Tobechi, story
Mazi Tobechi Obinwanne

You are sleeping in your quiet neighborhood at 2:30 a.m. You are about to experience what you do not wish upon your enemies.

A few hours ago, before the end of the previous day, you had tucked your two kids into their beds with the love of a father. You kissed their foreheads and said a little prayer for them, a ritual you are already used to. Bimpe, your lovely wife, had earlier in the day, complained to your friend, Dr. Segun, about some nasal congestion. The young doc had administered some drugs that knocked her out. You walked back to your bed from the kids’ room. You stared at her beautiful face and relished the beauty of the woman who means everything to you. You remembered the sacrifices she made for the family when you lost your job as a banker. In those dark days of yours, before you got your current job as the head of the accounts department at an oil and gas firm, she had bought everything in the house including the underwear you had worn, yet she never grumbled or spoke condescendingly.

About ten years ago, when you had told your mother, Iye, that Bimpe was the one that you had decided to marry, she had objected on the grounds that she was not from your tribe but your Uncle John, who is a retired school headmaster of the only primary school in your village, had assured her that Bimpe is a good lady and would make an excellent daughter-in-law, wife and mother. He had also said that parents should allow their children to marry anyone whom they decide to marry, regardless of their tribe or race, as the world had become a global village. Iye would have none of that. She had drawn up for you, a list of all the ethnicities that she knew, except for yours and had warned you not to pick a wife from any of the ethnicities on that list. You remember how your mother had agreed to your decision to marry Bimpe only after she had offered to donate one of her kidneys to your dad who had been in dire need of a kidney transplant shortly before he passed on. Iye’s eyes had unleashed tears when she heard you tell her of Bimpe’s decision to offer her husband, your father, her kidney, after her own children and every other family member had declined to do so. Tears had poured down her sullen face like the spring in your village, whose water torrents raged ferociously down the hill and into the valley. You had told yourself that you would lay down your life in exchange for hers, if the situation presented itself. She had smiled back at you as though she could hear your thoughts in her sleep. You then kissed her face before you fell into the night’s rest.

You hear loud bangs on the gate that rudely jolt you out of your sleep. You think it is Peter, your undergraduate nephew, who is wont to keeping late nights out, and whom you had threatened with many unpleasant words three days earlier. You get out of bed, cursing beneath your breath, with a multitude of unimaginable things you intend to do to the nitwit, running through your imagination. The night’s cold would not deter you from getting out of the bed as you throw your body into a pair of boxers and pull a shirt over your upper body. Then it hits you; your nephew had travelled to Accra, the previous morning, to spend the remainder of his vacation with his mother, your sister, Esther. You are tempted to think the visitors are your neighbour’s guests or perhaps your neighbour has come home late and drunk and his wife has refused to open the gate but again you remind yourself that your neighbour is a pastor who has never stayed outside his home beyond 7p.m, since he got married ten months earlier and that he is not wont to entertaining visitors beyond 9p.m. You remember how he had talked to you to stop drinking palm wine and how you had used the scriptures to try and convince him that drinking palm wine was good for the stomach. The gate shakes more vigorously and the banging, louder with each strike. You are tempted to shout from your window and ask who it is but you caution yourself against courting such an attention. You suspect who they are, but your fright won’t let you admit it. Then you start to look around for your phones and a sudden power outage worsens your predicament. You run your hands across the bed and across the dressing mirror in search of your phones and finally locate them in the darkness.

Then you realize that the intruders are now within your compound.

Loud thuds that are shaking the building are impacting on it somewhere, but you are not sure, where.

You are finally able to reach your friend, the Divisional Police Officer of the local Police Station about two kilometers away from your home. He laughs boisterously as he picks your call and calls you by your popular nickname. He had been your classmate in the university but had opted to join the police force after job hunting for four years, post graduation from the university, without being able to get a job in the corporate world as an accountant. You struggle with coherence as you try to explain your predicament. He listens patiently. When you are done talking, he calmly tells you that they had no ammo for their weapons and that they had no fuel for their cars. The phone line cuts. You are not sure that he hung up. You think that it is a network glitch. You try calling back but you hear the robot response across the line, “the number you are calling is not available at the moment please try again later.”
You hear one more thud accompanied by sounds like the crumbling of bricks and cement blocks. You are sure that a part of the building has collapsed.

You listen carefully. You then realize that all the noise is coming from the pastor’s apartment. You heave a momentary sigh of relief. You hear the pastor’s voice shout, “I am a pa…” But his voice is drowned by the sounds of fists pounding flesh and bones. In the midst of all the noise, you can hear a voice echoing repeatedly, “wey the money?” You hear the cry laden pleas of his wife saying, “we don’t have any money, please don’t kill my husband.”

Fists continue to pound flesh and you hear the pastor’s wife letting out a wild scream and the pastor shouting, “please leave my wife and take everything that we have! Please don’t…”
“Spread her legs,” a voice thunders above the entire din.
A bell rings in your head. “Bimpe! My children!”

You are suddenly no longer interested in what is happening at the pastor’s house. You are too scared to imagine what the pastor was suffering and what was making his wife scream as though she was wishing death upon herself. You are only imagining that in a couple of moments it will be your turn and that of your beautiful Bimpe. You cannot imagine the trauma your wife and your children are about to experience.

You rush to the children’s room and carry off the two kids into the kitchen store. Your eyes had become accustomed to the poorly lit house with the moon’s rays peering through the windows to provide some poor illumination. Despite the kids’ protestations, you beg them to keep quiet as you hide them in an empty cupboard. They can hear so much noise coming from the apartment next door and they can see that you are frightened too. So, they cooperate quietly.

Bimpe is still fast asleep. You wake her up. She can hear the noise and senses your confusion. She is frightened and confused too. She asks, “Sweet, what is happening?”
“I don’t know, just follow me.”

You obviously do not have time for stories. She obeys you without any more questions. Apparently, the sleep in her eyes have disappeared. She is too scared to engage you in a discussion. You take her to what should have been your visitor’s toilet but had been converted to a tool store. You motion to her to be quiet as she crouches into a concealed space in a corner. She whispers, “what about the kids?” You whisper to her that they are safe. She believes you and declines to probe further.

You had run out of options of who to call for help as Mazi Okafor, the occupant of the duplex in the next compound had refused to pick your calls. You had not maintained a good relationship with the folks in your neighbourhood. You had not been on talking terms with anyone of them except Mazi Okafor, the industrialist. It was not that you had any misunderstanding with any of them, but you had often considered them too lowly for you to stoop and build any relationship with them, despite haven lived in the neighbourhood for six years. You had often told yourself that associating with folks in the neighbourhood would diminish your social status. Yet when Bimpe had asked you to explain how associating with people you think of as not being as wealthy as you are reduces your person in any way, all you could mutter in response were some incoherent gibberish that neither made sense to you nor to her. To make your present condition worse, you do not have any of their phone numbers.

Perhaps if Mazi Okafor would pick his phone and alert his security guards, you might be rescued. You are crouched beneath a table in the kitchen and your mind dwells on what you had told Mazi about his security guards. You recall how you had ridiculed him about hiring security guards from the Niger Republic. You are reflecting on how you had tried to convince him that his security guards could be Boko Haram spies and as result, he and the entire neighbourhood were unsafe with their presence. You had regaled him with fictional stories of how they could slaughter him and his entire family in their sleep before turning their diabolic craft on the rest of the residential layout. Mazi’s tales of his over twenty years of history with the men and how they were no different from his family, instead, drew more ridicule from you. Something tells you that you were merely being xenophobic but you shrug off the thought.

The pastor’s wife has stopped screaming but you can hear her sobbing heavily.
The thuds on the walls have begun again and this time, you are sure that they are on your wall. The violence shakes of each thud makes you believe that the building will collapse even before they break through your wall.

Emboldened, you decide to take your chances. You quietly open the backdoor at the kitchen. You insert a key into one of the rusty padlocks of the burglary proof’s gate and it refuses to open. You hold up the key to the moonlight so as to reassure yourself that you are holding the right key. It is the right key but its refusal to open the padlock is heightening your state of panic. Finally, you hear the click sound as the padlock opens and you heave a sigh of relief. You had peed in your boxers as you struggled with that key and its padlock but you had been too tensed to notice.

As you quietly unhook the second of the two padlocks and step out of the house, you hear the sound of a rifle’s cock. The words, “if you move,” keep your feet glued to the ground. You turn your head and the beam of light from a torch blinds your vision. Your heart is beating so fast and loud that you can feel and hear each heart beat.

You obediently lead some shuffling footsteps into the house. They flash their torches around your house as though in search of something. The thuds on your wall have stopped.

Electric power comes on and the light bulbs come on instantly. You cast a quick glance at the faces. You see about five rifle wielding teenagers and four other unarmed teens. You are alarmed. A heavy slap lands on your face. A combination of blows and kicks force you to the ground. You have the urge to fight back but you know that the result would be fatal.
“So you wan see our face abi? You go die today. Oya wey the money? Bring all your money! We go kill you if you no cooperate.” The blows continue to rain like an unending tropical rainfall in June.

“Don’t kill me, I will cooperate. I will…” A blow to your jaw stops you from talking. You can taste blood in your mouth with multiple body pains all over your frame. But the fear of getting killed outweighs and overshadows the pains you feel. A tall lanky teen pulls you up by the collar of your shirt and calmly tells you to take them to the money.

You lead them to your room and hand them the fifty thousand naira you keep in the house for emergency purposes.

Multiple fists crash instantly on your head and a voice echoes repeatedly, “na all the money be this?”

“I no get another money!” You shout repeatedly.

The strike of a rifle butt on your head sends you reeling across the floor. The pain is intense but the fright that you now feel won’t give you the opportunity to access the degree of the injury. You know that your head has been cut open because you can feel the taste of blood in your mouth.

“Oya wey your MTN card?”

You pull out your wallet from beneath your pillow. You open the wallet to hand them your ATM cards. They grab the wallet from your hands and empty the contents unto the floor. Ten hundred dollar bills fall out of the wallet.

Another round of beating starts. “Athink you say na all the money you give us; oya wey the remaining money dey?”

The beating continues despite your pleadings. The tall lanky fellow says, “kill him.” You hear the sound of a rifle cock. You turn, and a lad, slowly placing his finger on a trigger, is pointing a shotgun at your head.

Something tells you that in the next second you would be dead. Your thoughts quickly flash through your entire life. You have not been a saint all through your life. The low moments are the moments that taunt your memory. You recall how you had taunted your peers and smaller students while growing up. Your thoughts dwell on the kids you had enjoyed bullying. You remember the kid you and your friends had beaten up because you felt he was a sissy. You recall the Ghanaian student you had often mocked because his accent was different from yours and the rest of the other students. Your mind drifts to how you had not been comfortable with people of a certain ethnicity working as security guards while you had been the human resources manager of a bank. You had deemed them a security risk in your thinking and had recommended all the people of that ethnic nationality who worked as security men in the entire bank for sack. You blame your life of ethnic bias and sometimes hate on your mother. You try to convince yourself that she is the one who sowed the seed of bigotry in you. Then another thought tells you that it was no fault of hers because everything that you did and everything that you did not do were a function of your own decision and indecision and not hers. You silently pray for another opportunity to have a go at life and undo all the wrongs that you ever did.

Bimpe lets out a loud scream, and rushes out of her hiding into the room. You and the robbers are startled. A shot rings out. You believe that you had been shot and you expect that your body would soon be lifeless. A split second passes and you are still alive and do not feel the pain from a gunshot. You then realize that instead, it is the asbestos ceiling that had been shot at as fragments of the ceiling and dust were falling on your body and those of the young men. Bimpe’s cry had shocked the young fellow just as he was squeezing the trigger and had caused him to point the gun’s barrel at the ceiling instead.

A slap slams Bimpe’s head against the wall. You watch as she falls to the ground. She gets into a crouch and turns away her face as she receives her own beating. Everyone’s attention is on Bimpe. After a series of multiple kicks and punches, the lanky fellow asks you slowly, “who again dey the house?”

“Bros, na only we two dey; abeg nor kill us,” you say, as tears make their way down your face like a seasonal river after a heavy rainfall.

The butt of a rifle crashes on your head again as the lanky fellow tears Bimpe’s clothes off her body. Three of the lads pin you to the ground and another presses the nuzzle of a rifle against your head. You try to struggle as you watch four other young lads wrestle your struggling wife to the ground.

They are attempting to rip off her underwear but she is a hard fighter; perhaps, a harder fighter than you are. You think you hear a whistle. The boys pause and listen. Then they all stop and rush out of the room, leaving behind, all that you had given them and an almost nude Bimpe.

You hear gun shots. You hear screams. You have no idea of what is going on. You crawl over to a weeping Bimpe. You both embrace each other and cry together. You are silently thanking God that they did not succeed in raping her. But for her, the physical assault and the ripping off of her clothes are enough violation.

Bimpe puts on some clothes as you step out of the room.

Mazi Okafor’s security guards walk into your sitting room, pointing their rifles menacingly. You fall to your knees immediately before you even realize who they are.

Mazi Okafor, enters the room with a machete in hand and asks if you and your family are ok. You simply nod in the affirmative as Mazi explains to you that he and his guards had killed five of the boys and captured four.

You are filled with so much gratitude to Mazi and his guards from Niger Republic.

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