Emma spun back to his meal as quickly as he had turned to view the problem. One of the unwritten rules of party crashing was to never make it obvious that you might have been spotted as an uninvited guest.
He fingered his fork and dug it into his plate whilst taking cognizance of every movement at the buffet table. He lifted a scoop of coconut rice but spilled it when a screaming female voice startled him.
Even Tade who had not made any attempt to touch his own meal had his vigilance of the buffet table briefly distracted.
There was commotion from two tables nearby; one of the guests a well dressed middle aged lady had started making uneasy movements on her seat; she held onto her stomach and began to groan. The other guests at her table rallied round to help her as she fell off her chair almost lifeless onto the floor.
Four tables away, a fat pot-bellied man burst into a shaking fit and crashed to the ground jerking and foaming at the mouth. The young chick that accompanied him screamed as concerned fellow guests came round to inquire what was happening.
The young chick who had bent down to assist her man suddenly stiffened, clutched at her belly and started gasping before falling to the floor next to the man. She jerked about like a salted earthworm battling for survival.
Emma looked at his uneaten meal and dropped his fork hastily. He felt his stomach knot up turgidly in fear.
Tade also quickly pushed away his meal with trembling hands as the horrific realization also dawned on him.
Something was wrong with the food.
The hall that was once filled with music, cheer, celebration and laughter was suddenly turned into a chaotic din of groans, howls and loud cries.
Like a spreading plague across the hall, people began to stiffen, gasp and cascade off their seats in agony; some broke into convulsing fits and foamed at the mouth. Many collapsed on their tables, eyes turning white, bodies jerking to the rhythm of impending death. Others got up from their seats and staggered about in dazed anguish.
The MC had stopped talking and was in a confused state as he watched the horror unfolding before his eyes. A loud squeal and electric static ensued from the loud speakers as the microphone he had been holding fell out of his hand in shock and clattered across the tiled floor.
The band stopped playing abruptly and its members struggled to rescue its lead vocalist, a renown juju artiste, who had collapsed and gone into a convulsing fit. In the course of the performance, he had taken a drink to stay refreshed thus adding himself to the impending casualty.
The newly wedded couple had also stood up from their sofa horrified out of their wits; the bride was screaming and calling for help for no one in particular while the groom ran to and fro on the stage, unsure of what to do.
Across the hall, individuals who had not eaten of the food were darting up and down trying to help the affected ones.
Tade did not waste time taking in all of the horrific scenario; his eyes went back to the stewards at the buffet table
Is that all you want? Have more sir.
The words of the steward who had chided him at the buffet table echoed suspiciously through his head. The man had wanted to make sure he ate a good deal of the food.
And now in the midst of the ensuing chaos, they stood at the table doing nothing but watching. One of them even glanced at his wristwatch.
He spotted some of the guests who had either not eaten of the meal or were somewhat not affected, storming over to where the stewards stood by the buffet table, demanding to know what went wrong with the food.
Deep within, Tade felt a strong foreboding that they were making a very big mistake.
What happened next confirmed his thoughts.
With the same martial precision they had moved with earlier, the stewards all suddenly reached under the buffet table swiftly and brought out MP5 submachine guns.
There was a stampede as some of the protesting guests turned in a flash to run for their lives while others just began to apologize and make bumbling pleas.
The moment the stewards had reached under the tables, Tade had moved instinctively.
He stood up, grabbed Emma by the sleeve and yanked him along towards the exit….
….just as the stewards opened fire on the demanding guests and every other person in the hall.
Tade skidded in his tracks and went down, pulling Emma with him. They crouched behind a couple of huge speakers at one corner of the hall.
Continuous blasts of rapid fire gunshots rang through the hall; confetti of bullets went flying in different directions. Bloodied bodies crashed to the floor, screams and yells rent the air. The heavy stench of gun smoke overwhelmed the air-conditioned atmosphere.
Some people ran for the hall exit but were cut down by another group of gunmen shooting sporadically from another section of the hall.
They watched in horror as a gruesome mass execution took place before their eyes.
The bride and groom along with the bridal train were ultimate targets as gunmen faced them squarely scattering their glamorous façade with the inglorious chaos of bullets. The groom died instantly as gunfire pummeled him in the chest and head and leaving gory exit wounds; the bride’s immaculate white gown was turned into a bloody design as she met her waterloo while making a run to hide in the ladies.
Tade’s mind raced as the adrenaline of survival and military instincts which he had gathered from a brief stint in military school kicked in. Emma on the other hand crouched close to him whimpering and calling on the name of Jesus. Nothing in his long experience in crashing parties prepared him for this.
Tade noticed that some people were returning fire – probably security personnel of some of the guests or just some of the guest who happened to be strapped. This was what kept the gunfire exchange going. A handful of security agents had positioned themselves near a number of surviving guests and were returning fire.
The hall exit was a few meters away from them.
‘Help me!…please…’ an agonized female voice cried out in their direction.
Some distance away on the floor was one of the two girls that had admired Emma earlier when they arrived. She was lying on the floor with a gunshot wound on her right thigh in between two other dead bodies – one was her friend, the other was a stylishly dressed young man.
She was crying and wincing in pain; her eyes locked pleadingly onto Tade’s as though if she looked away, she’d die.
He motioned her to lie down and try to stay still.
Tade surveyed the hall to locate the danger zones and the safe zones.
He saw one of the gunmen get up and move forward towards where they hid, weapon at the ready. He recognized him immediately – the steward who had chided him to eat the poisoned food.
The steward fired a few shots in their direction. Whizzing bullets ripped through a side of the speakers. Pieces of shredded plastic and bit of metal from the speaker hit Emma in the face; he yelped in fear and felt some warmth in his clothes as he peed on himself.
The gunman advanced forward, unclipping his empty bullet chamber and getting ready to attach a new one.
Tade seized the moment and picked up a small piece of rock that had been used to balance one of the speakers. He swung it in quick cyclic motion adding thrust and leverage to his aim. The rock flew and hit the gunman on one side of the face causing him to lose balance and fall backward with a startled cry. The trip made him fire aimlessly into the ceiling.
Tade swung into action. He snaked himself across the floor to where the hit gunman had fallen. The man was bleeding in the face and was struggling to get to his gun that had fallen away from his grip. But Tade got to the gun before him. The gunman was not to be deterred. He reached behind his back and drew out a small semi-automatic pistol but found his hand shattering to pieces as Tade squeezed the trigger of the MP5 emptying a volley of bullets into it.
The gunman screamed as the handgun was flung out of his shredded hand by the impact; he reeled on the floor holding onto his bloody mess of a hand.
Tade turned to face Emma.
‘You grab the girl lying on the floor and carry her while I cover us. ’
‘Whaat? We suppose save ourselves not…’
‘Shut up Emma! It’s your fault, your greed that we ended up in this warzone. I knew there was something wrong about this place when we stepped in…and I was right!’
Emma kept quiet. He had reached a point where the jurisdiction of his party crashing knowledge could no longer operate. It was now up to Tade’s military school experience to save their asses.
He nodded sheepishly in defeat.
‘You ready? Let’s go!’
Tade moved quickly, his eyes jumped about the whole venue taking in every potential threat within sight. Gun ready, he walked away from the damaged speaker.
Emma came up behind him and on seeing that the exit was free, bolted off through the doors leaving Tade and the injured girl behind.
Emma was the kind of friend who could stab you in the back but come back to help nurse the wounds after being eaten raw by his conscience. But being abandoned in a life or death situation was not something he was prepared to have his friend do to him.
He rushed to where the girl lay in her blood, picked her up and slung her over his left shoulder while he brandished the gun with his right hand, tucking its backend under his armpit. She was losing blood and was almost lifeless. Thank goodness she was not very heavy.
His eyes continued to pan his surroundings as gunfire continued to ensue around the auditorium.
He moved with his back against the wall and straffed towards the exit.
Gunfire came in his direction; a window beside him shattered to pieces, some its glass cut him in the face.
His right eye caught sight of the intruder and he raised the gun fired in the direction.
The machine gun jumped violently in his hand and he struggled to hold it down firmly. He had never used such a weapon before though he had an idea what one needed to do to handle it.
His aim was lousy but he succeeded in firing a circumference of bullets around his attacker which stalled him and bought him enough time to move out of the line of fire with the girl and out of the hall.
Once outside, he caught sight of the abandoned street. The violence had caused residents to go into hiding in their houses and traders about the area to close shop and take off. The area had momentarily become a ghost town with eyes peering from hidden places. The only visible live movements came from police and military vehicles parked in the distance at a point where the area had been cordoned off.
Tade dropped the gun and ran with the girl dangling over his shoulder.
Somehow he found strength to sprint as much as he could with the girl.
But it was short-lived.
He was just a few meters away from the barricade where the police and military personnel and vehicles stood before the strength ebbed out of him and he began to stagger in his stride with the girl he carried. He felt a sharp pain on his side, looked down and realized why he was losing strength.
There was a ghastly bullet wound just slightly below his rib cage.
Tade gasped and slowed down before eventually falling to his knees.
He managed to lay the girl on the ground before collapsing and allowing the darkness to overwhelm him…
The darkness receded gradually as Tade opened his eyes.
A pair of lovely eyes was peering at him in the midst of a hazy vision.
An angel? Was he in heaven?
‘Where am I?’ He asked no one in particular.
‘You’re awake! Thank God! You’re in a hospital. You’ve been unconscious for two days.’ It was a female voice that responded and he was immediately able to attach it to the eyes that were looking at him.
His vision cleared the more and he could make out the hospital room; he winced as he could still feel pain despite having undergone a few days of healing.
In one corner of the room, a television set was on and a heavy news report was ongoing about the terrorist attack on a celebrity wedding attended by prominent personalities. It was a desperate attempt to wipe out a whole clan which almost succeeded had not some people fought back and escaped. But the casualties were many.
‘The doctor said you lost more blood than me’, the female voice continued
He finally turned on the bed and saw her seated by his bedside. She was in a long frilly dress and held onto a walking support to aid her movement while her thigh healed.
She wasn’t wearing any make-up but she had a pair of eyes that looked like nature had made them up for her. Not even the recuperating situation could spoil her good looks.
She didn’t reply but just gave him a forlorn look.
‘Where is Emma?’ Tade asked again thinking she hadn’t heard him well the first time.
She sighed before she reluctantly answered, ‘he didn’t make it. ’
Tade continued looking at her expecting more than what she was saying.
‘They said he ran into the line of fire between gunmen and the military outside the hall. We were lucky. They had just finished off the terrorists outside the hall before you came out carrying me.’
Tade became breathless. Reality of the fact that Emma was no more and how close he was to getting killed suddenly began to choke him…all because they had gone a journey to infiltrate an Owambe.
Emma was dead. He lived by Owambes and died by an Owambe. He had betrayed Tade in a life or death situation but nevertheless had been a good friend in a lot of other ways.
Not even the fact that the girl he had saved was a senator’s daughter who would soon reward him and influence a great change in his life later on, could comfort Tade from the intense sorrow that suddenly overwhelmed him.
He broke down and cried.
—- End —–