That Monday was a historical day for Bright Omoregbe, the thirty-four year old History and Government teacher at Rachel’s Academy, one of the most exclusive private secondary schools in Festac, Lagos. It was a beautiful day: the air was refreshingly cool, the sky a deep azure. When the sun woke up it was enchantingly white. Its heat blended agreeably with the breeze. But the harmonious combination of the elements did nothing to get rid of the deep foreboding that had woken up with the teacher.
As he prepared for work Bright wondered what was eating him up so early in the day. He had phoned Maale yesterday; she was all right if you discounted the occasional acting-up of her blood pressure. Essie and Jane were having a ball with their husbands. God, whatever it is, remove the weight from my mind, he prayed silently.
Yewande noticed his subdued mien at the breakfast table and raised her eyebrows questioningly. ‘‘What is it, potbelly?’’ he asked archly, nodding at her six-month pregnancy.
‘‘Ask me. You look like you swallowed a bee. I have been watching you since you got out of bed.’’
Bright smiled. You can never hide anything from a woman, especially if she was this petite thirty-year old Yoruba lawyer who had ensnared his heart two years ago.
‘‘No cause for alarm, my learned friend.’’
Yewande’s midnight-coloured eyes were concerned laser beams. ‘‘Na lie. You are worried.’’
Bright shrugged. There was no point. ‘‘Can’t tell, honey. I just have a feeling, no, a strong sensation that something real bad is going to happen somewhere. Where and to who, I have no idea.’’
Yewande looked at him searchingly. ‘‘All is well, Bright. God is in control so brighten up.’’ Though she had hooked up with a nominal Anglican she had not abandoned her dye-in-the-wool Pentecostalism. She forsook her chair for her husband’s lap.
‘‘Easy, girl, you be heavyweight now.’’ She smiled and kissed his nose. ‘‘Hold my right hand.’’ He obeyed. She said a short, heaven-piercing prayer. Bright’s ‘Amen’ was firm. He got up, looking considerably heartened.
At the door Yewande kissed him so passionately that a sweet throbbing awoke in his trousers. ‘‘Watch it or that guy in there will have a sibling before he comes out,’’ he said when she released him.
‘‘Weere,’’ she laughed and shooed him out.
Bright was at ease as he went about his duties. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that his heavy teaching schedule prevented him from paying attention to the foreboding now tucked away in his subconscious.
It was break-time. Bright put away the textbook he was using to prepare notes for History students in SS2 and got to his feet.
‘‘Canteen?’’ asked Obi, the French teacher.
‘‘But your wife gave you breakfast,’’ bantered Enitan, the Yoruba teacher. The three of them shared an office on the second floor.
Before Bright could answer an earth-shattering explosion shook the building to its foundation. Two others followed in rapid succession, hurling them to the floor. Enitan cried out.
The sense of foreboding suddenly left Bright to be replaced by an unexplained icy calm. He stared at his shaken colleagues.
‘‘What was that?’’ whispered Obi.
Before anyone could reply automatic gunfire filled the air. Right in the school compound! Cries and confused running! Smashing cutlery and equipment! The dining-hall reverberated with heavy blasts of steel-jacketed death. A brave soul hit the school alarm system but sudden volleys cut its wail short.
‘‘Jesus!’’ cried Enitan.
Bright turned to Obi. His tone was calm and urgent. ‘‘Take care of Enitan! Get out through the fire escape if you can. Call 767.’’ This was the new Lagos State emergency call code.
Before his astonished colleagues could ask him what he was up to the ex-Nigerian army corporal was already moving. The shots were steady, deadly and getting closer. Bright crawled to the door, saw nobody and took off at a grim speed. He had to make it down the fire escape to the dining-hall. The hall was vast and almost all the students turned up for the meal. Whoever had launched this madness could wipe out three-quarter of the one thousand student population if they kept up their onslaught on the hall.
Bright was on a war footing as he ran. He pulled out his mobile phone and punched numbers feverishly. Before he could connect with the local MOPOL unit commander who was his wife’s cousin, the vice-principal (administration) called.
‘‘Get the children who are not in the hall out! These lunatics have the school surrounded!’’ Mr. Wahab, normally unflappable, sounded like he was face-to-face with Satan.
Before Bright could reply a blistering hail echoed over the phone. A shiver ran down his spine. The historian continued moving, firmly fighting a sudden daze brought by the realization that he would never see the ace educational administrator alive again.
An overwhelming panic nearly broke through his defences. He had never been in a combat situation, even during his two-year stint in the army. But somehow the walls did not collapse.
Pulsating automatic weapons fire heralded running footsteps coming up the escape. He threw himself backwards and rolled, seeking desperately for cover.
The gunmen were two, clad in black from head to toe, including masks. In their hands were rapid-firing 9mm Uzi submachine guns. Crisscrossed across the front of their bodies were bandoliers brimming with bullets and bombs. Their firing was relentless.
Bright knew that unless he could dive into one of the classrooms or the staffroom he had just vacated he would become yesterday’s news. Without warning Uzis began roaring up the usually-used staircase on the opposite end of the passage.
‘‘Oghene!’’ he gasped.
As one of the killers swung his weapon at the diving teacher Bright went headfirst through the glass window of the nearest classroom. He dared not think of anyone or anything but survival at that moment. This was a war zone and not even what sounded like screams from the staffroom jerked him from his war footing.
While the taller gunman went for the rooms to the left, shooting wildly into each, his partners from the staircase split up. The shorter man swung his Uzi at the doorway of Bright’s hiding-place and raked it with bullets. As he fired in a wild scythe, screaming in an incomprehensible tongue, the teacher dived, rolled, crashed into and under desks and chairs. He ignored the sting of steel in his shoulder and a graze to the right side of his face as he sought safety.
A long, sharp-nosed pointer leant against the far wall. Bright knew he just had to reach it but the Uzi stopped him. As if Ares, the god of war, was on his side the gun ceased abruptly. The gunman feverishly reached for a fresh magazine, still screaming bloodcurdling gibberish.
He never made it. Bright dived for the pointer and hurled it like a practised javelin-thrower as the man jammed in his magazine. The sharp point was on target as it pierced his chest. Even as he screamed in pain Bright was already on his feet. He grabbed the Uzi and caught the body before it fell on him. At that moment the taller hit man appeared. Both men fired simultaneously. Bright’s bullet caught the killer in the chest. The hit man barely missed taking off the top of Bright’s head.
Thanking God that the school strictly enforced the rule that students should vacate the classrooms during break, Bright grabbed the fallen man’s gun and peeked out what remained of the door. The other pair of gunmen had obviously satisfied themselves that there was no more prey left for them.
Well, almost. Bright’s heart nearly fell out of his chest as he saw the bullet-blasted staff room door. He knew, even as he prayed he be wrong, that Obi and Enitan were there.
The men had turned the way they came, leaving their colleagues to finish him. The Uzis spat vengeful flame as he steadily climbed down the staircase. Stunned screams tore the air as the bullets swept the men who were three-quarter down over the banister.
Bright returned to the staff room. He stopped short at the sight of the carnage.
Obi was half-lying on Enitan. Clearly he had tried to shield her. Half of his head was gone. Enitan was flat on her back, her chest a bloody mess. Her open eyes screamed incomprehension and terror.
Against his will, Bright’s eyes filled with tears. He squatted and closed Enitan’s eyes. This was no time to mourn; the butchery was still on and if the other gunmen discovered that someone was fighting back the situation would become even bloodier. He grabbed some ammunition from one of the dead men and ran down the fire escape.
TO BE CONTINUED…