October 17, 2014 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
He needed to get out of there quickly and without waiting for the salesboy to come back, he turned and walked out the door. Now, he just needed to walk out of the market, so that his racing heart would calm down. He took one step while straining his ear to hear if there was any sign that the salesboy had noticed his abrupt departure. Nothing. He took the second step and still nothing. He took the third step and nothing still. Just as he was about to breathe a sigh of relief, it happened.
“Hey … you, stop there!!! Stop that guy.” Someone was screaming behind him.
He increased the pace of his steps and still attempted to maintain an air of innocence. A hand grabbed the collar of his shirt. “Did you not hear them calling you” the voice that belonged to the hand asked.
He said a quick prayer as he turned, “No. I didn’t hear anyone calling me.”
“Okay. We are going back to the store where you just came out of Thief.” He spat out the last word with contempt.
“I did not do anything.” He protested.
Giving him a quick shove from behind, a newcomer to the altercation propelled him toward the store he just left.
“What did you say he took?” the voice that belonged to the hand that was still gripping his collar asked the young salesboy as they stood in front of the store.
This time, it was not just his forehead sweating. His palms were becoming moist too. Wiping them on his trousers, he tried to maintain his cool.
“The toy soldier set that was on top of this shelf is gone and it disappeared right after he came in” the sales boy wailed. “My Oga will kill me if I don’t find it.”
He started to fervently deny taking the toy, but he knew that it was all in vain. They were already searching his bag and he knew what they would find in there.
“Chei!!!” the person searching the bag shouted “It is in here. The toy soldier set is in here.” He held it up triumphantly as he shouted hoping to attract more attention.
“Please lower your voice” he pleaded with the jubilant searcher.
“Shut up your dirty mouth you thief” the voice that belonged to the hand on his collar shouted as he punched him in the head.
The pain seared through his brain as he tried to keep from crying out. “Please” he managed to say through the haze of pain. “Let us settle this amicably.”
“Settle what amicably? You know what happens to thieves, right?” A voice he did not recognize asked from beside him.
The mob was beginning to converge and with each new person, someone began to narrate the story of how he came to a shop with just a small salesboy and stole a toy soldier set.
“Tufiakwa” some would spit out.
Others shouted “Ole!!! Thief!!!” And with the shouts came more spectators.
When the story had been told over and over again, the crowd decided to parade him through the market like a prized goat for other people to gawk at. As he passed the stores, people stretched out their hands to slap him or stretched out one foot to land a resounding kick. They were heading towards the clearing in the entrance to the market where even more spectators would assemble to witness the show.
He was barely able to keep his balance because various hands kept shoving him forward as he gradually made his way to the clearing. With a final shove, he was sprawled in the middle of the clearing. Planks, sticks, rods, and pipes materialized as though they had been conjured from thin air. The plank landed on his head as he lifted his hands to shield the blow he saw coming. The rod kissed his torso. He didn’t know if the sound he heard was that of his rib cracking. Groaning, he writhed on the floor.
“Why is he not screaming?” A voice asked.
“Beat him some more” another voice added.
“Give me that stick. I am going to teach him a lesson” a voice called from the back.
This time, the beating rained down on him. The sticks were connecting with his legs, hands, stomach, back, face. Anything that was visible was fair game. If he turned on his stomach to prevent his face from being ravaged, his back cried for mercy. If he turned on his back, his face wailed for some reprieve.
He felt the blood oozing from his head, down his forehead, into his eyes, and down his cheeks. He believed he was crying blood, but mercy was not forthcoming. Wiping the blood from his eyes, he peered up at the faces above him. The women had a look straddling horror and fascination. Their eyes lit up each time a blow landed, and dimmed each time the stick withdrew with a smear of blood on it. The men were agitated and screaming, “Hit him harder. Kill him.”
His mouth had been split, and as he tried to call out to anyone, the blood that had pooled in his mouth choked him. Was he going to drown in his own blood? Raising his body on his elbow, he spat the blood on the ground beside him. The force of the plank that connected to his back sent him sprawling to the ground again.
“Mommy, they are hurting that man” a child’s voice whined.
Looking up to search for the owner of the voice, he eyes instead connected with that of a police man standing in one corner watching the events unfold. He had the look of utter confusion in his eyes. The crowd was too much for him to control and if he was not careful, he will find himself lying next to the young man in a pool of his own blood.
“Help me” he tried to mouth to the officer, but the officer looked away.
He was lying motionless on the ground now. His head had been cracked open and the contents steadily oozed unto the ground. He could no longer feel the weapons connecting with his body, but he could still make out the voices.
“What happened?” the new voices inquired.
“He tried to kidnap a 16 year old sales boy.”
“No. He is a ritualist that has been pretending to be mad.”
“I think he is a cultist.”
“That’s a lie. He is a 419er. I was there.” Some voice declared authoritatively.
“Shut up! You were not there when it occurred. He is one of those unnatural men. Abomination!”
He felt his cracked head emptying all its contents unto the ground. Feeling his mortality draining out of him, he tried to move his hand to stem the flow, but his hand would not obey his command. He must have succeeded in twitching his hand because he heard a voice scream, “He is not dead yet. His hand is still moving.”
That was the last thing he heard before the darkness overcame him due to the fresh wave of beating that enveloped him.