I’ve waited so long for this day. For today when I will listen to you g-rh-h-on…”
A bullet plunged into my rib cage. Then I heard the gunshot.
Bullets must travel at the speed of light.
My chest burned. I reached for my pistol from under the pillow, clutched my chest with the other arm.
“…the day I will watch you suffer like I did…”
My right arm. Pain impaled the arm as the bullet tunneled through its bone. The gun fell off my hand.
The shooter walked closer, pistol pointed at me.
“…the day I will look into your eyes and see mise-h-rh-hy…”
Left arm. The arm was nailed to my chest, numb.
Both legs. They were staked to the bed, immovable. I lay still, paralyzed.
The shooter was by my bed now. Sweat trickled down my face.
“…when you will beg for mercy and wish I’m God, because you will find none…”
The bullet stormed into my heart as my shuttering eyes met the shooter’s fiery ones canopied by a black hood. The eyes glowed with such rage that the room seemed to be ablaze.
“…For today when the last thing you’ll see will be this face.” Hood lifted.
It is her.
I knew it was her from the moment she spoke. How wouldn’t I recognize that voice? Saying “r” with such difficulty that spittle loses say in how much it gets splattered into the air.
I made to clench my chest but my arms felt detached. Pain sprung from my heart and sped through every nerve. Somewhere in the room, a voice screamed. The voice dropped a memory into my mind: I am ten. I am walking by a road. A green car swerves off the road and races towards me and before my legs can move, I hear a bone break in my side. I scream at the ensuing pang.
The carpet received my weight as I fell off the bed with a resounding thud. Breeze lifted the red curtain of the window at the end. It raised the fabric, ran through and beneath it to tour the room and press my kaftan against my – blood and sweat – sodden body.
A blanket of chill settled over me. I began drifting; my eye lids were too heavy to keep from sliding down.
“Bastard” She stood over me.
You’re a grown woman now.
Her silhouette faded as my vision thinned and the words I wanted to say to her melted on my lips.
She hit the right places. She hit all places.
I would die in a few seconds. I wasn’t afraid. A soldier is always ready to die.
I remembered when all that was in her mouth were premolars poised at the center of her jaws. And the first time she fired a gun; how she staggered at the recoil – a blend of shock and fright animated her face. I remembered why she loathed me. It all began seven years ago, here in this facility.
I slid into her tardily. Each thrust punctured my soul, tore my innards apart. I pretended it wasn’t her, that she was one of those sluts who warmed my bed on Friday nights after I left the joint wasted. But instead of moans of pleasure, muffled sobs filled the space. And in place of looseness, she was tight. Blood seeped between her thighs onto the bed. She was no slut. She was Rachael.
She wriggled beneath me like an earthworm struggling to escape a perimeter bestrewed with salt. She fought hard to scream through the tape I gagged her mouth with. I thrust into her again and more teardrops fell from her eyes, taking separate routes down her pimpled face. I looked away, my eyes scouring for something- anything- to bestow my focus.
The small window above the bed permitted rays irradiating from the full moon perched on the dark sky outside, illuminating her cell albeit dimly. Her room was messy: brown crumbs of foam, dead insects, footwear and clothes littered the floor; cobwebs hung between ends of the walls. I recoiled in disgust.
“If you mention a word about this to anyone, you’re dead.” I was done. I peeled the tape off her mouth and dropped it on the bed. She nodded, trembling. I didn’t want her talking about this to anyone. It’s disgraceful that I came in to her, a C3.
Seeing her fanned the embers of anger in my head. I was unsure who I was mad at: The Boss or myself. You both, a voice whispered in my head. I climbed off her and almost cringed at the sight of the red patch on the bed.
“But why? Why…” She cried when I got to the door.
“It’s part of your training” I didn’t look back, didn’t want her to see the lie in my truth or doubt that sex would make her stronger.
“What about these cords?” She screamed as I made out of her cell. I locked the door and walked away. She had to put what she had learnt to practice and I was unsure she wouldn’t lunge at me if I cut the cords.
Her grunts followed behind me as I strolled past a soldier, alcohol reeked in his breath as he stuttered a greeting and saluted. He was a D2, five ranks below me. I turned to shoot him a jarring look. On other nights, I would have punished him for drinking while on duty, but I was shattered tonight. And I knew The Boss probably stationed him there to give report of my deed, just like he would request for Rachael’s bed sheet tomorrow. I wanted to kill the D2- another eye of The Boss watching me. But it wasn’t his fault, he was chosen. And here, being chosen meant having an apartment in Hades. The one who really deserved a cough of bullet from the pistol at my waist was The Boss himself.
I walked by other cells and heard whispers. They aren’t asleep, bloody goats. I resisted the urge to go into the cells where the whispers breezed from. The lights had been out since an hour ago, before I came to the C3 dorm and went into Rachael’s cell.
Her roommate had been locked in the Dark room for stealing from the kitchen but my instinct said it’s all part of The Boss’ scheme to make sure I defiled Rachael undisturbed, just as he had made me come here without having a drop of liquor. He wanted me to remember every detail.
I was at the stairs now.
In my mind, I saw Rachael sweeping all her energy into her hands, reaching for her ankle knife as she bent her leg towards her head. The fear that she might employ the knife in hurting herself crossed my mind. But she was trained to survive against all odds; she had been put through a lot worse. She was strong, unlike the others whom we kept on close watch because of their previous suicidal attempts.
Rachael was special.
Fifteen years ago, I fell in love with a woman. Her name was Blessing. I was on a mission in Benue, working undercover as a cashier at a popular feed mill at Konshisha owned by Mr Agu.
I had an affair with Blessing even though a client had paid The Boss for the ruination of Mr Agu, Blessing’s father. I didn’t know why the client wanted Blessing’s father destroyed. I didn’t have to. My instructions were to: get close to the family, get enough information on how he ran his business and orchestrate something implicative enough to destroy him.
Blessing took in few months after we started seeing each other. When she broke the news of the pregnancy, for a short-lived moment I forgot about the mission, we were so happy. But when I remembered what I planned to do to her father, my grin vanished leaving enough surface for gloom to settle on my face. Blessing had thought that I changed my mind about the baby, that I didn’t want it anymore. I quickly lied, but she bought it and smiled. We agreed to keep the baby.
With words that felt so alive, we painted our lives together, with the baby: We got a three-bedroom flat in a serene area, painted the house orange, no, Blessing wanted cream, we argued, we argued over fiddling things like that. We concluded on orange and cream for the sitting room, cream for the rooms except the baby’s. Blessing painted baby’s room pink-she was so sure it was a girl- and bought her fancy hair ribbons, dressed her like a princess. The house had a large compound where I parked my Evil spirit, and baby – I wanted a boy- and I played football when he was older.
We kept painting on the canvas of love and hope. We even painted dying together.
We were crazily in love, so crazy that one day I picked the phone and dialed The Boss’number. I wanted to quit the job, quit being his soldier. But his hello had been so frightening that all that I had rehearsed while roving the perimeter of my room disappeared.
The boss inquired about the progress of the mission; he was not happy that I was taking too long to execute the so facile an assignment and moreover the mission had changed – the client wanted the man and his family dead, staged like Mr Agu murdered his family and killed himself. Mr Agu was contesting with our client in the election taking place the following year.
The phone burned in my hand as he spoke. He ended the call that night after he told me he knew about the thing growing inside Blessing; he trusted me enough to remember my allegiance to him and not to risk being disavowed over the stupid mistake.
That night,having a baby became a stupid mistake. Who had I been fooling? There was no way I could have the kind of life Blessing and I had dreamt. I wasn’t that kind of guy. I sold my freedom long ago. It was this day that those words died, that I burnt the canvas.
I killed Blessing’s parents.
It was four months after breaking up with her, the month Baby was born. Baby was bawling in her crib that evening. And when I pointed the gun at her, she stopped crying. I couldn’t kill her. I couldn’t kill Rachael.
Sex was a tool; men’s doom. Rachael was at the stage of mastering how to exploit this, so The Boss enjoined me to deflower her. He could have sent someone else but my punishment for sparing her wasn’t over yet.
It was important that the female soldiers knew how to please men; their body was their most puissant weapon. Male trainees were made to sleep with the females and most times, horny trainers raped the girls. Before Benue happened, I violated the girls too. Most of them were used to it and tried all the moves they had seen in the sex tapes we made them watch in the common room while some would lie still like a fallen tree while I had my way.
Rachael would make a great soldier and a beautiful assassin. The Boss found out I spared her and ordered me to kill her but I couldn’t. I brought her here instead because there was no hiding from him. He was a god with eyes everywhere, on every soldier here and outside. He had connections both in and outside the country; a phone call would be enough to never hear Rachael’s cries again. I begged him to spare her. He agreed and to my dismay, put her among the trainees when she was of age.
I swore to never tell Rachael about her paternity and keep our contact as minimal. So I watched her grow from afar. And for years, to her, I was just another cruel teacher they all despised. And I couldn’t stop it –the father-daughter bond that was never there – from severing into ashen pieces as it biked on the scraggy terrain of nights that turned into days, weeks, and months that rolled into years.
* * *
….Hail Mary full of grace
Our Lord is with thee
Blessed art thou among women….
Sometimes words are lazy cyclists, they ride all the way up into your mouth but get stuck to your tongue.
When my body feeds the earth, these words “Rachael, I’m your father” will rot along with their place of birth.
….And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
Mother of God….
Voices and footsteps echoed from afar.
“Oga. . .oga. . .” a panicky voice called.
I made to talk but my lips felt glued and when I tried to move, a strange force pinned me down.
“E be like say oga don peme oh” another voice said, sounding more distant.
“Oga. . . og. . . abeg go wake The Boss” the first voice said.
The Boss. His last word resonated in my head as I breathed my last.
The voices stopped and a thick fog of darkness consumed me.
…Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our…death.