A Secret Bite of Fate

by Ngozi Janet Akalonu

Sunday 12th October, 1991.

Barely a week after my elder brother got married to a single mother of one he loved so much, (It was a hectic event by the way, all that celebration, eating and dancing, etc), I and my two sisters strode calmly through the prison corridors, conscious of the fact that we were young girls in a prison yard filled with men condemned by the world for various mind-boggling reasons; men who had nothing to lose. We were understandably wary of the situation, but sometimes our evangelism strolls provided us with tasks that could be daunting or took us places that were unconventional.

We watched the faces of the prisoners in each cell for the least intimidating to minister the gospel to, the prison warden striding lazily behind us, occasionally bawling at a sneering inmate. His presence was not too reassuring though; he looked disinterested, and honestly, even more predatory than the hungry men trapped behind bars.

My sisters found some friendly looking faces and boldly strode into their cells to preach. A warden was assigned to watch over them while I kept on walking, searching the hideous faces adorning the rust coloured, foul smelling cells lining the gloomy, dim-lit hall way.
I came across an empty cell and looked up at the warden behind me.

“Why is this cell empty?” I asked.

“It used to belong to a robber, he was executed on the 28th of last month.”

“Just for robbing?”

“And killing about 72 civilians in the process”.

I shuddered. Maybe, he deserved to die. What kind of human kills 72 people? 

For some reasons, I strode into the very untidy cell and proceeded to look around, with he warden watching me closely. I understood his look: he was appreciating my beauty. I shook my head. I would soon be out of here before he got any ideas. The cell smelt bad and was unearthly dirty. Obviously, it hadn’t been swept since the man died. I kicked some stray newspapers lying around and raised the moth and roach-infested bed up with one feet.

That was when I saw it.

A white sheet of paper neatly folded like it was deliberate. I picked it up, opened it and for a moment, I admired the neat handwriting. Then I proceeded to read.

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Ever since I got locked up, my life has been different. I now understood why they said life is like a painter who painted the most surreal pictures using only shades of blood, sweat and tears. There was a benign reality that settled in my cell confines every single morning the sun wafted through my window and cast forlorn shadows on the wall that reminded me of the outside world that seemed too distant to me now.

Even when it rained, the chill I felt wasn’t because of the cold, unyielding wind. The chill emanated from my soul and froze my heart in pockets of ice. My blood flowed through frozen veins and I knew it was a matter of time before I let this numbness consume me in ethereal peace. The thought was not scary; it was an anticipation and with each month that passed, my resolve got stronger and stranger.

Almost two years ago, I was a free man walking the streets of Lagos with the hope and confidence of someone whose life could never go wrong. I was also in love with the most beautiful woman on God’s green earth. She made my life rosy and bright and her halo was the reason my path seemed destined for greatness. We had been together for almost 3 years, and in my love drunk head, I thought I was destined to spend the rest of my life with her.

Her name was Jennifer. She was just 22 and still so naïve. I opened her eyes to the beauty of love in all its comeliness. I was her first boyfriend and I also deflowered her. We were like the yin and yan of the cosmos, complimenting and understanding each other perfectly, like no two souls were ever meant to be. Each time I stared into her eyes, I saw a million heavens glowing with so much warmth, the blood in my heart boiling over and sending me further and deeper into a sweet smelling abyss of delusional affection, an abyss I had no intention of escaping from.

She knew what to say to me, how to say it and when to say it. She cooked me the best meals and made me laugh with the funniest jokes a girl her age could manage to come up with it. I did everything for her, provided for and protected her; I made sure she lacked nothing and I made sure she never had a reason to doubt my love for her. Her parents knew us and even though her mother did not approve of my street lifestyle, she gave us her consent, understanding that we were two souls living in one body.

Or so I thought.

My sense of desertion was getting stronger everyday in this abandoned prison; nobody wrote me anymore, nobody called, nobody visited. My crime made even my parents ashamed of me, and even the ones I trusted the most had abandoned me to my fate. I would have taken all that with the resignation of a man condemned to die but what made it so unbearable was the fact that even my dearest Jennifer deserted me barely a year after my incarceration. And she did it with so much ease, I questioned every single faith I had ever had in her.

The same Jenny who was the exact reason I was in this prison. The same Jenny who in a desperate bid to keep her happy, I had taken a lurch that would see me spiralling uncontrollably through the air to land in a puddle of pure disaster and trouble. The reason I sit where I am today, the reason I would be hanged in a month’s time was simply because I was trying to provide a better home for her and my 9 month old daughter. She promised she would stay with me through thick and thin, but the greatest temptation rears its ugly head and Jennifer is gone like a soft breeze in the early hours of a Sunday morning.

At that time, Jennifer’s expenses were taking a toll on me and my regular internet fraud business wasn’t enough any longer to keep body and soul together. She was in her second year in the university and was practically living with me as my wife. I was so scared she would begin having double thoughts since the money wasn’t coming like it used to, especially since she was already two months pregnant with my child. I began to panic.

The robbery would have been successful, was successful. We had robbed a bank of almost eight hundred million naira, the biggest heist the city had ever known, and we would have left without hurting a single soul if that nosy security officer had not alerted the police. And just before we left the banking hall, the entire premises was swarming with trigger happy police officers.

And the shooting began.

I vividly remember the innocent people getting caught in the crossfire, I saw old women, little children, young boys and young girls falling down like dominoes in the pool of their own blood, I saw myself accidentally gun down a pregnant woman in a moment of terror and desperation. People in the banking hall, on the streets and in the bank premises died that day like headless chickens. The police officers lost 36 of their personnel that fateful afternoon and all my comrades died, all four of them. I ran down the streets screaming and spraying bullets hysterically, killing people who stood in the way all in a desperate bid to escape to safety. But in my wounded state, there was only so far I could go before I collapsed. And just before I passed out, I raised my hands in surrender.

I do not know why they spared my life only to condemn me at the court, but I knew I saw shame and disgust in my dearest Jennifer’s face. The news was everywhere and for the first few weeks, she called, came to visit and brought me magazines and food but in time, it stopped. She never came again, weeks turned to months and months turned to years. I knew her mother had told her I was a condemned man and she needed to move on and forget all about me… which she did without so much as battling an eyelid.

I would be hanged on the 28th of next month and I would die a condemned and lonely man, with no love, no family and no friends to be there; I would also be buried like the monster that I am. I am pained my daughter would grow without knowing her father, and if she ever hears about me, it would be in such a terrible light. I am not a bad person; I did all I did for love, the love of a woman. If I could, I would rewind back the hands of time and correct this grave mistake, but it is too late.

I will drop my pen now  and leave this note on the floor and try to sleep. It is raining heavily outside and the gloom has seized my spirit once again. This note will remain on this prison floor tucked away safely under my bed. I hope someday, someone finds it and reads it and maybe get in touch with my family, all of them. They need to know the thoughts I had in my final moments. The depressing thoughts I had the days before I died.

Bye for now.

Bye forever.

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When I looked up at the warden, my eyes had welled up with tears. The man was surprised.

“What is it? What is the matter?” He asked, staring alternately at me and the paper. “What is on that paper?”

“Do you know how I can get in touch with this dead man’s family?” I asked, wiping a stray drop of tear from my cheek.

The warden looked uncertain… and confused.

“Well… well… er …well… the wife’s phone number should still be in the visitor’s log book, but it has been a long time she came here, she may have changed number, or even……..”

“Show me the number now!” I yelled and darted past the warden, clutching the note in my hand safely.

He followed suit, confused and murmuring words that were not making any sense to me at that moment. We walked past my sisters who were still busy preaching the gospel in their cells. When they saw our hurried movements and my troubled look, they stopped talking to the inmates and followed us, asking questions.

We burst into the reception hall, and I waited impatiently as the warden searched for the book. Luckily he found it and began flipping back two years earlier when the dead man’s wife had last visited. We found her name and luckily saw where she had written her number. I quickly typed in the number on my phone and proceeded to dial it.

That was when I got the shocker of my life.

The number was already saved in my phone with a very familiar name and that name wasn’t Jennifer.

It was Christiana, my elder brother’s newly wedded wife.

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