The Murderer’s Face by Sheba Samuel Garba was submitted in October 2022 to Challenging The Writers Writing Contest #5 based on the writing prompt: Your main character is in a loop, where he dies at exactly 8:03 p.m. every night and has figured out he can break the curse and live if he figures out who is out to murder him and stops them.

“Get out of my bus!”

I crack my eyes open, furiously rubbing my neck. The skin there has grown and closed up, with no trace of the injury. But the memory is still fresh, causing as much pain as when the knife slit through my throat.

Taking in the familiar surroundings, I relax. It’s the beginning of the previous day, after all. Like always, there’s the healer, chanting about his drugs as he steps out of the bus; the young mother struggling to gather the lunch boxes of her three children, two seats behind mine; the bus conductor, a skinny teenager, shaking me violently.

I dawdle out of the bus, already tired of the day that has just begun; the day that has happened many times.

“The night was made for sleeping, not harlotry,” I mimic the driver’s loud scolding, in the same way, his Hausa laced with Yoruba accent. The bus whizzes away, with the vanishing cry of the bus conductor: “Polo Barrack! Polo Barrack!”

Before I can make a move, a hand grabs mine, shoving me in the direction of a tall building, with Baba Auta & Associates boldly sprawled on the entrance door. The hand, belonging to Baba Auta, (SAN), did not relax its grip till we were inside.

“The genius himself!” He chuckles, gesturing for the entire staff in the reception room to come close. With excitement, he announces the news: the youngest lawyer in Baba Auta & Associates has closed a huge financial deal. The crowd applaud. They’re expecting some sort of ecstatic move from me: a clap of hands, a cry of joy, something dramatic to seal the moment. But I remain stoic.

This news is novel to them, yet stale in my ears. The first few times I heard it, I was elated. Getting a seven per cent profit for a merger worth fifteen million naira is enough to make a year-old law school graduate run like a headless chicken. But what good will it do, when I’m never allowed to relish the day after my biggest victory? What good is an ivory palace without a king?

I thank everyone and run off to the office I share with my rowdy colleague. He won’t be around; I’m told he is sick. His absence is one of the few things I’m thankful for in this trapped world. I relax in my chair, waiting for my boss to come in, as usual.

“You don’t seem happy, David,” he says.

I lie that I am simply overwhelmed by the victory. Then came his old man’s poking look, but I ignore it. Telling him we are stuck in a loop is a futile path I don’t want to tread anymore. The times I tried explaining it to him and Mama and Sali, I received blank stares and guffaws. They thought I had loose knots. I thought so too, at first. But every death comes with pain, and every pain is a glaring confirmation of reality.

Sadly, I am the only one who understands that our world has changed, that the earth no longer revolves around the sun; it now rotates at a particular point, trapped in a cosmic mesh. Yet, there is no way I can prove it. What’s worse, my entire existence has been narrowed to the single path that led to my final demise. The only thing I am certain of in this new world is that I have died a thousand times.

I am cursed.

“David!” Mr Auta’s yelling brings me back.

“I’m sorry, Sir.”

“Be at the conference room by nine. The companies are sending their delegates. And fix whatever is wrong with you before then.”

“Yes, sir.”

I am about to turn on my laptop and watch an old movie – anything to eat up time – when the door opens again, revealing a young woman. Here’s a slight change in the routine I’ve embraced for the recurring days.

“Good afternoon, David.” The lady sits without waiting to be offered. She doesn’t give me the chance to reply to her greeting either. How did she even know my name? “I must say that I thought you were sensible enough to handle this task, but I was wrong.”

“Excuse me,” I lean forward, sending daggers of glares at her. “Who are you?”

“I am Angel of Mercy. But you can call me Mercy, my human name. Anyway, I have come to inform you that you have four days left.”

I snicker, not buying her gibberish talk. The lady is in her twenties, wearing a blond wig and a grey suit. Deep ebony skin gilds her slim frame. She is stunning. But she does not look like an angel. Angels don’t wear wigs.

“Expecting some dazzling winged creature?” She wears an irritating smug. “Sorry to disappoint. Now whether you believe me or not, you have only four days to escape this world. And if you fail to complete this task, you’ll be doomed for eternity. You’ll keep reliving this day, forever.”

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