The lights flickered, this time with a pattern that caused whoever was familiar with Hollywood movies to become worried. Darkness reigned; and the Devils entered.
“We don’t want to hurt persons more than required… all we want is your money and we’ll be on our way before you know it.”
One of the robbers stood on the counter-table in the main banking hall to announce. It could be said he was new to this, because of the way he spoke with a light, optimistic voice, as though he was convinced that if the hostages obeyed every instruction, no one would die of any unnatural cause today. Two of the remaining three robbers, a male and a female, shot sporadically at the ceiling; bullets freely hit the chandeliers and glass-debris rained heavily. All these to further instill the fear of God in all the hostages already lying face down.
“Who’s the manager here?” A deep voice among the robbers asked. He’d been the most quiet of the lot. He was the boss of this operation.
“Take all of it,” a male voice responded from the distance. The voice sounded quacky. All the attention naturally drifted to his position. The man had a very protruding belly that elevated him and prevented his lips from properly kissing the tiled-floor on which he graced. He was visibly shaking; fear sipped non-stop and echoed loud throughout his soul.
The other three robbers gave each other a nod of excitement. They all wore scary masks, but could still fathom one another’s body language: they were used to working as a team.
“You!” The robber with the deep voice spoke again. He approached the manager with shrewd-confidence while the others followed closely behind.
The manager gave a nod: as though he felt his reply wasn’t successfully passed across. He kept nodding and crying profusely, continuously repeating the words, “Yes, I am.” He slowly looked up when he felt a presence before him. He turned his head left to right and observed all the robbers, one after the other. Each had a mask more terrifying than its predecessor. He stopped at the one with the terrifying bass voice, the obvious leader of the crew, the only one who had something to say to him.
“Not any more, you’re not.” The deep voice sounded again; his words this time were followed by the sound of a gunshot without a suppressor.
Wails of religions rioted. Tears flowed freely from all eyes, male and female.
“Where is the Asst. Manager?” Another life threatening question dropped. There was something rhythmic about the assailant’s bass voice, something that caused it to unwittingly resonate sweetly to the ears of impending victims, even though they didn’t want to hear him speak.
No one accepted the portfolio.
“Mrs. Ndidiamaka Bello!” He shouted a name, and let out an evil laugh. “Yes, I know who you are… Same way I know the police isn’t going to respond to the distress call of the silent-alarm Mister Salami at that corner has been triggering since we got here.” He let out another laughter as he looked towards the alarm corner.
One of the robbers picked Mrs. Ndidi from among the crowd she was mixed in. This particular action raised stray thoughts of concern in the minds of most of the hostages. The ongoing robbery was most definitely an inside job.
In silence, she walked forward; hot pee sipped through her legs, imprinting her laps most visible through her pencil skirt. She completed the journey forward in discomfort, pain, and shame.
“I have a son, and a daughter, Sir.” She cried. Begging desperately for her life.
“I know… and that’s why you’re not dying today,” The bass-voiced assailant whispered into her ear. “Just open the vault for me. That’s all.”
They were done filling the money-bags they brought along with them after five minutes, and it was time to go. The three subordinates hurried out through the corridor leading from the vault to the main banking hall, their twenty minutes window was fast depleting; time was getting out of their favor. They entered back into the banking hall, where fear hadn’t let anyone, though unguarded, try to escape. The goons walked into the spread, into the welcoming hands of their Leader, with the deep voice – the man responsible for the two body counts of this heist.
“Brother!” The deep voice sounded again. He called out to his team mate, who was catching fun on top of the counter earlier on.
“Yes, Six,” He replied. He immediately realized his mistake, and withdrew immediately. He stalled in his own steps to apologize.
“I’m sorry, boss,” he immediately pleaded.
“Don’t be. All things that happen do so for a purpose… Always remember that,” Six calmly replied, and let him sink into the illusion that all was forgiven; only to shoot at him the moment he started to walk away.
It was 8:50 a.m. Ife’s alarm went off into another snooze mode; this was the third time this morning and with it came the auto-on of the clock’s inbuilt radio. Just like all moments before this, she sleep-angrily hit the piece which functioned both as a time-piece and as an FM radio, trying hard to turn off the noise; this time she did so harder and the audible sound that her 18th birthday clock had just broken finally worked the magic to wake her. She held the wreckage in her arm and stared at it with a mix of feelings and teary eyes, and just flung it away to make way for her morning rituals.
She unhappily dragged herself off her bed to the already opened window. The fresh, unpolluted breeze of Lagos’ morning air hit her. She inhaled every ounce with joy. Her fixation momentarily turned from her discomfort of how to practice yoga in her present emotional state, across the alley from the side of her home where her room window was, to the partially curtained window opposite hers.
Enoch, her neighbor of a thousand years stood semi-unclad again, half visible, half hidden with the help of his yellow, silky curtain as he’d always done at this same hour in the thousand years since she’d being living here and noticing him. His eyes appeared to match her stare, and momentarily catch her gaze; they were disconnected faster than they locked, and his curtains rolled down – all played out exactly like every other day in the last thousand years since they’ve acknowledged each other’s existence.
By 10 a.m. she was already on her way to school – Nigerian Unity College, Lagos, situated on the Island. This was her safe zone, her only escape from all the dramas at home – Her conflicted present made her future appear bleaker with each passing day. Since her biological father, Sir Jonah, as he was fondly called, died, things had never been the same, it was as though a part of her, the part that was known to be bubbly and cheerful, died with him in the accident at the factory. Her father’s best friend who was her godfather turned adoptive father, Barr. Mathews Daniels, known by his closest friends in the corporate world of lawyers as Double-S, had always been there for her; she knew and appreciated this, yet, lately, she couldn’t stop herself from feeling more distant from him because he had continuously refused to help her get the closure she needed to move on from her dad’s murder. She couldn’t even think about her mother; three years and no contact, the woman was as good as dead to her, and it was best if Ife could forget about her completely.
All these many problems on the home front, made Ife put in a lot of extra time at school to escape the reality of her family. She was the perfect A-student, and that saddened her, because she already knew what she wanted in life had nothing to do with the direction of school and its grades. She just wants to fix her messed up life.
Ife’s personal thoughts and worries were interrupted by the fanfare appearance of her girlfriends, Naomi, Susanna, and Felicia. They came with lots of gossips.
“Did you hear?… The Highlander Bank was robbed this morning.” Susanna spoke first.
“You’re kidding me,” Ife wanted to engage her, but silently appreciated it when Naomi cut them. She loved Susanna but her talks never had a reasonable ending and probably would never, because she always managed to go effortlessly from reality to fantasy.
“This came in for you this morning,” Naomi said.
It was a parcel and Ife got excited that someone outside her usual circle might have remembered her birthday this year. The girls opened the parcel and their countenances were risen when they saw the content. Ife let out a sigh. Her reaction came as a surprise to the other girls who felt she merited what they all had just read as the content of the letter – Ife just got awarded a year’s worth of scholarship to intern the coming session at the prestigious Nigerian Dynamic Institute of Science and Technology (N.D.I.S.T.) for her outstanding grade; a honor many other students not up to her capability would die for, as Naomi made her realize again.
The N.D.I.S.T. was well coveted by brilliant students for a chance to be on the next team of scientists with a breakthrough to one of Nigeria’s fewer problems. Felicia tried to make Ife see reasons with her. “I hear they can even clone people now.”
Everyone didn’t buy that line. That was a lie, and even Felicia knew it. They all laughed at the cold joke.
The time read 22:00. Ife’s wristwatch beeped again; her father was going to be very furious at her for staying out this late. She dreaded the look he’d have-on should she bump into him at the door step and have to look him face to face, so she followed the back street, the one that opens into the alley beside her house and Enoch’s. Though it was dark, unkempt, and extremely quiet, it was the perfect way to escape Mathews Daniels’ public wrath at this late hour.
Ife tried to maneuver the space even as her bad vision led her and proved worse because of the almost negligible moon of the night. Her fear spiked the moment she could swear she heard the voice of a man in this lonely space.
“Help me.” The voice came again, weaker.
Ife could no longer deny what she heard. She silently cursed why she stayed out so late partying with her girls. It wasn’t her thing but she could feel the alcohol already influencing her thoughts to do so her decision. She wanted to walk away but couldn’t, and finally, she approached the figure with a mixture of bravely and fear for her life, because the instinct to save a dying man came out strongly from within her, especially as she always used such times to make up for not being able to save her biological father from his accident and subsequent death. Her expression progressed to full shock the moment she could fully see the figure, and the extent to which his body had been drenched in his own blood. She managed to make a name off him in her state of shock – it was Enoch, her neighbor.