When their fifteen-minute date ended, JD emerged from the thick sugarcane bush behind the two-story family home. It was past midnight and the moon only had a ray of light left. JD looked around and wondered why he had so many thoughts in his head. No one in their right mind would be awake, staring at the backyard door and waiting for him to come home. Despite all your worries, adults may not even realize that you have been out of the house. Not when they had total darkness and mosquitoes to deal with.
Uncle Foreman was the only person to avoid at all costs. From behind the bush, JD had checked several times. Luck, it seemed, was on his side, as there was no sign of life in Uncle Foreman’s bedroom, which was upstairs, with windows facing the backyard. Foreman, he knew, had a weapon and would not hesitate to use it if he mistook him for a bandit. Why the old didn’t appreciate the romantic needs of the young puzzled JD.
Relying on the shield provided by the darkness, he was free from fear and even quickened his pace home. The faster he could cross the middle lawn between the bush and the backyard wrought iron fence, the harder it would be for anyone to wake up and face him. A shred of wisdom flew by and he agreed that the elders were right when they said, “If one hurries, one will avoid obstacles.” But what about fear? They forgot to say what to do with fear. Slow down and slide like a cat toward the door, he told himself.
With an outstretched hand, the young man pushed open the door and the chains behind it rattled. ‘These Obanshis [children who still defecate in their pants] never forget to close the door at eight o’clock, the exact time ordered by Uncle Foreman. What do they know May dysentery live on them! he cursed under his breath.
Not that he had any trouble scaling the fence; he had done it successfully the previous two nights and hadn’t woken anyone up. If there had been a strand of barbed wire over the wrought iron fence, its entry would have been more difficult, even bloody, but not impossible. He prided himself on being a good climber. ‘Why don’t you genuflect and thank Jehovah for the absence of barbed wire?’ he reflected, but did not follow. If no one had detained him two nights in a row, no one saw him and no one was looking for him. He almost beat himself up for making this entry seem more complex than it deserved.
With his right hand still on the door, he deliberated. “Why am I undecided tonight and not last night or the night before?” It dawned on him: the phenomenon of the third attempt. There is something scary about third attempts; streaks of good or bad luck are always reversed the third time.
Uncle Foreman liked to sleep on his right side with his right ear on the bed. That is why, he said, he was able to distinguish all the steps, including those made by ghosts. For a few days he asked himself the same question over and over again: ‘When will this young man, JD, change his mind and stop walking at night? Sooner or later, the street marauders will hit him on the head and discard him, leaving no trace of his body. Wouldn’t it be better if I did it for him? That way, at least his corpse would be found and buried by his parents. Tomorrow, if this behavior continues, I will show you that fast, stealthy eyes see fast, stealthy legs.
When JD turned away from the gate and began to study the part of the fence to be climbed, an idea occurred to him; To quickly return to the sugarcane bush, find a strong fallen stem and use it to jump over the fence. At first, that seemed real and reasonable. However, as he thought further about the plan, he realized that an inevitable hard landing would roar throughout the house and send the adults out to search for intruders.
However, his heart still worried him about using the same technique the third time. There are other ways for those who are serious about looking, he reasoned. Between the lower railing and the floor, there was a space that, if widened, could take the head and body of a slim young man. He turned around, searching for a sharp instrument. A fat and juicy sugar cane stick was revealed, only to crumble when used against the ground.
With no other option, he decided to take a chance with his third inning. He grabbed a vertical railing beside him, but hesitated before releasing it.
He studied the wrought-iron fence again. Three steps from the low railing, through the middle railing to the last railing, would take him up. He grabbed a vertically placed iron bar and pulled his body upward.
He found a footrest on the lower railing and placed his right foot. Holding the iron piece with both hands, he raised his left leg to join the right leg. Just two more rails to climb, he nodded in satisfaction. Like a monkey on a tree branch, he ran his hands over the smooth surfaces of the protruding post caps, adjusted his grip firmly, waited, and took a deep breath.
From an upstairs back room that overlooked the backyard, a hand had cut a narrow gap in the window curtain. Two unblinking eyes followed the silhouette of a shadowy figure emerging from the sugarcane bush. The eyes tracked the silhouette through a series of stalls and began before she started walking purposefully toward the backyard door.
As JD cleared the first railing on his way to the wrought iron gate, the observer buttoned his pajama ties, covered his furry chest with a brown towel that hung around his neck, and then opened a closet on a side wall and recovered a gun. There was no need to bring the long whip that rested in the tall, narrow cabinet behind the door, he concluded. Three steps out of his room, he turned left to use the steep stairs in the corner that led directly to the backyard. With the moon out of any glare, the observer walked unseen until he reached behind the gate, from where he saw JD straddling the wrought-iron fence.
Although he was a fast climber, JD was stiff tonight. Two long minutes to climb to the last rail of the fence. I stay? He just needed to get his right leg over the fence, and then his whole body. A job well done, he wanted to say, but instead felt the presence of someone holding a short metal object and then heard a voice.
‘Ewepu-ihe-anso,’ [If it wasn’t for something restraining me] Said the deep voice, ‘I would have shot the brain out of your skull. Get out of the door immediately.
JD released the rails, jumped, and froze in a hunched position. From where he stood, outside the wrought-iron fence, only a pair of vertical posts protected him from his captor.
Although frozen, JD was busy with thoughts. If ever there was a time to get inside someone else’s mind, this was the time. What would stop Uncle Foreman from pulling the trigger? Only a couple of open iron bars separated them. When action is needed, lions do not know the restriction. Foreman was a lion.
‘You drink ekpeteshi [home brewed gin]? ‘interrupted the captor.
“No, sir,” said the captive, convinced his captor wanted to make sure he didn’t die drunk.
So what made a breastfed baby like you an irrepressible nocturnal beast?
‘I don’t know, sir’ replied the captive, even though his heart was planning another romantic getaway.
“Nwokem, young man,” his captor continued, “your end has come.” Every night I have seen you climb ‘(he pointed with his chin)’ over this wrought iron fence, like a bandit. Where you are going, no one would ever know.
Then there was a moment of silence, during which the captor did a soul search. What separates strength from weakness is the ability of strength to follow a threat. With that in mind, he moved happy fingers over the trigger.
Instantly JD died. He passed by knowing that he was not alone, and that he will not be the only boy to lose his life over a teenage date.
Looking at JD’s frozen body, Foreman regretted not bringing his whip with him. Several lashes with the whip would have warmed the young man and would have been perfect for the sin of lust. His inability to act immediately allowed doubt to occupy his heart. Back and forth, he weighed whether his restraint was a sign of overwhelming strength or the beginning of a weakness that occurs over time.
Unsure of the answer, he lowered his gun hand and JD lived to tell the story.