Baban looked at the girl through the screen door, he was still undecided on what to do with her. He wanted to keep her alive, hostages could come in handy but she was also potential trouble. Her wealthy father would stop at nothing to have his daughter back… but it also meant that her wealthy father would pay anything to have his daughter back. He wasn’t going to have her back but the money would not hurt.
Even if he was going to kill her, she could still be useful. She was the one with Sule during his strongest points and the moment when he died, he needed information; information she would have. He could threaten her to get the information but she was a spoilt rich kid, threats may not work. Torturing her could be counterproductive also. A girl like her would die as soon as the first tooth was pulled out.
There was another way.
“Dongo.” Dongo came. “I need some information from that girl.”
“Okay sir, what do you need? I’ll get them for you.”
“No, I’ll get them myself. I have a plan.”
Baban explained the plan to him. It was simple but it all rested on two assumptions; she remembered him as Professor Tanko and she had no idea he was Baban. The assumptions had a good chance of being correct. If they were not, he would have to go back to the threat or torture.
“Are you sure about this Baban?”
“Yeah.” Baban said. “There’s something else I need you to do. I need definite word on Coker; I still need him. And if I don’t, he should be dead not AWOL.”
“Okay Baban.” Dongo said.
“Alright, let’s do this.”
Baban removed his phone from his pocket, his watch from his wrist and handed them to Dongo. He stepped out of his shoes and kicked them to the side. He pulled his shirt at the collar and tore out a few buttons. There was only one thing left to do.
“Alright Dongo, time for the punch.”
“Baban, are you sure you want this punch? You can go inside like this.”
“Look Dongo, I know you have always wanted to punch me; this is your chance.” Baban said. “She mustn’t suspect anything, I’m not taking any chances. So do it.”
“Wait,” Baban raised a hand. “Don’t break anything.”
Dongo nodded and Baban closed his eyes. He had not been punched in decades, he was sure if he was… Bam! The punch landed on his face. For a few seconds, he did not feel anything. Then pain surged through him, through his cheeks first, then his nose and his eyes… and his brain.
“Are you okay?” Dongo’s voice sounded like it was coming from two kilometres away.
“Do I look okay to you?” Dongo had put too much into the punch. Bastard took advantage. “Just get on with it.”
Dongo pulled open the door where Jumai was kept, pushed Baban inside and slammed the door behind him.
Baban crashed into the room and for a few seconds lay on the floor. The girl did not move, he hoped this plan was going to work. If it didn’t and he had taken the punch for nothing, he was going to kill Dongo. He struggled to his feet and lifted his eyes to look at Jumai. She saw his face and hurried towards him.
“Professor Tanko?” She said. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh Jumai,” Baban’s voice trembled. He didn’t even need to pretend, the punch was doing all the work. “We have been looking for you. Are you okay?”
“I am fine.” Jumai said. “You are not, your face is swollen.”
“Don’t worry about me. I will be fine. We need to get you out of here.”
“Get me out? You are in this as much as I am.” She said. “How did they get you? You were not even at the camp when I was taken.”
“I came immediately I heard what happened. I was part of the search party to find you…”
“You joined the search party?” She was surprised, he could not blame her.
“We were short on men. The crazy thing is I didn’t even go very far but apparently they had men everywhere.”
“They did? I thought Sule was on his own. He looked like he was just having a drug problem.”
“It was a drug problem? What kind of drug?”
“I don’t know for sure but it’s not likely to be marijuana or other commonly found drugs. He exhibited a lot more strength than he should not have.”
“I heard he killed a few men.” Baban said and formed the saddest face he could.
“Yes he did. He also attacked Mark. Please do you know if Mark is okay? He hit him pretty hard.”
“Yes, he is. I saw him before I left the camp. I mean before we went on the search.”
She sighed. “Great. I sent him a…” She stopped and looked at the door.
She wanted to say something? “Don’t worry about them. I heard them saying they were going to eat. What did you send him?”
She brought out a phone, Baban gasped. His stupid men had not searched her for a phone? She could have called anybody in the time she had been awake.
“I sent him a text. Only one has delivered since; network here is terrible.” She said.
“What did you send him?”
“Just the name of their ringleader.”
Baban swallowed. “You know the name of their leader?”
“Yes, I heard them talking about him. They called him Baban.”
“Baban? And you sent this to Mark?” His head felt light.
“Yes, I did.” She said. “Are you okay? You blanked out for a few moments.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He would kill people for this. “Did he respond?”
“No, he hasn’t. Or maybe he has and I haven’t gotten it.”
“Did you send any other thing to him? Maybe something that would help him find and rescue us from this place.”
“I wish I could. I don’t even know if we are still in Yobe state.”
Baban sighed. This damage could be controlled, first by collecting the phone from her. And making sure the messages she sent were not delivered. His little excursion was over, he had things to do now.
“Okay, before I go, one last question.” Baban said.
“Go? Go where?’
Oh crap! “I mean I’m feeling a little dizzy, I may pass out anytime.”
She kneeled and observed him. “I think you will be fine.”
“So at what point did Sule die? How did that happen?”
“I’m not so sure myself because one moment he was running at a pace I could not believe, the next he was barely trudging along. Then he just fell down and he hit my head against a tree and I passed out.”
“Wait a minute, how did you know Sule died? Even I wasn’t sure.” Jumai asked and stepped back.
“I overheard the men talking about it.”
“No.” She said.
“How did you…? No. Baban… your voice… the car on the road.”
“Are you okay Jumai? What are you talking about?” Baban moved close to her.
She jumped back. “You…you are Baban.” She started to cry. “You are Baban.”
Well, that was it. There was no point pretending anymore.
“I wish you didn’t just say that Jumai. You just sealed your own death.”
Baban went to the door and knocked. Dongo opened it and entered.
“She has a phone on her, you idiot! Search her thoroughly, make sure she doesn’t have another one. I’ll deal with your men when I get back.”
He touched his face, the pain was terrible. But it was nothing compared to what this Mark fellow was going to feel when he caught up to him.
Mark looked at the text again; Baban meant nothing to him. He had tried to call Jumai back severally but the calls didn’t go through. He tried replying the text but none of his messages had been delivered yet. The text gave him hope though, it meant she was still alive. But he had to find the meaning of this ‘Baban’. Was it a name? A location? Maybe it was smart to ask one of the locals.
He saw one of the volunteers walking across a corridor and he ran to him.
“Phillip, good afternoon.”
“Oga Mark, any problem?”
“I just wanted to ask something. Baban; what does it mean? Is it a name?”
“Yes, it is a name.”
“Of a person or a location?”
“A person. But it is not a name like Mark or Phillip, it is something like Chief or Oga.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
That was not helpful at all. It could be anybody. Whoever this Baban was, finding him was key to finding Jumai. And this Baban was somehow connected to Sule. Maybe Sule’s super-strength was not a random thing, maybe it was planned. But there was no way they could know that he and Jumai would come. He had a lot of questions. He needed to find Baban.
Mohammed! Sule’s little brother would know if Sule ever talked about any Baban. He headed for the hostels. How great will it be if he could find Jumai before any harm came to her? The helicopter search had turned up nothing just like he expected since he got the text. Jumai’s father was hiring more men; men with trained dogs, they were going to search every inch of the grounds around the camp. Just like the helicopter search, he was sure they would find nothing. Maybe he should tell them about the text. He definitely should tell them. He would, after talking to Mohammed.
He got to the room and knocked on the door. He opened the door, Mohammed was on the bed where he had seen him the last time.
“Mohammed, come down, I want to ask you something.”
The boy jumped off the bed. He looked sad, he was probably missing his brother. Sule was his only known family member in the camp. He made a mental note to hand him over to Phillip for special care.
“We will find your brother, okay? And you will be fine.” Mark said.
The boy nodded.
“But I need your help. Will you help me?”
He nodded again.
“Did Sule ever mention anybody called Baban?”
“Baban?” Mohammed raised his eyebrow; he knew the name.
Mark smiled, he could not believe his luck. “Yes, you know him?”
“Yes.” Mohammed said.
“Was he Sule’s friend?”
“Baban na oga.” Sule said. “Baban na oyibo.”
This Baban was white? What was he doing with the likes of Sule? In Yobe?
“This Baban, what is his profession? What does he do?”
“He dey sell ganja and white snuff.”
Drugs; that was understandable. He probably had supplied Sule with whatever gave him the strength to do what he did and Sule of course had run to him with Jumai. A drug dealer would be glad to have a girl of Jumai’s status and wealth as a hostage. He had to go see this Baban, surely there was something he wanted.
“You know his place?”
“Do you know Baban’s house? Is it far from here?”
“You want go Baban house?” His alarmed face told Mark all he already knew; what he wanted to do was stupid.
“Yes Mohammed. Will you take me there?”
The boy thought about it for a while. “But I no go enter.”
“No problem, just take me to the place.”
Mark felt a surge of hope rise through him. Now he could help Jumai. Should he tell someone? He should but they would all tell him not to go. They might even storm the place with cops without thinking of what that might do to Jumai. He would go on his own and hope for the best.
He said a little prayer, he needed a lot of help.
Mark parked the Hilux by the road side and he and Mohammed stepped into the dark streets. By now they would have noticed the missing car at the camp. He did not know where they were headed was this far. It would not matter though if he brought Jumai back. He looked up and down the street where they were parked, it did not look like the safest street to park a car. The car had lots of security locks but if it was made by men, men could break it.
“Mohammed, you will stay with car.”
The boy nodded. He was not sure the street was safe for a kid either, hopefully they would both be okay when he got back.
“That is the house?” He asked pointing to a small gate.
“Yes.” Mohammed said.
Mark looked at the gate; three men stood beside the gate, they had sticks of what he was sure was marijuana in their mouths. They were not stopping anyone from entering but he was not like anyone he had seen enter the place. Maybe this was a stupid idea. Of course it was but he had come too far to turn back.
He pushed his chest out and stuck his hands in his pockets, he was a man; he had to behave like one. He walked towards the gate, his heartbeat increasing with every step. If he was this scared, he wondered how Jumai felt. He needed to be a man for her. He got to the gate and stepped in. They didn’t stop him! He didn’t have time to celebrate though, the bizarre sight inside the compound stopped him.
There was only one source of light in the very large compound, it was very bright but it still left most of the compound in darkness. The air was filled with smoke; cigarettes, marijuana and a lot of other stuff he could not identify. He looked in a corner, a man and a lady were leaning against a wall; were they having sex? He looked away. What was this place? It did not matter, he was here to see Baban. A lady walked past him and he tapped her.
She turned around and he jumped back; she only had panties on. He didn’t know what he thought was a brown top was actually her back. What is this place? He looked down at her breasts and up at her face; she was smiling. She said something to him in Hausa, he did not understand.
“Baban? I want to see Baban.” He said.
She hissed and walked away. He stood and looked around, he did not see anyone who looked approachable. A few minutes later he saw the naked lady coming back; she almost felt like family because at least her face – and a whole lot more were familiar. He walked up to her and stopped her.
“Please, I need to see Baban.”
She ranted something in Hausa, but he could tell she understood him.
“Please, my friend is missing, I really need to see Baban.”
“I don’t know…” She started to say.
A male voice called from behind him and she hurried off. Mark turned around to see who had scared her off. The guy was sitting with two girls; just as a naked as the other girl. When he saw him turn around, he stood and removed his shirt. He was short but very well built. Mark knew what removing your shirt meant but he didn’t move. He had not provoked the guy, why would he want to fight him? The guy approached him and it was clear, there was going to be a fight. He had a choice, get beaten or put up a fight. He didn’t want any of the two options. It looked like he was the only one who didn’t want the fight though, a crowd was already gathering and cheering.
“I’m not here to fight.” Mark shouted above the din of the crowd. “I just want to talk to Baban.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when a punch landed on his nose. He staggered back and fell on somebody; it was the girl he had talked to. She looked at him with pity. No way, no one was going to beat him in front of this girl. He removed his shirt and handed it to the girl, the crowd cheered.
He moved to the centre of the circle the crowd had formed. Major, as the crowd now called him was waiting, a smug smile on his face. Mark waved him over and he obliged. He ran towards Mark and swung at his nose again, Mark stepped aside and the guy crashed on to the floor. The crowd jeered, they were not so pleased to see their man on the floor. Their man wasn’t either. He stood and approached Mark, this time a little slower. He threw a punch, Mark weaved it. He followed it with three in quick succession and one caught Mark on the cheek. The crowd cheered. Major was a crowd pleaser, he raised his fist and acknowledged the cheers. He needed to build on the punch so he approached Mark again. Mark watched him carefully, he knew fighters like Major; they put all they had into their punches, making them susceptible to a counter.
Major threw a punch and Mark dodged it. He followed the missed punch with three successive punches like he did earlier, this time Mark was prepared and he dodged them all. Major wasn’t too pleased with this and he adjusted his body positon and threw a heavy punch. Mark dodged the punch and as Major fell from his own movement, Mark struck his temple with a calculated jab. Major fell on the floor, cold.
Well, that was that. Now, what he came for.
He turned away from Major and talked to the crowd.
“Please I need to see Baban.” He turned to face the girl who held his shirt. “Please, it’s for my friend.”
She opened her eyes wide and gasped. Mark felt something on the back of his head. He turned around slowly and he came face to face with Major and a gun on his head.
He looked at the girl with his shirt.
“Please help me talk to Baban, my friend’s name is Jumai.”
The girl nodded.
Murdered by a gunshot, it wasn’t a bad way to go. He closed his eyes and filled his mind with Jumai’s smile; it was the perfect way to go.