Been trying to come up with a title for my soon-to-be-published short story collection. I can't decide between WOES OF WAR, ECHOES OF STRIFE and DISCORD. I like the last title, but I'm not there yet. Below is a story I pulled out of this collection for your enjoyment. Cheers.
Ngozi alighted from the taxi she’d hired and straightened her skirt, shaking off some dust in the process. The old driver had quarreled with her in two occasions along the way, but she did not blame him, it was long past his working hours.
She paid him off and turned away as he tried hard to start his old jalopy while throwing some very rude remarks in her direction. She only needed to ignore him, an old grumbler who might have done better in the starting of his equally old Peugeot if he kept quiet.
Soon, the taxi rumbled into life and bumbled away as the only passenger it had dropped looked around her.
She was tall, fair and had a smooth face, which crowned a long, slender neck arising from a beautifully nubile body. She wore a silk blouse that went well with a long, black skirt, revealing whenever she moved, through slits on it, lovely legs that filled white high-heels.
She was a law student in her final year at the University of Lagos, and had been preparing fervently for her final exams when the letter came.
She knew the person it came from, but had no idea why he wrote it, nor what he meant by urging her to come see him in such a God-forsaken place when she should be revising for her exams. Naturally, she would do anything and go anywhere for him, but this was going too far.
She was standing near a ‘bus stop’ signpost beside a dimly lit road that disappeared into the darkness on either side. The place was deserted save for the small insects that were whining round the electric fluorescents fixed to stands at intervals along the road. This part of the campus was seldom visited by students since the vicinity had no attractions, and had been used many times over by secret cultists to settle their various quarrels.
Ngozi cautiously approached the neighborhood he’d told her about, consciously aware of the sound of her shoe heels on the hard ground. This could be her chance to tell him about the secret, even if she felt that he would not take it as lightly as her heart was deceiving her to believe. The time to deliver the message was long past, but part of the blame must go to him.
As she approached that area where a heavy duty tank truck had fallen on its side, she tried to remember how he looked when they last met. She knew he was handsome; that was why she had fallen for him in the first place. But then, he had also been rich, until now that rumor had it that he’d been dishonorably discharged from the navy and was in great debt, which she did not believe. All those girls in need of a boyfriend were ready to say anything that could break their strong relationship. Unfortunately, for them, she had promised herself never to move an inch, even under the burden she now bore.
Presently, she reached the narrow lane created by two tall office blocks on either side of a local road and saw the tanker, still on its side. Sand from the other lorry had formed a smooth slope on its upturned ventral surface and Ngozi climbed it, barefooted, her shoes dangling from her right hand. At the top of this slope, she jumped down noiselessly on to the ground demarcated from the other part of the lane by the vehicle. She’d never known what caused the accident and really did not want to, but the authorities were not doing the university any good by failing to remove the truck.
After walking for a few minutes, she turned left, as he had told her, and continued walking. Chioma had been the only person she could confide in when it happened, and Chioma was the person now urging her to abort the baby as soon as she could since Emeka would hear nothing of it if she told him. Naturally, she had refused to listen to her friend, preferring to keep it a secret until it could no longer be hidden.
Tears began rolling down her cheeks as she got to the field he told her about, and she cleaned her eyes with her right backhand, sniffing miserably. If only she had known that this would amount to getting pregnant, she would have refused to go along with his ‘safe scheme.’ Now, everything had boomeranged on her head, and she did not know what to expect from him now that it was time to reap the harvest.
Moonlight basked the field, eerily marking out the trees that surrounded it. This was where he’d told her he would be waiting with his car, but she could not see it anywhere around, talk less of the owner. Maybe he had failed to show up? No. Emeka could never fail to keep an appointment.
Then she saw him, sitting on the bonnet of his red Racer22 just as she first met him at Favor’s one cool, splendid evening, with a glass of red wine in his right hand. Now, it looked as if he was with another glass of wine, for she saw moonlight reflecting from something he was holding with his right hand. If so, everything was all right, she thought as she approached him, fully convinced that he meant well. Her cool came back, and she started going through the true story she had for him in her mind.
However, the poise of the man on the car was a façade, and nothing was all right. As soon as she got close to him, she saw the sordid grin on his face. Then he stretched out his right hand towards her and she realized that he was with a gun!
The sound of the shot was deafening, and the result could have instantly killed her had she not been a little out of his line of fire. The bullet merely tore her blouse, searing her skin and knocking her to the ground.
Briskly, she got to her feet and scampered from him, terrified, as he arrogantly fired again in her direction, missing her torso by inches.
Ngozi was bewildered at his behavior. Maybe this was not Emeka?
But she had clearly seen his face. He was her boyfriend.
He had followed her, firing wildly as she ran with the sole intention of killing her, but she had long legs and had been a star runner during her secondary school days. Thus, despite the high heels she wore, she was able to distance herself from him. But as soon as she had done this, she realized, in the worst of ways, that wearing such shoes while in flight was a very silly thing to have done.
She was on the verge of clearing the field when the right shoe’s heel broke and she buckled, dislocating her ankle. And before she knew it, she had lost her balance and was on the floor, crying out from the blunt pain emanating from the affected joint.
Emeka might have noticed this for as he came up behind her, he aimed well enough this time and fired a deadly shot.
The bullet hit her on the right of her back and lifted her off the grass, immediately cleaning out from the front.
With blood now freely staining her silk blouse, Ngozi got up without a word and started running again, leaving both shoes behind. She was now fully aware of the danger she was in.
What had turned Emeka's manly, loving heart into that of one willing to go to any length to see that his lover was murdered? She could not tell. She could only keep running, for stopping now meant instant death.
As she struggled on painfully, the tears started falling again. This time it was not because of the pregnancy, but was due to the fear inherent in an animal trying to run away from death. Maybe Chioma had told him about the baby. Who knows, such things do happen. One’s best friend might really be one’s greatest enemy. On the other hand, however, was it that she did it with her in mind? But she had been the one who wanted her to abort the baby instead of telling Emeka; why would she now go ahead and tell him, having known that he would not hear of it? Ngozi was becoming disoriented. The answers failed to come.
Ever since she got up from the ground and caught a bullet on the shoulder, her predator had fired seven other life bullets at her, each missing her with a very narrow margin. She could see that in his excitement, he was not aiming well. This might just be her savior, she thought, putting more effort into her strides.
But just then, she realized where she was headed and stopped, desperately alarmed at her murderous mistake.
On both sides were the tall office blocks extending far up into the night sky, and right in front of her, the metal casing of the tanker she had jumped down from some minutes ago lay on the soft earth a few feet from where she stood, totally blocking the one avenue of escape now open to her.
Hopeless, she slumped in a heap on the narrow lane, head-bowed. This was it! The thing she had tried to run away from…. Nothing could save her now, not even the angels in heaven. Dejectedly, she sat there, applying pressure to her wound with blood-stained hands and trying to ignore the pain engulfing her whole body because of it.
It did not take long before she heard running footsteps as Emeka caught up with her.
Then she felt his presence, refusing to acknowledge it by raising her head. She only sat there crying her heart out and waiting for the final blow, praying that it would not prolong her suffering by failing to kill her instantly. She would have loved to ask him a question bothering her ever since this cat and mouse saga began. Why? But then, it was too late to do that now.
Emeka raised his weapon and pointed it at the girl sobbing before him. He could not miss now. She was only a few feet from him.
And it hit Ngozi like a giant’s hand, pitilessly pushing her towards the steel wall that could have helped her were it somewhere else, and she screamed uncontrollably, unable to contain the pain from this new killer. She crashed on the truck’s tank, writhing painfully as her blood slowly oozed away from this new hole.
Afterwards, she lay on the tanker motionless, her eyes closed, and a sublime feeling caressing her soul. Was this the other side of the line between life and death? Or was she still alive?
Yes, she was, for she could open her eyes, and could still feel the pain from her wounds, which had now increased, with blood streaming out from the latest one and soaking the front of her blouse red.
Ngozi stood up shakily, looking around in disbelief. What had happened? The moonlight was not adequate for her to see what was on the ground, and she feared he was crouching below, ready to spring a surprise at her.
But the girl was as wrong as she had been concerning the state of her boyfriend’s frame of mind earlier that night. She discovered this when she decided to move away from the truck behind her into the darkness should he be watching her out there in the darkness. It was then that she realized she had been cutting off light from the moon reflecting from the truck’s steel tank all this while, which now moderately illuminated the ground before the structure, and Emeka’s lifeless body.
Ngozi stared at it, trying to understand what had happened. Curiously, she edged towards it, ready to bolt if it sprang back to life, and surveyed the supine figure now oblivious of this world. A strong smell wafted to her nose through the air. Wine. No wonder his shots had been erratic – he was drunk. She saw the bullet hole on his forehead and wondered who had shot him.
Then it dawned on her. Of course, he had shot her, and the bullet had caused a clean wound through the shoulder flesh of her body like before, but the tanker’s steel casing had acted as a diverter, causing the small, sharp killer to ricochet back to the gun dweller and end his life.