Alheri never smiles; except when she cuts down a soldier by bullets or machete. Or when high on the new mix of hashish. Like last night’s. She had taken enough to kill two men, but then, she is Alheri: she kills at least two men every other week. Last night’s dose was just right for this assignment: our last, Alheri and I. I had kept a sober mind and mean face as I absorbed the last instructions of Al-Zakariya, our platoon commander. But Alheri was all giggles–the hashish. We are the best, Alheri and I, and today we will be performing the most important assignment so far. Today, we become our ages, doing things people our age do: go to school. My uniform is crisp, Alheri’s is a bit crumpled. Crisp or crumpled, covering the explosives strapped to our bodies is the important thing and on that, the uniforms are serving well. We mouth the anthem the students chant every morning on their assembly ground. I moisten my lips every minute–the harmattan. I steal a glance at Alheri, five rows away. She looks calm. A part of my heart goes to her. In a few minutes, we will meet in a better place. Free of the cruelty that had taken our parents. The president arrives on schedule. News says he wants to show solidarity to the student community for the girls that were abducted. I do not care. Al-Zakariya says he must die, and die he shall, Insha Allah. But beyond Al-Zakariya’s incitement, he must die for his inability to protect our community from his rampaging soldiers, who instead of protecting us, had shot every one of our villagers, branding us terrorists. From the bushes where we took refuge, we had watched our parents, who didn’t know how to hold a gun, lined up alongside others and shot, then burned. News had called it a Boko Haram attack.
The president’s speech is brief and lifeless. I can see the smile twitch ever so often. The harmattan, I guess. Or he just has to wear it for the flashing cameras. He walks into the assembled students, his entourage with him. He touches one, smiles at the other as he hurriedly makes his way through the throng. I cringe at his touch. “Now!” Alheri’s high-pitch voice cuts the dry air like razor. What? “Now!” Alheri yells a second time. This isn’t the plan. It is too late. Alheri is reaching for the detonator in her pocket. Two of the security men with the President move in her direction. The others form a ring around the President. The two men are on her as she brings out the detonator. One clamps his hands over hers and struggles with her. Alheri’s hands are steel. “Alheeeeeerrii!” I screamed. My detonator has been in my hand since the President arrived. Now, I raise it up. The President and the ring of security around him freeze at the sight. “For you, Alheri” I say as I press the detonation button. The silence that follows is heart-wrenching. There is no explosion. My heart sinks and I moan as the first strong arms hold me in a death grip. We have failed each other. And Al-Zakariya. And our parents. “Alher – “ I begin to say in a whimper. I hear the explosion from Alheri’s end. Then nothing.