The Caged Bird Sings....

It’s the end of another day, and we’re stuck in the gloominess of power cuts. The night air is chilly, a huge relief from the scorching heat of the afternoon sun.
There are candles burning, as some of the girls study, while others talk about absolutely nothing... conversations about fashion, to the comic appearance of one of the teachers to Kannywood movies. Me? I’m just sitting here, wanting more out of life as Miriam weaves my hair. Dreaming of the day when I’ll burst out of this life I am cocooned in. The life of a small village, where fear and caution has been the order of the day lately… if ever I will.

Baba has high hopes for me, his first daughter. I’m writing my final exams, and rounding up secondary school, heading to the university, becoming a teacher, or perhaps a lawyer… he changes his hopes for me ever so often, I am confused myself. Mother thinks differently. She wants me married off. After all, she had her second child when she was my age, she knows just the right person for me… She says going back to school with the unrest in the village is madness; it’s better to just move on with life than die because of education. Her fear blocks her sense of reasoning sometimes. Baba says it’s because she’s never seen the four walls of a classroom. Me? I don’t know what I want. Maybe I do, but I tell myself I don’t, because it’s so far off from what is expected of me. I want adventure! I want people beyond the ears of my schoolmates to hear my voice and how beautiful it sounds when I sing, to applaud me, to give me flowers like in the movies. I want to be like the Bollywood movie stars, singing and dancing in beautiful outfits. I want to be famous. It sounds farfetched for a girl from a small village lost in the map like me, but a girl can only dream.

Miriam’s on the third plait of my hair, a skill she should be commended for, weaving in the dark… she’s that good. Miriam wants to become a doctor, her uncle thinks she’s too ambitious, she should look to be a midwife, I think she’s lucky, after her parents died during one of the raids in the neighboring village, her uncle took her on. Every one expected the conservative man to marry her off immediately, but I guess grief made him shame us and how little we thought of him, to our joy he let her continue with school. It took time to get her to do this favor of making my hair, it took me sacrificing tomorrows lunch as her fee, she loves her tuwo shinkafa, I love my tuwo shinkafa as well, but it was a price I had to pay, either that or have my hair cut off at assembly. The principal had warned me to weave my hair or watch her shave it off. That woman, she doesn’t understand that superstars don’t carry their hair in plaits. I’ve got beautiful soft hair that falls way below my shoulder. I love it when that rare afternoon wind blows and my hair flies, maybe it’s not as silky as that of the stars, but it is beautiful, especially when the wind tosses it around, makes me feel like I’m a sophisticated star… the bondage of plaits.

I’m drifting off in my thoughts of Amitabh Bachchan whisking me away, when suddenly I hear a commotion outside the dormitory. I hear the sound of cars. It sounds more like trucks. I peep out the window but only see the headlamps in the pitch-dark night, and then I see movements. Shadows of men, plenty of men with weapons.
A second of fear grips me as girls run helter skelter, covering up in fear, until we hear the comforting voice of the principal outside… it’s the army she says. They’ve come to take us to a safe location.
That’s a relief; the tension in the state has been horrible, the killings, the destruction. For a second I thought we were another one of the victims of this insanity.
I get a little excited as I file out with the rest; at least I get to have a little adventure for one night. It’s not close to a movie set, but it makes my life seem more interesting, especially when I add some fictional details as I recount it to Adama, my little brother. I step out with the rest of the girls with my half made hair… Miriam finds my hand and holds it tight, I can sense she’s scared, so I try to lighten her mood, I whisper, “our prayers have been answered, hopefully our exam tomorrow will be cancelled, we’ll have more time to prepare”, she doesn’t even acknowledge me.

As we stand outside, huddled together, I notice the leer on some of the faces of the men from the light the headlamps provide and my heart stops. At the same moment, the hostility of the environment pierces me and causes me goose bumps. This are not the good guys, these are living nightmares. We have been tricked. I hear shouts of commands, I see them hurling foodstuff from the school store, I see them shoving us into the trucks. I hear gunshots; I see them destroying properties and setting our hostels on fire. It’s all happening so fast, like the whole world is being vacuumed into this moment of doom within a split second.

We are all quite as the truck moves, this is beyond a nice little adventure, this is a horror story. The thing we have feared most has been surpassed, we feared death, but right now, death feels like heaven, it’s the unknown we fear, what do they want to do with us? What happens next? What about our parents? What would my poor Baba say? Oh, how proud he was of me… Mama? I can see her smallish frame disappear in despair when she hears I am gone.

As we go deep into the forest, the truck jouncing up and down in the bush path…. Our hearts are frozen with fear, there’s nothing like a flicker of hope hanging over us, I know this, because I can feel it from the silent tears of those around me, from the pain of Miriam’s finger nails digging into my arms. My eyes lock with the eyes of one of the insurgents, his eyes look glazed, his face looks hard and scary, but I stare on in defiance, I stare so hard he becomes so uncomfortable that he looks away….

I do what I know how to do most… I hum, and the hum turns into a song, I am hushed down in fear by Esther, we have been warned to be quite, I wouldn’t mind them shooting me for defying their orders; it’s better than the uncertainty we are driven into. I am past caring, my voice softly pierces into the night, the trees hear me, I pretend they applaud when the wind ruffles their leaves, and the other half of my unmade hair flies in the wind… Why does the caged bird sing? It sings for freedom, not from its cage, but for a release from the hopelessness within. I sing from the depth of my heart, I sing with my eyes wide open and dry, I cannot cry, I cannot let my tears blur the bright colors of the world dancing and cheering to my singing. I sing, as confetti’s are thrown at me, I sing as I appear on screen with Amitabh Bachchan … I sing because visualizing my dreams makes my heart light. I sing because it’s the only way I know how to free myself from this nightmare.


I wasn't sure if I was being insensitive writing this. Saying over 200 girls sometimes makes it less personal, even though it breaks our heart all the same. But I had to imagine an Amina from Chibok, a town i had never heard of prior to this horror, a girl like me when I was in secondary school. I had to create her and tell her story. Maybe if we pick the girls as individuals, we’ll be able to feel a fraction of what they feel and be moved to pray more than we’ve ever done for them. I ended her story where I did, because it’s hard to think beyond their capture, to make my mind imagine what they are going through, what horror sits in their minds. I pray God brings His girls back home. Let His love find them and lead them home.

I made a short video for this... There's a link to download the full soundtrack on the youtube page or on the picture in the sidebar if you like it.


  1. Incredibly deep,the way your mind works,will pray more now for their release,your write up drives home a lot

  2. Incredibly deep,the way your mind works,will pray more now for their release,your write up drives home a lot


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