The Brand of Cain, Episode 17

By Larry Sun
                                                      
                                                           SEVEN
The sky was black, just like a coven of witches’ cauldron; there was no trace of any white or blue cloud in the firmament. He was in the middle of an ancient cemetery; most of the graves around him were open. There were different shapes and sizes of skeletons in each hole; termites, cockroaches, worms and millipedes seeking solace in brainless skulls and eyeless sockets. He shouted with all his might but he could not hear himself, neither could the vultures perched on mahogany branches ready to devour the little rotten pieces of fleshes and sinews remaining on some corpses. It was as if he had entered a weird conduit between the land of the living and that of the dead. The yard was as silent as every grave should be. One tomb appeared before him. It came from nowhere; he knew it was not there before. Fear took hold of his heart when he read the name carved on it—Abigail! It was also uncovered. It can’t be, no. it can’t. He moved closer towards the grave, expecting to see rats eating up her bowels and worms wriggling from the staring eyes of her corpse. Ten steps left, six, four, and one. He looked into the grave—a sudden loud sound began all over the grave yard, it was so loud that he had to cover his ears with his hands.
Richard woke up cold-skinned, sweating and gasping. His first impulse was to scream like a little girl but he repressed the urge in time. He felt his body and looked at his surroundings to be sure it was only a nightmare and nothing more. The alarm clock by his bedside had evidently rescued him from the bad dream because it was still shrilling. It was 6.35am. Just like every other people who had had a senseless dream like his, Richard began at once to forget about it. Half of it was gone by the time he stood up from the bed; three-quarters of it by the time he finished taking his bath and began to towel off; all of it by the time he finished his breakfast of a loaf of bread that tasted like a roll of tissue paper.
Richard dressed up and went to the garage. He was to drive his boss to the airport; Cain would be catching the early flight to Abuja where he would spend three days. Richard resumed his daily job of checking the car for any fault; he checked the fuel gauge, the filter, the gear, brakes—everything was perfect. He sat in the car to wait for Cain to come out. At exactly half an hour later, Cain came out of the building with a briefcase dangling under his left arm. Cain got in the car and ordered Richard to drive.
On the way to the airport, Richard noticed his boss was unusually quiet. He had known his boss a choleric, prissy-mouthed, mannerless old cow who always complained about anything and anybody. Richard’s mind became restless; Cain’s silence meant something very bad was coming.
“Richard.” Cain called from behind. Richard hesitated a moment before answering.                 “Yes-sir?”
“Do you read Shakespeare?” asked Cain plainly.
Richard was taken aback. The last question he expected Cain to ask was the one concerning the Bard of Avon.
“I’ve read some of his books, sir.”
“Name them.”
Richard paused again before replying. “Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Romeo—”
Cain cut him short, “Wasn’t he a phenomenal writer?”
Richard could not reply, the strangest thing was happening and Richard was particularly lost. The traffic control system flashed red and Richard stepped on the brake. Cain waited for Richard to drive before resuming his speech.
“Have you read Othello, Richard?”  He could not answer.
“Answer me, Richard. Have you read Othello?”
“Yes, sir. I read it a long time ago.”
“Do you remember its casts?”
“Some of them.”
“Give me the names you can recall.”
“Iago, Desdemona, Roderigo, Emilia.”
“Othello was written between 1602 and 1604 and was first published eighteen years later—1622.” He paused and asked, “You remember Desdemona, don’t you?”
“The wife.”
“Let me refresh your memory about Othello. The plot of the story revolved around four distinct characters; Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Cassio. In summary, Othello killed his wife, Desdemona, because he was made to believe by Iago that she was unfaithful to him. He believed Cassio was bedding his wife.” He paused, and then went on, “Cassio himself was also injured, Desdemona was murdered and Othello committed suicide—all because of a handkerchief. See the disaster a simple handkerchief can cause. Othello found his wife’s handkerchief with Cassio and murdered Desdemona because he suspected her of infidelity.”
Richard was feeling uncomfortable. This man is trying to drive at something. Murphy’s Law is in action: Whatever can possibly go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible degree. The next question almost paralyzed Richard.
“Richard, how did your handkerchief get to my wife?”
He felt as if his world had just come to an end. The handkerchief, oh my God!
Richard had given his handkerchief to Abigail when she was crying and he had not remembered to collect it back from her. How could I have been so careless? Richard was the only person in the house who used a brown handkerchief, and Cain recognized it. Richard opened his mouth to speak but no word could emerge.
What am I going to say now? He thought, Will I tell him that his wife only spent about two hours in my room discussing all his atrocities and I offered her my handkerchief because she was crying? The idea sounded silly and insane to even Richard himself. He remembered all what Abigail had told him about this man, that he was a devil; a wolf that could kill without batting an eye. Sweat broke out of Richard’s forehead.
“I told you that you would get into trouble with me one day, did I not?” Cain’s voice was cold, “I know that bitch came into your room at about eleven yesterday evening and left some minutes past twelve.”
“She came to–to–” he could not find the right word to say.
“To satisfy your sexual urge?” Cain asked sharply. “You’ve got a zipper and something’s behind it, isn’t it?”
“Stop that, sir!” Richard roared. He stamped his foot on the brake viciously; the car slumped forward suddenly before stopping. His eyes were glistening with sweat and his eyes were becoming red from anger and fear.
“Now, what are you going to do now? Kill me?” he laughed. “It’s not as easy as that, young man.” He paused for a moment before asking, “Do you like games, Richard? I like playing games. I challenge you to a game of survival, let’s see who wins.”
Cain grinned wickedly, showing a mouthful of yellowed teeth, it seemed like there were a thousand teeth in that mouth. “I have a plane to catch; I don’t want to be late, okay?”
As though he was under a spell, Richard started the car and continued driving. He could feel it within him. The game had started
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It had been exactly four weeks and three days since Richard had left his mother to live with the Martins. After dropping Cain at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Richard decided to check on his mother. Having reached the destination, he parked the jeep and got out, he looked around; the environment had not changed a bit. By his left, Richard looked with horror-filled eyes at a rooster mating a duck. Sacrilege! He picked up a stone and hurled it at them. Jesus! He thought, what type of eggs will the duck lay? His mother lived in the same street she had lived in for the past twenty years—a street of drab houses devoid of any kind of beauty or interest.
As he walked on, there was a group of spindly-legged little girls in front of an almost dilapidated building holding hands and dancing to the repeated chant:

                                                Who’s in the garden?
                                                A little fine girl,
                                                Can I come and see her?
                                                No, no, no, no…
As Richard continued walking, he spotted a big and dirty-looking black dog sleeping in the shade of the veranda of the building opposite his mother’s. As much as Richard liked animals, he had always feared dogs who grew way taller than the height of his knees from the ground, and he had never tried to move close to any. He crossed to the other side of the road, part of him was waiting for another large retriever to lumber around the corner of the structure adjacent to his mother’s, with teeth bared, just looking for a plump leg to bite. However, no animal or person came forward to greet or attack him. A hen and half dozen chicks scratched in the dirt nearby. Before he reached his mother’s abode, a very bent old woman limped out from a very bent old building from which some children had run out from moments earlier. She used a walking stick to support her gait and stomped after the little devils giving unsolicited advice to passers-by, most of it very wise. She was chasing the troublesome kids from her house and trying to wave her stick and threatening beatings even the children knew would never be administered.
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Thanks for reading our story. Watch out for the next episode.
 
Photo credit: DeviantArt

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