- 01:11 A.M.
It’s about the smallest hotel room he’d ever been in. But it is immaculately tidy, with gleaming white tiles and neat sheets on the bed. The room smells like citrus juice and the bed is large enough to take about half the space in the room. He’s sitting on the bed with his back leaned against the wall while she serves him what’s left of the Bailey’s she took out of the bedside fridge. They haven’t said much since they got in, almost like they have a tacit mutual understanding of what’s to happen next.
He takes the glass from her and quickly slurps the drink. He refills his glass again and gulps the content with a determined urgency, as if trying to suppress the inexplicable unease he’s suddenly feeling. She asks him if he likes the drink and he nods. She says she’ll be right back and walks into the bathroom still fully dressed.
He soon starts to feel a bit disconcerted. He thinks it’s just because he’d had too much to drink throughout the night and tries to shake it off but it doesn’t go away. His joints start to get stiff and he realises he’s getting short of breath and terribly drowsy. He gets out of bed with an effort, and tries to reach for the bottle of water atop the table at the base of the bed. But his movements are suddenly uncoordinated and three steps forward he crashes to the ground. He tries to scream but his vocal cords are suddenly jammed. So he lies there, more helpless than he’d ever been all his life, and that’s when she emerges out of the bathroom. Naked.
He lifts his head with one last effort to ask her what’s happening to him, but he’s dazed silly by the shock of what he sees.
We are kindred. All of us. Killer and victim, predator and prey, me and the sly coyote, the soaring buzzard, the elegant gopher snake, and trembling cottontail, the foul worms that feed on our entrails; all of them, all of us.
— Edward Abbey.
- 6:32 P.M.
Jamal hopped out of the Coaster bus at Abacha Road and skipped across the road to the other side, dodging cars and buses and cussing out a keke driver who almost brushed his backside with his reckless manoeuvres. It was twilight in Maraba and the day had been a long one. Business moved quite well today. The boys at the Mogadishu Cantonment cleared their debts and bought more bags even though officer Hamza in his characteristic behaviour insisted on taking an extra bag for jara. Fucking sergeant.
Now he was only left with a bag of Skunk he didn’t know what to do with. Might just get it lit later, he thought. By normal standards it was a good day. But all the sales had not been able to cover the cash deficit he needed to cover before the next day and Bako from the embassy had been blowing up his phone. He still needed about 60k more to cover for his visa procession before 8 a.m. tomorrow or he could watch his Canadian dreams combust into ashes.
This was the closest he’d been to his great escape. Not like he didn’t have a good start at life; baba worked at the secretariat and mama taught at the LGEA. But they were a glut of kids to fend for and even though he managed to finish secondary school and get himself into College of Education he couldn’t do much more than that. Life fucks people in different ways mana. Born to Ijaw parents and half-raised by the cutthroat slums of Mararaba, his innate south-south street O.T has now been properly finessed into a proper northern brutishness. Papa eventually left and he peeled out of his widowed mum’s grip the moment he was old enough to tie his own joints. Steered his life his way ever since then. One shady business after the other he’d scraped by just fine. But then one day he decided that there was no future in this shit country anymore so he set his mind overseas. He’d considered a plethora of options and weighed the consequences too; South Africa was getting too volatile, America didn’t want anymore lousy immigrants, Russia was too cold and he was having none of their commie bullshit so he set his compass to Canada, and now that he was this close he wasn’t going to let it slip.
He walked down Giza Street to mallam Hanafi’s kiosk and bought a pill of 225 before hopping a bike down to Anthony’s home at Angwa Albarka.
Tony was his last resort. He bailed him out of sticky situations a couple of times and so Tony should feel a tad indebted to him. After all he’s going to reimburse him when he starts to make a killing in green green Canada.
- 07:00 P.M.
At Angwa Albarka the AEDC had done their thing and it was real dark outside, so there were a lot of folks spread languidly outside being loud as fuck. A symphony of Hausa and pidgin English slashed through the distant hums of the evening highway traffic. Jamal met Tony at the front of his lopsided one-room apartment, bare-chested, eating groundnut from a Carlo Rossi bottle and smoking bars. He was always smoking something, Anthony.
The friends shook hands and snapped fingers and Tony offered Jamal the bottle he was eating nuts from but Jamal declined.
“We get small yarns”, Jamal said as he settled on the concrete slab directly opposite Tony, grim as hell. “Na about cash,” he added quickly because there was no time for ceremonies.
“Yarn me. What’s up?” Tony asked, readjusting his countenance to fit properly into the severity of the conversation.
“I need small rubs. Very urgent.”
“Like how much?”
“Like sixty grand. Before tomorrow morning. Na emergency.”
“Hmm,” Tony said, his molars still grinding the nuts for a moment before he said anything else. “Baba, ground dry. I swear.”
A momentary silence passed between them, only interjected by the barking of a dog two compounds away.
“Nothing you fit do for me? At all at all fa?” There was a desperation to Jamal’s voice now that pulled at Tony’s heart. Jamal wasn’t the type of person to ask anyone for bread unless he was in a hole and time was against him.
“I swear guy, nothing dey my hand.” He was not chewing anymore. He seems to contemplate a bit, then, he leaned forward and said, “but I fit help you reason person.”
“Who be that?”
Real name Chidi, with not a whiff of tenderness to his looks or his person. Sells Okrika wears at the Nyanya Market by the day and at night operates a beer parlour with his wife at Abacha Road junction. Already a father to five kids, his wife Janet has refused to drop the affectionate title she’d started calling him since they first started seeing many years ago. So instead of calling him Papa Chigozie after the first child came she stuck to calling Baby until everyone at the market decided it was amusing and started to call him that too. The name ran along with his whoremonger reputation so it stuck.
“What’s up with Baby?”
“He say he wan buy phone. Na this evening he tell me. He say he get cash ready, just dey find neat secondhand phone to buy. Be like say na one of those him small small girls wey he dey follow he was buy am for. I tell am say I no get sha but I go help am check.”
“Like how much you think say he hold?”
“He tell me say he dey find phone of around 50, 55k.”
A brief silence. There, that tiny glimmer of hope, was bright enough to spark Jamal’s predatory instincts. There was money for the taking, and he was going to grab it.
“Call am. Tell am say I get phone for am.”
“You get phone to sell?”
“No. But by tomorrow morning, I go get.”
A knowing smile lit across Tony’s face.
“My guy....,” Tony muttered portentously. “My guy.”
- 07:29 P.M.
He left Tony’s place straight to his one-room apartment to get prepped for one more stickup, a life he himself thought he’d left behind. He had breezed through his FCE days pilfering phones and laptops but they were too much trouble (Got pinched a couple of times by the popo but he’d oiled his way out through backdoor pecuniary settlements) so he switched to hawking happy grasses. But now, desperate times called for desperate measures.
Tony had called Baby to ask if he was still interested in getting a phone. Baby affirmed. Jamal needed to get a phone worth within Baby’s price range as soon as he could. And that was tonight.
In his room, he smoked a joint and popped the pill he got from the mallam. He curled a dumbbell made with concrete plates and pushed a quick 20 to ameliorate his agility. He had a bath and wore a cheap cologne and a cap and a tight black tee that accentuated his ripped body. He pulled out his dagger from under his rug, sharpened it against the concrete slab outside before sliding it back into the goatskin sheath and tucking it into his trousers. He tied another joint and smoked slowly while he waited out the night to get darker so human activities would recede significantly. By the time it was late enough he’d smoked the whole bag all by himself. Then he dashed into the ominous night, searching for the most vulnerable person to prey upon.
- 10:09 P.M.
The first one was easy. Didn’t even need to unsheathe his dagger. He’d waylaid the gangly teenager at the backstreet that led to St. John’s. The night was dreary, it was late and folks at that side of town went to sleep early. The lad was plodding through the muddy road wearing a weighty backpack, totally engrossed in his phone. Jamal emerged out of the corner he had furtively concealed himself in and with half his face veiled in a bandana, he squared up to the boy before coolly demanding for his phone, lifting the base of his shirt to reveal the dagger tucked into his trouser.
The bewildered young man didn’t stand a chance and he knew it. His assailant was built up prodigiously enough to cut him in two with his bare hands and no one would hear him scream. If he got stabbed he’d bleed to death before he would make it to any hospital at that time of the night. He didn’t need to be prodded very much before he submitted his phone and all the change he had on him to Jamal and then bolting away.
- 10:51 P.M.
It was a smartphone whose worth Jamal could not immediately ascertain, so he decided to hunt for one more snatch for just in case. After futilely waiting a while at the alley that led out of Giza Street for a lone strayer, he’d decided to go all the way back to Abacha Road from where he would choose from a sea of people to tail to a vantage position.
All through the evening, from dusk until deep into the night, the Maraba traffic swells with locomotives disembowelling out of the Abuja Metropolis; folks finding their way back home after their daily toil at the federal capital. At the Abacha Road Junction specifically, there’s a potpourri of mechanical and human pollution that culminates into a bedlam of nighttime jamboree. With an endless stretch of beer parlours and cheap hotels with clubs boasting of a diverse range of clienteles; and mallams lining at either sides of the road standing by their blazing alters and vending roast beef, chicken and fishes, Abacha Road is where the Maraba nightlife climaxes especially during the weekend.
Even though it was almost midnight, there were still enough people in the circus for Jamal to pick from. He just had to wait around long enough for his predatory eyes to zero in on a person leaving solo through any of the isolated roads leading out of Abacha Road. He sat stealthily under the shed of a beer parlour, drinking from a bottle of Hero and dragging on a stick of Benson Switch, his eyes darting here and there, sizing people up and mentally gauging the limits of their vulnerability.
It was in this state of surreptitious reconnaissance that she had walked up to his table to ask if the chair opposite him was free, and right there and then, he knew he’d found his prey.
- 11:25 P.M.
She had a long, chiselled face and a sleek, pointy nose. Her large brown eyes shimmered against the luminous lightbulbs and even though it was almost midnight her face was still elaborately painted with make-up so thick it’d dazzle you if you stared too hard. She gave her luscious, bow-shaped mouth a glossy-red lipstick and on her pierced nose was a glittering gold nose-pin. She was in every way beautiful, yet there was something very spooky about her appearance that only added to her allure.
She was tall and square-shouldered, dressed casually in a patterned grey Jellabiya, her lengthy, protuberant braids strained to fit into her brown hair net. She, in her singsong voice ordered a pack of Oris and a bottle of Star and when she reached across the table for the lighter Jamal thought he saw on her veiny hand more hair than he’d ever seen on a woman. All the things that made her appear more and more beddable to him.
So he cleared his throat and started the conversation he shouldn’t have contemplated starting in the first place.
- 12:33 A.M.
It took only thirty minutes of inebriated coquetry for them to blend into a fleeting acquaintance and in an hour they were both convulsing with smutty cravings. They’d traded names and stories. Jamal became Johnson, who majored in economics at the University of Abuja and she was Chacha from Owerri and was on a long trip to Yola. She was just going to pass the night in Maraba and continue her trip at dawn.
He’d been smitten by her eccentricity and was beginning to develop a sensual interest in her. She paid for their drinks and asked Jamal to walk her to Kingsway Hotel down the street where she lodged. Even though throughout their conversation he was conscious enough to not prevaricate from the cause, the dilemma he faced right now was miserably scrupling. Halfway through to the hotel he’d reached for his dagger twice, but his guts crumpled under the weight of guilt. Instead he just walked along, a step behind her, watching her ass bounce along with her cute boyish gait. It was at this point he decided that she was not his prey. He would just get back to the junction and pick out someone else.
At the gate he said goodnight but then she asked if he would like to keep her company in her room a bit before he left. In his head was a screaming alarm. There was a mission to round-off and ending up in the hotel room of a stranger wasn’t exactly how he had laid out his plans for the night. But even though his instincts fiercely contended against his basic urges and he had opened his mouth to politely decline the offer, he found himself turning his footsteps towards the direction of her room.
- 5:26 A.M.
It starts like a quiet buzzing in his head. It nags and nags until explodes into a sharp, piercing pang that jerks him back to consciousness. His eyes spring open but that’s about the only part of his body he can move. He’s naked from his waist down. His neck is stiff and he can feel the blood trickling out of his nose. He tries to sit up but his joints creak like any more effort will disentangle them from one another. For a while, he remains laid on the cold tiles of an unfamiliar room, feeling his life ebb slowly away from him. The humid room is filled with the sour smell of stale blood.
His finds his trousers lying just next to him and that’s when the first wave of recollection hits him. He laboriously gropes for the trouser and checks the pockets for his stuff; his phone, the one he’d jacked from the kid near St. John’s, the cash from yesterday’s sales. Nothing. He tries to sit up and the most excruciating pain he has ever felt before shoots up his ass. He lets out a ghastly groan and collapses back on the floor.
It is then he notices that his nose isn’t the only opening from which he bleeds from. He reaches behind and true to his deepest fears, he’s bleeding out of his anus. The hurt from his rectum is unbearably sharp, triggering a flashback to the last glimpse of Chacha he saw before he passed out hours ago; her standing at the doorway of the bathroom, stark naked, her braids falling over her shoulders, two uneven breasts bulging out of her hairy chest and an erect penis standing firmly between her thighs.
It is then he realises the full extent to which he had been violated. He hears someone walking past the corridor and with all the air left inside of him, he lets out a scream that barely passes as a ghastly groan, audible to no one else but himself. That’s when his light goes off once again.