“You were dead! Y—you are dead!” Maduka shouted. He took two steps backwards, his back hitting the cement wall that fenced his cocoyam farm.
“Well, well,” Akuko smiled and took two steps forward, standing a breath away from Maduka. He could sense Maduka’s trepidation. He could almost hear Maduka’s accelerated heartbeat. He saw the large beads of sweat forming on Maduka’s forehead and chest, and his dirty white singlet was starting to stick to his body from the perspiration. Slowly, Akuko placed his hand into the left pocket of his shorts—his shorts were still dripping wet—and brought out the sharp knife.
Maduka widened his eyes on seeing the knife. “P—please Akuko.” He stammered. “Please don’t kill me. I—I was only following orders. You know it would have been your life or my family’s. Think about my wife Uchenna and my children, biko.”
“You should have thought about Olammiri my wife and Tommiri my daughter before drugging my palm wine, tying a brick to my leg and pushing me off that boat.” Akuko responded. He reached out and grabbed Maduka by his neck, pinning him to the wall, then slowly and deliberately thrust the knife into Maduka’s chest, piercing his heart. He twisted the knife and pushed it in further, twisting continuously as Maduka writhed and spasmed and blood poured from his mouth. Akuko withdrew the knife, wiped the blood on Maduka’s singlet, then stabbed him again in the abdomen, twisting and tearing his intestines. He withdrew the knife, wiped it on the now dead man’s singlet again, and stabbed his torso repeatedly, finally stopping when he was satisfied. He let go. Maduka slid to the ground, blood trailing the wall where his back had rested. Akuko realized he was not finished. He bent down, stabbed Maduka in both eyes, and then proceeded to use Maduka’s cutlass and hoe to tear his cocoyam farm down. When he felt he had done enough damage, he walked out of the fenced land through the rusted wrought iron gate and down the dirt road leading to Umudikere village, where he planned to encounter his next victim.
It was late evening, about 10 pm when Akuko arrived Umudikere Village Square. It was deserted, as most of the traders had finished their selling for the day. However, he knew he was not late. He knew Keleamadi would be riding his bicycle past the square very soon; returning from a briefing to the Otammadu leaders of Akuko’s death. Akuko smiled his wry smile. If they wanted to kill me, they should have done a better job, he thought. It was good for Akuko that the Otammadu leaders thought him dead. It would give him the chance to surprise them when he paid them a visit next. Positioning himself in the middle of the village square, he bent down in the middle of the road, opened a large sack he had obtained on his way to Umudikere and diligently began setting his extensive trap.
Keleamadi was happy. Now that Akuko was dead, he was sure Otammadu would reward him and Maduka accordingly for their good work. He whistled his favorite tune as he rode his bicycle back from his meeting at Umugo. It was the energetic tune the drummers and flutists played during the annual Ekwensu masquerade festival. He was approaching the village square. It had been a long ride from Umudikere to Umugo where Otammadu meetings were held, but it was worth it because the Otammadu leaders sang his praise for successfully killing Akuko. All He and Maduka needed to do was sacrifice a cow each, and the riches would come pouring down. Keleamadi rode through the deserted village square when he suddenly heard a long hissing sound. Alarmed, he rummaged his trouser pockets for his hand held torchlight, turned it on and peered down to see the air flowing out of his bicycle’s back tire and a large iron nail piercing the tire where the sound came from.
“O gini bu ihe nke! What is all this?” He asked no one in particular. He was frustrated because with his tire flattened, he would have to walk the rest of the way home, and his house was about four kilometers from the square. He got off his bicycle and as his legs hit the ground, he let out a shrill scream and jumped in pain. He soon realized that it was a bad idea to jump because as soon as he landed on the ground, more iron nails dug into his feet. Standing on his toes, he wiped the tears from his face and carefully raised one leg, held the nail sticking out of the sole of his foot by its head and pulled it out. Another scream. He pulled another, raised his second leg and did same, shouting from the pain each time. Once he was done removing the nails from under his feet, he shone his torchlight to the ground and to his horror saw nails scattered all around him in every direction. Recognizing that he had ridden straight into a trap, the hairs on his back stood. Goosebumps covered his body and he shone his torch about, frantically looking around.
“W—who is there?” He stuttered.
Akuko chuckled from his hiding place behind the bushes that lined one side of the dirt road.
Keleamadi heard the chuckle and mustered courage. “Show yourself!” He yelled. “What do you want? I have nothing!” He reckoned thieves might have set the trap to steal from unsuspecting travelers.
“You have something I want,” Akuko spoke slowly as he walked out of the bushes.
Keleamadi shone his torchlight on the man and froze. His eyes widened and he slowly shook his head side to side. “No.” He whispered. “Akuko? No.”
“Yes. Akuko in the flesh!” Akuko chuckled. “What’s the matter Kele my friend?” He stressed the word friend. “Won’t you say hello to he who’s back from the dead?”
Keleamadi was confused and frightened. This was Akuko, the man he and Maduka had killed this afternoon. How could it be that a dead man was standing in the middle of the road? “Y—you’re dead!”
Akuko burst out laughing, then stopped. His expression turned deathly cold. “How boring,” He retorted. “Can’t you think of something else to say?” He gazed intently at Keleamadi. “That was the same thing Maduka said,” A pause, “Before I killed him.”
Realizing he was in grave danger, Keleamadi thought of escape, but sharp iron nails surrounded him. Any step would leave him with three or more nails buried deep in his feet, unless he tiptoed. He took a couple of steps, but Akuko sensed what he was trying to do. Slowly, methodically, Akuko reached for the knife in his pocket and threw it at Keleamadi. It hit him in the middle of his forehead. Keleamadi halted, arms outstretched. He stood fixed in that position for a few seconds; the torchlight fell from his hand to the ground and shattered, then he collapsed on a bed of iron nails, dead.
Akuko tiptoed around the nail-trap he had set, retrieved his knife, and walked past the dead body towards Umugo from where Keleamadi was returning. He had two more people to visit, and his job would be done.
Otammadu was a secret society headquartered in Umugo where Mazi Ego and his wife Nkemjika lived. Together they headed the cult, which had members from all nine villages in the Nwaala province. The cult was diabolical, requiring human and animal sacrifices of its members in order to climb its hierarchy and attain wealth. Human sacrifices were considered the most important, and relationships mattered. Sacrificing a stranger was acceptable, but cult members who could kill relatives or friends were promised riches beyond what they could imagine. Mazi Ego and his wife had no children, as they had offered all their seven children as sacrifices to Otammadu and had immeasurable wealth to show for it. Maduka and Keleamadi belonged to this cult. They had shared this information with their friend Akuko, and the two men had spent many fishing trips with Akuko dreaming of how wealthy they would become as a result of the animal sacrifices they were making. They never told Akuko that they planned to make human sacrifices, but Akuko sensed that they would not stop at animals if they could amass greater wealth with human sacrifices. Indeed, thanks to their animal sacrifices, things were looking up for the two men. Maduka, once a wretched bamboo seller became a landowner almost overnight, growing cocoyam and shooting up the social ladder. Keleamadi was about to open a tobacco shop next to the home he had just erected. It was a decent home, built out of bricks and finished with paint. Many houses in Umudikere were simple mud huts. Akuko was the only one who knew of their involvement with the cult, and was vehemently against it. Their decision to use him as their first human sacrifice was a bad one. They did not know who he was. They staged his death in the worst possible way, trying to kill him by drowning him in the Umudinjo River. They did not know who he was.
Akuko reached Umugo at 2:30 am. He arrived the huge mansion that was Mazi Ego’s home. The walls surrounding the compound were tall, but being an old fence, there were cracks. With his excellent night vision, he scanned the cracks and calculated the best way to climb the fence. Once ready, he crouched, and like an antelope leapt and caught hold of the first two cracks in the wall. Lifting himself and using the cracks for balance, he topped the fence. Once inside the compound, he took in his surroundings. His legs were buried in the smooth sand that covered the grounds. He smiled. No footfalls. Perfect. No one would hear him coming. The white two-story mansion had a simple design, and as Akuko walked past the small security post to the front door, he heard the loud, irritating snoring of the security guard.
Akuko carefully turned the knob on the front door and it gave way. He pushed inward and the door opened with a slight creak. How stupid can these people be? He thought to himself. He did not expect the front door to be unlocked, but then again Mazi Ego and his wife believed they were untouchable. He walked into the dark living room. The ceiling fan rotated slowly, he could make out the chairs and center table, the giant flat-screen television mounted on the wall, and the dining area on the left corner of the room. He saw the preserved animal heads decorating the wall above his head in several places, the large bookshelf, and a family portrait of Mazi Ego and his wife. There were three doors on this floor, all closed. To the right, he saw a staircase, and his instinct told him to take it. He walked up the stairs to another living space decorated with chairs and tables, more animal heads and books on a smaller shelf. There were three doors on this floor as well. One of them had to be the room he was looking for. He walked to the first door and turned the knob. It wasn’t locked. He let the knob go and walked to the second door. He turned the knob, opened it slightly, and heard a loud snoring and another wheezing sound. Mazi Ego and his wife were fast asleep. They sounded awful. Repulsed, he closed the door and headed for the third door. He turned the knob. It was locked. This was the door he was looking for. He believed that behind the locked door was something important. He knew enough about cults to know that Mazi Ego and his wife would not be unprotected. He quickly reached into his pocket and fished out a thin, small instrument with which he picked the lock. He heard a short click, turned the knob and opened the door. The room was dark, but he could see clearly. He walked in and shut the door behind him. He felt for his knife in his pocket. It was there. Satisfied, he took a few steps forward. He did not want to turn on the lights and startle whatever was in the room. The air smelled foul, like fresh feces. He knew an animal had to be kept here. The room was fairly large. To the right of where he stood was a marble altar with a picture in the center and red and black candles burning on either side of it casting a soft glow and distorted shadows around the room. Akuko walked to the altar. The picture was of a three-headed snake. There was a huge wad of money lying between the candles and beneath the picture. Akuko walked away from the altar towards the left corner of the room, where the foul smell seemed to be diffusing from. As he approached, his eyes scanned the rest of the room. There was a large bucket, a table with various cutting instruments, a large bed with what looked like a woman’s wrapper on it, raffia mats spread out on the floor and an open metal cage. Akuko suspected that this was the room where meetings were held and some sacrifices were made. At the far corner, where the smell was almost unbearable, his eyes rested on the creature. It was a three-headed python. Akuko believed this was Otammadu, which the cult members worshipped. It was the largest snake he had ever seen. It was curled up in its cage, unsuspecting. Akuko was not prepared for a three-headed snake. He only had one knife, and he did not intend to open the cage. He figured that if he could get two more knives, he could target the three heads through the openings on the metal frame of the cage. His throws were good, and he knew he could successfully kill the three-headed python with three knives. He walked back to the table with the cutting instruments, picked three small, sharp, hunting knives, and slowly made his way back to the cage.
The snake was resting. Akuko was careful as he took one silent step after another. When he sensed he was at a good distance from the cage, he quickly calculated the angles at which he would throw each knife to target the snake’s three heads. He crouched, aimed one of the knives by moving his arm back and forth, and then threw with all his might. It struck one of the heads behind the eye, digging into the brain. The snake lurched wildly in its cage and began to thrash about, causing loud crashing sounds as it writhed inside the cage. Akuko picked the second knife from the floor and quickly aimed at the thrashing snake. He threw the second knife and it hit the target. Akuko picked the third knife. This time the snake was hitting the cage so hard that the metal frame was beginning to dent. Just then, the door to the room burst open and the light came on. Akuko looked behind him to see Mazi Ego, bleeding through his nostrils and holding a hunting rifle. He was naked, with rolls of fat on his arms, belly and thighs and thick hair on his chest. By now the python was successfully bending the metal such that its one remaining head could push through. Mazi Ego growled angrily and cocked the rifle. His face was contorted with rage. In a split second, Akuko removed his knife from his pocket. With knives in both hands, he aimed at Mazi Ego and the python, throwing both knives in opposite directions at the same time. The snake stopped thrashing, as the last knife dug into its third head. The gun fell with a loud crash from Mazi Ego’s hands and he clutched the knife buried deep in his chest with both hands. Blood filled his lungs and he began to suffocate, coughing up mucus and blood, before dropping to the ground, a furious look on his dead face.
Akuko walked over Mazi Ego, out of the meeting room to the room where the dead man and his wife lay asleep a few minutes ago. Nkemjika was sprawled on the bed, blood flowing from her ear. She was dead. Both she and her husband had entwined their lives with the life of the three-headed python. Akuko knew that trying to kill them without harming their life source would be pointless, hence his search for whatever it was that gave them protection and power. Killing the snake killed them. Akuko shrugged and walked out of the house. The security guard was still fast asleep. What a fool, he thought. He jumped over the fence and began the long trek back to Umudinjo, his village.
Akuko stopped at the bank of Umudinjo River. Dawn was just starting to break. The sky was a combination of magenta and lavender blue. A cool breeze blew and he inhaled deeply.
“Olammiri,” He whispered, “I’m home.”
The water swelled and a single wave rushed to the bank. Olammiri surfaced from the bottom of the wave. Her hips swayed and her breasts giggled as she walked to her husband. She was the color of dark chocolate and her long hair was braided in cornrows extending to her naked buttocks. Her face was beautifully symmetrical, with big brown eyes, a long pointed nose and pink lips set in a dark, angled face. She smiled as she approached her husband who was standing on the bank. He embraced her and laughed. They shared a passionate kiss.
“Welcome home my love,” She cooed. “Tommiri and I were starting to think our warrior would never return. Did you get them all?” She asked.
“Yes.” He answered.
She giggled, “They should have come up with a better plan to kill you. Drowning?” She laughed out loud, “That’s like throwing you into your home and wishing you dead.”
“They were foolish.” He replied. “Let’s go home. I want to see my baby girl.”
They walked hand-in-hand into the river until they were buried in the water. A few minutes later, in the distance, fish tails appeared briefly as Akuko and Olammiri made their way home.
By Maureen Onyeziri
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