“Girls at War”
The first time their paths crossed nothing happened. That was in the first heady days of warlike preparation when thousands of young men (and sometimes women too) were daily turned away from enlistment centres because far too many of them were coming forward burning with readiness to bear arms in defence of the exciting new nation.
The second time they met was at a check-point at Awka. Then the war had started and was slowly moving southwards from the distant northern sector. He was driving from Onitsha to Enugu and was in a hurry. Although intellectually he approved of thorough searches at road-blocks, emotionally he was always offended whenever he had to submit to them. He would probably not admit it but the feeling people got was that if you were put through a search then you could not really be one of the big people. Generally he got away without a search by pronouncing in his deep, authoritative voice: ‘Reginald Nwankwo, Ministry of Justice.’ That almost always did it. But sometimes either through ignorance or sheer cussedness the crowd at the odd check-point would refuse to be impressed. As happened now at Awka. Two constables carrying heavy Mark 4 rifles were watching distantly from the roadside leaving the actual searching to local vigilantes.
‘I am in a hurry,’ he said to the girl who now came up to his car. ‘My name is Reginald Nwankwo, Ministry of Justice.’
‘Good afternoon, sir. I want to see your boot.’
‘Oh Christ! What do you think is in the boot?’
‘I don’t know, sir.’
He got out of the car in suppressed rage, stalked to the back, opened the boot and holding the lid up with his left hand he motioned with the right as if to say: After you!
‘Are you satisfied?’ he demanded.
‘Yes, sir. Can I see your pigeon-hole?’