When we were Young Part 2 – by Abidemi Adebola “Sometimes our best love moments
Chapter 13 -“You can’t kill a dead man”
Please catch up on Chapter 12 here
You can’t kill a dead man
By the time Benjamin got to the bus park in Keffi, he was starting to feel the physical burden of the journey. The exerting run away from the motel the night before, the bus trip at dawn to Keffi, the exhausting ride through the dusty plains to Bagaji and now his onward trip to the unknown village.
Although he started the day with a strong heart, he soon realized that the journey was not about a destination, nor arrival point or finish line… for there was no such thing. He had no idea what laid ahead of him, but he was determined not to faint. It just wasn’t the time.
Twilight was starting to fade into discomforting blackness of the night with the disappearing daylights his legs were starting to wobble. He knew he had to get into a bus fast despite the fatigue. He needed a catnap.
He was in luck. He found a bus after walking half the park. It was the last bus heading that direction. When he stepped into the bus, it was unbelievably packed to the rafters. He scanned the bus quickly for an empty seat and he resigned to standing, although he had no clue how he would stand for two hours on his wonky legs.
He knew he didn’t have a choice, he had to keep moving until he found the answers he sought.
He quickly noticed the handles hanging down the roof of the bus, made, perhaps for the probable event of crowding. He got hold of one of the handles just as the bus jerked into life as soon as the doors closed with a gasp of air.
He bought a loaf of bread at the bus park right before he hopped on the bus, he was famished and needed a refill. He munched with reckless abandon and in quick successions several morsels of bread – all etiquettes ditched, as he struggled to find balance on his feet with one arm paying the price as the bus swayed.
He wondered how much kilograms he had lost already. His jeans was starting to sag at the waist. He heaved a sigh and looked ahead.
Two hours later, the bus engine purred violently and then rattled to a stop on a dirt road off the highway. At first he was grateful that the journey had come to an end. He had endured the most obtrusive smell of sweat coming from the underarms of a pot-bellied man who like him, held a high handle throughout the journey. But then no one made any attempt to get off the bus.
The bus had broken down in the middle of nowhere!
By now it was pitch dark, when he turned on his phone to geolocate the position of the bus on the map, a low battery alert peered at him- almost mockingly. They were only a few meters away from the Burukutu village. He could see bright lights ahead. His heart skipped half a beat.
He carried his beaten body off the bus and continued his journey on foot.
He was the only one who got off the bus Afterall they all had different missions, he thought. He didn’t even bother listening to the entreaties of the driver, who half-heartedly hoped he wouldn’t ask for a refund, as he fought off hot steam from the engine outside the bus.
He had sent a short message to his best friend Allen the moment he got on the bus. It read thus;
“I am headed to a village called Burukutu. If you don’t hear from me by 9am tomorrow, please get Uncle Pat involved. Its life and death. I beg of you. Benj”
Patrick Nwoke was one of the long standing deputy commissioners of Police in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. He was Allen’s Uncle whom he held in high esteem as they grew up sharing a room in his parents’ house. Allen had turned down several opportunities to join the police force because he abhorred violence and any semblance of it. Patrick had gone on to make a name for himself and had a blistering career successfully fighting crime in the nation’s capital.
Benjamin never met him, but relied on several stories Allen shared about Patrick while they both got drunk on his couch in his apartment in Lagos. He was desperate and hoped that Allen had the whole night to read his SMS and to make sense of it.
The evening had a hint of frost and the cold air made Benjamin’s lungs feel chilled just to breathe it in. The temperature in this region alternates between the extremes; running through the mercury thermometer faster than a burning cigarette. The slope downhill towards the village made his strides quicker and lazier. He trudged on as the lights from afar became slowly brighter on his approach.
A few minutes later, he was soon joined on the walk by four young men possibly returning to the village from nearby farmland. They had the steel blades of their hoes and cutlasses glimmering in the faint light from the village.
As he approached the access road into the village, he noticed two soldiers standing sentinel with their guns- the soulless clunks of metals, hanging loosely by their shoulders as they casually paced the road.
His heart skipped a beat again!
The minute they were a few meters away from the soldiers, Benjamin started an animated conversation with the farmers. They were at first stupefied. But Benjamin goes on to explain some meaningless gibberish in Hausa pretending at the same time to show the farmers something from his backpack. They looked befuddled but ambled on till they had all walked past the soldiers who appeared to care less about a bunch of sweaty farmers. They had seen the approach of a city bus and were more interested in its passengers.
When Benjamin looked up from his backpack, he casually asked the farmers where he could buy some “burukutu” – a local drink that the village was named after. They hesitated for a moment, still trying feebly to make sense of the drama that just played out with this stranger, before pointing him further downhill.
Burukutu is an old Hausa town nestled amongst an appealing range of rolling hills and bounded to the south by the majestic River Biam, a major tributary into River Benue teeming with fish and an immensely rich farmland to its East.
River Biam is a fast flowing and turbid water body from where hundreds of fisherman enjoy the fortunate bounties of all kind of fishes making Burukutu the hub for commercial fishes.
Most active fishing took place during the dry season (January to April) while during the wet season months (May to September) fishermen engage in farming and do fishing part-time.
Burukutu was also famed for its excellent leather work making the small river town stand out like a paradise of opportunities in the dry arid north.
As Benjamin made his way through the dirt road – that appeared to be only recently graded, fireflies danced in the night as if choreographed by every joyous memory around flickering make shift street lights that lined the dirt road.
Up above, the sky was black tranquility married to a poetry of stars and down below it laid a happy hug of houses that had expanded over the years as the town grew in influence. The houses looked identical in shape and size but no two were the same shade of color. They were brown, yellow, lilac, blue, red, orange and every shade in between, each house with the insignia of the paint company that donated the colors.
Lungs of fresh air and the sounds of nature, all set in as much space as any heart could ever ask for was quickly getting replaced by development that appeared to be happening rapidly in the village. He could easily perceive the smells of fish guts festering in the cold of the night and the gulls cry overhead, coming for whatever they could get.
He looked towards the direction of the bright lights he had seen on his way into the town, it had to be the new vaccination camp set up by the health agencies.
“The frauds” he muttered.
The camp stood out like Eldorado in the midst of the rustic plains of Burukutu. He would have to follow the light when he was ready. But he desperately needed to rest. His legs felt like they were not under his control. They ached from his thighs to his feet.
As he walked on, he imagined that the dirt road would terminate at the river bed. The road slope was getting steeper and the changing flora as he walked on provided a fresh smell of cool untainted air from the water.
A middle aged man who appeared to be dressed like a cleric approached Benjamin with inquisitive but helpful stance. Clearly it was not unusual to see strangers wandering far down the road.
“Salam Alekum, do you need some help son?” the calmness of his voice was disarming.
Benjamin stopped and rummaged again through his pockets for his mobile phone. The lights flickered and he showed the cleric the old picture of Mr. George he had downloaded.
The cleric looked closely at the phone, arching his neck as his eyes blinked rapidly. He gaze fixed on the phone screen until the low battery beep came off and the phone screen went blank.
Panic stricken, Benjamin looked the phone over before asking;
“Do you know where I can find this man?” his voice coarse and his breath labored.
“Follow me” The cleric said and started the walk uphill with no further word exchanged between them.
When they approached a house ten minutes away from where the cleric had initially stopped him, the cleric asked him to wait outside while he walked into the house.
Benjamin didn’t know what to think. He looked the house over, it looked more modern than a lot of the houses and huts in the village. The external walls of the house was painted green and it looked like some high chief’s country abode with small gardens and flower pots.
He started to rehearse his opening line to tell whoever the chief was when the cleric appeared with a younger man from the house.
“Good evening, who do ask for?” The young man asked as he approached Benjamin.
Benjamin looked hopelessly at his phone whose battery was now dead and then up at the young man.
“Mr George Nduka” he says.
“No such person here” The young man said as he turned and starts to walk back into the house.
The cleric pulled the young man by the arm and an exchange of words in a strange language ensued for a few minutes. The young man appeared to resign and gave in to the voice of reason afterwards. He beckoned to Benjamin;
“Follow me and please remove your shoes”
He mouthed a quick “thank you” to the elderly cleric and then hurriedly knocked off his shoes, but clutched unto his backpack as he followed the young cleric through the front door.
The cold concrete on his feet was soothing for a moment. Ahead of him the young man was no more than a silhouette, as the house was in pitch darkness, he could discern only his fluid black out-line from which to guess which way he went. His tired eyes struggled in the dark and then he heard the squeaking sound of an opening door, into what seemed to be a room. And then the young man stood aside beckoning with his head that he should go in.
Benjamin hesitated. He wasn’t sure what to see behind that door. If he lingered any longer, his heart would be bursting out of his chest. He was a bag of emotions that he couldn’t define as he took gentle steps past the door into the poorly lit room.
In that poorly lit room, there were shapes in monochrome, but now the silhouettes were already more discernible than they were only a short ago when he entered the house.
Tucked away at a secluded table by the corner of the room, one man sits alone on a wheel chair. He might have been handsome once upon a time, but his otherwise delicate features were ruined by an odd looking nose that has clearly been broken and reset several times in the past and a heavily bearded face that barely concealed a good part of jagged scars across his chin and lips. He was dressed in a cleric’s attire just like the middle aged one that had brought him to the house.
“Welcome Benjamin, I have waited so long for this moment”
If the face was far from the George Nduka he had always known, the voice was exactly the same he had heard for many years.
It was a tad too much for Benjamin’s tired body. He slumped into the concrete floor with a thud as he blacked out again!
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