- Foreword: I woke up by 5:43 am this morning to write this instalment, and from that time I stayed writing till about 10:47 am when I finished. I tried saving the post on my wordpress phone app where I’d typed the whole thing, doing this while chatting on BBM, and by some mishap, I clicked on “DISCARD” instead of “SAVE”.
Yes, more than four hours of work… Poof! Like that.
What’s the moral of this story? You might ask.
Well, I started writing this episode from scratch again, putting in another four hours (approximately) in order to meet my Sunday morning deadline, and so if you read this and don’t comment AND share, GOD WILL JUDGE YOU! Lol!
Sat, Jun 21, 2014
I had the dream again. Only it wasn’t as much a dream as it was a memory.
There was a lifeless body; the lifeless body of a young man whom I recognised, lying in a pool of blood, his own blood. And there was blood everywhere; like dripping paint, running down the walls in crimson rivulets; appearing in splotches on the dead man’s shirt like the handiwork of an invisible child playing with paint, red paint. Only it wasn’t paint; it was blood, and oh, it was so much blood. Red everywhere. A sea of crimson.
I fell to my knees and touched the body, like I’ve done in this dream so many times before; knowing what would come next, but doing it all the same, unable to stop as I played out the horror.
I never wake up until the dream is done, and it’s almost like my subconscious wants me to go through the motions, through the punishment. I suppose that means taking another man’s life hadn’t killed my conscience, and try as I did to stifle the memory in my waking hours, it came back to haunt me every time I fell asleep. And as I did in my sleep every night dreaming, I fell on my knees, the lifeless body before me, as while I watched blood started to cover my hands, staining my palms, and running in-between my fingers. Blood on my hands. Blood that’s not mine.
I panic in the dream as the blood covers my hands, so much blood, and I don’t know what to do with it, or with my blood-covered hands. I need to get the blood off, somehow, anyhow. I have to get the blood off my hands; blood that’s not mine. And then I start to wipe my hands on the dead man’s shirt, but the blood keeps flowing, streaming down my hands, rising up to my ankles.
Furious. Panicked. Furious and panicked, I wipe my hands even more frantically on the dead man’s shirt, and just then before me, the corpse begins to morph, it’s form shifting, the shirt with the red splotches falling away; the buzz cut in which the dead man’s hair is styled starts to grow, unnaturally, like the germination of a plant caught on video and fast-forwarded on turbo speed. Slowly, the lifeless man and his nondescripit shirt becomes the dead girl in the short blue dress.
She grabs my hand and opens her eyes, dead glassy eyes. And then she screams at me in her other-worldly voice: ‘I know what you did!’
‘Jesus!’ I screamed as I woke up. ‘Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!’
It was only a dream. Just not the kind of dream you ever fully wake from…
Two Weeks Before…
‘Ha! Barrister Ikpeama!’ Oluchi hailed me on my way out to court that morning, decked out in the law students’ regulation dress code: black suit, white dress shirt, black-tie. And then my nerd glasses.
‘Barrister Ikpeama you’re looking good this morning o.’
Barrister Ikpeama? I thought. There’s nothing I won’t hear from this girl. “Ikpeama” in Igbo translates to “not-guilty.”
I didn’t have the energy to engage Oluchi that morning as I wasn’t feeling very well. My bowels seemed to be constantly stirring and it felt like I had a stomach bug or something, but I knew it was more than that; something less physical. I was labouring under my new-found knowledge: the identity of a serial-killer. And while it was really upsetting that I didn’t know what to do with this knowledge, it was draining to keep thinking about it, troubling myself until sleep grudgingly claims me in the wee hours of the morning.
It’s been two days now since I was at the Kado Police Station. I didn’t go to court yesterday, and spent most of the day holed up in my room, blaming my disposition on malaria, and even going as far as buying meds to convince myself it was true. What I needed was that memory-deleting contraption from Men In Black, not Coartem.
I hadn’t had breakfast that morning as I left. I didn’t remember because I wasn’t hungry, and as I dragged myself slowly out to the junction where I could get a Wuse-bound cab, I said a silent prayer for strength and grace. I didn’t need to be consumed by anything other than my books. I couldn’t afford the luxury. I kept telling myself I had to don my wig and gown come November, and that I had to do so beaming confidently, not flashing shy smiles and hoping no one would ask what grade I graduate law school with.
In court, rather than sit with my colleagues in my regular place at the back, I advanced closer to The Bench; sitting amid the robbed and wigged lawyers, and sticking out like a sore thumb where I was on the second row, pressed against the hardwood wall. I was in no mood for gisting, and I just wanted to be left alone.
‘What’s up with Doz man chilling in front and forming lock up today?’ I heard Jabbar say from behind and acted like I didn’t.
‘Dozie?’ Fatima called from her seat two rows behind me. I turned and called up my wide, well-practised smile, which remains the same whether I’m happy or in pain. It’s a facade I put up when I need to, and a symbol of warmth when it’s heartfelt; but in that instant, I didn’t know which it was, and would wager now that it was probably neither. Just a mechanical gesture my face was rigged to undertake with each greeting.
‘Fati!’ I responded with forced levity. ‘Good morning.’
‘Is everything all right?’ She asked; perceptive as always, I don’t suppose she had fallen for my Macleans advert.
‘Yes’ I replied. ‘I’m just tired. Didn’t sleep very well last night.’
‘Oh okay’ she said, nodding, but the look in her eyes said she didn’t quite believe me.
I said hi to my other colleagues, and by the time I was done exchanging pleasantries, both my neck —which I had been craning backwards —and the fixed smile on my face were both aching. It was all I could do not to heave a sigh of relief when finally I tilted back to face the empty Bench and mind my thoughts, but not before I shot some lawyer behind me —who looked like she could play Shrek’s love-interest without any make-up or special effects and still be convincing —a very dirty look. She had been looking at me while I greeted my colleagues with such disdain, like something she picked off the bottom of her Cristiano Lubitin shoes —yes, she slipped her feet out of her shoes and I glimpsed the branding (and the red sole!) She was probably no more than two years at the bar. New wigs a.k.a baby lawyers tend to be the most snobbish.
The Judge sat, the first case was called, and it was a breeze. There were only four cases on the cause-list, and unusually, rather than go through every last detail with a fine-comb, Justice Okpo seemed more brisk, going at the matters as they were or as they were presented by counsel, and refraining from giving directives. This sudden time-efficient strangeness only became less shocking when the Judge informed the court that he had to preside over an election petition tribunal in Jabi that afternoon, and that he was pressed for time.
Court rose at about 11:00 am, and unaccustomed to such pleasant surprises, we the students had no idea what to do with ourselves and all the time we had on our hands. It felt like a holiday had been announced, and I could swear some of my colleagues suddenly looked younger by several weeks. Photo-session for bbm dps and Instagram began soon as the lawyers filed out of the courtroom, and just like that it was a marketplace: everybody was talking; analysing how this lawyer did what, and what that lawyer should have said that he didn’t say.
Twenty-minutes on and they all seemed to run out of steam —I’d been wordlessly listening and smiling like it was a task I was proficient at — when as though on the directive of some unseen umpire, all my colleagues started to heft their bags one after another, and leave.
‘I don dey go house. See you guys tomorrow.’
‘Make I go library jack small. Later y’all.’
‘Dozzy, aren’t you going yet?’ Fatima asked as she too slung her handbag over her shoulder.
‘I would be leaving soon’ I said, ‘I just want to collect my logbook from L.A.’ Which was a lie of course. My logbook was in my bag, but I just didn’t want to return home so early, and I had forgotten my jotter so I would have had nothing to read in the Magistrate Court’s Library, which shelves are stacked with only law reports, letter-coded laws of the federation, and a handful of texts that were of no use to me as far as bar finals was concerned. I didn’t suppose I could get much reading done in my frame of mind anyway, and so I pinged Kaybee, my friend from the Kano campus of the Nigerian Law School, with whom I had been planning to meet for weeks on end, but had been unable to due to clashing schedules, and the fact that my court sits a lot later than hers.
Kaybee was posted to Court 2, Federal High Court, Gudu District, which was a ways down from me and completely off my usual routes; but then I had ample time on my hands, and I probably wouldn’t have such an opening as then to meet up with her for some time yet —if ever —before we returned to school.
I was the only person left in the court then, besides the Registrar who was busy writing furiously, probably endorsing documents and processes. He grunted when I bid him farewell and left, walking as I usually did with very long strides, like a demon was hot on my heels; till I was at the main road and crossed over to the lane pointed towards Garki.
A cab came along, and I got in. ‘Federal High Court, Gudu!’ I directed as he rejoined traffic in the reckless, senseless manner Abuja drivers are famous for.
It took about thirty-minutes to get to the court complex, and on the backdrop of all the traffic horror stories I’d heard about this part of town, I was half-surprised. The only stops we made on the way in were at traffic-lights, but then it wasn’t even noon yet; probably just the lag between the two daily rush hours, I thought as I alighted and handed the taxi driver his fare; walking away before he could protest that it was N100 short of what he’d demanded, and exactly what I’d said I’d pay for the ride.
The court complex was impressive to say the least, seeing as I was coming from a converted utility room: a multi-storey monolith shaped like a horseshoe, and which also boasted a multi-level parking garage by the side of the building. I suddenly felt short-changed. This is a court, mbok, I thought to myself as I asked around for Court 2 and was pointed in the right direction.
I shoved the one-way door and walked into the courtroom, spotted Kaybee, bowed at the judge and made my way to huddle beside her where she sat at the back of the court.
‘Your court is massive’ I mouthed and she shrugged and thanked me like I had just complimented her palatial country home; but the court was indeed a lot bigger than I was clearly used to. There was more room, and I could actually tell the dock from the witness’ stand, unlike in my court where they were both stumpy, indistinguishable wooden boxes.
‘One last case’ Kaybee informed me with the infectious glee of a convict on their last day serving a prison sentence, just as the female Judge finished giving her ruling on the second-to-the-last matter on the cause-list and pounded her gavel.
‘Call the next case!’ The Judge ordered. She was a pretty woman, I could tell, even from the back; if only she didn’t wear that scowl on her face like monkey wey lick lime, I thought; for some reason imagining what she had been like in her youth.
‘Federal Republic of Nigeria and Akpan Udofia’ the Registrar announced in a voice that boomed from his pot-belly, half of which was tucked in his trousers and held down with a thick-leather belt. Body magic tinz, I thought, snickering to myself.
‘CR/FHC/2007/3904’ the Registrar finished, citing the case number, then squeezing into his seat at the foot of The Bench. For some reason he had me thinking of queens and the jokers of their courts; and stifling a laugh at how ironically astute that image was.
‘Is this how he dresses all the time?’ I asked Kaybee. ‘The Registrar… What’s with the Papa Ajasco dressing?’
‘Haba Dozie!’ Kaybee intoned before clamping a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. ‘You and your bad mouth!’ She swathed me on my knee.
‘But it’s true na.’
‘See I take God beg you, don’t come and make me laugh like a mad person here. Before that woman up there would get an orderly to bundle us out. Please! Just wait till we finish before you make any observations.’
‘Yes ma’ I said with mock servility.
She shook her head and started to pay rapt attention.
‘Is the accused in court?’ Her Lordship asked and the Registrar replied in the affirmative just as a very light-skinned man stood to his feet just in front of me.
OK, I take the bit about him being light-skinned back. This man was beet-red! He had bleached off his epidermis, and was slowly eroding what was beneath, except at his knuckles, which were still very dark. Let me just say that the difference between his dark knuckles and the rest of his hands was the difference between the black and white stripes on tom-tom sweets. I didn’t see his face until he went to stand in the dock, but I was sure before then that it would be bright as the sun, and I was right.
‘Jesus!’ I said under my breath. ‘Where this man see the acid wey e carry bleach?’ I couldn’t help my laughter, or the tears leaking down the sides of my face, and clearly neither could Kaybee who ducked below the Judge’s line of vision as she was rocked by silent laughter. Some man in the seat in front of us turned around to shoot us a warning look, and I met his gaze head-on till he realised he wasn’t eye-to-eye with the sanest of individuals.
‘I’ve been following this case since’ Kaybee informed me as soon as she caught her breath. ‘The charges on this Mr. Akpan’s head alone, eh! Drug-trafficking o, tax evasion, gbogbo tigbo. The charges reach ten Dozie!’
‘Na wa o. And with all the money he’s made from all these illegal stuff, couldn’t he have hooked up with Dencia, instead of doing this nasty Tempovate-bleaching?’
‘Haha! Dozie, abeg stop na’ Kaybee urged, snickering. ‘Whitenicious tinz! Come, you are mad you this boy!
‘I heard he’s very rich sha’ she continued. ‘The last time he came to court in one bad-ass Benz like that.’
‘Hmm, Kaybee this one you’re taking inventory of the man’s fleet of cars… Are you trying to be his widow, because this fellow is surely dying of skin-cancer in the not-too-distant future.’
She was done warning and pleading with me. This time she punched me in the rib-cage. ‘I’ll raise up my hand and report you the next time you make me laugh’ she threatened with mock severity.
The accused, Mr. Akpan Udofia, did look rich; rich, not wealthy. He lacked the finesse and candour of the truly wealthy, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try, possibly a bit too hard. He was garbed in an immaculate white danshiki, adjusting his sleeves intermittently as the Judge began reading her judgment to show his expensive-looking golden wristwatch; he was wearing a gold signet ring on his wedding finger, which caught the light —and hinted at an unmarried status —and the cloying scent of the fragrance he wore still lingered minutes after he vacated his seat for the dock.
The accused became visibly panicked as the entire gallery watched. The tone of the Judge’s ruling as she read didn’t bode well for him, and even if the legalese sailed over his head, the palpable anxiety-level in the courtroom said enough.
‘Chai! She’s going to send this man to prison’ Kaybee muttered beside me, with genuine concern. All I could think was how he would maintain his fragile skin while in prison, and how prison wasn’t a place a man would want to stand out. I had been to Okere Prison in Warri once, on a visit with my Legal Aid NYSC CDS group, and the memory of that experience sets me straight each time someone annoys me enough to want to put them down, permanently.
‘It is my finding’ the Judge continued, ‘that the accused person has’—
‘Chei!’ The first scream rent the air as the accused fell to the ground and started to convulse in his immaculate white danshiki.
Hian! Which one is this one again, I thought. This man should not come and die in court o.
His lawyer was instantly at his side, but the Judge was clearly unperturbed.
‘Would the defense counsel please return to his seat’ she ordered. ‘Leave him alone. When he’s done with his acting he’ll get up.’ Clearly she had been on The Bench long enough to be accustomed to such antics.
‘As the court pleases’ said the prosecuting counsel —a lawyer from the EFCC —a bit too forcefully.
‘Mr. Udofia please stand up when you are done with your drama’ she finished and went back to delivering her judgment, using the microphone this time to drown out Mr. Udofia’s screams.
It was indeed some drama, as the accused rolled on the floor, his screaming intensifying as he wailed in his native tongue: ‘Abasi mi! I dip mi! Nsuk mkpa! Nyomke ndika ngbokobi ooo!‘
A woman in front of me snickered, and I bent to her for translation. ‘Abeg, what is the meaning of what he’s saying?’
‘My God o. My stomach o. I’m dying. I am not going to prison. I’m dying! I’m dying!’ She snickered again, and I thought she was wicked to be finding this funny as I snickered too.
It happened suddenly; so suddenly that I don’t suppose any of us really understood what was going on until the accused, Mr. Udofia, threw himself into the courtroom’s one-way exit door and vanished from sight. One minute he was lying prone on the floor beside the dock, screaming, and then suddenly the screaming stopped and all was still. The judge paused the delivery of her judgment to look down at him from her perch on The Bench for a fraction of a second before she continued, having convinced herself all was well; and that was when Mr. Udofia jumped to his feet and made a bee-line for the exit, and out through it.
It was quiet for a second after the door reversed into place with a violent bang, the stunned silence of people who couldn’t believe what they had just seen; shattered by the horrified shriek of Her Lordship as she jumped to her feet, her wig flying off her head in the process to land on the Registrar’s desk. She wore her hair in a buzz-cut.
‘Catch that man!’ She screamed. ‘Don’t let him get away! What are you all doing? Get that man and bring him back here!!!’
And just like that it became a stampede: lawyers running out of the courtroom in hot pursuit, their robes billowing behind them like parachutes or the sails of a ship after it’s been filled by wind; and we the students weren’t left out, running amid the stream of black, fluttering robes, helping to snatch up the lawyers’ wigs as they flew off their heads while we all ran after Mr. Udofia, chasing him out to the courtyard where pandemonium had already begun.
Clearly, the security men manning the gate on seeing Mr. Akpan Udofia running towards them at top speed, and the melee of lawyers following closely, had made a split-second situation assessment, had come to the worst conclusion possible, and deciding probably that they weren’t paid enough to risk their lives, took to their heels, leaving their posts.
It was a very ridiculous scene: the security-men in flight, followed closely by Mr. Akpan Udofia, who in his not-so-immaculate-white danshiki looked like an agric fowl being chased by a murder of crows and a few vultures —there were several bald pates gleaming in the sun in the wake of lost wigs. Kaybee would comment later that the lawyers all looked like super-heroes with their robes trailing behind them like capes. I think she’s a tad too optimistic.
The drama didn’t stop there though, as court sessions were interrupted in the other courtrooms; people running out of the other court buildings like it was the Olympics and making for the gate like they had to best Usain Bolt’s record-time; all without asking questions or trying to find out what was going on. In their defence though, there weren’t very many people to ask; everybody was running, except maybe me who was walking majestically behind all the madness, and a few other non-lawyers who had been in Court 2 when Mr. Udofia pulled his great escape stunt.
Particularly hilarious was one fat woman who had run out from one of the other courts and was hopping hurriedly towards the gate on her one good leg, screaming a question in Igbo to no one in particular: ‘Ha bia la ha, ndi boko?‘ Have those boko people come?
Osondu, I thought as I ran to stop her and explain the situation before she hurt herself, and she too couldn’t believe how something so stupid had caused such an uproar once she caught her breath. ‘Ujo emego nmadu atulu‘ she noted —fear has made people sheep —breathing heavily as she limped to go rest her back against a wall, where I left her.
Outside the gate was a horrifying scene. Now the Federal High Court is very close —almost adjacent —to Gudu Market, which was where Mr. Akpan Udofia, —who from my vantage was a lanky white form sailing ahead of a sea of black —had decided to take this insane rat race. I don’t know which he was thinking running into the small community market: that he was going to blend in amongst butchers and women selling dawa-dawa in his bright garb, or that his even brighter face was going to be harder to spot; but whichever it was, it was flat-out idiotic.
The hunt party had begun to wane, a lot of the lawyers, especially the female ones —and the men who could only see their pubic region in the mirror —stopping to catch their breath; most doubled-over, hands planted on knees as they took in gushes of air.
I wondered what LPDC (Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee) would have to say about the level of “conducts incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner” taking place that day, as I walked past them, following the persistent few, the EFCC lawyer in the lead, who were now chasing Mr. Udofia through the marshy grounds of the market.
‘Stop there! Catch him! Somebody stop him!’
‘This idiot man! You must perish today! You’ll stay in prison and never see the light of day! Hei! My chest o!’
I couldn’t find Kaybee, and I supposed she was in the thick of things; but I have to say that I was impressed by Mr. Udofia’s agility and stamina. He just might have escaped with the spring to his feet. His only undoing however, was his choice of escape-route.
Even the best stunt-directors could not have choreographed the scene that ensued, as Mr. Udofia slipped on the slimy ground, and spilled —literally spilled —through the dark mud in his white danshaki just as a butcher was throwing out a bucket of bloody water dotted with animal innards and the waste from a cow’s intestine; all three occurrences closely simultaneous: Mr. Udofia slipping, falling face-forward and spilling through the dark mud, then the bath with yama-yama water.
The lawyers were upon him before he could recover, yanking him up with his head-to-toe mud smear, and dragging him along as he spat mud out of his mouth and tried to wipe his mud-covered face with mud-covered hands. I’m not sure that I saw correctly, but I think the EFCC lawyer cuffed him at the back of the head as the team of lawyers pulled him back to the courtroom, some of them beaming, victorious.
I had more than enough material to fill my logbook with; it’s not everyday that one witnesses a citizen’s arrest, and on the mandate of a judicial officer.
Back at the court, the Judge had found her wig which had flown off her head with all the excitement, but that clearly wasn’t enough to placate her. I don’t suppose anyone had pulled “the Udofia stunt” before her in her years on The Bench, and she was clearly livid and affronted by his nerve.
‘My Lord, this man’s bail should be revoked!’ The EFCC lawyer shouted, chest puffed out, while the defence counsel slunk low in his seat; so low he almost had his head in his laps.
‘My Lord, not only should this man’s bail be revoked for the foolish stunt he just pulled, but also’—
‘But the case is for judgment’ a lawyer from the second row interrupted.
‘Not anymore’ Her Lordship perked up from The Bench, visibly struggling with control, but crackling with static energy nonetheless. ‘Based on the supervening circumstances, I reserve my judgment till…
‘Court clerk give me a date three months from now.’
’15th September’ the court clerk replied, and the Judge continued: ‘I hereby reserve my judgment to be delivered on the 15th day of September 2014, until which time the accused person, Mr. Akpan Udofia, would be remanded at Cuje Maximum Prison. The accused person’s bail is hereby revoked, and hearing notices would be issued to all the parties involved.’
She pounded her gavel, and it was followed by a chorus of “as the court pleases” while Mr. Udofia was led out of the courtroom to his government-sponsored accomadation at Cuje Prison for the next 90 days; all smelly and mud-faced as he repeatedly yelled: ‘ Nyomke ndika ngbokobi ooo!‘
‘Chai!’ Kaybee said beside me. ‘This man is a fool sha.’
‘In the good news department’ I said, ‘he’s bad ass Mercedes is still parked outside. We can go and jimmy the lock. I’ll take it home with me, but I’ll give you free rides whenever I can.’
She shook her head and smiled, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Back at home, I still couldn’t get over the hilarity of the day; Mr. Udofia’s attempted escape still playing in my mind and causing me to laugh till I cried, even while on the ride home, other passengers giving me concerned glances.
‘Oluchi, I’ve told you times without number not to leave tomato paste in the tin after opening it’ I chided goodnaturedly, opening the fridge and rummaging for something sugary to drink. ‘It’s wrong, and unhealthy…
‘Oluchi? You no dey hear again?’
‘Ephesus’ she snapped. ‘O’fesala gi?’ Now I can’t say I know exactly what it meant, the things she said, but it had me doubled over in laughter.
‘Biko, see I’m not in good mood now. I see sontin bad now as I go buy sontin for market’ she said and went back to plucking ugu leaves.
‘What was it that you saw?’ I asked.
‘Chei! A girl dat die on the road and everybody were passing. Dey say she have stay dia since morning and nobody know person that dump her dia.’
I felt the laughter die in my throat, the thirst disappearing instantly. Another victim, I thought. Another bloody victim!
‘Where was this?’ I asked. ‘Which market did you go to?’
‘Utako’ she replied. Utako! The kill-zone was widening.
‘Hian, Edozie what is doing you? Is it dis tin dat I tell you?’ Oluchi asked with concern, possibly at the look on my face, which I suppose was drained of all colour.
I hurried out of the kitchen to my bedroom where my phone was charging, logging onto mobile facebook. Cicero was online.
I typed him a message and sent:
Did you know that on the day Wallie published your story, a girl’s corpse was found at Kado Estate, whose description so fits that of the victim from your story that they could as well be the same person?
Lol, I can’t believe I’m really going into this with you.
I thought about it for a moment. No way! The right side of my brain screamed. No bleeping freaking f#$!ing way! But I still needed to be sure all this serial-killer business was only just in my head, or else the thought “what if” was going to torment me for a long time, possibly the rest of my life.
I decided I was going to go meet Cicero at his house, and that I would hightail it to the nearest police station should the house bear any semblance, even if negligible, to the one from the story.
“OK” I typed. “Send me the address and your phone number.” Then hit SEND, thinking: You only die once…
The house where Cicero lived on 1st Avenue, was a detached building, simple and homogenous in the way of estate housing; not at all gargantuan and intimidating, like the one from “Harmless.” The paint-job was different from those of similar houses on the street, an attempt at individuality, I supposed as I checked the house from both sides, before knocking on the gate, a regular gate unlike the huge one from the story.
‘Hey Dick!’ Cicero greeted when he opened the gate, and we shook hands and bumped shoulders. ‘Wassup?’
‘Good man. No gate man?’ I asked, unable to keep the nervousness from my voice, noting that he was taller than me and big-boned. I don’t meet very many people who are taller than me.
‘Nah. We don’t need one. It’s just me and my aunt who live here.’
‘Oh, I see’ I muttered as he led me into the house, after shutting the gate. ‘So where’s your aunt? Is she around?’
‘Nah, she travelled.’
I stopped in my tracks. ‘Travelled?’
‘Yeah’ he said, arching a brow. ‘To Enugu…
‘You coming?’ He asked, holding open the front door and watching me with a closed expression as I hesitated for a moment before walking towards the entrance and through it. He shut the door in my wake, and locked it.
I was already scanning the room in that instant for makeshift weapons. I trusted my dancer’s reflexes, maybe a little too much, and didn’t think he could spring much of a surprise on me so long as I kept him in my sights and never let him stand or walk behind me. I had spotted an iron-work sculpture already, that looked like it could, with the right application of force, cause grevious bodily harm at the very least, and much worse with my killer swing. And keeping the sculpture in my line of vision seemed to calm me down as Miguel and I started to talk, starting with the meaningless banter of first meetings, then progressing to talk about mutual friends, and then of course, writing. His writing.
‘I have a couple of ideas for some other short stories, but putting down what I have in my head can be such a task. Sometimes, I boot my laptop computer and sit for hours, staring at an empty Microsoft Word page.’
‘Writer’s block’ I noted.
‘It’s all in your head though. Just write anything that comes into your head whenever you feel that way; any combination of words, and you’d find that it’d start to ease. And that you’re actually making sense.
‘Writer’s block isn’t a real thing if you ask me. It’s just that most writers tend to be perfectionists, melancholic temperament and all, and it’s just the fear of putting out something less than perfect. You shouldn’t let it stop you.
‘You write good’ I added honestly, and he smiled heartily, pleased.
‘Sorry, don’t mind my manners’ he perked up. ‘I’m not used to having guests around here… So what can I offer you?’
‘A beer would be fine, thank you’ I said before I could catch myself, and he left the room. Maybe I had become a little too comfortable with the conversation because I didn’t think of downing ethanol in terms of dulling my senses, but having met Cicero, he was just a regular bloke, like me, like anyone else, and I couldn’t see him killing a defenceless girl. Maybe it was all a coincidence; maybe there was someone else out there, and it was just a coincidence that Cicero’s description of his neighbour’s escort had matched that of one of their victims.
That was when it hit me. The neighbour! Cicero’s neighbour could be the killer.
‘Where exactly were you when you saw your neighbour with the girl you described in your story’ I asked Miguel soon as he returned.
‘Right there‘ he said pointing to the top of the stairs.
‘There’s a window’ he continued, leading the way up the one flight, which I noted didn’t smell of lemon grass or anything else funny for that matter, up to a single casement window with double awnings and a crank-out. The window overlooked the property on the east of it, a massive duplex with a stunning collection of cars in the driveway, and a swimming-pool outback. I didn’t need a soothsayer to tell me that the house had high walls on the inside, just like the house from Miguel’s story.
‘Who lives there?’ I asked.
‘Just this one dude. Hardly has any visitors, except the prostitutes.’
‘And you watched him from here arrive with a lady in a blue dress a few nights ago?’
‘When was this? The night before you wrote the story or the night before Walter published it on his blog.’
‘I wrote the story the same night I saw them. They actually inspired the story, and Wallie published it the next morning.’
‘Wow’ I muttered under my breath, suddenly having goose-flesh.
‘What is it?’ Miguel asked. ‘Wait, hope you aren’t thinking what I think you’re thinking?’
‘If you’re thinking it’ I replied, ‘I’ve most likely thought it.’
‘Hahaha!’ He laughed. ‘Oh c’mon! So now my neighbour is a murderous madman that picks call-girls of the street and kills them, right?’ He laughed some more, then sobered up when he realised I wasn’t amused.
‘You’re serious about this, aren’t you?’ He asked more seriously now.
I didn’t respond.
‘Wow! Dick, you’re beginning to freak me out. It was just one stupid story. Stop making it out to be a movie-script.
‘You know, this reminds of the movie “Disturbia” with Shia La Beouf. You know the movie, right?’
‘Yes, I do’ I muttered under my breath.
‘You what his name means in French, right? Shia’—
‘The beef’ I finished. ‘I took a course in French’ I added with a non-commital shrug.
‘Oh, I see… But you’re just being paranoid though. Let’s go back downstairs and have those drinks, biko. All this crazy talk is giving me the hibbie jibbies.’
I didn’t move immediately, transfixed on the house, watching it’s windows for any signs of movement, for the silhouette of a man choking a lady with a wire-loop. When I did move it was reluctantly, and this wasn’t lost on Miguel.
‘You know what, we could just go over there and say hi’ he said.
‘Do you know him?’
‘No. We’ve just walked past each other in the street a few times. We don’t even say hi.’
‘Then how do you suppose we could just drop by his house? What would be our excuse? “Hey, he’s the guy from next door, and I’m his friend who thinks you’re a serial-killer. Can we come in?”‘
Miguel laughed. ‘I guess we’ll figure that out when he comes to the door… Serial killer though… Dick, you’re so freaking paranoid!’
I chuckled. ‘Thanks but no thanks. I’ll pass.’
‘Dude, where’s your sense of adventure?’ Miguel asked. ‘I think it’d be good for you too, so you can get these silly theories out of your head. You sure seem to take them seriously.’
‘How do you even know he’s home?’ I asked, starting to descend the stairs.
‘Chime is always home by this time of day.’
I stopped in my tracks, and turned to face Miguel. ‘I thought you said you didn’t know him?’
‘But you just said his name. Chime…’ And then it all clicked into place in my head. With a sinking feeling in my stomach that could only be the weight of fear and panic, I understood.
‘It’s not just him, is it?’ I muttered, more to myself than anyone else. ‘It’s the two of you.’
The look on Miguel’s face in that instant told me all I needed to know. There wasn’t just one killer; they were two, and one of them was standing right in front of me, less than an arm’s length away.
I turned and jumped down the stairs, literally, my heart pounding in my ears as I tried the front door. It was locked. The key was nowhere in sight.
‘You need to calm down, Chiedozie’ Miguel said as he descended the stairs, calmly, in no hurry, like a big cat on the prowl. He called me Chiedozie. It was the first time he’d called me by my name.
‘Where’s the key to this door?’ I asked, willing myself to be calm and think as I reached with both hands for both bottles of beer sitting on a side-table. ‘You need to open that door and let me out now’ I said in a warning tone.
‘Or what?’ He asked, unmoved. ‘Look Chiedozie, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. I can’t let you leave here with what you now know.’
‘I thought you’d say that’ I muttered under my breath and hurled the first bottle of beer at him, missing him by a hair’s breath as he ducked and the bottle smashed against the wall behind him.
‘Next time I wouldn’t miss’ I promised. ‘Open this door and let me go. Now.’
‘Listen Chiedozie, I don’t want to hurt you or anything. Just hear me out, please.
‘Look, you’re clever, and I respect that. I can use that. We can use that. You can become a part of it, one of us. You can become a Cicero.’
‘What’s a Cicero?’ I asked, retreating towards the door as he advanced towards me.
‘It’s not a “what”, it’s a “who”. A Cicero is a demi-god; smart, invincible; who reigns above the rest of humanity and does with them as he pleases, uses them for his desires.
Like choke them with a wire and dump their bodies in the streets, I thought.
‘It’s not exactly a dictionary-definition, but it’s mine. A word all mine, ours. I updated the urban dictionary with it recently.’
‘So you and Chime…?’ I asked. ‘You’re both Ciceros?’
‘Yes. And you could be one too.’
‘Yes. Except you’re forgetting one thing…’
‘I am not a lunatic!’ I yelled as I hurled the second bottle at him, narrowly missing him again; charging at him as he ducked and knocking him to the ground, the force of impact jarring my bones.
And then I ran. Through the dining room, to what I knew what would be the kitchen; selecting a Chef’s knife from a knife block, and throwing the rest of the knives into a drawer.
All was quiet. I couldn’t hear Miguel. For all I knew he could be anywhere in the house, and he had the home advantage. Slowly, I eased out of the kitchen, walking on tip-toes, my ears strained for the sound of movement as I progressed into the living room, my back against the wall, concentrating so much on the space ahead of me, absolutely sure my rear was safe until the painful blow at the base of my skull, my head exploding with white-hot pain as my vision fell away for a second, replaced by star-lit nothingness.
By the time my vision cleared, Miguel was standing over me. He had been hiding underneath the stairs, I realised, and I hadn’t seen him. I felt for the knife.
‘Looking for this?’ He asked, waving the knife and tucking it in his waist-band. And then he produced a wire-loop.
I started to back away, turning and racing across the room on all fours, a target in mind.
‘We could have done this the easy way, Chiedozie… You’ll have no one to blame but yourself’ his voice came behind me as I scrambled on hands and knees.
Almost there, I thought. Almost there!
The next blow caught me in the spine, pain shooting up my back and crippling me, as I fell flat on my chest; pinioned as Miguel sat astride me, balanced on my back. My brain was screeching with pain by the time he let go of my hands, long enough to worm the wire-loop around my neck, and tighten it, cutting off my airways.
I couldn’t breathe; couldn’t move as my lungs expanded and screamed for air. I am dying, I kept thinking. He’s going to kill me!
My vision was becoming blurry, and try as I did to struggle, I could only move my head and thrash my hands. I couldn’t breathe! I couldn’t move! My chest was contracting painfully, unbearably, and I was beginning to feel myself slip away.
The sculpture! my mind screamed, my survival instincts rearing in. The iron-sculpture I’d seen earlier when I arrived; that was what I’d been scrambling for when Miguel knocked me down.
I stretched out my hands, reaching with my fingers as my vision started to flit in and out like cable TV with bad reception. Just a little longer, I urged my mind as my fingers inched closer, willing my body not to shut down on me yet as I strained against the loop around my neck, leaning forward as much as I could, the wire cutting into my flesh, threatening to crush my oesophagus.
You can’t die now, Dozie! Not like this!
My fingers touched the cold metal, my hand closed around the sculpture, and then with all the life left in me, I swung the heavy iron-work over my head.
You’re reading this now, and it could only mean one thing…