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‘E for Me’ by Walse Tyoden

Everyone in the know knows I am, as far as killing goes, the best in the business. Of the number – to my credit – of buckets kicked by especially the locals I’ve, understandably, lost count. I hated, though, that I was at first considered a racist. Not anymore. Not after I disabused the believers, overstepping my operational strongholds to polish off several white folks in places to which they reckoned I’d be hard-pressed to go.

Would you know, I come from a family of murderers. Maybe not the first, but the only one arguably of its kind. How many families do you know of that exist solely so others may not? It’s the paradox of my life that that term – family – which, humanly speaking, is scarcely emblematic of things baleful (no prizes for excepting Mafiosi) has, in my case, basically deathly connotations.  And believe me when I say doing the deed runs in the family – there’s one in every one they say but sheep of the darker hue preponderate in mine, a minority the white breed without lethal propensities. Hard to explain how it comes naturally to us, that insensate capacity to leave such pain, sorrow, in our wake. Almost like it runs in our blood. You could be forgiven for thinking it gives us a rush merely to hear it uttered – blood. Now that’s a word that counts for a lot in the scheme of things.

I haven’t done badly for myself, given that I was a late bloomer. Definitely I wouldn’t compare to uncle; he’s been around, been to a great many more countries than I have (therein wanted in connection with the grim expiration of a multitudinous diversity). Known the world over, his fame conduced to his long, four-worded name – owing to its being acronymised – being ubiquitously verbalised in one syllable – you might as well pluralise the handout on which much of one continent has shamelessly freeloaded.

Me, I was christened after this river in Congo. Three-syllable monikers are somewhat a mouthful – why’s Jonathan sliced to Jon, Timothy to Tim, Pamela to Pam, do you think? – and ipso facto I’d readily swap with uncle. Or even my far-off cousin in the Americas, Zika. He was off to a promising start. As yet not a killer, but given the fearsome reputation he’s garnered at so young an age – from his trademark disfigurement of even those of so young an age – I’d wager on a prosperous future. There’s no reason why he’d not make the pantheon. In the eyes of not a few he was already a hall-of-famer. Not all of my kin can claim to have had such a storied career. 

Actually the nomenclature thing isn’t a major bother. Not that – like Shakespeare pontificating on a rose – names made much of a difference to me. Some might argue – for all the morphological disparity – about the sameness of homosexuality and sodomy, but I’ve never gleaned the distinction between a prostitute and a commercial sex worker. Its indispensability aside, would you refrain from imbibing it because somebody (a quite respectable somebody, too) told you water is called faeces – spelt phisis (orthographic particularity permitting of course) – in some exotic language?

The deed is the thing. What matters. Over and beyond the five-letter tag of a river.  It’s the real reason for the renown, for what comes to mind when one’s mentioned. That would be – as with others of my ilk – fear. That of God, Lord knows, I’ve put into people. So much so some keep from any mention of me altogether. Superstitious: speaking my name is tantamount to inviting my scourge. I wasn’t to pass on their lips, like Voldemort in the Harry Potter chronicles. In this non-fiction circumstance however, I found it a little hard to fathom. Intimidating, I concur, I could be; never did I think so… well… unspeakably.

The year of our Lord 2014 was a banner year, 2015 a vintage year. I may not have his kind of numbers, but I’d leave uncle in the dust if it came to who’s speedier at slaying. While vanity’s not my thing, I’m – as to the velocity of dispatch – oddly unable to disown my competence as a breathtaking breath-taker. Of the job’s I’ve done, Liberia’s my loftiest. A close second would be Sierra Leone. Acquitted myself decently, too, in Guinea. What can I say? Africa’s been good to me. (As unquestionably as it has to uncle – he may be off the blocks ahead of me, but at the rate I was going, there wasn’t going to be much ground to gain in a bit.)

The bodies kept me in the news – the wildfire variety – in and on all media; print, broadcast and what’s this new-fangled other everyone is on about these days? Social, I believe is the term –viral’s the one I like, my pedigree being of its provenance and all.

Such was the popularity that I could have been used, pedagogically, in kindergarten alphabet recitals. After all, is it not by that index – popularity – that words qualify for such deployment? A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat, D for Dog. E would be for me. Neither Egg nor Elephant would make the cut; in the stakes concerned they didn’t stand a chance, not in West Africa circa 2014-2015 Anno Domini. I can almost hear the infantile choir, their latent voices in mellifluous unison, going at it in gaudily painted, cartoon-walled classes. Except that – to err on the side of caution – classes emptied and stayed that way everyday for more than a year, schools – of any kind – becoming a luxury the people could not – dared not (to be exact) – afford.

Speaking of which, a lucky few – my life hasn’t been without head-scratching moments – have stumped me. My mass-murdering mentor of an uncle, I’m sure, can bear me out on this. He’s been in the game long enough to encounter these inexplicable exceptions. Yes, their names are on your hit list, yet despite your bullseye strike, they still somehow make it. No one in the industry boasts, as far as I can tell, a hundred per cent termination scorecard. There were, always will be, survivors. To that I’ve long been reconciled. Even the best of the very best must live with this so-hated fact.

Now they got these assassins after me, and it beats me why they have to be thus outfitted. It may be exoticised, but someone forgot to tell these earthlings this was no lunar terra firma on which they were walking. Either that or they were taking lungfuls of some otherworldly tare, vaulting them so stratospherically high they counted themselves on the final frontier, albeit last I checked we weren’t inhabiting any crater-strewn, weightless, zero-gravity realm. For the life of me I cannot even conceive of them in the same sentence: astronauts and Africa. Save for the commonality in an initial letter, there’s no correlating the pair whatever. Yet, however far-fetched, here were the former (on a quite intrepid campaign) in the latter – later revealed as only a sartorial approximation. In any case, they were summoned rather belatedly. Thousands had I made already to push the daisies. You’d think, as of the hundreds, they’d call them in. 

The extraneous reinforcements I can understand. Homeland security could justifiably plead the actuality of cosmic deficits. Its agents, agencies? Well, it wasn’t so much the grave sterility of their counteroffensive knowhow as their scandalous lack of basic weaponry – to say nothing of a dearth of operatives. To personnel hamstrung however, an ‘A’ for effort. Ironically unavailing.  

For not forewarning them of the overwhelming sense of absolute hopelessness that can come with the territory, takers of his oath in situ, distraught with the proficiency of yours truly, fulminated – alas, behindhand – against Hippocrates. They mightn’t, with the foreknowledge, be so wracked with the mounting failures, they squawked. Had they not known better – knowing infinitely more than the average Joe about its hazards – I bet they’d quite easily have sought dependent refuge repeatedly in that specious, if momentary, memory-eraser that was all the hot button those years in the America of the Prohibition.

But escapism needn’t be a bad thing; unless in the mistake of mistaking the likely malignant for the wholly benign (like in roughhousing a big cat like it still subsists on the milk you once fed it) and you know what they say in Africa: it’s a bad thing in even a good thing, always – excess. By such have many crossed a regrettable threshold, little knowing till they found themselves lost, sometimes irretrievably. The undoubtedly preferable obverse that is moderation, the exertion of a modicum of self-restraint (however strong the urge to the contrary), which – needless to say – stands to make for a better denouement, is the hardest thing to do sometimes in a lifetime – corroborative admission, I’d expect, can be heard from these professionals that, braving lethal risks in beleaguered sub-Saharan lands, witnessed my skill set firsthand and had the astonishing good fortune to be experiential proof.  

An addict myself the body count would appear to show me to be (not in the sense that I cannot but do what I do for kicks once some narcotic stimulant kicks in for which the world would be better if I kick the habit), as though habituated to killing as actuated by frequent seizures of insuperable bloodlust. There’s nothing, however, to it. Nothing but what it is: an impression, not fact; the old perception versus reality divergence. Far from being rudderless, I was, in fact, in maximum control. I’ll be the first to admit nonetheless that I did have a tendency to go overboard. How else did I earn my spurs in so short a while, if not by the seemingly wanton causation of losses of the kind that see the grieving living stinging, agonising inordinately; ending up, consequently, lost.

Indeed, lost cases have been known to so impact, not alone on those of the law but other practitioners as well. As it turned out, a sickening symptom of lost cases and causes was shortly to be in evidence, for agencies, in a flagrantly unconscionable (surprised I used that word?) negation of their hallowed mandate, started to flat-out turn back every case – reprehensible, true; but worthy of champagne-popping notwithstanding – on which my prints were writ large. Self-preservation I guess, as I’d begun to execute agents themselves. In these shoes you would too, if someone tried to spike your guns. What nerve these ladies and gentlemen had!

And that’s when it hit home for many within and without the kill-zones. If the protective agents and agencies could not inhibit, let alone staunch, the flow of casualties, on what then could anyone pin their hopes? Not only did they die without fail who sought their protection, the agents were themselves becoming implausible fatalities.

Not knowing from where the next hit would come and to avert collateral damage, there came from the authorities a ban on ‘gatherings in public places’. Soon enough, relatives were denying loved ones the honour of burials who had passed on. You know you’ve hit the big time, big time, when you’ve altered the very lifestyle of a people – ask my cognate contemporaries of suchlike standing: Zuckerberg (need I state the forename?), Jobs (ditto), Bill Gates (needs must) and others of our rarefied club.

As far as the majority was concerned anyhow, there was something effortlessly homicidal, even unprecedently Mephistophelian, verging on the apocalyptic, about the way I went about my business (hence the externally bolstered, pestilential offensive). To me, it was just me being me, taking everywhere with me that clinical ruthlessness, the sadistic terror of a mob enforcer.

 

*

 

‘Please,’ Domshak begs. The vertical lines on either side of his emaciated face course ceaselessly. The last time they made that selfsame descent, a good four decades ago, the tears were a five-year-old’s pain from a bee’s stinger. That pain, and its remediation, was what decided him, back then in the village where his parents still live, into settling for the illegible-squiggle cohort;  indecipherable his scribble likewise proving.

‘Help me, please Kyahar,’ cries Domshak. The stench he emits pervades every space in the room. He was only able, on hands and knees, to make it out the restroom door on his sixth attempt. With every of the previous five bids, he had to return – crawling by the third – to the  toilet bowl, pulled back, before he could make it to the door, by the dual urgency of barfing and the runs. Domshak was half-amazed he didn’t eject his intestines, with nothing left subsequently to upchuck. His shirt, drenched, rendered heavier by sweat, a burdensome weight on the body he could hold up no more, plasters to his gaunt – amazing how much weight he’d lost in a mere three weeks – torso, visible on it the flecks of blood and excreta.  

I look at him looking at his brother looking at him. I, intently; he, pleadingly; Kyahar, nervously. Both, to the nth degree, are emoting, as can be expected of men profoundly distressed: the one in earnest supplication, the other, to whom a dreadful prayer is made (hating his freshly deified status), in unenviable disorientation. Kyahar bites the knuckle of his right forefinger, an anguished grimace announcing he’s in two minds. It’s hard to tell who’s in more pain: the doubled-over supplicant, or the smarting, conflicted god, the two profusely perspiring as if it weren’t January, two days old, wintry, biting. 

If its beginnings foreshadow the days ahead, the newly birthed year – 2015 – foretells a future foredoomed. But they do not just know that, at least not Domshak. It’s something to which he was privy last year. About a week ago, when the world was marking the birth of Christ in Christmas, he heard sung on the radio a carol that spoke of Jesus the Son of God who came from the ‘Father’ as a saviour unto humanity, and irreligious though he’s been throughout his life (agnostic in adulthood), he found himself wishing his situation could benefit of this messianic munificence as his lips voiced a soundless entreaty.

‘In the name of God, Kyahar, please,’ hardly audible this time. A hopeless plea it may well be, but he makes it all the same. He well knows by now that in this corner of Africa, communal Africa, she of brotherhood fame (as opposed to the individualistic West – if at all they exist in these tropical climes, no one would think of depositing their pensioner parents in an old people’s home no matter the degree to which they are afflicted with senile dementia) and kinship muscularity, in these fifteenth and sixteenth years of the millennium, consanguinity is beginning to count for nothing. 

I smile as Kyahar walks away, the petition answered as I envisaged. Not in the affirmative. I knew he didn’t have it in him. Few ever did. Few ever do. Had he called my bluff, both he and his brother I’d have cut down. So what if I’m heartless. Hearts, after all, were not fashioned for my kind. 

But Kyahar has one, through which he’s driven a stake, deserting as he does so his grovelling older brother; and not for that fact alone is he gutted but because also it is so soon after Seyil’s – his the second in one day of two family betrayals to Domshak. Seyil’s cut deeply no doubt, but his has to be worse (at least it hurts him most). A wife she was, he’s blood. Yet deep down he can’t, himself married, gainsay fraternal affinity, all things considered, can hold no candle to spousal bonds, which were responsible for the most part for his own perfidy. Agreed, Seyil and he are all family – to Domshak – and who doesn’t know members can have varying degrees of primacy in one?

He’ll have to find some way to live henceforth with the reality that he is just like Seyil, whom he’s never liked, Seyil who physically abused his decent, pacific brother more than once with slaps to his cheek, Seyil who purposely washed in their sitting room her husband’s dirty linen (who has none?) before visiting colleagues of his (mouthing off at idiosyncrasies a bigger woman would keep to herself), Seyil who had no qualms hacking at his manhood in their kids’ presence, those inexhaustible invectives spewing from her barbed, ever fault-finding tongue. Still, all these compare insignificantly to her last act, which Kyahar himself has reenacted, in tow to boot.

It’s too late now to regret that he didn’t ignore the vibratory sensation against the upper section of his left thigh, the riff of Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature’ (a personal favourite) ringtone wafting faintly to his ear from the iPhone in his pocket. Doing that surely would have spared him the pulse-rate-doubling turmoil of a sibling’s request, made to him almost as soon as he arrived to see Domshak flopping by the lavatory door. But, really, wasn’t Domshak asking too much of them – he and Seyil?

It could be argued quite reasonably that it smacked of gross insensitivity on his part that Domshak made such a request.  Granted, it’d always been, they were aware, on his bucket list. But hadn’t events overtaken it? The present circumstances ought to dictate differently, he (of all people) should know. Why was he insisting – albeit beseechingly, bloody eyes imploring – he wanted to be taken to die watching the sunset by the city lagoon? Well-intentioned as he might be, what if the inadvertent happened? 

Much of my infamy, you see, derives from this peculiarity I have of taking out (like a missile) anyone who has even the remotest tactile association with any target I’ve locked onto. Of course there are the amplifiers, of which superstition figures prominently and of the most notable I would say this: to the degree that it can be infectious, fear itself can become a contagion.

Domshak was once an agent on my trail, until I turned the tables on him. Somehow word had got around that he was a marked man. He stopped going out – finger-pointing neighbours made it none the easier. His wife had left him that morning and now, with the kids at universities abroad, he had no one save his brother who was about to, too.

Truth be told, Seyil’s he kind of foresaw. With her the results were ever predictable. He could bet his life – tapering at the moment to a finish – that it would come to this. That much was clear from the consecutive night shifts she worked perplexedly as a police inspector at the downtown precinct recently (conveniently excusing her from sharing as much as possible the house, the room, the bed with her hubby simultaneously), from how she kept a distance between them whenever it transpired they were in the house together, tactfully withdrawing from his presence, backing away if he came too close, a retreat coming with every advance,  one step forward of his spawning two backward of hers. And that morning when she did the inevitable it was all in her eyes, her parting shot; the grave look she gave him gave him the grave news: the grave – not the six by six feet mattress on which they had lain, dreamt, made the occasional heavenly, nails-digging-into-flesh love and used for safe-keeping (secreting in the early days various denominations underneath) these past eighteen years – would this night be his resting place.  It was probably the first time in a tumultuous marriage she felt this way for him. Pity.   

After the door creaks shut behind Kyahar, I want to punch the air, an orgasmic frisson born of triumph washing over me. In spite of how many times I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen it many times, the exhilaration has never left. I should be used to this by now but, like childbirth contractions on a mother with several kids, it feels, each and every time, like the first time.

Doesn’t matter if the conquest is a bit bittersweet, seeing as I could have had two for one.  Still, it’s good enough so long as it racks up the stats in my portfolio. And it shan’t be out of place for uncle at some point to give it up for me. That he’s eluded all attempts at snuffing out his life and is, to this day, despite his exceptional rap sheet, still at large, globally (admittedly, some territories too sensitised to his modus operandi have become unfavourable for his deeds), is all I aspire to. Who’s to say WHO’s interventions would not have failed with the Bubonic Plague?

 

 

 

Walse Tyoden was the winner of the PEN/David Wong Prize, PEN Nigeria, in 2005, and the first prize winner of the maiden edition of the Nigerian Film Corporation’s annual essay competition. He lives with his wife and two children in Jos, Plateau State in Nigeria.

 

 

Image credit: syam 

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