It was dark, no, not dark per se. The light from the yellow electric bulbs tinged the darkness with an unnatural orange hue. It wasn’t bright, but it wasn’t dark either, an artificial twilight. The moon tried it’s best to give as much light as it could,it had grown to the size of a small house, like in the movies where someone threw a lasso around it and pulled it closer to the earth. It was the same with the noise, the cacophony of voices that accompanied every football match shown on the small TV at the very corner of the bar was the only sound that punctuated the silence of nature around. All was at peace.
Timothy sat at the edge of the bar, halfway between the light and the dark, the silence and the noise, bottle held by its neck between his index and middle fingers. His table was full, as it always was, with empty bottles and with people whose chants of his praise had faded into drunken slurs and mirthless laughters. All was at peace.
Then the peace shattered.
A young man ran full tilt towards the seven men seated at his table, pure fear etched on his face like the lettering on a gravestone. In his effort to stop himself, he slid and fell on the loose sand on the ground. Timothy reacted first, he stood up, recognising the young man as his best friend’s younger brother, Kunle.
“Kunle, wetin happen?” He asked, voice slurring slightly.
Kunle kept panting, lungs torn between the need for air and the need and absolute necessity to pass the message he had. After a moment, he caught his breath and pointed, fingers shaking at a point in the darkness that he had emerged from. One word escaped his lips:”Babayaro”.
Babayaro was Timothy’s antithesis, a direct deviation from who he was. He was a brute of a man, known to almost everyone in the University of Ekpoma by reputation and known to people like Timothy by the atrocities he had witnessed him commit. Timothy was no saint, but Babayaro was the Devil manifested in human form. He was either directly or indirectly guilty of any conceivable crime, and proudly so. And now he was after him.
He had known that the man was one of Babayaro’s henchmen. He had known it was very ill-advised to beat him to a pulp and then staple a note to his forehead with thumbtacks warning Babayaro to keep his men in check but he had been too blinded both by alcohol and anger to care. The henchman had beaten Kunle up and used a lit cigarette to burn a scar on his cheek. It was not a thing he could let pass, he had a reputation to keep after all.
Slowly, he turned around to face the three people that either had the gall to stay and fight or were too drunk to know to flee. He reached into his pocket and gripped the charm tightly and whispered the incantations to activate it. The baba had said it would shorten his lifespan while it was active but for the duration that it was, he would be invincible. He looked to make sure the bar had emptied excepting he and his men.
“Babayaro think say na small boy im wan come follow dance!” He shouted, as much to motivate his men as to himself, “We go show am.”
His men hollered affirmation in unison, preparing for battle in the only way they knew how. Kunle whimpered. The stupid boy was always talking his church talk, saying his God was his shield. His God would be tested soon enough.
A burst of gunfire ripped through the night. He looked at his men one at a time and nodded, they nodded back, affirming they had prepared themselves, spiritually and mentally for battle and death if it came.
“Kunle, hide”. The boy scurried into the darkness behind the bar.
Another gunshot rang out and Babayaro came into view. He was clad heavily with charms and amulets as were the men around him.
“Timo, Timo. You dey fuck up o.” He said in Yoruba accented pidgin English, smiling a smile that went nowhere near his eyes, he was attempting to instigate a psychological battle. “You sabi say na respect wey I respect you, you come fuck up like that.”
Timothy didn’t speak. To speak would be to lose the psychological battle. Slowly, he drew his hunting knife from its sheath at his waist, making sure the night echoed the sound of its foot-long blade leaving its cage. It was a counter-threat in itself. His men proceeded to do the same.
Babayaro smiled again, yellow teeth bared like fangs.
Another gunshot rang out. Timothy felt a pinprick on his chest as the bullet hit. It crumpled up like an empty beer can and fell to the floor. He brushed his chest and smiled and then pointed his blade in the direction of the gunshot, indicating who his first kill would be.
Then all hell broke loose.
The night was rent with voices. They rung out in the shouts of battle, of death and of victory, of incantations and of bloody agony. Blood, thick and dark, flowed along indents in the sand and gathered in pools at their feet. One of his men had fallen to a machete cut that ran from his shoulder to his navel. He would die, no doubt, he would become a name that was only spoken in reference to that day.
Babayaro had brought more men than Timothy had realised. He, himself, had brought down six of them but they still swarmed around him like flies on a rotting corpse. He had been cut on across his left bicep and right thigh, countless crumpled up bullets lay at his feet.
Suddenly, a shot rang out, a gunshot unlike the rest, deep and foreboding. Muzzle flash aimed at the sky, it was a signal to stop. Timothy stopped as soon as he had slid the serrated blade of his hunting knife across a man’s throat, his life flowed away along with his blood.
“Timo! I sabi say I see one rat as e dey run come this side” Babayaro shouted, triumph written in the tone of his voice. With one hand, he dragged Kunle on the ground beside him. It was defeat. He put the muzzle of the gun beside the young man’s temple, the meaning was obvious, surrender and his life might be spared, continue fighting, and his life was forfeit.
It took all his willpower to stop himself from walking over to Kunle and beating him himself. Slowly, he placed his knife, still dripping blood, on the ground and looked around. His men lay dead, all of them, bodies cut open with machetes from head to midriff. He could kill himself now and save himself the torture that was inevitable but that would mean death for Kunle. The boy’s presence was being a thorn in his side.
“Osas!” Babayaro said, sharply.
Osas was Babayaro’s second in command. A man of truly massive proportions, it was rumoured that he once used his bare hands to crush a man’s skull like an egg. There would be no struggling.
The big man lumbered over to him, his sheer bulk blocking the Timothy’s view of Kunle. He wanted to reassure the young man, tell him they would find away even though all evidence pointed to the contrary. Osas grabbed both Timothy’s hands in one of his and started to tie them then paused and grinned, showing a distinct scarcity of teeth.
“I don almost forget” he said and stuck a hand into Timothy’s pocket, fishing out the charm. All hope was now well and truly lost. That was his trump card, he had been hoping that it would skip the minds of Babayaro and his men and now that it was gone, he was as good as dead. His features visibly slumped.
Osas pushed him to the ground and proceeded to hog tie him. He didn’t struggle, there was no use. His power had left him. Like from a distance, he heard Babayaro order another of his men to tie Kunle up too. He was about to shout when he felt the butt of Osas’ gun and everything faded to black.
He woke up to the sound of fear-tinged murmurs. It was dark and the floor was ice cold beneath his feet. His head felt like a mortar, helpless to the repeated pounding of pestles. His mouth held the coppery taste of blood in it and his tongue felt like lead. The murmurs continued. He vaguely recognised them as words of prayer, they did nothing to alleviate the fear that was building itself in his chest.
“Kunle! Shut up! Let me think.” He whispered sharply.
Kunle continued his hushed pleas to the Almighty for help. It was beginning to annoy him. His hands and feet were bound in ropes, they were bound so tight that attempting to wriggle them made the ropes cut into his wrists. That wouldn’t be the way to get out of this.
They heard a sound beyond the door of the room and Kunle’s prayers became a voiceless movement of lips, such was the fear in the young man’s heart. Osas had to duck underneath the lintel of the door to enter the room, he held a kerosene lantern in one hand and a dimly lit cigarette in the other.
“Oga go soon show” he said in his oafish voice “E talk say im wan do you the same thing wey you do Junior.” He crouched in front of Kunle and brought the lantern close to his face. Kunle’s lips still moved, mouthing words of prayer in vain. Osas smiled but his eyes were sad.
“You go like shut up when Oga dey. If not, dem go kill you too.” Kunle shut up.
Shortly after, Babayaro walked in. He had the air of a villain in an old Al Pacino movie. He wore a holster that went round his shoulders and back which had a massive six shooter revolver in it. He paused when he got to the space just in front of Timothy then made a point of striking a match and lighting the cigarette that hung from his lips. Timothy knew what was coming next.
“Timo” he said as he slowly pressed the burning cigarette into the machete cut on Timothy’s arm “Shebi I tell you say na respect wey I respect you?”
Timothy winced from the pain.
“But you fuck up. You sabi say Junior don die because of wetin you do am?”
He pushed the cigarette deeper into the wound. Timothy grunted.
“I fit just allow you make you comot like that? Eh? A price must be paid, Timothy.”
He stopped, watching Timothy’s face as the pain wreaked havoc on him. But he wasn’t satisfied. Timothy wasn’t giving him what he wanted, he wanted a scream, something to make him happy. He looked over at Kunle and noticed his lips moving.
“Eh?! Wetin be dis? You dey pray?” He was visibly angry, as if the words from Kunle’s mouth were physically wounding him. He snatched the lantern from Osas’ hand and pressed the top against Kunle’s mouth. Osas shifted like he were holding himself back. The night was torn to shreds with the sound of Kunle’s screams.
Babayaro got up and sharply turned and walked out the door. He shouted to Osas that he would be back to finish Timothy off. Kunle kept on crying.
For a moment, there was no movement in the room. Osas stood there, hands squeezed into fists at his sides, Timothy sat there, arms bound and still grunting in pain, Kunle kept on crying.
Without saying a word, Osas dropped down to a knee, brought out a penknife and cut the ropes binding both their feet. He picked them up like a child would pick up a doll and made them stand to their feet. With gentle nudges, he walked them out of the room and into the corridor where he told the man standing guard there that he was taking them to go piss.
Outside, Timothy noticed that the house they were in was almost completely surrounded by thick bush. When they got to the spot, Osas stopped them and cut the ropes at their wrists.
“Na because of you I dey do this thing” He said, motioning with his chin at Kunle “See that big tree there? Run there, you go see road wey you use take reach house.”
He held their shoulders and looked round to make sure no one was watching and when he was satisfied, he pushed them forward.
“Go!” And they ran.
They had not run for long when they began to hear the gunshots. They quickened their pace, adrenaline laced fear drowning out the pain of their old wounds and of the new ones that came as the vegetation around clawed at them. Once every few seconds, they would hear a thud as a bullet connected with a tree or the ground beside them and renewed energy would course through their veins. Then they heard that gunshot, the one that belonged to the six shooter revolver and the night became silent once more. At the edge of his consciousness, Timothy knew that Osas was dead and said a quiet “thank you” to him.
After about thirty minutes of running at full pelt, they started to slow, tiredness and blood loss beginning to take their tolls on them. Then they came to the road and stopped. Timothy hadn’t really thought about what would happen when they got to the road, hell he had no idea where they were. There were no lights to indicate civilisation, just darkness and thick bush on all sides. Kunle dropped to sit on the tarred road in frustration.
Just as his hope was vanishing, he heard something, the drone of a motorcycle engine getting closer. When it got so close that he could hear the rider’s drunken attempts at singing, obviously returning from a night of heavy drinking. Timothy walked into the road in hope that the rider wasn’t drunk enough not to know to stop. He wasn’t. The bike screeched to a halt a few feet away from him and the rider started to rain insults upon him in a drunken fury.
“Oga, shhh shhh shut up. Look look,” Timothy said, hushing the man and gesticulating to the cuts on his body “Dem dey pursue us, if they catch us, dem go kill you too.” He knew the man would understand that he was not going anywhere without them.
The man’s eyes cleared immediately. Urgency mixed with fear creeped into his features. Without speaking, he picked up his bike and motioned for them to get on and then quickly sped off back in the direction he was coming from.
Timothy directed the rider towards his apartment, heart beating from the mixture of fear and relief. Kunle sat behind him on the bike, eyes blurred over, mouth unmoving. He was still getting over the shock of the whole night. Timothy was just about used to near-death experiences, infact he was just plain tired of them. The past few hours had made him remember that.
As they got there and the bike stopped, Timothy nudged Kunle to get off the bike so they could go inside. This was his safehouse, he had enough charms and wards here to fend off a small army. Kunle refused. He nudged again.
“Kunle! Get off!” He whispered sharply. “We don reach.”
“No” came the reply, almost surrealistically.
“Are you mad?! Get the fuck off, I’m tired abeg!”
“No, Timothy” Kunle replied again, struggling to bring the words out from between his half burned lips, “they’ll come here. I can feel it. Let’s go to my place, they don’t know where it is.”
“I don’t know why, but something dey tell me say we no suppose dey this place. Just trust me.”
“Just trust me. I know say you no go like hear am, but this feels like God.”
There was no reason why he should be listening to this delirious boy, he was obviously not thinking straight. Maybe his own blood loss was making him act abnormally too. But he did. And he would later come to be grateful that he did, because the next morning he heard, amongst other things, that in the moments following their escape, Babayaro had shot Osas for betraying him but before dying Osas had buried a knife in his chest.Babayaro’s men had gone to Timothy’s safehouse and had emptied countless magazines of bullets into it, laying it to waste.
The next day, he had gone to his apartment and looked through it, all the while thinking of what could have been. As he ran his fingers on and through the many holes that lined the walls and glanced at the shredded furniture, only one statement echoed in his memory.
“Just trust me. I know say you no go like hear am, but this feels like God.”
So later that day, when he had returned to Kunle’s apartment and he walked in to find Kunle sitting down at the corner of the room, lips mouthing off words in his seemingly perpetual prayer, he said:
“Show me your God.”