“The accused should approach the witness-box!”
Deedee stood up and walked morosely to the witness-box, the orderly keeping step behind him like a shadow. Briskly, the court-clerk walked up to him.
“Are you a Christian, Moslem, or pagan?”
“Christian.” The reply was slurred.
“Then place your right hand this bible and repeat after me.”
Deedee did as instructed, the handcuff links dragging his left hand along. Not that he cared though; nothing mattered to him anymore.
“I do swear that the evidence I shall give in this court shall be the truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Deedee repeated as told, and the clerk walked briskly away again.
“The prosecuting counsel may proceed!” a solemn voice pronounced, and someone along the rows of desks in front of the courtroom stood up. It was a man – a giant of a man – big, fat, ugly – everything about him shrieked, “Don’t mess with me!”
It was the Prosecutor.
“Thank you, my lord,” he growled, and lumbered out of his seat. Then he moved towards the witness box like a bear attacking its prey. He got to it, clamped a meaty palm on the wooden surface, and fixed Deedee with a laser-eyed glare.
“Young man, please tell this honorable court your name.”
A hush fell on the courtroom.
Slowly, Deedee replied, “My name is David Damilola Briggs.”
“Thank you,” said the Prosecutor. Then he flicked his hands into his jacket pocket and brought out a photograph. “Tell me, Mr. David Briggs,” he continued, sliding up the picture to rest right in front of Deedee. “Do you recognize this person?”
The picture was of a fair-skinned male who looked about Deedee’s age – seventeen plus.
Deedee glanced at the picture and quickly looked away, quelling his riotous emotions – emotions he’d kept bottled up for over six weeks.
The Prosecutor passed another copy of the photograph up to the judge, then he fairly turned and screamed at Deedee: “Mr. Briggs, do you recognize that person?”
The defense counsel jumped to his feet, “Objection, my lord!”
“Objection overruled,” said the judge in a voice hewn out Iroko – calm, passive, serene. “Answer the question, Mr. Briggs.”
A muscle twitched in Deedee’s forehead. Slowly, he nodded. Once.
“Please, reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” the Prosecutor advised.
Deedee remained silent, his face a mask of stone.
“Mr. David Briggs, what is the name of the person in that picture?”
The muscle twitched again, and Deedee replied, “Taye.”
The Prosecutor took away his picture and turned to face the judge. “The accused recognizes the deceased, Mr. Taye Adeniji.”
A wave of murmurs rippled through the courtroom while the defense counsel fidgeted on his seat. But the murmurs died abruptly when the Prosecutor suddenly rounded on Deedee again, bearing down like the Spanish Armada until his face was mere inches away – nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball.
“Mr. David Briggs, tell this honorable court what happened on the night of 7th August, 2005.”
Deedee began to breathe hard, the muscle in his forehead twitched uncontrollably, and his heart felt like it was bursting. Yet, he said nothing.
The Prosecutor straightened up and sighed. “Mr. Briggs, please tell this court what happened on…”
But Deedee wasn’t hearing him anymore. His mind was somewhere else, reeling back to a night so far away. A rain-soaked night filled with passion, pain and regret. The night Taye was shot.
Oh blessed Hindsight, it wasn’t supposed to end like that – it wasn’t supposed to end like that at all…
* * * *
It was 7.30pm.
The heaven had emptied itself, washing away the heat of the day and leaving the night air cool and refreshed – the muddy streets not withstanding.
“Deedee!” a feminine voice echoed from the sitting room, and Deedee sighed inwardly. Mothers! “Yes, mum,” he replied nonchalantly and tossed a black beret at Taye – who was smiling mischievously at his discomfiture. Mothers could be a drag, Deedee thought, and smiled back.
Taye was his best friend.
The two of them were dressed in black – black trainers, black RocaWear trousers, black Levi’s T-shirts. The beret simply completed the dress code.
“Let’s go,” Deedee said when he was satisfied with his friend’s outfit. They paused long enough at the kitchen for Deedee to collect two long kitchen-knives. “Just in case something happens,” he said, tucking one of the knives into his pocket, and urging his friend to do the same.
His mum waylaid them on their way out.
“Where are you two going, Deedee?” Mrs. Briggs asked from the sitting room, looking up briefly from a huge book opened in front of her.
“Oh, nowhere,” Deedee replied. “Just hanging out.” He knew his mother was just asking out of habit. His dad died years ago, and his mum was often very busy.
“Alright,” she said, her eyes going back to the book. “But it’s getting dark, so don’t stay out too long.”
“Sure, mum,” Deedee threw over his shoulder, dragging Taye away.
“And be careful!” Mrs. Briggs called after them.
It had begun to drizzle when Taye and Deedee stepped out into the night.
They were going to Taye’s initiation into the Black Axe cult.
They met Bode at a prearranged rendezvous, and the three of them set off for the cult’s meeting place. Bode was about two years older than the two of them. It was he that introduced Deedee to the Black Axe; now he was bringing in Taye.
Deedee glanced at his friend, and the fair-skinned boy smiled bravely. Deedee nodded back and looked away; he was beginning to have second thoughts. In the Black Axe, your rank rose depending on how many years you’ve been a member, how many “assignments” you’d undertaken, and how many people you bring in. The first person on Deedee’s mind when he’d learnt of this was his best friend, Taye.
Deedee had met Taye in primary school. They’d both been the smallest in their class then. An incident with a bully had brought the two of them together, and they’d become inseparable ever since.
Now, he wasn’t so sure. If anything should happen to Taye – anything at all – he’d never forgive himself.
Eventually, they got to the initiation ground; it was the city cemetery. The “new” boys – Taye and two others – were called out and knelt down. Then the cult’s “Chief-O”, a huge fellow who’d fit the post of Macho Man, came out and yelled at them for the better part of twenty minutes. Then, the ceremony really began.
By this time, the drizzle had dwindled to a stop.
The new boys were harried, hustled around, and driven to the edge of exhaustion. A whip was produced, and the eldest members of the gang took turns thrashing the life out of the initiates. But through it all, Taye never balked. Even when he was asked to do fifteen extra push-ups than his fellows did, he just prostrated and pumped it out.
Deedee was proud of his friend.
And so, everything went the way it was supposed to. That is, until a rival gang showed up; then things took an ugly turn.
Deedee would never be exactly sure how it happened. At first, it seemed the leader of the rival gang and the Chief-O were having a little chat; then their voices began to rise. The next thing he knew, a free-for-all fight had broken out. Deedee was shoved to ground. Someone with a chest the size of a wall was about to fall on him. In a flash, Deedee pulled out the kitchen knife and plunged it into the thigh of the big guy, struggling out the way before the big fella hit the ground.
The initiation ceremony had turned into a mêlée.
Faintly, Deedee heard someone scream his name. He whirled around, eyes searching, but all the faces had blurred into one.
“Deedee, look-out! Deedee!!”
Someone crashed in him – it was Taye! – knocking him savagely to the ground. Simultaneously, a gunshot rang out, and Deedee blacked out.
It’d begun to drizzle again when Deedee regained consciousness. Taye and Bode were some distance away from him – the former lying prone on the ground, and Bode bent over him, saying over and over, “Taye say something. Taye say something…”
The initiation ground was empty.
His brain sounded an alarm, and Deedee scrambled up, looking closely at his friend. Taye’s clothes were blood-soaked, a big gunshot wound gaped in his chest, and a pool of blood had accumulated around him.
Taye had pushed him down and taken the bullet.
Bode continued to croon: “Taye say something…”
Deedee felt his skin crawling. Slowly, the horror caught up with him, and he sat down heavily. Then, his mind closed up, shutting out the anger, shutting out the pain – especially the pain. Even when the police sirens began to blare – and Bode recovered enough of his wits to run away – and the cops came around and dragged him up and cuffed-up his hands – Deedee just followed like a zombie. His mind had shut out all external stimuli.
* * *
“Mr. David Briggs, are you hearing me at all?” the Prosecutor bellowed.
“Objection, my lord!”
At that moment, something cracked inside Deedee’s mind. Bowing his head, he began to cry – heart-wrenching sobs of anguish and intense grief. Sorrowfully, Deedee cried his heart out.
At last, the judge coughed perfunctorily and looked at Deedee. “Mr. David Briggs, you are delaying this court’s proceedings. Could you please answer the question?”
Deedee sniffed and tried to answer the Prosecutor’s question, but the tears started welling out again. Bravely, he wiped them away, sniffed and tried again. “We – we were hanging out…”