Everybody rose to their feet. As for me, I’ve been standing.
I am hot-tempered. Impatience is next to my nature. I easily explode in rage each time someone brushes my feet. Some say to me, mostly when I’m in a very good mood, that I should seek the advice of experts. Did they mention psychotherapy? I don’t remember. Who told them I can afford such a superfluous treat? I’m just a mere bicycle mechanic in remote Anguwandutse. Except if they are willing to offer their services for free, and then maybe I would go. What? Who would even offer anything for free these days– even help? They charge what they usually call fees and it’s rather on the high side. Besides, these people are not even found in our local areas. And who even told them I want to get rid of my hot temper? It helps me so much. The boys in Anguwandutse and its neighbouring street, Anguwan rami fear me a lot because I can fight with aggression. Coupled with my muscled arms and chest, obtained from my regular weight lifting, I easily beat them. I have my clique too; strong boys almost, or of my age. We don’t take shit from anybody – though they are not angry dogs as I am. And what if I now decide to go see the experts, is it not too late? Bukar should have kept to himself.
Last weekend was set only for the boys who were good at the game. It was two hours after noon and the Saturday sun had risen to its peak and sworn to roast the skin of anyone who chose to walk under it. We were all gathered in gindinkurna at the snooker joint. It was the best in my area; its pillars were heavy branches from pole wire trees. It was chained on all corners with the same kind of branches on which spectators sat to watch – most even prefer standing. It had a thatch roof with three bulbs loosely hanging on it in a row at equal spaces, powered with a generator each time there was a hot game that went into the night. Eight or ten metres away was a suya joint. The game never got boring. Mallam Sule made quite a good sum from his meat. He was very good. All we saw were the final touches of sliced onions and fresh pepper and the yaji that even his competitors had tried fruitlessly to reproduce – the unusual taste remained his secret. Some would often say he had been possessed by the spirit of suya. He always smiled, revealing his rickety black-brown teeth that hung like the teeth of a roasted goat and his sinking blood-shot eyes twitching like the eyes of a thief who is new in his career and looking as though they were staring at his long and narrow nose. He was a very thin figure; his head was rather too big for the neck that carried it and the body beneath it almost touched the roof, and his long legs were maybe the size of my wrists. Always in his formerly-I-was-white jalabiya and a worn cap which made him look awful. His only consolation was his skill. He said sometimes that if not for his skill, no one would dare look at him twice. Some tenacious addicts would even make bets, predicting a winner for a particular game, and anyone who won the bet, enjoyed a stick or two of suya.
I’d kicked out two people already, barely thirty minutes in the game. I was playing with the third, Bukar. Bukar and I had in the past played once, in which he beat me. Like me, he was a hard nut in the game. I was very ashamed the day he defeated me but, this time I promised revenge. I wanted him to feel the shame, even more, before the larger crowd. I could from then be called sarkinsunuka, especially after kicking out three good players.
The boys were singing my praise. I was ahead of him. I had twelve points while he was just struggling with four. He was sweating, in spite of the thatch roof under the kurna tree. I could see his slight gnashing of teeth. We continued the game, and after a while, it was as if I’d reached my limit. I was surprised at the swap. Bukar had taken in five balls consecutively and the beam in his eyes didn’t by any chance show slackness.
He dropped his left hand on the table, split his index finger and thumb and placed the cue stick wielded with his other hand between them. He teased the stick several times, aiming warily at the balls and the pot. He looked up and grinned at my angry face. He stood upright, throwing up his left hand into the air as if he had won – the boys started shouting his name in praise. Back at his former position, he teased the stick again. “This pot,” he said pointing at the pot with the tip of the stick… and boom! He firmly shot the cue ball which rolled and vehemently attacked the wooden edge before rolling back with the same vigour and hitting the black ball which also rolled and entered the middle pot by his left. The whole crowd started roaring in excitement. Some even lifted him up.
I began to believe what people said. They said he used safi. If not, how could he just in a flicker of time be the winner when a few minutes ago I was leading?
“Kodago, you’re just a boy.” Said Bukar after they dropped him.
“I said, you’re just a boy in this game.” He said again brusquely, stressing each word. “Is it not obvious?”
“Don’t call me that again,” I said menacingly.
He giggled and drew near, standing right in my face.
“This is the second time I’m beating you, cut the pride. You think you’re a god in this game? No, you’re just growing up.”
He burst into laughter, paving way for the others to laugh. I felt the spit that came out of his mouth on my face. He drew back celebrating his victory, with everybody. I was piqued. What the hell was that? He had won; why not keep it to himself? Must he call me a boy to make his point, or was he trying to instigate something else? God knows I was equal to the task.
The rumbustious praises of him mixed with his mockery agitated me. I was boiling deep within, and I started breathing hard. I couldn’t hold it a second… I rushed and punched him hard on his back.
He turned sharply, and before he could realize what was happening, I gave him another hard punch on the face and broke his marijuana-blackened lips. I rushed again so as not to give him a breathing space, but this time, he was fast enough to give a sharp bend and close between my legs with his mighty arm around them. Before I could do anything to stop him, my back was on the ground with him on my belly and blows coming on every corner of my face. I began to bleed.
The boys just stood, watching; those in my support yelled at me to man up and those in his support gave him more drive. This was the problem in our area; nobody for any cause separated a fight – except if the police intervened. They always wanted to see it to the end. It showed who actually the boss was. Besides, the fight between Bukar and I was one to watch: the most aggressive fighters in Anguwan rami and Anguwandutse respectively.
I struggled. Receiving punches. With an overpowering strength, I forcefully turned him over and began to give him the pain and swellings he had given to my face. He blocked what seemed to be my last punch and pushed me away. We both stood to our feet. Before I regained balance, I saw myself on the ground again: he had thrown a heavy stone at my head. I was moaning loudly as blood was running down the sides of my head when he started heating me violently on the chest and face and stuffing sand into my bloody mouth. I was overpowered, but I had to do something because at the look of things he meant to injure me badly or perhaps even kill me. Under the heat and pain, I acted rashly. I tried to block his blows with my left hand as I swiftly dipped my right hand into my pocket, brought out a little knife and rapidly stabbed him hard in the throat with the last strength I could gather; the whole knife was embedded in his lungs. The punching ceased, my hand covered with his warm blood. Drip… drip… drip… the blood gushed out and stained my shirt. I gave him a hard knock on the head and he fell off me, groaning and gasping for air. I stood up.
Before everyone’s grief-stricken eyes, he lay straight on his back holding on to the end of the knife and lacking the strength to pull it out. The blood was gushing slowly like a thick porridge, and escaping through the corners of the knife and flowing down his neck. He kept whimpering all the time. He rolled out his eyes as if it was going to burst and tried to endure the pain. But it was quick; his breath became shallow as he lay in his pool of blood. He stretched and became still.
“You killed him!” Shouted Saminu. Saminu was always the first to raise an alarm each time something good or bad happened, and he would widely open his big mouth and broad nose and his eyes which were always red as blood.
I was apathetic for a moment, but realizing the heinous crime I’d committed, I felt terror. I inhaled deeply and the next thing that came into my mind was ‘flee…’ and coming after me were the angry boys in gindinkurna with shouts and stones and sticks and swearing.
The judge took his seat and everybody sat down. He adjusted his glasses and looked at me intensely. My case was a bad one. Trust the Police; they would always make sure it was. It was not a new thing for me to be in jail, but I just wondered, if I were imprisoned, how long was it going to be for? I’d broken the law before: drugs, theft, gang rape, assault; countless crimes. This one was more lethal – murder. I had been tried and I knew I would be convicted. I just stood there waiting – waiting for the verdict – pondering whether life would have been any better if Father and Mother and his second wife and my nine siblings were alive. They were killed in the first Boko Haram attack in my village five years ago when I was sixteen. Somehow, I escaped – perhaps it was not the will of God for me to die – and was left alone to face the world.
“Kodago Abdulrahman Saidu.” The judge broke into my thoughts with the stylish way he called my name. But I could feel the anger in his voice. “You have been found guilty of manslaughter…”
I knew it; all the court proceedings were a waste of time. Why try me then for four days as if I could be discharged and acquitted eventually? I bowed my head in pain and for the first time, I regretted my actions. But no matter how long I spend in jail, I was still better than Bukar who was lying still and cold and decaying in the grave. For the first time too, there were unforced tears running down my cheeks. I was sentenced…
And I find myself in this prison to rot for fifteen years.
Jalabiya – a traditional loose fitting long sleeved garment that’s usually collarless.
Sarkinsunuka– the king of snooker.
Safi – magic.
Image: Pixabay.com remixed