parts and different items that were once housed in the crushed buildings lay in a muddy mess on the path the heavy machines trailed. Tire marks mar the red soil still wet from last night's rain, leaving the messenger of doom temporal imprints as it carries on its frenzy of destruction.

Distant cries of horror follow the sound of falling building, tears flow with muffled cries as the rampage continues, destroying the source of livelihood for some of the men and women scampering to salvage a few items. Feet belonging to men and women of different builds carry them to safety, away from where they once made money. Curses fly in the air, mostly directed to the driver behind the wheels of the bulldozer, the governor who gave the order for the demolition and people who supported it.

Mama Tee's back screams in protest as she bends to pick another set of stainless plates to dump into the big bag, popularly referred to as Ghana-must-go sitting in the middle of her dim-lit shop. Her movements slow down as her failing eyes notice the new cracks on her wall, she pauses to regain her strength, her hands on the knot of the green wrapper tied firmly around her waist.

Using the hem of her white polo shirt to wipe the sweat sticking to her forehead, her lips move in unspoken words, she sighs. Her eyes roam the shelves accommodating the various cookware set still in their boxes of purchase, she places a hand on her chest, right above the corner of her shirt where the words: Adieu Mama had been stitched with black thread and her lips move faster.

Resignation hangs in the air as her back hits the unpainted walls, her gaze wanders to the front of her shop, lingering on the usual swirl patterns her broom creates whenever she sweeps. The whirring of the machine fades as thoughts of impending doom take over, she takes tentative steps towards the entrance and a low yelp escapes her at the contact of her big toe against the bag.

Rattled by the sound of the pans and pots in the bag, she forgets her pain and as if in a trance, she resumes packing without the former care. Zipping the bag with a smile concealing her inner turmoil, her chest deflates, sweat trickles from her face to create dots on her shirt as she drags the bag along the carpeted floor to place it beside the smaller ones by the aluminium door.

Instead of leaving to save more items, she waits behind, hands holding her breasts with her eyes fixated in a certain direction, barely processing the destruction going on around her. Her foot drums into the carpet, her sole connects directly with the ground through the holes of her Dunlop slippers. A child runs past her shop, her neck stretches in his direction as her eyes narrow and her shoulders sag when she identifies the boy's shirt punctured with baby fist sized holes.

A young lad bursts into her shop, she lets out a sigh, her hand coming to rest on his back as he bends at the waist to catch his breath. "Mama," he raises his head, his mouth hangs open, "soldiers are coming."

Mama Tee's eyes widen in fear, more lines appear on her sweaty forehead, masking the thin horizontal scar. She shudders at the implication of her son's words, yanks the satin scarf off her head and the tiny braids that have seen better days cascade down her back. Putting the braids into a loose bun, her scarf acts as a ribbon to keep them away from her face and her lips move.

"Can you carry this one?" His eyes follow the direction of her index finger, he lifts one of the bags and nods. "Ngwanu, carry it."

Scurrying to the small box under her table, she wrenches it open to retrieve crumpled naira notes she tucks into her bra. She casts one look at her shop, a tear which she is quick to swipe at trails down her cheek.

Joining her sixteen-year-old son at the door, a fake smile creeps up to her cracked lips when she sees him with the biggest bag on his head and her head bobs. He flashes her a reassuring smile, his lips part to reveal a side gap tooth, similar to that of his mother. His hand moves to the waistband of his short held together by cable wires, he folds it once more, walks out of the shop before sparing his mother a backward glance.

"I'm coming." Taking a step out of the door, the bag in her hand drops to the floor when her eyes land on the third bag. "Where is your brother?" He spins to face her, the bag on his head almost falling. "Where's Tobe?"

"Tobe? He should be here..." the boy trails off, his eyes scan the damage as if his brother will mysteriously appear in front of him. "He came back. I told him to call you."

Gunshots pierce the unusual silence, they both jump. Fear flashes across his big eyes, tinges his voice when he says, "Mama."

Mama Tee's heart hammers as her eyes dart in the direction the shot is loudest. Her lips quiver, she shakes her head, refusing to harken to the plea in her son's eyes.

"Somtochukwu," she stalks to him, heart in her mouth as she rids him of the bag still on his head, "where's your younger brother?" Dread seeps into her voice, her eyes gloss with unshed tears. "Where's Tobenna?"

*   *   *

The theme song of the broadcasting station, NTA rents the quietude after Sullivan taps on a button on the black remote. Letting the remote drop to the brown leather sofa he is seated on, his arms spread on the couch, revealing the scanty grey hairs of his armpit and his legs cross at the ankles.

He licks his lips, a line marring his forehead as the broadcaster's voice comes on.

"News at eight. Today, we bring to you..."

Tuning her out as she rambles on about the latest developments in the country, a smile crawls up his face when a woman saunters in to join him on the sofa. Pulling his head down for a brief kiss, her fingers linger on his jaw full of grey hairs that had been dyed black. Their noses touch, they chuckle and her head comes to rest on his shoulders.

"Were they able to finish today?" she asks.

He strokes a side of her face, the diamond of the ring on his fourth finger glistens under the bright lights of the ceiling. Love dances in his eyes when he finally replies, "Yes."

She reaches for the remote, the matching band on her wedding finger catches the light, he screams, "Wait. One minute."

The topic on the television changes, his wife slides the remote to the stool at the edge of the seat and rubs his potbelly. His ears perk as the newscaster's eyes lower briefly to the paper in front of her, she starts in a dry voice, "Following the demolition at Ogige..."

His wife tickles him in the armpit, his lips press into a thin line as he tries to grasp the words of the presenter. "No lives were lost."

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