Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria. 2:00 PM.
PETER AKINLOLU yawned and stretched, lacing his fingers and cracking his knuckles. The environment at the Medical Emergency unit was lively. People branched in and out of the attendant room he was, once in a while. Some stayed longer; some not.
Doctors were busy tending to both old and new patients. New patients were being wheeled into the department from ambulances that dropped by at a consistent rate of once in an hour. Some of the patients brought there around that time had deep, mucus-secreting wounds that emitted a terrible smell into the gusty breeze supplying the hallway of the unit. Corpses were being wheeled out of the back door as they were kicking the bucket.
The two wards—one for male and another for female—smelled of urine, feces, and drugs. Although the cleaners and attendants were trying their best to disinfect the area, its power soared above the chemicals. The gust of breeze brought the mixture of terrible smell to him, so he pulled his black, round-neck top over his nose when the gust of breeze came.
An adamant security guard stood, stationed at the main entrance gate, yelling at stubborn-headed, impatient relatives of already-wheeled-in patients to stay back. Attendants were flying around the hallway, into the wards and out of the unit to cater for the dying people.
Beyond the gate, there was a roofed waiting area and an enclosed place with metal chairs where people scattered on.
Six months ago, Peter had been about to walk into the waiting area when he saw Simon, one of his classmates in high school. He stood transfixed where he was and jerked his head forward. His eyeballs had almost stuck out from its sockets behind his customized, recommended spectacles, which slipped down a bit. He had looked like a professor.
“What!” Simon had exclaimed.
They had hugged each other, share a few surprise pleasantries and chatted about their friends. Simon had told him he was looking for the Dental Clinic. He had escorted him there and helped him with every registration process.
Simon was a friendly fellow, normally excited to see his friend at that stage. Peter had had difficulty speaking English in school but all the um and uh and pause to find words were gone. He even learned he had been using that English to support himself, though not nearly as big as a salary.
Peter had a close friend at school. He was the person who he related to the most. And they had seen the effect. The guy turned out to be the next Further Mathematics teacher, solving his maths this time like one plus one.
Simon had noticed the effect from a year and a half to graduation, but other classmates didn’t. They would jest and joke about using concoctions and bribing teachers.
They had met in the same spot about three more times. He just wanted to get to know the boy, now advanced. He would pitch the idea of visiting him at home, but would be rejected. He had also proposed coming to his own house which Peter also rejected firmly.
He had seen him near the car park this morning.
“Hey, what’s up?” Peter had asked.
“I’m good. I’m looking for the bank.”
Simon extended the paper to him. He glanced at it and pointed at a small enclosed building with three counters.
“Will you escort me to the clinic today again? I feel awfully alone.”
“Uh..” Peter hesitated then said, “No. I’ve got something to do. But if you run into a problem, just give me a call.”
“Alright, I’ll call you when I’m done.”
They had parted and he had walked to the entrance gate.
Because his mom worked at the department, he could go in and out without much restraint. If anyone asked him where to, he would say he was looking for his mom.
“Who’s your mom?” the adamant security guard had asked.
“What!” the elderly man had exclaimed, almost planting his head through the burglary door. “So you’ve grown big like this. You were this tall when I saw you last.” And he had flattened his palm and placed it at his thigh level, indicating how tall he was.
Peter knew the guard had seen him times he couldn’t count. He just didn’t know it was him or was already aging beyond his capabilities. That was the end of the discussion. Then he would bounce in.
He yawned again and adjusted his spectacles. His face had gone pale sitting in front of his laptop for… He squinted at his watch—2 PM. He had stared at the darn thing for the past six hours. But he wasn’t about to quit just yet. Although he had set out to write, internet surfing took the most of him. And including a tiny, little nuisance he couldn’t get rid off.
The girl lived across the street at home but had an eye for something more from him. She would jump at every opportunity to chat with him. Give him winks while passing by. Even try to seduce him when they were accidentally alone. She had added him on Facebook and it hadn’t taken long to realize that, though she may be a nuisance physically, her virtual self was interesting, fascinating, lively.
He had been chatting with her for almost four hours. Doesn’t she have a chore to perform at home?
A pang of hunger welled up in him. His eye dilated. He couldn’t stare at the chemical-driven screen without a bite.
Just then an old woman, a health attendant, walked into the attendant room. Peter cringed at her appearance—deep wrinkles all over her skin, gray hairs sprinkled on her head, and a slight stoop amidst her brisk stroll. She had large eye sockets and a small, almost-black eyeballs. She looked like an eagle.
Ayamatanga, Peter thought and probed the matter of her being a witch. He didn’t know where that nickname for witches was from, but he knew the name wasn’t a good one. He must have heard it while watching films when he was a kid. Does that even matter? It wouldn’t kill the pang in his stomach.
With a heavy psyche against his fantasy, he called out to her, “Uh, mama.”
She had entered another small room attached to the hallway with a “Kitchenette” label above its door. He was literate enough to know that it was the French word for kitchen. She stuck her head out, leaning on the threshold.
“Yes, what do you want, my son?”
“You have a chill Pepsi there?”
The staff attendants in the department had contributed a tangible capital, bought drinks with it and stuffed it inside a little fridge which they stationed behind the kitchen door. The woman went back in. A couple of seconds and she called back.
“Did you say—”
“Pepsi,” Peter said out loud enough for her to hear. A couple of seconds, he thought, and she’s forgotten the order already.
“Oops. We only have Fanta and Coke. Which would you like?”
He heard a clink-clank in the kitchen and then the woman emerged with the bottle containing the yellow liquid he had requested.
“That’s for a hundred naira.”
Peter took the exact bill from his wallet and they exchanged inventory. He immediately opened it and gulped down a sizeable portion to his temporal satisfaction. He woke his computer and continued his surfing.
Notifications were waiting for him. That little snitch had sent him a message. The interesting part was his nerd girlfriend had emailed him. He had learned soon before they began to date that she loved computers a lot. No wonder she preferred email to text messages.
He opened her message first, smiled through reading it and gulped another mouthful of his drink when he was done. He starred it. He would reply her later when he think about the perfect answer. He clicked back to his inbox. Another email was waiting for him. It looked like the ones that do enter his spam folder. How the hell did it squeezed its way through the spam filter?
He clicked open the email. It was sharing an office prank video and the latest news of the couple who had engaged in coitus on the expressway.
He glanced around. No one was accompanying him in the cubicle. Only the sound of the fan, some distant chatter, and an unavoidable penetrative noise, even when the windows had been closed. And he was glad.
It wouldn’t be bad if he satisfied himself with pleasure. It would be short after all and nobody would notice what he was doing.
He downloaded the three videos straightaway, minimized his browser and opened the folder containing the videos. He clicked the one with the couple first. To his disappointment, the media player popped open but brought with it an error message.
His brow knitted in anger. He opened the second one. It played but showed a computer screen at first. He was so confused the video was his screen that he had to check it.
The camera receded back and he saw the computer’s keyboard and a pair of hands. The pair of hands opened the website of the Nigerian National Intelligence Agency, logged into its database and searched for his name—Peter Akinlolu.
The next window that was opened was his profile. He saw his passport photograph, the one he had snapped while registering for his National ID card. Inline with it was his biodata—his name, age, date of birth, state of origin. What? How possible?
The video was done and he opened the third. It showed a pair of hands racing over a keyboard for six seconds and then the video was done.
He held his cheek in puzzle, trying to figure out what to do next. What could he make off this? He could try and message the email sender and complain about the crap he sent him. But was it the sender’s fault? The longing for obscene materials made him downloaded the videos, the feeling which had swiftly flew out of his mind.
He could try and contact NIA themselves and inquire about the video. But that would be risky. What if they were actually after him? That would mean walking straight into their hands.
Resolving to stand undeterred, he deleted the three videos and opened his browser again. He filtered all email coming from the sender to his trash folder and continued his easy surfing journey.
To him, that was nothing but a threat to freak out. What about so-called “make money online” experts he had encountered on the internet, who faked their earning screenshots with Photoshop.
What if whoever sent the video faked it? Well, he wasn’t gonna tinker around with it anymore. He had gotten rid of it and that should be the end.
Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. 2:30 PM.
INSIDE A room of about twenty meters square, a young, dark-skinned man sat, leaning back on his swivel chair. A couple of computers sat on the table before him, its monitors dimly lit. A few plasma TVs were hung on the wall before him showing black-and-white live feeds from cameras they had planted somewhere. Right under the ceiling to his left was an air conditioner, stationed so that it blew chilly air directly on his head. Under the air conditioner on the floor was a standing fan, programmed to swirl here and there in order to circulate the cold air.
The man took a sip from the glass cup he laid before a computer and settled it back afterward. Beside the glass cup was a beer, almost leveled to its bottom.
How friggin’ hard is it to get this boy under their radar. Seeing the little green icon show on his facebook account, he knew he must be online. And if he was, he would have seen the email after all. Silently he prayed for him to download those things.
He had sent the customized email in the form of an entertainment gist newsletter from a fake blogger.
He sat up as the light on the computer in front of him lit brighter and displayed a huge green mark icon, connoting success. He moved closer to the keyboard. The boy had opened the file and he knew the program had installed fine. Time to test it out.
He moved his mouse to the top left corner of the screen and opened another window. He raced his fingers over the keyboard and the plasma screens above changed. One showed a life feed of his computer screen. Another showed the feed from the camera embedded on the boy’s computer screen. Nice. But he didn’t get an audio. That would be if the boy inserted an earphone.
He smiled wryly. He was becoming a genius fast. The program he had coded himself had installed on the boy’s computer, hidden behind the scene and ran on standby whenever the computer was on. The boy’s internet connection had brought him the result. He smiled again. The confirmation of his intelligence has now appeared. Chief would value him dearly afterward.
He closed the window and the plasma screens went back to their previous status. He opened another window. It was high time chief knew he was capable.
PETER CLOSED his laptop with a clap and stuffed it into his backpack. He recounted his activities for the past eight hours and found nothing worthwhile he had achieved. He had chatted on Facebook, checked his email and even watched some nasty videos. But all were play; not the writing he had set out to do.
He strapped on his backpack. As he headed out, he remembered Simon hadn’t call him and felt guilty for not following him to the clinic. They could have known themselves more while his friend waited to see the dentist. Maybe there was still something tangible to achieve for the day after all.
Instead of going home, he maneuvered his way through a slew of impatient people at waiting areas, loiters and yelling attendants, to the Dental Clinic. Simon was packing his backpack when he entered the waiting area.
“Oh, I just wanted to call you.”
Peter lined his mouth with his usual curvy smile. “How did it go?”
Simon understood he was talking about his dentition. “I’m good now. The doctor said the only bad tooth I have was the one they removed.”
He took a moment to look at Peter before returning his eye concentration to his pack. When he was done, he strapped it on, and they went through a door into the hallway toward the back door.
“So, how’s your internet stuff going?”
Peter sighed. Going? He shouldn’t have asked that. He was a writer, granted. But by title and claim, most times, including today. He had set out to write a thousand word but hadn’t done anything. Although the area was a little noisy, he knew he could have achieved and even surpass it.
“It’s going fine, bro. You?”
They were out of the back door now. Simon screeched to a halt and turned to face his friend. “I’m a student. Two hundred level at UniLag. You don’t expect me to work.”
Peter’s eye widened. “I suspected. I know you can buy me as a slave at one glance. But you should know that I’m a student, too. Hundred level, NOUN. You should expect me to work hard.”
“What are you studying?” Simon asked as they moved on.
The rest of the walk was in silence. When they got near the car park, Simon said, “My car’s over there” and pointed. “I hope you’re chanced to visit my home today because I know you’ve perfected making excuses.”
Peter laughed. “Actually, I have some time. A few hours before traffic blocks the road.”
“Where do you live?”
“That’s far, boy, but doesn’t mean you won’t come to my house, huh? GRA isn’t that far from here.”
Simon cast an inquiring look at Peter who hesitated then gave a slight nod.
Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. 7:30 PM.
THEY SAT across each other on the roofless level of the tall building. One was a tall, lanky figure. The scar sloping from his left nose bridge to his right cheek was invisible on his dark skin in the night. He was on black jean trousers, a pair of white sneakers and a white T-shirt. He wore a dark, sun-shade spectacle and coupled with his punk hairstyle looked like a music star.
The one sitting before him was a light-complexioned, stout man. He wore a baggy trouser below his saggy, potty belly and a polo shirt. He wore a warm smile and, together with his low cut, looked like a businessman. He was handsome from head to… maybe shoulder. But beginning from his ribcage down to his feet, he looked like the fattest man in the whole world. It wasn’t uncommon for his big butt to make a pressurized impact on a cushion which would still be there long after he had stood.
He poured them wine.
“So,” he began, after sipping his drink, “any improvement with our young lead?”
“Hmm?” he asked, stopping when he was about to sip from his cup again. His excitement had been triggered.
“I’ve found out everything about him, his biodata, his relatives, his residence, his whereabouts. My instinct keeps telling me he doesn’t know anything about the assassination.”
“But he has, now that they are looking for him.”
He handed a folder to the fat man, stretching his hand a little bit than necessary. “I’ve got him under surveillance.”
“Okay,” the man said, nodding. “So what’s next?”
“They’ve gotten his online details, too. They tracked his IP address to General Hospital and I believe they’ll be combing the place for him right now.”
“And what did you notice him do?”
“Sir, we can’t afford to let him slip into their hands just like that. But he’s left the place.”
“What if he didn’t?”
“We would have to intervene, sir.”
“Where is he now?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“What!!” The fat man’s voice went a little louder. “I told you to have your eyes on him all the time.”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“I’ve installed a program on his computer. Anytime he puts it on, I will get a video from his camera, his screen activities and maybe audio if he has an earpiece on.”
“Blah blah blah. I’m not interested in all those mumbo jumbo. You know I never have. What are you driving at?”
“I’m saying, anytime he logs on to his system and the internet, I’ll not only know his location, I’ll get a live video streaming of where he is, what he’s doing on his compu—”
A loud beep interrupted their conversation. The dark man took out his iPad phone from his pocket and swiped his right thumb over it. The screen went from dim to bright.
“Yeah, this is it.”
He stood and showed the fat man the screen. A map fitted directly into the surface of the phone and somewhere on it a red pointer was blinking at a steady pace.
“He’s inside GRA, Ikeja now. You want to engage him?”
“No, no, no,” the fat man said, shaking his head. “Just keep your eyes on him.”
“Yes, sir.” The tall man lowered his frame on the seat.
“Next is to connect with our contact far east. I’ll tell you when we—”
The iPad beeped again, but it soon launched into a ring.
“Excuse me,” he told the fat man and tilted his head away.
“Yup. What’s up, guys?” he asked the person on the other end and waited a moment. “What! Okay, okay, close in on the area but do not engage. Any change in the situation, you brief me.”
The fat man looked at his companion.
“Sir, our target is about to be compromised.”
The fat man whistled
GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.
PETER WAS having a good time at Simon’s house. From the time they pulled into a quiet street in the GRA, it was as if he was hypnotized. He had forgotten about time, traffic or home.
His parents would never question a 24-year-old guy like the 16-year-old they used to. As he grew older, they became less interested in his affairs. He thought of what he would tell them if they called. His mom wasn’t on duty, thank God. He would say he got deeper into the job and he couldn’t stop. That would mean sleeping over at the hospital.
Two of Simon’s friends had dropped by—Temitope and Quadri. They had played games together, eaten snacks and Simon was about to skyrocket his ego.
“I’m a great cook,” he said, standing up from the one-sitter sofa he was sitting on adjacent to the TV. “I want to cook vegetable soup, spiced with some assorted meat and fish. Temi, you said you could get us some ponmo?”
“Ah-ah!” Temi exclaimed. “If I step out of that gate, I’m going to my father’s out straight.”
Simon looked at the girl. “What are you even doing here if you’re not useful?”
Peter retrieved his laptop from his backpack. He was sitting on the three-sitter sofa opposite the TV. He flipped it open and logged on to his browser. He remembered the email he got earlier. What was with that email that he couldn’t forget?
It was time to secure the server he had out there. He logged on to his hosting company and paid for a WHOIS privacy protection. That way, anyone wouldn’t see his address or phone number or whatever details they would’ve seen if he didn’t protect it.
Meanwhile, Simon and the girl were chatting. He suddenly looked at Peter who was hunched over his laptop. That was the kid’s calling, he thought. This was the Peter he knew at school, curious about technology, always on the trend on free browsing cheat. He didn’t have upgraded phones then, but he knew the heck how to operate almost all of them.
“Hey,” Simon called out to him. “You’ve started your cheat thing again abi?”
“No,” Peter replied, raising his head, which he lowered again to his laptop screen. “I’m done with that. Will you say I can’t afford to pay for internet as big as I am?”
“Hey, hey, don’t say that. The people you learned that from, some were big adults doing it for fun.”
“Because they were satisfied. Most of them were in their twenties. They commonly ditch it in their late twenties. I’m not in my late twenties but I’ve got better things to do.”
“Okay. You’d better make it snappy and join me in the kitchen. Or else you won’t eat a pinch of what I cook.”
“Says me, Simon. Or don’t you know how to cook?”
They all laughed out loud.
“I do, but…” He trailed off. “I don’t want to.”
Quadri sat beside Peter and switched on the TV. There was a breaking news.
Welcome to NTA network news. First the headline.
The screen changed and the first headline was that the president had been assassinated.
Peter’s heart skipped. What? It couldn’t be true. He had written about the assassination of the same president in one of his novella. Shit!
He watched the newscast with his heart about to explode. Was that why the email came? There was one way to know.
He went to the recycle bin of his computer and restored the videos he had deleted. He watched the second video and crammed the website the operator had logged into. Then he watched the last one. That must be the password being typed but he couldn’t possibly make out the keys the fingers had pressed. He knew the hands were that of the operator. The operator wore a black suit and a shiny silver watch.
What was…? Then it struck him. There was a video player with the ability to slow down a video by say, two to ten times. He opened the program and then the video in it. He set it to five times slower. The first finger slowly moved on letter E, then he watched as the finger slowly made its way over the other letters.
He closed the program and open his browser. He logged into the website using the operator’s password. He searched for his name, just like the operator did. It couldn’t be possible. He was staring at the same thing as in the video.
To the friends in the room with him, he was just browsing normally. And they didn’t care. Quadri watched the news to the end and then a drama show came on. He didn’t notice anything about him or even their surrounding except occasionally calling out to Simon in the kitchen to, “Be quick, little boy, I’m starving here.”
He closed the laptop with a clap and glanced at the wall clock. Seven-thirty PM. He still had the time to get out of Simon’s house.
Before they knew anything.
Before the system would notify them about the login and analyze them his IP address.
He had mistaken from the start. He could have used a proxy server but the curiosity of that moment made him forgot all he ever knew. He needed to get out of there fast. But before he did that, he opened the laptop again and changed the password of the account he had used to log in. That would buy him some time.
His head was spinning. This wasn’t the badass amateur hacker that didn’t get hacked once in his life online. And bad news, he had shed his ways. He didn’t even remember the common terms he never forgot then even if he was just waking up. Now everything was gone. He wouldn’t even be able to Google tutorials. He needed to know the exact terms he was looking for.
He stuffed the laptop with a practiced motion and wondered how he was able to do that under two seconds every time. He shook his head. Playing wasn’t the next consolation and it had gotten into his head. The consolation was to get out and into the street. If possible, be home before they knew he was there.
He stood up and strapped on his backpack.
“What!” he exclaimed in faked surprise. “Time’s gone. I’m going to get home late.”
“I thought you wanted to stay here overnight,” Temi said.
“No, I didn’t plan it,” he said.
Simon came out of the kitchen into the sitting room, apron still on, bringing the aroma coming out of the kitchen into Peter’s nose. That was another temptation to stay back, but it would spell disaster to all of them.
“Er…” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry but I have to be on my way now.”
“Why?” Simon asked. “The food is almost ready. Oh, you think I’m going to starve you? I’m not wicked like—”
“That’s not it, Simon. I have to go now or I may miss what I want to do. And if I don’t get there on time, I’ll sleep on the street.”
“Guy, relax. You didn’t tell me anything about going somewhere.” Simon wore a puzzled look.
Peter glanced at his watch. “Look, I didn’t know today is Thursday. I forgot. Please, I’m sorry.”
Simon muted for a while, leaning on the three-sitter chair.
INSIDE A dark car, two men sat in the front watching the gate Peter had entered with Simon. They had tailed the duo from the hospital.
The street was lit with street lights but they had a gloomy part where there was no hue. The street was empty except for occasional passersby. About fifty yards after Simon’s house, a mallam who cooks indomie for money positioned his stall.
“Is he going to come out?” the one on the driver’s seat asked.
“I don’t think so. Brainy told us he lives in Sango. It’s far from this place.”
The driver stared sidelong at his passenger. “So what?”
“I don’t see any reason for us staying here.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
“I mean he’s safe. We should be somewhere having a drink—”
“Okay, go on. Don’t stop there, go and rent a room and let chief get ahold of you. Silly fellow.”
The passenger sighed.
“Don’t get on my nerves,” he said.
Just then a Toyota Highlander moved past them, its headlights penetrating a decent amount of radius around it. It pulled up in front of Simon’s house.
“See,” the driver said, then mimicked him, “I don’t see any reason for staying here.”
“I saw something familiar.”
The passenger pulled out his phone and called the one they called Brainy.
“Yup. What’s up, guys?”
“Something is up, Brainy. We just saw a Toyota Highlander pulled up in front of the house.” He stretched his neck to get a view of the vehicle’s plate number. “The one we escaped from that day.” And he wanted to add, The day you got that scar of yours. “Okay.”
“What did he say?” the driver asked as soon as his buddy ended the call.
“He said we should close in but not to engage.” The man opened the locker in front of him and brought out a semi-auto. He dipped his hand into the locker again and brought out a nylon bag containing ten magazines. He scrambled them into the thigh pocket of his three-quarter pants. He dipped his hand into it again, brought out a sound compressor and fixed it to the gun.
The driver put a hand on his shoulder and pointed to the vehicle. Two guys alighted from it and went to the mallam’s stall. They knew some other would still be in the car.
“What should we do?” the driver asked.
“You’re the one passionate about staying here,” the passenger said, not minding him nor looking around. He was busy fixing his gun and curating its accessories where easily accessible. “You should know what to do.”
“C’mon, you can’t tell me we’ll have to call Brainy. What does he know about outdoor missions like us? I mean the last time we went together, he got blessed with a scar.”
“Better get ready. This is the plan.”
The driver opened his door a crack enough for him to get out and alighted into a crouching position. Then he silently closed the door and stealth his way to the back of the car. They had parked at a T-junction. There was a street to his right and left. Looking around but finding nobody, he shot his frame up and walked to the street on the right of the intersection.
The passenger got into his seat and alighted. But he went in front of the car. The Highlander had resorted to faint hum, its headlights were off. There was a car in front of them. He crouched behind and slowly stood, looking at the mallam’s stall. He quickly rose and faced the fence, standing over the gutter. He brought out his genitals and urinated inside the open drainage. Some of the guys sitting at the mallam’s stall had looked in his direction. He knew they’d be wondering how he got there. He finished his thing and got into the street toward the mallam.
“Hiya, mallam,” he greeted.
“Kai, oga,” the mallam responded.
He scoffed at hearing the mallam’s accent and pronunciation. He meant to salute him. That was why he referred to him as “oga,” a boss.
Then and there, he was like a boss by which his business wouldn’t survive except he patronized him.
“Wetin I want?” the mallam said.
He collapsed onto the bench the mallam provided beside the two guys. They were casually dressed but a little too luxurious for middle-class individuals. Their wristwatches were shining and glinting in the dark night. Although there were streetlights, the beauty of those things surpassed them. The reflection they made was like heaven’s light. Then there was their readily-made clothing. It still smelled as if they just bought it. Maybe they had.
The man shook his head and concentrated on the uneducated mallam’s words. What did he want? He pondered it as he grunted and sighed, showing a sign of tiredness.
“You get laCasera?” he asked.
“No,” the mallam said. The request initiated a suspicious look on him. Matured people seldom wanted that sugar-laced drink. But it was a myth and the man wondered if his statement was wrong. “I only get tea.”
He agreed that he should make him tea. It was fifty naira, a measly sum he would be glad to lavish away even if he wouldn’t get paid for the night’s work.
The previous man walked briskly toward the Highlander jeep, looking around as if looking for something. He held a paper in his hands. As expected, a man had alighted and stood beside the vehicle at the side of the gutter. He stopped by the other side of the vehicle. The man quickly grew interested.
“What do you want?” the man at the side of the gutter asked.
“I’ve lost my way. Do you anywhere named Coker Street?”
“It’s that way,” the man said, pointing back to the direction he had come from.
Just before leaving, he dropped three metallic materials the size of a flash drive and kicked it under the jeep.
“Okay, thank you.” He started walking back.
The one at the mallam’s stall drank his tea in half and settled it on the table before him. He exhaled audibly.
“How much is it?” he asked again to appear unsure. It was common for middle-class people to ask for the price of a commodity over and over again in order to avoid cheating.
“Pipty naira,” the mallam said.
So much for their accent, he thought. He placed his left hand behind him and dropped two metallic materials—the same with the previous man—under the bench.
He fumbled with his jean pouch, withdrew a fifty naira bill and gave the mallam. The process had taken no longer than a few seconds. It had made no sound.
He gulped another mouthful and left, walking in the other direction he had come from and made a right turn. He started sprinting, took the next right turn, then right turn and then burst out where they had parked the car. He met his companion.
“How far?” he asked.
They entered the car like before.
“You watch out for him if he ever comes out of that place,” the one on the driver’s seat said.
The passenger retrieved a cellphonelike machine from the locker. It had a big button and a couple of small ones on it. He pressed a 4-digit code with the aid of the small ones. The interface on the machine dimly lit up and, without blinking, he pressed the big button.
PETER AND Simon got out of the staircase into the compound.
“I don’t like what you did today. Honestly,” Simon said.
Peter stopped after they’d gotten out of the staircase to face him.
“I said I’m sorry,” Peter said, not trying to sound hurrying. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
Simon gazed at him.
An explosion rocked the gate and startled them. Chunks of wood, shards of glass and metal pellets all rained on them. Simon pulled his friend and they both dived back into the staircase. Another explosion occurred again. Peter saw the fire and its plumes of smoke rising up to heaven. A powerful force originating from the explosion struck the house gate and it barely stood among its walls.
Peter stood and went out into the heat-seared evening air. He knew he was doomed for. They had got to him if that was it. But why would they be gunning down for him? It wasn’t as if he didn’t write a disclaimer. He wrote all the copyright mumbo jumbo. This is a work of fiction blah blah blah was there, too. Stupid. How could they even find out? Someone who knew him must have shown them.
He went to the gate. It was red hot. The rising fire was yards away from there.
“No! Don’t go!” Simon yelled at him, dusting the particles that had secured accommodation in his body.
He found a piece of long wood and hit the gate hard with it. The small gate opened and he squeezed through it. The hotness in it was becoming more hotter. He picked his way through the street toward the direction of what he once recognized as a mallam’s stall. Behind him, a car’s headlight signaled that someone was out there. Most likely it was his tail.
It was evident no one wanted to die. Nobody had come out of his or her walled house. Instead, lights were going out in various houses and he knew it wasn’t accidental.
Peter raced pass a car. He stopped and reversed to it. There was someone in there. As usual, an idea struck him. What if he begged the person to just drive him out of the vicinity. He walked up to the driver’s side and knocked. The window wound down slowly. Behind it, Peter saw a trembling woman.
The woman was covered in sweats and it was evident she had been sobbing. Focused on getting out of the street, another idea struck him.
He leaned on the car, placing his right hand on its roof and one on the window pane, almost filling up the window space. All the woman could see was a silhouetted figure.
“See that?” Peter asked the woman, gesturing toward the fire with his head.
She nodded even before he had finished asking.
“Let’s just say I don’t value my life. I can turn this car into something like that.”
The woman shuddered at the prospect and held her hands together, pleading.
“P..please,” she barely said in a whiny tone.
“Sssh!” Peter shushed. “You’ll do me a favor.”
“I said shut up. Get on the passenger’s seat.”
The woman frantically changed position. Peter glanced at the direction he had come from and saw a silhouetted figure running toward him. It was Simon. What was he finding?
“I want you to answer my next question honestly. Do you have a car tracker installed in this car?”
She shook her head, panting heavily. It was working. He needed to do something before Simon got there.
“I will know eventually. Now, how many phones do you have?”
The woman didn’t answer but was still panting.
“I will blow up your head if you don’t answer me.”
“Two, two, two,” the woman promptly responded.
“Blackberry and Nokia Torch.”
“Fine,” he said. “Give me the Nokia Torch. Call it with the Blackberry now.”
The woman handed him the phone and pressed some buttons on the Blackberry. The Nokia phone in his hand had barely begun to ring when Simon reached him and he was speaking in a hushed tone.
“Stay there first, Peter said, pointing to the rear of the car. “I’m coming.”
Simon who had no idea of what was happening went to the back of the car and leaned against it.
“I’m borrowing your car,” Peter told the woman, bending his head. “I’m collecting your phone to contact you about the whereabout of your car, so you will do yourself some good and keep quiet about it.”
She opened her mouth but covered it with both hands.
“What is it?”
“I borrowed this car, sir,” she said, still in a whiny tone.
“Whatever,” Peter answered. “Now get out of the car into the gutter.”
“Now!” His voice was slightly higher. “Silently.”
“Your car is counting on your silence,” he said as the woman silently opened the car and stepped into the gutter.
He opened the door, threw his unstrapped backpack on the back seat and hopped in, telling the woman to leave the passenger door open.
Simon had noticed nothing. The sound of the burning fire rose louder as it licked the Highlander.
He revved the engine, popped his head out and called Simon to come and sit beside him. Simon got beside him, not seeing the woman in the gutter, but he was sure he had seen someone in the car.
Before he could ask, Peter closed the door and swerved into the street. There was a scream behind which the car engine’s roar overpowered. It was getting fainter as he sped up.
“What about the person I saw—”
“Oh, don’t worry about her.”
“Peter, I brought you here in my car, where did you get this and where…?”
“I said don’t worry.”
“That’s the perfect reason to worry. How did you get it?”
No answer. Silence except the car’s hum.
“Are you crazy? You collected the car from the person I saw,” Simon said as soon as he learned what was happening. “What for?”
“Getting out alive.”
“What does that make you? Carjacker?”
“I didn’t hijack it. I borrowed it,” Peter said with confidence.
“Borrowed?” Simon could not believe his ears.
“See, guy, you’re going to get me in trouble. Just keep shut, okay? Fasten your belt.”
“No, I’m not following you. Stop the car.”
“Is that a threat?”
“At least, I’m supposed to know where you’re taking me.”
“Let’s see if I can explain this to you loggerhead. In an hour or two, our slow cops will show up on your street. Do you really want to stand their interrogation if they found out you left the street after the incident?”
Simon’s eyes widened. “But I had nothing to do with the incident.”
“Trust me, you’d have been beating to coma before they discover it.”
“Where are we going?” he said softly, fastening his seat belt. He realized what his friend said was the truth.
They pulled into Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way and sped toward Maryland. In the distant, sirens started blazing. Peter hissed as the police squad cars with swirling colored lights mounted on it sped past them in the other lane.
The two men in the car watched as fire roared up in two different positions. One covered his head in disgust. The other watched on with mouth agape. A figure thereafter ran out from Simon’s house and was shortly followed by another.
“That’s him, let’s—”
The passenger cut the driver short with his hand.
“Wait. Let’s see what he’s going to do.”
“But we can’t see far enough.”
“Then you need a spectacle, old man. You mean you drove me here when you know that you have a problem with your eyes?” He hummed a disgusting tune. “Wonders shall never end.”
They sat in silence, watching the street. The interior of the car was dark. They also had dark glass windows, so it’d be hard for anyone to notice they were there.
After some time, a car revved up to life, its wailing echoing in the fire-lit night. The headlight came on and then it pulled into the street, speeding off.
“Told you, that’s him,” the driver said as he revved up the car and pulled into the street, racing after the car.
“He might have been killed if we hadn’t intervened. We don’t need to watch from the shadow. We need a proper retrieval mission.”
“Which means we’re just messing around.”
“Stop babbling and drive.”
PETER FELT on top of the world as he pulled into the expressway. Nobody had told him driving felt like this. You could get engrossed in it and speed too much then meet your accident. And you could also move like a snail and get to where you’re going late. Neither is preferred. But in this situation, the latter wasn’t an option. They needed to get out of Lagos Mainland quickly because they never knew who could be tailing them.
He looked at the fuel gauge. It was half-filled. He was on 120km/h. He stepped on and changed his headlight to its brightest. That was when Simon talked. He had leaned back in his chair beside him all the way. He sat upright.
“You must return this car,” he said.
Peter laughed. “Of course I will.”
“I mean the way you hijacked it.”
“I already told you that I borrowed it. There’s a difference.”
“There’s no difference!” Simon yelled.
“Oh, there’s no difference. So what are you going to do? Call the police?”
“I can do it.”
“Great! Now let’s look at this situation from an investigational perspective. I hijacked a car and you are sitting comfortably in it while I ride you like the owner.”
“I’ll tell them you gave me a lift.”
“You know, I told the woman I borrowed this car from that we should just assume I don’t value my life. What do you think will happen if I tell them about the incident on your street?”
“Let me tell you what to do. Disappear for a while. Maybe a month or two. That’s the only way you can stay alive. Hey, what about your friends?”
“I left them inside the house.”
“Call them. They have to get out of that place and lock the door as if you’re not at home.”
“You’re still asking. I’m protecting your ass from prison.”
Simon took out his phone and, as he pressed a button, the light from the phone illuminated the dark atmosphere in the car. He put the phone on loudspeaker.
“Hello?” Temi’s voice said.
“Temi, it’s me, Simon.”
“Where are you? Did you see what happened?”
“Forget about me. Are you still at home?”
“No. We’ve left and we took some things with us.”
“Your laptop, phone and the food. We locked your apartment and your key is with me.”
“Fine. Hold it. Please, and please, don’t go near my house and don’t let anybody see that key on you. Who saw you while leaving?”
Temi hesitated on the other end. She managed to say, “Em… Simon, what is your laptop’s password?”
Peter laughed out enough for to pierce even Temi’s ear.
Simon told her. He could sense her excitement at the other end.
“And keep it also. Don’t let anybody see it with you.”
Simon ended the call and put it back into his pocket.
“If anyone ask you where you were when the explosion happened, just tell them you traveled.”
“Do you have anywhere else to stay?”
“I’ll go back to campus.”
“You were even living on campus. What were you doing at Ikeja?”
Simon didn’t answer.
“I guess we’re the same. Everyone has his imperfection.”
“And you’re saying that confidently?
“Why won’t I? What have I done? I haven’t killed yet.”
“That doesn’t justify your bad traits.”
“Oh, oh,” Peter said and laughed. “Tell that to the rogues in the House of Assembly.”
“There’s no difference here, my friend. Remember? Is fighting for money even when they knew they were live to the whole world different to any other violation of the law?”
“We’re talking ‘we’ now. Leave them alone.”
“Okay, what next do you want to accuse me of, Mr. Judge?”
“Where is your driver’s license?”
Peter laughed again. He laughed so hard he started coughing and he felt as if he was going to vomit his intestine.
“You should ask if I ever drove a car in my life.” And he laughed again.
“What!” Simon exclaimed. “What if we’re stopped by the police.”
“I know what they want, what appease them, and I’ll give it to them.”
Simon sighed. “Better let me take over. I have my driving license here with me.”
He was paranoid and worried that Peter might drive the car to his death.
“What if you were asked for the car particulars?”
Simon tried to open the locker in front of him. It was locked.
“The particulars should be in here.”
“What gives you the assurance?”
He sighed again.
“Boy, you need to stop sighing here. No mourning. Just stay with me till morning and you’ll get back to campus. Right now, I’m not stopping.”
Simon turned and looked back at the vehicle behind them.
“Peter,” he said, “looks like we’ve got a tail.”
“Simon, there are lots of cars on the road and we—”
“I noticed this one from Ikeja.”
The car was speeding through the expressway. A few cars scattered on the lane, overtaking themselves. They felt the car bounce up and down, the effect of climbing onto a bridge.
“Okay. We’re now on…” Peter asked, more of a statement.
“Third MainLand Bridge.”
“And that means the space is ours.”
“Careful, careful,” Simon said as Peter stepped up the gas.
The vehicle behind them sped up, too.
Third Mainland bridge is a six-lane-per-way bridge. The space was enough to take six trucks at a time. He sped higher and they were still on the chase radar. The vehicle was on another lane, behind. Then that should be the bastards tailing him. The NIA. What had he done for them? He hadn’t kill the president. He wasn’t affiliated with anyone or any firm in contact with the president. So why were they chasing him up and down?
First, he needed to find out who routed them to his novella. The fellow must be a voracious reader like him. Then he must voice out, tell the newspapers about what the government wanted to do to him. He knew if he once entered Aso Rock, his chances of not suffering were slim. They might even jail him. So he had to act fast.
Peter accelerated to 180km/h as he descended the bridge. Simon fearfully held his hand together on his chest. The vehicle behind followed on, too. They displayed expertise as if in a racing game. Peter changed lane as soon as his tail changed to his. Then he would change again and again.
Almost at the point of intersection, Peter looked at his right side mirror. Seeing no cars coming through, he pulled into the lane going to Ikoyi. It caught the tail by surprise. They swerved to join the lane on cue but hit the demarcation. The car tumbled over and landed on the swampy plain overboard. Fire sprang up from it.
“Gross,” Peter said.
Simon couldn’t believe his eyes. He looked back at the wreckage and a part of him wanted to cry. This wasn’t the Peter he had known in school. Peter was the slimmest guy in the class, the most bullied student in the school and the shyest to even get a girlfriend. What had become of him?
The car took a curve and climbed a bridge onto another road. Some cops stood after the bridge, creating a checkpoint. But they were oblivious of the accident that had happened. They stopped the car.
“Your license,” one of the officers said.
Peter quickly withdrew a few thousand naira bills from his wallet and stuffed it into the officer’s waiting hand on the window pane.
“We’re coming from a meeting, officer,” he said.
“You’re good,” the officer announced and waved them off. Peter swiftly took the car into place and rocked off.
Obalende, Lagos Island, Lagos, Nigeria. 11:00 PM.
PETER DROVE into a small, quiet street and parked after about three hours of driving which was only made possible through a constant pump of adrenaline. He sighed and buried his head on the wheel. Simon heaved a sigh, too and laid back his head on the cushion.
The street was dark and there was no sign of activities in the street. There was no street light either, so the only source of light was the full moon and the green hue coming from the dashboard.
Peter looked at the fuel gauge. It had gone down a little bit. He had turned on the air conditioning and the vehicle had cooled them inside, but outside, it was hot. He took the woman Nokia phone and extracted the number she saved as “My Number” and saved it on his phone. He flipped the back cover open and removed the battery, then tossed it on the dashboard. He checked his wallet. His cash had gone down drastically. If he was to survive for the meantime, he needed money, in cash.
He knew it would be hard for the police to track his calls. They weren’t that advanced yet. They could well advance in the area of responding to emergency threats, he thought. The robbery memory that had occurred when he was eight came haunting him.
The robbers had introduced their coming by endless shots in the air. He had peeped out of the window and saw a young boy stand before what looked like a machine gun. Soon after, there were fusillade of bullets thrown in random directions. The gang then made into every house one by one. He remembered his family cowering on the rug in the sitting room, his dad’s trembling hands held a phone. He was calling the emergency line.
“Hello, how may I help you?”
“There’s a robbery going on at…” His father had trailed off despite how low he had reduced his voice to.
“Can I have your address?”
His dad hadn’t given a specific address but had mentioned the name of the street.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we may have difficulty getting to your area.”
“What! Why?” his dad had suddenly exclaimed, careful not to raise his voice too high.
“Shut up!” Peter had snapped, groping for the phone from his father’s hands.
Then the merciless visitors kicked the door open with a single kick. The door had flown open and the impact had affected the frame that the main door hung slightly on it. Though they had survived the ordeal, the cops had come the next day, questioning every house in the area of the street.
A hand pressed tight on his shoulder jolted him back to reality. He had hung his head steep and saliva had trickled down to his lips, giving its warning that it would soon drop on his pants. He had opened his mouth a little. He wiped off the saliva with the back of his right hand and leaned back on the chair.
“I’m short on money,” he said.
Simon stared at him. “What do you want to do again?”
He shifted his body sideways so that he faced Simon. “To withdraw money from the ATM.”
“Great. We go directly into the police’s hands because you want to withdraw money. Better be careful with your plans. I’m not obliged to stay here any longer than I can. In fact, I should leave now.”
He made to take off his belt and checked his watch.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” he said, fast enough to stop Simon. “I beg you. Do this one thing for me and we’re done forever.”
Simon shook his head as if trying to remember something.
“Okay,” Simon said. “This one last thing.” He showed Peter his right index finger.
“Only,” Peter affirmed, nodding his head.
“You know what? You’re already a pain in the ass the first day you visited my home.”
“I promise I’ll make it up to you. Just let me sort myself out.”
“Fine. Seen any bank?”
Peter revved up the engine and drove out of the street into the road. They soon got nearer a billboard with the name of the bank Peter had seen. He parked the car close to the building but not far away.
“This is what you’ll do,” Peter told Simon, gesturing like a lecturer in the lecture room would to his students. “Get on the wheel. You need to put the car on standby so that if there’s anything, I can get in and we’re off.”
“Easier said than done. Just be quick.”
Peter scanned the environment. The business buildings had gone to temporary vacation. The lights emanating from it lit the street. One could see the interior of the building. No one was around. He expected to see guards in each building. They must have hid themselves somewhere safe, shadowing.
He got down and walked briskly to the ATM terminal, retrieving his wallet from his pocket as he did. There was a dozing security guard sitting on a stool in the bank’s main entrance gate. But he wouldn’t have any business with him. His steps were almost silent in the windy night.
He inserted a credit card into the card slot but held onto it before the machine was able to pull it in. There was an error written on the ATM and a beeping alarm for the few seconds the message stayed on the screen. He peeked at the guard who still seemed unmoved.
He inserted the card and then made a withdrawal of five thousand naira, all the money he had on the card. He was glad he had another account. If the ATM happened to seize it, he wouldn’t lose much and his main ATM card would still be with him.
He sighed as he pulled out the previous card and inserted a new one. Then he made another withdrawal. Brilliant. Just pop out my card, he yelled inside of him. As the machine drew out the card, it stopped halfway. Peter pulled his card out himself. An alarm was already sounding every corner of the bank and the guard had roused. He raced to the car, thankful of the guard who was still rubbing his eyes with his fingers. He opened the door and hopped in. The guard ran to the sidewalk and scanned the area. The headlights blindfolded. Before the guard could decipher it was him, the car sped away. The guard was left behind, making wild gestures with his hands and yelling.
Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. 10:00 PM.
THE DOOR clicked and the fat man entered the room full of computers and monitors. The tall, dark man he had invited to the roof of the building sat upright on a swivel chair, frantically pressing the keyboard and some other machines. He looked back to see the fat man.
“You are here, chief.”
“Yes,” the chief answered. “Has it gone through?”
After the call on the roof, he had made his way into the room and had been trying to contact the two men who had called him earlier. They didn’t pick up and hadn’t called in to report their progress either. All their intercom lines were static.
“‘Not yet’? What makes you think it’s still going to get through, Brainy?”
Brainy swiveled back and stood before the chief.
“I don’t think so, chief. They’ve never taken so long to respond.”
The chief sighed.
“One way we can know what happen to them is the mass media. Other than that I don’t believe they can be kidnapped. They are kidnappers themselves.”
Brainy sat back. “What do I do?”
“Keep up with the news. Everywhere. The internet, TV, radio, anywhere.”
He went out, the door clicking behind him.
Brainy opened a drawer and took a TV remote controller. He tune one of the plasma TVs into its default mode and changed a couple of stations. He bumped straight into the news.
The State Security Service has yet not announced the progress of the investigation concerning the assassination of the president of Nigeria.
Speaking at the emergency meeting held in Aso Rock, the Director of the SSS, Bahama Bala, said they would like to keep the investigational matters and the leads they have from the public.
Then the screen filled up with the photo of a dark man, with a bushy beard.
“As soon as we have a definite route,” the Director said, “we’ll make sure we see the end of it. The assassins will be brought to justice. We want to beckon to the citizens of Nigeria to stay calm. We’re on it.”
Other military veterans who attended the meeting also concurred with Director Bala, the news anchor said, coming back on screen. The outcome of the meeting is yet unknown.
Two houses and ten cars caught fire today at GRA, Ikeja after an explosion occurred. The police force has been dispatched there and they confirmed six people dead and twenty injured.
It hasn’t been confirmed whether there were people in the cars that were burned up.
Inspector Ibrahim spoke to the NTA network at the scene.
“The explosive used here,” the Inspector said, “is very dangerous. Since I’ve been in service for the past fifteen years, I’ve only come across it two times. Today is one of it.
“We deduced that the gunmen were trying to acquire something. It’s evident here that their course wasn’t annihilation.”
“I was inside my house about to sleep when I heard the explosion,” a witness said. “The fire was so hot that I had to turn off the light in my house because the heat inside had been much.
“After the two explosions, I saw a car headlight. The motor zoomed off before I could see it clearly.”
A woman witness came on to the screen next.
“My car was stolen after the explosion. The fire happened the instant I was just back from work. A boy of about 20 or so came to my car with a gun and threatened to kill me if I didn’t release the car.
“He also took my phone with him. I’m pleading with the police to help me find my car because I had no tracker installed in it.”
A tragic car accident occurred near Third Mainland Bridge in Victoria Island, Lagos. A Honda Accord car was tossed overboard during a chase and it caught fire.
Witnesses said the car was pursuing a black Toyota Camry car which disappeared right after the incident.
The police have identified two dead individuals in the Honda car as the long-sought criminals who had been wanted since 2005.
A means of identification was found among the burned car and their respectful owners were Raji Bello and Usman Hassan.
SIMON PULLED up behind a bridge and parked on its sidewalk. The once busy Obalende during the day had turned into a dungeon in a jiffy. Peter knew it was at the same speed it would turn into a beehive again. As earlier as 5 AM, people would have been out, fighting to beat the traffic to work. Which meant he had to take his nap as soon as he could.
“Thanks,” he told Simon who was panting heavily.
“Ah,” he sighed audibly. “My heart almost came out of my mouth,” he said amidst his pant.
Peter thrust a few thousand naira bills into his hands and told him to hurry up. The sooner he begins his journey to campus, the better.
He watched as Simon alighted and disappeared into the night without a goodbye. He deserved being shunned. He totally claimed it. He had brought a nightmare into Simon’s night of enjoyment. He could have been home, eating his aromatic vegetable soup and playing games all night. He’d make it up to him.
He put some bills where he had tossed the woman’s phone, removed the key from the ignition and put it beside the driver’s seat at the side of the door. He exited the car and went under the bridge with his backpack. There was grass to provide a bedding but mosquitoes abound there. He pulled out a blanket out of his backpack and covered himself.
His phone rang.
“Peter, where are you?” his mom asked as soon as he picked up.
“I’m inside LASUTH. Are you there?”
“I’m not on duty. We were worried about you.”
“Don’t be. The work was so much. I have to sleep over.”
“You could have called us.”
“Right. Be careful, okay?”
“Okay. Good night.”
“Be careful”? he thought. Wouldn’t his mother get a heart attack after she discovered what he was into? Be careful had a vast range of meanings. But he wasn’t ready to ponder any of it. He closed his eyes, waiting for Mr. Sleep to take over.
CHIEF SAT in the same seat he had sat when he summoned Brainy upstairs, but the latter wasn’t sitting across him with wine in front of him. He was among seven men standing in front of him. Chief sank into the potty hole his butt had dug for him on the chair. He leaned forward.
Brainy moved forward from among the men standing.
“You told me you had the boy on surveillance,” chief continued.
“How come two of our men are out there, dead. Can a boy of fewer-than-25-years do that himself?”
Brainy didn’t answer.
“All you know is money. I’m becoming a genius. I did it. You weren’t thinking about the main goal at all.” There was a brief silence. “Now I’m sending the six of you out there,” he addressed the remaining men. “Not to die like the others but to find out who may be behind this. I want to know who’s doing this for him. Understood!!”
“Yes, sir!” they all echoed in unison.
“And you Brainy. As brainy as you are, if these men return void or worse—dead—to me, you’ll go out there yourself and bring in the boy. Got it?!!”
Peter felt a pair of overly-sized hands grab him and pull him out of his blanket and the cold grass he used for bedding. Knowing the kind of situation he was, he wasted no time in opening his eyes, wide enough as if he had never slept. He could well discern his assailant was in black. The heavily-built figure that pulled him up yanked him as he moved to the edge of the bridge where several others were waiting. They were dressed in black, too, but he was sure they weren’t cops. No lights. No sirens. No squad cars. Or maybe they just wanted to operate quietly. Either way, he knew he was in real trouble.
The figure grabbed him by the upper right arm and tossed him hard to his cohorts. They seized him and, cuffing his hands behind his back, sent him crashing into a black, prison-dedicated truck called Black Maria.
The truck had a cubicle on its trunk, a small door for entering and a small, burglary window for ventilation.
Peter landed among some bodies in the pitch black atmosphere. They sent his skull against the body of the vehicle and he promptly sat up, folding his legs and wrapping them with his hands. His eyes were adjusting to the atmosphere.
“Where do you think you are?” a deep voice asked from the end of the truck.
His eyes accustomed to the atmosphere, he saw scary, young guys, sitting in his position. He couldn’t see them clearly but if judgement were to be mete out with odor, his companions would go right to Hell. They smelled as if they hadn’t taken their bath for a whole year. Who knew if they hadn’t?
He didn’t answer, too surprised to believe he was really living the ordeal.
“You haven’t seen anything,” another said not far from him.
“Are you that terrible?” remarked another.
“Will you all shut up?” the first voice cautioned. “Johnny boy, we’re going to the ‘promised land.’ You sure this isn’t a mix-up?”
Seeing that he didn’t answer, they left him for the rest of the journey. As the truck sped up, tossing them here and there, the morning light appeared gradually. He was now able to discern his companions’ faces a little. But not as much.
The one before him was dark-skinned, had a stitched scar running from his nose bridge to his upper lip. He had an extra layer of blackness, probably the dirt he had failed to bath.
He, once a clean chap everywhere he went, was now among a company of dirty, hardened criminals. How valid was it? He hadn’t killed. He had only created art. What even pushed him to write in the war and spy genre he had written the novella? he asked himself. He had had a strong desire to write in Mystery and Thriller, but when a sudden idea struck his brain, he decided to take the bull by the horn. Now the horn was about to retaliate.
Heat seared through the cubicle amidst the utter cold generated outside by the speed of the truck.
The truck screeched to a halt, the little door at the back flew open and the criminals gently filed out of the cubicle. A powerful kicked helped Peter out of the confined space when he had trouble coming out. His hands cuffed, he couldn’t avoid hitting his head hard on the railing that served as a stair up to the truck. He tumbled down it and collapsed into an ugly heap on a grass, blood trickling down his face. The others filed out gently like before. No one said anything.
Peter released himself from his position and stood. He opened his eyes and found himself on Lagbaja Field inside LASUTH, a field of about 50 meters, encircled by a demarcation and flowers. Soon after, people started gathering near the field, watching the handcuffed fellows crowd the field.
A truck whirled in and stopped by the field, soldiers oozing out of it. They took some metal pillars about a meter in diameter each with them and buried it on a side of the field. Peter was tied to one of it and his head was covered with a black hood. He could see the soldiers tying the others to the metal poles and wearing them hoods.
What would his mom’s colleagues say? His mom was fairly popular in the hospital and a tirade like this was sure to bring on an unexpected action. He sucked in the brisk and cold morning air and awaited his fate.
He heard clicks and then ruffle. Staring hard through his black hood, he saw the silhouetted figure of the soldiers kneeling opposite them on the other side of the field.
He heard another ruffle. He saw the figures aim the gun at the appropriate soul. He wished he could have been hoodless. He would like to see the soldier who would kill him. He would like to see his mom, his siblings, and his father. He would like to share the money in his bank account among his family before leaving. He would like to spend six straight hours with his family, as he had spent before his laptop. He would have liked to explain a thing or two to his younger sister about the books he had out there and the royalties they bring him.
A POLICE car siren rocked the air from the top of the bridge and jolted him back to life. He sat up instantly on the grass. A tinge of light had appeared and punctured his vision, making him rub them with his left fingers. He was panting. Lucky escape.
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