Spring 2023 Issue

A Miscarriage of Justice

This is how it begins: a moonless night, a gathering of dark clouds snuffing out even the tiniest starlight, the sky an unending spread of inky blackness. 

A campus dormitory is plunged in darkness—power failure being a regular in this part of the world. Doors are ajar to let breeze in; students idle around, chatting over bunks, hush gossip flitting from fast-moving lips to itchy ears. Faces of those scrambling to finish up last-minute assignments are awash with pale blue light—illuminations from laptop and cellphone screens.

Few meters from the dorm, two lovers lean against a mango tree. Soft winds rustle the leaves above them, tussle the ones at their feet here and there, but in this moment, nothing is more worthy of attention than kisses stolen in the dark, than the inferno of desire burning its way through flesh and bones.

A normal campus night. The calm before the storm.

It comes suddenly—the scream. A burst of sound, full of terror, so much that it thickens the air with coppery tension. The students sit upright in their bunks, spine straightened. Lips cease their movements; laptop lids click shut; the lovers jolt apart. 

A hush descends on the landscape as all strains to hear what comes next, breaths bathed, heavy with anticipation. But in the ensuing stillness, only the croaks and chirps and caws of nocturnal animals become prevalent. 

The tranquility only lasts for a second. Another yell rips through the silence. Then a growl, "You bastard! I swear to God, na today I go kill you."

The voice is unmistakable. Uche. The school's big boy and number one trouble maker. A title no one fails to scoff at behind his back but never has the balls to do in his presence. 

Even in the pin-drop quiet, the whimper that follows Uche's words almost goes unheard, steeped in fear and agony. But the entire dorm is listening. And so they hear. They hear the plea, "I'm sorry, Uche, I'm begging you, please, stop." 

It's Ade. The school's infamous boy-girl, the one whose hip swings from left to right as he struts around campus. The boy who sits with the girls during lunch break, arguing about Barbie and Beyonce. The boy who also happens to be Uche's bunkmate.

In their rooms, the students trade puzzled glances, a wave of unspoken 'what is going on?' rippling fast and far. The confusion is short-lived, as the sound of a smack, of palms connecting with a face, a kick, a yelp, tears through the tense atmosphere. The students start up at once. Like flies attracted to a rotten corpse, they begin to pour out, some out of good-will, most seeking the thrill of witnessing what would become the next day's trending topic.

Feet shuffle across corridors, featherlight steps scurrying down staircases,  carrying murmurs and speculations, nearly drowning out the cries emanating from Uche and Ade's room on the ground floor. Did  Ade steal from Uche? someone asks. No. Even the most foolish wouldn't do that. What then could be the cause of this chaos?

On the ground floor, a crowd is fast gathering in front of Ade and Uche's room, an audience of half-clothed boys. Going on inside is a spectacle. The onlookers crane their necks to catch a glimpse of—Uche, tall and intimidating, dragging Ade by the ear, the petite boy wailing. The sea of boys part as Uche drags him out, pushes him into the cold night. Ade falls to the ground with a thud, his knees scraping against the sun-baked concrete. He has no time to gather himself before Uche's kick to his ribs sends him sprawling face-down.

"What happened, Uche?" someone calls from the crowd. "Wetin the boy do?"

Uche turns, his chest heaving, muscles bulging, face flushed. Under the moonless sky, his broad-shouldered, six foot frame looks like that of a beast, of a living grotesque plucked out of a horror movie. He considers not answering the boys. He doesn't owe them an explanation, after all. 

"Yes, what happened?" another voice joins. 

Most of them may sneer at Ade for painting his nails, despise him even for being so unman-ly, but none of them would pass up the chance to seem a hero who defended the weak.

"This bastard"—Uche grabs Ade by the collar, yanks him to his feet and locks gazes with him in a menacing way. Ade quivers in his grip, tiny sobs still racking through his body—"this bastard is gay," he spits, his voice a glacial hiss of spiteful venom. "Can you believe he was rubbing my dick while I was sleeping?"

A collective gasp emanates from the spectators. Abomination! they exclaim. What arrant nonsense! They don't question Uche's claim. It's Ade, isn't it? The openly effeminate boy. The filth. Time has revealed his true identity, just like they anticipated. He must be punished for it. 

It doesn't matter that Laolu, one of the boys, had been caught just two nights ago, pleasuring himself with a video in the bathroom, and nobody had batted an eyelid; it doesn't matter that Uche had been caught not once, not twice, shagging the dorm cleaner's underage daughter at the back of the school, in the toilet, anywhere, everywhere. None of these matters, because what Ade has done—what he has been accused of doing—is far more despicable. They will punish him for it. 

Ade, through tears-blurred eyes, scans the crowd, perhaps searching for a savior in the many familiar faces. But he must have seen it—the sneer on their faces, the harsh condemnation to a cruel fate. Quickly, he starts to explain himself: 

"It's not like that. It was dark in the room," he says, voice breaking, tears streaming, "and I was looking for my phone. I—I thought it fell from my bunk to the one below, Uche's bunk. I didn't know he was in bed when I started groping around for it."

But no one is listening, not really. Their minds are as set as stone, their decision fueled by long-term hatred.

In the minutes before everything goes downhill, a scene forces itself to the forefront of Ade's mind; one of a mob as angry as this, of choking rubbery smell and burning tyre, of stones and sticks and insults being hurled. Ade cannot tell whether it's a memory of the past or a revelation of the future. In this society where boys like him are damned for just being,  such a fate never strays too far, nor does the  fear so second-nature you do not know where it ends and you begin.

 It doesn't take long before one of the boys shouts, "Beat the gay out of him!"

"I wasn't—I wasn't rubbing him or anything," Ade tries again. "I was searching for my phone. I mistakenly touched his—" 

A different person slaps him, cutting him off mid-sentence. Ade falls to the ground. The new guy joins Uche, and they both continue to kick their prey. The rest of the boys cheer, their blood thumping with unmatched energy. 

Perhaps someone in the audience has slinked away to call the security man, but Papa Ajasco—as they call him—is too old, his post too far off, and by the time he limps and huffs to the scene, the spectacle would have been far over. Ade will know better than report the incident; it's not like the administrators like him that much anyway. 

The mob continues with these thoughts in mind. 

Somehow, Ade manages to break free, a grim blend of dust and blood coating his face, staining his white shirt a deep crimson. He starts to run, away from the boys and in the direction of the security post.

They lurch after him. The next moment happens too fast. Someone snatches a brick from the ground, hurls it at the boy escaping. It hits him at the back of the head. Ade freezes for a second, then crumbles to the ground just as they reach him.

They descend on him. Spitting, kicking, cursing. Ade writhes, spurts of blood pooling in his mouth, wetting the concrete with red stains. Bones fracture, flesh tears, yet the boys don't stop. Not until one of them notices, "Guys, he's not moving." 

But it is too late. The deed is done and a boy is dead.

This is how it ends: a dead body curled up on the ground, a mob panting down on what they'd done.

This is how they kill a boy. This is how they murder Ade Lewis.

Olayinka Yaqub

Olayinka Yaqub's love for stories and storytelling stems from a childhood spent listening to African folktales told under the moonlight. Now, he's a Lagos-based, Nigerian writer and the prose editor of Fiery Scribe Review Magazine. His short works of fiction have appeared in places like Writers Space Africa Magazine and have also won/been longlisted for prizes such as Awele Creative Trust Award and Sandra Whiteley's Prize For Children's Literature.

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