The Prime Minister of Tawa - 64
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Rhymala’s maid servant came to her crying. ‘They took my son away and he is my only son. Can’t you ask them to return him to me? Don’t you know the Big Chief very well?’
‘I don’t understand. When did the soldiers come to your house? And why did they take your son away? He’s just ten, isn’t he?’ The woman was sobbing uncontrollably and Rhymala could not easily figure out what she was saying. ‘And why do you think Big Chief can help? He is in hiding himself. Why would the soldiers listen to him?
It took Rhymala some time to figure out what the women was saying. Finally, it emerged that it was not the army which had taken away her son, but the SFF. Rhymala knew that towards the end of the previous phase of the war, the SFF had used a little bit of pressure to encourage men of fighting age to join up. But to force a ten-year-old to join them was ... was criminal. An enraged Rhymala tried to contact Hanoleeyan or anyone else in the SFF, but it was not so easy. Every SFF leader worth his salt had gone into hiding. Rhymala herself had been tempted to follow suit, but finally had decided to stay put. She was not really involved in the resistance this time. And more importantly, she didn’t have the energy to hide, run and hide again. In any event, she did not really believe that the SFF could win the current war of attrition. They will never defeat us, SFF slogans plastered on the walls around Eko proclaimed. That was quite right. The Tawan government would never beat the SFF. But then the SFF was not going to throw the Tawan army out of Seedaland either.
After two days, Rhymala managed to establish contact with Hanoleeyan. There had to be a mistake, Rhymala was sure. Hanoleeyan would never have allowed the forcible recruitment of children. Not when he was about to have a baby of his own. Hanoleeyan’s response came back to her after a few days. Rhymala should mind her own business. The SFF desperately needed ten-year-olds to join the fight. No, they would not do any real fighting. But they would only act as messenger boys or help transport weapons. The Tawan soldiers were unlikely to search a car if a couple of young boys were in that car. ‘In that case, why do you want to take them away from their families?’ Rhymala asked. ‘Why can’t they be sent back to their homes once they’ve done whatever dirty job you wanted them to do?’ An irritated Hanoleeyan agreed to get Rhymala’s maid servant back to his mother.
After the boy was returned, the maid servant was ever so grateful to Rhymala. ‘Do you know of any other boys who have been taken away?’ Rhymala asked her.
‘Yes. My neighbour’s son has also been taken away,’ she said. The maid was silent. She knew that Rhymala would not be able to pull strings yet again.
‘Tell your neighbour that these boys are not used in the fighting. They are only used as messenger boys and the like.’
‘But that’s not true,’ the maid protested. ‘My son has calluses on his hand on account of drilling with a rifle. Some on his shoulders as well.’ At first Rhymala did not believe her maid servant. No, the SFF in which she had played such an important role could not have done that. Just to prove to herself that her maid was wrong, she had gone to the maid’s house to meet the boy and see for herself. One look at the boy’s traumatised face told Rhymala that she had been totally wrong. However, the maid insisted on her son taking off his shirt to show Rhymala the callus on his left shoulder where he had carried a rifle. The callus on his palms confirmed what the maid had said.
Rhymala took a day to decide how she should react. Finally, she decided to serve an ultimatum to the SFF. Either stop recruiting child soldiers or I’ll write about what you’re doing, she informed Hanoleeyan. Just as she had written about the army’s atrocities in the past, she would now write about the SFF’s atrocities. Her threat had the desired effect. Hanoleeyan agreed to suspend the recruitment of children below the age of fifteen. And what was more, he invited Rhymala to his hideout to discuss it with her even further. Rhymala refused to meet Hanoleeyan. He was no better than an animal and she wanted to have nothing to do with him. Since she refused to go to Hanoleeyan’s hideout, Hanoleeyan sent two men to Rhymala’s house. The men who went to meet Rhymala were in their teens, but even they knew that Rhymala had contributed a lot to the SFF. Also, they had specific instructions not to cause her any pain. So, they shot her in the centre of her forehead and gave her a speedy death, something many people wished for but did not get in that part of the world, in those days.
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