They’d had a wonderful time at Barbies 2.0, a favourite hangout at Ita-Merin, usually frequented by modest boys who wanted to spoil their girlfriends, the yahoo-yahoo internet fraudsters and the rich kids. Barbies had become the favourite spot for students of Olabisi Onabanjo University, rivalled only by Belle, another joint about 500 metres away.
Timi couldn’t wait to celebrate their anniversary which was still a good nine months away so he decided that they’d toast to new beginnings on the day that marked one year since they met. One year during which he was made to chase after a girl who made the others he’s had pale in comparison. One year since they met at the Motion Ground on campus.
Jessica had just finished taking some new photographs that morning and was rifling through the old photos in the photographer’s stall, looking for the ones she’d taken a week ago. She loved taking photographs that much; sometimes Timi had to say his battery was low just so he wouldn’t indulge in selfies with her. Sometimes he won; most times he lost both his battery and the anti-selfie battle.
When Timi saw his photograph with Jessica that day, she didn’t just go through it and continue searching for her pictures. She lingered and only lifted her eyes ten seconds later when Timi said, “You really admire your future boyfriend in the picture. I bet he’ll let you keep it if you ask nicely.”
Jessica looked from Timi to the picture and back to him before realising that she was indeed staring at the dude in the picture, all six-foot-plus-something of him. His remarkable jawline stood out and the way he pursed his lips as he spoke made her dislike the cockiness in him. But there was softness in his eyes, a certain glint of kindness that belied his physique and it wasn’t something she’d miss. So what if he’s a cocky, kind asshole? Not to be outdone, she shoved the picture back into the pile and continued searching for hers, offering a two-word comeback with a chuckle as she did, “You wish.”
Good. This one didn’t know who he was. Or she knew and was still defiant. In any case, he liked that. He was not just intrigued by her beauty but by her quick wit and calm as she dismissed him. So he waited, and when she was done searching for her picture, he picked out his own from the pile, ran after her and still asked her to keep it. Jessica simply smiled as she took the picture and disappeared into the new Management Sciences building.
Good. Now he knew where she received her lecture.
They met again at the same building three weeks later. She sure was hard to find and he’d asked around for a while, wondering how such a girl would be so difficult to pinpoint. He was walking by on his way to the AA lecture theatre when he saw her. This time around, he made sure he got her number and dialed it to be sure it wasn’t fake, so she wouldn’t slip away again.
And she didn’t. But it didn’t mean he had her. Yet.
They got closer and she finally found out who he was – what he was. Hidden within the calm, wit and humour was the stone cold leader of the Fearsome Seven, one of the deadliest cult groups in school. At first she couldn’t reconcile the charming, intelligent Timi with even the lowliest Seven foot soldier. But she figured it out – his going off radar when violent clashes occurred, his selectivity for surroundings and some other clues. It was true. He was. He is.
So Jessica put her foot down. She was so much in love with him already but she swore to ‘zone’ him if he didn’t quit.
“Nobody quits Jessica. You only appear to quit when you leave school or you really quit when you die.”
“You will quit, Timi. Find a way. You’re their Number 1. You always find a way. If you don’t then it only means you’ve found a way to lose what you say you really want while holding on to what you never wanted in the first place. I’m not afraid to say that I love you, but I’m not afraid to walk away either. It would hurt but I’ll live with knowing I did the right thing. Leaving the Seven isn’t only for me, but for your own good as well!”
Timi knew she was right. He never really wanted to be in the Seven but they recruited the smartest as well as the strongest with subtle persuasion as well as force and intimidation; creating a deadly mix of brains and brawn in the clan. He rose through the ranks and despite some dissent within and became their leader in the first semester of their final year. Now it was time to leave.
This wasn’t something he could wriggle out of; Jessica meant every word she said.
He called James ‘Jamie the Viper’ Beckenawei, his Number 2 and told him he wanted out. It wasn’t going to be easy because it had never been done before but Viper agreed after a lot of lobbying. It wasn’t cool but it was done.
And their celebration that night was both an acknowledgment of his new lease of life as well as their ‘epic’ moment. He was free. She was finally with him. Nothing else mattered.
After dinner, they got into the car he borrowed from his roommate so he could drive her home. But a student’s car is never to be trusted and a few streets from Jessica’s hall, the car broke down.
They weren’t far off, they would walk. Nothing was going to spoil the wonderful moment they’d just had, not even a broken down car.
But there was something. Sometimes fate takes the most inopportune moments to suck the joy out of people.
As they approached Jessica’s hall, seven burly figures emerged from the shadows.
They knew where he’d been. They knew he was coming. They’d been waiting.
Timi could tell from the scarves around their necks that they were from his clan but he couldn’t recognise them because they were wearing masks. He hailed them. They replied but he knew something was up; the boys never wore masks if they weren’t out to score.
Oh Viper you bloody son of a gun! Fucking bastard knew I could take three or four down easy.
But it wasn’t Viper. His former right-hand man had washed his hands off like Pilate did Jesus. Nobody leaves. Leaving the clan made Viper look weak and the mutineers felt a lesson had to be taught. Forgiveness is a sin.
“Okay guys, I know you’re here to serve a beating. But I won’t make it easy for you; that much I owe myself.” Timi said before turning to Jessica to tell her what she really needed to hear.
As she ran without looking back, the goons – his former goons – took off their masks. No, this wasn’t just a beating but a death sentence. No clan member leaves his face open if there’s going to be a witness. There were four clan members who never liked him and three members he couldn’t recognise – fledglings.
“So this is how it’s going to be? I bet you aren’t following Viper’s orders so you’re gonna kill me and make him think the Scorpions did it. Then you’ll finally have the war I’ve stopped you from having for a while. You better be sure that I’m dead when this is all over tonight. You better be sure…”
He didn’t finish before they attacked.
When Jessica returned with her neighbours, they found six bloodied bodies scattered across the street. They couldn’t make out whether they were alive or dead at first but some faint groans caught their attention. Two of the men were still alive, calling for help; three others were even more messed up. They weren’t moving; the remaining two goons weren’t on the scene, suggesting that they weren’t badly wounded. Timi was found farther off from the rest in a pool of blood; his skull had been bashed in from the left side of his head. He wasn’t moving as well. Jessica screamed as she threw herself on the floor and gathered him into her arms checking for any sign of life.
There was no pulse. He wasn’t breathing too. Timi was gone and there was no stopping the piercing wail of anguish that Jessica let out as she realised this.
The police arrived with an ambulance in tow and proceeded with cleaning up the bodies. Timi and the three other bodies were zipped in bags and carried off to the morgue in the police wagon; the other two injured were carried off in the ambulance to the general hospital.
At the morgue, the coroner examined the bodies and shook his head; this was one brutal fight. Throats and ribs have been crushed and cut; noses broken in such a way that splinters would have been sent up into the brain and there were multiple stab wounds on some bodies. Timi’s head was still bleeding and the coroner wondered why, there was no pulse and his body temperature was zero – he was toast. There was no need to cut anyone up that night and he’ll only do so if the police came over.
All done, the coroner instructed his assistants to put the bodies inside the ‘fridge’. The fridge an assistant would open about four hours later because he heard faint thuds from within.
It was Timi.
Time slows down when you’re healing. You want to get over your issues quickly and move on. Time can be both a blessing and a curse; when you’re healing in the flesh, it can be frustrating to wait; to see the holes fill with flesh and the bones mend. And even after waiting, scars remain. What’s worse, time doesn’t seem to close the deepest wounds of the heart.
It took one year for Timi to be discharged from the hospital. His parents wanted every form of therapy done abroad so he was flown there as soon as he was healthy enough. They mourned in public but rejoiced in private that their only son was alive. To everyone else, he was dead – even Jessica. Dead people aren’t hunted, tracked or killed and as funny as it might sound, for those who want to live when their life is in danger, death is safe.
After a week at home, Timi headed back to school to see Jessica. People wouldn’t readily recognise him because he wasn’t expected to be alive but he still took extra precaution. Wearing a baseball hat pulled down to cover his face; he stepped out of the car and went to the block of self-contained rooms where Jessica lived. When he got to her door, Timi took a deep breath and knocked, raising his finger to his lips as soon as Jessica opened the door.
Jessica was shocked, but the joy that flooded her was so much more. She leapt into his arms, buried her face in his neck and sobbed quietly.
They talked about everything and anything that happened while he was gone. His friends had rallied impressively; Jamie called often, for weeks he swore he had nothing to do with Timi’s death. She believed him but she wasn’t ready so say anything about her loss or why it happened. She didn’t want to. Still, James kept calling once in a while to see if anyone was bothering her or if she needed anything. Jessica needed to grieve, and she did for months – sometimes with a smile on her face. She had basically shut everyone out when he was gone and buried her head in school work. She was a year behind him so she was now in her finals. Still it was very painful that they had lost a year of each other. But it didn’t matter; nothing mattered. He was there with her, now.
The next morning, Jessica saw Timi off to his car. He couldn’t stay around for long without anyone discovering at some point and it wasn’t time yet. As he started the car to leave, he heard a knock on the window on the passenger’s side. It was Jessica so he wound down.
“One year away and some things still haven’t changed about you, Timi. You’ve got something on your mind and I know it. You won’t move on easily and there’s something you feel a need to do but you don’t know how I’m going to react so you kept quiet.”
Timi locked his gaze with hers for a bit and sighed. He wasn’t shocked that she sniffed him out. He was shocked at the calm, level tone with which she spoke when he knew she was burning from the inside.
“I know, I understand. You renounced your membership of the clan, Timi; but some came after you. You showed that you were better, you chose me. You chose love and life over death and violence and they took one year away from us. They almost took everything from me…”
At this point, He knew exactly what she meant.
“There’s three down, four to go. It’s time to finish this circle. Go get them.”