The Wrong Prey (Excerpts)

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

Jide woke up before his alarm had the chance to ring. Whenever he’s bothered by anything like he had been for days, his alarm didn’t stand a chance. Nonetheless, he always leaves it set to wake him up. It had become a routine. The alarm application in his phone had been programmed to wake him up at 5.00 a.m. every morning.

On days when he didn’t have to leave home early, he wakes up and turns the alarm off, before going back to sleep. That to him was much easier than turning it off before bed only to have to set it on again before going to bed the next time he would need it to wake him up, which is usually the next day.

He sat up on his bed and swung his feet off the bed to rest on the floor. He sat with his back hunched over a little and his hands planted on the mattress on both sides of him. For about two minutes, he remained in that position as he waited for the last hold of sleep’s claws on him to fade away. He yawned without bothering to cover his mouth.

When he felt he was wide awake enough, he slipped onto his knees as he turned to face his bed. He managed this in one swift motion without much effort as he closed his eyes to say his prayers. He began by thanking God for seeing him through the night, and then for a new day and also for his family. For every sin he had committed he asked for forgiveness. Then, he committed his journey to his hometown to see his sick mother into God’s hands. He prayed for his mother’s health and for her recovery before he thanked God in advance for a safe journey. His prayers lasted for some five minutes.

His mother’s health was heavy on his mind. It had been the major thing on his mind for the past three days since she had been admitted to the hospital. He had gotten more worried since the day before when one of his siblings had told him there had been no improvement in her condition. He had made hurried plans to return to his hometown to see her. For over a year, he had not been to his hometown. So for him to decide to make the journey, meant he was worried sick, and scared too.

He got up and walked a few feet away from his bed. He stood in the middle of the space which was some seven and a half feet long on the longest side which is parallel to his bed, and some four feet on the shorter part. Just to the side of the short part was a pair of double windows over which a light white curtain with flower designs hung.

He balanced himself on the front part of his feet as he began his morning exercise ritual which begins with stretching to get his blood flowing. When he was done he went down to the floor, and stretched himself on the floor supported on the flat of his hands with the fingers bent inwards almost facing each other and on the tip of his toes.

He let his body move downwards with his face almost touching the floor. Supported by the muscles in his arms especially his biceps and triceps, he remained lying almost parallel to the floor for some four seconds before he pushed himself back up, and began pushing himself up and down at a slow pace like he was a heavy mechanical being whose engine parts were made up of cogs fitted into each other to manage movement.

When he was done pushing himself up at that slow pace for twenty push-ups. He picked up speed. At the fiftieth push-up he stopped counting. He relied instead on the pain from his arms and the middle of his chest to let him know when they won’t be able to take anymore.

Feeling his strength fading, he continued until he knew there was just one more push-up left in him at that moment in time. He let himself go down and then with every strength left in his arms and upper body, he pushed himself back up in near slow motion. It took about two and a half seconds, but it felt like an hour with the pain tearing through his biceps, triceps and chest muscles.

He was sweating and feeling very warm when he got up. He walked over to his bed and sat down on it with his chest moving up and down like it was moving in time to a fast paced song. His arms felt like they were on fire.

Five minutes later, having rested enough, he got up and assumed the posture of a boxer. He took a deep breath and started shadow boxing. He worked on his left jabs and then a right-hand swing. Two jabs and then a big fore hand, dodged an imaginary punch to his left and then to his right followed by two quick jabs and then an upper-cut. He alternated the routine one after the other for the next five minutes.

He switched to quick punching, just attacking an invisible enemy in front of him with quick punches from both arms. This lasted for less than two minutes. This worked up his sweat faster than anything else. When he stopped, sweat was pouring down from every pore in his body.

He wanted to add some leg exercises to his routine which included squats alternated with kicking exercises, but there was no time. He needed to be at the transport company where he had booked a ticket online the day before by 6.30 a.m. and it was almost 5.30 a.m. His journey to the transport company would take between twenty and thirty minutes.

He made his way to the bathroom where he gave himself a good scrubbing from his extra-hard sponge. Ten minutes later, he stepped out of the bathroom feeling refreshed and ready for his day long journey. With his bags packed the day before, he was ready in six minutes. In another two minutes, he was out through the door. He shut the door and locked it. He placed the key in the right front pocket of his jean trousers and headed for the gate.

Outside the compound, he spent less than two minutes waiting at the gate, before he found a commercial motorcycle which took him to the junction of the middle-class estate where he lived. From there he grabbed a government run commercial bus which he got less than a minute and a half after he arrived.

The bus would have made the journey in less than twenty minutes, but it stopped to pick up passengers along the way at both official and non-official bus stops. He arrived at the transport company which was located along the road in thirty-five minutes.

He dropped and made his way into the compound. The compound was already crowded at that early hour with people like himself who were headed for locations which are half-way across the large country. He headed for one of the offices in front of which crowds of people were gathered. The office was in a building in which an opening like a small window was cut into its side outside of which customers gathered to be attended to.

He managed to force himself to the front with lots of “Excuse me please”, “Sorry,”. At the front, he waited for two persons, a lady and a young man to speak to the lady manning the counter which was secured off from the outside with iron bars.

“Good morning,” he greeted the lady behind the counter when it got to his turn.

“Good morning,” she replied. “How can I help you?”

“I booked for my journey online… yesterday.”

“Can I see the e-ticket sent to your email, please?”

He opened his email on his phone and located the message. “Here it is,” he said handing it to her.

She took it and typed out a code from the e-ticket into the computer in front of her and printed out a ticket which contained the number of the bus he would be travelling on and his seat number. She handed it with his phone back to him.

“Thank you,” he told her.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “Next.”

He located one of the staff of the transport company and showed him his ticket asking where the bus was parked. The man pointed him in the direction. He thanked him and headed for the bus, a ten-seater. Five other persons were already seated. He greeted them. He located his seat number and sat down to wait for the other passengers.

It took some thirty minutes for the bus to get filled, and another ten minutes before they left the park. The bus spent the next one hour navigating its way through the city’s early morning traffic. The traffic eased off when they got to the outskirts of the city. That was where the driver stepped on the accelerator and their journey started indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

The first part of the journey took three hours. They could have done it in two hours, but for the number of roadblocks mounted by security forces and agencies. The police, the army, the road safety officials, vehicle inspection agencies including the local traffic agencies caused them to travel much slower than they would have done if they weren’t on the road.

The security on the country’s highways had been beefed up due to the high rate of terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery and inter-ethnic and inter-religious violence which had gripped the country. Every part of the country was dealing with either one, some, most, or all of the listed forms of violence and disturbances. The high-handedness of the security agencies and forces were also causing the citizens additional worries.

Most citizens believe they are under one form of siege or the other. Most don’t trust the security forces, especially the police. Too many citizens have one story or the other to tell about their experiences with the police. Those whose cities, towns or villages had seen violence which made the government deploy the army to keep the peace, also have unpleasant stories to tell about the high-handedness of both security forces.

Jide who was once a police officer, knew firsthand what most citizens spoke about. He more than most, because he had refused to get his hands soiled when he was posted to a police station where corruption was rife. He had stood his ground to follow the law in all the cases he could. That caused most of his fellow officers to turn against him.

One of the police officers at the police division where he was last posted to with whom he was friends because he had helped him on several occasions called him and told him his colleagues in that station didn’t like him. He also told him some had evil plans for him. The police officer, advised him to get himself transferred if he could, or he would come to great harm.

He had thanked the officer and assured him he wasn’t going to say anything to anyone about what he told him. But the revelation opened his eyes. For the first time, he noticed tiny little details which he had been overlooking, like the way they looked at him and treated him. He noticed they avoided him and when they couldn’t, the tone of voice with which they spoke to him. It was clear they were not happy with him. Most times he felt like there was a bull’s eye attached to his back and chest. Whenever they go out on patrol, he was scared they would harm him.

Things got dangerous during an incident in which they were called to stop an ongoing armed robbery operation. He had gone in the company of four other police officers amongst which he was the most senior ranking. Two of the officers had refused to go, telling him they were not feeling fine, while the other two said there wasn’t enough ammunition to confront whatever armed robbers they were being called to stop.

Truly, they had just some fifty rounds of ammunition between them, but they were due for supply from the state command by that weekend. But it wouldn’t be strange if it didn’t come because they had missed supply dates before. He insisted they should go no matter what because it was their job. If they were scared, how did they think the people calling them for help felt? He had asked them.

When they got to the location of the armed robbery, they ran into an ambush where two of the policemen died. After the armed robbers escaped, two of the surviving policemen turned on him. One shot at him in anger, but missed. He shot back in self-defence and hit him in the chest. The policeman later died in a hospital, and he was arrested.

When his case came before the police service disciplinary unit for an in-house trial, he was dismissed. It could have been worse because he knew his fellow officers and some senior ranking officers wanted him to go to jail for life, even though they all knew he had fired in self-defence.

It was one of his former bosses, now a commissioner for police who had pulled strings within the force to have him dismissed instead. He had been grateful because if he hadn’t interfered, he would still be in jail. It would have been worse for his family because he was the sole bread winner for his family.

He had picked up his life and gone into business. He was doing fairly well now, though he wasn’t guaranteed of making half of what he earned per month when he worked with the police. Sometimes he made more, but most times he made less. Though, he was confident things would get better with time.

The bus made two stops along the way for the passengers to get refreshments and stretch their legs. The first was around 12.00 p.m. They made the second stop at around 4.00 p.m. At both stops they spent about thirty minutes each time.

When it was 5.30 p.m. they got to the town where he would have to drop and continue his journey on another vehicle. This part of the journey was always frustrating because it involved leaving a very comfortable bus with a functioning air conditioner, good roads and swapping all of that for a rickety bus, or in most cases a cab which had no air conditioner, as well as for a road filled with potholes.

During the dry seasons, the roads would be so dusty developing catarrh was normal; and during the rainy seasons vehicles would break down more often than not because of the water-filled potholes which meant he would end up getting wet and dirty before he got to his family home.

But he had no choice because none of the big road transport companies run a direct line to his home town which is kind of big and populated by more than two million people. It didn’t make business sense for them because the town didn’t have enough passengers making the journey on a regular basis to justify direct transportation from other major cities across the country.

Minutes after he disembarked from the bus he found a vehicle going to his hometown. It was a saloon car. He was the third passenger which meant they needed just one more passenger. A passenger would seat in front next to the driver and three behind them. It took about thirty minutes for that final passenger to come.

It took another ten minutes for the driver to collect the fares and search for change for those he needed to give change to. He spent another five minutes settling the men managing the open air motor park before they set off. The driver spent the first five minutes of the journey complaining about the men who were managing the park whom he called crooks. He also called them thieves, lazy and many other words associated with criminals.

When no one said anything or showed any interest in his complaints, he fell silent and everyone slid into their thoughts in peace. For the next half an hour or more, the journey was uneventful except for the many potholes they had to deal with and the resulting jarring shocks they got due to the vehicle’s weak shock absorbers.

They were at the period where the dry season was about to end. During this period, it rained once or twice in a week, even though it was still the dry season. The roads were dry, but the dust wasn’t as much as during the middle of the dry season because rain had fallen a couple of days before.

The heat was another major factor which made the journey more uncomfortable and because he had been travelling all day he was tired. This less than ideal stretch of his journey, the roads, the heat, and the dust made him desperate to see the end of the journey.

At around 6:30 p.m. they ran into a checkpoint on the best stretch of the road. He always used the beginning of that stretch of the road as a marker. It tells him he was getting close to his destination. The roadblock was manned by men of the police, or so it seemed.

Nothing seemed out of place with the policemen from what he could see at first glance. They were armed and the one closest to him didn’t have a name tag. That wasn’t very unusual from experience, and he wasn’t bothered. He had stopped getting involved whenever the police stopped any vehicle he’s travelling in. He didn’t plan for this one to be different. Usually they collect money from the drivers, and they let them go. He believed this time wouldn’t be different.

The policeman in front asked the driver to stop, and he stopped in the middle of the road. He was ordered to leave the road and park by the side of the road. Nothing was wrong with that. It was standard practice not to stop vehicles where they blocked the road, because it prevented them from getting run into by another speeding vehicle from behind.

He was looking at his phone to see if there were network bars, so he could call his brother to find out how their mother was doing. To his disappointment there was just the last bar. He thought of stepping down from the vehicle and walking around to see if he could get a better reception, or maybe he should just wait to see if it improves along the way when they continued the journey.

Jide looked up just in time to see the nearest policeman look up and down the road like he was afraid someone would come along to spoil whatever plans he had. He glanced at the others close by, and they all looked tensed. Before he could process what was going on, two of the policemen pointed weapons at the vehicle while the others maintained a look out.

“Get out of the car. All of you,” one of the policemen barked at them.

They were all either too shocked to act, or too shocked to obey the orders being barked at them.

“I said come out. Now! All of you, before I open fire,” the policeman barked again.

One of the other policemen grabbed the driver’s door and pulled it open. He grabbed the scared driver and pulled him down forcing him to lie on the ground face down. Next he grabbed the back door, pulled it open and grabbed the first passenger sitting on that side out.

Still confused about what was happening, Jide opened the door on the other side and stepped out of the vehicle. One of the policemen pointed his weapon at him. He raised his hands to show him he posed no threat. He was ordered to move around the vehicle to where the others had been made to lie on the ground face down.

“What’s going on, officer?” he asked as he went down on his knees.

“Don’t ask me questions,” one of the policemen said and slapped him across the face cutting his lip.

He spat out spittle mixed with blood from his bleeding lips. “But I didn’t do anything, officer.”

This time he was ignored.

For the first time he noticed several things which were out of place. First, none of them had identifiable name tags on their uniforms, or anything else through which they could be identified. Second, two of them were putting on black sneakers. The third thing was, their vehicle which was parked on the opposite side of the road had no number plate.

“You can’t just treat us this way, when we’ve done nothing wrong,” he complained.

“You’re still talking?” one of them asked.

“But I have the right…” he managed to say just before something hard hit him behind the head where his vertebra column entered his skull. He felt himself lose control as he fell forward. In his eyes, it felt like he was falling in slow motion. He hit the ground hard. Before he slipped into unconsciousness, he heard the voices of the other passengers as they cried out in fear.