The Artist at Work

Sometime in the early month of May, in this present year of our Lord, the brilliant reclusive artist who resided at #27 Dan Wilson Street completed his long awaited masterpiece.
It had taken him more than two and a half years to finish it. That was two and a half years of blood, sweat, loneliness and absolute solitude. For two and a half years he had locked himself up in his little studio behind his house staring at his wide plain canvas all night and day, neither going out to see his numerous friends nor wishing to be seen or heard from by them or by well wishers or even his family … except for his Cheshire cat, Thom.

He never came out much during this time – except for crossing the street during the evenings towards the roadside sellers to buy cooked food, oranges and kola-nuts. During this time he seldom went out to the market either but stayed indoors swallowing cups of coffee and eating large amounts of junk food, which he prepared for himself. He lost a few pounds because of this but still he wasn’t bothered. His recent girlfriend after much fuss, fits and complaints had walked out on him into the hungry waiting arms of his neighbour next-door, but even that never bothered him. Not one bit. 

Though his eccentricities wasn’t a new thing. Even when he wasn’t working he still kept to himself, never getting involved with people’s arguments, quarrels or thoughts, even if they invited him to, though he never refrained from buying them palm wine drinks whenever they asked. Yes, he did smile and laughed at their crude jokes even when they were directed at him but he seldom involved himself with them; and when he spoke, his words were soft and few. Time and time again they tried to indulge themselves unto him without much result. He would at times become unusually quiet and distant. Still they loved and worshiped him for whom he was, but deep inside, they feared him. No one around ever thought about picking a quarrel with him – for what reason would they? 

Indeed, everyone in the village knew of his persistent seclusion whenever he sat down to begin a new painting, which was quite often … but this time it had been too much for them to bear. 

On the street corners, in the marketplace and roadside eating/drinking spots, all the villagers talked about was him. They whispered of him, argued about him, recalled past tales and chance encounters with him and in the end laughed about him. It wasn’t long before one could barely separate what was truth and what was rumour. And why should they – after all, he was their favourite neighbour, their number one icon; the one person they wished their wayward sons would emulate and become and whom their supple daughters would hopefully one day marry, that’s if the good Lord so wished it. 

“I hear that he has gone mad … utterly and completely!” 

“My God, will you please keep quiet! You’re always over hearing nonsense.” 

“You who’s talking, what do you know besides drowning your mouth in a beer bottle.” 

Uproarious laughter. 

“What I heard was his painting got the best of him so he locked himself up the other night and slit both his wrist.” 

“That what you heard? I heard he opened his throat – ear to ear…” 

“Well, that wasn’t what I heard. I hear he’s working on something much bigger and greater than his previous works …” 

And on and on the rumours travelled like an ageless nursery rhyme, sweeping all over the village, infecting all whom had an ear or two to listen. 

Day and night they stood watching from across the street, balconies and opened windows; drinking beer, cracking dry jokes, swapping stale gossips and reading old newspapers, watching and waiting anxiously to be among the first to see his studio doors creak open. Their doubts had slowly begun to evolve into fear till one of them – though till today nobody could actually recall whom – stood up and approached his back gate, followed by several others. 

Silently they crept across his littered backyard like thieves and pressed their nose against his studio’s dirt-stained windows. A heavy sigh of relief came off their breaths as they were once more happy again when they recognised the artist, naked from the waist up, standing with his back towards them, a palette in his left hand while his other swished a paintbrush across a wide canvas in front of him while Thom, his cat, purred by his feet. They stood there for a long time, talking and whispering excitedly amongst themselves till finally the artist came out and rudely told them to leave. Distraught though they were, never the less they left with a much warmer heart and mind. 
The next day had brought a new sunshine into the village. Everybody, from the newspaper vendors, to the bar tenders, to the Reverend Father who presided over the Catholic church in the village, to the roadside food sellers, to the ragged winos and drunks sitting by the gutters, to the ever grumbling postman, to the little kids going to school and the young lads playing football by the sand field all day. They were all very nice, polite and bright to each other and it could be said that throughout that week, nobody exchanged so much as an angry word, threat, or malicious glance at each other. The artist was alive and kicking behind his work and that was all that mattered to them. 

The next item on everybody’s mind was about his upcoming work: was he through with it or not? And if not, when? What was on it? How beautiful was it? Did he intend on selling it, or sending it to one of those profitable Art houses in the city, or was he keeping it for himself? Or if indeed he was going to sell it, then how much would it cost … and could either of them afford it? 

Abstract guesses and rough estimates were made but before that, the final question was asked: had anybody actually seen the painting? Few stood up and bragged that they had but neither one’s description tallied with the other, thus it was hard to know whom to believe. But still at night, they all secretly dreamed of possessing it. 

The fishermen down by the harbour all day thought about how much quantity of fish they would have to catch for it. At night the market women dreamed about how many yards of wrappers, clothes, or quantities of food stuffs they could sell for the upcoming weeks to afford it; others began cajoling their husbands with sweet words and sultry promises about purchasing it while the young ladies desperately pleaded with their boyfriends and older lovers about wanting it as a special gift for their upcoming birthday present. Some of the men began cutting down on their late afternoon drinks and other regular frivolities just to save money for it with the silly excuse that they were trying to cut down for their children’s sake. House rents suddenly doubled; debtors began hiding themselves away. Relationships, which were once ripe, all of sudden grew sour and fights and quarrels occurred almost every week. 

It was sometime in the early evening on the second week of May that the artist finally dropped his brushes, palette and paints, changed his clothes and walked out his gate. A heavy rain had fallen the night before and the streets still bore much evidence of it. People walking along the street immediately stopped and stared at him with awe. He looked just as young and handsome and vibrant as the last time they saw him – like he had all the while sneaked off to a lush Caribbean island for a little fun and sun. He said a few hellos and waved at them before heading for his destination; some of them who weren’t busy doing anything decided to follow him. 

He walked over past the small fishing harbour to Aliwu’s bar/restaurant, which overlooked the sand field area. Everyone, including the proprietor, Aliwu, was just as happy and surprised to see him, and he and his workmen welcomed him as if he were a crowned prince. He immediately set up a table for him at the end of the room and served him himself. The artist ate his meal in silence after which he relaxed himself and ordered for some palm-wine while several of the people whom were in the restaurant and others standing outside by the windows watched him. After paying for his meal, the painter shook hands with Aliwu and walked past the large crowd and headed for the park where he boarded a taxi heading for the city. 

The rest of the day was ripe with talk and gossip. First off much of the people were upset and angry at how the artist had treated them. They had yelled his name, slapped his shoulders and smiled at him, but rather than acknowledge them he had simply shrugged off their embrace and stared at them as if they weren’t there while he walked away, leaving them standing there on the road like lonesome beggars. 

Even Aliwu had added his own share into the brewing pot. He spoke with a grumpy look on his face (and a glowing touch of hidden pride and self-esteem in his heart since he was for the moment being the main focus of attention in the midst of a growing gossip mob) about how the artist had refused to tip his bill as he often did on numerous occasions but had instead complained to him that his fish hadn’t been well prepared. 

This was all a total lie but neither of the village folks knew and they eagerly accepted it. Though some of them did have their doubts about everything but they were too few and weak-mouthed to speak out. By sundown the news had spread to the other end of the village and the old folks all folded their arms, shook their heads and wondered. 
Excerpt from: The Artist at Work

Death in the Closet

knife-bloody-clipart

Screecht . . . Screeeecchhhttt . . .

He had been doing this for some time with his eyes shut. Since hiding himself in the bedroom closet waiting for his intended quarry to arrive. The hour was getting late. He couldn’t make out the time in his watch in the closet’s darkness. There was growing stiffness in his legs from standing so long. The little light he gleamed from the tiny slit between the closet doors through which he sighted the bed told him it was the onset of dusk. His knapsack containing his other weapons sat beside his feet. His quarry will show—he was certain of that. The information he had of the man was accurate to have brought him here. This hotel suite was his usual resting hole whenever he was in the city. The man conducted his business during the day and enjoyed his pleasure at night time.

Screeehhhhttt . . . Screeeeeccchhhhttt . . .

His knuckles and arm muscles tightened each time he ran the sharp edge of his sickle blades against each other. He didn’t care about the noise they made; the noise was soothing to him. Comforting and relaxing. It sharpened him for the impending blood he was going to spill in this room. It won’t be his blood, but it might as well be his. He was getting antsy. He thought of how long his wait would be before his quarry arrived. Would he return alone or be with company. If with company, how many? He wasn’t worried if his quarry came with company. He was prepared for whatever surprises his quarry might bring with him. He had here in his fists his own brand of death-dealing surprises to dispense. One his quarry won’t ever be expecting. He had dispensed similar treatment to another from whom he had acquired the information that led him here and it added comfort to his mind. His hands felt melted together with the sickle daggers. The daggers were an extension of his hate.

His head snapped up and his eyes came alive in the darkness when he heard a door come open. He stopped what he was doing with his daggers and listened to the chattering voices that just entered the room. He made out a woman’s voice with that of a man—his quarry, no doubt. There wasn’t any other voice in the background beside theirs. He peeked through the slit in the closet doors at the movement of shadows in the room. The lights came on and his quarry stepped into view, standing by the foot of the bed with his female companion. He watched his quarry take off his jacket grabbed the woman’s arms and fell with her on the bed, both exploding in mirth. He watched them grope and fondle each other, neither aware of his presence. He raised his arm to his brow and it came off with sweat. He watched the couple frolic, bidding his time.

Otis gripped the handle of his sickle blades and counted down numbers in his head and then when he was done, eased quietly out of the closet. Neither his quarry nor his woman seemed aware of his presence—they kept on with their kissing, lost to the danger in the room. The bedroom door stood ajar and Otis glanced that way to make sure there wasn’t any other company around. He advanced upon them, holding up his sickle-shaped daggers and determined to use them. His breathing was slow and labored.

His quarry was too busy ministering kisses upon his date’s neckline while she gasped and prodded him along. Her eyes opened with startled fright at the dark figure in the room with them and she let off a shriek while struggling to push her date off her. The man pulled himself up on his arms, startled by her screaming and right there and then, he too sensed danger upon them but it was too late.

Otis came at them and jumped down on his quarry’s back. The man fell back on the woman with his face connecting her nose, making a crunching noise that cut down her screaming fit. Otis raised his sickle daggers then rammed them down on back of the man’s back. The twin daggers tore through the man’s shirt and imbedded three inches into the man’s scapula. The man’s face came up and he let off a loud cry. The woman remained under him gasping and coughing from her bloody nose. Otis twisted the blades, ripping through the man’s scapular trapezius. More blood sprayed the bed and the man was screaming and beating his arms and feet on the bed, wanting to push Otis off him but failing. Otis pushed the man’s head down on the woman’s face to choke off his screams. When he reckoned he had incapacitated his quarry enough, he extracted his daggers off his back, ripping off flesh and bits of his shirt and then he came off the man’s back. Otis wiped sweat off his brow with his arm. He surprised himself with how unperturbed he was with watching the man bleed.

Father’s Land (Excerpt)

Aviary Photo_130408232746264680

The morning progressed into the day. Otis sat behind his desk with the window in front of him. His laptop computer was open before him and he was reading the past page of manuscript he’d been working on before fleeing the States. Done with the reading he flexed his fingers then got to work typing. The work was slow and cumbersome. The images were there behind his eyes. It was hard bringing them before him to put on the page. Time after time he wrote a sentence then pressed on the backspace key deleting much of it. He was sweating underneath his shirt. His lips grew dry. He stopped after he had filled one page and looked at his watch but was aghast to see time had barely moved. It felt like he had been at work half the day already.

Otis dropped down his hands and slouched in his chair in defeat. That was what he felt right now. It was what he had felt when he arrived at JFK Int. the night before his flight was to leave. His rent had been up a week before and he had spent the past days living with several writing buddies while counting the days. Each day was a labor to him. Otis sometimes thought he would run out his mind trying to think through his predicament. All he had done or tried to turn the tide and nothing seemed to work. By the time it became three days left before his departure he had given up and resigned to fate. For whatever was bound to come his way he would accept knowing he had tried and nothing in his power was enough. That was the problem that nothing was ever enough.

Otis pushed back his chair and got up. He scratched at itch in the back of his head. Electricity had returned an hour ago. His bed seemed inviting but sleep was the least on his mind. The heat blowing in through his window told him that. There still was the itching dryness in his mouth.

He left his room and went downstairs to the kitchen. He got an empty glass and filled it with water and drank it. He stood beside the kitchen sink staring out the window at the Boys Quarter building. He could make out Samuel cutting firewood on an old tree stump. Otis drank one more glass of water then rinsed the glass and left it upside down to dry on the sink. He left the kitchen.

Otis came up the stairs but stopped when he saw his Dad’s door open. He was walking toward it when he heard a clanking sound and turned his head at the far corner and saw his Dad in his wheelchair positioned beside his door. Otis covered the distance to meet him.

“Morning, Dad,” he said.

His father grunted in reply then pointed a gnarled finger at his door. Otis took the handles of his Dad’s wheelchair and led him into his room. His Dad wore a dirt-stained undershirt with a blanket draped over his thigh and legs. Otis led his Dad toward his desk so he could sit in his chair. They waited in silence while heat blew into the room through the windows.

“So,” Elder Moses said. Every word that issued from his lips was a struggle. “You back home.”

“Yes, Dad. I’m back home.”

“You go back again?”

Otis shook his head. “I don’t know. Right now, I don’t know.”

“What you . . . what you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Finish my book, and maybe see about finding a job. That’s all I can think of.”

His words sounded trite and desolate. He felt overwhelmed with his earlier tiredness. His bed called out to him each time his eyes went to it. Suddenly he didn’t want to be in the presence of his Dad anymore; he didn’t want to rehash the past. He wanted to forget the past and pretend it doesn’t exist. Otis had the urge building inside him to get up and roll his Dad back to his room so he could hit the bed and continue to soak in his misery. There seemed to be much welcoming fun in doing that.

“I missed you,” Elder Moses said.

Otis looked at his father. He couldn’t comprehend if his Dad meant what he just said or not. His father had never been the sort who opened up emotionally. He seldom displayed it either. Plenty of times Otis had struggled to reckon what his mother say in him and why she never left him. It was no surprise his Dad was impossible to live with. For years Otis’s one pressing thought was one leaving his homestead and never returning to the miserable sight his father made it become each year. That thought went into overdrive after his mother died. Thinking maybe his father would soften after that happened. He did soften all right. He was practically a broken man realizing the one thing that kept him going, the one person who stuck beside him all the years, the one person he showed much despise was now gone from his world.

“I missed you too, Dad,” Otis said.

“I miss your brother, too.”

“Where is Joshua? What happened to him?”

His Dad’s eyes seemed to moisten when he said that. His jaw muscles shook as he struggled with his next batch of words. “Your brother dead,” he said.

“What do you mean? Is he dead? Whatever happened to him?”

Elder Moses shook his head. Tears welled in his eyes. “Your brother dead. Gone.”

Those words reverberated in Otis’s head as he remained in his chair and watched his father break into tears. The scene felt awkward for both of them and especially for him. He came to his Dad’s arms and hugged him.

“It’s okay, Dad,” he said as his father blubbered in his embrace. “Everything is going to be just fine. I’m here now. I’ll take care of you.”

He wheeled his Dad back to his room. Samuel appeared to help give Elder Moses his bath. He carried with him a bucket of hot water and sponge. Otis sat in his Dad’s bedroom and watched Samuel lift his Dad out of his wheelchair into his bathroom. He sat his Dad on a makeshift chair in the large tub that took up much of the bathroom’s space.

Elder Moses sat docile and watched his house servant mix several aromatic chemicals in his bucket of water before soaking the sponge and gently washing every inch of his body. Neither exchanged a word. He turned his head and saw Otis sitting on a rocking chair beside his bed watching them.

Otis grew uncomfortable watching them and got up and left them to stand outside. He waited for Samuel to return his Dad on his bed and then leave the room.

“How is he doing?” he asked.

Samuel shrugged. “Managing. That’s all.”

“What happened to Joshua?”

“Joshua left,” Samuel said. “Went to join the Black Path.”

Otis frowned. “Black Path?”

“Militants. Worse than Boko Haram. They fight each other sometimes. Everyday they’re on the news. One bombing here and another killing there. This country is not safe anymore.”

“Why? I mean, why did Joshua go to join them?”

Another shrug. “We don’t know. One day he came with some of them. Police was looking for them. Your Dad was worried. Your Dad told him never to return. Since then we haven’t seen him.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Been months now. I can’t remember.”

“Dad doesn’t talk about him?”

Samuel shook his head. “He doesn’t want to. Not anymore. He says Joshua is dead to him.”

Otis watched Samuel walk away carrying the now empty bucket in his hand. He returned to his room.

He returned to his desk and appraised his work on his computer. The electricity solved his debacle for him by going off. Otis didn’t know if to be grateful or sad. He shut down his computer and went to lie on his bed. He shut his eyes and tried to sleep. Images of his time in America floated in his eyes. The images were between a month and three months old and they cursed at him for giving up too soon. For not going the extra mile of fighting to remain in the States. All the effort he applied was for naught. Otis rolled to his side squeezing his eyes shut. He tried pushing the images off his mind but they kept stroking his despair. Finally he gave up and opened his eyes panting. The heat in the room was becoming almost unbearable. He ran his palm over his face and it came off with sweat. His shirt too was sticky with sweat. Otis came off the bed and went to wash his face in the bathroom. He returned to his room and changed his shirt. He checked his watch and noted the time. He grabbed his wallet and slipped his feet into his sandals and left the room.

Outside he went looking for Samuel. He found him inside his room in the Boys Quarter sipping a bowl of Garri with water and bread.

“Do you know where Sybil works?” Otis asked him.

* * *

Sybil sat alone with herself under the shade of a tree situated close to the college gate with one feet crossed over the other and looking prim like a Victorian nurse. Otis had no idea what a Victorian nurse looked like but the idea felt good in his mind when he spotted her after the guard manning the college gate listened to him and let him inside. Several students flocked past her and startled her reading. Sybil looked up and that was when she saw him. Otis caught the look of surprise in her face and felt happy seeing it as he approached.

“What . . . how did you find me?” she asked when he stopped in front of her.

“You look surprised. Samuel told me.”

“You came all the way to Minna to find me?”

He shrugged. “Electricity went off, and I had nothing else to do. No one to talk to.” He came and sat beside her. “Anyway, I didn’t come just for you. I went job-hunting.”

“Really? And where did you go besides trailing me here?”

“To tell the truth, this was my starting point. You think I can become a teacher here?”

Wind slapped at their faces and ruffled Sybil’s hair and the manuscript pages on her lap. She pushed her hair off her face. “You think you can handle fifteen to twenty year olds?”

“I can give it a try. If you can do it, why can’t I?”

“What would you want to teach?”

“I don’t know. Anything of science, I guess. I can’t handle math.”

“I don’t know if the school’s hiring right now. I’ll have to find out later. I’m enjoying your book.”

“You like it?”

She nodded. “It’s fun. It’s got some things I don’t get, but overall, it’s fun. You should get it published.”

“I would if I can find someone to look at it for me. I told you it was hard finding a literary agent.”

“Just in America? What about other countries?”

“I wrote to several in the UK. but haven’t heard from them so far. I’m still waiting.”

She touched his shoulder. “Don’t give you so easy. You’re better than that.”

“I know. I try every day. I just never meant to be back, or even to come back for this. I always thought things would be different.”

“Things are different,” she said. “Just not the way you wanted.”

“Yeah, I noticed that. Samuel told me about Joshua. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was going to, but I didn’t want to get you further sad than you were yesterday. It’s been tough on all of us, especially your Dad.”

“You ever seen or heard from him since?”

“Who, Josh? No. But I’ve heard plenty of crazy stuff.”

He looked at her. “Like what? Tell me?”

She shook her head. “Not now. First, I need some food in me. Come on, I know a restaurant not far from here.”

“Only as long as I’m buying,” Otis helped her to her feet as she returned his manuscript into her handbag.

“I thought you’re broke,” she said.

“I am broke, but now destitute. I’ve still got some coins left in my account. Lead the way and I’ll follow.”

They walked out of the school premises and across the street. Sybil led him towards the market square less than a mile from the school. City traffic flowed past them and so too other pedestrians. They waited for the traffic to slow down before crossing over towards the south-east section of the market. Sybil led him to a two-floor shopping building. The ground floor housed a restaurant. They arrived early to secure themselves a balcony table. There were northerners in the restaurant, all wearing kaftan outfit. A young waitress approached their table and took their order before rushing back to fetch their meal.

“Seriously, why do you want to teach?” Sybil asked him.

“It seems like something worthwhile to do. Also, anything to get me out of the house.”

“But you just got back. You should chill for a while. Write something else.”

“I’m tired of writing, Sybil. I can’t think of anything worth writing about anymore. I need something to take my mind off things.”

“How about spending time with your Dad?”

He gave her a wry look. “Is that supposed to be amusing?”

“He’s not the man you once thought of, Otis. It’s time you let that go. He’s old and he’s helpless.”

“You say that now, but you don’t know him. Not like I do.”

“You’re never going to be a happy person if you keep carrying this weight on your shoulders. You know that, don’t you?”

Otis wasn’t looking at her. His eyes went toward two men inside the restaurant having some altercation with one of the waitresses regarding their bill. One of them dropped his bag, explaining he was coming to get money from his car. Otis watched him breeze out the doorway looking upset.

“Are you listening to me?”

Otis returned his eyes to Sybil. “Uh . . . sorry, I was wool-gathering there. Yeah, I head what you said. I’ll work on it.”

The waitress arrived with a tray loaded with their meal. She dropped each plate on their table.

“Hope you enjoy your meal,” she said to them.

A brilliant flash of light went up inside the restaurant followed by an earth-shattering explosion went off. The explosion tore through the brick wall vaporizing everything contained inside the restaurant and in its path. Glass shattered and screaming voices went up. The force of the explosion pushed Otis and everything beside it off the balcony to tumble on the ground ten feet from them. The waitress was blown off her feet. She had time to release a loud cry before landing halfway on top of him dead. Bricks rained everywhere. The market became abuzz with fright and danger. Panic and screams went for miles. A black smoke furled over the rubble that was the former restaurant. Sirens went off adding further bedlam to the panicking folks.

Otis felt himself immersed in a ball of pain. His tongue tasted something wet and copperish in his mouth. Blood ran down the side of his face. His eyes came open and he inhaled dark smoke and rubble. Sybil lay on her side across from him. Her eyes were open and still and staring past him into nothing. Otis tried to move but couldn’t. His arm lay in front of him bleeding. He heard panicking screams and random shouting all around him. Sybil still remained on her side unmoving.

“Sy . . . Syb . . .”

His voice sounded hoarse. Her eyes remained staring into nothingness. Otis shut his eyes and in the depths of his mind hoped to join her wherever she was now.

 

Unpublished Novel: Father’sLand

Nice-Tree-In-Nigth-Mode-Wallpaper

Some journeys end in destinations. Other journeys continue almost without end. Like daytime that sees no nighttime. The world keeps on spinning. Trees grow and die and little boys turn to wrinkled hobbling old men. The journey goes on without end.

It took Otis Lovejoy another day before arriving at the small town called Futa Mallon which he called home. The same place his father and his father’s father too had called home. They could trace their ancestry back to the 1700’s when the white man had conquered their land with rifles and cannons in one hand and the Holy Bible in the other. His father wasn’t an atheist but he had no truck with the one called Jehovah. It was the one grip he often had with their mother. Mother had been raised a Catholic and wanted her sons to follow in the white man’s way of religion. Father opted they went to school to get an education and do whatever they cared with their lives. As for going to church he would have cared less if they hung behind the parish shooting bottle rockets and causing a stir amongst the parishioners inside. He in fact loved hearing when they did such. Mother never hesitated to take a belt to Otis and his brother Joshua.

His flight arrived an hour before midnight in Abuja airport. The motor parks were closed by then and won’t open till 5:30 a.m. He had no choice but to find a motel to stay for the night. He had a cell phone but his father didn’t have one. There was a house phone but his father had long discontinued from paying the bill. The phone had sat like a piece of junk in the living room for years. A relic of its time his father was unwilling to get rid of.

That was the problem with his father, thought Otis as he laid his head on the twin pillow of the bed in the motel room he had paid for. His father seldom threw things away. Always hanging on to some broken piece of heirloom, memorabilia, or mementos of his past and never making room for anything new. Come to think of it now it seemed his father too was as much afraid of the future as he. He hadn’t gotten over the pain of been back in his country. Stepping out of the airport he familiarized himself with the sight and sound of everything he loved and despised of been back home. He was accosted by northerners as he exchanged some American Dollars for Naira before looking for a taxi to take him to any nearby motel that was cheap.

The alarm in his cell phone woke him up at 7:35 a.m. Otis came sharp awake. He could hear raucous traffic from the streets pouring through the window. Sometime at night the electricity had gone off. His face was a pool of sweat; the pillow under his head bore this evidence. Otis sighed and cursed his luck as he got up grudgingly and sat by the bed’s edge. Hard to believe nothing in the country had changed since he left. Outside the sun was creeping into the sky.

He got up, took off his clothes, and went into the bathroom with towel and toiletries bag in his hand. He couldn’t believe the face that stared back at him in the medicine cabinet mirror. It was the face of a stranger. Haggard and weary. His hair was scraggy. He had left his beard a week more than was appropriate. His eyes appeared bloodshot and cold. He lathered his chin before applying his straight razor to his face. Minutes later he was looking his better self. But nothing he could do about his eyes. They were the eyes of a penitent convict just released from prison after years of hard labor. Disillusioned and grave. There was so much darkness in those pair of eyes.

Otis had his bath and was hungry by the time he wore a fresh pair of clothes and checked to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything and then left the room with his bags intact. He boarded a taxi that dropped him at Minna Transit bus stop. He ate fried plantain and beans at a Buka restaurant before crossing the street to find a bus going toward Futa Mallon. The park was laden with noise and chaos of travelers, market women, traders, beggars, street urchins, hustlers, taxi drivers, and just about anyone else who had no business there but simply had to be there. Vehicles pulled in and out of the park minutes after each other; the stench of the place was overwhelming. Otis paid for a taxi’s front seat and waited for other travelers to fill the vehicle before the driver eased out of the premises.

The sun hammered down on the earth. Otis fell in and out of sleep as the taxi drove along the open highway. On both sides of the road were rugged hills and valleys stretching as far as the eye could see. Cluster of clouds hung over their heads like halo. Once in a while they drove past Fulani men herding group of cattle into the hinterland. The heat in the vehicle was sweltering; the wind blowing through the windows was soothing.

Otis had traveled this road plenty of times. He knew it even if it was dark and he was walking home dragging his luggage behind. They would pass two more towns before reaching his destination. The country seemed to return to uncharted terrain the more the taxi drove. It was like returning to the birth of the world. Everything here was past tense; the future was another lifetime away.

 

Nigerian Piracy Pt. 1/Rabbit’s Man (Excerpt)

Pirates kidnap two U.S. sailors off Nigerian coast – sources

Thu, Oct 24 2013

By Joe Brock and Andrea Shalal-Esa

ABUJA/WASHINGTON | Fri Oct 25, 2013 1:04am BST

(Reuters) – Pirates attacked an oil supply vessel off the Nigerian coast and kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, both U.S. citizens, American officials said on Thursday as the Nigerian military ordered its Navy to rescue the men.

“We believe this was an act of piracy,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding that U.S. officials were closely monitoring the situation and seeking more information.

“At this point, we do not have information that would indicate this was an act of terrorism,” Harf told reporters in a briefing. “Obviously, our concern at this point is for the safe return of the two U.S. citizens.”

Pirate attacks off Nigeria’s coast have jumped by a third this year as ships passing through West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities route, have come under threat from gangs wanting to snatch cargoes and crews.

The U.S.-flagged C-Retriever, a 222-foot (67 metre) vessel owned by U.S. marine transport group Edison Chouest Offshore, was attacked early Wednesday, UK-based security firm AKE and two security sources said. The company was not immediately available for comment.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/uk-nigeria-piracy-idUKBRE99N0GP20131025

AmenamDSCN1047

My former line of work involved being a radar operator in the security division of a multinational oil company stationed in the Onne/Bonny River, located in the Niger-Delta heart of Nigeria. For those seeking to find it on a map, that’s the south, south part of the country. The history of the piratical activity now engulfing the region predates the country’s transition during the late nineties from a long period of military rule to that of democracy. Even then it was more like a fuse to a stash of dynamite simply waiting to be lit.

I can’t supply the history as to how or when such activity actually begun, however I do vividly recall the period when it did, and what led it toward becoming the ugliness it currently is.

During the country’s first democratic election, politicians from various factions supplied arms to the indigenous youth to maim their political opponents. After the election was concluded, these armed youths, seeing the large cache of weapons at their disposal, morphed into different factions of so-called militant freedom fighters seeking armed struggle against the Nigerian government’s betrayal toward selling out their oil-infested landscape to the multinational foreign oil companies. The militants protested against being neglected from the proceeds, as well the environmental endangerment the oil companies were wrecking upon their inhabitant. The militants, for the next decade, involved themselves in an apparent cat-and-mouse gunfight battle with the Nigerian military and navy. They as well proceeded toward sabotaging various oil installations and platforms located around the region.

* * * * *

Excerpt from my Book: The Rabbit’s Man

They were alone in the world, just the two of them, surrounded by the dark, eerie waters of the ocean, facing the daunting night with the moon above their heads. But it was the weight of the silence around them that was threatening as they waited. Oge had killed the engine and not a single light was on; water slapped perilously against the keel. Kingsley checked the time on his watch and saw it was past midnight. Both men leaned against the guardrail by the bow section, staring at the night, taking comfort in each other’s presence, listening to the sound of the water rocking against the boat. The wind was cold and biting, and a mist hung over the water; Kingsley wished he’d brought a thick jacket along, or a sweater. The night around them was impenetrable.

“Scared?” his friend asked him.

“Ever a time one shouldn’t be?”

Oge shook his head. “I doubt there’ll ever be.”

“I can’t thank you enough for this.”

His friend shook his head dismissively. “I’d die in my heart if I hadn’t.”

They fell silent. Kingsley checked his watch again, marking the time; he could barely make himself keep calm. “We’ll give him an hour. If he isn’t here by one-thirty, we head back home.”

“Won’t that be disappointing?”

“We can only pray for the best. Not my fault if the bastard pilot doesn’t show, is it? I’d feel a lot safer being on land than out here like this.”

“Reminds me of a run I had six years ago, transporting stolen car parts: car stereos, chassis, gearbox—stuff like that. The guy’s partner over in Cotonou was supposed to meet us somewhere close to Brass. Just as it is for us right now, so it was that night; for two hours we waited, and still the guy never showed up. A patrol boat sighted us and gave chase, but we lost it around Tai-Obua Creek. That night, if I’d told myself I wasn’t scared of getting caught in this business, I would’ve been lying.”

“You had your illness then?”

“Wasn’t worse as now. I had drugs and some local herbs to take for it.”

They fell silent again, both of them staring at the dark, roaming waters around them. The boat rocked up and down from the gentle wave slamming against its hull.

“You know I find it hard sometimes wondering why I turned away from this life,” Kingsley admitted. “The question is always on my mind, and always the answer eludes me.”

“Some answers are best not known.” His friend cupped a fist to his mouth to stifle a wave of coughs that shook him. Kingsley patted his back gently while he spat phlegm into the water. Kingsley waited until he’d regained himself.

“I don’t really know why I keep thinking that way. Sometimes when I’m in my office, or at home, I’d look at everything around me, at what I’ve accomplished, and can’t believe it’s really me. I pretend sometimes that I’m living someone else’s life, waiting for him to show up and take over.”

“You won’t quit blaming yourself for everything, will you?”

“It’s hard, Oge. I know it’s wrong; I can’t seem to shake it off.”

“I doubt if you ever will,” his friend pushed back his cap and scratched an itch on his forehead. “You can’t but try. Stop giving yourself crosses to carry—no one made you Jesus Christ. My condition could have happened to you, or Sammy, or any other fool. Nothing you can do is ever going to change any of that. Period.”

“I wasn’t talking about changing anything, Oge. I know I can’t change any of what’s already happened, but still . . . ” He was fishing for words to express what he wanted to say, but not finding any, he gave up with a sigh.

“Still what? Quit beating yourself with this, will you? What makes you think if you’d stuck around you wouldn’t have been dead by now? You ever stop to think about that?”

“I have. Time after time, I have.”

“What does that tell you? You think God made you Superman, that you can stop anything from touching you? You’ve got yourself a good life. Go on living it and leave the past alone.”

“I still don’t understand how come you never left this line of work? What is it that’s kept you with it?”

“Honest truth? I was sick and stubborn. I needed the money, and I had little to lose. Besides, I was never a thinker like you. There was no way the rest of us could have fit into your shoes, my friend. You left when you knew you had to. That wife of yours, does she know about this?”

“No. I’ve always wanted to tell her, but didn’t know how. I figured she’d hate me if ever she found out.”

“She will someday.”

“Too late, she already has.”

Oge turned to look at him. “I guess she didn’t take it too well, did she?”

“That’s one way to put it. I haven’t seen her since Friday—she took the kids with her. I tried calling her phone but no luck.”

“I’m sorry. She’s still in the city?”

“I think so. Probably staying with a friend or a relative.”

“I feel your pain. Don’t worry, she’ll come around. My woman too quarreled with me when she found out I was still doing this, but the situation changed her mind about it. Now her only command is that I return home safe every time I’m out the door. She said she’d prefer me dying in bed than finding me in a police cell.”

They shared a burst of laughter together, the sound of their voices the only thing echoing around them. Minutes later, there came another dull, distant sound from high above them toward the east. They trained their eyes upward, at first seeing nothing but the moon and empty sky. His friend was the one who spotted the outline of the plane hovering in a circular route, swinging at a low trajectory twenty miles from where they were. Oge got a pair of Night Vision binoculars from inside his wheelhouse and gave it to him. Kingsley held it to his eyes and with sufficient aid of the moonlight was able to make out the model of the plane as it circled closer: a Cessna 185F Sky Wagon possessing amphibious floats.

“That’s our bird,” he said to his friend. “You have that signaling lamp of yours?”

“I’m on it,” Oge replied and left to search for what Kingsley wanted. He returned with the lamp: a six-foot metal contraption shaped like a lollipop. Kingsley waited until the plane was in range before nodding to his friend. Oge flicked the switch on, then off, on again and then off, giving the pilot the required lighted signal to approach. “If there’s any patrol boat around, there’s going to notice this.”

“Yeah, I know,” Kingsley kept the binoculars fixed on the plane. “Let’s pray the worse doesn’t happen.”

The plane made another circuitous arc above their heads before starting its descent; the sound of its engine was a loud, throbbing whir cutting through the night’s quietude. Kingsley and his friend held their breaths as the plane lowered itself to earth; Oge stood with one foot in his wheelhouse and looked at the surrounding mist in case trouble appeared and they needed to be away quick.

Then came the moment when the Cessna touched water. They watched as its floats kicked up a high crest of water on either side as it sped toward them, coming to a slow halt thirty feet from them, its floats bobbed on the disturbed water. Oge started his boat and brought it just shy of the plane’s port side, their bow facing its aft section. Kingsley stood with one foot on the boat’s edge, as close as he could get to leaning his head under the Cessna’s wing. The pilot, a grizzly looking fellow, opened his cockpit door and smiled at him; an overhead light came on.

“You’re Johnson, right?” asked the pilot.

Kingsley nodded. “I take it you’re Smith.”

No handshake was required, just a curt nod. “Sorry I took so long getting down here,” Smith said, reaching behind to open the cockpit’s back door.

Kingsley balanced his feet on the float as he crossed over to the plane, his hands grasping the underside of the wing, wetting his feet as he almost slipped into the water. He extracted the three black duffel bags stacked over each other inside the plane. His friend positioned himself behind him, taking the bags from his hands and dropping them onto the boat’s deck. Oge unzipped each bag and checked the contents. He gave Kingsley a thumbs-up when he was done. Smith handed Kingsley a clipboard with manifest papers attached to it, and Kingsley managed to scrawl what resembled a signature where the pilot indicated him to. The pilot took back the clipboard, satisfied.

“I’ll be off, then.”

“Likewise,” Kingsley said. He pocketed his pen and jumped back on the boat. Oge started his engine and navigated his vessel away for the Cessna to make its run. They watched it race on the water’s surface before taking off back into the air. The sound of its engine dissipated as it blended with the night sky.

“Thank God that’s over. I guess this means we’d best be heading back,” his friend entered the wheelhouse and brought his boat to life. He went in the direction against the wind, where he knew land was.

* * *

Lionel Parrish sat in his briefs beside the table in his room, his laptop open before him. The girl lay asleep on the bed with the sheets half covering her nakedness. His eyes were focused on a slow-moving red dot on his screen, which gave him a quadratic two-dimensional map readout. He had already forwarded a message back home, informing them of his subject’s arrival at the drop point, and of his scheduled morning appointment at Governor’s House. He couldn’t wait for the night to hurry onward.

He ran a hand over his lips. He wished for something to drink right now, something to appease his tongue. It was late, and the shops outside had long shut their doors for the night.

He looked at his Thuraya phone, which stood on the table, waiting for his mule to call again. If only he knew, he smiled to himself.

He continued to stare at the dot on the screen.

* * *

They made it back to the creek with no surprises along the way. It had been a tense ride, and Kingsley felt relieved as they approached Igor’s Bend. For him the hard part of the journey was over, except for his ride back through the jungle.

“Looks like we’re home free, King,” his friend echoed what was on his mind.

“Looks that way. I couldn’t have done any of this if not for you, Oge. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Just don’t forget my share once you’ve made your sale.”

“You have my word on that,” Kinsley reassured him. “Believe me, you have my word.”

His friend brought his boat alongside the creek bank and Kingsley jumped out onto dry land; the van was still there waiting for him. His friend assisted him in moving the duffel bags and shook hands with him once again.

“Take care with that stuff you’re carrying,” Oge said to him.

“I will. You’ll be hearing from me.”

They said their goodbyes before his friend pulled his boat back into the creek and headed for home. Kingsley heard the boat grumble away as he picked up the bags one after the other, moving them toward the back of the van. He positioned his torch and unzipped each bag to stare at its contents.

The first bag was laden with AK-47 assault rifles, Swedish-made by the looks of them, each wrapped in tight cellophane nylon. He took one out, tore off the plastic wrapping, and ran his hand over its framework. It brought back memories as he held it, feeling his finger curl around its trigger guard. He counted fifteen inside. Not bad. The second contained plastic-wrapped Heckler and Koch MP 5 rifles, twenty in number. The third bag contained five cartons of ammunition for either weapon. He zipped the bags back and laid them in the back of the van. He turned on the Thuraya phone and dialed Lionel’s number.

“What’s up?”

“I’ve got the goods,” he said.

“That’s good. You’ll be getting in touch with your opposite, right?”

“I will.”

“You do that, then.”

The line went dead.

Kingsley switched on his cell phone and got Sammy’s number from it, then dialed it on the Thuraya. It took three tries before the call went through. Sammy’s gruff voice answered hello at the other end.

“Sammy, it’s me, King.”

“King! Was expecting to hear from you. Any good news?”

“Good news. I’ve got what you need.”

“Tell me.”

“Fifteen AKs and twenty-five H&K with ammo.”

“I’m going to need more than that, King. But it’ll do for now.”

“Where do I meet you?”

“You recall the abandoned gas station my boys left you at the other morning?”

“No, I was too dazed to remember where it was.”

“Where are you right now?”

“Igor Creek’s Bend.”

“Hmmm, give me a minute. Hold the line.”

Sammy took two minutes before returning to him.

“Just checked my map. You’re not far from the station. When you get onto the main road, drive for another five miles, and you’ll find the gas station on your left. When you get there, call my number and my boys will come and get you. I trust you’ll be alone?”

“No one here but me.”

“I’ll be expecting you then.” The call ended.

Kingsley closed the van’s back doors then got into the driver’s seat. He switched off both phones before starting the car. The sound of the van’s engine broke the silence in the meadow. He couldn’t wait to be back on the main road.

* * *

Toji found no comfort in falling asleep. Even with his eyes still open, his body ringing with tiredness, he bore the notion that the world had spun twice on its axis in the last twenty-four hours, and he was the lone human being on the planet who took actual note of it.

He was in the kitchen of his small apartment, stirring a cup of tea, still wearing his work clothes with his tie loosened and shirt buttons undone. He felt reluctant to undress and go wash off in the bathroom. A hot shower would do him a lot of good, he knew this, but he reckoned a hot shower would do nothing but cloud his current state of mind. For now, he required every cell in his brain to remain alert. It was too early for him to shut down just yet.

He pulled out a chair, sat by his kitchen table, and drank his tea. He winced at the taste—he’d added more sugar than necessary. What the hell, it was still tea. His gun in its holster as well as his notebook and cell phone lay on the table before him. He had tried Kingsley’s number but still no luck. He saw his investigation outlined before his eyes and couldn’t stop going over every known fact and figure in his mind, cross-referencing them with whatever assumption of piece of missing puzzle his mind could conjure. A sharp arrow pointed at the mystery Brit: What was he up to, and what amount of hold did he have on his suspect? And why him?

Frustrated, he drained his tea and washed the cup in the sink. He had just finished rinsing it when his phone started ringing. He dried his hands quickly before picking it up. The time was 1:51 A.M.

“Hello?”

“Good morning, sir. This is Frank Odim, the intern you met at—”

“Yes, yes, Frank, I remember you. Any word yet?”

The doctor’s voice sounded grave. “Yes, sir. We finished less than ten minutes ago. I’m afraid I have bad news.”

“Oh, no,” Toji muttered. His hand found his chair and he lowered himself on it. With the phone in one hand, his other pressed against his temple, he listened to the doctor’s words without interrupting, wishing the night would end suddenly and take him along with it.

* * *

Kingsley came out of the dirt road an hour later and barked harsh laughter that sounded like joy as the front tires of the van came upon the tarred asphalt of the main road. He turned right and continued driving. Rest assured, he knew it was going to be a smooth ride until he got to his next stop. Whatever was bound to happen after Sammy’s boys got hold of the weapons, he couldn’t foresee.

He came upon the abandoned gas station on the left shoulder of the inbound lane. The structure was as it was the last time he’d seen it with hardly any noticeable change. He drove into the station’s courtyard and turned off his headlights and engine and sat there with both hands on the wheel, waiting. Everything was quiet and still. He switched on the Thuraya and called Sammy to let him know he’d arrived before switching it off and dropped the phone on the passenger seat. The weight of sleep hit him with a vengeance. Kingsley reclined his seat backwards and let the sleep claim him.

He wasn’t aware when they came for him. He had dozed off and was too weak and disoriented to fight back when the van’s doors came open and a pair of hands pulled him out of his seat. Kingsley would have fallen on his face if they hadn’t held him—there were two of them. They propelled him toward the back of the van without a word and opened the back doors. One of them dropped a cowl over his head and tied it behind his neck. They held his arms behind his back, and like before, bound his wrists; he offered no resistance. They shoved him inside the van and made him lie on the floor beside the duffel bags. Kingsley heard the van’s doors slam back and heard the lock turn. He listened to the sound of their feet coming around to the front and heard both front doors open and then slam shut. Someone started the van’s engine, and the vehicle jerked forward as they drove off.

The cowl’s fabric stank of sweat and pressed against his face each time he breathed though it. Kingsley half raised himself and wiggled his body against the bag pressing at his left shoulder, searching for a suitable means to rest his head, even as the van kept jostling him around. The fatigue that was upon him was so great, he allowed it to drag him to sleep again.

 

The Rabbit’s Man (Excerpt 1)

images

My mission to the States was to see about getting this novel into the hands of an agent. Unfortunately that didn’t work out. Seven years the manuscript has laid dormant in my folder. This here is a short excerpt from THE RABBIT’S MAN.

It’s an espionage/thriller, the story of a Nigerian businessman fighting against a past he’s never been freed from when a British spy enters his life with a proposal that’s definite to shatter his world. It’s a combination of Graham Green’s ‘Our Man in Havana‘, and John LeCarre’s ‘The Talior of Panama‘.

And by the way, for anyone reading this excerpt, the content is fiction, but the story is very real. Google ‘Nigerian Militants‘ if you think I’m lying!

* * * * *

It was hours after midnight when the six men set off for their mission. Dressed in jungle fatigues, they moved in two dinghies, three to a boat. Their paddles sliced through the dark, swampy water as they moved farther along the near-pitch darkness of the river. Two men paddled in each boat while the third manned the front with an AK-47 assault rifle resting across a thigh.

Their leader, Bartholomew, a rugged, cold individual, crouched in front of the first boat, peering ahead. They passed several fishing boats and villages along the way, but the inhabitants were all indoors and asleep; no one took notice of them. Bartholomew thanked his luck. This was his mission from the start—one he knew he’d been destined to carry out. He’d personally hand-picked his men for the raid. They were tough, brutal, and merciless. They were all willing to go the distance with him toward shedding of blood, which was the purpose of this mission. Every man in his unit was sworn in blood to protect their land from being ridden into extinction by rapacious foreigners and conniving oil profiteers, the ones under the umbrella of the government responsible for raping their land. All other militant army groups had folded to the government’s laws and pressures, or fallen victim to their own capriciousness, but not them, the United Niger-Delta Brigade. Tonight, their action will justify to the world their unwillingness to cower from taking back what was theirs.

They came to the end of the brackish river, which opened into the expanse of the Bonny Estuary. Federal gunboats do patrol the area, but the decrease in militant activity since the previous year, when the government negotiated an armistice with the last remnants of militant rebels, had slackened their effort to the point of it being almost nonexistent. Budgetary cuts, too, had helped worsened their malaise. Bartholomew and his men took comfort in this; their attack would be a shocking surprise the likes of which no one would expect.

They followed the route of the tide, and three miles ahead entered an upstream river channel. They sighted their target—an oil jetty station, one of several located thirty miles from the city. The station stood on a wide concrete berth close to the river’s edge, a suitable location for small merchant ships coming from offshore oil production fields at Obudu, Ofon, and Amenam to unload their consignments—drilling rod pipes, cargo containers and generator equipments—before proceeding inbound toward Cape City or the shipyards located at Amadi Base. The nearest federal military base was stationed at Bonny—eighteen miles from the jetty—but the militants had the timing of their mission well set. It would take the authorities an hour or more to gather enough soldiers to respond to any threat occurring at this hour.

Bartholomew burned with raw hatred at the government, and everything it represented. All the years of growing up and watching his people being forced and beaten from their indigenous homestead to make way for the foreign companies to come and siphon their oil with them not having a say in the matter, of being chased by the navy gunboats, hiding whenever they sabotaged any oil pipelines with pittance effect had fueled within him the urgent call of taking the war to their enemy’s backyard, wanting them and the public to know what it feels to be afraid. He was confident he and his men would be gone before the military even showed up.

Bartholomew’s attention was focused on the large building situated twenty feet from the berth. From where he stood, he could make out a lone guard patrolling behind the wire-meshed gate of the compound; there were supposed to be two of them. He and his men had studied stolen blueprints of the building and knew where every office and door led, including the number of guards in the compound. Their target were some expatriate engineers residing in the building who had arrived two days prior to inspect some imported fuel pumps.

The militants hunkered in their boats as they approached the quay.

The lead boat came alongside the bushy coastline, away from the jetty’s bright lights. Bartholomew signaled his men to get ready. Each man appraised his weapon and flicked off the safety.

The six militants of the United Niger-Delta Brigade alighted and crept up the soggy ground until their feet touched dry land. They hid from the bright roving lights and scrambled across the concrete front of the quay, toward the east section of the complex. They were on enemy territory now. There was the distant throbbing sound of working generators that powered the complex building; everything else was quiet. Bartholomew led his men around the side of the compound toward the front gate where he had earlier spotted one of the patrolling guards. The gate was electrified; this they knew about already. They hid behind an embankment situated next to the compound and waited.

Bartholomew gave one of his men his assault rifle and took off his fatigue jacket and pants, which hid a blue coverall similar to one of any regular night-shift worker stationed at the jetty. He approached the gate and hissed at the lone patrol guard to catch his attention.

“Hey there, my man,” he lowered his voice as he called out in pidgin. The guard stopped and looked in his direction, his rifle slung behind his shoulder. He bore no alarm at seeing him. Bartholomew produced a hand-rolled cigarette from his coverall’s hip pocket. “How you dey manage? Me, I just dey fall in for night shift. Abeg, you fit assist me with lighter or matches?”

The guard seemed to contemplate for a moment then came forward, muttering under his breath. Bartholomew saw fatigue in the guard’s demeanor, no sign of being suspicious as to his presence, and knew he wouldn’t be a problem. The guard got to the gate and unearthed a set of keys to unlock it. Bartholomew entered the compound, still holding his cigarette in front of him, while his other hand held a pistol with a silencer behind his back. The guard was checking his pockets for a lighter and didn’t see the gun pointed at him. Bartholomew shot him twice. Aside from the dull phut–phut cough of the silencer, the only other sound was that of the guard grunting before falling to the ground dead; his lighter clattered beside his leg. Bartholomew scooped the guard up by his armpits, his eyes darting everywhere as he dumped the body inside the empty security house beside the gate. He glanced around, making sure he was in the clear before waving his men over. He shut the gate after his men hurried inside the compound and took back his assault rifle.

Niger Delta Militants setraco

A cobbled pathway led to the three-floor company building; three white trucks were parked beside the front entrance. Bartholomew and his men huddled behind one of them. He could see through the glass-fronted door of the building into the lobby; there weren’t any guards positioned there. He sent two of his men to scout around the building for the other patrolling guard. They returned two minutes later and reported no sight of him.

Bartholomew decided to chance it. He and his men approached the front door of the building’s lobby, and he held it open for his men to slip inside. Past the lobby was a wide corridor with numerous offices, all of which would be locked and deserted. A center stairwell led to the second and third floor; the nightshift workers were quartered on the second, while the expatriates on the third. Lambs gathered together, waiting to be slaughtered.

“It’s time, my brothers. Time to make our people proud.” Bartholomew whispered to his men.

The six-man team divided. Bartholomew took two of his men and signaled the other three to take care of the nightshift workers. He crept up the stairs leading to the third floor with his men trailing behind, cradling their weapons.

The sound of gun fire coming from the second floor was instantaneous, sounding like exploding firecrackers, and reverberated around the building. Bartholomew and his men had just stepped off the stairs onto the third floor landing when a door down the left corridor opened and one of the expatriate engineers—a middle-aged Briton who’d been finding it hard to fall asleep—stepped out wearing a shirt and a pair of briefs. He was the first to see the armed militants and only had time to mutter “Dear God” in shock, before catching a hail of bullets fired from Bartholomew’s assault rifle.

The bullets tore through the Briton’s torso and limbs like a razor. The force of the bullets threw him against the far wall before falling to the ground.

Another door opened just as Bartholomew and his men rushed forward, their hearts beating with adrenaline and excitement as one by one, they emptied their magazine rounds at the engineers.

An alarm sounded as Bartholomew took one last look at the other dead corpses his men had killed, lying sprawled on their beds. He and his men returned to the second floor, leaving behind a scene of death. The second floor bore similar deathly scene as the one upstairs. They met with their other colleagues and trooped down the stairs together.

The second guard whom the militants had failed to spot, having sounded off the building’s alarm, entered the building doorway with his rifle drawn, afraid. One of Bartholomew’s men racing down the stairs saw him in time and opened fire. The guard screamed aloud as bullets tore into his flesh, some of it shattering the glass doorway. The guard crumpled to the ground and Bartholomew and his men raced past him out of the building. They ran down the quay toward the direction they had come. They jumped into their boats and started paddling back the way they had come. The sound of the alarm grew fainter, so too the sight of the jetty.

An hour later after they’d gotten lost in one of the tributary rivers and were safe on dry land, Bartholomew slapped his men’s shoulders, congratulating them on a job well done. They laughed and joked about their kill. They had accomplished what no militant group had dare attempt before—murder a group of foreigners. He could just picture the headlines once news of their action become known to the world in the morning.