“Tobi” Kareem whispered close to my ear. His foul breath was like a physical slap bringing me back to full consciousness. I tried to turn away, but then a voice in my head whispered mockingly “see the pot calling kettle black”. So I reluctantly grunted back instead.
I was pretty sure my sure my breath could wake a dead man. The thought made me smile. Strange how the mind works – to find humour in this dark place.
I could hear Kareem’s laboured breathing beside me as he struggled to somehow adjust his protracted prone position .
“e be like say Wunmi don craze o.”
How did I end up here?
The question had been reverberating in my head since the moment I’d regained consciousness and found myself lying helpless in this cold, damp cell, surrounded by the stench of fresh and decaying faeces, mixed in with the whimpering moans of my fellow captives, and the constant shuffling of feet by our captors above.
I can still remember closing from work sometime around 10:00 pm, and boarding a bus heading to Sango-Ota at the Oshodi Bus Stop. Traffic was light and I’d projected I would be home before 11:00 pm. I remember staring at the towering neon street lights glowing along the length of the bridge all the way to Bolade, and thinking to myself “Fashola has really transformed this place”. The only other thing I remember is feeling drowsy.
One moment I was in a bus hurrying home to my family and the next moment I’m lying here trapped in the den of ritual murderers. Living with the realisation that I will never see my family again.
The year is 2014. The last time I checked, it was June. I have no idea what day it is. Time is no longer measured in minutes and hours. It is measured only in heartbeats – here one moment and gone the next.
At first there were fourteen of us in the cell. We must have been charmed, because even though we were unbound and sometimes unguarded, we couldn’t move. We just lay there in the dirt waiting for them to return from wherever they went.
Our captors were six in number, at least those were the ones I’d seen – five men and a woman. Sometimes two of the men would enter our cell dressed somewhat like mad men. Laughing, they preyed on the women lying there helpless while we watched. It must have been another occult ritual, because once they were through, the woman slowly lost her mind. Or maybe it was the trauma of the absolute helplessness that drove the women insane – as was now happening with Wunmi.
The other three men – even now that it’s over, I still have nightmares of them, their hideous twisted grinning faces smeared with blood. They were the butchers.
Why did Kareem have to tell me of Wunmi’s breakdown? This was not out of pity. In a way, I felt it was an easier way out of this hell into which we had been drawn. At this moment, to me, she was the lucky one.
From time to time the butchers would enter the cellar accompanied by a smallish man with crossed eyes, dressed with large beads around his neck and ankles, a long white cloth around his waist. They called him Eru-iku.
Eru-iku would mutter some incantations as he looked around, then suddenly point at one of us. Swiftly, the butchers would descend upon him or her, dragging the helpless body out of the cell. And then came the screams punctuated by the dull thumping sound of iron against concrete. In the case of a woman, the screams went on longer. I can still hear them.
This was our life. The blood curling screams became the songs of birds at sunrise; the ever-present scent of faeces and decaying flesh, our garden of roses; the faces of our captors and the knowledge that when we were dragged out of our cell, we would not be coming back, this was our reality.
We were fed little, left over scraps of chicken tossed on the dirt floor beside our waste. The butchers would make us eat those bones, flogging us with canes until we swallowed the scraps to escape the pain. And then they would laugh at our broken bodies, lying trembling in the dirt.
And then freedom came. There we were, lying in our own mixture of blood and faeces. Myself, Kareem and Wunmi – barely human, the last three.
“Did you hear that?” Kareem whispered suddenly
“What?” I groaned wearily.
It suddenly hit me that Wunmi had stopped laughing, and there was a strange stillness in the air above us. And then I heard it. The crack of a gunshot echoed in the distance, and then there was another, and another and then I heard shouting.
“They are coming” Wunmi cooed in a sing-song voice.
I could hear the thumping sound of feet moving above us. Then Kareem started laughing.
“Help!” I tried to call out, but my voice was hoarse and weak.
“Help!” Kareem joined in. “We are here o!” Together we cried and cried with all our strength, even Wunmi joined in. Until finally the door opened.
They say it was the townspeople who rescued us, after one of their okada riders got abducted by the two mad men. A phone call from his cellphone led them to the place. Wunmi died on our way to the hospital. According to the police, the butchers were burnt alive, screaming until they died. Only the woman, the one they called “Aunty”, escaped.
We were in the cell for over three months before our freedom came. And now that it has, I feel nothing.
I lived with death for three months. The land of the living feels strange.