Amina walked out the door and down the deserted road nervously. She didn't look back so that her mother wouldn't see the fear in her eyes and beg her to stay home. She had to do this. Her future and her family's depended on it. She looked around for support but found none. So far, she had only seen two goats and a dog. There wasn't a soul outside. Not even signs of life like cooking pots and remains of last night's charcoal fires. Nothing. As she walked past the third house, Amina began to wonder whether leaving home had been a good idea. It now seemed quite unlikely that the exams would hold today. Who would be crazy enough to come out? Her schoolmates would laugh at her when they heard. That is if she made it back alive. Should she turn back and go home? At least, she had made an effort. Amina kept going. She could not explain why. A few minutes later, she saw someone. Finally! A middle-aged man from the look of it. He was wobbling along the path with his back to her, clutching a bundle of firewood. From his slight hunchback and slender frame, it was Mallam Yinusa on his way back home- most likely from the forest. His house was not very far off- just beyond the huge, gnarled kapok tree by the marketplace. Amina had never been happier to see anyone in her entire life! “Good morning, Mallam!” she cried. He whirled round in astonishment to see Amina walking right behind him. His mouth fell open. “Amina! Kai, kai, kai! Where are you going this morning? Do your parents know you are out? Don't they know what's going on?” Amina squirmed, “I know, Mallam. But I need to be in school this morning for my exams.” Mallam Yinusa frowned. “You children and this school madness! The village is not safe. Stay indoors! Go home! School can wait!” Seeing that he was not having any luck dissuading her, he added with a sigh, “Alright! If you insist on going to school, I wouldn't advise you to follow this path. It's far too exposed. Anything can happen here. Go through the farms until you get close to school.” Amina thanked him for the advice and watched as he disappeared behind some mud huts which had weatherworn thatch roofs. Her face fell again. She was alone once more. Just a little girl on a lonely, dangerous road. She trudged on warily. A bit further on, she made out two dark figures ahead of her. Her heart lurched. They were about sixty yards away and heading in her direction. As they hurriedly approached, she realized that they were holding machetes. One was shorter and stockier than the other. She heard their hushed, angry voices despite the distance. Sound travelled faster in graveyard silence. When they realized that they were not alone they stopped talking and maintained a more cautious pace. Amina's heart pounded loudly. She could not turn and run. That would be foolhardy as it would raise suspicion and they would definitely catch up with her. She would just have to pray that they were not ‘Boko Haram' (Islamic terrorists) and would just walk on by. The alternative was almost certain death. Her school uniform would draw ire. She thought of the kidnapped Chibok girls for a minute and almost passed out. Most were still missing! The two men looked more menacing as they approached, both wearing amulets on their arms and ankles. Their dirty, brown clothes had sprinkles of dark red. As they drew closer, she noticed that they were both glaring at her. She wanted to disappear! Amina's throat was dry, lips parched. Her heart thumped maddeningly against her rib cage. It wanted out! She clutched her pencil tightly till her palm almost bled. Death was just a few yards away. Was it too late to run? But her legs wouldn't have taken her far as they were almost giving way. For some reason, she found them still ambling on. The two men were a few steps away now. Their eyes were bloodshot and even more dislikeable. Amina was certain that someone had died by their hands that morning. Perhaps, it was her turn to suffer a similar fate? They scowled at her. It was then she recognized their faces. They were both local hunters- probably on morning patrol following rumours of an impending ‘Boko Haram' attack on the village. In her state, Amina was too terrified to greet them. Neither party exchanged pleasantries. From their expressions, however, it was clear they disapproved of her presence on the road. She was a distraction. They would rather preoccupy their minds with genuine threats, not little girls in school uniforms. These sentiments were vividly conveyed but not voiced. As they passed her on either side, they reeked of a foul stench of blood and death. Amina breathed a huge sigh of relief when they passed and quickened her pace. She had almost died of fright. She knew she couldn't go through such an ordeal again and had to get to Bilkisu's house as quickly as possible. She couldn't do this alone anymore.

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