“Kuntu’s Halo And A Set Of Devil’s Horns: Part 1” by Nii Moi Thompson.

Kuntu felt his halo turn steadily into a set of devil’s horns. His clerical garbs of neatly pressed Kaspar shirts and pairs of gentlemanly trousers – with lines so sharp they could cut with the slightest brush of one’s finger – were slowly changing into devilish robes.

Butre was alive that morning…it had always been bursting since Crudolle plc, an oil exploration and mining company from Europe started extracting offshore black gold some few months back. At first the bubbliness was with much excitement and hope, as locals would wake up before the first golden ray broke the dawn, to cheer a truck-load of miners bumping along the dusty roads to the mining site. As Kuntu would later narrate , ‘wives danced to herald an era of better jobs for husbands, babies cackled in blind optimism…even the cocks clucked in anticipation of yellow corn.’

He turned left. His eyes caught Asabea’s, the beans and fried plantain seller. She smiled coyly, lowering her gaze unto her bosomy frame standing and serving behind the wooden kiosk. Kuntu thought he should have engaged her traditionally instead of Afrakuma, his present lover who was leisurely dicing his heart valves with a bread knife. Sheer wickedness! Yet a wide-ranging grin lit up Kuntu’s face when he reminisced some of the good times he shared with Asabea. He leaned against the kiosk and covertly rested his hand on her hump.

You see these storytellers, eh…after the vague promises, they are now blowing dust into my concrete”, one old man broke Kuntu’s erotic thoughts. He covered his edible ‘concrete’ as Crudolle’s truck sped by. His food was miles away from rich, Truth; just small beans, lots of oil and gari with two slim slices of fried plantain, yet no one was getting dust into his bowl.

Kuntu agreed with the old chap. A year on, after the sea had been milked of its first crude in thousands of barrels, the roads were still bumpy – even a bicycle speeding off emitted much plume of dust -, the adults largely unemployed, and sites for the proposed health facility and public school still overgrown with nim shrubs, stubs and assorted weeds.

I am gradually losing my patience old man…one day eh…Just one day”, Kuntu was boiling.

Cool your temper, young blood!” the old chap cut in sharply as Asabea tapped his back to calm his nerves. “Blame your chiefs and the government. The dialogue was all about wades of fresh cedi notes in individual pockets. They never thought about you. Tweaa!”

Kuntu suddenly felt the weight of sorrow threatening to break him down. Asabea noticed it too, for her eyes could read his mind and soul, and it was a dark, forlorn soul. As he trod down the sandy path to Crudolle with head hanging low in deep thoughts, the old man whispered to Asabea; “Err. Forgive me o…I’m no gossip, but is he not the young lad whose mother died from rotten legs last five years?”

Hmm…He is!” Asabea recounted. “After his father disappeared soon after his birth, it has been one tragedy trailing another for that family. His mother was the sole bread winner until she was diagnosed with that sugar disease…

Asabea story was truncated by an angry toddler tugging at the hem of her cloth.

You want fried plantain eh…look at your head! Kuntu come and fight your rival oo”, she shouted after him. Kuntu turned to give Asabea’s son a quick wave and a broad grin. That boy could have been his had he not been swayed by Afrakuma’s wild seductive devices. He walked leisurely towards work, inspired by the laxity within his own soul. It was a hopeless situation, he sighed. He took left. It was a longer but tarred road, with no dust to brown his shoes or puddles of sewage to plod in. It was the plush community where managers and senior workers of Crudolle lived, mostly Europeans and a few locals Kuntu described as ‘pawns’. The small river, Obrἐ, snaked through the neighbourhood. It had lost much of its crystal clarity to small scale mining, yet it failed to steal the pomp the neighbourhood was engulfed in. Kuntu thought why the special bank and clinic northwards, with European doctors and city bankers, was only open to workers of Crudolle. The answer hit him without much brainwork. No one in mainland Butre could afford to operate an account at the bank, or pay those European doctors. His mother had been probably the first wretched victim. He raised his head and sniffed to fight back the tears! It was no time for sorrow. He had to be spirited and forward looking. He came across his boss’s apartment. Mr. Cooke!

He should have been named Crook. Mr. Crook!” Kuntu was talking to himself. Kuntu felt he was always overworked, paid less and maltreated. Moreover, since his fiancée commenced work as his office cleaner, Mr. Cooke had been unusually nice to Afrakuma and less kind to him. Kuntu shrugged off thoughts of any amorous encounters between his two headaches.

Mr. Cooke…Mr. Cooke”, Kuntu banged on the heavy gate. The security guard signalled to indicate Mr. Cooke had left for the office. That was remarkably early of him, Kuntu wondered. He had to race, and when he got to the office he was soaked in his own sweat and gasping for breath. He asked the secretary whether Mr. Cooke was in his office.

No…I have not seen him this morning. His door is locked”

It was true. Mr. Cooke’s office door was locked. Before Kuntu decided to hold the knob to confirm, he thought he heard a thump on the office desk, and a little whimper, so he pinned his ear to the door. Yes! He could hear subtle noises from the office. He motioned the secretary; He had caught a thief. His eye scanned the corridor for Mr. Cooke’s abandoned golf club and with weapon in his right hand, office keys in the left; he quietly inserted the key into its hole, before turning it with such swiftness the door flung open in a flash.

His teeth and knees rattled at the sight of his bare girlfriend, Afrakuma, sprawled on the office desk under Mr. Cooke, who was wearing nothing but a confused face which later transmuted into a red one with knitted brows. He could neither cry nor growl. His jaws were on the marbled floor, assuming the same awe-struck countenance as the Israelites when Moses’s rod smote the red sea to divide it.

Get out” was the order. He obeyed like a dog on leash.

“All In A Night’s Work” by Jermaine Kudiabor.

Innocence breathed deeply, then tugged his black jacket closer around his shoulders. It was a chilly night. There was a full moon, and it provided the only light along the tarred road. The street-lights had long been destroyed by the wayside robbers who prowled this route, and had not been replaced by whoever was supposed to be in charge. Once in a while a taxi would roar by, its headlights making it look like some amber-eyed monster. The bush on one side of the road was filled with the music of crickets, and the occasional sound of some creepy-crawly moving within the undergrowth. This was the scene for a perfect horror movie. Or a mugging.

“Hey you”, a voice said. “You know the directions to New Ejisu?”

Innocence looked towards the bush and had his view almost fully obstructed by a massive chest in a black and white stripped muscle shirt. Innocence wasn’t a shrimp, but this guy reminded him of WWE matches between Great Khali and Rey Mysterio. He could smell the heavy scent of weed in the air. The figure stepped into the moonlight and Innocence, much against his own will, gulped. The guy’s dark, hard face had a long scar from the right side of his forehead to his cheek. His red eyes quickly went over Innocence’s jacket and black knapsack, his Tag Heur gold watch and moved down to the black Levis and expensive Nikes he had on. A sly looking grin twisted his already dangerous looking features.

“You’d have to walk along the road till the get to the crossroad junction, then you turn right.” Innocence croaked.

“Since you seem to be going there I hope you don’t mind if I tag along?” the smile appeared again, the scariest attempt at affability he’d ever seen. Innocence couldn’t say no, so they set off together. The giant took his time walking, and Innocence had to shorten his stride to accommodate him. His name was Gideon, but everyone called him “Shotta”, he said. He inquired after Innocence’s name, and where he was staying. He also said he was from the nearby nightclub and had gotten lost on his way home, and that Innocence was the only one he’d seen that night. That last statement put him at rest somewhat, but he still didn’t let his eyes of the huge man. Was it a trick of the moonlight, or did he see a grin when he told Shotta he didn’t stay anywhere around here?

“Don’t move!” Shotta barked.

Innocence froze, just as he asked. The moon had chosen this time to hide her face in a cloud, as if terrified of what was to come. Even the crickets in the bush had gone silent. They were alone.  The blow to his head wasn’t hard enough to knock him out, but he still saw stars as he fell to the ground.

“That’s so you don’t have any funny ideas. Give me your watch and other valuables before this becomes more painful. For you.”  He added as an afterthought. A kick in the ribs made Innocence grunt in pain.

“Please I beg”, Innocence said weakly as huge hands grabbed him by his jacket and hauled him to his feet.
Innocence let the jack knife he’d palmed as he lay on the cold road slash across the man’s throat. Shotta stepped back as his blood started to trickle down his neck like a waterfall of wine, his eyes opened in shock. Innocence followed a step, plunging his knife into his chest over and over again, even as the man lay still on the road. He knelt by the thug, his arms shaking and breathing hard with exhaustion, but with a maniacal grin on his face. He ripped open the man’s shirt and placed the tip of the knife under his left breast, and pushed downwards…
By the time Innocence was done cutting out the heart and testicles from the dead man, he was covered in blood. He took out the spare clothes in his knapsack and changed into them, wiping the blood carefully of him. He wrapped the body parts the fetish priest required for the ritual which would make him rich with the soiled clothes into his bag. He dragged the body into the bush and continued walking along the road to New Ejisu. The moon was back out now, so he could see better.  He tried to whistle an accompaniment to the crickets’ symphony, and there was a spring in his step as he walked, his sneakers crunching on the gravel.