“Jeffozy! Kedu ncha bu omo?”
“Ma guy nothing mega o. You don read finish?”
“Bros hunger don sammar me scatter. Anything for ya guy nah?”
“Eh, relax small, food de fire, make I go check am.”
“Ah, hope say no be spaghetti again today o?”
“Mbanu, today na correct afang soup with poundo. The poundo don ready sef, na just make the soup don. Chillax small, make I go arrange am come.”
“My guy!!! You be correct!”
Jeff sauntered out of the room to go to the common kitchen. We were classmates, but he didn’t exert himself educationally as most of us did. He was ok with being an average student, and sometimes relied on me for his assignment and exams. In return, he cooked and kept the hostel clean while I studied. A very convenient arrangement since I wasn’t as good a cook as he was. I yanked off my clothes and fell onto the bed.
“Mezie, get up,” I was being roughed up on the bed. It took me a few seconds to recognize Jeff’s voice. In the few minutes I fell onto the bed I was already asleep. I rubbed my eyes.
“Where the gretch nah, hunger wan tear my belle o,” I said, looking around for the food.
“Yawa don gas,” he replied gravely.
“Wetin de shele?”
“Persin don go carry the gretch o. Dem pour the soup comot for the pot, carry the poundo join.” My eyes widened involuntarily. His calmness made me suspect he was trying to fool me a bit.
“Abeg stop this kain play, I never do Professor Nwokocha assignment. Bring food make we wak make I go do this assignment abeg.”
“You no hear wetin I de yarn? Abi you think say na joke? I say person don carry am. If I catch the bastard, wetin I go do am, even em mama go swear say na devil come visit am,” he said in a serene voice that made it all the more threatening. I had never known him to be that scary, but my mind dwelt more on the swallow I had already eaten in my dreams.
“Guy, nothing spoil,” he said a few moments later, “make I go arrange bread and sardine for tonight,” and with that he was out of the room. But my mind was fixated on the soup that would have lasted us a week or more. Now we would need to begin hustling for money to stock up till weekend. Damn.
Two nights later, chaos broke out in the hostel. I was in the room working out solutions for the strength of materials past questions when the shouts and running began. I was alone in the room as Jeff had received a phone call earlier and left. I darted out of the room, ran into the bathroom and scaled the window, then off into the bush. I needed no one to tell me it was cultists creating mayhem and I didn’t want to be caught in the cross fire. Resignedly, I accepted it was going to be a long night in the bush. Somewhere in the distance, the grass ruffled. The hairs on the back of my neck stood immediately, tension permeating my body. I heard the movement again, quiet, calculated movement. It was audible above the din created by the wind rustling the leaves. My mind created images of cultists moving in on my position. But then, I argued with myself, I’m not one. Well, there had been cases of mistaken identities, no?
“Mezie,” somebody whispered. I ducked down where I was and stiffened.
“Mezie, it’s me Jeff,” he persisted. I recognized his voice, and listened for movement to determine where he was coming from. The grass shuffled not far from me. As much as I could tell, he was alone.
“Jeff, you sabi scare person. How you take follow me reach here?”
“I been see you dive comot for that window, so I begin follow you.”
“You sabi wetin happen for hostel?”
“Dem say na Clark o, say dem don kpayi de guy.”
“Jesus!” I shouted in a low voice. Clark was a notorious cultist living in our hostel. “Dem kpayi Clark? Oh boy eeeee. How we go do nah?”
“We gas comot here o. Snake fit bite person for here. Come, I get one guy wey we fit crash for em crib. This way.” He led us out of the bush and to a hostel not far from the school, but on the other side away from our hostel. It was later in the morning that I heard the full gist of Clark’s gruesome murder: he was tied up, disemboweled alive and forced to eat his intestines, the signature kill of the feared capo of the ‘Aye’ movement.
Three weeks after Clark’s murder, everything had returned to normalcy. We sat in class awaiting our lecturer to come in. Meanwhile, I occupied myself by toasting Chioma, a beautiful black chic in my class with large brown eyes. She spoke Igbo with an hausa accent, having lived all her life in Bauchi. The flow was alright and I was about sealing the deal with a quickly taken kiss when Dami materialised from nowhere. He was the Alaye of the class, terror of the quiet and a bully. His frail frame and long head only served to add intimidation to his thick Yoruba accented English. He was rumoured to be a hitman for the buccaneers, so no one toyed with him.
“So you think you can mess with me, abi?”
“How nah, wetin I do?”
“Ahh, you de question me ba?”
“No oh, haba. I de mad ni? I no fit try am o!”
“See ehn, that babe na my future gehfren, you de hear me so? I no wan see you near her.”
“No wahala chairman. She be my sister nah, I no fit touch am.”
“In fact, find me money wey I go use pay her brideprice. Bring your contribution,” he said with a half grin.
“Haba bros, I no get cha o,” I replied, bringing out my wallet, “here, see na only five hun de here.”
“Bring am. No go near her again o, if not you go pay her full brideprice, you hear me so?” I was about to respond when Jeff showed up, eyeing Dami mysteriously.
“Wetin de happen here?”
“Ah, Oga boss!!! Tuale sir! Your boy de loyal sir!” I was stunned to see Dami greeting him so. It was most unusual.
“Mezie wetin happen here?”
“The guy collect my moni o, cos I talk to Chioma o.”
“Oya return am sharpaly,” commanded Jeff. To my utmost surprise, Dami complied. I decided on the spot to make some profit.
“Haba, no be five hun you collect na. Na one kay I give you!” Dami raised his eyebrows in shock.
“Baba dem, no worries, ah de come.” He left and came back in a heartbeat with a rumpled one thousand naira note, submitted it and requested for the smaller denomination.
“Leave am de go,” cut in Jeff. I wasn’t done yet.
“How about Chioma nah?”
“Ah, ma guy carry go! Anything for my oga dem o!!!” I chuckled, but I became suspicious.
“Why Dami de fear you like this nah?”
“My uncle is an assistant commissioner of police. One of their investigations led to Dami and I was called to testify to his character as he is my classmate. I gave him a clean bill of health, so uncle mandated me to keep an eye on him and report back if I notice anything unbecoming.”
After class that day, I hung out with Chioma, Jeff and his babe Angie, while Dami stood watch for us.
For some days Jeff hadn’t been in school. His numbers weren’t going through either. I got a message from my mum saying dad was sick and hospitalised. I decided to leave that day for the hospital. Going from Owerri to Onitsha was a two hour drive through some very bad sections of the high way. I sat by the window, gazing at the passing scenery. Suddenly the driver braked hard as gunshots rang out.
“Come dan! Come dan! Everybody come dan!!!” As soon as the bus stopped, one of the robbers dragged open the door. The man sitting by the door, a huge man, received a resounding slap from the boy young enough to be his son, and half his size. We started coming down one after the other, submitting our monies and gadgets.
“Oya, go that side go lie down!” Over where he pointed I looked to see others lying at the foot of a bandit. It was Jeff. His eyes were staring straight at me. The smoke from the weed he was smoking hung in the air. The trees stood still for a while while we stared.
“You,” he said, pointing at me, “come this side. Others enter motor comot here.” I felt warm liquid seep down my legs as other passengers scampered to the bus, but it didn’t matter to me. I was dead anyway.
The bus had left ten minutes earlier. Taking me hostage, they had retreated into the bush. He sat on the stump of an old tree, smoking his weed and thinking deeply. From time to time he cast sideways glances at me, but I dared not look at him. I felt he was trying to decide whether to dispatch me or let me live longer a little while, so I dared not aggravate the situation by looking at him. Having said my last prayers though, I savoured every deep breath I took like my last one.
“Collect smoke,” he offered me his weed, startling me out of my visions of afterlife.
“Oga you know say I no de smoke,” I replied.
“I no ask you whether you de smoke, I say collect smoke.” I caught his drift, took the stub and dragged on it. The smoke got into my chest and immediately, I felt my lungs on fire and began coughing unabated. This drew howls of laughter from the boys gathered there. They were ‘Ayes’, I realized from the colour some of them were flying. He threw a look to silence them. My eyes were red rimmed and tears were flowing freely.
“Sit for ground,” he admonished. I did so while still coughing in spasms. When I became a bit calmer, he turned to me.
“I just wan make you smoke weed small, make e no be say you come this world finish, you no smoke Igbo for once,” he concluded what sounded like my death sentence. I prayed to God for the final time to grant mum fortitude to bear my loss. In a fleeting moment, I thought about Chioma…
“Where you de go sef?”
“Mumsi call me say popsi de hospital. Na house I wan go so make I go see them,” I replied.
“Ah, popsi no well? Chai.” He was quiet.
“So how we go do am now?” he asked after some silent moments. “You don see me in my full glory, I no fit let you go. You know how e be nah.” I was silent. I had no response. Something told me it would be a bad idea to plead for a lost cause.
“See ehn, I don do my best to protect you as my paddy, but you see this one, you enter o. Even these boys no go gree make you waka, because you go cast us…”
“I swear say I no go talk anything,” I blurted out as I saw my opening, “wetin I see go follow me die o. I no fit cast, you know me well well say I no de yarn anyhow.” Silence. He gathered his guys and held a tête à tête with them for a few minutes. One of the boys was shaking his head vigorously as an serious argument broke out amongst them.
“Oga,” said the boy whom had I recognized as Idimu, from geology and mining, “we know say you be capo, but we get rules and regulations for how to handle matters like this one. We know say na your friend, but it’s got to be done.” At the mention of capo, I remembered Clark and his intestines stuffed into his mouth. I had heard gist about how he stole things from people in the hostel, including food. I remembered Jeff’s quiet threat the night his afang soup went missing. It had been him all along.
“Na me get do am nah, if na so,” cut in my friend turned my killer, loading and cocking his pistol. I closed my eyes, and an instant later, a shot rang out.
I had always wondered what death felt like, especially violent deaths. But somehow, I felt no pain, just a feeling of soaring in the clouds, the white fluffy clouds giving way for the pearly gates of heaven…
“Who else wan challenge me?” Jeff queried. I opened my eyes to a horrifying sight. Idimu lay dead on the floor, his brains blown out. The other boys shuffled their feet, but said nothing. Turning to me with piercing eyes, he said in his almost silent, snakelike voice,
“Today never happened. If I hear peem anywhere e come be say na you, well you know as e go be. We will drop you at the junction where you can get a bus. Let’s get out of here,” he ordered.
I gazed into the big pearly eyes staring at me.
“You mean this was why you ran from school? I had no inkling! And he kept watch over me throughout school until we graduated! No wonder you refused to talk about him all these while. I thought it was the pain of his death that you had held to yourself!” Chioma touched my face lightly as we lay close on the big bed. Those big, mesmerising eyes….
“Daddy! Mummy! Grandpa is downstairs!” It was our second daughter Phoebe, breaking the quiet moment we were sharing together. I sighed deeply. I still feel tremors when I remember I had a devil for a roommate. Not to talk of the nightmares.