Two strangers meet in a bar and one of them makes a startling confession to the other.
“I have killed a man before”.
The speaker, Chike, who had trained as a teacher, was presently a flourishing dealer in electrical goods. He was talking to a zesty looking young man who was a plumber. The two men sat across from each other in a dimly lit bar. Theirs was a friendship only a few hours old, helped on its way by drink and by natures prone to each other. Each had come in separately, coming into the way of the other by their sharing a table, and conversation had started.
The plumber was listening to Chike with interest.
The dealer in electrical goods, Chike, spoke in Igbo. Their entire conversation had been marked by a lack of barriers. They spoke such as strangers may; who, fortuitously finding in the other a willing and empathetic ear, were unlikely to meet again. That is to say, they spoke freely, without reserve or secrecy, without that restraint which a familiarity with the listener necessarily imposes. Each felt able to voice out thoughts as it came into the head.
“Whom did you kill?”
“It was a man, a stranger”
“Why then, did you kill him?
Chike shrugged. He peered out beyond his new friend, at the row of windows whose curtains had been raised and panes opened to let in air. He saw the street. There, the nightlife of this particular part of the city, as might be observed at eight pm on any weekday, had formed. There was heavy pedestrian and vehicular movements, and bound to these, were the tooting of horns and voices of people. Yet, from the quiet and dark interior of the bar, it seemed to Chike that all of these things were not happening right outside the window but from a long way off.
“I have thought and thought about that question, “Why did I kill him?” I have relived the events in my head countless times. Well, this is how it happened. I was walking home late one night. I had gone to visit a friend. He wished me to stay the night but I turned down his offer, and set off for my flat. There was very little chance of getting a bus or bike at that hour. There is a long and narrow footbridge over a canal that cuts the journey home short. It is a scene for many robberies and I had never crossed it at night. This was the route I chose to take. Everywhere was quiet and dark. From my fear of being attacked and robbed, I armed myself with a large stone. I clenched it. With careful steps I began my crossing. The wooden struts creaked beneath me. I began to hear a voice; it was coming in my direction. I became very alert, but kept going. The voice grew closer, and soon I began to make out the figure of a man. His tone was aggressive and he was singing, but I could not make out his words. I braced myself, making up my mind to resist, to fight back, to trade blow for blow. Soon he was only a few meters away. I watched him in the dim light for any sudden movement as he drew closer. When he had almost come up beside me he seemed to slip, and by instinct raised his hands towards me for support. You must know that I am saying all this with the benefit of hindsight; I am now, with the benefit of time, able to arrange the events in perspective. All that registered in my brain was that I was under attack, and I let myself go, I lost control. I struck him hard in the face with the stone, again and again. He shrieked into the night. His screams pierced my very soul. He turned and tried to run, but he slipped and fell to the ground, and in a flash I was upon him again, hitting out in order that I may no longer be haunted by his screams. I wished for him to be silent, and when he became so I arose from him. I looked down upon him. My heart was beating fast. I realized what I had done. I had a quick idea to hide his body in the canal. He was huge fellow and it was a great effort to heave him over. I threw the stone into the canal. The effort of carrying him had bloodied my clothes, I smelt the blood on it, and a new sort of fear came over me. I hurried home like a shadow, and as soon as I arrived I burnt my clothes and scrubbed myself hard. Afterwards, I slept very peacefully. I did not dare to go anywhere near that bridge for a long time, yet I wished to hear something to set my mind at ease. One afternoon, under the pretext of escorting a friend across, I tried to find that spot on the bridge where the incident of that night had happened, but I was not successful. It was a relief to me; I believe I even smiled that there was no longer any trace of my crime. But all the same I have never used that footbridge again.
The plumber laughed.
“Nothing has ever been said of him. At least I have heard nothing. His body may never have been found. This is how it happened, it is the truth”.
“Bring two bottles of star” barked the plumber at the barmaid.
When it grew very late the bar turned them out in order to shut its doors. The plumber and Chike walked a little way together, until they got to that sleazy hotel, de Royale, at which point the plumber thanked Chike for the night’s entertainment and went inside. Now he was alone, it struck Chike that he had never asked that fellow’s name, and the memory of the face was already going vague in his head. He shrugged off the thoughts however, and took a bus at the stop just after the hotel. He alighted at the mouth of his street. He began to walk to his flat which was a long way down the street. There was electricity that night and the street was very brightly lit. People were still moving around, shops were opened and in more than one compound a party was going on. There was a warm and animated feel about the street. This was home to him. Here and there as he passed, people called out to him in greeting. He responded to them in kind, and here and there he handed out small change to little children. In his heart however, through that night and a few days afterwards, there was a deep and abiding sadness.