We rode quietly in the dark blue sedan. Bramo was sweating profusely, his eyes darting back and forth to each one of us as if willing someone to say something. No one did. We let the tension in the air do all the talking.
I shifted in my seat, trying to adjust the heavy bag I clung onto tightly, but my thighs still ached from the weight. Grunting, I made to place the bag on the floor.
“Careful!” Kinjo called out looking like a more menacing version of himself, if that were possible. He had a black scarf wrapped around his head and over his mouth like those Taliban men tied theirs. The disguise did nothing to conceal the scar that ran from his forehead through his left lid before disappearing underneath the scarf. He had told us the story once, of how the scar came about, adamant that it happened on a Sunday evening while he was hanging at a joint in Boundary market, Ajegunle. The police had raided the market, their sirens blaring and faces etched in vengeful determination. They alleged the sellers had failed to obey Lagos sanitation rules the previous Saturday morning. Audaciously, he had challenged one of them and called his mother a ‘cock-hungry bitch.’ A fight broke out, tables were hauled, bottles broken and in the end he killed a man. I’d hoped he’d exaggerated the first time I heard the story, but he had told it countless times since then, with more assertion and without deviation. I unquestioningly accepted the morale; he was an untamed monster that should not be taunted.
As the leader of the pack, he exuded the confidence we all did not have, and commanded the respect we sought to give. He was the Shepard and we were the sheep. He was the one who came up with the plan, assembling all four of us at the inconspicuous point of an uncompleted building to discuss the new idea that could lead us all to the ‘Promised Land’.
At first I shook my head vehemently and told them I wanted nothing of it, but Ahmed had firmly held my shoulder and asked in that deep raspy voice he had; “Are you willing to let your sister die?”
I reconsidered my decision then and made a mental note of all I would miss about Uchechi if she did leave me in this vain-filled world. Her warm smile, contagious laughter and playful jabs, asking me why I refused to ask Adaugo, her best friend, out on a date…
“Is she too fine for you?” she would say, then raise her hands and answer her own question, “Of course she is. Plus you don’t have any money to take her out.”
Her hands weren’t flying up these days. They did not even move. The menace that played with her breath snatched it and caused her chest to ache so badly had come at a time I was not present, when it knew I could do nothing to save her. What was it the doctor had called her? Comatose. A vegetable. He had pitied my pennilessness and given me a week to gather the money for what was already freely enjoyed by us all. Oxygen.
I caved in then, the second to the last to do so. Bramo had been a different matter. It took two whole days to convince him as to the effectiveness of the plan. I did not blame him. He had more to lose than anyone of us in the group. A delinquent from a rich home, he had gotten involved with the wrong guys, borrowed some money from the infamous street King Attahiru and when he was found out, the money automatically doubled every week. They stormed the apartment we shared together, beat him to a pulp and demanded he settle them by the end of the week. He needed the money but then again he needed his good name. He was weary of his ways and longed to return home. To his own ‘promised land’ where people worshipped and respected him and visions of a new beginning were plausible.
Now we all stood, or more accurately, sat in agreement, waiting anxiously for the plan to be set in motion. We stopped some 20 meters away from the large white house Kinjo had earlier marked out for reasons unknown to us. All he had said was “His name is Chief Prince Obi and he has been expecting us. What, with all those tear-rubber cars he parades up and down. Today is Prado Jeep, tomorrow Porsche. He go hear am.”
It was some minutes past two o’clock in the morning and the eeriness of the hour combined with the familiar chirping sound of crickets began to irk me. From nowhere, an uneasy feeling crept in beneath my skin and I scratched the nape of my neck, feeling the light swell of a mosquito bite. I looked at the others to check if anyone looked as troubled as I did at that moment and immediately locked eyes with Bramo. His stare unsettled me, desperate and almost pleading. I looked away. I needed this. I was not backing down now. Worse still, I could not let the others down.
Kinjo had begun off-loading the guns from the suitcase I once carried on my lap, unaware of the silent exchange ensuing between Bramo and I. He held out a weapon to each one of us without looking up. Ahmed took his, I took mine and it was when Bramo hesitated that Kinjo looked up at him.
“Guy,” he said questioningly.
I reached out for the gun and handed it to Bramo. “Calm down. Everything will go as planned. Here,”
Ahmed hissed, long and slow, then said in Pidgin English
“Which kain nonsense be this! No fuck this thing up for us o! Na me go tear you finish if you try am.”
Kinjo dealt him a dagger stare and his voice faltered to an inaudible whisper.
It was almost diabolical, the spell Kinjo held over Ahmed. The younger of the two, Ahmed sought the approval of Kinjo; looked to him for confirmation of his every single action. If Kinjo wanted rice and beans, Ahmed opted for beans and rice. If Kinjo thought blue reminded him of red, Ahmed readily agreed that both colours did have a striking resemblance. Once we had seen a street kid aim a catapult high above Kinjo’s head to fire at a bird. Swearing the child was out for him, Kinjo had stormed towards him, though Bramo and I tried desperately to pacify him, telling him we all saw the boy practice this sport countless times. But Ahmed had vehemently disagreed with us, seized the catapult and fired at the boy three times. I didn’t see the boy with a catapult the next day or any day after that.
Kinjo was eyeing us all up and down now, checking to see if we were properly ‘kitted’. Satisfied, he muttered, “Ready” then led the way out the car and towards Chief Prince Obi’s house. He flipped open his phone and made a call, then directed that we flatten ourselves on the fence of the house, beneath the security building’s windows and wait patiently for the ‘inside man’ to let us in. A few seconds later, a rotund girl emerged from within the house, opening the gates as quietly as she could manage. I assumed she was the one Kinjo called Fifi, his girlfriend and cook of the household. He pulled her into an amorous hug and I stood there thinking how odd an activity it was considering the intricacy of the moment.
Finally he pulled away.
“You poison them?” he asked
“Yes, I put the rat poison for their food. Both Mallam and the dogs. They have died.”
Kinjo patted her back to indicate appreciation for a job well done and signaled us to follow her into the house.
It was at this point, the point where we entered the bedroom of Chief Prince Obi to find him snoring beside his sleeping wife, that the full reality of what I was doing hit me.
All of a sudden I felt this unbearable pain in my chest, like a hammer was lodged in it. When did life become this bad that I resorted to robbing an innocent man and his wife? I thought of Uncle Agbuche and wished we robbed him instead. It would have been better to rob a man I knew did not deserve what he owned, a selfish stingy man who had thrown his relatives out of his lives as you would the rubbish in your bin; not someone whose name I learnt some days back, whose sins I knew nothing of, who could, for all I knew, be an innocent-charitable-church-going man.
I forced the guilty thoughts out of my head. It was too late to back down now. Kinjo was calling my name, or rather, the general code name he had coined earlier for this operation.
“Guy!” he shouted “Take the woman to the parlour! Move!”
He was pointing the gun to her face while Chief Prince Obi begged for his life and that of his wife.
“Please, I will give you whatever you want. Please don’t shoot.”
The woman was crying uncontrollably, fully awake and dressed in a flimsy silk nightwear. I pulled her out of the bed and into the sitting room ordering her to shut up.
Kinjo emerged with his frightened victim and told Bramo and Ahmed to bring out the children from their rooms while we waited still with the guns trained at their backs, their faces to the floor.
I staggered backwards when the children filed into the room. They were not what I expected. An adolescent girl and young boy barely in his teens. Their innocence jarred at my heart. She reminded me of Uchechi with her wooly natural hair and big eyes wide with fear. I steeled myself from dropping the arm holding up the weapon.
“Guy,” I called to Kinjo “make we do this thing clear fast fast!”
Kinjo nodded and ordered the woman show me where she kept her jewelry. Carefully, she stood up and headed for her bedroom. I followed, my gun still trained on her. I noticed the double French doors first with arabesque carvings of various bizarre shapes. These opened to reveal a spacious white bedroom. A queen-sized bed stood at its center and in-built wooden wardrobes lined the walls on the left side. From one of these, she got out a red trinket box. I handed her an empty Calico bag and ordered she turn the pieces into it and for this brief moment, when she wet the bag with her tears and struggled to get every single one of her jewelry into it, I relished the temporary power I had over the rich. Me, a sand-digging-poverty-stricken-boy who had come into Lagos with dreams of a lavish life like the one this woman lived, held power over her. My confidence seemed reinstated by this realization and I dragged her back to the sitting room hoping to find the others done ransacking the place.
Surprisingly, I found Ahmed holding up Chief Obi’s teenage daughter and professing rather loudly, “This one na my own! I go do am!”
Kinjo was not saying anything. Chief Obi had resolved to tears now and was currently pleading that Ahmed let his daughter go. I frowned. Raping a child had not been part of the plan.
“Guy, we no plan this kain thing. Make we collect the money go.”
Ahmed sneered at me and pulled the girl closer to him. “We go leave fresh meat like this commot? You dey craze”
Without warning Bramo trained his gun at Ahmed and the girl’s mother screamed.
“Ahmed, leave the girl alone.” Bramo’s voice dripped with fear though he tried to conceal it.
“Guy!” Kinjo warned him. I wasn’t sure whether it was for dropping the code name or for turning against one of our own.
“Tell him to leave her alone!” His hands were shaking and Ahmed threw back his head and laughed.
“You go shoot me? Ok shoot me.” He taunted moving the girl left to right in front of him as he too moved with her.
“Guy, no shoot. Make everybody dey calm. This thing go soon-”
I was yet to complete my statement when two shots rang out and I clutched my ears at the unexpected noise. My eyes frantically searched Ahmed and the young girl’s body for a sign of who Bramo had shot. There was no red stain anywhere. I looked to my left to find Bramo lying lifeless on the floor. Stunned, I looked back to Ahmed who was mouthing something, his weapon slung over his shoulder, the girl still quaking in his arms. He could not have shot Bramo. I turned to Kinjo.
“Jesus! K. You shot Bramo!” I screamed at him
He did not look bothered. He shrugged and said “The guy too dey slow us down.”
My feet crossed to where Bramo lay without really hitting the floor. It was like I had also been shot and couldn’t feel anything. I moved him, held his hand to check for a pulse and felt nothing. It wasn’t like I knew what I was doing. I only re-enacted what I saw them do on Television.
“Hey! Hey! Who you call?”
Kinjo was screaming at Chief Obi, who held a mobile phone in his left palm. He had taken advantage of the distraction and made a call. My head was reeling. Things were not going according to plan. We needed to leave now!
Another shot rang out and suddenly Chief Obi was howling out in pain, his wife screaming even louder than him. The little boy said nothing through it all. Did not even cry. Just watched us all quietly. Chief Obi was clutching his right knee. A pool of blood had begun to form. I tried to process what was happening. Things were moving too fast.
I watched Kinjo crouch to stare Chief Obi dead in the eye.
“I say who you call?” he screamed. When still he got no response, Kinjo picked up the phone to scroll down the call log.
“He tell person we dey here. We dey clear!” Kinjo announced then gave Ahmed a hard stare at which point Ahmed grumbled and pushed the girl back to the ground.
We left immediately, making sure to take the suitcase of American dollars Kinjo found under Chief Obi’s bed.
As we dashed out, a new life began to form in my mind. A life where my sister, Uchechi, was always happy with money for food, new clothes for church and quality textbooks for school, satisfied in the knowledge that she would recuperate and one day study to become a nurse. We might even leave the slums. I could rent a one bedroom apartment at Mile 2 with my share of the money. But this dream was cut short. My head was dizzy. I wondered why I could not think clearly, why I saw darkness. Then my knees were hitting the cement-paved floor and something warm gushing from my mouth. My body jerked, hands went limp and the last thing I heard was Kinjo’s voice
“Kill am finish make we go.” Then silence.