Fiction

Too Good To Live: A short story by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema

The meeting took place in a private guest house annexe of the Presidential Palace. The luxury was rather overpowering, even for a man like Kangoti who had dined and wined with Arab potentates, oil sheikhs and Western leaders. Nevertheless the Alhaji maintained a sedate demeanour. After all it is just money, he thought as he took in the princely furnishings.

At sixty he was a year older than General Kwo Abui. Tall, slim and well built, his complexion was as bright as his smile. The small white beard he wore was neatly trimmed and carved around his firm lips. Its colour had nothing to do with his age for his mane was still a neat mass of shiny black. He walked with the gait of an athlete.  Indeed the Alhaji had been an avid football player at Epsom College and later Oxford.

Armed with degrees in Accounting and Law Kangoti had returned home thirty-three years ago to take over the Kangoti empire from his ailing father. Within six years, equipped with modern ideas and endowed with the hereditary shrewdness, which had characterized generations of Kangotis, the Alhaji had expanded the empire beyond even his wildest dreams. Oil production and sales, manufactures, transport, telecommunications, commercialized agriculture, arms sales, you name it, the Kangoti dynasty was there, bearing its indelible stamp on virtually all sectors of Giberia’s economy.

Unlike most of his class Kangoti had remained true to his Islamic roots, though he was no cloud-headed neophyte. His calm faith reflected in all his words and deeds thus earning him the respect, if not admiration, of all who knew him.

He and Abui were from the same town in the Upland state of Yamo.  Actually both men descended from different trees of the same clan. They attended the same Quranic and primary schools. After a stint in the same secondary school Kangoti left for Epsom, one of England’s top-notch public schools. Abui finished his education, joined the Army as an officer cadet and was sent to Sandhurst for training.

Both men sat opposite each other in the sitting-room. Abui sipped his favourite Napoleon brandy while Kangoti had a tall cool glass of the non-alcoholic beverage called ‘Kunu.’ They had finished a dinner fit for kings ten minutes earlier. Kangoti wondered why his friend had invited him to the Presidential Palace. I hope it has nothing to do with that matter again, he prayed silently.

“You weren’t present at the opening of the Abui International Stadium two weeks ago”, said Abui softly. His tone was relaxed.

“Ah, Kwo,” said the Alhaji. “But I phoned you to inform you that I’d be in Madrid for a crucial business meeting on that day. I also informed Mutiu.” Colonel Mutiu was the governor of Yamo and the architect of the sagacious plan to name the recently completed ultra-modern sprawling stadium after his commander-in-chief. Such PR masterstroke never went unrewarded, and the Head of State was munificent with his cornucopias.

“All the same I felt your absence, Sule. And you never called to find out how it went since you returned.”

“My apologies, Kwo. But I kept track of everything over international networks. Hope everything went to your satisfaction?”

bullets“Thanks to Allah, yes.” Abui eyed his friend calmly. His oval face was serene but Abui knew it shielded a sharp mind. He also knew that Kangoti did not approve the naming of the stadium after the General. “Monuments are tributes to dead heroes, not struggling mortals,” he had often argued. Small wonder he refused to have any of the numerous charity projects he was deeply involved in named after him. Once he had openly told the City Council back home that he would shelve his plan to build a modern technical school in an impoverished district if anyone dared contemplate naming it after him. The stunned Council members promptly abandoned the attempt.

Abu faced his friend squarely. “Sule, why are you doing this to me?”

“What?”

“You know what I mean.” His voice was still mild but Kangoti knew a war horn lurked behind it.

“Look, Kwo,” he said, sighing, “we have gone over all this long ago. Why flog a dead horse?”

“Because I need your help. Can you imagine how the entire country will react if it is known that I’ve your blessing? Even the boys in the barracks adore you.”

Kangoti’s eyes were piercing, as he bore them into Abui’s. His voice was firm but friendly. “Kwo, you and I are old men. We know the truth. You can’t, in all honesty, tell me that your bid for power is right.”

“What do you mean?”

‘’ Take a good look at Giberia since you came to power. Why do you deserve to become a civilian president? Politically we’re in hell. The impasse from the annulled elections has not been resolved. Tribes’re squaring off for guerrilla warfare against each other and only Allah knows how many folks are in jail who don’t deserve to be there.”

“Enemies of the state; threats to national security.” Abui waved his hand dismissively.

“Internationally we’re just a shade better than pre-Mandela South Africa. Man, think; you have no say where it counts. Economically we’re on the edge of the cliff.”

Abui snorted derisively. “Yet you can jet off to Spain in a luxury jet.”

Kangoti’s eyes hardened. “Be serious. You don’t deserve an extra day in this palace unless you put this country aright. Even if you do, just go home afterwards and do something else with your life.”

The dam burst. Abui jumped to his feet, almost upsetting the drinks’ table. “What!”

“I told you the truth.”

It took Abui every ounce of self-control to hold himself from having a fit. Venomous hatred beamed from his eyes as he trembled. For a second he looked totally insane. Kangoti got to his feet. “Calm down, Kwo,” he said.

Abui began to pace the room. Then he returned to his chair, his mien impassive. Kangoti knew a volcano still lurked underneath. He also sat down. “Do you realize that I can cripple your businesses and compel you to go on an extended visit to one of our national guest houses?” asked the General conversationally.

The Alhaji controlled a terrible jolt of fear in his lungs. This is not the Abui I grew up with, he thought. This is a man possessed by the demon of blind, naked power lust.

“Yes,” he replied. “But you should know that threats don’t move me. Your billions do not faze me. Neither will your squads.”

Abui smiled. He softened his tone but the gentle modulation did not fool Kangoti one bit.

“Don’t mind my outbursts, Sule. I apologize for threatening you. But do reconsider, okay?”

Kangoti stood up. His eyes were laser beams of sadness and anger. “Let us not discuss this topic again. I’ll ignore whatever you said today. If your spies are active they will know I’m not running any opposition against you. But take my advice: forget the idea of becoming a civilian president. Goodbye.” He turned determinedly towards the door.

“Sule.”

Already halfway to the door, Kangoti turned and found himself staring the Evil One right in the face. Abui’s silenced automatic pistol was pointed at his chest, held in a rock-steady hand. Kangoti’s bladder gave way as he saw that crazy venom again in Abui’s eyes. His muscles twitched uncontrollably.

“Put that thing away,” he said, surprised that his voice had not deserted him.

Abui’s smile was terrible. “You sound like a starving frog.” He cautiously stood up, his eyes and gun trained on his ex-friend. “You crossed a desperate thing, Sule. Power is a woman you fought and killed for. You don’t give up such conquest easily.”

“So what do you want to do? I can’t stop you from holding on to power.” Kangoti cursed himself for the thinness of his voice. He coughed.

“Oh yes, you can. You are a rare breed. Put your goodness to positive use.”

Kangoti replied, “I don’t want power.”

“But I do. And I need you. Will you back me?” Abui’s voice was menacingly relaxed. Kangoti knew that any answer he gave was immaterial. Abui would never trust him. But he would not support the devil.

“Screaming won’t help you. Tell me where you stand.”

Kangoti sighed. There was no way out. The distance between them was too great for him to leap and knock the gun from the beefy, powerfully built Infantry General. Besides Abui was a crack shot.

Struggling against the paralyzing terror kicking at his brain, he made the effort and looked into the opaque fire in Abui’s eyes.

“Please, one last request.”

“What?”

“Spare my family.”

Abui nodded. “So you won’t back me?”

“Never.”

Almost immediately the pistol coughed soundlessly. Kangoti’s full-blooded scream was cut mid-key as his desperate leap ended in an untidy crash unto the rug. He rolled on his back, a pool of blood forming around his chest region. But he gasped, on the border between life and death. Abui came and stood over him.

“Bastard”, he cursed and shot him point blank in the head. The Alhaji stopped gasping. His killer returned the gun to his holster, reached in his pocket and clicked a matchbox size pager.

“Sir?” The voice of Colonel Bago Isaku, his Security officer, was loud and clear.

“Come and take this thing away.”

“Yes, sir.”

The door adjacent to the dining-end of the de luxe sitting room swung open and Isaku came in, clad in a pinstripe business suit, a 9mm Luger in his hand. With him were two soldiers in combat fatigues, holding automatic rifles in combat stance. They wore the badges of the elite security force that operated under Isaku’s direct command and had the duty of protecting the Head of State and his vital, if not unorthodox, interests.

The General froze as he took in the flat eyes of the men and the menacing muzzles of their guns. “Don’t try it,” snapped Isaku as the man’s hand flew to his holster. The silenced Luger’s ugly eye gazed hungrily at his head. Abui raised his hands. One of the soldiers quickly disarmed him.

“Good.” Isaku’s voice was cold. “Get on your knees.”

“But why?”

“On your knees.” As the soldier on Isaku’s left moved forward Abui promptly fell on his knees. The man paused. He and his colleague watched the General with feral eyes.

“But why, Bago?” Abui could hardly believe that he was less than a heartbeat away from sudden and violent death, and at the hands of a man who had benefited so munificently from his largesse, including boosting him from a mere Captain to a Colonel within a year and a weekly allowance of half a million pounds sterling.

Isaku smiled pitilessly. “I watched you dispatch both your pals and opponents with ruthless abandon, and came to the conclusion that one day, should the itch seize you, my head will be the next to go on the block. Besides, it won’t be too bad to take control of the honey pot, having been so close to it and tasted the sweetness of the honey.” He glanced at the Alhaji. “A pity. You’re a man after my heart, General Quite ruthless.”

“You won’t get away with this, Isaku.”

“Think so?” His voice became guttural. “Say your last prayers. That’s the least I can give you in payment for your goodness all these years. A boon you never gave Kangoti.” His finger began to move decisively unto the trigger.

Abui knew that heroics were out of the question. These butchers had him covered. His heart nearly burst with terror. He oozed funk-induced sweat. Prayer was out of the question. To whom could he pray and for what, barely ten minutes after he had shot his kinsman for telling him the truth? An awful emptiness struck him at that moment with sudden force. He began to beg piteously.

“Please, Isaku! Please! Remember all I did for you! Take over! Spare my…!”

The bullet took him in the middle of the forehead. At such a close range the velocity of a 9mm bullet is awesome. Abui was hurled into a settee across the room. He crashed down on the rug and was silent forever. But Isaku did not take any chances. He blew the General’s head to pieces with another shot.

“Moronic sonofabitch,” he spat at his ex-boss. Then he walked over to the corpse of Kangoti, heaved a sigh as he paused over it. Too bad, Alhaji, he thought. You were too good to live. Too bad you can’t fit into my plans. Giberia does not need your type.

“Let’s go, men.”

 

(c) Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema

 

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1 Comment

  • Henry,
    A political tragedy of one’s refusal to belong to the establishment. But I’m not at home with the wanton violence. We do know that honesty can be one’s greatest sin in a dictatorship, but must the theme be brought out so blatantly? Art needs a little subtlety to challenge the readers to think otherwise it is mere thriller in the mould of James Hadley Chase or Sheldon.
    Isaac O.