The Brand of Cain, Episode 19

 
“I came across that file when I was cleaning the bedroom.”
“When was that?”
“About a year ago, it says in there that on March13, 1978, Cain was admitted in an asylum in Yaba.”
“Christ!” Richard felt a jolt down his spine. He tried to visualize Cain spending some years in a sanitarium, talking to imaginary people and eating flies. He wondered if driving an insane employer hither and yon could subject him to lose his own sanity too.
“In 1983, he was discharged as completely healed. That was when he was twenty-seven years old.”
“Oh—then what are you still doing with a certified lunatic for crying out loud?” he cried out loud.
“Where do you expect me to go?” she demanded sharply, “I’m all alone; I have no family, nobody. Besides, I would be digging my own grave if I tried to leave him.”
“You don’t have much choice now, do you? He’s going to kill you anyway, even if you stay.”
“You don’t know that for sure. There’s nowhere I can go that he won’t know. I think he has employed a private eye to watch everywhere I go. Every time I drive out, I feel that he’s one step behind me—like a guilty conscience he follows me about. There’s nowhere to go.”
“We can go to—”
“We?” she cast an inquiring look at Richard who carried a silly expression on his face. “Richie, are you suddenly using the royal plural pronoun?”
“Um—well,” he spread his hands and looked away frowning, when he looked at Abigail, worry lines had wrinkled his face.
“For how long will Cain be staying in Abuja?”
“Three days, he will land at the airport on Thursday afternoon.”
Richard became more worried.
“What’s wrong, Rich?”
Richard looked at Abigail pathetically, “I’m afraid when Cain returns something horrible is going to happen.”
Then he looked suddenly determined.
“But don’t worry, Abigail. I promise no harm will come to you. Everything will be under control. Even if it takes the last thing I will ever do.”
“My hero.” Abigail said solemnly.
Eze Chima came in, “Madam, is everything all right?” he glared at Richard, “Why did you drive in like that?”
Richard glared back at him, “Like what, old man?”
“Like a maniac.”
The driver clenched his hands into a fist and advanced towards the gatekeeper. “Keep a civil tongue in your mouth, old man! Or I keep them for you.”
“Richard!” Abigail lashed at him, “What came over you? This man is old enough to be your grandfather. Are you insane?”
“Leave him, madam. Let him show his stunt, I’m not as feeble as he may be thinking I am.”
“Apologise right now, Richard!” she commanded.
Richard unclenched his fist and said, “I’m sorry, sir. That was very rude of me, please forgive me. I didn’t know what really came over me. It must have been the stress.”
Eze Chima smiled, “It’s okay, I shouldn’t have spoken in such a tone to you either.” He turned to Abigail, “Is everything okay here, madam?”
“Everything is fine,” she replied, “We were only discussing the obvious.”
“I was worried.”
“All’s fine. You can go.”
The gatekeeper left.
“I must have lost my head in anger. I almost beat up that man.”
Abigail smiled, “How are you sure you can beat him in a fight?”
“That old man? Come on, Abigail, give unto me a break.”
“He’s an ex-soldier. He fought in the Civil War in 1968. Believe ye me, he would break your bones.”
“You didn’t tell me that before.”
And truly, if Richard had heard about the old gatekeeper’s ordeals in the final battle of the Civil War in the year 1970, he would have kowtowed before Eze. For the old gatekeeper was one of the bravest soldiers in his own time.
 
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About fifty yards ahead of the twenty-one year old Eze, one of the leading tanks was burning, a soldier’s body sprawled across the hatch, the right arm dangling down towards the main turret, his helmeted head spattered with blood. Another tank, to his left, lurched to a crazy standstill as a shell shattered the left-side track; four men jumped down and sprinted back towards the comparative safety of the boundless, anonymous sands behind them.
The noise of the battle was deafening as shrapnel soared and whistled and plunged and dealt its death amidst the thick forest and the scorching sun. Men shouted and pleaded and ran—and died; some blessed swiftly in an instantaneous annihilation, others lingeringly as they lay mortally wounded on the bloody ground. Yet, others burned to death inside their tanks as the twisted metal of the hatches jammed or shot up limbs could find no final desperate leverage.
Then it was the turn of the tank immediately to his right—two officers leaped down from it, one clutching his arm which had been blown off from the elbow downward, and they just managed to race clear before the tank exploded into blinding flame. Eze and the two officers had struggled only some forty yards before flinging themselves down as another shell kicked up the sand just ahead of them, spewing its steel fragment in a shower of jagged metal. And when Eze finally looked up, he found the one-armed soldier dead; a lump of twisted metal embedded in his lower back.
He and the other soldier got up at the same time and began running; they had seen some of the enemies running towards them and shooting blindly. Eze ran like he had never done before, his partner was also a great runner; keeping a regular and even pace behind him. Eze could feel a wheeze as a bullet shot past his head—an inch closer and his head would be splattered on the ground; he ran faster. The two soldiers could simultaneously see a huge rock some few metres before them, and they were both running like hell towards it. They were almost a few steps before reaching their fortress when Eze saw that his partner had been shot. A small geyser of blood erupted from his neck. He staggered forward several yards, like a sprinter who had crossed the finish line. Then he collapsed to the ground. He had been struck in the lower outside part of his neck, near his right shoulder. Eze Chima could not leave him lying there; he bent over the collapsed soldier and dragged him behind the rock. Then the enemies stopped running towards them, they stood away and continued shooting at the huge rock; the bullets ricocheting to different directions.
Eze cradled the soldier’s head, applying pressure with both hands to the pulsing wound on the back of the neck, desperately trying to staunch the flow. The pressure was not working. Eze felt his uniform becoming warm and wet, and he realized what was wrong. There was an exit wound at the front of the soldier’s neck, perilously near the larynx, from which bright arterial blood was gushing. The soldier was trying to talk but it came out as a whisper.
“Wh-what is your name?”
“Eze Chima.”
The wounded soldier smiled, “I’m Uche. I like being a soldier I am—but I hate wars.”
“Me too.”
Then Uche’s face concocted into that of agony. “I-I feel pain.”
“You will be okay, trust me.”
“I’ll kill those bastards.” He whispered. He wanted to shout but he could only manage a low rasp, loud enough for Eze to hear “Leave me.”
“No, you’ve been hit, you can’t fight them.”
Eze tried to hold him but the wounded one jerked his body away from him. He grabbed his gun and crawled out from behind the rock. He crawled a few feet and then used his arm to raise himself. Immediately, a blast hit his midriff, slamming him to the ground. His abdomen had been torn apart. Recovery was out of the question. For the moment, the enemies’ shooting range was focused on the dying soldier; they were busy disfiguring him with series of bullets. Eze took advantage of the opportunity and bolted; he didn’t want to be trapped behind the rock and then get killed. The enemies would surely not be standing forever waiting for him to come out of his hiding. He ran farther into the thick forest with a speed he didn’t know he possessed. Eze Chima was more satisfied being in the forest than in the open, he could hide anywhere in the forest and never be seen. He could even live in the forest better than most animals.
He was on the run when he met another enemy, they seemed to be everywhere. Eze had always been known by his fellow soldiers to be extremely fast with his weapons, and before the enemy could raise his gun, Eze had shot him as swiftly as he had seen him. The enemy had died instantly but Eze continued firing at him with the stance of a soldier firing at a person who could no more return fire, but whose continued appearance was itself a dire menace. When he stopped firing, the enemy’s gut had been burst open and a small saliva bubble mixed with blood had formed at his lips. Then immediately behind him, another enemy appeared, and in fear, Eze fired blindly, shooting all the bullets in his cylinder. The man staggered backward, making an odd gurgling sound; one of the bullets had pierced his throat, which exploded in a gush of arterial blood. Eze walked slowly towards the dead man, he wiped the tears in his eyes as he saw the dead soldier. They had shot Uche too in the neck, and he, Eze, had paid them back the same way. He was tired and he sat by the dead enemy; he leaned against a tree and closed his eyes.
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