Here’s the first chapter of The Black Witch.
he release date is the 24th of December.
I killed a man today.
It was not as grim as I imagined it would be. I stood there, wondering, well, is this it? Is this all there is to taking a life? I had expected I would struggle with the decision to squeeze the trigger and be remorseful afterwards, but it had gone without effort; which was quite a relief for me because for years, I had nursed thoughts of taking the man’s life. Now that he lay lifeless, I wished I had killed him slowly. Scum like this did not deserve a merciful death.
The wet morning breeze slapped across my face as I climbed up the path between two rocks. The weather, as usual, was crisp and blustery. I shivered with each step upward, and every time I puffed out, it fogged up the air in front of me for a bit. The path felt slippery underneath my feet, but I was no stranger here. I had been doing this for a while, coming here every morning before dawn. Sometimes, it rained. Other times, a starry sky above me lit my path.
Pulling my weight up and over the twin rocks that forged a path for my ascent, I arrived at a clearing overhead. It was a spot underneath a giant tree, covered by wild green grasses. When I first came here, the grasses were tall and bushy. I hacked them to enable me sit and meditate. It was also a good spot to watch the sunrise and observe the movement of vehicles to-and-fro the major highway that led towards the Middle Belt of the country. There was never a morning I wasn’t tempted to find my way down the steep slope beneath and onto the highway, into a life of freedom. But I was afraid of what awaited me out there, scared that the life I was taken from no longer existed.
This morning, I was not alone. From the moment I snuck out of camp, I was aware that I was being followed by someone that camouflaged into the dark each time I looked over my shoulder. This person was male, and his scent came to me in whiffs whenever a wayward squall blew over me from behind. It was a familiar mix of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, and cheap cologne. The smell got stronger as I settled on my meditation spot. I was not frightened by my stalker. It was rather annoying that I was not alone.
Nonetheless, I shut my eyes and tried to listen to the seemingly sleeping world that surrounded me. Nature was never asleep, though. Around me were the combined silent sounds of a night that was fading into daylight with reluctance. In the distance, I could hear the burble of a stream. It wasn’t strange that I hadn’t gone looking for it, despite being here on many occasions. In my manner of ascribing personalities to non-human entities, I had concluded the stream was shy and didn’t want to be disturbed. Hence, I would sit in mindful meditation and listen to it, sometimes conjuring an image of what it looked like.
I opened my eyes as my ears picked out a sound from below. I looked in the direction I had come through as the top of my stalker’s head appeared. Soon, his entire body followed until he was standing on my reserved spot, staring down at me as he panted for air.
“What a climb,” he said, catching his breath. I gazed ahead of me as a familiar feeling of unease crept up my spine. He looked down the path he had climbed and shook his head. “You keep shocking me, baby girl. What are you doing up here?”
I didn’t give him an answer. I would not talk to him. In fact, I had never spoken a single word to him, even though we had been acquainted with each other for a year. Our relationship was such that he visited my room on certain nights, climbed over my bed, lay on top of me, placed a dagger to my throat, and raped me. I had tried to fight him off the first few times he came into my room, but I was never a match for his strength. The man was burly, and I was certain that he weighed a hundred tons. Before he showed up at camp last week, I hadn’t seen him in two years. He had made sure to keep his eyes on me since his reappearance while I ignored him as best as I could. This was too much of an assault on my privacy for him to follow me here.
I looked up at him. There was a sleek smile on his face. The same smile he held on the nights he came raping me and asking me to pleasure him. He had begun on my thirteenth birthday and continued until I was fourteen. After that, he disappeared. Now that he was back, he didn’t look so tall or menacing, even though little about him had changed.
He moved towards me, and I jumped to my feet on impulse.
“Relax. I’m not going to hurt you.”
He took another step forward, and I straightened up.
“Bianca, Bianca…” He seemed amused. “Still as stubborn as ever. Look how grown you are.”
It was the first time I saw him in camouflage. He was a soldier like the others. They were all around camp, wielding guns, walking about with murderous intention in their eyes. My rebellious act of dodging them each morning to come out here was soon going to put me in trouble. If I got caught, I would be accused of attempting to escape and hung upside-down for days. A week ago, a boy had been stupid to sneak out; he was caught, hung upside-down, and forgotten until darkness fell. The soldiers then built a fire and made him dance around it for hours. I saw him last night. He was still sore from the punishment.
But I was not afraid of them. Neither was I of my rapist. My fear was of the man who was responsible for the life I now lived.
Once the most dreaded military man in the country. Not long ago, he ran the government with his friends, and they were called the Cabal. Power, however, was snatched from Captain as democracy continued to grow, ending almost three decades of his militant influence. It wasn’t that he was being completely stripped of his control; he just wasn’t the number one man any longer. These days, power was tossed between hands. The ruling elites controlled sections of the country, divided by ethnicity and oil. Each domain, fallaciously united under one federation, fought to outdo the other. It became a tussle about who had more oil money and weapons. The most powerful had their militias—terrorists that rampaged and killed, breaking the peace of the country, dividing people further by ethnicity and religion. Capitalism was quickly becoming the new government. It made the rich richer and the poor masses none the wiser.
This was not the Nigeria Captain wanted, as he so claimed. The chaos angered him so intensely it sometimes affected his state of mind. But it was rumored that he had plans to get back to the top and claim all that was snatched from him. Everyone knew that the man was soulless, that if he ever got the chance to repossess his unchallenged spot in the political hierarchy, his enemies, down to their fourth generation, were going to be obliterated.
But Captain was a man I loved, and this was a strange thing because he had broken me in many ways. He took me as a whole, innocent being and turned me into a puppet under his control. He made me do unmentionable things, and because of him, my life was marked for destruction. His darkness was mine, his cross I bore.
“You’re so beautiful.”
The rapist pig was still speaking, but my mind was running numbers. I had seen two soldiers in the distance who seemed to have spotted us. They were now out of sight, which meant that they were on their way up here.
“How are you these days? Do you miss me? Do you miss Daddy?”
This man used to do everything to make me call him ‘Daddy’ on the nights he raped me. The bastard had attempted to destroy my image of what a father and daughter relationship was supposed to be. But in a strange way, his attempts had made me conjure soothing thoughts of my father whom I hadn’t seen in eight years.
“I missed you,” he went on, “and I’m proud of you. I’ve been told of your achievements. The men, they like you. I heard that even Captain is impressed.”
He laughed, as if what he had said was funny. The laughter brought searing pain to my chest. It resurrected the moments I suffered in his hands. The stench of his sweat, mixed with cigarette smell and cheap cologne, all clashing with his foul breath each time he lay on me… His grunts in my ear and the slime of his spittle when he forced his lips into mine… His body weight on my chest…
Anger stirred within me—not the type I was familiar with. It was something new, dark, and thrilling.
It hit me before I recognized it was there, shutting the world around me. All I saw was the man who had defiled my body, detached it from me, and made it worthless.
“I always knew you would become something,” he continued, oblivious of the change in me. “Because you are my…”
His next words got stuck in his throat, as I drove a dagger into his right lung. I hadn’t seen it coming either, but I made the most out of it as I thrust the blade in further. He could easily throw an arm to my chest and fling me backwards like a doll, but like he said, I kept shocking him. Dude was too stunned to move.
I drew the dagger out, and in quick movement, speared his left eye. Then, the right, because he had been staring at me as if I had betrayed him. I then sent my foot into his gut, kicked him off the ground, and had him stumbling down the slope. Seconds later, I heard the cocking sounds of an assault rifle and someone asking, “Who goes there?”
I remained on my feet until another soldier’s head cautiously appeared over the slope.
“Your hands in the air!” he barked as he climbed up. “You again?” he asked, recognizing me. “Hands up!”
I dropped the dagger and lifted my hands up in the air.
“Turn around!” he instructed. I obeyed him, even though I was certain that I could take him down as well. “You’ll answer to Captain today! Oya, march this way!”
We took a longer route back to camp because it was riskier to have us both climb down the way I came. Minutes after we arrived at camp, I saw another colleague of his tailing us, carrying the rapist over his shoulder. I was then shoved into Captain’s tent to answer for my crimes, which were read out by the soldier who had apprehended me.
Captain was seated on a chair, a leg crossed over the other, reading a Time magazine. He looked at me after the soldier was done.
“Bring him in,” he instructed someone outside and the rapist was dragged in and dropped on the floor. The stinking fuck was still alive, although now blind and maybe having a broken bone or two from the fall.
Captain got off his chair. “Come here,” he called me over. I went to him with caution, knowing I could die for what I had done.
He picked a walking stick and pointed at the bleeding man lying between us.
“In the assault of the body, the objectives are to stop the breathing, start the bleeding, and promote established shock. These are what weapons are designed for.” He looked at me, to be sure I was following. “For instance, it’s a waste of time peppering a man with bullets if none takes a hit at a vital spot. Equally, you could torture him to death by a thousand cuts without one being mortal in itself.”
I held my breath, waiting for more.
“First we must understand oxygen. It gives life. Cut it off, cut off life. You must know the parts of the body that control oxygen intake and how to make them work against your enemy. Now, you see the back of the head, just above the spine?” He rested his foot on the man and pushed him so that he was on his side. “You can crush this with a hard object or destroy it with a single bullet. Now, coming downwards, we get to the neck… A blow to the back of it will not only damage the spine, it can force the vertebrae forward and encroach on the windpipe and cause asphyxiation.”
He dropped his foot. The man fell to his former position. All of this gave me some sort of pleasure. Captain placed his stick on the man’s chest.
“Now the lungs…”
He poked at the stab wound my dagger had inflicted on my victim. The man squirmed.
“Attacking one lung cannot bring a quick death, as the opposite side can carry on alone—if necessary. Case in point, this person here. Make sure there is failure in both lungs or you might just be wasting your time.”
Captain went on, explaining in detail how the human body worked and what best way to give someone a quick or slow death. The rapist had stopped writhing. Although alive, he now lay still. When Captain was through with his lecture, he asked “Are you here with me, Bianca?”
He extended a revolver to me. “I’d have made it fun for you and let you take your time, but this man is a soldier of our great army. He deserves an honorable death. Make it quick.”
I took the weapon, confirmed that there were bullets, released it from safety, and aimed it at the man. I looked at Captain. He went back to his chair and picked his magazine. The rapist heard the sounds I made with the gun and tried to get on his feet. If he had eyes, he would have seen me staring emptily at him as I squeezed the trigger.
After the ear-splitting sound of the gunshot died down, and the hum in my ear, which I was now accustomed to, stopped, Captain gave me his attention once more. I stood there, my fingers frozen around the gun. It occurred to me only after I had done the act, that I had actually taken a life.
“I hope this makes you feel better?” Captain asked.
I was just sixteen, and I had killed a man.