When we were Young Part 2 – by Abidemi Adebola “Sometimes our best love moments
Chapter 14 -“The Missing Piece”
Catch up on chapter 13 here
The Missing Piece
The dawn sent shimmering rays of lights through the only window in the room but it was the dawn declared by the cockerel’s calling that woke Benjamin up. And with it came the freshness of his muscles and body. He woke up as though it was an emergency. Waking up was no longer the pleasure it was as his memory needed a moment to shed sleep from his brain. He had no clue how he got into the bed, let alone in a clean room.
With his sight still in the clutches of the night’s glue, Benjamin hesitantly rubbed the dreams away from his eyes as he sat upright on the bed. The smell of warm clean sheets welcomed him as he took in the ambience of the room. It had a bedside drawer on top of which sat a digital alarm clock. It was 7.35am! Other than that, the walls had no story to tell, it carried no artwork nor pictures nor calendar. The concrete floor was clean and devoid of dirt, the room had no electric fan or any modern gadget except that alarm clock.
The last he remembered was seeing a Ghost! Or was it real?
Promptly, he got out of bed and walks briskly to the only door in the room. He turned the handle gently and it opened silently. He is barefooted as he walked across what seemed to be the living room towards the entrance door into the house. The same one he had used the night before.
There he found Mr. George, smack in his wheel chair in an animated discussion with an elderly couple, trading banters over a cup of what looked like a local tea of some sort.
Mr. George adjusts his spectacles gingerly over his badly deformed nose while exuding a majestic and yet calming poise. To Benjamin’s horror, his limbs were conspicuously missing and what was left of the stump was wrapped in a fresh bandage delicately pinned in place.
The petrified look on Benjamin’s face bore the semblance of someone denying the reality for a moment. Nevertheless, he quickly embraced his former boss in a swift hunching move, not minding his hot cup of tea on one frail hand.
It was an emotional reconnection. In that instant he felt alive again! The whole trouble was suddenly worth it. He would have hated himself if he had simply ignored the obvious all the while.
But now he had tons of questions that needed answers. Too many questions he didn’t know where to start from.
The young man he had met late the night before offered him a bench to sit on. But his gaze never left his former boss as though he expected him to disappear without a trace. Again!
He was quickly introduced to the elderly couple- Amina and Abdul, while their son Abu was his chaperone. His response was genial and polite, but he would rather just catch up with Mr. George.
There was 4years worth of his experience to share in.
He handed over his mobile phone to Abu, asking him politely to connect it to electricity. He needed it charged so he could communicate with Allen as soon as he had the necessary information.
When Mr. George started his story, his deep voice was devoid of emotions and pain. He told it as though it was some folktale story passed on to the younger generation.
“It was a difficult experience Benjamin. My life has you know it indeed ended four years ago and I belong here now. This is all I have and I owe my life to this family that nursed me to good health. I have lived in the shadows for a long time here in this village and for as long as I remain here, physically impaired, I may not fight the battle to rid our country of these opportunist carrying out unapproved vaccination and trials on innocent children in rural communities” He paused and looked at the stump of his limbs, as though reminding himself that he could never use them again.
“ I travelled to Bagaji village on the outskirts of Keffi in my SUV to investigate and add flesh to my story on the rogue Nollywood star – Mahmud. I was interested in the story because people don’t just get violent in relationships suddenly. It is often deep rooted in their upbringing and childhood. They could easily just be victims of domestic violence themselves while watching their parents or guardians batter each other. I was convinced that having a strong background to that story will shed another perspective on the murder case.”
He took a sip from his now warm tea.
“And so I arrived at the village to meet chaos. Wailing mothers, teary eyed elders and angry young men brandishing all sort of weapons. I was almost attacked, not until I showed them my identification card. I was merely a journalist coming to investigate one of their own. But the scene was pitiful. Children laid dead on the dirt road naked and contorted in awkward positions. They looked deformed with disproportionate heads and limbs. It was clear that this was an experiment gone wrong. Children don’t just grow over-sized heads with gorged eyeballs! I counted 26 of them that morning. I was mortified with anger.”
“I asked for the local leader of the village, that was when I met with Imam Bala- the village head. He is Mahmud’s father”
“I met him too” Benjamin found his voice.
“Bala was conducting the final burial rites for the children in unmarked graves when I met him. Apparently, the young men in the village had violently chased away the health vaccinators from their camp. They asked them to leave and never return. Their exit was unplanned and so they had leaving little time to take away their tents and other equipment which would become evidence of their intrusion into the community years after. The community wanted it so”
“I visited the camp site. Got a note of all the kids that had received doses of the vaccination. 130 children were unfortunate beneficiaries of this untested and inhuman doses of god-knows-what”
“Do you still have the list Boss?” Benjamin interjected quickly.
“Yes I do” George takes a mouthful of the tea and passed the cup to Abu for a refill. But Benjamin’s eyes never left his former boss.
“I learnt that they moved to the adjoining villages too. And so I stopped over at three villages in close proximity when I left Bagaji. I found another medical team at Dwagi Village. I was determined to find some sort of information on the trials and if the Federal Ministry of Health had endorsed such despicable medical experiments on its own people”
“I met with the Chief medical examiner at the fourth village I visited. He is German……erhh…….I can’t recollect his name right now” He was silent for a moment as he tried to pull out a name from his checkered memory.
“Can’t remember now. He barely offered any helpful information. Especially when I brandished my Identification card. He kept on speaking in German. I knew he was playing me for a fool and that instant I suspected that there was more to this trials than I had initially imagined. One local member of the medical team referred me to the state commissioner for health” He paused as Abu returned with a fresh brew of the local tea.
“Thank you” he muttered as he took a slobbering sip. George’s wrinkled face crumpled as he rubbed it with his spotted hand. The scars of his ordeal was in every cell of his body.
“And so I returned to the keffi town in good time before the close of business for the day. I met with the health commissioner on his way out of the office premises. He apparently recognized me instantly and gave me a warm welcome. I was relieved to at least find found to share the horrific scenes I had witnessed. He was empathetic but not alarmed. And surprisingly, he denied knowing about any such trials. It felt like I was pulling a blank everywhere I turned. No one seemed to know what was going on, or they simply feigned ignorance”
George adjusted himself on his wheel chair. It looked wobbly but stable from Benjamin’s position.
“By now I was convinced that whatever they were doing was illegal and unapproved. When I left the commissioner’s office, I put a phone call to my contacts at the Federal Ministry of health to lodge a complaint. I was put on hold for a few minutes and then the contact advised that someone will get in touch with me. He asked for my exact location and promised to revert. By now I was getting a bit worried. It was getting a quite late and I planned to return to Abuja that night.”
“But true to my contact’s word, a certain Mr. Anderson called me, when I……..”
“He called me too Boss. He called me….” Benjamin sounded like an excited kindergarten that moment. He embarrassingly kept quiet when he saw Mr. George’s expression.
“He introduced himself as the medical lead for the trials and that all the information about it was genuine and that he could share if I wanted some. Of course I needed proof. So we decided to meet at a local diner in the city by 6pm that evening. He arrived the diner before I did, he was an impeccably dressed middle aged man and clearly well learned. He is Ghanaian too, strangely so, who worked for a global pharmaceutical company trying a new vaccine for polio.”
He took another sip from his tea. This time he took even more time to catch his breath. All four of his audience waited patiently.
“We had a fierce argument somewhere during the meeting. He admitted that the trials were not approved by the health ministry but denied that the vaccines caused the death of 80 or so children in the Bagaji village. I warned him about continuing the trials and advised him to shut down the trials. He was defiant and claimed that their approval was in progress anyway and that there was nothing illegal in the whole operations. I left him at the diner in utter disgust”
“Since it was now clear to me what they were up to, I started my journey back to Abuja. I planned to take it up with the Ministry of Health the next morning. The Mahmud murder story would have to wait. And then the rain started midway into the trip. Out of nowhere, a car rammed into my SUV from behind. It was so sudden I couldn’t figure what happened at the time. The car started hydroplaning dangerously till I hit a bad pothole.
When I stepped on the brakes, it suddenly went out flat and unresponsive.I was practically helpless. I watched that blue sedan that hit me drive away. Two other cars hit me one after the other recklessly till my car turned over. I had a good chance of surviving the wreckage when everything stopped. But my car went over the edge of the cliff and plunged head first into the rocky terrain below. My legs where crushed violently and I was thrown off the car as it bounced ominously along the cliff”
“Of course, I was unconscious at the time. I was lucky to be rescued by fishermen from this village who had gone farther away from the shore to find more fishes. They had seen the car fall off the cliff and watched in horror as my lifeless body was tossed into the river. They heaved my bloodied body into their boat and carried me off to Imam Abdul who was kind enough to attend to me”
There was a welcomed silence. Unease filled the vacuum created.
“I was in coma for weeks, when I regained consciousness, I had lost both my legs, had two badly damaged vertebrae removed from my back and a partially blind eye. I was confined to the bed for months. It was a long torturous journey before I regained the use of my arm, let alone to write. I could barely feed myself. My limbs were severed to save my life.”
He took a sip of his tea whilst his audience looked on still.
“I was only able to regain my motor skills almost three years after the accident. A local traditional practitioner visited everyday of those three years and Amina and her husband provided all the support I needed including purchasing this second hand wheel chair a few months ago. And so I started to take evening walks with Abu. He was my companion and confidant”
Abu smiled when he realized George had mentioned his name and then turned his face away.
“I started teaching at the local primary school. I needed to make sense of what was left of my life. I made good friends with a lot of the fishermen too. They often brought me a lot of fresh fish in the evenings. One month ago, during my evening walk, I stumbled on the medical camp of the same pharmaceutical company right here in Burukutu”
This time, Abu helped George to get his mug so he could take a sip.
“They had recently set up camp and I knew right there that I was not going to let the same thing I witnessed in Bagaji happen this time, now that I had a second chance to life. I was livid, but I no longer had the physical strength to pursue my desire. Then I thought to get a message through to you and Pete somehow”
“Pete is dead boss” Benjamin chips in quickly.
“Yes I am aware”
“Oh well, I asked Abu to sneak into the camp and pick up any official papers he could find in any of the tents. After three attempts we found a couple of papers. I scribbled my signature and initials on each document with the hope that if you see the encrypted message, it would lead you somehow to any of the towns where the trials were actively going on. I wasn’t hoping that you would find me at the time”
“I pleaded with one of the fishermen- Joe to deliver the envelope with the documents to you. But he returned after a week saying that you had relocated from the address I gave to him in Abuja. Joe later returned to find Pete.”
“Did you make a phone call to me or send an SMS?” Benjamin couldn’t wait to ask the burning question all morning.
“ I sent an SMS using my old SIM card which was surprisingly functioning the first time I tried it. I had switched the SIM card into Amina’s phone. But the SIM card was apparently blocked afterwards and it was of no use”
“Right” Benjamin heaved.
“After I waited a week and no response from Pete, I again pleaded with Joe to visit Pete’s address to find out if there was any update. But he came back with news of his demise. I instantly knew that they had gotten to him. Now I was leaving trails of death with whomever I contacted. I feared for your life especially if the document got into the wrong hands because I addressed it to you”
At this point Benjamin narrated an abridged version of his story.
The whole story left him enraged. The atrocities committed against the people of the region had to stop. He affirmed
“Do you have any more document I can scan and send to the media?” Benjamin asked with a determined look.
“Yes, Benjamin, I have got lots of it. Abu’s trips to steal documents at the camp was always a success”
“Can I have my phone now?. It’s time to put an end to this”
It was already 10.30am by the time they were done.
One last Chapter and the Prisoner of Fate will be rested.. I hope you enjoyed the story. Please drop a comment.
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