If Ahmed had known, if only he had known.
The morning of the presidential election dawned grey as if in the tentative prophecy of impending doom. The clouds soared past in angry billows while threatening to unleash a torrential storm. Still, people were not too worried. For the past four days, the weather had come with annoying false starts of splattering rain that had traders scampering to secure their wares, very irritating.
The elections had been much publicized; every Ade, Abubakar, and Emeka had his ten kobos of an opinion and aired it for the world to hear. It was a matter of back and forths between the political parties. In actuality, it was a fight between the Brooms and the Umbrellas. The other parties were more or less social gatherings vying for the scraps left after the giants had fed. Ahmed was more concerned with his Slippers business in Mongari market. He had always stayed away from political settings when the discussion came up in groups in which he was present. He'd excuse himself or feign indifference. Still, he hadn't always been that way. It's said that 'Once bitten, twice Shy' During the last elections, he had campaigned vigorously for the Bayelsa man. After all, they had launched the skill acquisition initiative that moved him from a nefarious no-gooder to a shop owner. So, imagine his shock the next day when the electoral commission declared that no election had occurred in his polling unit and awarded a landslide victory to the opposition party. This same polling unit had been so crowded with people that it took four hours before he could cast his vote. No! Ahmed was done with Nigeria and its gimmicks at democracy. Yet, he couldn't bring himself to boycott the elections. He planned to go and vote quietly, hoping that it might count this time. Still, as for their campaign chants, their cheery enticements, empty promises, and uncreative slogans, they were water poured on a rock.
A few days ago, they had knocked on his door with plastic smiles and an envelope to “see how he was doing”. He slammed the door in their faces with a disgusted hiss. Escaping them on TV proved harder. Every channel seemed to be extolling good works that were suddenly springing up from thin fabricated air. Traditional chiefs were endorsing; association leaders were endorsing; pastors were endorsing. It was a wonder how they even had time to read the news amidst all the chatter. Among the chatter was an address by the President, declaring that anyone who had the audacity to snatch a ballot box would be shot on the spot. Nigerians naturally flared up at this. "Who was he to make such a declaration?" "Oh, now he's giving orders". "I don't blame him. It's because he knows that he has already lost". "No matter what he says, he must lose". "Leave that Jubril first". "His party does it the worst".
Ahmed was too much occupied with his Akara and Bread dinner to notice the threat; besides, there was hardly light to watch Television; the radio was all he had now when he could get the money to buy batteries.
And so the Election Day came around finally, and Ahmed rose with a groan. Prayers and an ablution later, he was trotting towards the polling unit set up in the community primary school field. He was a bit perturbed by the enormous military presence. Soldiers were toting rifles that refused to point downwards. They glowered with an intensity that made a civilian instinctively avoid eye contact. Those who defaulted were already going through frog jump motions, sitting in gutters and the works. Ahmed held his breath as he stepped up to be checked. The man frisking him went about it as roughly as he could get away with, and when satisfied, he practically shoved Ahmed through the gate.
Two hours later, votes were yet to be cast. Something about the Smartcard readers going haywire. Then later, it was the issue of the power outage and a faulty generator. The electoral commissioner in charge soon mysteriously disappeared. Three whole hours flew by before the first votes fluttered to the bottom of the ballot box. Ahmed was lucky to be in the first set to cast their votes. He perused the ballot paper as he wet his thumb in ink, "Criminals", he muttered under his breath. After appending his thumbprint, he folded the paper as he had seen them do on TV and sauntered to the Ballot box set on a plastic stool in full view of all and sundry. Still, the woman in front of him had other ideas. She waddled languidly towards the box with her ballot paper clutched tightly in her fist. Ahmed's attempts to Sidestep her failed as her bulk was no match for Ahmed’s frail frame. She finally made it to the box and squeezed in her ballot paper. She was spending so much time that Ahmed almost offered to help her. Still, just before he could vocalize his offer, she let out a noisy sigh of relief and turned quickly to leave but unknown to her in her fight with the ballot box, she’d left it unbalanced, and just as Ahmed steeped up to cast his vote, the box slipped and tumbled to the ground, Ahmed instinctively reached out to catch the reservoir of the people’s decision. Even as his fingers connected with the warm plastic, he knew something was dreadfully wrong, gruff shouts came from behind him, and he whirled to see what the matter was. A soldier was running towards him, hands fumbling furiously at his holster. In that split second it took for the gun to come up, Ahmed realized that he was in mortal danger, and an explanation came surging from his lungs. Still, the bullets got there faster; deadly punches that flung him backwards onto the thirsty red sand, his fingers gripping the now blood-soaked ballot paper shook feebly. Anyone who had bothered leaning towards him would have heard him muttering "No, No, No" over and over and over.
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