The dull light of the setting sun splashed across the almost cloudless sky that blanketed the campus. It created a strange hue reminiscent of the brush strokes of some master artist. You could see splashes of orange, red, yellow and tainted blue in the layers of firmament mix; a beautiful hue that bathed the campus in its colors, lit up the trees, rooftops and receding streets in the distance.
Students acclimatized to the setting scenario as their biological time began to adjust to the evening mood. The splendorous quadrangle popularly known as the ‘Love Garden’ in front of the main library was becoming agog with both love-lorn and fornicating couples.
The mood on campus was switching from serious to relaxed.
But for Harry and I, we were exempted from the atmospheric transition. For us, the evening was switching from serious to complicated.
We stood on the sidewalk of the main road that led to the staff quarters, frozen to the spot as we beheld a scenario that was any student’s nightmare.
We were on our way to the staff quarters to get my own copy of the handout for a special elective course from a course mate who had helped me purchase it since one of my major courses clashed with the class for this elective. I needed this handout badly as it was the one course that could help hike up my struggling GPA. Harry, being the good friend that he was, had volunteered to follow me.
We had left the faculty terrain and were approaching the gates to the staff quarters. The neatly tarred road flanked by well arranged vegetation sort of marked the boundary between the academic buildings and the residential quarters.
In the distance ahead of us coming out from the quarters was a black 1998 Toyota Camry cruising at an unusual slow pace. I watched the car curious as to what could be responsible for the slow movement. I was always the cautious type. An upbringing that was fraught with parental warnings to avoid and desist from strange or suspicious characters or to refuse being given a lift by anyone I didn’t know had contributed to my cautionary nature.
Harry didn’t seem to notice anything. He just sauntered along casually whistling some random jazz tune; his big spectacles glinting in the fading light of the sunset. He was dressed in his usual trademark dress sense of long sleeved shirt beneath a sleeveless cardigan all on top of a pair of corduroy jeans and sneakers. On his neck as usual dangled his golden harmonica attached to a silver chain. All this combined with his medium afro hair made him an enigma to behold. I wish I could say that he was loved by the ladies but that’s not the case. He would probably have turned out a handsome guy if he had been taller, less geeky, did not have that goofy set of teeth and was not always in the frequent habit of biting his lower lip. He also had this streak of being so straightforward and blunt that if you didn’t have a thick skin or understand him, you’d hate his guts. Then, there was his obsession with vegetable snacks, a pastime that earned him the nickname ‘bugs bunny’ from his course mates.
I wish I could say I was the total opposite of Harry but that wouldn’t be completely true. While I was a classier and trendier in my choice of wardrobe with a bursting desire to be socially acclimatized to the bustling life on campus, I still shared a characteristic with my bespectacled friend; the passion to empower one’s GPA by all means.
As the Toyota drew nearer to us, I instinctively noticed that another car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima was also coming up slowly behind us.
I turned back to look at the Toyota which had drawn nearer and this time was able to make out four guys in the car; they all had their eyes on us.
I felt dread feather down my spine and the phlegm of fear beginning to coat the insides of my mouth. I had heard stories of campus cultist hitting on students; stories that were horrible enough to make you want to look over your shoulder every second.
I tapped Harry and pointed out the cars following us. He stopped in his tracks and looked curiously at the Camry then at the Maxima.
‘I knew they’d come. It was just a matter of time.’
I gave him a disturbed look.
‘You knew? What the hell do you mean by that?’
He looked me and smiled. There didn’t seem to be an iota of fear in him. That was another feature that we didn’t share; Harry was hardly afraid of anything but I was coward; as chicken hearted as an agama lizard.
‘Relax Abigor, I know why they are here…’ He said, the smile further accentuating his goofiness as he re-settled his gaze on the Camry.
‘What do they want? Wetin we do?’ I was vacillating between fear and rage; rage because Harry knew why they were here and I didn’t; fear because the thought of being lynched to death by Campus cultists was not the way I’d envisioned I’d spend my last days on earth.
Harry held up the golden harmonica hanging by the silver chain on his neck.
I almost fainted.
‘They know about the Harmonica? How…how did they…Who told them?’ I jumped in between words terrified at the fact that this wonderful and amazing musical instrument which seemed to have opened a door of opportunities had also probably brought death calling before us.
‘Harry…please give it to them…abeg, don’t let them kill us!’
He gave me a sympathetic look.
‘Are you scared? Relax…’
‘Relax ke? Haa..no oh! Please give them the thing abeg!’
‘No! I won’t!’ he roared biting hard on his lower lip. He always did that when he lost his cool.
From the rancid look on his face, I knew there was nothing I could do to make him give away the Harmonica.
At some unseen signal and as if they had noticed us getting apprehensive, both cars sped up and screeched up to where we stood. Four guys, each clad in different kinds of black outfits embarked from each car and advanced towards us. They were all eight in number. Three of them wore long overcoats which obviously concealed weapons of some kind; two had pistols tucked in their jeans while one held a deadly looking machete.
By now, the sun was totally gone and the first reaches of nighttime was beginning to creep in at the edges of the horizon as the evening grew darker.
The one who apparently was the leader walked ahead of them and stood before us. He was a stoutly built fair complexioned fellow with an ugly scar on the right side of his face. He wore a black beret, a leather jacket and faded black stonewash jeans. He was some inches taller than me and totally dwarfed Harry.
The closeness of the eight of them was doing terrible things to me; I was sweating profusely underneath my light clothes despite the cool weather; torrid pictures of how bullets would rip through us and how machetes would dissect us amidst kicks and punches sliced through my imagination. I began to wonder how the press would relate our story…
The bodies of Abigor Oritsegbugbemi and Harry Damijo, two undergraduate students were found shot and lynched to death along the….
‘Hi guys…Which one of you is Abigor? ’ the leader asked through a deep calm voice interrupting my trail of thought.
He had spoken so suddenly that I didn’t realize on time that he had called my name. Since I was too scared stiff to talk, Harry pointed me out to him.
The leader walked up to me and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. I threw up my hands in surrender and whimpered pleas that were barely audible.
Why was he asking for me? Wasn’t it the damned Harmonica he wanted?
‘So you’re the idiot that’s been yarning opata to my Shade, abi?’
At first I didn’t get what he was talking about. I was too hit by spasms of fear to reason straight, my life was busy flashing before my eyes.
It was when he gave me a stinging slap across the face that I responded instantly.
‘Yes! Y…yes…na me. I’m sorry sir! It won’t happen again sir!’ I screamed as the slap vibrated through my skull and forced me to let out a small sharp fart in fear.
The memories rushed back instantly; Shade was this lovely coursemate I had a crush on and had been able to get her interested in me in the most unusual way.
He pushed me aside and turned to face Harry.
‘And you are the dude with the Harmonica shey?’ his deep calm voice boomed at my diminutive friend.
Harry smiled and nodded.
‘The name’s Harry. And who might you be?’
I gasped at his effrontery.
The idiot will get himself beaten or killed. You don’t play with a cultist’s ego, more especially a Capone.
The Cult leader laughed. His boys laughed.
I closed my eyes, expecting to hear a gunshot or something terrible happen to Harry.
Nothing happened, just laughter rising and subsiding. I opened my eyes to view the façade.
‘I like this guy. You get liver! Na people like you we need for this frat. Well…my name no concern you. Just call me the Cobra Capone…’, his grin suddenly turned cold as he changed the subject, ‘…and I want that thing hanging on your neck please.’
Harry stopped smiling and shook his head.
‘I’m sorry. You can’t have it.’
I closed my eyes again waiting for a gunshot or merciless beating.
‘Excuse me? Wetin you talk?’ the Capone’s voice was no longer calm but gruff and rang with annoyance.
An angry murmur ensued among his boys; an air of disdain for Harry’s impunity, but my stubborn friend was not moved.
‘You can’t have it…it’s not something you can handle…’
‘Let me be the judge of that!’ the Capone said grabbing Harry by the scruff of the neck and yanking the Harmonica off his neck. He held it in his hands and examined it in wonder.
Harry remained firm and resolute but he did not struggle for the Harmonica as it was taken off him.
‘You’re making a big mistake Capone…’
At that instant one of the cultists drew out his pistol and pointed it at Harry.
‘You’re an idiot for talking to the Capone like that!’ He barked in deep baritone between his teeth, ‘Capo, make I waste am?’
‘No…not yet Bullet, you’re too trigger-happy, relax.’ the leader replied without taking his eyes off the Harmonica. He examined it with deep seethed desire as if the instrument had possessed him, his fingers probing the numeric and alphabetic carvings on its metallic surface.
Oh boy…did he say NOT YET?
As I stood there contemplating our fate and watching them marvel at the Harmonica, I wished my path and Harry’s had never crossed. I wished I had not experienced what that Harmonica could do. The thing was more than just a musical instrument and it was something that harbored a secret we both kept. It had established the bond of friendship we shared and it was an instrument that Harry had used to teach me a valuable lesson.
Never did I imagine that it would get us into this type of trouble….