They were driving down to Tinapa, really to see what the fuss was all about more than anything else but nonetheless it was going to be some family time. They looked like the quintessential family. A station wagon, boisterous father driving, uninterested mother shotgun and three kids arguing and fighting in the backseat.
They pulled over at a filling station for fuel.
‘Snacks?’ the father asked.
The girls responded swiftly in the affirmative. They had been expecting the question. So was Jamal, the boy and the youngest, but he didn’t make a sound. He figured now they’d have no ‘moral basis’ to ask him to go get the snacks. His plan was futile.
‘Jamal, would you be a darling, and get the stuff?’ his mother asked him. But it wasn’t really a question.
‘Oh, mooooom! I’m not eating anything. Why don’t you ask them?’ he replied gesturing at his sisters
‘Jamal, I told you not to say no to your mom, especially when she asks you nicely. Just so, you’ll remember next time, go get the stuff.’ His father handed him a thousand naira note. Jamal wanted to say something but thought better of it. That was always the drill, with ultimately the same outcome, he thought. They’d get you angry and then punish you for getting angry by doing what got you angry in the first place. Sneaky bastards!
His sisters were looking straight ahead, trying to keep straight faces as they held their laughter. Things could swing against them very quickly if they started laughing, they knew. Jamal made a face at them and got out of the car. He passed by the fuel station attendant, who smiled at him wielding his nozzle. Jamal didn’t smile back and trudged right to the store.
He was in the store and had almost collected everything when he saw some vinegar flavoured Pringles. He bought it because he knew his sisters preferred the peppered type. He chuckled. 1-1 he thought. He was about to pay for the items when he heard the first gun shot.
Another vehicle, a truck, had pulled up at the filling station. An unshaven, dishevelled fellow was at the wheel. He had a knife scar across one of his right cheek. Rashad was about to pay for his fuel when his eyes caught the guy in the truck and he did a double take. The truck driver noticed. Rashad paid for the fuel and got into the station wagon.
‘Honey, that guy over there in the truck’ he was suddenly out of breath, ‘he is, he is-’
‘Take it easy, dear. Take a deep breath and tell me what you need to tell me.’ She was getting scared but someone had to keep his head. Or her head, she thought, morosely.
‘He is responsible for the Bank massacres in Onitsha’, he finally blurted.
‘He’s Innocent Ajaga?’ she asked in a hushed tone brimming with urgency. He nodded impatiently and said, ‘I have to arrest him, I-‘
‘You don’t have to do squat! Don’t even think about it, Rashad,’ she said between clenched teeth. ‘Don’t you think about it even for a second!’
‘Babe, I have to do this. He’s for the taking. He’s been wanted for sixteen months!’
‘You don’t have to do anything, you fool! What, you’d sleep better if you got killed? You’re not even on duty. Now let me tell you what we’re going to do, Rashad. We’re going to get Jamal and get the hell outta here, and in the other direction from this psycho, too.’
She looked at the girls. They knew this was not a joke and they knew they were in potential danger. They were petrified stiff. Good, she thought. She didn’t like them petrified but she liked them stiff.
‘Ok, let’s go get Jamal,’ she said to Rashad. Rashad was still debating in his mind what to do. The law enforcer and the father in him were at mortal war. The result was catatonia. A moment passed and he heard the first shot.
Innocent drove into the filling station and asked the only attendant there to fill his tank after he is finished with the African Brady bunch. His eyes connected with the man driving the station wagon and he saw recognition in his eyes. He knew these things and that was why he had lived this long. That meant 9 out of 10, that he was a cop. A big shot cop. Shit!
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he retrieved his old revolver. His least favourite gun but weirdly, he goes nowhere without it. He waited a little, watching the little commotion going on in the vehicle when one of the girls stole a glance at him and he saw the woman look at him through her side mirror. Lucky I’m wearing these shades, he thought. They can’t see that I see them. He went through hell to evade the law in the east. Now he was going up north, where he hoped to enter Niger republic and then Libya. From there he could leave the freaking continent. He didn’t care to get blown now. He got out of the truck. He shot the station attendant as he was just about to tell him how much a full tank costs. The attendant dropped like an unsupported mannequin, the slug lodging between his eyes. He was dead before he could register surprise.
Jamal heard the first shot and dropped his bag of goodies. He went to the window and looked through it. Someone had shot the station attendant. The killer was moving away from the body. God, he’s moving towards our car, he thought. Why is daddy not driving away? There was an old man at the counter and he was whispering coarsely and urgently for him to get away from the window, but he didn’t hear him, couldn’t hear him and wouldn’t hear him. The killer was now at the driver’s side of their car. He could see his dad scrambling for something in the glove compartment. The killer shot his father from behind and his skull exploded, spraying gray matter and blood across the car. His sisters were stunned like they couldn’t wrap their minds around what was happening. His mother was pleading for the killer to have mercy as the killer raised his gun one more time, shutting his mother up forever.
Jamal had begun to tremble at the window and was about to dash outside before he was picked up by the old man. He was wriggling furiously but the old man held on to him. He was taken through a door that led to a garage. The old man put him down beside a cupboard, barely three feet high and made to squeeze him in. He was about to start screaming to be let out when he heard two gunshots within moments of each other and he knew he would never see his sisters alive again. He became limp and the old man efficiently folded him into the cupboard and closed it. He was crying silently He could hear the old man hurrying back to the shop.
Innocent was feeling the way he felt when he killed people. Invincible. No loose ends, he thought. He approached the store, reloading his revolver more out of habit though he had just one bullet left in it. He entered the store. There facing him was the old man who was sweating lightly. The man looked a lot like his father. He hated his father. The old man didn’t appear as scared as he would have liked. But there was a funny smell in the air. Oh he doesn’t look scared but he sure does smell scared, he thought. He imagined the old man was his father. He was going to enjoy this.
“What’s wrong old man? Did you shit yourself?”
“What? You can’t talk too?”
No answer. The geezer was just staring back like a picture on a billboard. This wasn’t fun anymore. He suddenly remembered he had to get out of this place. He had a sudden rush of anger at the old man. He raised his gun but the old man didn’t scamper for cover or anything. This really got him worked up. He shot the old man in his left lung. He’d die slowly. He approached the counter and noticed a phone. He picked it up and examined it. The old fuck had been trying to call the police. He tilted his head and let out a long laugh. They’d come sirens blazing and guns menacing like the heroes they were not after he was long gone. He went to the fridge and took out a Coca-cola. He downed it in four gulps. There could still be someone hiding somewhere in here, he thought. He couldn’t wait to get back to his truck and his whiskey bottle and the hell out of here. He looked quickly around the shop. Satisfied, he went down to the garage. No loose ends.
Jamal, upon hearing the last gunshot, knew he was the only remaining survivor. So far. He had forgotten about his dead family and was filled with only one desire. Life. His trembling instincts were geared towards only preservation. The absoluteness. He did not want to die. He prayed.
The door to the garage opened and he stopped breathing. He was convinced that his heart had stopped beating too. He could hear footsteps around the garage. He held the screw tighter. There was silence for a moment, and then he heard the footfalls again, getting closer and closer as they approached his weak sanctuary. The footsteps finally seized and he could hear the killer breathing. He was wound tight and taut, ready to spring. The cupboard door opened as the killer pulled the handle. The door opened uninhibited for his purchase on it was so little. And he was just six years old. He acted purely and savagely out of instinct. He passed out.