A short read by

 

 

Akanbi Albert Afeso

© April, 2014

Abuja, FCT, Nigeria.

 

‘URUSHI’

…an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or the anticipation of danger…

 

 

ONE

Folu reached for his bunch of keys. The large bunch he was accustomed to hooking to the bet rail of the chinos trousers which he was fond of wearing. It was a very hectic and an exhausting day. The rain that started pouring almost at cock crow that morning had continued nonstop, at times as a drizzle, other times as heavy downpour. Most of the time the torrents was accompanied with blaring thunder and bright flashes of lightening tearing across the sky, sending fear into his mind. All day, he questioned himself whether the world was coming to an end like it did in Noah’s day.

Standing in front of the steel door leading into his flat, with his fingers, he located the house key amidst the vast array of keys in his clustered key holder. Days before, Fasote his colleague at the office had questioned why he kept such a large bunch of keys. Other colleagues made jest about his bunch of key being synonymous with his large and bulky form. It was all a joke which was an attempt at humour. Usually when such jokes were made, it usually elicited rounds of laughter which generally reverberated in the hall that was their office section. Such jokes were a welcome development considering the fact that what they did mostly in the office was to sit, play with their computers, chat and for those who may be bored, sleep. And for the feeble and devious minded ones, they saw mischievous gossip as a way of passing time. Why he kept such a large key holder Folu himself could not tell. As a matter of fact, many of the keys in the bunch were out of use as even Folu himself could not tell what purpose they served or which locks they opened. Yet, he kept the bunch of keys.

He heaved a sigh and then inserted the house key into the key hole. The door bulged. He entered his massive living room. Against the counsel of his friends months before, he had paid for this large apartment anyways. The fact that he was a bachelor which was the point his friends raised in support of their argument did not discourage him. He paid the rent with the justification in his mind that even if the apartment seems too large for him presently, its size would not be a factor in the near future because he would soon get married and begin to have children. After all, what other priority could a man of 35 years in this part of the world have if not marriage? Either way, when the children starts coming, he would still have a need for such a flat as large as this, one way or the other.

He opened the door. He did not as much as drop his bag or relieve himself of his shoes even though they were hitching him, and then strode through the massive living room into his bedroom. It was the tick-tock-tick-tock sound coming from the Quartz wall clock hanging conspicuously on the wall in his living room that attracted his gaze to it. The time was 11:40 PM. He had stayed out too late again, he reasoned. He removed his gaze from the wall clock almost as soon as he stared at the silver coloured object which was a gift from a colleague a few weeks before. The fanatical Pentecostal woman had handed the gift to him with the words, ‘Brother Folu, you see this wall clock? You see it ticking? That is your life ticking away. Repent today for tomorrow may be too late’. Folu accepted the gift with a mocking grin on his face.

Within seconds, he was in his room. He was too tired to go into the kitchen to fix dinner. The lunch Mrs. Alao bought him earlier that day would do for the night he decided. As soon as he entered his room, he dropped his bag, undressed and entered the bathroom attached to his bedroom. In another few minutes he had emerged, beads of water covering his massive body and protruding stomach, he felt some relief from the stress he had gone through that day. There was nothing in the whole world as refreshing as a warm bath he thought to himself with relish as the warm shower had given him some semblance of strength. There, hugging the tiled floor in a perpetual union was his massive bed beckoning on him to fall to it. He would empty his massive, lazy and bulky form on it and when he does, it would take only the sound of his alarm clock to wake him up at the crowing of roosters the following day he decided.

With this, Folu fell upon his bed with a thud. However, almost as soon as he emptied his exhausted form on his bed with the hope that Mother Sleep would come and take him to dream land, he heard something….

 

TWO

     …what he heard was a strange sound. The uncanny sound was coming off at first like the mewing of a cat. It was when it filtered into the room the second time that he recognized what it was. It was an unmistaken sound.

“….F-o-n-u…” the voice, dragging and sluggish, called. Initially coming off like a whisper, the caller gradually began to increase the tempo of the sound of its voice. A child’s voice! Was he in a trance or dreaming? Folu wondered yet he could not explain. As a matter of fact, the very moment he heard the voice, he could not put in plain words what he felt. Fear? Surprise? Shock? He could not tell for certain. He lived in the house all by himself. There was no way there could be an intruder how much more an intruding infant. The incessant call however continued to filter in from the direction of his kitchen. The child that was calling would not be more than two years old he reasoned from the way the voice sounded. And the child sounded as one child who was learning to talk and was in distress! Certainly this was a child learning to speak from the manner it was pronouncing the name.

Folu sat up on his bed. At this instant his adrenaline rose and sleep grew wings and flew from his eyes. His exhaustion had disappeared.  He was wearing boxer shorts over a singlet that served as his night wears which he had changed into soon after he emerged from the bathroom earlier. Should he run? Hide? Call for help? As he sat there thinking of what line of action to take and as fear had already taken over the better part of him, the intensity of the rain suddenly increased. Increasing as though huge grapes were on a free fall from the heavens. The sound was as deafening as it was scary. Ironically, the call of the infant continued to filter into his room loud and clear despite the sound of the rain. The television was still switched on. Paradoxically and unusually too, despite this heavy torrent, there was no power cut. Earlier, soon after he entered his room, he had switched on the television to find Channels Television beaming signals of “Zombie the Flesh Eater”, a horror flick. Not interested, Folu had reduced the volume of his television to the barest minimum and then ignored the television. The flashes of light from the television screen served to provide brightness for his room. A thing he liked since he was fond of switching off the light bulb any time he wanted to go to sleep. Folu tiptoed slowly to where the television was and switched it off. He then groped in the darkness for the wall switch and then switched on the light bulb. He needed the room to be really quiet and at the same time well illuminated for him to be really sure what sound it was he was hearing, whether he was sleep walking  or dreaming and which direction exactly the sound was coming from.

“F-o-n-u……. F-o-n-u” the call kept coming from the kitchen. Folu began to shiver. Despite his fear, he summoned the strength and rising to his feet, he began to tip toe soundlessly as if hearing the sound of his own foot fall would kill him, towards his kitchen. Upon reaching the entrance of his kitchen, the call stopped abruptly. It stopped as if whoever the infant that was calling was knew he had reached the entrance to his kitchen. He stopped in his track. While he was still standing there, his heart beating against the wall of his chest with beads of sweat now appearing on his forehead at the same time even though he had just had a bath, while he was wondering what child it was that was calling out his name in that awkward manner and at that odd hour of the night, the call resumed again. However, this time the call began to come from the living room as against the kitchen which was the first place he first heard it. Baffled and yet as if some invisible hand was pulling and leading him on, Folu headed for the living room, still tip toeing. On his way to the living room, the call stopped again for a few seconds. Just as Folu paused to decide what next to do, like some strange pianist who had suddenly found his keys, the voice resumed, but this time from one of the empty rooms in the flat which he had converted into a store where he kept household items which he considered useless but still kept with the hope they might one day again become useful again. Just as he decided to trace the voice to the empty room where it was now coming from, there was instant power cut. ‘JEEEZ!’ Folu exclaimed.  With this power cut came darkness so thick a knife could slice through it. At that instant a massive thunder tore through the sky. The sound of the thunder was so loud that Folu experienced momentary deafness. With this thunder came flashes of lightening so bright that it could have been brighter than ten advanced search lights put together which beamed as though directly into his retina. That brightness made him lost his sight for a few seconds. Even the sound of the thunder sent waves through the flat which made the wall vibrate. Despite all this, Folu still managed to grope in the dark to find his way back to his kitchen where a candle stick and match box was sitting on top one of the kitchen cabinets. He bit his lips in regret. He had been advised countless times to get a rechargeable lamp but had refused. The call kept coming.

Folu reached the door leading to the empty room more out of reflex than the illumination that the candle light, whose flame he was shielding with his massive palm,  provided as the flickering flame was dancing to and fro to the rhythm of the breeze pouring in from outside. At the door, again as if the infant in the room knew Folu had reached the door, it stopped calling. This sent fear rising from the pit of his stomach and remaining trapped in his throat. Despite this, he pressed his right ear hard against the door to pick any sound. SILENCE. The silence made him feel as though he was in a huge bubble. In a vacuum. He pushed the door gently. The door gave way. As soon as the door bulged, a stench so thick it could have suffocated an elephant oozed from the room and hit him. Dazed by the stench, Folu recovered just in time to see it. To see the creature behind the voice that had caused him so much fear these past minutes….

 

THREE

The sight of the infant drenched in blood shocked Folu. She was sitting on a pool of blood; thick blood all about the floor where she was sitting and facing the wall. A crawling or at best, an infant who had not been walking for long! She sat facing the wall and toying with an object that Folu could not readily make out what it was at the moment he saw her. Folu stood there like a piece of statue staring blankly at the infant. The candle stick still in his hand, the flickering flame still dancing to and fro as if it would go out any moment, Folu strained his eyes to see what the child was toying with. Unable to see what the child was toying with in the poorly lit room, just as he regained his senses and made to turn back and flee, the child turned to face him. The smile on the child’s face was as scary as it had that kind of a knowing expression in it; that kind of expression one would see in the face of some mischievous adult who was up to something sinister. The child continued to hold the weird smile as if she was posing for a photographic camera in preparation for some weird horror movie. Folu stopped in his track and made to scream but the words froze in his mouth. He had wanted to scream and take to his heels. But as if some spell left the child’s eyes and charmed him, he stopped and remained fixed on one spot like a sculpture. Just then again a massive thunder tore through the sky. The walls of the building shuck again, but this time it was as if a mild earth tremor had happened. The lightening that followed the thunder this time made it possible for Folu to see it all. He saw that the child was holding out something that looked like some raw meat. This raw meat was a combination of the inner and the intestine of an animal or was it that of a human being? The infant held it up for Folu to see as if she was offering it to him. While the child held up the huge combination of raw meat as if she was oblivious of its weight or as if some unseen force was helping her to lift up that size of meat, she kept smiling and this time her eye balls began to shine like that of a cat lurking in the dark. A chill ran down Folu’s spine. His legs became weak and he felt as though his soul had left is body. The child lifted up the meat and offered it to him. The shriek that escaped Folu’s throat echoed in the distance. He screamed so loud he could have as well been a town crier for some tyrant king.  And just about the time that he cried out…

 

FOUR

       ….he woke up, drenched in his own sweat and shivering. He rolled of the sofa he had been reclining on and fell on the tiled floor. He had been dreaming. And this dream was so real. The afternoon dream that made him scream so loud he had interrupted the conversation his uncle was having with members of his family in his living room. Shocked, everyone from his uncle, his uncle’s wife to their two daughters, Folu’s cousins, rushed to his side.

“Ha! Boda Folu, what is the matter?” Sade was the first to speak.

“It must have been a bad dream” Sade’s younger sister Foluke added

Eyah, pele. And I told you to go and sleep in the room o you didn’t listen. Pele. See as you are sweating. Go and have a bath. You sure could use a bath” His uncle’s wife said.

“Uncle Folu is too fat that is why he is always sweating like a hippopotamus” Foluke, very young, attempted some humour. The family laughed.

“Common hold your tongue. Who told you hippopotamus used to sweat?” the older sister chided her.

“Hmm. Afternoon dreams.”  These were the words that dropped from Folu’s uncle lips amidst a sigh and with a thoughtful nodding of the head. Everything  that his uncle and his family was saying meant nothing to Folu as he sat there on the tiled floor staring at the family now gathered around him, his eyeballs darting from one member of the family to the other as he tried to put himself together and make sense of what was happening. He could not utter a word. Seconds later, he lifted himself off the floor, sat back on the sofa for a few minutes and tried to regain his senses and make certain that what had just happened was really a dream or for real. The dream was so real; as real as his head on his shoulders. Yet it was a dream; a terrible and scary mid-day dream at that. Just then, Sade prompted the dad.

“Daddy, oya continue your story now” she said as everyone took back their seats in the modest living room.

“Yes daddy it true, continue the story” Foluke supported.

Folu’s uncle cleared his throat and then continued.

“Yes, like I was saying, that was how we buried my father that evening o and strangely enough, two days after baba died and was buried, one of my uncles came in from Okene a town in Kogi state and told stories of how he saw baba! All efforts to persuade uncle that baba died two days before fell on deaf ears. He insisted he saw baba that very day before making his trip to see us”

“Really!” Asked Sade

“Yes” Folu’s uncle replied and continued.

“Weirdly, on the night that my father died, something creepy happened. It happened that after his burial on the night of the day he died, I had no place to sleep in the family compound because of the number of relatives that had come to join us in mourning baba’s demise. So, on that cold night I went into the house, retrieved my mat and came out to the open compound. Because the compound was small and crowded I could not find a suitable place to lay my mat on. And so, I laid my mat on top baba’s grave, still fresh because it was dug and covered that evening, and slept on it. That was the only available space I had in the compound to lay my mat on that night. That night, I had a dream. I am not sure if I can describe it as a dream, a real life incident or a trance. In the dream, baba was sitting by my side on the grave side. He placed a hand on my chest. His hand was cold; as cold as ice fresh from a freezer. He then instructed me to dig up the ground beneath the mango tree that was few feet from where he was buried when I woke up later in the morning. He told me that that’s where he buried the clay pot which contained his savings. The family had been short of funds to perform his burial rights as at when he died. So this information came as a welcome development. No one could explain it yet we were little bothered because we needed the money. The following day, we the family members who had been wondering how we would get the funds for his burial ceremony as a chief that he was, a ceremony that was destined to last a few days, suddenly found we had access to a huge amount of money to cover for all the expenses that would be incurred during the ceremony. All this happened of course, because of a mere dream?  Even though we were all shocked, we-”

Na wa o. This is serious o” the uncle’s wife interrupted

“Yes, very serious” the uncle replied and continued.

“As a matter of fact, when I woke up and told family members what baba told me in the dream…”

Before now Folu had decided he had heard enough. So while the discussion was still going on, he had dragged his lazy self from off the sofa and headed for the room. Going out of earshot, he heard no more of the conversation between his uncle and his family. Within minutes, Folu was under the shower in the bathroom attached to the room. He had made up his mind to leave for Ile-Ife his base that same evening. He had come to Lagos the day before, a Thursday, to buy the battery for his Sony laptop. Upon discovery that it was the battery that was making the laptop go out of power so quickly, he had searched every computer shop in Ile-Ife but couldn’t get the exact type which was the make of his laptop to buy. That was why he decided to go to Lagos to get it. He had originally planned to return to Ife on Sunday, but suddenly changed his mind following the dream he had just had. Before he left his uncle and his family in the parlour, he had stolen a glance at the wall clock and the time read 4:15 PM. While in the bathroom still taking his shower, with the faint and distant chattering of his uncle and his family filtering in from the sitting room, he suddenly heard a commotion in the living room. Someone screamed and badged into the living room. It was Chichi, a tenant in his uncle’s house. It was her voice that he heard.

Ewo eee!” Chichi was screaming as she was at the same time catching her breath. Her scream was so loud she might have been speaking to Folu directly in the bathroom.

“Wonders shall never end ooo! Neighbourrrrrrrrr make una come see fawol wey no be man wey dey cry for hot afternoon ooo” she cried in a heavily accented Igbo tune as soon as she scrambled into the living room taking Folu uncle and his family by surprise.

“Daddy, what is ‘fawol wey no be man wey dey cry’?” Foluke, 12 years and always inquisitive asked the father trying to mimic Chichi’s accent and attempting humour again for the second time.

“Hmmm. Aunty Chichi is trying to tell us that something strange has happened.  Usually it is cocks that crow not hens ok? And even at that, cocks crow mostly in the mornings and not during day times like this. So, it would be really strange indeed if aunty Chichi is right that instead of a rooster crow, it’s a hen that’s crowing.”

Turning to Chichi who by now was standing and panting and occasionally rubbing her palms against each other and showing them to the ceiling in a questioning manner, Folu’s uncle asked.

“Are you sure of what you are saying? That there is a hen that crows in this compound in the afternoon?”

I say make una come see. The whole yard don gather for there. Tufiakwa. Aruu eeee”.  Before the words dropped from her mouth, she was out the door as fast as she had come. By now Folu had turned off the shower and was listening intently. He heard commotion followed by footfalls in the living room. In seconds, the living room was empty and silent. Folu could tell this even though he was in the bathroom because of the massive silence that descended on his uncle’s 2 bedrooms flat in the massive compound soon after the commotion that he heard and the voice fading as they rushed out of the living room. This area of Lagos is strange he thought. As a matter of fact, he had not particularly enjoyed his stay in Lagos this past 2 days. By the time he was done having his bath and parking his things, his uncle and the family had returned. He reached the living room and without bothering to ask them how the episode of the ‘Crowing Hen’ went, he informed them he was leaving for Ile-Ife.

Ha! Bodaaaa. This is not our arrangement o. What about the thing you promised me?” Sade was the first to speak.

“Don’t worry Sade, I will send it to you as soon as I get to Ile-Ife.” Folu assured her with a mild pat on the back.

“Uncle Folu, its almost late now, why not wait till Sunday as you planned or at least till tomorrow morning” the uncle’s wife advised.

“Ife is not far. If I leave now, in another 3 hours, I will be home”. He returned.

“Why the suddenly change of mind, I thought you said you will be leaving on Sunday?”

“Uncle, I just got a call that I need to be in Ife today. Besides there is a report I need to submit to my oga which we must present to the management of my office on Monday. And he needs to get it tomorrow so he can vet it before work on Monday” Folu lied.

“Oh o. I see. Isn’t it that same oga of yours, pa Okotete the one you told me about? Why would he bother?”

“Hmm Uncle, he will o. The man is a workaholic o. Even if he finds nothing to do, he’d rather work on irrelevant matters. ‘Movement without Motion’, that’s what we call his attitude to work in the office” he said and laughed.

“Well, that may be his nature. There are people like him who make themselves busy even if what they are working on is not necessary or important. I used to have a staff like that.” His uncle returned.

“Uncle, this one, his own is worse” Folu said and laughed again.

“Well, you can’t bend a dry fish. If that’s his nature then your duty is to learn how to cope with him… Its ok then, drive safely ok”

“Sure uncle I will. Thanks for everything, bye bye” Folu said. By now the uncle and family members were standing by Folu’s car. One by one, he gave all of them a hug and entered his car. Revving the car, he drove off…

 

FIVE

        30 minutes from when he left his uncle’s house, Folu was already at Berger end of Lagos Ibadan expressway. His Toyota Camry ‘Pencil Light’ as he likes to call the car was in good shape and so, in another 3 hours, he should be in Ile-Ife, he reasoned. By the time he reached Berger, he discovered that the express way leading from Berger to Ibafo-Mowe area was caught in a massive traffic. ‘God! What is this?’ He cursed under his breath. All the vehicles in the expressway were literally at a standstill. So enormous was the traffic that most motorist, led by the yellow-with-black stripe Lagos buses popularly called ‘danfo’ created alternative routes anywhere they could find any semblance of a road. The scene was chaotic. The entire expressway, as massive as it is was jam-packed with vehicles of different shapes and sizes. Looking at the expressway leading off from Lagos, Folu saw the cars filed in a long stretch like one large immobile snake. Upon enquires, he was informed that one of the countless church camps own by one of the countless protestant churches, almost all of them members of the powerful umbrella body of Pentecostals, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) that lined the expressway was the one holding one of their religious programmes. That was the chief cause of the traffic gridlock. He could not go back to his uncle’s house. He had no choice but to wait it out. The next 5 hours that Folu spent in the traffic was the longest and most agonizing 5 hours of his recent driving experience. Thankfully, he later left the traffic without having to go back to his uncle’s house at the expiration of the 5 hours. At least he was grateful for that. That eerie house where nightmares were part of afternoon naps and hens crow at mid-day he thought.

By the time Folu reached Gbogan, a town in the State of Osun, it was 11 PM in the night. But his Car seemed ok therefore there was no cause for worry. His only regret was that the State of Osun was not like Lagos where by this time of night the streets would still be bubbling with life. Lagos, the city that never sleeps he thought as his lips stretched in a smile that brightened his face. In contrast, the State of Osun, the state that was permanently in a deep state of slumber he thought with a hiss. In another 30 minutes or less, he would be in Ife he consoled himself. So he continued on the journey.

Few kilometers after Gbogan, Folu noticed on the dashboard of his car that his car was overheating. The needle-like indicator on the dash board was reading very high, an indication that the temperature of the car was high. Long before it became a source of grave concern for him, Folu had noticed but had initially ignored it. He had actually hoped he could rough the journey till he got to Ife. However, the fact that some steam was now appearing and forming inside the car as though the car was smoking inside made him decide against roughing the journey to Ile-Ife. He knew the radiator of his car was ok. Why then was his car showing signs of overheating and now appeared to be smoking inside? He sensed that the whole vicinity was so quiet and empty that the very sound that insects were making was as loud as though planes were crashing by the seconds despite the breeze wiping against his ears from outside. He decided to pull over as soon as he came upon a place that had the minutest traces of life and check his car.

Luckily, he soon found an old building. Thankful, he pulled over by the side of the road just in front of the building. It was a one storey building. An old house actually. Folu alighted from his car. As soon as he alighted from the car, he noticed a difference in the cold outside breeze as against the breeze that had hitherto been wiping against his face inside his car. He opened his burnet. First, it was raw heat that wiped against his face upon opening the car burnet before he saw it; the culprit. The reason the temperature of his car was so high. The radiator of the car was empty. All the water had drained. His Gasket would have burnt had he continued on the journey, he knew. Confused Folu stood there thinking of what next to do. His predicament was made worse by the reality of the fact that he was in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. He hoped and prayed a Good Samaritan would happen by.

Suddenly, like what appeared to be answers to prayers, an old woman nearly doubled forward by age appeared behind him…

 

SIX

Folu had not heard her approach. He just saw her behind him. At first he was taken aback. But then the fact that the old woman apart from looking a little unkempt also gave the impression of being frail and harmless made him loosen his guard.

“Kale o omo mi. Se kosi o. Ta lo bere?”

Folu regarded the old woman. She was totally grey. Slim, a little bent and holding a funny looking walking stick, her hair was in-between unkempt and tidy. Her voice quaked and shook as she spoke. Even though visibility level was down to zero at that time of the night, with the help of the headlights of his car, Folu could make out the features of the old woman. As she spoke her greetings, Folu noticed her teeth were almost all gone. Only a few remained attached to her gum. Her hands looked frail and wrinkled as though they had died long ago and were eagerly waiting for the rest of the old woman’s body to join them and they shook with every gesticulation she was making. Who was this old woman standing in front of him and asking him if there was any problem? Couldn’t she figure out for herself that there was indeed a problem and that he was a stranded stranger? Folu reasoned.

“Ha! Mama, e kale ma. Ilu Eko ni mo’n ti’n bo. Ile-Ife ni mo’n lo”

 “Kilode ti o se fin oru rin? Kilo se mutor re? Folu felt a little irritated. He had explained to her his ordeal why was she asking him what the problem with his car was again? He ignored the question. Instead he asked her a question.

“Mama, ejo, ni bo ni mo ti le ri eni ti o le ba mi tun moto mi se?”  This question was necessary he thought because he was trying to play the optimist by thinking he could get a mechanic to help fix his car at this hour of night. However, as he asked this question of how possible it was for him to get someone who could help fix his car at that hour of night, he wasn’t thinking straight.

“L’oru yi? Ile ti su o ati pe ojo ti lo. Gbogbo awon mekaniki ti se tan o, o’n de ti lo le o”

Folu looked at his wristwatch. 11:55 PM. The old woman was right. It would be difficult to get a mechanic at that hour of night. He looked at his phone, there was no service network. No signals. At this point his adrenaline rose and he lost the ability of thinking aright for that moment. As it were, he was now a desperate man in a literal sense. His mind was now working like a shredding machine.

Though a little wary of the old woman, with her help all the same, Folu was able to get some water with which he filled the radiator of his car but the car wouldn’t start even after the trouble. After many tries, he knew if he continued to force the car to ignite, the ignition might be damaged. With a lot of hesitation, he heeded the old woman’s advice and decided to pass the night in the woman’s house. Folu used his Steering Lock to padlock the steering of his car, satisfied that his car was secured even though it was packed in front of the house and by the side of the expressway; he entered the storey building with the old woman. When offered amala and ewedu, Folu declined politely pointing out to the old woman that it was too late at that time of the night to eat. After chatting for a few minutes with the old woman from whom he learned, expectedly, that her children had all grown up and left home, he was shown to the guest room where he was to pass the night. Fear had however prevailed on him and thus made him decide he would stay on the faded couch in the parlour where he decided to pass the night instead. He did not sleep that night. He stayed awake praying the day would break as fast as possible. That prayer was answered. The day broke before he knew it.

 

SEVEN

Folu rose very early from sleep the following morning, so much so that even before rooster crew, he was already up. He didn’t get the chance of taking a good look at the house the night before part because it was dark and he was tired and part also because the old woman was a constant companion before they both bade each other good night the previous night. Now he had the chance to survey the house. Glancing around nervously, he saw somber looking portrait of the old woman and an old man whom he guessed may be the husband hung on the wall and staring at him behind layers of dust and some cobweb. By now, the early morning cold hesitant light were beginning to stream into the house through a slightly opened window in the parlour. Even though the old woman told him about her kids, he noticed there were no pictures of kids on the wall save the old couple’s pictures. As Folu walked up to the door leading to the old woman’s room he couldn’t help but feel someone was following behind him. The sort of feeling of one been monitored. Still he braved it there to the door. At the door, he called out

 “M-a-m-a” a number of times and then added, “E karo mama, mo ti ji o” registering his greetings.  SILENCE. Wondering where the old woman may have gone that early when all the doors in the house were still firmly under locks, Folu tried the door handle leading to the old woman’s room. The door bulged at one touch. He opened it up to half its arc and peak inside the room. The old woman wasn’t there in her room. Instead of the old woman, he saw some large bundle of white fabrics arranged upon her bed. He knew for sure it was the bed the bed the old woman had slept on. The cloths were arranged as though it was a human being who lay on the bed in an awkward sleeping position. On the wall near the bed, close to where the ceiling met the top of the wall was a large portrait picture of the old woman smiling mischievously to Folu as if she was beckoning on him to come inside the poorly lit room. Near the bed were a long broom and a set of very old and won out bathroom slippers. As Folu regarded the objects on the floor by the bed, suddenly he felt as if something or someone brushed pass him. His heart skipped momentarily and he stole a nervous glance around behind his back and inside the untidy and clustered room. Seeing nothing, he bonded straight for the main door in the parlour more out of fear and reflex. His mindset at that moment was that of a police officer friend of his who was accustomed to fleeing from any kind of duty he suspected maybe dangerous: ‘run first, and then ask questions later. Don’t try to be a hero’, he always told Folu.

Reaching the main door, he opened it with shaky hands and emerged outside the house. Outside now, Folu saw that the expressway was still barren of life. While still wondering where the old woman had gone that early, he saw a motorcycle popularly called okada screeching towards his direction. From where he was standing, he could see the wobbling tyres of the old machine as if it was protesting the weight of the two men sitting on top it. Upon the motorcycle was the young man riding it and an old man who sat astride it behind the rider like some weird eagle would perch on a tree. He waved them down. At first they didn’t want to stop. After some hesitation, they wobbled to a stop but not exactly at the front of the old house where Folu stood.

Having stopped, Folu jugged up to where they were and enquired of them where he could get a mechanic. As if surprised what he was doing in that vicinity, he was told he needed to go into town to get a mechanic. He had pleaded with the duo to help him to town. Before they agreed, still surprised, they asked what he was doing at the approach of the house, and whose car it was that was parked nearby. Folu explained his ordeal and how an old woman came to his rescue by accommodating him the previous night. What old woman? They asked. They were even more alarmed to learn that Folu had slept in that house till morning. While Folu insisted that he slept in the house, he was informed by the old man on the motorcycle that no one had lived in that house for the last 5 years. All the time the old man was speaking with Folu, the young motorcycle rider was nodding his agreement to all that the old man was saying. The old woman in question and her husband died childless years before. Since their death and burial 5 years ago, that house has been empty and uninhabited. In fact, bats, vultures and all manner of weird creatures were now the only form of life that could be noticed around the vicinity of the house. In fact, it was these creatures that now regularly converge there and were now using it as their rendezvous and meeting point every night. This was part of the reason why everyone stayed away from the house he was told.

The old man who informed Folu that he was the ‘Abore’, the chief priest of the town, and that it was him who actually performed the burial rights for the late couple, upon seeing the look of shock and disbelief on Folu’s face, he invited him to follow himself and the young motorcycle rider into the compound. Initially hesitant, on a second thought, like a lamb been led to the slaughter, Folu dumbly followed the duo into the compound without any question. In the compound now, he was shown two marked graves which he had not notice before then. On one of the graves he saw, to his utter amazement the following inscription:

                              Late Madam Efunsetan Ikuforiji Aniwura

             Nee Iyalode of Gbogan

           July 11, 1920- May 14, 2011

    May her soul rest in peace

These were the lines boldly inscribed on the marble slab on the topmost part of the grave. The words evoked fear in him as though they were tiny leeches who had crawled up from hell and were now threatening to suck the blood from his veins. As if that was not enough, Folu saw the statue head of the same woman he had met the previous night, whose portrait picture he saw hanging on the wall inside the house earlier that morning, on top the grave. At that instant Folu’s mouth became dry, totally devoid of saliva. All the hair behind the back of his neck became erect in dread. He felt light as if he was floating or as if his soul was floating effortlessly behind him. Just then, a headache tore through his head. He opened his mouth to speak but could not get the words out.

“Sho tan?” the young motorcycle rider, seeing the look of shock in Folu’s face, as if to scold him for arguing with them, asked him what else he needed to know before turning to the old man.

“Baba, e daku e je ka mo lo. Ema je ki boda yi fi ti e koba wa”

The young motorcycle rider’s advice to the old man that they be gone before Folu infected them with his bad luck stung him in the ear like a rapacious bee. Before Folu stammered another word, the two strangers were out the gate. Before he regained himself and rushed outside the gate after them, what he saw and heard upon reaching the gate was the receding smoke and the fading engine sound from the motorcycle. The two strangers were gone almost faster than they had appeared.

Now standing there all by himself, lost for words and scared to death, not knowing exactly what line of action to take next, he turned and regarded the house one more time. It was then he saw the house proper. Almost dilapidated, dirty cloths, empty sachet water nylon flew about the approach to the house. A large part of the fence was almost falling apart. He looked up at the sky and saw some weird looking vultures and bats hovering around in the sky just above the roof of the house as though they had heard a church bell and were gathering for a meeting. He had not noticed all this about the house before now. The cloud suddenly looked like it was going to rain. Dark and heavy. It was then it became clear to Folu that truly that house had not been inhabited for some time. It was a cursed house as it were. By now, fear had taken over the better part of him. He began to shiver as though ice had replaced his spine. Still standing there confused and really scared, he heard a voice behind him again; that same familiar yet cracking voice.

“Omo mi”

Folu turned around and faced the direction of the voice calling ‘my child’, that was when he saw it all……

 

THE END

 

 

fear

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