Safe Haven

by Nathalie Ukwu

It was a regular night at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). As I placed my textbooks in my navy blue and grey bag that was handed down to me from Mama, I remembered an old ‘Ghana-must-go‘ bag in Lagos full of my textbooks from secondary school and wondered if, after my campus years, I would also store these away in a similar way, never to be revisited.

It was not strange that I had such a random thought considering the deafening silence that loomed in the air with occasional sounds of crickets that I knew were miles away but sounded like they were right there in my room. Focusing back on the silence, I soon realized that it was preparing me for what felt like a sound effect from a blockbuster thriller. My phone rang and it was Mama calling to ensure I was prepared for my penultimate final year paper.

Ghana-must-go’ bag = A type of cheap matted woven nylon zipped tote bags, used by the migrants to move their belongings, got the name “Ghana Must Go” during the 1983 migration from Nigeria. (Wikipedia)

As we conversed, I was again interrupted by loud banging on my rusty metal door which had a wide gap underneath as if it were an invitation for insects and reptiles seeking shelter and warmth. I asked Mama to hold on while I checked in the mirror to make sure I was decent. I asked who it was, and the banging came again, this time accompanied by the voice of a grown man demanding to be let in. I was puzzled and knew for a fact that it was not my neighbor Victor, who usually locked up his burglary proofing as soon as he returned from his lectures.

“Please open the door! I am being chased by gunmen. I was on my way back from fellowship”, the strange man went ahead to explain.

Not remotely convinced by his response, and terrified at the possibility of his being a thief or worse, the gunman himself(!), I made up my mind not to let him in.

Filled with anxiety

“Sorry, I don’t know who you are, and I am not alone. Please find somewhere else to hide but certainly not a female student’s room”, I responded.

There was a long pause, and I heard the sound of his back rubbing against my door which could only mean he had sat on the landing in adamant refusal to leave me be. I became aware of the possibility of being killed by the gunmen for his ‘crime’ if they found him by my door. I reached out to my light switch and turned it off while shutting my curtains simultaneously.

I walked quietly to my bathroom, shut the door, and stood away from the window filled with so much anxiety that when I unlocked my phone and the LED beamed in the dark bathroom I quickly dimmed it noticing two missed calls from Mama and realizing that I was oblivious of my loud ringtone as I tried to get the strange man to leave.

The image shows a young black woman hiding in a dark room. Photo by Nick Owuor (Astro.nic.visuals) on Unsplash

I called a shuttle driver popularly known as ‘Mbata’ who had previously informed me that he also carried out school security duties at night and informed him of the security situation. I returned Mama’s call and called my father immediately after. However, when I called my neighbor he could not understand why I was so terrified and at this point, I was certain the strange man would break in, and I would be all alone.

Moments later, the security team arrived and the young man was apprehended outside my room. I fearfully opened my door after much persuasion which seemed so unnatural this time and saw he had a Bible in his hand as he was being interrogated. I argued within myself if it was all an act or if he was genuinely being pursued.

Ironically, anywhere away from home would be my safe haven.

Although I was impressed by the quick response of the school security staff, I also feared the possibility of a retaliatory attack if he really was up to no good. I, therefore, decided that I would spend some time away at the Conference and Ecumenical Centre (CEC) guest house on campus, where I was sure that I would be safe for the night and for the few days I had left in school.

As I sat in the shuttle bus that reluctantly agreed to pick me up so late at night, I imagined the different scenarios that could have resulted from my predicament and knew that ironically, anywhere away from home would be my safe haven.

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Nathalie Ukwu is a graduate of Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) who is passionate about expressing herself through all forms of written literature. She lives in Enugu, Nigeria.

The featured image depicts a rusty brown metal door as well as a small side window, both secured with burglary proofing.