The native doctor lived in a thatched hut. He was a dwarfish fellow in rags and so old, he had to support himself with a stick twice his height yet he still shook like a veil against a strong wind. We corps members, ten of us, stood in the open space between the hut and the wooden gate. The atmosphere was thick with tension and the smell of garbage. A mother hen and her chicks farrowed about, oblivious of human folly.
I had enough anxious butterflies in my belly to cloud the sun. I was innocent, but there was that one in a million chances that the fetish priest would declare me the thief. If that happened, I would just die.
You are a child of God… Let your yes be your yes… Corper Dayo had warned me. I was here to clear my name among men and make enemy of God. I sighed; there was no going back now. Would God understand?
Fisayo and Corper Fatima (I will describe her later) explained our mission to the man in Yoruba. He nodded and went back into his hut, and came out after a generation with a small black earthen pot. He placed the pot in the centre of the yard. Ten pair of eyes watched as he began to invoke his deity in saliva-coated Yoruba. My heart was now beating so hard I couldn’t hear the man. But I could still see. And I saw thick smoke begin a slow ascent from the pot. Mystery! Wizardry!
The smoke moved in the zigzag thread of a snake.
“Show us the thief!” the witch-doctor shouted (he spoke in Yoruba but his words were self-interpreting).
The smoke stopped in mid-air, spread towards us and began a stomach-tightening approach. My heart-beat had attained mad crescendo. Three feet away, the smoke unified in a giant ball…
Right opposite me!
Oh no, how could that be? I didn’t steal the money! I shut my eyes.
“Ah-ah,” Micah gasped.
I opened my eyes. The smoke was on me. My eyes watered as a terrible fit of cough grabbed me.
The dibia pointed at me and said, “Ole.”
My world crumbled. I would have given anything to become one of the chicks farrowing about.
“Thief,” someone said. Another laughed. Someone clapped.
I was ruined. Forever. Doomed.
“We were foolish to have come here,” Micah said as he grabbed my wrist and led me out of the evil compound. “They bribed the man.” Even to him, he didn’t sound convincing.
We hadn’t gone far when Fisayo caught up with us. “When do I get the money?”
“Leave us alone,” Micah snapped.
“Stay out of this, Micah…”
But I stopped hearing them. The words of Uncle Dayo cut into my body like razor. You are a child of God… Let your yes be your yes…
Foolish me, did I really expect the devil to vindicate me?
Fisayo, then Fatima and Tina made so much noise about my paying back the money right away; villagers began to gather to watch. Agatha and Edwin intervened. “Let’s cover our ass,” was how Agatha put it. Edwin promised to pay the money, and later get reimbursed by me… Humiliation!
I remembered my dream: happily scooping shit from soak-away, fully-kitted in NYSC dressing. I saw it coming and I did nothing about it! Foolish, foolish, foolish I!
If not for Micah, I wouldn’t have made it back to Cemetery Lodge. He kept prodding me, cursing in English, Hausa and Idoma. At the veranda of the lodge, we saw Dayo seated and I looked away with infamy.
“What did the Baba Lawo say?” he asked Micah.
“The foolish man said Kings took it,” Micah replied.
Dayo hissed. “Were you expecting Lucifer to say the truth?”
I walked pass the NCCF leader, crashed into my door and collapsed on my bed. By now the story would be trending on Whatsapp groups… God, please take me home.
How do I raise six thousand naira now?
I tortured myself with regrets until I fell into a fitful sleep, ravaged by nightmares. In one, I was walking in the middle of a deserted highway, dressed in the crested shirt except that instead of ‘NYSC’, ‘Armed Robber’ was printed boldly on the shirt. A bus screeched to a stop beside me and a dozen corps members jumped out, brandishing koboko whips. I took to my heels and they followed in hot pursuit. Then I saw myself in Ede Orientation Camp, seated on muddy earth, in front of the pavilion facing over three thousand corps members in ten platoons. The camp director, the state coordinator and a dozen NYSC officials stood behind me. “Corpers weee o!” the camp director shouted into the micro-phone.
“Waa!” thundered the army of corps members.
“Call him thief!”
I shouted in protest. I shouted so hard that my voice woke me up.
Micah barged into my room, his face shining with sweat and excitement. He was so excited he couldn’t say a word.
“What is it?” I was lying in the pool of my sweat. I had expended so much energy in my dream that I was too weak to sit up in real life.
And Micah began to laugh. He was saying nothing, just laughing like a fresh nut case.
I forced myself to my feet. “What is it, you fool?”
“You are not a thief,” he announced. “You are vindicated! The thief has been caught!”
The weight that left my shoulders was so much I had to sit down in order not to fall.
“The thief is a student. He entered the staff room through the window when Agatha left the room and stole the money. He was caught when he wanted to buy one cartoon of chewing gum. You are vindicated!” And he burst out into another bout of laughter.
I believe for a normal human being, this was the point to start shedding tears of joy and quoting Abraham Lincoln. But I had other ideas. “Where are the others?” I asked.
“Dayo is in church. The others are arguing with the thief’s mother. The boy had actually squandered close to four thousand naira.”
I went to the door and bolted it.
“What’s the idea?” Micah asked.
“I was accused falsely and insulted by fellow corpers,” I said.
Micah hissed. “It was most unfortunate. They should be sorry.”
“They will be sorrier when I finish with them.”
Micah eyed me curiously. “What’s on your mind?”
“Do you realise that these people actually discriminate against us. Me and you were born in the north, we grew up there and studied there. Whenever we speak Hausa, they call us Boko Haram.”
I walked to the window and opened it. “In a way they are right. We are actually terrorists. You lost a cousin in a Jos blast; I lost a friend’s father. We survived terrorism, didn’t we?”
Micah affirmed, confused.
“It takes terrorists to survive terrorism.”
“Man, what are you saying?”
I laughed a sadist laugh. “We are going to show them the stuff terrorists are made of. I have been called a thief and disgraced for money I didn’t take. I can’t just let that go like that. I want pounds of flesh.”
Micah shook his head. “Guy, try and forgive this people and forget about the whole shit.”
“I will forgive them after extracting my revenge. Are you going to support me in this or not?”
A moment crawled by as Micah chewed his lip in thought. “You are the baddest boy,” he finally said with a laugh. “A little vengeance will harm no one.”
He was wrong. After cooking my head in a pot, I wouldn’t settle for mere ‘little vengeance.’
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu, and blogs at kingkingsley.wordpress.com