Fiction

Murder in the Chapel: A Short Story by Kingsley Okechukwu

 scorpion(To my Nieces Chiamaka, Somto and Chinemerem)

‘He look like daddy and vex like mummy.’

That was how his sister described him nineteen years ago. Then he was just two years old but such was the frantic manner with which he wailed unceasingly that his five year old sister compared his anger to their mother’s suicidal temper. She had seen her mummy fight thrice with daddy and had cringed as mummy broke daddy’s phone, the plasma TV set and flushed daddy’s car-key down the toilet as part of these fights. The boy did look like his father, which meant he was dark with a big head and a short, fat frame. But the day Amara compared Chidi to their mother their parents just laughed. They didn’t see the future.

‘He look like daddy and vex like mummy.’

Today, at twenty-one, Chidi no longer looked so much like his father. He had now grown into a tall, slim youth, almost handsome. His head and colour still ‘look like daddy’, not that it mattered much because even in his second year at the university he still possessed his mother’s famous temper. At ten he had chased their house help with a raised knife; at fifteen he had fought his classroom teacher with clenched fists; at twenty he had thrown a frying-pan of steaming groundnut oil on his roommate’s back. That would have fetched a less privileged student expulsion (rustication, at least). Not Chidi. The son of one of the richest chiefs in town. So Chidi left the Disciplinary Committee with just a letter of warning.

‘He look like daddy and vex like mummy.’

Chidi looked back and saw the red beret that had been following him since yesterday and his nose twitched with irritation. He had first noticed the short fellow wearing a sleeveless jean shirt over a pair of three-quarters Fubu trousers with a red beret to fit sitting on the culvert in front of the compound where he had his lodge yesterday morning. When he came out of his lecture hall he saw red beret sitting under the mango tree in front of the hall. When he sat before a plate of rice and plantain in Zink House he still noticed red beret helping himself to a plate off fried yams with liver sauce. Chidi thought it was crazy.

‘He look like daddy and vex like mummy.’

Today, as he made for the chapel and saw red beret following him he thought it was time for a show-down. He knew he was handicapped. He had handed over his pistol last weekend. He was no longer interested in the Black Scorpions cult group. He had seen the light. Vicky had shown him the light. Now he knew the Black Scorpions had sent red beret to follow him all over the campus. No one had ever left the Black Scorpions in one piece. Osita left and was found a week later in the bank of the river, long dead. Bayo left and two weeks later was knocked down by a car which didn’t stop to help him; he was now crippled. Arire left and now carried a face disfigured with acid. These were at least three years ago, since then no one dared leave the Scorpions. But Chidi fell in love with Vicky who showed him the Way of Life. He became born again and explained everything to the Chief Scorpion. But the dreaded chief and the elders didn’t understand; they told him that the only way one could leave the Scorpions was when one graduated. Even at graduation one was regarded as a Scorpion alumnus and was expected to make goodwill donations for The Course. In fact, the only way you could leave the Scorpions was at death; even at that you would be immortalised – your picture will be placed in the hall of fame and you will be named after important Scorpions’ hideouts and events like Ade Bolaji Forest Base and Ify Eke’s Day of Rags. In short, there was no leaving the Scorpions. Once you joined, till the end of the world.

‘He look like daddy and vex like mummy.’

Chidi hadn’t understood. They said he left because of a girl. He said no. He left because of God. It was a girl’s God, they said; he left because of Girl/God. No, I left for God and love, Chidi insisted. They said it was the same thing. Chidi shrugged and handed over his gun. He told Vicky about the tragic end of absconded Scorpions but she told him not to worry, God would protect him from their wrath. Chidi smiled. Let’s not bother God with this small case, he laughed a worldly laugh, I can take care of myself. Although Chidi was now born again he still –

‘…look like daddy and VEX like mummy.’

Chidi knew it was time to vex. For stalking him to church, to the house of God Red Beret had crossed his bounds and must be dealt with. He stopped in the ‘Motor-park’ that male visitors’ cars had created in front of the Female Hostel, dipped his hand in his pocket and brought out his Nokia torchlight phone and pretended to be dialling a number while he looked at Red Beret who equally pretended to be answering a phone call. He smiled but inside he was filled with anger. How could red beret think he was too stupid to know that he was being stalked? How could he stalk me dressed like that?, Chidi wondered. But that was not why he stopped; he didn’t stop to wonder; he had stopped to review his situation. He looked at that Red Beret’s bulging hip pocket. Not big enough to hold a .45 pistol nor small enough for a .22 pistol. He was sure the gun was a .38. That was his favourite gun. It fitted his hand like glove. He decided to collect the gun from red beret. He needed some sort of protection. He was born again but not a fool. After all,

‘He look like daddy and vex like mummy.’

Chidi walked towards red beret. The fellow frowned and ended his feigned phone call. What do you want? He lifted his eyebrow.

Why are you stalking me? Chidi wanted to know.

I don’t know what you are talking about, came the response.

The chief scorpion asked you to leave my tail, Chidi said and watched Red Beret’s face cloud with irritated recognition. When?, he demanded. Chidi suppressed a smile. Just now; take my phone, call him. As red beret reached for the phone, Chidi smashed his face with a decisive blow. He fell down into oblivion. So easily, Chidi thought. Hahaha,

‘He look like daddy and vex like mummy.’

Chidi pocketed the pistol and made for the chapel un-followed. Inside the church building Chidi made for the empty pews at the balcony where he sat when he was in the world. Since he became born again he sat downstairs, in the fourth row. But tonight, with his own pocket bulging with the .38 he knew he was not so born again. One of his legs, no a toe, the smallest toe had gone into the world. So he would sit in the balcony where he would be locked out from his guilt. But he was wrong; so wrong!

As soon as the preacher, a student of veterinary medicine, got to the pulpit his heart began to beat rapidly. He wanted to hide under the complaint that there were so many veterinary students among the born agains but that didn’t work. He felt the full weight of the sermon. The youthful preacher read the portion of the Bible about all ‘ye that are heavy laden’. He said that there was no mid-way between Christ and mammon. You are either for Him or against Him. You must be hot or cold; for lukewarm, God will vomit! Chidi shifted uneasily in his chair. The preacher’s voice rang like metal. But Jesus Christ had come for people like that. It was not too late for Jesus to give you rest. Then the preacher looked straight into Chidi and commanded, come and lay down your burden at the foot of the Cross!

Chidi was distracted a little when he felt someone sit beside him. His heart missed a beat when he thought she was the dreaded Lucy the Jack. Lucy was the official eliminator of the Scorpions. The deadliest. She was only needed to go after the toughest opponents of the Scorpions who defied elimination by ordinary Scorpions like Red Beret. It was said that she didn’t use guns which she thought as awkward and dirty. She would expertly strangle her victim within seconds using her special noose that she actually tied as head-scarf, or she would expertly stab her victim with a small lethal injection in his hand, or share a poisoned apple, drink or snack with her victim, or she would cover his face with a poison soaked handkerchief. In all of these she would slip away as the poor fellow slumps to death within seconds. She had many such tricks, but that was not what made her more deadly; she was immune to bullets, knives and poison!

But she couldn’t be here so soon, Chidi told himself.  Lucy was small and darkly pretty with low-cut hair; but the lady by his side was – he looked at her and froze. Lucy smiled cheerfully at him and winked. Chidi’s heart jumped into his mouth and his eyes popped from his sockets. His breathing became synonymous with a mammal’s in a prolonged labour.

Take it easy, Lucy smiled sweetly.

This is the house of God, Chidi reminded her.

Does God now accept pistols as offering? She blew a kiss at the bulge of Red Beret’s pistol.

I protect myself, Chidi stammered.

From whom? Lucy was alarmed. Her face was so innocent Chidi felt like kissing her.

What are you doing here?

I am born again, she leered.

Chidi knew he was cornered but he was not willing to go without a fight. I am not going to be an easy prey, he dared her.

She shrugged carelessly, I will do my best.

Chidi rose sharply to his feet. He looked at the altar which was now so far the preacher looked like the quick cloud hovering around the moon, and his voice sounded like the sound from a withdrawing earpiece.

There is an altar call, Lucy told him. Go and rededicate your life to Christ. Ask Him to wash you clean. If you don’t make it quick enough, you will go to hell then you can vex at the Chief Scorpion who sent me when he joins you. If you make it to heaven you will meet me someday, but you can’t vex at me because the angels won’t let anyone bother me.

Chidi didn’t know what she was talking about. Then he saw her rise to her feet to present her hand for a handshake. He didn’t want to shake her hand; he hated her too much to grant her such a favour. But her lips began to part slowly and politely until her strong white teeth were bared, shining brightly at him. Her eyes narrowed beautifully so that he feared tears would roll down her rich cheeks. He was moved. He extended his hand and she grabbed it in a warm handshake that lasted three seconds. It was long enough. The damage had been done.

Lucy withdrew her hand. As I won’t see you again, she said, I would say goodbye. It’s a good night but goodbye.

Chidi watched her depart. Then she stopped, turned and said, I think you should know, I seduce like mummy and kill like daddy. At this, Chidi came back to his senses, but it was too late. He looked at his palm and saw the blood where she had cut him with her deadly ring. He had been poisoned! No wonder she had said,

…if you don’t make it quick enough…

…you will go to hell…

…if you make it to heaven…

…as I won’t see you again I would say goodbye!

Chidi could feel the dizziness, the chairs in the balcony where now melting into a blurred picture. His legs were not going to support him; he fell to his knees and grabbed at his burning chest. He was dying… If you don’t make it quick enough! So he would go to hell? The thought of burning in a bottomless, hateful furnace forever sent him into a violent temper. I should have thrown her off the balcony so she would break her neck. His rage had deserted him for a moment, long enough for Lucy’s Scorpions to have the last laugh. Suddenly he felt holy. Perhaps the absence of the anger was the symptom of his holiness. He fell on his belly. I will make heaven after all, he thought. But how would he explain the situation to Saint Peter when he arrived the Gate of Heaven with a pistol in his pocket?  That shouldn’t bother him so much, he told himself as he made to breathe his last. I will cross that bridge when he I get there. Indeed he would, but he couldn’t even convince himself.

 

(c) Kingsley Okechukwu

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