BT PROSE: ON THE SHORES OF DEATH BY BLESSING AKINSEHINWA
ON THE SHORES OF DEATH.
Blood filled the arena. The butchers were engrossed in their cuttings.
‘Gba! Gbo! Gba! Gbo! Machetes shattered bones.
‘Cut ahm like dis…..no, no, no….this one too small nau’
‘If you no cut ahm well, I no go buy ahm’
‘As you see this one so, na 1 kg madam, I swear I no dey lie you’
‘Customer, customer, how family?
‘Oga sell me my favourite meat. Abeg cut ahm big oh’
‘Hello…yessire. You wan liver abi?….how many? Okay no wahala, i go keep ahm for you’
Murmurings, chit chats, negotiations rent the air.
Each being engrossed in something and everything.
Close by, a cow is on the ground, tied with strong ropes on both hands and legs, struggling and fighting for its life. Four butchers standing over it, laughing, strategising how to make a good kill of it. One of them is holding a butcher’s knife.
‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Wake up my friend!!! U hear me so? I say stand up!’
My eyelids were heavy from sleep. I just wanted to be left alone to continue my pleasant sleep.
Into oblivion I drifted again.
Wai….wai….I was jolted back to life by two heavy slaps from a large coarse palm that suspended the hearing capability of my right ear. Rings of musical notes formed in my head.
‘I say wake up, you still dey sleep. Here na your papa house?’
‘Are you maa…………d’ my voice trailed off
The slaps brought me into the sudden realization of where I was. My hands had been tied behind my back.
I tried to stand up, but some hefty hands threw me back into the seat.
‘Where am I? Where i dey so?’ I muttered with all the strength i could muster.
Lade had bade me farewell at the park.
Oh, now I remember!
I had called Lade when the vehicle left the park and promised to call him when I get to Ibadan.
Everybody listen to me. Obedience they say is better than sacrifice. In fact, you all are sacrifices already, so if you like don’t obey. There is no getting out of this alive. Now you all will get down from this bus and follow my lead. And if you’re thinking of shouting for help. Sorry to burst your bubble. As you can see, we are in the middle of nowhere so no one is here to help you.’ The tall, muscular and huge man, ‘Killer’, as the two other boys later called him said. He instantly reminded me of those club bouncers I used to see in Nollywood movies. His voice was so coarse and deep.
‘I am supposed to be in Ibadan, I am supposed to be back in school. Where am I’……….I thought to myself.
All I see is a thick forest around me. As these thoughts flashed through my mind it dawned on me that I may have been kidnapped.
‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Arghhhhhhhhhhhh’
Wai..wai…wai…those hands landed across my face, hitting the back of my head on the seat. My eyes spinned 360 degrees. My stomach churned from hunger. Migraine headache banged inside my head like I was being hit with a sledge hammer.
‘Young lady, if you try to be smart, I will waste you for your generation. I am sure you heard me the other time when I said to follow my lead. Well everyone, once again, listen to me attentively, if you are still wondering, stop the wonderment. You have all been kidnapped’ facing me, he said ‘ you think you are the only one who can speak English abi, I graduated from Ibadan poly 12 years ago’ At this point, I had been brought down from the bus as he was talking.
As I was being bundled down from the bus right after ‘Killer’ had said those words, I discovered that this hadn’t been the bus I boarded on the road along Ojota in Lagos. This also wasn’t the driver of that bus. All I could remember was that as soon as I finished speaking with Lade, I drifted into oblivion.
There were ten of us with our hands bounded like slaughter rams. Three males and seven females. Being led on a straight line now like rams heading for the abattoir, I recognised their faces. They were fellow passengers in the ill fated bus. We had been stripped of our possessions and being led into the ravenous night.
Lade! Lade! Lade! is this how you finally killed me?
You see, I had never wanted to visit Lagos. Lade had convinced me. See my life now, a 19 year old 200 level Accounting student of the University of Ibadan being led to die someplace I have no idea. What a wasted life I lived….
‘Move it…move it…..faster, faster’ the horrible voice charged again.
We were being led with a torchlight, which enabled me see the other two guys. Not as huge as Killer though, they each slung an automatic rifle on their shoulders. They said little as they walked alongside us. One was holding the torch leading us ahead, while the other was behind the pack. Killer changed positions intermittently to keep any errant member of the bounded entourage in line with a resounding slap.
Muted cries rented the seemingly silent night. Low toned Jesuses were all I could hear. No one dared talk to the other or cry loudly in fear of Killer’s huge slap.
‘What will I tell my creator led to my death. That I was killed by ritualists? Or that I went to visit Lade in Lagos while I told my father a lie that I was in Ibadan preparing for a test, just so I’ll miss Grandma’s thanksgiving service’
I hated Grandma utterly. She was domineering and judgemental. The type that always find fault in whatever one does.
‘Busola you are not supposed to have male friends. Busola a woman is not supposed to eat loudly. Busola hold the cup with both hands and kneel when you want to serve me. Busola this…Busola that’
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was when she requested to make a call on my phone claiming she had ran out of credit on her phone. She had thereafter browsed through my phone, saw Lade’s photos therein and gently returned the phone without saying anything. When daddy came back from work, Grandma played my record.
‘Busola now keeps pictures of boys. She now follows men. Check her phone, its pictures of different boys that are full there. This small girl of yesterday o.’
Facing me now, ‘you want to get pregnant? Ehn…answer me o. You want to bring shame to this family.’ ‘Bade’ turning to my Dad now, ‘are you not training this girl properly? If you cannot, send her to me, I will teach her well. Teach her some lessons’
That incident resulted in my being grounded at home for two weeks. Since then, I loathed grandma. So when the news came to me that she had been in an accident, I had silently wished she died. Miraculously however, she survived; well…so we were told. I later got to hear that she merely fell from an Okada and only broke her ankle.
So when daddy called me on Wednesday, asking me to come home by the weekend because Grandma was having her thanksgiving. My world literally fell apart. I dreaded the sight of that woman. Daddy had persuaded me, reminding me of how grandma had been there for us since our late mum passed away Seven years ago. And that we owed it a duty to her to be at the thanksgiving. I had then told him I will see if I can make it home by Friday.
Home is Ibadan too. I knew deep down within me that daddy will come pick me Friday evening in preparation for the Thanksgiving on Sunday. Then I knew if I really wanted to miss the thanksgiving, I had to come up with a fool proof lie.
‘Why don’t you come to Lagos?’ Lade had suggested when I told him about my predicament.
‘You know I have always wanted you to come over, but you turn me down every time. You can tell your Dad that you are preparing for a crucial test on Monday, so you will need the weekend all alone in order to read. You know your Dad wants you to graduate with a First class, so I’m sure he will not want to disturb you’
I had met Lade, a 400-level Medical student of the University of Lagos at one of my roommate’s birthday party a year ago when I was in 100-level. I had barely gotten admission into the University then. He was who you could call a handsome man on all shades. He was tall and dark in complexion. He had very dark eyeballs too. God blessed him with a very nice, white set of teeth with dimples adorning his cheeks. His simple style of dressing always made those physical qualities of his manifest to every female roving eye. After weeks of constant calls and regular communications, I soon came to realise that beneath the impressive physical qualities is a very caring and loving man. I then accepted his proposal subject to the condition that there will be no sex between us till my wedding night.
Lade had been coming to see me in Ibadan from Lagos every other weekend. He sleeps at one his friend’s hostel on campus so we talk into the night before departing. He had been persuading me to visit him in Lagos for a while but I had been stalling. Out of fear I must say. I had never been out of Ibadan my whole life.
However, recently, I noticed that Lade hadn’t been coming as frequently as before, and we have been having unnecessary quarrels; mostly over nothing. The relationship is being strained.
‘Babes don’t you see? This is our opportunity. You can leave Ibadan Friday afternoon and be back by Sunday. No one will notice your absence Not having much choice though, I agreed.
It was going to be my first time outside Ibadan and I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to mending things with him, to sleeping in his arms all night long, to making his favourite meal of Amala and efo riro for him. The trip was more than worth it for my beloved Lade.
The cold in my body was accentuated by the very chilly breeze violently tormenting the trees of the forest we were in. It was about to rain.
‘Move, move, abi una no see say rain wan fall?’…. one of the boys leading us said.
We had been walking for about 30 minutes in the middle of the forest and through the rays of the torch; I could see that the footpath though narrow was a frequently plied route.
A little while later, we arrived at a very small ably lit house. The house was, built with red bricks and roofed with well knit grasses. The kind I see regularly in Nollywood village scenes. The house was powered by an I-Pass-My-Neighbour generator. Though I didn’t see it, I could tell from the sound that was coming from the back of the building. There was a small bulb at the front which beamed light into the thick darkness that surrounded the vicinity.
They made the ten of us sit on the bare floor at the entrance of the building. ‘Killer’ brought out a bunch of keys from his pocket while the other two watched him. He fiddled with the many keys contained in the bunch, testing one after the other at the keyhole as they fail to open the door. Finally, after almost two minutes of trying, the door squeaked open.
‘Oya make una enter. Oya oya’ barked one of the guys.
As we were being led inside the house, it oozed a foul rotten stench. The inside of the house also ably lit by the running generator consist a hall which served as the parlour. Leading away from the parlour was a hallway which led to a backdoor. Flanked on both sides of the hall way were two rooms each.
The boys helped us sit on the cold cemented floor with our hands still tied behind our backs and then they went inside one of the rooms.
The sitting room where we were seated was littered with clothing belonging to both male and female; including shoes, purses and bags. At a corner of the parlour was placed a small altar. The altar was built with palm fonds tied together and placed carefully on a local pot that seated perfectly on a moulded clay stand. On the floor, beside the clay stand were placed three calabashes which I couldn’t see the contents. Beside the calabashes were partly eaten Kolanuts numbering about five, a half filled bottle of Seaman’s Schnapps, a table knife covered with dried blood, or so I guessed.
At the sight of the altar and abandoned clothing materials, my fellow sojourners wailed again. Some added volume to their cries, some called names I cannot phantom, some mumbled statements of prayers to themselves. Some initiated conversations amongst themselves, talking about how they might have found themselves in the ill fated bus. They mentioned to themselves that they all were unconscious until they were woken up by ‘Killer’ and his boys inside the bus upon arriving in the bush. Some of them even began asking their respective names and religion. A woman muted the idea of forming silent prayer groups in order to seek God’s intervention in our ordeal.
Through all these, I could think of nothing but about was how my poor father will be faring at the news of my mysterious disappearance. Since my mum died 7 years ago, leaving behind myself and my younger brother, Seun with him, we had been the centre of his world. He had even refused taking another wife despite repeated pressure from friends and family; because according to him, the new wife will not give us the attention and care necessary to nurture us into responsible adults. In fact, since I gained admission, daddy had ensured I never lacked anything. He personally bought all my necessaries, including sanitaries up until last year when I had to make him stop. Daddy also made it a custom to call me every weekend I didn’t come home to ask after my welfare and draw out a commitment from me to come the following weekend. Emphasising that Seun and Himself were missing me dearly.
So I knew by now that daddy would have been worried sick calling my phone severally with no response. That is if the phone is still on sef. He will be in a terrible state of distress right now.
You see I love my father very dearly too and don’t want him in any distressed situation. I had promised myself this when he had almost died following the death of my mum. The doctor had told us he had been ‘over-thinking’.
Suddenly, from my state of reminiscing, I heard hurried footsteps at the door leading into the backyard of the house. Two strange looking men emerged from there, walking towards where we were sited. They were soon joined by killer and his two boys from the room they were in.
The older amongst the men that entered, ‘Baba-Awo’ wore a flowing white gown that touched his toes. His hair was all grey which told me he was real old. About 60yrs old or more. The other man was a shirtless young man with a slender stature but had very thick beards that made him look scary. Called ‘Omo-Awo’, he wore only a short that was heavily blood stained. The stains were fresh indicating a fresh kill. His hands were reddish in colour too. He gazed upon us like an invigilator gazing at a student he suspects of cheating in an exam.
‘Ah, una do well my pikins’ Baba Awo said to Killer and his boys. They giggled to themselves in response.
‘Better better market una bring me so. Kai, una kola go big well well’
To Omo-Awo, he said ‘dis market suppose last us till next week abi? You sabi say we get plenty plenty order’
Heh! Come and see cries multiplied by two. The mumbled cries and prayers were soon replaced with wailing, skabashing and some Arabic prayers. How I managed to stay calm in all these drama, I still cannot explain.
‘See dem….shior, dem dey cry. Una mata no be cry mater. Na make una dey pray to una God for forgiveness as una head don jam badluck so. E don be for una laidis’
The kind of wicked laughter that emanated from the other men ehn, if I had access to a gun that minute, I’d have shot them right on their heads.
A phone rang. ‘Omo-Awo’ with his blood soaked hand brought out a Nokia phone from his pocket and handed over to Baba-Awo.
‘Ello oga mi sah! Ewo sah, emabinu si wa. Wetin apn be say we bin delay market. But now sah, market don land. The tongue and eye wen you say you want go ready by tomorrow sah……beeni sah….ehn sah….’ his voice trailed off as he made his was out of the parlour and beckoned the others with his hands to follow him. The others then went behind him into one of the rooms in the house. After about two minutes, Killer and his boys emerged with wide smiles from their faces and made for the exit door through where we were brought in.
Few minutes later, Baba-Awo emerged from the room where he had been, walked like a person in trance towards where we were sited, looked at the lot of us rooted to the cold floor. After reciting some mumbling inaudible to us mumbo jumbo, he pointed towards me. Omo-Awo instantly and with a ferocious wicked brute force, yanked me to my feet not minding that my hands were still tied at my back. Wailings again serenaded the room like a music chorus. I was taken to the backyard by Omo-Awo followed closely by Baba-Awo.
The backyard of the house was a dark place, in sharp contrast to the well lit frontage and parlour where we have been. The running generator was placed close by and I cloud see it faintly in the darkness. The house being located in the middle of a thick forest, the backyard was surrounded by trees and bushes. However, well carved out is a small place covered with aluminium roofing sheets, resting on wooding planks dug into the ground as pillars. A rechargeable lamp shinning dimly was hung on a nail hammered into one of the woods. Where I was brought could well pass for an abattoir. There was a concrete slab with a smooth surface.It looked like those types at cemeteries.
Baba-Awo was standing where I could tell was the head of the slab because it had an elevated platform where a head can rest on. He then asked Omo-Awo to tie my hands forward and place me on the slab. As I was being made to lie on the slab, my eyes caught the sight of dried human skulls and bones at the foot of the slab.
Right there, I said a simple prayer in my mind.
‘Father unto your hand I commit my spirit’. It then occurred to me that that was the first piece of prayer I had said all evening. Continuing…….
‘Father forgive me for promising to have sex with lade on my next visit to Lagos. Father forgive me for making out with him. Forgive me for kissing him. Lord Jesus, forgive me for lying to my father and putting that innocent man through the harrowing pain my death will cause him. Give him the strength to bear the pain my death will cause him’ I rushed my prayers as fast as I could. If there was anything more to ask for, it would be to make heaven and probably run into mum.
I laid on the slab resigned to the fate that my young life will end at the hands of these heartless ritualists. Without being told, I closed my eyes. Hot tears dropped from my eyes and it seemed like the end.
Baba-Awo standing just above my head was saying incantations I didn’t understand.
Few seconds went by, a body fell over me in a sudden jolt. It groaned then went silent. I jerked up, and to my utmost surprise saw Baba-Awo’s wide eyes staring at me in nothingness. Not understanding what just happened, I pushed him away from off me. As I made to get off from the slab, I sighted the body of Omo-Awo also on the ground still and motionless.
Thoroughly confused as to what could be going on, a voice barked to me from inside the darkness. ‘Stay where you are. Lie down. This is the Nigerian police. This place is surrounded’. And like i’ve only seen in American movies, heavily armed men in numbers I couldn’t immediately count wearing bullet proof vests bearing POLICE swarmed the backyard where I was and indeed the whole compound as I could hear their conversations as they broke into the other parts of the house.
One of the men moved close to me and asked my name. Still dazed and confused, I faintly said ‘Bu..so..la’. Then, he said to me ‘young girl, count yourself very lucky. These people…’ pointing at the bodies on the floor ‘ ….run a very notorious ritual gang. We have been attempting to arrest them for years now all to no avail till we caught a break this night. We trailed the other boys as the bus dropped you off the other time. We followed you people from there all the way here. And have placed this place on surveillance for the past half hour or so. We had to use silencers on our guns so as not to attract attention in order to save you from being killed.’
The policeman then untied my hands and took me back to the parlour where the others were. Getting there, I saw the other co-kidnapees now untied.They were rejoicing, dancing and praising their respective Gods. Surprisingly I also saw Killer and his two boys now seated on the cold floor in handcuffs.
Madam! Madam!! Madam!!!
‘Ehn ehn…..’ jolting back into the present.
‘Ahn ahn, no be you wen I bin dey folo talk since morning, dey ask you how much meat you wan buy, but you no gree ansa since’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I ….didn’t…I’m sorry please. Just give me 1kg meat’.
‘Ok madam…but abeg no dey think again o. E no good for a fine woman like you abeg’
Ten years on, I am married to Lade, with two beautiful kids; a boy and a girl.
I had survived a harrowing and deeply scaring encounter in the hands of ritualists on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. I count myself a lucky person. Not everybody who had been victims of kidnappers and ritualists have lives to tell the story like I now do.
I thank my God everyday for sparing my life that fateful day.
Lade I must confess has been the best husband any woman can pray for. He has been all shades of wonderful, caring and supporting.
Oh, lest I forget, my Dad?
I didn’t tell you how I faced him after everything abi, after it became apparent I had lied to him and gone to Lagos.
Hmmmm…..lemme just say he was just glad to have his only daughter back home and safe.