It hurts. It hurts. A liquid dripped onto my tongue. It isn’t sweat. It’s my blood. I have been slapped, and punched, and beaten, and pounced, and raped, and pulled, and dragged a countless time in the last 24 hours. My consciousness was closing in. Fear seized me and I trembled all over. I failed. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to improve the well-being of everybody. I discovered the enemy’s plot and I tried my best to stop them. Still, I was conquered. I wondered if this was what Jesus had faced at his crucifixion. He was a good man, though I do not believe he died for our sins. He performed miracles; he healed the sick, he raised Lazarus, he turned water into wine (the 21st century humans can really use that). Still, he was killed in a manner that was totally unjust. The people he served preferred to save a notorious criminal than to save him. 
No good deed goes unpunished. 
It all started when I landed in USA on November 1st; Nigeria is hours ahead of USA. I was determined to put an end to the drama. I didn’t know how. But determination counts, doesn’t it? I ordered a Uber drive to the CIA headquarters. I contacted my friend, Williams Ripley who is an agent with the CIA. “Hey, it’s Halema. I’m afraid my life is in danger. It appears-”, I was interrupted. His voice was husky and he spoke in rushed tones. Something was definitely up.

“Halema!”, he exclaimed, “I’ll text you an address to come meet me now. Lot of things are going on that cannot be explained on the phone.”
Few minutes later, his text came in. Of course, the location was cryptic. He was a smart man. He had pointed to a location where he had joked about a black bird because his message read: BLACKBIRD. I flagged down a taxi and I directed the driver to the location. It was a fifteen-minute ride. It felt like the longest ride of my life. I reminded myself that bloggers were not concerned with intelligence work.  I am certainly not built for this. 
I got down from the taxi and I paid the driver; I had withdrawn some money from the ATM. I saw William right at the point he had mentioned. He looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. I looked at him from afar and shook my head, he must have gone through hell. Then again, I narrowly escaped purgatory few hours ago. 
“What is wrong with you?”, I said with a voice full of concern when I moved closer to him, “you look-”, he interrupted with a wave of his hands. 

He said, “We’re not safe here. Follow me.”

I followed him and watched as he kept walking around what seemed like a maze, except that it isn’t a maze but the streets of Florida. He kept looking back to make sure we were not being followed. After what seemed like an interminable walk, we got to his safe location. I couldn’t help but wonder the kind of weird things intelligence agents face daily. “I believe you think you have helped stopped the war which is doomed to begin on the 13th. But you did not?”
“What? What? What do you mean?”, I exclaimed. The whole world is about to collapse. “I almost died in the plane crash. Some people were after me in Nigeria and I know they’d soon pick up the trail that I’m now in the US.”

“Listen carefully, I’ll be brief as the less you know the safer you are. I had helped you get Scylla and Charybdis to the deputy executive. He promised to refer to the chief executive who would ensure it gets to the White house. However, I noticed the CIA didn’t make any such reports to the White House.”

“Information like this is top secret. You wouldn’t have known”, I said surely. 

“I most certainly would have. I know a lot that goes on in the CIA. If any of such had been reported to the White House I would have known. I suspected the CIA has been infiltrated. That was my first thought, actually. I started to do some independent work on the Deputy executive. After all, only he knows about it. After months of hacking and cracking the internet, I was finally able to get him. The CIA has not only been infiltrated, it has been helping strengthen the Isil.”

Wait? What? You can’t be serious. What? “What? That is too incredible. CIA strengthening the Isil?”

“I aver that it is true and accurate. I uncovered some bank transfers between the deputy’s account and a secret bank account. I traced for months. It was very hard for me to uncover the truth. He knew how to cover himself properly.  The CIA is now its own greatest enemy and Isil’s greatest ally.”

I was too shocked to speak. I couldn’t believe anything he was saying. He probably noticed I couldn’t speak so he continued, “The deputy’s real name isn’t Ferdinand Milton. His real name is Abdullah bin Laden. He was an illegitimate son of Osama Bin Laden. He officially changed his identity since he was thirty. He had a surgery so he can be a white. I was stunned you could actually do that. He is probably doing this for his father.”
Multiple shocks ran through me. This is much more than I had bargained for. I want to quit but there’s no such option. He opened his mouth to speak, “I believe Abdullah probably knows I’ve uncovered everything about me and he…” 
It was a bullet that had interrupted him. He fell to his death a second later. He fell to reveal his killer several yards away at the top of an adjacent building. The killer directed his gun to me and I knew my time in the world was up.  But adrenaline still pumped and coursed right through my vein. I ran for dear life and I exited the room. I ran like crazy. I exited the building to come face to face with the killer. It’s over, I told myself. But it wasn’t. The man grabbed me by the arms and he knocked me out with a smart punch. 

The next thing I knew is I was in a room. I wasn’t tied up like an animal like you would have guessed. Surprisingly, I was free. What?

I heard a deep voice boom behind me. The man spoke with a Southern American accent. “I am James Butler.”

I was too shocked to say anything. Events from the past 24 hours didn’t make any sense. He continued, “I believe you’re Halema. I have been watching and studying you for months. You probably regret knowing what you do about all this. You have faced a lot, haven’t you?”

I nodded slowly. What’s his point?

“You probably wouldn’t want to trust me. Let’s start with this: the CIA knew about Scylla and Charybdis for years. Under the leadership of Mr. Fernando Milton, the truth had been concealed. Necessary intelligence works against Islamic terrorism weren’t dealt with. Most of what we reported was based on the nuclear weaponry tests in North Korea. It seemed Mr. Milton was diverting our attention.”

“Why are you telling me this? You just killed Williams?”, I said, anger and pain and defeat in my voice. Nothing mattered now. 

“Did I?”, he smiled. And he explained. He had shot him with blank. Apparently, it had been a planned thing. James and Williams were each other’s guards. Each time danger is closing in on one of them, the other would give a sign. 

“Where is he now?”, I asked not believing him. He gave me a hell of a punch.

“He’s protecting us currently. When you came to report Scylla and Charybdis to us, Williams and I noticed a lot of things were out of place. He knew how to hack a lot and I was at a higher position, so we used both advantage to get Abdullah bin Laden who covered his identity way too much.”

“And what does that mean?”

“You wouldn’t understand. I believe now you have most of your questions answered. James and I want you to back off from this. We would offer the best protection we can but you need to back off. Your life, as it is, is in great danger. We shouldn’t have told you many of the things you know. But James thinks we owe you an explanation. After you, this was all because of you”, Williams said, apparently back from the dead. 

“You scared the hell out of me”, I said and I moved closer to him.

We hugged like we had known each other forever. And then he released me and then said, “Let me drive you to where you’ll be staying for now till it’s all over”

I nodded and he drove me. He opened the door of his car for me, and then I got in and then he slammed it gently. I waited as he got into the car. He began to drive gently and he ensured we weren’t followed. “Do you trust him?”

“James? Of course, I do. What do you mean?”, Williams asked, “after all we’re both in this together. If I don’t trust him, what other choice do I have?”
I nodded slowly. Trust is something I would keep away from me for a long time. I then remembered Rasaq. I asked Williams if it was okay to make a phone call. He said it was okay and I dialled Rasaq’s phone number from my phone book. It rang for a while but he didn’t pick up. I dialled again and I was about to give up when the call connected. “Hello? Who is this?”, a woman’s voice asked. I guessed it was Rasaq’s wife and I felt awkward but I could swear she has been crying. Her voice reflected it.

“I’m a friend of Rasaq’s. I’m calling from the United States to check on him. It’s been long we spoke”, I lied. 

Then she cried into the phone. After what seemed like forever, she finally managed to cry, “He’s dead!”

A seismic shock ran through me. What? “What?”, I exclaimed loudly into the phone and Williams beside me in the car looked at me. He wondered what had gone wrong. 

“He left home suddenly one night and he didn’t return. His corpse did. He was murdered in the airport here in Lagos”, she said and I was grateful for my earlier lie. What! I had to console her, “I’m so sorry. If there is anything I’d say to make you feel better, I’d say it. But we can both agree he went to a safer place.”
In a way, I’m responsible for Rasaq’s death. I shouldn’t have called him. I must have escaped my assailants and they must have noticed Rasaq was assisting me and so they killed him. My first love. There is a saying that you cannot forget your first love. I had forgiven everything he had done. 
Then I felt a weird urge to call my historian friend, Jackson, who had helped me with Scylla and Charybdis in London. I had a lump in my throat and I knew something bad had happened. I called his home number and it was unavailable. I dialled his wife’s number; she was a friend. I wouldn’t really call her a friend. What’s that word… Ah, acquaintance. We used to have drinks once in a blue moon. “Hey Cindy!”, I sang happily into the phone when the call connected.

“Cindy is devastated right now”, she said in third person which was one of her many characters. I replied, “Hello? Sweetie, what’s wrong”

“Jackson…”, before she could end her sentence, I knew. He’s dead. They started with Jackson and when they were done with him, they came for me. “He’s dead”, she finally said. 

 I offered my sympathy for the dead soul. According to her, he had died since a week ago by accident. And she has been mourning him since then. I was devastated. I wondered how many more people will die because of this Isil thing. 
Williams drove me to the house I was going to live in for a while. It was a house he had rented just few weeks ago. The house was separated from the rest of the world. It stood alone in the woods. And I was happy to be finally safe at last. At least before Armageddon begins on November 13th. I looked at the house. It was a one-story building painted with green and white and blue paint that I wondered if it was the colours of the flag of a country. I looked around it. Everything was perfectly calm. Just as it should be. Williams parked the car and he opened the door for me to step out. He then led the way while I followed him. We walked slowly towards the house. He walked to the door and he placed his eyes near the retina scanner and the machine beeped and said, “ACCESS GRANTED”
I asked him about it and he explained how it would only be James and him that would be granted access into the house. He walked right into the house and I followed him. Then, I heard a sound in the room and before Williams could pull out his gun, a gun was pointed at him. His killer, this time, shot a real gun and Williams died for real. The killer faced me and said in a middle eastern accent, “I’ve been waiting for so long to meet you, Halema.”

His face was the face of devil. He was an Arab and also a hired assassin. That combination is deadly. He looked at me like I was an animal. I waited for the bullet to tear through me. I have lived too long. I said, “What do you want from me?” I wonder where I got the courage to say that. 
“Your life. You’re an infidel. You do not support the cause of the Lord. You deserve to be sliced with my blade”, he said and paused for effect, “and you will. But you still have to live a little longer”, he said. 

I wasn’t going to die any time soon. But then I winced when he said, “So you can suffer in pain. You’re going to have to watch the punishment infidels like you will get. And then, I’ll kill you.”

How the hell did he get in here? I knew immediately. My guts told me who it was that must have tipped the bad guys. James Butler. He must have led the bad guys here and helped them get access into the house. I was still in my reverie when the Arab assassin said, “Now, you’ll have to come with me”
And then he knocked me out. 
The next thing I remembered I was on an airplane. How did I get in here? I suspected it must be a private aircraft for there were no other passengers except for the Arab assassin and me. He said beside me, “It’s a nice thing you’re awake. You wouldn’t want to miss the beauties of the middle east. Too bad your blog readers wouldn’t be able to read of your experience in the middle east. You’ll be dead.”

Jeez, he is such a loquacious, arrogant son of a bitch. I hate it when he talks because of the way he talks and it is like hell because he talks all the time to either boast of how Isil is unstoppable or how he was going to kill me. 

After a very long time, the aircraft landed on an airport in Iraq. I made some calculations on the date. Today is November 4th. The Arab assassin warned me not to play any game once we are out of the craft. If I did, he’d kill me immediately by tying me to a tree. I tried to picture that. It was a very horrible picture. These people were barbaric. They still lived in the ancient times. Whereas other religions had evolved, Islam didn’t and Muslims didn’t. 
It was a long drive and I saw the ugly remains of a great city, Mosul. Did these terrorists not see what they were doing? They are destroying their homes and lives. They were killing their brothers and sisters. All because of religion? 

Religion is a set of beliefs and sometimes, myths, and doctrine which offers peace to the soul and also offer meaning to life. Religion ought to protect and not destroy. But this is otherwise. It is said that when people fight because of religious issues, the effects are usually more catastrophic. People are usually ready to kill for whatever religion they believe in. The Jews have killed the early Christians before Christianity rose. The early Christians have always had wars within themselves. They also had series of wars, against the early Muslims, called the Crusades with thousands of Muslims losing their lives. And now we have Islamic terrorism?

Religion has always been the world’s problem because we can never be truly tolerant of other religions. Human beings will always argue and fight and kill and terrorize over who worshipped the better God and other nonsense they cannot ascertain.
It was when the car stopped that I was pulled back to the present. The horrible present. I was tied up. I was led into a facility used by Isil. It housed hundreds of captured people, most of who were already brainwashed. The brainwashing process isn’t quite magic. They just told people things repeatedly until they believed it was true. Until the poor people believe it is fine to kill people. I remembered what the former leader of Nigerian terrorist group, Abubakar Shekau had said, “Slavery is in my religion, I shall catch infidels and use them as my slaves.”

Didn’t he know of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights? I was led to a room where the only word I could use to describe everything is hell. The men who led me there pushed me into the room and locked the door behind me. The women and children I saw were packed together. They were dressed in black coveralls. Many were wounded. Many looked hungry. It was disheartening to see this. These animals that do this do not have a heart! Screw religion if this is what it has to offer, a world of pain and hunger and suffering and torture. I had lumps in my throat when I saw a handsome young boy who was shivering in one corner holding his knees close to his chest. He cannot be older than thirteen. I touched him and he looked up at me. I spoke to him in the only language I could speak wishing he spoke English too. “What is your name?”

He understood English and I was grateful for this, “My name is Uthman”, he said. “I have been here for three months.”

Tears dropped from my eyes as I heard him speak. I have heard of the Yazidi boys abducted by IS in the past but talking to one made my heart sink. Oh God, where are you? I cried as though he cared. Uthman continued, “In my first month, I used to wonder why they do these things to us. But now I know. They’re right to do it. Allah had always wanted this to happen. Allah owns you and he owns me and everybody, too. He can do whatever he pleases with us. He had wanted us to be in good relationship with Him. But we stayed away from the right path. We saw what is right and we chose to ignore. We chose to follow the devil. Allah had sent his prophets to us. We didn’t listen to them. What more do you want him to do before we learn to stop being so sinful?”
The boy was saying we’re all at fault for all that has happened. What nonsense had they filled into his brain? I couldn’t respond to what he had said. And when he noticed I didn’t talk. He continued. He continued saying lots of things about how the deeds of these militants was for the greater good. He had been brainwashed. I looked at him. He was such a handsome boy but with the crap in his mind, he would turn into one of them. I shook my head in pity. God, can you see what’s happening. All your people, they are suffering… Show yourself!

But he didn’t show himself. I started to think about what Uthman had said. What if Allah had wanted all this to happen? What if? 
Days seemed like weeks here and when it was on the 10th, I felt like I had spent a year in this hell. According to my calculation, the terrorists would be too busy to have our time. Their day is just two days away and I was right. We were given food just once a day. We were left in our rooms all day except when it was time for the Muslim prayers, Salat. This happens five times a day and I figured out that if escape was possible, it would be in one of these periods. I timed my escape well. It would be on the 11th when I believe they would be making their final preparations in their attempt to take over the world. 
By 5:30 am on the 11th, we gathered outside. It was still dark and I figured out that I’d better escape now so I can still have time to warn government about the global attack. I remembered Uthman and I felt sad because I knew he would only delay me if I decide to take him along. I was still thinking about him when the call to prayers cries from the nearby muezzin brought me to the present. 

Allah Akbar!

Allah Akbar!
It’s time to act. I started moving in the opposite direction as the people moving for prayers. I cut a sharp left and I saw that the direction I was moving towards was guarded. I turned to move the other way but I was seen. They moved towards me and slapped me and pointed the direction which I was supposed to move. Just my luck! I started moving with the rest because I was being watched. I had hardly walked ten steps when I noticed that they were gone. I looked around me. We were left unguarded. I could just help everybody escape but am I strong enough for that? Will I be able to divert a crowd away from these militants? I gave up the thoughts of acting super hero and I planned to save myself only. It is for the greater good, I told myself. So I started walking again. I took left and I saw a door which was left ajar. My lucky day! I opened the door and I walked through it. I saw, at a far distance, a large expanse of forest. I thought if I could just hide in the bushes then I could at least escape from these militants. 

I walked quietly and I made sure I was not being followed. I took a peep before I took a left. I have never watched a spy movie and I have never read a spy novel before but I feel like a great spy in this very moment. Breaking out of IS’s strong grip. I was about to take a right when I heard the sounds of two terrorists. They were moving towards me. What shall I do? I looked up to God and for the first time he smiled at me. I saw that I could easily climb up the building up to the next floor. It was an orange-painted, one-story building The only problem I had was time. How was I going to climb the wall without being seen? Despites my loudly beating heart, I peeped again through the wall. I had a clearer view now. They were having an argument about something I couldn’t care less about. They both had guns hung around their waist. I quickly turned and I climbed the wall. I was grateful for the intense physical activity with which I was brought up in Nigeria. I started to move again. I crouched so I could avoid been seen easily. I ran from one corner to another. I was getting a better view of the place as I moved. The sound from the mosques signified that Salat was over for the early morning. If I can escape, I will have to escape now. 

But I was too late. I was about to jump down from the building I was on when I was spotted. I looked at the terrorist at the only eye he had and what I saw was, literally, death. His other eye was covered with a black patch and I can only guess he lost it in this madness. He pulled out his rifle and he started firing towards me. I started running for dear life. I kept changing position from the left to right and I kept crouching in order to avoid being hit. The terrorist started barking orders in Arabic. Other terrorists joined him and I knew that the end has really come. Gun shots everywhere and my luck ran out when I was hit in the leg. I fell immediately and for a while the gun shots stopped. I started crawling when my left leg wouldn’t respond. They finally caught up with me and they knocked me out.  
I opened my eyes and I found myself in an unknown room. I tried to move but I discovered I was chained to a metallic pole in the room. I couldn’t move five steps without being pulled back. I tried to calculate how long I was out. The early morning sun pierced into the room and I calculated that it was between 7 am and 8 am. 

A cold voice interrupted my thoughts and I trembled when I saw who it was. It was the same terrorist who had abducted me and killed Williams in Florida. “Why? Why have you tried to escape the judgement that which the Lord had pronounced on you?”

“You don’t know anything about the Lord. He’s good and you’re evil”, I shouted at him and I wondered where I had gotten the courage to do so. His husky mid-eastern voice didn’t scare me any longer. His icy eyes didn’t pierce me any longer. He seemed like an average man to me now. 

He smiled for a while. Well, I must say, smiling does a little tweaking to his face. “Is he?”, he asked. What is his game? “You say that the Lord is good and I am evil but I ask you is he? The weirdest thing human beings have ever created is good and evil. There is nothing as such. Nothing is ever good. We have always been living according to a set of rules which changes from time to time and these rules guide what we hold to be good and evil. This implies that what a previous generation to be good might not necessarily be good to another generation. The only thing that ever matters is living in accordance to the absolute law and that absolute law is the Qur’an.”

I agree that I have never heard so much nonsense in a single speech. What is he trying to say? “So you think it is right to kill innocent people because a barbaric law says so?”

He looked at me as though I was dumb and that no matter how hard he explained, I wouldn’t understand. He gave me rounds of slaps before he left the room. My cheek was on fire and I bled. 
Few minutes later, another terrorist appeared and he began to insert a key into the padlock which was used to chain me. I looked at him surprisingly and I wondered what he wanted. When I was finally freed, he hit me and I fell down and then I realized what he wanted. He removed the belt of his green trouser and he pulled it down. I stared at his erection and I was shocked. Did it really get that big? I started to resist. I’d rather die than sleep with this animal. He slapped me over and over again. He hit me and dragged me on my breasts. I became weak and I was further unable to resist. Then he tore through my underwear and he inserted his erection through me. It hurts and I couldn’t wait for him to finish. He was really an animal. He did five rounds at once and I was weak. I wondered where I gotten the energy to survive it all.

I was left alone and naked in the room. I allowed the tears to fall. I stood up and then I began to dress myself when another came into the room. He, too, had a round with me and also left me naked. I thought another man would come. I was tired, too tired to wish it was a dream. I closed my eyes and I slept. I dreamt of a time when everything was peaceful. The time before I became 18. The events of my birthday eve still played in my mind. I had walked around with my first boyfriend, Austin then who I wasn’t in love with. He had told me that he loved me and would love to marry me when the time comes. I now realize the reason why I had left him for Rasaq was not because I didn’t love him. It was truly because of tribalism- Austin was an Ibo man serving his NYSC in my village. I had worried then if my parents would acknowledge of him. At the very least, I should have told my mother.

My mother! I miss her so much. No matter what she could have done – selling me to another man, I still love her. I wish I was wiser then. She had advised me that same night everything started that I should obey her. No matter the danger I was going to face, the Lord would see me through. And so I refused to succumb to the daring thought of fleeing and I got married to Rasaq who had talked to me condescendingly on the wedding day. He complained of my illiteracy. The truth about it all was that living with Rasaq had its own moments. The good moment and the bad. He had changed briefly when we were in London and then in Nigeria, I discovered he was cheating on me. I had left him the very day I figured out but he came to meet me several weeks later. He explained everything that had happened. He told me it wasn’t his wish to displease me but his friends had teased him about being married to only one wife when they had several. Rasaq’s infidelity was due to peer pressure. He started looking at other women and he began to notice things he wouldn’t have seen if he hadn’t looked for. I still remember his words that day, “If I have the chance to make it right to you, I would. It is now so clear to me that I have made the biggest mistake of my life. Losing you is the biggest mistake I’ve ever made”

Rasaq had sent many letters after that day but I could only forgive him. Forgetting is the harder part. I can never forget. It’s better we stay friends. Then I met Mick. My lovely Mick whose death had been the most painful thing that could ever happen. 

Everything I did led to this very moment. I’ve tried to picture how it’d be if I hadn’t gone with Rasaq. There were lots of what ifs. Too many questions handing in the air. Too many things I wish I haven’t done. But what if this is the way it was meant to be? If I die now what would be my highest accomplishment? My blog? Nothing mattered now. I had managed to grow a ring of popularity. I…

The bark of an order in English jarred my mind to the present, “Bring her out!”, the stentorian voice had boomed and I knew the time is finally here. I said my last prayer and I prepared myself. Three men dressed in full military regalia came to escort me out. They spoke in Arabic and it didn’t matter what they said.

 I was brought out before a man who seemed to be their leader. He had a scar on his left eye and his eyes were brown like sand. He brought out a phone and then, he handed it to his subordinate. He must have told the man to start taking the video because the phone was pointed to my face the whole time. The leader, Abu Rahmal, started asking me some questions which I answered honestly. About five minutes later, I had confirmed that I had known about the terrorist attack which is to take place on November 13th. I also confirmed that I had found out about the secret identity of the deputy executive of the CIA. Then, the chanting began. They started reading from the Koran and I stared. Their manner is similar to that of a crocodile. Before a crocodile eats, it sheds tears. They stopped and a gun was pointed at me. I looked at them. I was no longer afraid. I would welcome death and I would embrace it now. I started counting to thirty. One… Two… Three…  I was at twenty-three when the gun was shot and the bullet moved through me. It tore rough my chest and it shattered my rib cage and it found a way into my heart and then I fell. I started seeing beautiful lights dancing everywhere. Then I saw my reaper coming in one light. He has come to take my soul. All other lights dimmed, only his colour shone. It was a brilliant yellow light that was coming out of him. The reaper extended his hands and I was about to take it when I heard a leviathan calling from afar screaming with all its might and will, “NO!”
But it was too late…