Torture Mike was proud of his name; he felt it weakened the resolve of anyone that was foolish enough to try to take him on. Most of the people that had had anything to do with him had some tale of woe and torment to tell, but they were thought to be the lucky ones; many did not live to tell any tales. Women suffered the most at his hands but no matter the amount of pain he inflicted, they continued to flock to him as though he piped some hypnotic tune that entranced them. He was, however, not musical and so piped nothing, but his stupendous wealth was well-known and that knowledge was music enough for most of the hapless women that became his mistresses – and then became insane. The long list of deranged ex-mistresses was matched by another list of women standing by to go mad.
He came to be called Torture Mike after some of his exes – one wife and two mistresses – recounted during brief lucid periods, the horrors they had endured in their relationships with him. Their story ‘How Mike Odiuku Nearly Tortured Us To Death’ appeared in a popular women’s magazine. The three women, speaking with one anguished voice, referred to him repeatedly as a “torturer”. Towards the end, the reporter had asked one of them what advice she had for potential victims and she had said, “Please, they should by all means avoid Torture Mike.” Apart from the magazine’s offices being mysteriously razed, there was no other sign of his disapproval of what had been written about him, and it soon became clear that the name he had been given in fact pleased him. Potential victims did not, however, heed the advice of lunatics, so I now find myself with my friends, Uju and Funke, trying to see how Nwuka, Uju’s beautiful younger sister who had become Torture Mike’s mistress, could be saved from insanity or death. “There must be something you can do to stop him. He’ll kill her. She will die from the beatings,” Uju said, looking at me. “Me! Something like what?” l asked. “I don’t know. You’re the managing partner of Adaeze Okeke & Co – can’t one of your lawyers get something like an injunction?” We all knew Adaeze Okeke & Co was myself, my clerk/receptionist/typist, and a messenger, but I decided that Uju was not mocking me but was rather wishing in her desperation that I had some legal arsenal I could deploy against Torture Mike. “One of my lawyers? From your mouth to God’s ears!” Uju’s reply was a mumble that didn’t sound like “Amen”. “Listen,” I said, “I can get a restraining order against Mike if I can find a judge that has a death wish, but what will we do with it? Who is to do the restraining? The police. Where are the police? In Mike’s pockets. Besides, unknown assailants will attack and either maim or kill the judge and then Nwuka – well, I don’t think I have to tell you what will happen to her.” No one said anything; there was a chilling silence as if we were already in mourning. We kept staring at the floor as though the answers to our troubles would come from there and we did not want to miss them as they crept out. I looked up and saw that Nwuka’s gaze was fixed on me. She was silly, shallow and vain, but she was not really a bad person and I liked her. I was not surprised that Torture Mike had ensnared her; she had a liking for the fast life and was wildly extravagant. She was looking at me intensely and I found that I could not hold her gaze. I let out a sigh of despair and looked away from her. “None of us can take on Mike, but he has to be taken on, so we must find someone who can.” I said. “Now that’s very helpful. We have to find someone who can take on Mike. Oh! That’s very helpful,” Uju said with a sarcasm I felt was quite unnecessary and I told her so. “You should not tell us to find someone,” she said defensively. “You should tell us who that someone should be.” “Jesus,” I said solemnly. “The someone is Jesus.” They all stared at me, and for a few seconds no one spoke. To this day, I cannot say how the thought of Jesus came to me. I do not usually think of Him because I do not usually pray. Uju was the first to speak. “Is it the Jesus that died about two thousand years ago or another one?” she asked contemptuously but I’m sure she will be forgiven – God has a large heart. “Jesus died, but He rose again so He’s alive,” Funke, the good Christian said, wisely not adding any hallelujahs. “And has He told you that He is available to take on Mike?” Uju the bad Christian mocked. “How can Jesus help me?” Nwuka asked, interrupting my efforts to compose a suitable retort to Uju’s blasphemy. She was looking at me thoughtfully and paying attention to no one else. It was, of course, a question that a Christian – good or bad – would not need to ask, for the good Christian would know that in times of trouble supplication to the Son of God was where hope lay, while the bad, not having depended on Him in the past, would not be seeking Him out. Nwuka’s Christianity from what I knew of it was as bad as her sister’s, so her question was an indication of how very desperate she was. She wanted to end a relationship that was choking her to death, but Torture Mike pushed you out of his life when he was done with you. Walking out on him was like walking the plank on a pirate’s ship; every step you took brought you closer to certain doom. “You have to leave Mike and Jesus is the only one you can leave him for without being killed,” I said. I believe in the strength of the human mind. If you have faith, your mountains will move; if you don’t, they will stay where they are. Your faith can come from Christianity or it can come from something else, but you have to have it to attempt the impossible. And the impossible was what we were facing. They were all looking at me now, my captive audience of three, so I tried to explain ‘the leaving’ of Torture Mike. I started with a psychological profile. I told them that his ego was bigger than an elephant and he would never let Nwuka, an insignificant little nobody, leave him. I pointed out that although he was cruel and ruthless to most of the people he had dealings with, he was above all a misogynist and any woman that crossed him was mauled. What counted most for him, I explained, was what people thought and said about him, and I told them I was quite certain he would be merciless in destroying anything or anyone he felt would make him look weak. I paused. No one spoke. Continuing, I said that even though most of our values were now misplaced, Torture Mike would not dare to kill someone for turning to Jesus. And there I rested my case. Torture Mike had started his career as the bodyguard of a notorious arms dealer. The dealer had been killed when his car crashed into the rear end of a parked lorry. Torture Mike had pried himself out of its mangled remains relatively unhurt, sustaining only minor cuts and bruises and four broken ribs. He had moved swiftly and within months was in control of his former master’s business. He had the guns and he could then get the men. His appetite and capacity for violence were prodigious, but he was relatively unknown outside the world of criminal gangs, bunkerers and ethnic warlords, all of whom he supplied arms to. When the presidential election campaign started and politicians began to look for executioners in their desperate attempts to intimidate and annihilate their opponents, Torture Mike became the man to make their dreams come true, and rarely were they disappointed. Soon he had governors, ministers and members of the national assembly indebted to him. “How is she to leave him for Jesus?” Uju asked. “She can’t just say ‘It’s been nice knowing you, I’m now moving on to Jesus.’” “Of course she can’t say that,” I said. “We just have to think of ‘how’ now that we know what has to be done.” “She really has to turn to Christ. You know…be Born Again,” Funke said. I didn’t know whether Nwuka was that desperate, but I heard Uju’s derisive “Abeg no make me laugh” so I suggested a compromise. “Well she doesn’t have to actually be Born Again,” I said. “She can just pretend to be.” We then helped Nwuka write a letter to Torture Mike about how she had heard voices and seen visions and was compelled to answer the call. She told him that God had forgiven her transgressions, wretched sinner that she was, and with untold joy she was, through Jesus, beginning to understand God’s love for her. She ended by saying that she was praying for him to also come to Christ, and she was sure that one day her prayers would be answered. We then bundled her off, out of harm’s way, to some Christian retreat that Funke knew about. We didn’t know if our desperate little trick would work, but God’s ways are mysterious. We later learnt that at the time Nwuka’s letter got to Torture Mike, he received another from the new Inspector General of Police telling him that the lorry-load of mobile policemen that accompanied him everywhere was being withdrawn. The elections had been fought and won and the heads now wearing crowns refused to revere the hand that had placed them there. Torture Mike received no new contracts and was struggling to stop the revocation of previous ones he had not fulfilled. The insecurity in some communities and the unwholesome activities of bunkerers were beginning to trouble the new government and, worried about the adverse and sensational way the foreign press reported the most minor incidents, it decided to do something about the flow of arms to the various warring groups. The blind eye they had previously turned to Torture Mike’s arms business was given vision, and he spent most of his time and resources paying people off and trying not to get arrested. Nwuka, meanwhile, went from one retreat to another and I didn’t hear anything about her until I met Uju at a wedding some months later. “How’s Nwuka?” I asked. “She’s taking the Born Again stuff too seriously for my liking,” Uju said, letting out a hiss and shaking her head. “Oh, but that’s good,” I said. “She has to appear credible for when Mike finally catches up with her as he is bound to.” “I don’t know about its being good,” she said doubtfully. “She’s really being sucked into this ‘Praise the Lord hallelujah’ thing and I don’t like it.” About a month after our meeting I read of Torture Mike’s death in the papers and immediately went to see Uju. “Have you heard of Mike’s death?” I asked, beaming as she let me into her flat. I know I ought not to feel happy over someone’s death, but I felt that an exception could certainly be made in the case of Torture Mike. He had been truly evil and I was not sorry that he was dead. Uju, however, had a doleful look and I could not understand why. “Have I heard of Mike’s death?” she asked rhetorically. “He died right here – in this flat – and I saw it happen.” “What?” I said in utter disbelief. “Yes, right here,” she said solemnly. “Right here.” I sat down, flabbergasted and too shocked to speak. In stunned silence, I listened to her story. “Nwuka had found an unshakable love for Jesus but she wasn’t like most Born Agains that I know. Neither her hairstyle nor her clothes changed and she continued to wear make-up. She took to speaking like them though, which irritated me intensely; she was always saying ‘have a blest day,’ ‘praise the Lord,’ ‘in Jesus name’ and such, but she had inexplicable inner peace and you felt that she wasn’t afraid of anything. Whenever I mentioned Mike she would smile and say, ‘God is in control.’ She was always happy and I actually started to enjoy her visits. “I was very apprehensive at the beginning and I tried to get her not to take the whole thing so seriously, and would blaspheme at any opportunity just to provoke her, but she refused to be provoked and never stopped smiling. After a while I just let her be. “All the difficulties Mike was going through made him seem vulnerable and not as invincible as he had once been. I wasn’t afraid of him any more – or so I thought. On the day he died, Nwuka had come to feed the birds.” “Feed the birds?” I asked interrupting her. “Ah, you don’t know about my birds?” “No I don’t – what birds are your birds?” “The hole in the tray under that air-conditioner through which water drains is partially blocked,” she explained, pointing at the air-conditioner in her living room. “There is usually some water in it as it drains slowly. Birds sometimes come to drink from it and so I started leaving food out there for them, mostly seeds in plastic plates. Sometimes they would even fly into the room in search of food.” I looked out of the window nearest to the air-conditioner and saw a small bird perched on the tray, looking at the water in it. “Nwuka had brought some seeds for the birds, which she was about to put out for them when we heard Mike yelling at my maid. I froze with fear and I must have looked awful because Nwuka put the plate of seeds on that table over there by the window and pushed me towards the curtains, telling me to stay behind them and remain still. “God is in control,” she whispered as I ducked behind the curtains. “She was calm and showed no fear. Daniel, I am sure, must have had that same look when he entered the lions’ den. It was the sort of look that told you someone much stronger than any adversary you could ever have was right there beside you holding your hand. Anyway, Mike stormed in still yelling. “‘What is this nonsense?’” he bellowed, flinging her letter at her. “Nwuka told him the letter was not nonsense and quietly she said, ‘I have become a Christian.’ “He exploded with fury and, screaming, accused her of having become ‘somebody’s harlot’. He then slapped her so hard across the face that she lost her balance and fell. The window behind where she had fallen was open, and I thought I saw him look at it as he moved towards her. I was petrified – I felt he might pick her up and throw her out of the window and as you know, we are on the tenth floor.” “How did you see all that from behind the curtains?” In response to my question, she pointed at a slit in the folds of the fabric. “I don’t know where my courage came from,” she continued “but I shouted, ‘For God’s sake, leave her alone!’ He swung round sharply, his eyes blazed with anger. I am sure my heart stopped beating. I was that afraid. “‘Who said that?’ he roared, holding onto a chair to steady himself. He had turned so sharply that he had stumbled. Nwuka was now on her feet and was reciting Psalm – er, you know, ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ etcetera – in a loud, trance-like voice. He turned to face her and instead of striking her as I expected, I saw him lash out as if fending off some invisible attackers. Then he screamed and collapsed.” “What on earth happened – why did he scream and fall?” “Well, when Nwuka fell over she upset the plate with the seeds and they scattered all over the place. Four birds attracted by the scattered seeds had flown in the very moment Mike turned. I didn’t see the birds but Nwuka said they seemed to lunge straight at him like some heavenly attacking force. Their presence was so unexpected and inexplicable – he couldn’t fathom why they were there. When I rushed out he was clutching his chest and his face was contorted with pain. He was gasping and struggling to breathe. It was a horrible and frightful thing to see. My maid went to fetch his driver and some other people but by the time they got here he was dead. I would like to say that the great tormentor was killed by four birds but they say he had a heart attack.” About a week later I saw Funke, whom I had not seen since our first meeting. Before I could say anything she rushed her news out. “Would you believe I came across Nwuka the other day and I said, ‘Ah my dear sister, thank God you are free of Mike, you better make sure you choose your next lover carefully,’ and do you know what she said to me?” “No, what did she say?” “She said, ‘I have chosen carefully, Jesus is my lover now.’” I sighed. “You know, my grandmother always said children should be named thoughtfully because people become what they are called. Do you know what Nwuka means?” “No.” “It means a child of the church and, I suppose, a lover of Jesus.” Image source: Flickr