Third Extract From The Last Bature

 
The Author and Friends in the Bush:1971

The Author and Friends in the Bush:1971

Chapter VII: Blood and Guts

[…]The police Land-Rover approached the military checkpoint on the way out of Mokuba Township and Mike Stevens slowed the vehicle. Normally, the military would simply wave police vehicles through without them having to stop, but on this occasion, the soldier on duty held up his hand in a clear signal to stop.
“What the hell is wrong with this bloke?” said Mike, to no one in particular.
“He is just a boy, sir,” said Bello. “It is probably his first time on roadblock duty.”
Mike brought the Land-Rover to a halt and the soldier walked to the driver’s side with a smile plastered all over his face. However, when he saw that a white man was sitting in the driver’s seat, his lips fell apart and he emitted two sharp sounds from his mouth.
“Ah! Ah! You go be policeman, sa,” cried the young soldier, staring at Mike’s tunic top.
Mike, now quite used to such reactions from young Nibanans, unaccustomed to seeing white men in police uniform, simply said, “Why have you stopped us, Private? You can see we are police officers on official business.”
“Sorry, sa, I never sabby1 master him dey for motor. I tink say na Nibana man him dey for motor,” said the soldier, in his quaint pidgin English.
“Yes, I dare say you weren’t expecting to see a white man in a police uniform. You were expecting there to be only Nibanan policemen inside, weren’t you? But what plans had you in mind if I had not been here, I wonder?” said Mike, brusquely.
It is probable that the soldier only understood a quarter of what Mike said because he looked blankly at Inspector Akure sitting in the passenger seat and said, “I never sabby what dissy master him go talk me.”
Bello, well aware of what the soldier was up to, replied in the Usmar language, “Then you had better let us go pretty quickly before this bature calls your barracks on our radio and reports you for harassing the police.”
The soldier became quite agitated and said, “OK, sa, make you go now, now, sa. Bye-bye, tank you, sa.”
“Bye-bye,” said Mike, mimicking the soldier, as he let the clutch out and roared off as fast as he could.
“Bloody little bastard, he was after dash2 or cigarettes, wasn’t he?” said Mike as he slowed the vehicle to a more comfortable pace.
“Yes, something like that,” said Bello, resignedly. “Since the army took control of the country these soldiers have become bolder and bolder by the month. They would never have dared to stop us three months ago, sir. It was only because you were in the vehicle that he let us go without asking for something, despite me being an inspector.”
“Yes, and it’s going to get worse,” said Mike, with a sigh. “Though it’s a good job he didn’t realise that our radio is only tuned to police frequencies, eh, Bello.”
“Oh, yes, I had forgotten that you speak Usmar, sir, It is just as well I did not say anything derogatory about you, sir,” the smile on Bello’s face indicating the joke.
Mike Stevens laughed and said, “Yes, Bello you have to be careful what you say in that lingo of yours when I’m around. Though, as you know, my Usmar is of the kitchen variety. Good only for greetings, farewells and ordering beer and food.”
“Yes, sir,” said Bello, still smiling broadly.
They made good progress despite the terrible road conditions, and just as Mike Stevens was assuring himself they would arrive at Yula well before dark, he spotted a problem in the distance.
The long straight section of road enabled Mike to see quite a way ahead, but what he saw did not inspire him. It looked as though vehicles were blocking the carriageway, or rather the debris of vehicles, large trucks or mammy-wagons by the look of things. As they drew closer the three police officers realised they were going to face further delay.
There had been a head-on collision between two trucks, but there was also a mammy-wagon involved and the carnage was enormous. Apart from the distorted remains of the steel cabs and chassis, and the smashed remnants of the ubiquitous wooden bodies that were fitted to all indigenously operated trucks and buses in Nibana, the road was littered with market produce and personal belongings. There was something else littering the road too; human bodies, dozens of them, lying in grotesque forms, many covered in blood. Some of the bodies were so badly mutilated they were beyond recognition; others were simply lying there as though sleeping. There were other people who had escaped injury altogether and they occupied themselves in trying to comfort the more seriously injured, but with no medical knowledge or equipment they could do little to help.
Mike pulled to the side of the road and instructed Bello to get on the radio to the local police post and ask them to arrange for the nearest hospital to send ambulances, doctors and equipment. He and Constable Rufai then approached the scene with trepidation.
Almost immediately, the people who had escaped injury began wailing and screaming at the two policemen, imploring them to do something about the seriously injured people lying in the road. With no equipment other than the first-aid box carried by all police vehicles, Mike decided that the best he could do was to assure the hapless survivors that he had requested help from the nearest police post. This seemed to calm them somewhat and Mike began the grim task of determining how many of the victims were actually alive. He began to examine the bodies lying in the road and, after a few moments, instructed the constable to do the same.
The majority of the passengers in the mammy-wagon had been women and children, and it sickened Mike Stevens to see the extent of the slaughter around him. Some were lying still and some were moaning, others were screaming in pain. Clearly, when the medics turned up, these were the people needing attention first. As Mike tried to sort some kind of priority list by writing numbers on pages torn from his notebook and placing them on the victim’s bodies where the medics would see them, the uninjured passengers began protesting at some of Mike’s decisions. The constant panicky chatter from these people began to irritate him and Mike ordered them to sit at the side of the road and be quiet. He was more than aware that he may be making wrong decisions, but he felt he had to do something so not to waste the medics’ time.
Mike had counted fifty-four people at the scene. The two truck drivers were dead in their cabs along with six others who had obviously been passengers in both trucks, their mangled bodies hanging in grotesque poses amongst the distorted metal and therefore Mike wasted no further time on them.
From the way in which the vehicles had ended up in the road, it was clear the mammy-wagon had tried to overtake one of the trucks, but couldn’t make it before the other truck, approaching from the opposite direction, hit both the mammy-wagon and the truck it was overtaking. It was the old, old story, Mike had seen the result of reckless overtaking many times before, and he shook his head in sadness at the waste of life and the stupidity of it all[…]

1 Understand/know.
2A bribe, but it can also mean a gratuity.

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