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African Writing Archives


Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Ibrahim holds a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria. He has written for Vanguard newspaper, one of Nigeria’s foremost newspapers, and his short fiction has been published locally and internationally. In 2007, he won the BBC African Performance Playwriting Competition and his first novel, The Quest for Nina, is due out in 2008 in the United States. He is currently working on his second novel.



 Night Calls

The worst thing about being on death row is the waiting, the nightmares, the interminable introspection and the verdicts you pass on yourself. In the darkness, in the night, the verdict; whether guilty or not, keeps coming back, the incident - the one moment of madness that will haunt you till your dying moments, when you dangle from the noose like a piece of meat in an abattoir. That was Santi’s ordeal as he sat on the cold floor in the damp, overcrowded cell, his mind still refusing to believe that he was just a number waiting to be scrubbed off the board.

He had been reading that night, that first night, when the call came. He picked up the phone. It was a new number.

“Hello,” he said huskily.

“Hello.” It was female. She spoke with a honeyed voice.

“Yes?” He did not recognize the voice.

“Hello, who is this?” she asked.

He felt offended. “Excuse me, you called my number. I should be asking you that.”

“I want to speak to Sylvia.”

“Ah, I think you’ve got the wrong number.”

“No, this is definitely her number.” She was insistent. She sounded sure.

“I don’t think so. This has been my number for close to a year now. Perhaps you should check the number again.”

“Well, okay.” She terminated the call.

She had a wonderful voice, he thought, as he put down the handset. She reminded him of the little birds twittering in at dawn from the palm trees. He resumed his study, refocussing on the tiny print. Then the phone chimed again. In the night, it sounded loud, like an angry bell tolling. It was her again.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hey, I think you are right,” she said. “I got the wrong number.”

“Oh!” he chuckled. “Okay.”

“I forgot to apologise for waking you up. I know it’s quite late.”

“Well, no problem. It’s all right.”

“I did wake you up, didn’t I?”

“No, I was just eh...doing something.”

“Something? Like what?”

He wanted to tell her it was none of her business but he thought better of it. “I am reading.”

“So, you are a student then?”

“Yes, and you?”

“Same here. Computer Science.”

“That’s great. That’s what I am studying too,”


“Jos. What about you?”

“Zaria, A.B.U.”

“That’s...terrific. So, what’s your name?”

“Farida. What’s yours?”

“Santi, they call me Santi.”

That was how it started. They talked about their studies, comparing notes. Then they got personal. Every night, a little past midnight, she would call him and they would talk for hours about the rains, about the future, about randy lecturers, and then they started talking about love. That was how he fell in love with the honeyed voice at the other end of the line. They exchanged pictures through MMS. Her beauty, he thought, matched her voice. She was slender like the fresh stalk of budding bean and had a smile that, for some strange reason, reminded him of a clear spring running gently over white rocks. His feelings for her grew.

Two months later, she invited him to Zaria so they could meet face-to-face. He had been looking forward to seeing her, so, he went, on a weekend, when the sun rose with a smile as if blessing the union forged over the GSM interface. He got to Zaria and took an okada. She guided him on the phone to the threshold of her heart, her home. She was waiting for him at the door when he arrived and he realised that she was even more beautiful than in the picture. He kept thinking about that clear spring each time she smiled. She asked him in, served him food and a soft drink and sat by him. They were overwhelmed and just kept looking at each other, smiling, sighing contently, happy to abide in the fragrant presence of a promising love.

“See what GSM has brought me,” she said and they both laughed. Then they relaxed and started talking, excited like teenagers after their first kiss, hidden away in an empty classroom. Her grace charmed him and he watched her every move, every gesture, with eyes veiled with adoration. She grew, in his mind, from the myth on the phone to a living goddess - his Aphrodite. She magically took his breath way and he was willing to surrender his life then, in the fatuous manner of lovers, so that nothing else could wipe away the memory of that sight of her enchanted splendour.

Then she excused herself and went to the bedroom. He stood up, looking at her framed photographs on the walls, on the mantelpiece beside the vase of synthetic flowers. He began to wonder if she lived alone when he heard her scream. He raced to the bedroom, calling her name, his heart thumping wildly. He rushed in and was caught by a blow behind the head. He fell face down and saw that he was lying next to the gaping face of a man, frozen horridly in death. He drew back and was struck again. There were two other men in the room, hefty like prized wrestlers. Farida was behind them. She watched as they trounced him, his screams filling only his own head, before he lost consciousness.

He woke up on a damp floor that gave off the offensive smell of stinking shoes. He was cuffed and shackled and his left eye was almost blinded. He was conscious of what he believed were his bloated internal organs and he thought all the bones in his body weighed twice as much. He was in a police station. A policeman came and had him straddled on a chair. He said he wanted to take a statement. Santi explained what he could remember and the policemen started laughing. The officer in charge nodded to one of them and they brought out a prepared statement and asked him to sign it. They would not let him read it, they just wanted his signature. When he refused, they had him beaten and tortured. He eventually signed the statement.

Weeks later, when he was arraigned in court for the murder of Farida’s husband, he still could not believe it. The First Information Report said he went to see the deceased and they started arguing about money. Farida’s husband, the FIR said, went into the bedroom to get some money and that was when Santi followed him and stabbed him fourteen times. Farida screamed and passers by came and apprehended him in the act.

Santi could not prove that he signed the statement under duress and the police had three eye witnesses – Farida and the two giants. And so, after months of attending a trial that seemed designed to convict him, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was thrown into prison, awaiting the hangman with as much anxiety as he had awaited his fated meeting with Farida.
Somehow, he developed a relationship with one of the warders, an elderly one who had the courtesy to listen to his story. In Santi, the warder saw himself when he was young. Listening to the convict’s tale, he thought they were even more similar than he imagined; the naïveté, the lure of a promise of love, youthful fantasies; utopia. He sighed and shook his head. Sometimes, he would smuggle bread, garri, soap, salt, at times even pepper, for Santi to make the intolerable meals have the semblance or taste of something edible.

She surprised him again when she paid him a visit. He thought she would be remorseful but she smiled with the hint of triumph when she saw him in his ill-fitting death row uniform, as if she had won a bet. The only thing he could think of saying to her was: “Why, Farida?”

She shrugged. “They have not been treating you well here,” she said. “That’s not right. They should treat you well. See how wretched you are looking, God!”

“Why did you do this to me?” he asked, looking deep into her eyes.

She laughed this time. A demon stirred in him, urging him to wring her throat and, at least, die for having actually killed someone.

“I don’t know,” she said at last. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that to you. You are such a handsome guy. We could have had a thing together, you and I. we would have made a wonderful couple.”
He gaped at her, startled by her impunity, her heartlessness. He still could not believe she could do such a thing; that innocent smile, those tender eyes, that voice – the sound of happiness itself.

“I should kill you,” he said through his teeth.

She looked deep into his eyes and shook her head. “You can’t do it, Santi,” she said. “You don’t have the eyes of a killer.” She gave him the fruits and some items she had brought for him. He looked at the bag and tipped it over the edge of the table. The things scattered on the patchy floor.
“Just get lost, okay!” he shouted. “Just go, enjoy yourself while I take the fall for you. What pains me is that I could have done it for you, for love. I could have taken the fall for you, on my own terms. I am that stupid, you know. But you just had to set me up, you bitch! God!”

She was shocked. The anguish in his voice, the sincerity got to her. Perhaps for the first time, she felt a tinge of remorse. She stood up with tears in her eyes. “Santi,” she sighed, “I have been most unfair to you. Perhaps, I should explain to you why. You deserve to know that, at least. I will tell you next visiting day, I promise.” She turned and left. He was taken back to his cell, seething, hating himself.

Eventually, he told the aging warder about Farida’s visit. He told him what she said. The old man with a clearer head was the first to see the opportunity.

“We could get you out of this,” he said, excited. “If we could get her confession on tape, it would give you some leverage. You could walk out of this.” So, he smuggled in a cheap recorder with new batteries and a tape. He kept them for Santi until the next visiting day. They tried it out, it worked. The problem was that the buttons snapped with such a loud kpak that would give them away. So Santi had to start recording before he was really close to her. The idea gave Santi a new breath of life and he looked forward to that day with the candle of hope burning brightly in his heart. The day came. They had the tape hidden on Santi. They waited and waited. The hours crawled until the day went by. She did not come. Santi took it to heart. He developed a fever and hoped to die. He adamantly refused to get well.

Unexpectedly, she came. They rushed through concealing the recorder under his clothes, having made sure it still worked. Weakened, he trudged to the visiting room and there she was, in her angelic splendour. She brought him food and some other things. She had to bribe her way in, she explained.

“So, you are back,” he said. “Why the hell are you back? What do you want with me?”

“I heard you were sick. I knew this condition they are holding you in will certainly kill you,” she said. “How can anyone live like this? It’s inhumane. Anyway, I have been thinking about you. I missed our night calls, our…conversations. You won’t believe how much they mean to me, those conversations.”

“See where they got me, those…conversations.” He was sarcastic.

“I know how you feel. The truth is; I am actually in love with you.” Her voice quavered. He looked into her eyes, startled. She was close to tears. “I have been missing you but I know you will not believe me,” she said.

“That hardly explains anything, does it?”

She dabbed her eyes. She was actually crying. “What is killing me is that you will never believe me.” She went on explaining how she was missing him, how she could not sleep at night because she was thinking about him, about their night calls. She cried so much he wanted to hug her but he feared if he had the chance to, he would end up strangling her. But all that rambling would not help him. He would soon run out of tape if she kept going on like that.

“Explain it to me, Farida, because I don’t understand,” he said. “If you love me, why would you do such a thing to me?”

She took her time dabbing her eyes. “I will tell you my story, as I promised. I will tell you why I did what I did.” She told him about her marriage to her husband. How he had bought his way to her parents’ heart, how they had forced her to marry him, how she hated the man’s guts and how she had planned, for long, to free herself with the help of her boyfriend. It was this boyfriend, she said, having learnt of her relationship with Santi, that planned the frame up and executed it. She told him how he had threatened her life if she did not cooperate and how he had promised to kill her mother if she refused to marry him. She told him how she, too, was a prisoner, like him, how she too was waiting for her own hangman.

“I don’t think you will see me again,” she said at last. “But I just thought you deserved to know the truth, and to know that I truly love you.” She rose to leave. “I will pray for you, Santi, everyday, until I die.”

The old warder was waiting. Anxiously, he seized the recorder. “Did you get it? Did she confess?”
Santi nodded.

The warder played back the tape. The recording was scrappy and static frothed from the device but the voices could be heard. “Ah, so she loves you, eh?” he smiled and fast forwarded the tape. He pushed the play button and listened. “Yeah, yeah, more love talk.” Again he hit the fast forward, then the play button. “This girl really has it in for you,”

“Just a little forward, now,” Santi said.

The warder speeded up the tape and pushed the play button.

“…I will tell you my story, as I promised…” Farida’s voice was saying.

“That’s it,” Santi shouted, excited.

“… I will tell you why I did what I did. You see, my husband was a rich man but I did not want to marry him because I had this…boyfriend I really liked. He was…” there was a brief silence then the device snapped to a stop as the tape ran out. 

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