Everyone demands a spice of danger in their lives. Some get it vicariously––as in street fights. Some read about it. Some find it at the cinema. Too much safety is abhorrent to the nature of a human being. Men find danger in many ways––women are induced to finding their danger mostly in the affairs of s*x. That is why, perhaps, they welcome the hint of the tiger––the sheathed claws, the treacherous spring. The excellent fellow who will make a good and kind husband––they pass him by.
Richard was driving back to Cain’s apartment after finishing one of his mother’s culinary delights; a dish of rice hot enough to scorch his uvula. We think a lot mostly when we are alone. And most of our thoughts then were concerned with what we have done in the past, or what we are likely going to do in the future to come.
Richard knew he had a serious apology to make to Abigail; he had made a complete Buttocks of himself when he kissed her. The laughing-always-happy girl had been through hell in life. Who would ever have thought that the girl had been so unfortunate? Nobody would have guessed that she had lost her mother when she was only two and her father murdered by the man who forced her to marry him. Also, she once had a boyfriend who was floating on the lagoon. The platitude that if we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back had a new meaning to Richard. That same girl may lose her life by her demented husband. The thought about Abigail being brutally murdered was unbearable to Richard. What method will the crazy husband try to use this time? Will it look like an accident? Surely, the crime would not be connected to Cain. Other atrocities he had committed did not come home to him. Cain was like the perfect criminal on whom no crime could possibly be charged. Moreover, a rich man like him would be difficult to convict. Richard tried to get the thought off his mind and concentrate on his driving.
The horrible thought came again.
Cain had killed his first wife because all her wealth came to him automatically. He had killed Abigail’s boyfriend because he had tried to blackmail him, and Cain hated being a victim of blackmail. What would he gain by killing Abigail? Richard racked his brain but found no motive. A wild thought suddenly struck his mind like a matador––Othello! Othello killed his wife because he thought Desdemona was having an affair with Cassio. Cain might want to kill Abigail because he thought she was having an affair with me. Sweat broke out of Richard’s forehead. Or Cain’s probably a psychopath. Psychopathic killers don’t kill for any reason but for because they enjoyed doing so. They take it as an entertainment––a game. Richard sighed. He remembered what Cain had said on the way to the airport––I like playing games. The greatest punishment was the one inflicted on the people you care about. How much worse that pain would be if you had to live with the knowledge that the innocent person had been dealt early death as surrogates for you, punished for your offence. And the unbearable guilt would be that you didn’t take any action when you had the chance to stop this innocent person from being hurt.
Richard was finding it hard to press the accelerator of the car as the thought continued to expand in his mind. I challenge you to a game of survival. That is what Cain had said. Let’s see who wins. He had said that too. Richard’s hand began to tremble as the meaning of what Cain had said occurred to him. It is simple, very simple––the game. Richard thought with fear gripping his heart, the game is to murder Abigail––and pin the crime on me!
Richard became numb; it was as though all the systems of his body had taken a break. He saw his hand move in astonishment, and he watched it with a certain fascination, not sure if the appendage belonged to him. It must have; when he thought about jiggling the fingers, they jiggled. He held the steering wheel firmly and shifted into reverse. The tyres barked against the tiled road as he jammed his foot down on the accelerator––a bald guy and his wife walking to church, with hymnbooks under their arms, looked at him in amazement as he maneuvered the vehicle roughly. The sweat from the nape of his neck was now trickling down his spine. He drove straight down the road as though he’d signed a suicide pact.
Within twenty minutes of driving like a bat out of hell, he reached the Martins’ building; he drove furiously into the compound as the gatekeeper opened the gate. He jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the main building. He found Abigail in the living room; she was busy brushing her hair and looking at a small mirror she held in front of herself and at the same time was watching Kennis Music Channel.
“Let me start by apologizing for what I did to you last night.” Richard said, out of breath. “I have acted like a complete rotter, and an utter scoundrel. There is no reasonable excuse I can make for my execrable conduct. It was folly and all I can do now is ask for mercy. I know you are a kind-hearted woman and I pray you will be generous enough to pardon my stupidity.”
Abigail laughed, “You have a funny way of asking for apologies. You need not use all these vocs, Richie. What happened last night was just a minor peccadillo.”
“Have you forgiven me?” Richard asked seriously.
“Okay, apology sustained.”
“Thank you––” he breathed out heavily, “Now, you need to get out of here.”
“What do you mean?” she looked at Richard as though he had taken all his clothes off in public.
“You have to leave before he comes back.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your husband. He’s planning to kill you.”
She looked at him suspiciously, “Richie, what have you been drinking?”
“I don’t drink, you know that.”
“Then what have you been smoking?” she picked up her brush again and stroked her hair. She turned her attention back to the TV where a young pretty woman was flinging her arms around Kelly Handsome and kissing him madly.
“Please, Abigail, listen to me. There’s a man out there planning to kill you and you sat here knitting antimacassars. Cain’s plotting to kill you. Can’t you get that into your thick skull?”
“If you had been a teenager I wouldn’t blink an eye. There’s a chromosome that goes haywire when you turn thirteen. I’m really finding it hard to believe that such obscenity and filth is coming from the lips yours.”
“Abigail, this is serious, it concerns your life. Please listen to me. I’m not joking.”
“What has been sowing that unnatural garbage into your head?” Asked Abigail, with folded arms.
“Cain knew you came to my room last night.”
Abigail put her hands over her opened mouth in shock, “Oh my God! How did he know that? He was already sound-asleep when I got back to the room.”
“The handkerchief, he saw my hanky with you.”
“I’ve been a fool.”
Richard narrated his ordeal with Cain in the car. He looked at Abigail after telling her the story; she was looking undeciding, as if there was something in her mind she was afraid to say.”
“Abigail.” Richard called.
“Yes?” she raised her face to meet his gaze.
She was intelligent, Richard knew, one look at her and you knew about a million gears were spinning in her head, all meshing perfectly, well-oiled, quiet and productive. “What are you not telling me?”
“What do you mean by that?” she tried in vain to look puzzled.
Richard grabbed her shoulders and looked in her eyes, “You are hiding something very important. Please, tell me now before it’s too late.”
“You’re crushing my shoulders.”
“Sorry.” Richard released his hold, “Please, just try to reason with me. I will never forgive myself if Cain kills you. Besides, I may probably not be able to save myself after being convicted the murderer. We both know that an earthworm can never be innocent in the gathering of birds.” He knew somewhere deep down at the back of his own mind that if anything happened to Abigail, the world would be a far darker and less interesting place for him to live in, even if he were not convicted.
“What do you want me to tell you?”
“Everything you know about Cain. I think there’s a kind of evil spirit in him–like there’s a kind of mystery which follows him like a shadow.”
“Just like the mystery surrounding your own life?”
Richard was startled, “What are you talking about?”
A few seconds elapsed before Abigail replied.
“I’ve known you for over a month and I’ve known you’ve not been a happy man since. Please don’t interrupt me, you’ve never been happy. And you rarely smile, whenever you try to, the smile never seem to cover that sadness in you. I initially thought it was because you don’t like the job you are doing, but I now understand it’s worse than that.” She paused, “Before I tell you what you want to know, I want you tell me about that sadness–I want to know.”
“Believe me, my only problem is my job, I need a better job.”
“You can tell that to a fool, okay? But I’m not one.”
“Abigail, there are some problems we keep private. It’s not all our problems we share.”
His decisive reticence suddenly annoyed Abigail and she blurted out, “Oh, I’m sorry. I really made a fool of myself by telling you about my own problem. You can take a hike with your problem, I don’t care.”
For the first time, Richard realized that Abigail really looked angry. Even in anger, she looked very pretty.
“You don’t want to hear it, I assure you.”
“Try me.” She replied, smiling broadly again.
“Okay, let’s start with this,” he said, staring in her eyes. “How would you feel if I told you that my father is dead?”
“I feel sorry, really, but my father is dead, too, remember? I guess that makes the two of us.” She returned his stare.
“Okay.” He looked away. Sweat broke out of his forehead, he checked his palms and found them damp with sweat, and then he rubbed them on his trousers. Telling the story was more difficult than he had imagined it would come. “In 1981, armed robbers attacked my mother’s parents when she was only eighteen years old and she was raped by one of them before their departure. I am the product.” He told her all what his mother had told him, leaving out nothing whatsoever.
Abigail opened her eyes wide, “Oh, my God!”
“The robbers were attacked by the police and killed immediately they left. I am the son of an armed robber––the gene of a cursed soul––the product of a rapist. Who would––”
“Stop it!” Abigail screamed suddenly. Richard raised his head and found tears in her eyes, running down her cheeks in passionate sequence. “Just stop it! Don’t you know girls cry when things like that are being spoken to them?” she wiped the tears with the back of both palms.
“I’m sorry you have to hear it. It’s not a story I tell with pride. We both have sad stories; I just don’t know who has the sadder between the two of us.”
He tried in vain to rid himself of the tears that formed in his eyes. “Now, tell me everything you know about Cain.” He said, forcing a false smile.
Abigail stood up, “I’ll need a modicum of discretion concerning what you are about to know today.”
“Every secret is safe with me––including yours.”
She went into an inner room and returned a few minutes later with a thick file which she gave to Richard.
“I came across that file when I was cleaning the bedroom.”
“When was that?”
“About a year ago, it says in there that on March13, 1978, Cain was admitted in an asylum in Yaba.”
“Christ!” Richard felt a jolt down his spine. He tried to visualize Cain spending some years in a sanitarium, talking to imaginary people and eating flies. He wondered if driving an insane employer hither and yon could subject him to lose his own sanity too.
“In 1983, he was discharged as completely healed. That was when he was twenty-seven years old.”
“Oh––then what are you still doing with a certified lunatic for crying out loud?” he cried out loud.
“Where do you expect me to go?” she demanded sharply, “I’m all alone; I have no family, nobody. Besides, I would be digging my own grave if I tried to leave him.”
“You don’t have much choice now, do you? He’s going to kill you anyway, even if you stay.”
“You don’t know that for sure. There’s nowhere I can go that he won’t know. I think he has employed a private eye to watch everywhere I go. Every time
I drive out, I feel that he’s one step behind me–like a guilty conscience he follows me about. There’s nowhere to go.”
“We can go to––”
“We?” she cast an inquiring look at Richard who carried a silly expression on his face. “Richie, are you suddenly using the royal plural pronoun?”
“Um––well,” he spread his hands and looked away frowning, when he looked at Abigail, worry lines had wrinkled his face.
“For how long will Cain be staying in Abuja?”
“Three days, he will land at the airport on Thursday afternoon.”
Richard became more worried.
“What’s wrong, Rich?”
Richard looked at Abigail pathetically, “I’m afraid when Cain returns something horrible is going to happen.”
Then he looked suddenly determined.
“But don’t worry, Abigail. I promise no harm will come to you. Everything will be under control. Even if it takes the last thing I will ever do.”
“My hero.” Abigail said solemnly.
Eze Chima came in, “Madam, is everything alright?” he glared at Richard, “Why did you drive in like that?”
Richard glared back at him, “Like what, old man.”
“Like a maniac.”
The driver clenched his hands into a fist and advanced towards the gatekeeper. “Keep a civil tongue in your mouth, old man! Or I keep them for you.”
“Richard!” Abigail lashed at him, “What came over you? This man is old enough to be your grandfather. Are you insane?”
“Leave him, madam. Let him show his stunt, I’m not as feeble as he may be thinking I am.”
“Apologize right now, Richard!” she commanded.
Richard unclenched his fist and said, “I’m sorry, sir. That was very rude of me, please forgive me. I didn’t know what really came over me. It must have been the stress.”
Eze Chima smiled, “It’s okay, I shouldn’t have spoken in such a tone to you either.” He turned to Abigail, “Is everything okay here, madam?”
“Everything is fine,” she replied, “We were only discussing the obvious.”
“I was worried.”
“All’s fine. You can go.”
The gatekeeper left.
“I must have lost my head in anger. I almost beat up that man.”
Abigail smiled, “How are you sure you can beat him in a fight?”
“That old man? Come on, Abigail, give unto me a break.”
“He’s an ex-soldier. He fought in the Civil War in 1968. Believe ye me, he would break your bones.”
“You didn’t tell me that before.”
And truly, if Richard had heard about the old gatekeeper’s ordeals in the final battle of the Civil War in the year 1970, he would have kowtowed before Eze. For the old gatekeeper was one of the bravest soldiers in his own time.
About fifty yards ahead of the twenty-one year old Eze, one of the leading tanks was burning, a soldier’s body sprawled across the hatch, the right arm dangling down towards the main turret, his helmeted head spattered with blood. Another tank, to his left, lurched to a crazy standstill as a shell shattered the left-side track; four men jumped down and sprinted back towards the comparative safety of the boundless, anonymous sands behind them.
The noise of the battle was deafening as shrapnel soared and whistled and plunged and dealt its death amidst the thick forest and the scorching sun. Men shouted and pleaded and ran––and died; some blessed swiftly in an instantaneous annihilation, others lingeringly as they lay mortally wounded on the bloody ground. Yet, others burned to death inside their tanks as the twisted metal of the hatches jammed or shot up limbs could find no final desperate leverage.
Then it was the turn of the tank immediately to his right––two officers leaped down from it, one clutching his arm which had been blown off from the elbow downward, and they just managed to race clear before the tank exploded into blinding flame. Eze and the two officers had struggled only some forty yards before flinging themselves down as another shell kicked up the sand just ahead of them, spewing its steel fragment in a shower of jagged metal. And when Eze finally looked up, he found the one-armed soldier dead; a lump of twisted metal embedded in his lower back.
He and the other soldier got up at the same time and began running; they had seen some of the enemies running towards them and shooting blindly. Eze ran like he had never done before, his partner was also a great runner; keeping a regular and even pace behind him. Eze could feel a wheeze as a bullet shot past his head––an inch closer and his head would be splattered on the ground; he ran faster. The two soldiers could simultaneously see a huge rock some few metres before them, and they were both running like hell towards it. They were almost a few steps before reaching their fortress when Eze saw that his partner had been shot. A small geyser of blood erupted from his neck. He staggered forward several yards, like a sprinter who had crossed the finish line. Then he collapsed to the ground. He had been struck in the lower outside part of his neck, near his right shoulder. Eze Chima could not leave him lying there; he bent over the collapsed soldier and dragged him behind the rock. Then the enemies stopped running towards them, they stood away and continued shooting at the huge rock; the bullets ricocheting to different directions.
Eze cradled the soldier’s head, applying pressure with both hands to the pulsing wound on the back of the neck, desperately trying to staunch the flow. The pressure was not working. Eze felt his uniform becoming warm and wet, and he realized what was wrong. There was an exit wound at the front of the soldier’s neck, perilously near the larynx, from which bright arterial blood was gushing. The soldier was trying to talk but it came out as a whisper.
“Wh-what is your name?”
The wounded soldier smiled, “I’m Uche. I like being a soldier I am––but I hate wars.”
Then Uche’s face concocted into that of agony. “I-I feel pain.”
“You will be okay, trust me.”
“I’ll kill those bastards.” He whispered. He wanted to shout but he could only manage a low rasp, loud enough for Eze to hear “Leave me.”
“No, you’ve been hit, you can’t fight them.”
Eze tried to hold him but the wounded one jerked his body away from him. He grabbed his gun and crawled out from behind the rock. He crawled a few feet and then used his arm to raise himself. Immediately, a blast hit his midriff, slamming him to the ground. His abdomen had been torn apart. Recovery was out of the question. For the moment, the enemies’ shooting range was focused on the dying soldier; they were busy disfiguring him with series of bullets. Eze took advantage of the opportunity and bolted; he didn’t want to be trapped behind the rock and then get killed. The enemies would surely not be standing forever waiting for him to come out of his hiding. He ran farther into the thick forest with a speed he didn’t know he possessed. Eze Chima was more satisfied being in the forest than in the open, he could hide anywhere in the forest and never be seen. He could even live in the forest better than most animals.
He was on the run when he met another enemy, they seemed to be everywhere. Eze had always been known by his fellow soldiers to be extremely fast with his weapons, and before the enemy could raise his gun, Eze had shot him as swiftly as he had seen him. The enemy had died instantly but Eze continued firing at him with the stance of a soldier firing at a person who could no more return fire, but whose continued appearance was itself a dire menace. When he stopped firing, the enemy’s gut had been burst open and a small saliva bubble mixed with blood had formed at his lips. Then immediately behind him, another enemy appeared, and in fear, Eze fired blindly, shooting all the bullets in his cylinder. The man staggered backward, making an odd gurgling sound; one of the bullets had pierced his throat, which exploded in a gush of arterial blood. Eze walked slowly towards the dead man, he wiped the tears in his eyes as he saw the dead soldier. They had shot Uche too in the neck, and he––Eze, had paid them back the same way. He was tired and he sat by the dead enemy; he leaned against a tree and closed his eyes.
The sun was fighting its final descent beyond the war zone when Eze Chima opened his eyes. The last orange rays were filtering through the thick foliage of the trees. Eze became confused; he couldn’t believe that he had slept all through the afternoon––so he had been unconscious for a couple of hours now. Everywhere was strangely silent; the cries of the injured soldiers, the explosion of tanks, the sharp cracking sounds of gunshots––everything had all stopped. He stood up abruptly. He was thankful that no enemy had come around to find him sleeping after he had killed two of their men in the same spot, they would make him suffer so much that he would have to beg them to kill him. Surely, they would be kind and delighted enough to kill him––slowly. Sweat broke out of Eze’s forehead; he was afraid. What has happened? He thought fearfully. He walked slowly out of the forest into the open war ground, and then he knew what had happened. He sat where he was, severely shocked but apparently uninjured. His eyes looked down at his legs, then at his arms; he felt his face and his chest, then he tried to wriggle his toes in his army boots. Truly, he was uninjured. Just about thirty minutes before he slept off there had been a dozen enemies trying to kill him. And now, there was one man alive here––him. His first conscious thought was a feeling of ineffable anger, but almost immediately, his heart rejoiced as he saw his other colleagues who were alive being carried on stretchers. Most of them had lost one or two of their limbs each. Only then and gradually did a sense of vast relief surge through him––relief that he had survived, without a scratch, and he said a brief prayer to God in gratitude for making him come through. With another stream of tears flowing down his eyes, Eze found himself sucking his lower lip between his teeth. He had actually bitten into the soft tissue; he could taste a trickle of blood.
The war had ended.
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