I shake his hand, and look into his bloodshot eyes. I dislike him immediately. He leans in for a brotherly hug. I hug back mechanically. I have to. We’re brothers, after all. Not by blood, but by blood oath.
“You don reach,” he says. It’s not a question, so I don’t bother to answer.
“When?” I ask.
“Tomorrow. During finals.”
I nod. “How many?”
I nod again. I have all the information I need. Tomorrow, during exams, two final year Electronic Engineering students are going to die. I am certain of this because I am going to kill them. And once they put you on my list, my friendly advice is to just make your peace, shikena. I never leave anything unfinished.
I don’t know what they did to deserve to die, and I don’t really care. Probably a stupid argument over some chick, or maybe somebody stepped on somebody’s shoes at a party. The reasons get more and more ridiculous each time, which is why I no longer ask.
My parents, by the way, named me Echezona, but most people know me as Lastma. No, I don’t stop and harass people in traffic. Lastma, in my case, is short for Last Man Standing. Don’t ask. The less you know the better for you.
I don’t go to this university. My university is on the other side of the country. My own exams start the day after tomorrow. I’m nearly ready, though. I have just one more chapter to read for my first paper. My textbook is in my rucksack next to Caesar and Napoleon, my twin nine-inch serrated titanium daggers. Don’t let all this fool you. I’m a serious student. I’m still on course for a 2.1, by the grace of God.
“Make we go shayo, na!” my host offers generously. “Just me and you.”
He is by far the most feared human being on this campus. And with good reason. He used to be me. A natural-born butcher. Now, he’s the Oga at the top. At least in this school, anyway.
I muster a smile, even though I’d much rather punch him in the throat. I detest him, and everything he stands for.
“Bros, I get exam,” I protest. “I get to jack.”
He looks at me in surprise. I’m not sure if the surprise is because I dared to turn him down or because I just said I’m actually planning to study.
“Lastma Lastma! Make we just do one-one, na! You and your boy.” It is a command, albeit casually disguised as an invitation.
Sitting side by side on the small wooden bench, we drink our tepid beers straight from the bottle. There is almost nothing I hate more than hot beer. We both use our thumbs as impromptu bottle stoppers between swigs. People like us, we all jealously guard what we eat and drink. It’s a matter of life and death.
We go over the plan for tomorrow. I don’t like to leave things to chance. I let him know what his people need to do. Once they’ve done their part, I’ll do the rest.
“I want you to give them a message from me,” he says, his bloodshot eyes bulging. I almost laugh, but stop myself just in time. He looks like a caricature from a Nollywood film; an over-acted, over-emphasized, ‘bad guy’ character, most likely portrayed by Jim Iyke or that other constantly typecast ‘bad-boy-that-just-came-back-from-America’ actor whose name eludes me.
“Tell them Mobutu says ‘Checkmate’!”
At this stage I nearly burst out laughing. Ife m ga-aluchasi. I think you’ve been watching far too much Nollywood, mate.
“I’ll tell them,” I promise. After all, you can always ask them later whether I actually delivered the message, abi? Aturu!
He appears satisfied and orders another round of hot beer for us. It seems like we’re going to be here for a while, he and I. He likes to talk; he likes the sound of his own voice. I don’t. But I have no choice but to sit here, drink hot beer, and listen to him. I raise my eyes up to the sky. I know what this is. I’m already being punished for my sins.
As he talks, my mind wanders. Before long, I’m thinking about her. Eseosa. The deep brown pools of mystery that are her eyes. Eyes that see right through me into my soul and yet do not recoil in horror. Eyes that look at me and see Echezona and not the dreaded Lastma. Nobody at our school understands what the two of us could possibly have to talk about. Eseosa, beautiful, top of her class, and extremely God-fearing. Me? Rumour has it that Lastma dines every night with the devil himself.
She has been perpetually inviting me to church, to fellowship, to youth meetings, and to bible study. She is the only human being on campus who has ever dared to say such things to me. That’s what we talk about, in case anybody was wondering. But we talk about other things too. Eseosa is not afraid of me, and somehow she sees someone else when she looks at me. She sees a version of me that I would like to be, someday. But today is not that day. Today, I’m sitting on a hard wooden bench in a different university, drinking warm beer, planning murder, and listening to Mobutu brag about all the ‘niggas’ he’s killed.
The next day, we arrive at Engineering Block at 10.30 am. Mobutu is not with us. He’s instantly recognisable, and his presence would cause a commotion and alert the targets. My guides are new recruits eager to prove themselves, and are therefore not as easily identifiable to the people that matter.
We separate as we approach Engineering, each taking a previously agreed vantage point. Everybody knows what his role is. The ID man takes a stroll on the corridor right outside the examination hall, glancing casually into the windows as he walks past. As soon as he passes the last window and is out of sight of the hall, he nods his head slightly, alerting us all that the targets are in the hall. Both of them. It’s on.
He doubles back towards me, taking the long way and avoiding walking past the hall again. When he reaches me, he talks. I listen carefully. Fourth row, third from left. Red polo shirt, light-skinned. Second to last row, second from right. White and blue check shirt, very tall.
I walk away from him and towards the hall before he even finishes talking. I don’t need to get that close to the hall. I have the eyesight of an eagle on steroids. I can read an open book from the other side of a room.
I stop fifteen feet from the hall and scan its occupants through the open windows. I identify both targets and take a good look at each of them. Their faces are now seared into my memory. I turn around and walk leisurely over to the towering Science Block about fifty meters away from the hall.
When I get there, I look at the signal man leaning against the wall of the building to the right of the hall. I nod at him. Go. He turns around to face someone behind the hall, out of my line of sight. He gives them the signal.
What happens next can only be described as pandemonium. Gunshots are suddenly heard from behind the hall. Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa!
All hell breaks loose as students and lecturers scramble for cover. My eyes never leave the hall. From where I’m standing I can see all possible exits. Then I see Red Polo. He has dived out of a window and is running towards Science Block, his head down.
So far so good. He’s doing exactly what I’d assumed he would do.
As he approaches, I keep my eyes trained on the hall behind him, waiting for Check Shirt to appear. I don’t see him. Not great. But I have more immediate matters to attend to.
I step behind the pillar, just out of sight. Caesar is in my right hand, Napoleon in my left.
I can hear his footfalls, frantic and furtive all at once. He’s nearly on top of me. As he reaches the pillar, I step out from behind it and swing my right arm at his neck, catching him with the inside of my elbow. His legs fly out in front of him as he’s suspended in the air parallel to the ground for what seems deceptively like several seconds.
As he falls, I go with him, slamming both daggers down into his chest with as much force as I can muster. The look of shock on his face very quickly gives way to the blank look of death. Caesar is in his heart, and Napoleon is eight inches beside it under his right breast, both buried to the hilt.
His eyes are fixed on me, but I know that they are unseeing. He is already dead. Still, it feels like his eyes accuse me. I wonder fleetingly what he did to deserve to die like this, this young man in his prime. Later today, his mother will receive a phone call that will shatter her very existence. This is the male child she had prayed for, carried for nine months, fed from her bosom, and loved and nurtured all the way through to manhood. And in three weeks, while she plans his funeral, the rest of his class will graduate from university.
My mind involuntarily goes back to Eseosa. She knows who I am… what I am, and yet she still believes there is hope for me. For some reason, the thought makes me sad. I make a decision. The next time she invites me to something, I will go. I will follow her to church, fellowship, and bible study if she wants.
But there is no time to dwell on this. Check Shirt is still alive, and my eyes have been off the examination hall for six whole seconds. He could be anywhere by now. I still have work to do.
I pull Caesar and Napoleon from the lifeless body, wipe them on his red polo shirt, and set off for the exam hall.