This short story is set in the University of Ibadan. Apart from the familiar setting, all the event narrated in this story are completely fictional. Any reference to any person or character, living or dead, is a mere coincidence.
University of Ibadan. 2006.
The night was quiet and still except for the sounds of insects mingled with that of other nocturnal creatures lurking in the bush. The ancient trees lining the sides of Manuwa drive stood like silent observers, giving their cool shade to the lone traveler – Me. Now and then, one or two dry leaves would fall down from the trees and dance to the rhythm of the breeze before eventually spiraling down to inevitably embrace mother earth. The atmosphere was chilly and the road empty. It was 11:45pm on my wrist-watch. Most students were likely to be in their rooms by then, embracing or getting ready to embrace the cozy warmth of their beds that would enhance their easy passage into the dream world.
I was not really a nocturnal person, but I had had to stay back at the faculty of Arts quadrangle earlier that evening, to prepare for a major test that was to hold the following morning. I had done all I could to prepare and I was returning to my hall of residence, Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall, for a much earned supper and sleep. My intention was to pass through the small gate that was at the sharp bend end of Manuwa drive that ran in front of Tafawa Balewa post – graduate hall.
I was nearly a yard close to the sharp bend when I heard a sharp cry. At first, I ignored it. I thought it was one of the “Zikites” notorious for their silly pranks that was at it again. I had negotiated the bend and was about crossing the famous “Zik” river when I heard the sharp cry again. It was louder than the first and it sounded like no pranks. It sounded real and terror-filled and it came from the direction of the down-river side of the Zik River. Fear crept into me instantly and I felt the hairs at the back of my neck rose up. The fear fueled my desire to walk faster and get into the safety of my hall and room. I increased my pace and was already at the other side of the Zik river, having crossed it, when I heard the cry again the third time. It was ear-splitting. It stopped me involuntarily in my tracks. Judging from its quality and pitch, I could detect that it was the desperate cry of a lady in a dire situation. I could not ignore it anymore. I looked around; everywhere was as quiet and still as the graveyard. Only bush and river-side plants surrounded me. I was the only human being around and I knew going to get help from the Porters’ Lodge might be disastrous, as the havoc might have been wrecked before I came back.
There has been a recent intensity in the activities of cult groups in the campus, something which the school management has been trying to curb, and I needed no seer to tell me that that this was definitely one. I knew the gravity of meddling in the affairs of cult groups, but I also knew I would not be able to sleep peacefully that night and perhaps for a long time if I did nothing to help the lady in distress. Being a very conscientious person, the guilt would always hang in my mind. So, in the split of a second, I made up my mind. I was only with my touch and books. I hid the books underneath the dried leaves of some river-side cocoyam plant. I looked around to find a strong stick that I could wield as a club, I found none. I however gathered small pebbles that I could throw effectively from a safe distance and filled all my pockets with them. These weapons were primitive and might turn out to be useless, but I had no other alternative. I switched on my torch and started to walk down-river, towards the direction of the cries.
I walked consciously in a stealthy manner, so that my presence might not be detected until it was too late. I envisaged that I was going to be outnumbered at least six-to-one, so, I decided that the best tactic that could walk effectively in the situation was to surprise them and attack in any way I could before they could recover. I had walked for almost fifteen minutes when I saw them. I counted six figures as I had imagined, all were boys obviously. Another figure lay on the ground bounded – the victim. The moon was full and I could see everything quite clearly, but I decided that I was going to dazzle them with the beam of my torch, so as to hide my identity.
I switched the torch off and hid behind a tree with a large trunk. I began to hurl the stones at them randomly. I did not really aimed at any of them, but from their shrieks, I knew the stone hit about four of them. I saw them asking each other about what was happening. If not for the gravity of the situation, I might burst into laughter. While they were still wandering about their assailant, I switched on my torch and I directed the full beam of its light at them. At the same time, I shouted “Sergeant, I’ve found them, they are here!” and almost immediately, I resumed the stone throwing and did not stop trying to dazzle them with the beam of the torchlight.
I soon ran out of stones. I looked around and I saw a long stick lying on the ground. I picked it up instinctively and started to beat the bush around me with it while I stomped my feet on the ground loudly at the same time. I wanted to create the impression of men running through the bush.
My last trick was what pierced their armour. As soon as I started it, one of the boys fled and his colleagues, taking their cue from him, followed suit. I did not stop beating the bush nor did I stop stomping my feet on the ground and I still continued to dazzle the beam of my torchlight in the direction of their fleeting figures. I wanted to be sure that they were far away from my location before I let down my guard. When I was sure that they would have gotten safely distant from me, I stepped out of my hiding place and walked to the lady on the ground. I directed the beam of my torchlight at her face. She was gagged with a face towel. I removed it.
“Who are you?” She asked me as soon as she was free to talk, coughing and breathing heavily.
“Let’s just say Providence sent me here.” I replied.
I untied the rope that was used to tie her hands and I drew her up. She was shivering out of fear, I placed my right palm on the small of her back to reassure and stabilize her.
“Now let’s get you out of here before those guys realize I played a fast one on them.”