A dance with fate

I’m not a writer but I do love stories and now I have one to tell.

It was a party – the music blaring loudly, the guys high on vodka and the ladies gyrating sensually to strumming beats in their sexy outfits…long, short, clinging, flowing,revealing yet concealing in a variety of colors and styles- the perfect way to end a Friday. But I was bored. You see, I’d seen it all, and I was tired. My friends tried to get me high but the more shots I took the more I realized just how empty my life had become. That’s when I saw her across the room.

She was fair-skinned, not too light, just the right balance of light and darkness. She was tall for a lady, even from that distance I could tell we stood head to head. Her arms were bare except for a silver bracelet, that sparkled on her left wrist – even the way she dressed was different. She stood out like a candle in the wind – fragile…yet determined. Her red evening gown clung lovingly to her slender form, highlighting the rounded curves of her breasts and hips, and the outlines of her shapely thighs every time she moved slightly to avoid  the partying throng. She wore a chain on her slender neck, which she stroked softly, as though to hide her discomfort. It made me hard. Then she looked at me!

Her eyes held my gaze. I felt my mouth open, but nothing came out. I could hear waves rushing in my ears. My heart was beating fast, I struggled to breathe, and just like that she looked away. I had to stop myself from staggering – it felt as if I’d been released from a spell. Quickly I reached for my glass and gulped down the remnants of vodka. – my hands were shaking, – I took a deep breath, and when I looked up, she was standing right in front of me!

 

2.

I was confused. I used to hear people talk about shock but it was that day I knew what it truly meant. The lady stood in front, tapping her fingers lightly against the counter. The scent of her perfume filled my nostrils with its sweetness. Her skin looked so soft, I wanted to feel it.

“Excuse me, can I have a tequila?” she said to the waiter. Her words were clear with no trace of an accent and at the same time no sign that she’d ever lived abroad. It was just good. The waiter brought her tequila and as she sipped, she turned and faced the dance floor.

“It’s not polite to stare” she said suddenly. I looked at her and she looked at me.

“I’m talking to you”

“I’m sorry” I replied sheepishly. She nodded and returned her attention to the dance floor. I stared into my almost empty glass, suddenly my head was blank. I felt like I was thirteen again – looking for the best pick up lines to get a girls attention.

“You’re still staring” her voice hit me and I realized she was right.

“Sorry” I sighed, breaking out my reverie.” I can’t help it. You’re beautiful” We looked up at the same time – me, in shock for saying something so corny, and her…well, a faint shadow of a smile edged its way across her lips.

“Really?” she returned holding my gaze, with a naughty gleam in her eyes.

“Yeah” I replied feeling bolder… confident. She leaned closer and my heart raced in anticipation.

“My money na twenty bae!”

“Enh?!”

“En-enh na! I no dey go short time o! Na overnight market I dey sell!”

“W-What?” I stammered in confusion

“Yes na, no be you price! You know no say you go pay?!” she suddenly grabbed my wrist “abi you think say na free?!” I felt cold all over as she stared at me with wild flashing eyes.

“Er…please” I tried to keep my voice low, glancing around to make sure no one was watching, yet silently praying for someone to rescue me. “I didn’t mean to offend you”

The lady bursted into laughter. She released my hand and rested her head on the counter. Her shoulders shook violently as she giggled in silence. I sat there confused, afraid of what might happen if moved or if she was mentally unstable.- I just sat there watching. And then she raised her head, and there were tears running down her cheek, and the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen.

“I’m sorry”, she said “but I wish you could see the look on your face” She giggled again, wiping her tears at the same time. I felt like saying something but I didn’t know what. I was angry, I was embarrassed, I…

“I’m Awele” she offered her hand

“I’m Ken”, I said automatically.

We shook hands and she smiled again.

 

3.

Deathwish.

I.

“I love the night. I love its smell, its sounds…but i think what I love the most of all, is that night never lies.

Men love to hide in the daylight. They hide behind their suits, their smiles…their work. And by men I mean everyone. But then the darkness falls and their masks come off, and you can see them for what they really are.- Monsters… like me.

I love the night.”

–  anonymous

A loud crack of thunder exploded in the darkness, harshly illuminating the dilapidated buildings along the deserted street. Sheni slowly closed his book and blew out the candle. He strolled silently to the window and stared at the street…waiting.

A few minutes later a car drove slowly down the road. Sheni watched as it came to a stop just in front of the building opposite his apartment block and the sound of the engine died. Thunder rumbled in the distance as the car’s headlights blinked three times. Sheni glanced at his watch – 1:25am.

The fluorescent screen  on his phone beamed as it vibrated on the edge of his mattress. Sheni turned away from the window and walked towards it.

“Where you dey?” a cold evenly measured voice spoke on the other end when he answered.

“Somewhere” he replied lazily. The voice on the other end went silent, probably trying to maintain control, Sheni noted with a smile as he waited for his instructions.

“The sentence has been approved” the caller spoke suddenly “make sure everything disappears”. The call ended.

Sheni took out the sim card and broke it. – it had served its purpose. With deliberate movements he made his way through the darkness gathering his ‘equipment’. At the door he looked back at the shapes around him and inhaled, taking what memory he could of the place he’d briefly called home.

Outside the car stood waiting. He got in the backseat – no greetings exchanged – where a brown folder lay carelessly. The driver turned on the engine.

Sheni glanced at the house once more. As they drove he saw a glimmer of the moon, shrouded behind dark clouds.

He loved the night.

(to be continued…)

 

II.

The ominous smell of gasoline filled the entire room, in the middle of which a man, a woman and two children sat on the floor, crying, their arms and legs tied.

“Please” the man whimpered. “please”. Sheni paused, gasoline dripping from the nearly empty keg he held. He turned and looked at the man, taking slow steps towards him. The trembled visibly and quickly lowered his head in fear of the hooded figure looking down at him. Quiet sobs escaped his lips.

“Alhaji Fareed, how many men, how many women…children cried and begged for their lives, when your men raided their villages and murdered them in their sleep.”

“But they were not my men!”

“But it was your money that provided their weapons” Sheni reasoned ” or do you deny that as well?”

Alhaji Fareed glanced at his family, bound helplessly, then looked away.

“No, I am guilty, but my children… ” he choked back a sob as he raised his head “they are innocent”

Sheni looked at the children – a boy and a girl. Their innocent eyes bulging with fear. For a moment he felt pity – but it was only a moment. He turned the gallon and emptied the remain gasoline on the floor in front of Fareed.

“The sins of the father”, Sheni walked back to the front door, and traced a path formed by the gasoline on the wall.

“It’s almost time”, he said ” The Order of the Cloak of Arms, finds you Alhaji Fareed guilty of murder and the sentence is death. If you have anything left to say to your family say it now”

Fareed looked at his children and his wife.

“Close your eyes”, he said to his wife.

With trembling lips and eyes closed whispered words in his father’s language. His children and his wife joined amidst their tears. In the distance, a voice echoed.

“Allahu Akbar”,

Fareed opened his eyes and looked at Sheni. Sheni held his gaze, then lit a match, and tossed it on the floor.

He never looked back, as he walked away. The building burnt brightly like the sun rising at dawn, its explosion drowning the children’s screams. In the distance the call to prayer echoed mournfully.

“Allahu Akbar”

III.

The footsteps moved through the marble-tiled corridor like the hooves of a galloping horse. Everyone passing by quickly stepped out of the path of the towering figure of Col. Bernard Ogbonna, the director of the Counter-Intelligence Unit as he marched determinedly to his office. He was angry.- very angry.

He barged into his office and with his aide jumped to his feet with lightening speed.

“Morning Sir!” he made a salute.

“What happened?” Col. Ogbonna breathed the words in a slow cold tone.

“There was an explosion, sir” his aide replied “the whole family was killed”. Col.Ogbonna smiled coldly and took his seat.

“Explain to me what really happened?”

Major. Oluyemi Kadiri swallowed the lump that had been building in his throat. He had been the aide to Col. for the last two years, which was considered a record by many, and if there was one thing he’d learnt about the Colonel, it was…he hated surprises.

“The compound was attacked, Alhaji Fareed, his wife and our security team were killed”

“The children”

“There was no trace of the children, sir”

Col. Ogbonna looked at him sharply, then looked away, nodding his head, slowly.

“Tell me about the explosion”

“The fire started from inside. We found evidence of fuel on the compound. It burnt through the wires and then hit the gas line in the kitchen. It was then the house exploded”

Kadiri stood tense, watching the stone cold expression of his boss, wondering which forest he would be transferred to as punishment for this fiasco. Col. Ogbonna leaned back in his sit, quietly drumming his fingers on the dark mahogany surface of his desk.

“They took Fareed’s children” Ogbonna murmured “that means we can still find them”

“But sir, what if they are dead?” Kadiri argued. Ogbonna gave him another chilling smile.

“If they wanted to kill them, they would have left them with their parents” he replied “either they made a mistake or they have have a plan, but whatever the case maybe, those children are the key. We’ve lost two witnesses under our nose. It will not happen again!”

“Yes sir”

“Send out a bulletin that Alhaji Fareed and his family died in  a ghastly accident on their way to Kaduna, then make sure every one knows we’re looking for two children”

“Yes Sir” Kadiri replied. Col. Ogbonna gave a him a curt nod of dismissal, Kadiri gave a salute, turned and left the office.

As the door clicked shut, Ogbonna stared into the empty space that surrounded him. He slipped his hand under the table. There was a gentle click sound, and a hidden compartment dropped opened. Ogbonna pulled out a black dossier with the word ‘RESTRICTED’ stamped boldly across. As he opened the file and a black and while picture of Sheni Taylor slipped out. He looked at it for a moment, and slowly closed the folder.

 

IV.

The traffic from Nyanya into town was at its peak. Cars screeching and horning, fighting for the least possible advantage to make headway in the standstill that stretched as far as the eye could see. Sheni slowly pulled his bike off the road by the bridge. He was dressed in a brown shirt, faded jeans and yellow rubber slippers.- with his uncombed hair and toothpick sticking out from the corner of his mouth he looked like a regular motorbike rider trying to make a living.

Sheni got off and began inspecting his bike. Finally he went round to the other side, knelt down, and tried adjusting the tyre chain. Through the spinning wheel he spied the grey volkswagen golf – four cars away – that had been on his tail since he’d stepped out of the safe house. The upper part of the windscreen was tinted while along its edges were tatooed stickers of the NURTW and the vehicle’s information – conveniently hiding the driver’s face. The passenger wore a face cap and had his face buried in the newspaper he was reading – a paper he held with one hand, leaving hidden beneath the pages.

As they drew closer in the slow but steady moving traffic, Sheni threaded his fingers into the tiny space between the tyre and the seat where he kept a small 22 callibre firearm. They didn’t look like a kill squad but one could never be too sure. He waited.

The car was close, he dropped his head using the tyre as a shield, the fingers of his other hand wrapped around the gun, the safety off. The Golf was passing now – it seemed to be slowing down – Sheni placed his finger lightly on the trigger. The side view of the passenger was coming into view, Sheni could feel the air around him go still. And then the car drove by. He watched it until it disappeared between the traffic lines, then got on his bike and made a U turn in the opposite direction.

 

V.

“You’re late”, the man sitting in the newspaper kiosk spoke softly as Sheni sat beside him. He wore a funny shaped beret with spectacles and a faded grey polo t-shirt. He was known as the messenger – one of the thirteen men that co-ordinated the information network of the Cloak of Arms – and Sheni’s ‘guardian’. Sheni looked at him, then shrugged.

“I had guests” he replied casually “in-laws”. The messenger nodded. In-laws was the code word for the DSS or Military Intelligence – the state’s own men of the shadows.

“I hope you treated them well”

“Unfortunately they couldn’t stay long. They were in a hurry”

“Please send my regards to them, next time.”

“I will” Sheni picked up a newspaper and started leafing through the pages. The information network of the Cloak of Arms, involved passing cryptic messages through newspaper articles, adverts for employment, houses to let, sudoku, even cartoons. As long as one knew what to look for, the message was clear.

“Go to page 27” the messenger said. Sheni turned to the page. It was an article on the death of Alhaji Fareed. Sheni felt his stomach turn, but he kept his gaze on the article.

“It says Alhaji Fareed and his family were involved in a fatal accident” the messenger looked at him “but it doesn’t mention how many children he had”

“Because there were none” Sheni replied quietly “I found Fareed and his wife but there were no children” he looked back at the messenger, keeping his gaze cold and impassive.

“Do you want me to find them?” he asked. The messenger held his gaze for a moment then finally turned his gaze to the moving traffic on the street.

“No” he replied thoughtfully “the message has been delivered,  the children were merely a footnote”

Sheni made a slight nod, shrugged then looked away but inside his heart was pounding hard. The messenger slipped another newspaper to Sheni.

“You’ll find directives on your next assignment. Be ready in five days”

Sheni folded the paper as he stood up, suddenly the messenger held his hand. He looked at him.

“You have done well” the messenger said slowly “do not forget what you are”. He released Sheni’s arm and returned to his reading. Sheni looked at his hand – he could still feel the imprint of the messenger’s fingers. He walked out of the kiosk, and got on his bike, and sped off in a cloud  of dust.

The messenger continued reading. A man dressed in uniform walked in and sat beside him. The messenger folded a newspaper and handed it to him.

“It is time.” he said. And the man left the kiosk.

 

VI.