A Novel Written By: Kolade Segun-Okeowo (KSO)
Lanre got to his office and looked through the window. He saw two Health Centre officials lift the body on to a stretcher. He shook his head and returned to the table. He placed his left arm behind Brenda.
“Brenda… now don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill, I’ve told you, the Man ‘O’ War will hear about this”
The Commander-in-Chief of the Man O’ War Club did hear about it, and plans were made for the security of all the Students Union officials particularly the Director of Socials who had been in the forefront of the campaign against cultism on the campus.
The C-In-C instructed two female Man O’ War members to monitor Brenda’s movement. She made further demnds. The C-in-C eventually accepted her request and instructed the two female Man O’ War officials to move into her room and stay with her. The C-In-C made sure he chose the Club’s best female karate expert to move into Brenda’s room.
Lanre knew about all the arrangements, but he was also aware that none of them was foolproof. The danger of being attacked by the cult members was still very potent. What if they attack him while on his way to the library at night? What if they pounce on him elsewhere? He stopped moving around the campus once it was seven o clock… but still, the fear of the cult guys haunted him.
“Larry B, what’s gwan?” Bolaji asked again for the third time after watching Lanre’s behaviour for over fifteen minutes. Bolaji had been his only roommate since he assumed office as the President of the Students Union, three months ago.
He invited Bolaji to stay with him in the room. As a Student Union official, he was entitled to a room of his own, but Lanre knew he could not stay all alone in the room. Beneath the façade of the hard liner, fire-spitting Students Union President lies a jelly- like coward nature of Lanre. Bolaji alone understood Lanre’s contrasting nature. They were friends right from the secondary school and shared most things in common.
Lanre could not find a better choice than Bolaji when he considered the option of a roommate. Things had however turned rather sour three weeks after Bolaji moved into Lanre’s room. It was a heavy blow that badly affected their friendship. Bolaji had attended a crusade at the University Sports’ Centre on that fateful night.
The programme was organised by the Evangelical Christian Union Fellowship. He had attended such programmes in the past, so he felt that night’s could not be different from the ones before it. In actual fact Bolaji had always enjoyed the praise worship sessions of those programmes. He attended for that purpose.
However, when it was time for the preaching to start, things took a new dimension. As usual, Bolaji got prepared to rise and leave the crusade ground. The ushers would not stop him. They knew him very well on the campus. He was Lanre’s closest ally. He had been his Campaign Manager during the first attempt at the Presidency. Lanre had lost by only forty-two votes to his main opponent at a time when he was just a part two student.
Bolaji was about making his exit out of the crusade ground when the preacher was introduced. The whole crowd of students who had filled the ten-thousand seat Sports Centre jubilated wildly as the preacher marched towards the rostrum.
Bolaji stopped to see the preacher. He strained his eyes to make sure he saw properly. The sight was too much for him to believe, he returned to his seat and joined the jubilating crowd. He was seeing this type of thing for the first time in his life.
Nine year old Jackson Utitofon the kid-evangelist was going to preach! A nine-year old boy! Bolaji sat down resolving to stay till the end of the crusade. He wanted to hear what new thing a nine-year old would say.
The message lasted only thirty minutes! Silence reigned everywhere as the boy preached. No one could move. The preaching was captivating. Bolaji sat there mouth-agape wondering how possible it was for a nine year old boy to preach the gospel in such a captivating manner. As soon as Jackson made an altar-call for salvation; a large crowd surged forward.
Bolaji quickly imagined the implications of what he was about to do. Join the crowd and become a born-again? Everybody on the campus will soon hear about it. He forced himself to sit again.
“There’s someone in the crowd there, you know you ought to give your life to Christ but you are considering your popularity on the campus…” The voice of Jackson Utitofon rang out clearly on the public address system. “Hear me …” He continued “If you are ashamed to declare for Christ now, Christ will do the same to you in the presence of His father”
Bolaji was now shaking, he knew Jackson was referring to him. He looked round to see if anyone was watching. To his surprise, nobody cared to know who he was. All around him were heads bowed deep in prayers. Then the heaviness on his legs left, he moved forward to join the surging crowd, he tried to fight back the tears but they flowed as soon as he got to the base of the rostrum.
The news went round the campus; “Beejay’ is born again!” “SUG President’s Aide Joins SU”
Lanre heard from Bolaji himself. “Beejay what’s all these news am hearing that you’ve joined those born-again stuff” He challenged Bolaji.
“Larry B” Bolaji called his nickname trying to calm Lanre down “You see; we need to talk. I should have told you since last week when it happened, but you see it’s like I really wanted to be sure I’m doing the right thing”
“So the news is true?” Lanre interrupted.
“Yes” replied Bolaji calmly.
The answer rang like a bell. Lanre stood there staring blindly at the Bolaji. If only he could fight Bolaji he would have landed a heavy punch on him, but he knew he dared not. Bolaji was not only six-two footer; he has a black-belt in karate. The heavy built and karate experience contributed to his choice of Bolaji as his roommate after winning the Presidential elections.
Bolaji was more like an Aid-de- Camp to Lanre. But for that he would have sent Bolaji packing out of his room.
That night as Lanre entered the room looking worried. Bolaji knew it had to do with his safety on the campus. Lanre had never had a single peaceful night since he became the President of the Students’ Union.
“Larry B tell me now? You look worried”
“Beejay … those guys struck again today … They killed the Capone of the Black Vultures” Bolaji moved closer. He knew Lanre simply needed assurance. He always wanted someone to tell him all is well even when that is not the case.
“Beejay, you need to see the dead body… men! Matchet wounds all over his body … they killed him mercilessly … those guys are mean”
“That’s crazy! … But then, the dead guy has simply eaten the fruits of his labour. As the Capone of a secret cult, he too must have contributed to the death of many others… I only pity him that he did not repent before he died. He’ll go to hell!”
Lanre eyed him cynically; he knew Bolaji was looking for a way to turn the conversation into another preaching session. He has done that a couple of times, but Lanre knows how to stop him.
“Beejay life is no longer safe on this campus … imagine, if they could kill the Capone of a strong cult like the Vultures then, who can’t they kill?”
“Well, they can’t kill me, not because am a karate expert, but because I am covered with the blood of Jesus. Listen, Lanre, what you need is a sure protection from Jesus. For those who know Jesus, terrible things like this cannot happen to them… Lanre why don’t …”
“Hey! Common Beejay, there you go again!” He interrupted. “Please, don’t give me this scrap again. What has the clash between rival cults and safety of life got to do with this born-again nonsense” Lanre was already frowning. He knew Bolaji would not stop except he shouts him down or simply walk out on him.
“Larry B … I know you’re scared, but you need not be if only you surrender your life to Jesus. Jesus said “fear not for I …”
“Oh my God!” Lanre screamed! “Beejay for God’s sake leave me alone … you’re free to do anything you like with yourself, so leave me alone live and let live! QED!”
Lanre shouted and climbed his bed almost at the same time removing his jacket. He lied there on the bed pretending to have slept. Bolaji knew he was not sleeping. He moved closer to see if he could quietly convince him to attend the fellowship the next day. Lanre heard him move. He adjusted himself and drew his head phone in to place and switched on the micro-cassette player attached to it. Bolaji knew that was the final straw. Lanre always resort to that method whenever he has tried everything to stop Bolaji from preaching.
Bolaji sighed heavily and smiled; he knew it was all over that night. No Jupiter could talk to Lanre as soon as he puts on his headphone.
The Pythons Confraternity not only had the largest number of members on the campus, but also enjoys the greatest respect amongst rival cults. The Pythons Capone was said to be a member of nine different confraternities outside the campus. His father had introduced him into occultism since he was only seven years old. His father belonged to the famous Rosicrucian Order and the Aborigine Ogboni Fraternity.
The Python’s were known to be the bloodiest cult group on the campus. Recently, fourteen members of the most prominent rival cult to the Pythons were murdered in cold blood. The Pythons had invaded their place of meeting and unleashed a violent attack on them. The school authority had been forced to close down the school; following the killings to avoid possible outbreak of violence and counter-attacks from other rival cult groups.
The Python’s Confraternity usually conducts its initiation ceremony twice a semester. It used to be once in a session, but following a sharp increase in the number of intending members, the leadership of the Confraternity decided to increase the initiation ceremonies to twice a semester.
Averagely, about forty students are initiated during each ceremony. The initiates are allowed only after undergoing thorough drilling which included dangerous assault courses and physical injuries and pain. One after the other, the intending members are taken into a special grotto where they are undressed and beaten with horsewhips. The process starts all over again if the initiate cries or expresses the slightest appearance of pain. He must pretend to be enjoying the whole exercise and is expected to say ‘thank you’ at quick intervals.
As the initiates file out to the open arena for their last test of bravery, it became evident that they’re all scared. Lanre was not treated specially not withstanding his personality as the President of the Students Union. He had been the last of the initiates to obtain the application form. In actual fact, the period of filing in application forms had expired before Lanre approached the Capone.
Dragoe, could not hide his joy when Lanre was brought to him by Benson Osarode the ‘Silly Gene’ of the Python’s Confraternity. Never in the history of the Python’s has a Students’ Union President been a member. Dragoe knew his regime as the Capone of the Python’s was going to be eventful. The membership of Lanre would grant the Pythons unrestrained assess, though secretly to Union’s facilities, funds and vehicles.
Gradually, the initiates drew near the open field for the final test. They were expected to jump across a twelve-foot bon-fire. Failure to comply meant death as the Capone was standing there looking mean with his 14mm calibre pistol.
During the last initiation ceremony, he had killed two of the initiates who refused to jump across the fire. This information was first passed across to the new set of initiates. That sent a cold shiver down their spines. Dragoe shot twice into the air as if to convince them that he was not carrying a toy-gun. The die is cast!
There was a pin-drop silence as the first initiate got ready to make his jump. He moved many steps backward and ran wildly toward the bon-fire. He must have changed his mind at the last minute as he halted just about two feet to the fire. The fear of the huge tongues of the fire must have scared him. He screeched on his legs and fell at the base of the fire. He stood and turned back to make another trial.
The deafening shot from the Capone’s gun caught his head and within seconds he was lying on the ground, his brains flushed out. The young man struggled violently on the ground and soon gave up the ghost. One of the initiates directly in front of Lanre broke away from the queue and made straight for the bush. Dragoe turned quickly at that direction and fired another shot; the initiate escaped and disappeared into the dark.
Four of the Pythons quickly gave him a hot chase into the bush.
“Let the process continue!” Shouted the Capone. He was now more determined to kill. Though it was dark, they could see his angry eye balls.
The next initiate took his position to jump. He knelt down, prayed and made a sign of the cross across his chest. He ran wildly towards the fire. He leaped across the bon-fire almost too early, and landed into the fire, he jumped up quickly and managed to run out of what remained of the bonfire. He has been hurt badly; he fell on the ground and quickly rolled away the fire that had caught his trousers. He was not wearing any shirt. So the fire had burnt his chest. He sat there gasping for breath. He looked back to see if he had passed the test. The Capone had risen up his right thumb, a sign that the initiate had passed the final test.
The third initiate was preparing to make his jump when the shivering screams of the escapee was heard. Lanre’s heart missed a bit. The boy had been caught and certainly, he would be killed. The four Pythons dragged him to the Capone. Dragoe stared at him menacingly; he pointed his gun at the escapee. He was going to pull the trigger when he changed his mind.
He signalled to the aide-de-camp standing behind him. Soon a rope was brought and the victim tied up. He struggled and struggled, but he was no match for the four Pythons gripping him. A keg of petrol was poured on him. He screamed again, pleading for mercy, but no one listened to him. He was already bound with a rope and gagged. Two of the Pythons carried him straight towards the bon-fire. Lanre thought he was watching a film. He assumed they were simply trying to scare the escapee in order to prevent him from trying to escape again… but just then the two Pythons carrying the escapee swayed him four times and threw him into the fire!
The bon-fire increased angrily as the petrol soaked body helped to fuel it. The victim managed to scream for another sixty seconds. Gradually the screams died down.
Lanre turned round to see if there could be a better way of escape. Behind the new initiates was an army of the Pythons each with his dangerous weapon. They had been stationed there since the escapee made the attempt. Lanre wished he could just disappear from the arena. He never knew joining the Pythons Confraternity was as deadly as this. He had heard tales about the dangers of joining a cult, but no one told him that people were killed.
The third initiate was now ready to make his jump. He took some steps backwards and ran wildly towards the fire. His giant leap paid off as he landed safely across the bonfire. He fell trying to maintain his balance after the jump. He stood up and looked back as if to be sure he had made a successful jump. He fell on his knees and raised his hands to the heavens. Dragoe gave the thumb sign.
The success of the third initiate encouraged the others. Four other attempts were successful. It was getting close to Lanre’s turn. The guy before him was ready to make his jump. His name had been called and was already running towards the fire. He must have miscalculated! His legs caught each other and he stumbled violently and landed into the fire. His legs failed him again and he fell. He tried the third time; he took two steps, gave a loud pitiful scream and fell finally into the scorching bon-fire. He died!
The guy destroyed Lanre’s morale which had been built high by the successes of the first attempts before now.
“Olanrewaju Babatunde Durotoye!” His names rang out in the silence that followed the death of the last initiate. It was his turn to attempt the jump. The moment everyone was waiting for had come. Lanre must not die in this final test. The Capone who had used his office to allow Lanre’s late application prayed silently, wishing that Lanre would make the jump. He wished he could exempt him from this final test, but he knew that could spark off a crisis in the Confraternity.
The silence became deeper as Lanre took the backward steps to position himself for the jump. The greatest of the candidates was going for a life and death jump. Should Lanre die in the process the whole campus would be engulfed in a crisis within twenty-four hours, the President of the Students’ Union would be declared missing! Policemen would be invited. The thoughts ran wildly through the Capone’s mind. As Lanre ran towards the fire, Dragoe closed his eyes tightly.
To be continued in Episode 19.