Kirikiri prison. The popular crime hub of Lagos, with its usual stale smell of rust, litters and human waste. He sat on a corrugated iron chair, in a flowing spotless white garment. His bald head shone brightly from the little light that shone through the small pigeon hole close to the roof of the room; the only source of light in the room. It seemed to illuminate the room more than the source of light above. He pressed his hands together sometimes and other times placed them on his Bible in response to an unknown impulse. His round face with perfect eyes and an unusual nose gave him the look of a military man more than that of a priest. Maybe not all priests looked jovial. With the holy water carefully placed beside the Bible, and at the left, the crucifix, glittering in blue, he scratched his head mildly, noticing the figure opposite him has been staring at the crucifix for a long time. He adjusted his seat, trying harder to breathe in the airless room makes him hot within and uncomfortable.

“I am father Jacob,” he said uneasily, dedicated to start a conversation after three failed attempts. “Wetin be ya name, my pikin?’’ The figure across looked up with an angry stare. She opened her mouth for the first time since the priest entered the room, stared deep into his eyes with a murderous expression, turns her head swiftly and spat noisily on the floor by her left.

“I am a learned fellow, a 300level student of medicine in Lagos state University, a would-have-been first class product. Amanda is my name. It’s alright to use Standard English with me, not all cultists are dumb.” The priest felt estranged and apologetic but tried to conceal it. He had been a prison priest for over ten years now and had noted that criminals and cultists could hardly flow in Standard English and a good number of them preferred the Nigerian pidgin English. He was venturing to say something but she raised a hand signalling him to halt and listen instead. She drew her seat closer, relaxed and looked into the priest’s glittering eyes, noticing the rigidity of his face.

 “I know you are here for the final absolution and prayer before my death tomorrow, but I want to give you an insight on what to pray for, that’s if there is a god that truly answers prayers and watches over us.

“It all began during my first holiday in my first year in the University.  I had travelled down to my hometown, Uli in Anambra state to spend the holiday with my family. I was sitting with my mom on our veranda after a week of my arrival when Papa rushed in with my two elder brothers, panting. They had gone to court earlier that day over a land dispute I knew not very much about. Only that the land was an inheritance from our ancestors and belonged to my village. Though I had not been to the land before I had seen father, grandfather and my brothers bring back fruitful harvest from there. Mother had a large plantation and pineapple farm there also, from which she constantly supplied the family and public with its bountiful harvest. For all I knew, the land was vast and rich for agriculture. Things had gotten a bit complicated that particular day and there was bound to be war soonest. My brothers took Mama and I to a bush in another neighbouring village from where we heard several gunshots. Mama cuddled me as perspirations kept pouring from my body. Papa was the village secretary and hence had to stay back. My brothers went back to the village to help our people, promising to come back for us as soon as they could. We later went home the next morning, after spending a frightful night in the bush. It was a horrible night for me. I shivered from fear and cold throughout the night. The war escalated after series of futile dialogues; papa attended several court cases. One evening, Mama rushed into my room amidst tears and started parking my things. She told me to dress up, an order I obeyed quietly. Arriving at constant link park, I realized I was going back to Lagos on a night bus. I trembled. I didn’t want to go and even if I was going to leave, couldn’t it be at dawn? The confusion inside of me spread boldly on my face.

Father hugged me tightly with tears in his eyes and told me reassuringly that he would come to get me after the war, but I had to stay in my Lodge at school for the main time. He slipped a huge bundle of money into my hands, more than I have ever received, while the bus rolled out slowly from the park. I wept bitterly, I felt strange. Maybe it was because of the uncertainty in papa’s eyes or just the fact I would miss home very much.” She sniffed gently, trying to draw back the unwanted fluid gushing forth from her slightly wide nostrils. The priest noticed the streak of tears on her cheeks and offered his white handkerchief. She rejected it and continued her story, preferring to wipe her nose with the back of her palms.

“A month later, at the beginning of a new session, I received a letter from Mama telling me about the nature of the ongoing war at home, informing me of the death and burial of my two brothers and father. ‘The village gave them the best burial any Noble man can have during the war, but it’s pitiful that I had to inform you after everything nwa m,’ Mama explained in the letter. I mourned for over a week and avoided lectures. I later gathered from subsequent letters from my friends in Uli that they were killed by a chief from the neighbouring village who had always envied my father and saw the war as an opportunity to settle scores with him.  It was a secret Mama had tried to conceal from me.

Chief Obi had been the backbone behind the war. He had an only son, Chike, who also schools in my University. He was a miscreant in third year, Economics. He was very popular and feared. I spent days hatching a plan on how to avenge the death of my brothers and Papa. No revenge would be sweeter than ending the Chief Obi’s generation. I studied Chike closely and found out he belonged to the popular fraternity called Cross. I stalked him for some weeks and discovered even the tiniest details, like his favourite eatery, meal, colour and cigarette brand. Chike was tough but gullible at the same time. I turned into an Effervesce just to earn his attention. Not long, luck shone on me. I eventually attracted his attention, not only did he fall for my beauty and skimpy dresses, but he was madly in love with everything about me. And I reciprocated by being a loyal lover. Having set the ball rolling, I knew I had to penetrate deeper, I had to win the trust of his friends as well, so no one suspects anything about me.  I started pestering him, to be initiated into the fraternity, a plea he granted after weeks of persuasions.  Everyone adored me, not only because I was dedicated but also cause I was the capon’s girl. The activities we carried out in the fraternity made me tougher. My revenge was going to be easier than I thought. There was always this bubble of happiness whenever I imagined how heartbroken the wicked Chief Obi would be when he learned of the death of his son. I remembered how Papa always complained about the chief’s hostility towards him. The malice had not begun in their generation but the chief had refused to let it go even after countless peaceful efforts from Papa. I didn’t know what brought about the age long dispute. Papa never told us.

After a year in the fraternity, I told myself it was time. ‘It is time to swing into action’, I told myself. You think am revengeful don’t you?” The priest jolted. He was suddenly brought back to reality, he was confused, he didn’t expect the sudden question. She noticed and gave a wry smile.

“That night while the school streets were devoid of all good humans, I dressed in a casual outfit, placed a brand new table knife neatly in the back pocket of my Jean trouser. The chillness of the night sipped into my marrows, the birds chirped continuously as if trying to sound a warning to Chike. The paths became suddenly irresistibly dark and hollow even with the full moon above; maybe nature was against me, but who cared? I was not scared. I was too engulfed in my adventure to be. I flicked on my torch light and walked hastily so I don’t develop a change of mind. His lodge mates, I learnt earlier, had all gone to a bonfire hosted by a popular celebrity in school, but I knew he would be at home. Chike did not like random parties. One can never predict him, I often wondered why he joined a cult group, but I never asked. I’m more of an observer than an inquisitive person. I held the handle of his door, pulled out the spear key he gave me and slipped it into the hole. I walked quietly into the room, pulled out the knife and pounced on the person lying on the bed. He wriggled and I missed my aim. He tried to lift his heavy body but I refused him that freedom. I was no match for his strength. He held the knife and we started to drag it. I fought like a wounded warrior. I don’t know how it happened but I know he tried to place me on my back but maybe he didn’t articulate his move well enough because the sharp edge of the knife thrust deeply into his stomach and he screamed. The bathroom door opened, and his friend Ben rushed into the room. I never thought about Ben. How could I have forgotten about him, that trustworthy friend of his. I was arrested by the school security and later moved to the state police, where I was judged and sentenced. I know Chief Obi is still suffering right now, but I am better than him. Chike was a cultist; he would have still died untimely. I did not commit murder. I did not kill Chike, he killed himself, by fate and I am happy he did. At least, no victor, no vanquish.”

A woman screamed so loudly at the veranda leading to the room. There were rushes of footsteps; she was mumbling curses and words of regret in Igbo. The priest turned his gaze towards the door.

“That’s my Mama, I had plans to bring her to the city when I become a medical doctor. She had never been to the city before. Now she is here, not to celebrate me as a doctor but to mourn her criminal child.” She placed her palms on her face and sobbed. The priest looked on, not knowing how to console her or explain to her that God loves her and died for sinners like her.

“Do you want to see her?” he asked.

“No I can’t stand her, I will be executed by noon tomorrow, yes?” The priest nodded in the affirmative. She moved her eyes again to the crucifix.

The priest observed and said with a paternal affection. “I can give you a smaller piece of it right now, the one you can hang on your neck”. He pulled his hand under his white gown trying to reach for it but she burst into a piercing lively laughter. The priest looked up in shock. The light in the room seemed to get dimmer. The woman in the corridor had also gradually become weaker as her wail declined; only the laughter could be heard now echoing in the room. The priest clutched his holy water on his left hand and holy Bible on his right, ready for any attack, but the laughter stopped abruptly like it never happened. The figure had remembered they had all worn a brown wooden crucifix, a symbol of their fraternity, ‘Cross’, in a slow resentful voice, full of pain, she ask, where do people who wear crucifix go when they die? Where do cultists assemble after death?

Adigwe Mary Chisom is of the English and Literary Studies Department. She hails from Ihiala in Anambra state. She is a student-politician, blogger, critic and writer of prose and play works.