Onye agu tala, dị ndụ.
He did not know the meaning, but Rukayatu was sure it was Igbo, and he was certain he had heard it somewhere before. Hearing the words again, or experiencing the apparent déjà vu, was not the most shocking aspect of his attempt to recollect where he heard it first; it is that it was produced from Halima’s lips, and that the voice he had heard it from before sounded a whole lot like hers. Had not Halima travelled to The Holy City with him the year before? She was the one who had encouraged him to pull together resources and attend The Hajj. She had impressed imams at The Prophet’s Mosque with her piety, and had gone ahead to write excellent poetry on the beauty of Masjid al-Haram every single night of the pilgrimage. Now, she stood before him, completely unrecognizable, wielding a hefty shotgun pointed right at his forehead.
The shotgun was originally pointed at the enemy’s leader, and she was fully garbed in a black long Abaya dress with her grey hijab – the kind the colloquial title ‘hajia’ is assigned to whomever wears – and she wore a terribly mischievous smile. With a very clean and off-putting Igbo accent, she spoke those words, and with them came a complete undressing to reveal leather black tight trousers and jackets, with flowing hair down to the small of her back, and the shifting of her gun’s target from the enemy’s leader, to him, Rukayatu.
Everybody was at a standstill. Rukayatu had a shotgun pointed at Ngozi, whose knees were on the floor, head was bent and was very visibly shaking from abject fear for her life. She asked God for mercy as if God was physically present but had decided to look on curiously at her demise instead of taking action, inciting a prayer tone that shifted too rapidly from angry to penitent to servile and back to angry.
Rukayatu chuckled a little when Ngozi begun cry-whispering audibly to Emeka when it seemed she had suddenly realized some ineffectiveness of spiritual petitioning. “My son. Emeka, nwa m. Biko. Please, put down your gun, talk to your men. So that these Hausa people can at least have mercy on us and not kill us off. I have been dealing with them since before you were born; some of them have good hearts, even when they are holding a gun.” Rukayatu chuckled again. The situation was too grave to be producing those sounds, but there were very comical elements tied to the fact that the weeping woman in a gele who was just giving benedictory worship an hour ago could become so weak and faithless at the threatening of life; also, the fact that she now wished to source faith from the one who led the charge of armed men against he and his son, who from every look and crease on his face, is bent on finishing the job he had come here for, as much as he and Hakeem.
Emeka did not as much as flash his mother a cursory look as she bawled. He was in the moment of things, determined. It was very honourable from Rukayatu’s standpoint, and if he were not on the opposite side of things, he struck Rukayatu as someone who can stand side-by-side with his son and guide The Right Hand to many victories in the future, without wavering, on very equal footing. Even the cry of his mother would not dissuade his careful and observant eyes from marking the tide of his current situation from gun to knife to gun wielder to those bounded and those doing the bounding. One revolver was on each of his hands, the right hand pointing at another woman on the floor who, unlike the first woman, seemed to have accepted what came next with her absolute silence – not even sobs – Rukayatu’s sister, Rufiyat. The revolver on his left hand pointed at Rukayatu’s son, Hakeem.
Rufiyat had only uttered one word since the entry of Halima into the scene, and that was towards her son, Tawfiq; “Dirisu.” Rukayatu never imagined to be reunited with his sister and nephew in any circumstance, not to talk of one that presented itself the way this one did. There was a brief disappointment that came from how softly and brotherly Hakeem dealt with Tawfiq back at the meeting place some hours ago, and it was magnified on sighting his mother. Rukayatu consoled himself that a leader who could manage to unite an unwitting army of socially-considered ne’er-do-wells and sow a united vision into their minds must be one who must bear an appreciable level of compassion. And if Hakeem’s compassion had space for Rufiyat and Tawfiq, then so be it; just as far as The Right Hand prevailed, and he finally gains the highest political favour from Alhaji Sambo. There was absolutely no love lost between him and Rufiyat’s family. None.
Tawfiq’s long rifle was pointed at a young lady who had cried off all her makeup, staining her face with black rivulets from top to bottom. She wore all kinds of revealing clothing and had seemed to have lost her voice. She was tied up legs and feet, and pinned to a wall by the opposite corner of the widest pillar in the open colonnade they all stood in. Tawfiq had rough-handled her all the way from Gathering of the Saints of Wonder to where they were now. It seemed more personal than professional. He did not care for the other weapons pointed at him, focused only on this female. When Ngozi finally identified her as she was stretched out on the floor, both hands on her son’s feet, begging, she let out such a loud gasp that Rukayatu assumed for a second that that was finally what would do her in and shut her up. “Philip Ukadike, your entire family is finally ready to join up with you. Say hi to Amara,” she said, staring at the lady as she spoke. Afterwards, she copied Rufiyat’s position and awaited the end.
This Amara was half-conscious, tied beside the leader of her church, someone that had been in business with Rukayatu’s father, as he recognized, for a good number of times. Ololade Akintimehin. That was his name. Purveyor of the creepiest and most dangerous of natural artefacts from the most unknown and exotic locations. One of Rukayatu’s father’s trips, one in which Rukayatu himself tagged along in, had led them through the Taklamakan Desert, through to Ulaanbaatar, then Naypyidaw, then Baguio, and finally to Gujarat, gathering collectibles ranging from rare poisons, to rare stones, to unbelievably potent leaves, and disgusting animal parts, all for him. He paid good money for them. He ran a successful Christian mission. He usually could prophesy danger coming to him and to his members, and Rukayatu wondered what changed this time. Bringing him along required great precaution and bravery, because from get-go, the man was treated as one would treat a native doctor skilled in voodoo and other diabolic art. This led to him being completely wrapped like one being embalmed and buried alive, and then perfectly gagged to guide against vocal incantations. This was much unlike the treatment giving to the head pastor of The Bible Way church who was on Ololade’s other side. Peter Akpan, as his name was learnt, was knocked out cold and sprawled on the floor. The original plan was to film these two giving testimony to the supremacy of the guiding hand of Islam in Nigeria before being beheaded in front of camera, announcing the arrival of The Right Hand on the centre stage of happenings in the country and putting that name on every lip that roamed Nigeria. This plan was very quickly being foiled by this Emeka and his armed men. And then Fatima had to go and say it.
She had to go and do it. She had to go and call Raheem and the police. Raheem would spit at Rukayatu’s face when he found out what his brother had been collusive to scheming. She was tied up too, but loosely, in such a way as to treat her as a factor who now knew the truth of things, but must not get in its way. And this way, she was carried from GSW to The Bible Way, and dropped off in a corner, away from all the action. Rufiyat had found her at that corner afterwards. They had both located The Right Hand conducting their mission on members of The Bible Way. They began talking, and warning, and screaming, and chastising, the both of them. Their talking, and manoeuvres to avoid them and have them not interrupt proceedings, had led the onslaught and beating and forcing-to-the-graciousness-of-Allah-for-the-sake-of-redemption from where it was supposed to hold – inside the church auditorium – to where they were now – the white-washed Corinthian-style colonnade by the west wing of the round building.
Only Fatima’s voice could be heard now; the daughter who never feared to defy her father, whose eyes were too open for her own good. Ngozi’s had quietened and given way for hers alone. Guns were pointed at everyone. The Right Hand was evenly matched in number and skill by Emeka and his men. Nobody bearing arms wavered. Hakeem made Rukayatu prouder each moment as they stood back onto back, riding the tide of the stand-off. Hakeem had a rifle on each hand; one on Emeka, and the other moving from Ngozi’s daughter, to Halima who had just arrived and had turned on them. Rukayatu’s was pointed at Ngozi.
“Nothing will come of this, father,” Fatima cried on. “Please, Hakeem, be the bigger man. Drop your guns, stop this. Your rivals look understanding, I’m sure they will too. Let’s call it a draw.” Rukayatu could not be more disappointed at how naïve his daughter sounded. There were only two ways that situation would be resolved – either one side wins, or everybody loses. “Look, Hakeem. Grandfather has been your role model. How do you think he’ll see this?” She dared mention Kazeem? In her repeated maudlin squalor and disgraceful disregard for the ways of The Prophet, she mentions Kazeem? Kazeem would have had her head the moment she begun talking. But she might not be to blame. Father went soft in his old age. He adopted that good-for-nothing Sefullahi. He embraced this foolish idealism the more as he neared his grave the more. “Look, Ngozi’s son, please drop your gun. If you do, I’m sure my brother will too. He has a kind heart. He is just hurt. We can resolve this.” Fatima spoke to one party after the other. She spoke for nearly a half-hour, in the midst of Halima’s arrival, Halima’s turning, Ngozi’s bawling, and Ngozi’s eventual silence.
Her preaching took on a more scolding note. “Your sacred organization is not as air-tight as you think it is you know, for a harlot to be able to fool you into believing she had your back. Yes, I’m talking about that bitch over there that just went from hajia to Chun-Li; is she not the one that has been servicing you for years now at Ruhun Ruhu. She played a perfect long con on you, and if I could figure that out in just one hour and you could not all your life, does that not speak of your sheer lack of preparedness, cohesion, and the arrant stupidity of all of this?” Fatima was on a roll, and spot-on as Rukayatu observed – for it had always been Halima who connected Alhaji Sambo to him, and thus the guns sourced to Hakeem, Hakeem himself, having no idea where they came from – but her running mouth was what it took to reanimate this long-drawn-out stand-off.
“Shut the fuck up, hoe,” Halima shouted from where she was, a little distance from Fatima. Her accent was perfectly British, and Rukayatu wondered if this was actually how she sounded when her guard was off; when she was not the Gombe-tongued pussy at Ruhun Ruhu, or the Anambra-tongued traitor who greeted, “onye agu tala, dị ndụ.” It appeared her mystery, by the simple logically-connected deductive tirade of his daughter, was about being demystified, before Rukayatu had to conduct a painful and instinctive dive to save his daughter from the bullet flying from Halima’s gun. He saw the fear in Halima’s eyes. Her permanent smirk was completely wiped off.
Everyone began moving.
In the middle of the dive, Rukayatu’s right leg caught his son’s long robe and that jerked him a little. The effect of that jerk and the bullet meant for Fatima hitting his right sternum and sending the pain of a thousand martyrs to his flesh, moved the hand holding his gun to turn from Ngozi to his daughter, and landing on the concrete floor, it fired, and he watched the bullet run straight through Fatima’s left chest, kicking her backwards, and flying off the raised concrete colonnade to the dirt floor.
Hakeem saw it happen too, and let out a very unmanly squeal, supporting that sound with the squeeze of a trigger. He had the option of hitting Amara or Emeka, but he hit his father, right on his right knee. What had moved Hakeem to this? Why his own father? Had Fatima gotten to him? Was he truly reconsidering? Was his compassion which had energized The Right Hand going to be its undoing also? Sufficient time to answer these questions and put Rukayatu’s heart at rest was quickly flying away. Truth is, Rukayatu’s heart actually was coming to rest in even faster time. Not before he gets a shot at the enemy, he swore however. His crosshairs returned to Ngozi and fired, immobilizing her roughened knees and felling her, as she bled out slowly from the stomach.
It was all happening very quickly, and the happiness that the head of the enemy has had someone close to him at the face of death too guided Rukayatu to the first emotion of remorse he had experienced in years. It was very funny the way emotions worked. The venality that had sponsored all of this rose like bile to his throat and converted happiness to acute disgust, at himself, at his son, at the fact that his daughter was indeed right, at the inability to understand that line between piety and fanatism. His disgust rushed to him like turbulent jet waves. The first burst coming when Emeka hit his son Hakeem square in the forehead with the fastest bullet. The second came when Emeka said, “forgive me,” to Rufiyat and hit both her tighs as well. The third came when Tawfiq, flying in to save his mother, shot off one of Emeka’s hands entirely. The fourth when Emeka, falling to the floor from the pain, accidentally hit Halima who was trying to escape at the back of her head. Then Amara took to her heels, but was quickly gunned down by the member of The Right Hand guarding Ololade. Ololade saw this window, and wriggled out of his leg binds, then out of his clothes, and naked, made to run, but as he did, he accidentally pulled off the pin of a grenade hanging from the body of that The Right Hand member. Rukayatu chuckled the third time for that day, right at the same moment when the fifth burst of disgust hit him.
Police sirens were heard outside when Ololade was wriggling his body out. They had taken positions behind fences and defences to avoid sustaining casualties from the scattered shootout. Raheem’s voiced echoed against the pillar closest to Rukayatu. “There’s my brother. Come!” he shouted. He said it, and Rukayatu knew it was from a place of deep care. What had happened? Why had he not discovered these same ideals his father Kazeem, his brother Raheem, and his daughter, Fatima had discovered? Why has remorse visited him so late? His brother’s last words would be, “come,” a gesture of welcoming, of oneness. What were his? Why this war? Why The Right Hand? Why Emeka? Why Religious wars? How had everything gotten to this point even?
In the second before the impending explosion, Rukayatu’s mind quickly reeled back through certain events:
Fatima comes out of hiding, after being separated from Rufiyat when Emeka’s men stormed the place and incited the first chaotic shootout before the stand-off. She begins her verbal tirade, she and Ngozi.
“Onye agu tala, dị ndụ,” Halima says to Emeka the moment Rukayatu and Hakeem’s attention leaves her, and then quickly slipped out of her Abaya and hijab and pointed her AK-47 assault rifle on Rukayatu. “Ikpesa’s other personnel?” Emeka half-whispered, and Halima smiles. “You could not keep up the tailing from Kananan Zungeru, could you?” Halima smirks mischievously at Emeka. Fatima and Ngozi begin.
Halima shows up to the scene. “You missed one, Hakeem,” she says, dragging Pastor Peter Akpan with a metal collar choke while the pastor thrashed around and painfully followed. Hakeem smiles at her. “I thought I was going to be forced to begin a search myself. Thank you, Raya.” Hakeem kicks a shotgun to her the same time she kicks the pastor to Ololade’s side, and the men with Emeka with free hands point a gun at her. She pointed the shotgun at Emeka, and winks at him. Rukayatu is shocked to the bone, because he never imagined that face in the rumble. But then again, he sourced their weapons from her every time they met at the commercial parking lot juxtaposing the roundabout of Sambo Street. Obviously, Hakeem would know who she was. But she answered Halima; Her name was Halima. What was this Raya business?
The fearsome leader of the enemy troops let out a tear.
There had been a very bloody, noisy, and ballistic shootout from the church’s parsonage to the inside of the church, and now onto the west colonnade, where a stand-off situation had ensued. This man, Emeka as they called him, had been like a deathly ghost since arrival. Hakeem and the rest of The Right Hand took out most of his men, but he alone had more than halved their population, and he had been doing so guiding, with near-inhuman deftness, this Sister Ngozi Ukadike who after being called upon for benedictory worship, had spotted The Right Hand first and had alarmed her members right before they charged in, availing their pastor time to be the first to take to his heels.
Five minutes into the standoff now and Tawfiq slaps one of the strumpets The Right Hand had taken as hostage instead from GSW after they were hit a few hours before; the strumpet raises her head for the first time, and Emeka spots her and showed the first sign of humanness Rukayatu noticed since his arrival. His eyes welled, and a tear drop threatened. He said nothing however, but Rukayatu had decided that strumpet was related to him.
Chaos. Running. Shooting. Dodging. Bodies dropping. Walls being holed. Chairs demolished. Men hiding behind lecterns, speakers, pillars, and pianos, and having them blown to pieces, sending them to other hiding places. Like a wave, the shooting migrates, and when the final set of bodies drop and the auditorium was unrecognizably in ruins, Hakeem manages to capture Ngozi and pulls her outside, using her as a wedge, while Emeka holds a member of The Right Hand the same way. All followers of both men instinctively point guns at different enemies, beginning the stand-off. Amara was slapped, and after the observation of Emeka’s tears, Rufiyat burst in with Fatima. Emeka had a man in hiding however, a wild card. He gestures to him to capture Fatima. The man misunderstands and grips Rufiyat instead, pulling her well into the centre of the colonnade. The gun-pointing shuffles, and each face becomes a new person’s gun’s target.
The tear finally drops. The strumpet was related to Emeka, yes, and that explained the welling of tears, but the added emotions at the handling of Rufiyat was confusing for Rukayatu to understand. Rufiyat looked up at Emeka with a look that only confused Rukayatu the more. There was shock there. There was also loss there. There was despair. And then she faced her son and spoke her one word and remained silent till the end.
“Hakeem Abubakar. You have one minute to hand over your prisoners and surrender. Failure to do this will result in maximum martial law against you.”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I see you can tell we are not the police. It matters not who we are. Just know that today, Christ’s judgement comes upon you and your Right Hand.”
Emeka steps out bravely. “My name is Emeka. I want to let you remember the name of the man whom your evils were finally adjudged by. Your time is up.” Emeka disappears into a nearby trench and guns down the man right beside Hakeem. A very rapidly rising, ambush-style shootout ensues from all angles.
The leader of Gathering of the Saints of Wonder, the nearly-naked woman Tawfiq had instructed to keep alive for the moment, and two other random members not older than thirteen each by the looks of it, are loaded into a truck and driven to The Bible Way Church. The Right Hand members approach as a name is mentioned to lead benedictory worship. The bearer of that name spots Rukayatu, makes face like she recognizes him, and then sounded an alarm, and instantly, all the members of the church began bolting.
GSW was hit. People were burned to crisp. The church was blown to bits. Among the churches agreed to be hit, everyone hated this one the most and they all agreed that the first thing they do is to blow it up while planning. Fatima’s insolence that afternoon, and the one for the morning was a sideshow to the main activity that really moved Rukayatu that day. He would forgive his daughter and they would both forget the fact that they had caused public disgrace to each other, and as well forget that they both woke up drunk, groggy, and hung-over that morning in their sitting room, Fatima wearing something that exposed her thighs and cleavage, Rukayatu breathing in his own vomit and getting cold at his groin from his own piss.
Halima quickly pushed herself off Rukayatu. She wondered what it really was about her that drew this man to her all the time, every time he visited. Yes, she took care of herself, but she was never one to be considered tight, or moist anymore. All the other older men she serviced liked that young woman sweetness instead, but not this man. As she went into the bathroom, he called on her with a slippery slur, “what do you say, we visit the Levant next Eid, you know, continue our holy journeying, Halima?” She found this – his need to excuse their incessant philandering with pious adventures – cute, and she smiled. She had acquired all the information she needed. It had taken four drinks or fourteen, but it had happened. Rukayatu’s eyes followed her as she disappeared into the bathroom.
“Onye agu tala, dị ndụ,” Rukayatu heard before the bathroom door closed. Rukayatu wondered how an Igbo woman could get a job in Ruhun Ruhu.
Halima’s pussy could make any man confess all his sins. To get to her, however, one had to go through the appetizers. That was the way of service at his favourite place. It was like the cherry on top, the princess at the top of the spire, waiting to be rescued, waiting to be ravaged, by him; his, she was, she had to be. So, he indulged them, all the pretty little young things hustling their way up the ladder, perfecting the arts of lure and seduction, learning how to please men. Rukayatu danced with them, ate with them, drank with them. He received lap dances from all corners. They were more focused on him that Friday than other customers, and he wondered why, what he had done, and who was sending them his way. He finally got to the top of the ladder, and Halima, nicely dressed in a pink transparent sari, lulled him to a love sofa. The ambience heightened everything. She said she wanted to talk, about anything. So that he could release the taste of his appetizers and have his appetite well whet for the main course. He would do anything for her. And so he talked.
About himself, about his work, about his family, about Islam, about the news, about the idiot people and politicians that would not appreciate the goodwill of Alhaji Sambo, about that mad Igbo preacher who had the effrontery to accost Hausas in their own land with his sermons, about Fatima and her headiness and his fear that she is getting a tasting of life too quickly for him to control. Halima drank with him, shot after shot, pint after pint, and listened, laughed, contributed, and goaded. Eventually, from talk of Pastor Ikpesa, Rukayatu talked about his wish of an organization that could just wipe them all off, and have them leave Hausa Muslims be. He wished his son would take the charge. He wished they would adopt a righteous cause, and become, like, Allah’s hand of vengeance, or something. He wished they would be very clandestine in their meetings, meeting at inconceivable places like abandoned buildings and such, and recruit those most unexpected to be suspected of involvement. He wished they would give out recruitment papers to these people in secret. He wished they would just blow up GSW, the catholic churches, that Bible Way, the Anglican churches, and all of the churches in short. He wished Alhaji Sambo’s weapons being supplied for the Niger State Army barracks could be used to exert this judgement. He wished, and wished, and Halima noted and noted. Eventually, she was done noting, and stripped down to her bare skin, climbed on top of him, and rode his wishes to a much needed release with every stroke of her hips.
Fatima was faintly spotted with the corner of Rukayatu’s eyes as she and her friends, dressed in hot trousers, long weaves, and crop-tops, crossed over to the opposite bar from his, chatting animatedly and getting ogled by old men and giggling about it. He hid his eyes and face, despite every nerve in him driving him to run up to her and shout at her for being wayward. Kettle could not call pot black, so, he watched, and then they walked into Lounge Juma’a. It was a karaoke bar, so there was not much to fear. Rukayatu stood from his car outside Ruhun Ruhu, and made a line for the dim lights lighting the brothel, the new neon lights with the new suggestive logo catching his eye. As he averted them from the harsh lights, he noticed the continuous line of thick Igbo women nearing their middle ages flocking into a male strip bar beside Ruhun Ruhu. He had always fantasized walking into that predominantly Igbo ‘100/100 Life’ bar and making away with good Igbo grade-A pussy. But not that night. That night was Halima’s.
100/100 Life was right beside Ruhun Ruhu. That was it. That was how Halima learnt Igbo. For Fatima to have known Halima and Rukayatu had a thing going, she must have seen the both of them together around both bars. How that must have disgusted her. She had a sharp brain, that daughter of his. She was dead now. He was about joining.
They all were about joining up. “Shit!”