“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…” the priest’s voice rang out from the dimly lit room that served as the chapel. I shifted unconsciously, almost turning my wrist to see the time, stifling a yawn at the same time. Why the administrators chose such a late hour for this I failed to understand. I had been planning to start my weekend early when I received the call from the commandant informing me, not in so many words, that Nancy’s number was up.
Surreptitiously I finally glanced at my watch- 6.30 PM. “There goes the free beer Gatimu had promised me today,” I thought. I looked at Nancy, her beautiful black eyes floating in a chocolate face with raven-black hair. As the priest’s voice droned on and on, my mind began wandering, soothed by the sepulchral notes of the man’s intonations.
They called her Nancy, but to me she was Nyokabi, the beautiful girl I had first met in a Nakuru discotheque as I went out to celebrate my ‘graduation’ from a local high school. My father, a farmer on the outskirts of the town, had literally sold his inheritance to ensure his only child received a good education. My mother had died giving birth to me after attempting to commit suicide. The doctors said she had mental illness.
Every month my father would send some money through the school headmaster to ensure I was comfortable. I would never touch the money until the end of the term, when I would grab all of it and spend a weekend painting the town red. My father would be none the wiser given that my grades remained somewhat above average. I would show up at home the next week, claiming that I had had to stay for extra studies.
The conclusion of the final examinations was thus another such opportunity to spend money without worrying about the future, or the past for that matter. After an afternoon of heavy drinking with friends I headed for the famous discotheque in the centre of the town.
A whiff of fragrance swished past me into the disco hall as I paid at the entrance, and disappeared into the darkened interior. The blur accompanying the fragrance was black-clad, and I caught a hint of the chocolate colored skin underneath. I was mesmerized.
Without waiting for my few hundred shillings change from the attendant, I roughly grabbed the ticket and rushed into the hall, submitting without feeling to the cursory body search by the club bouncers. Inside, I hurried to the bar and got myself a bottle of my favorite frothy beverage. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the black-clad apparition once again, fluttering like a butterfly in a dark corner of the dimly-lit disco. I abandoned my drink and embarked on a stealthy chase. She finally settled at the bar, nursing a half-empty bottle of soda. After watching carefully to ascertain that she had no male company, I sidled onto a stool next to her and faced the barman, resolutely avoiding eye contact with the girl. She finished her soda and was in the process of ordering another when I struck with precision.
“I’ll get that one, or anything else you fancy,” I offered. She gave me a sidelong glance, and then turned to face me. For a while she said nothing, and my heart was a bag of worms in my chest, thinking I had bitten off more than I could chew. Then she smiled, and I floated off the murky waters of indecision into the soft fluffy stuff of cloud nine.
“I’ll have a gin and tonic,” she purred demurely, her smoky voice matching her complexion and garb with little difficulty. “I don’t normally accept drinks from strangers,” she added, “but you have the loveliest dimples.” Her eyelids fluttered momentarily and came to a rest midway between open and closed.
By this time I was already fantasizing about the evening and night ahead, and the promise the future held. Suffice it to say that we drank ourselves senseless, and by the time Gatimu, my classmate, came to bid me goodnight, I was only half-conscious. The girl had blacked out on the seat beside me, and despite my best attempts to rouse her, she could only murmur unintelligibly and go back to sleep. With Gatimu’s help I managed to drag her to a lodging room strategically located a floor above the discotheque. Gatimu then left for home, and soon afterwards I blacked out next to my evening catch.
I woke up at half past three in the morning, still drunk, but with my passions awakened. The girl was still deep asleep, but this time I managed to wake her. She squinted at me and murmured, asking me who the hell I was. I informed her angrily that I was the guy who had bought her all her drinks that night. She laughed.
“Do you even know my name?” she asked. I was stumped. I had not thought to ask her name once she accepted to be my companion for the night. I shook my head and smiled. Although I did not know her name, I went ahead and gave her unsolicited advice- it would be much better for her if she cooperated with me.
“I will never do it,” she declared. “Not if you are the last fellow left on earth!” she turned away and made as if to go back to sleep. I struck her on the head hard- twice. She screamed once and then went silent. I shook her but she did not respond, just staring at me blankly, not even breathing.
“You will not cheat me out of my rights!” I shouted at her limp form. She did not respond. Frustrated, I undressed her, tried to revive her, kissed her, had my way with her… She did not respond. Her body started cooling and she became quite rigid. I could not remain with her in that state, so I dressed up and left the lodging. Outside it was still dark, but in my drunken state I did not care. I waited at the bus station until daybreak and took a bus home. My father smelled the alcohol on my breath, but said nothing. The next morning I read about Nyokabi, found dead in a boarding house in Nakuru after being raped and battered.
That is how my love affair with Nyokabi had begun. Every night since then she would visit me in my sleep, and sometimes interrupt my waking hours with memories of that night. Gatimu, now an accountant in a multinational accounting firm, would help from time to time by buying me beer. This would help only for a while and only while I remained drunk, but when I sobered up Nyokabi would be back with a vengeance.
I did not perform as well as I had hoped in my examinations, but I managed to train as a prison warder. Being the most daring of the lot, it was only natural that I took over from the retiring hangman when the time came.
“…Aaamen.” The priest’s final intonation ended my flirtation with unpleasant memories and landed me back into the present. Nancy looked up, her eyes watering, as she tried to make out which one among the uniformed men in the room would be the last face she saw before donning the hood and beginning the countdown to darkness.
The two warders helped her to her feet and led her into the adjoining ‘last room’, so called because it was the last room one saw before taking the long walk to nowhere. As she sat down on the lone couch in the room, the tears that had been welling up in her eyes at last became a torrent. She bawled like a child.
I unclipped the handcuffs from my belt and handed them to the warders.
“Do her.” I mumbled. They cuffed her hands behind her, and helped her to her feet again. Then they hesitated and looked at me for directions.
“Last wishes, Nyokabi?” I asked brusquely. I noticed the warders looking at me strangely, probably because I knew the prisoner’s real name.
“What?” I barked at them.
“She’s called Nancy!” one of the waders volunteered. As far as I was concerned she could call herself anything, but I knew her from the past as Nyokabi. In a dark part of my mind, she taunted me- ‘Not if you are the last fellow left on earth!’ The words kept ringing at the back of my mind. I brushed them aside and waited for the prisoner’s answer.
“I killed no one,” she offered, and made as if to continue. I shook my head at her.
“No confessions, no defence. Last wishes only.” The woman remained silent.
“Okay.” I shrugged. From my bag I took out the hood that had covered many a hoodlum’s face. Gently, I covered her head, my hands shaking imperceptibly. She resumed bawling and whimpering, and I thought to myself that it would be good riddance when I finish with her. The warders led her to the door leading to the final walkway and left her there. I would guide her on her final journey, and my tender ministrations would be the last human touch she would experience before plunging into the dark unknown.
We began ‘the walk’ slowly, but picked up speed as we went. She whimpered, sniffled, sobbed, and finally started wailing as though prematurely mourning her own demise. I said nothing. Halfway along we came to the noose hanging a comfortable distance above the ground, just enough to slip around the neck, tighten just so, and keep walking. Nancy offered no resistance as I slipped the noose around her slender neck and tightened it enough so it would not slip off, but not so tight as to impede breathing.
A yard or so from the point of no return, she stopped. Deferring to her need to compose herself before having to take the leap, I did not rush her.
“You’re the killer,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” I answered, acknowledging the redundancy of her observation.
“So why am I the one with the noose around her neck?” she persisted. I ignored her. In my many years at this job, I had dispatched many to their fates, including some who fancied themselves as philosophers and great orators. Nancy was an infant compared to them. She continued ranting in her reasonable tone of voice, and I got to wondering why she had not used it on the judge who had sent her to the gallows. After a while she stopped talking and just stood there.
“Let’s go,” I said when I felt I had given her enough time. She started shuffling forward. Momentum was important at this point, but my Nyokabi was not one to go easily.
“Move, move!” I urged her forward.
As she took her last step, she uttered a bloodcurdling shriek which was broken almost as soon as it started. There was a snapping sound, like a breaking twig, as she plunged into the gaping hole at the end of ‘the walk’. I turned to the doctor with a wry smile as he appeared from an adjoining room and with a hand washing motion, signaled to him that it was all over.
Nyokabi’s final scream twenty years ago and the prisoner’s last shriek merged in that dark corner of my mind, darkening my mood as I left the prison compound later that evening. I headed straight for the pub in the neighborhood of the prison to try and drown out the maddening noise.
At the entrance I saw another one- chocolate skin wrapped in alluring black, with a whiff of fragrance that seemed to say ‘come on!’
“Nyokabi, you don’t die easy, do you?” I murmured under my breath as I contemplated my next victim disappearing into the smoky pub.