CHIMA’S MEDICINE

As if the hug was not unexpected enough, it was the fierceness of it that threw him off balance. He was rocked to his heels as she crushed him in a tight embrace. The right hand he had thrust forth for a quick handshake was totally ignored, he had to step his left foot backward to maintain an upright position. She grabbed hold of his neck and clung to him like the swaddling clothes they used to wrap baby Jesus before he was deposited in the manger. Her body shook in nerve-wracking sobs as she cried with her face buried on his shoulder. It was his most intimate encounter with brazillian hair and it was all over his face.

It was nerve-wracking for him too as he stood there, like a pillar of salt, incapable of regretting why he had looked back. His arms were still out-stretched like a catholic priest at benediction, like he expected a third party in the embrace or like Jesus trying to convince Thomas of his resurrection by showing him the holes in his palms. Gradually the granite that was his face softened and he begged a look in Humphrey’s direction. Humphrey shrugged and looked away, so he allowed gravity to pull down his hands. Across her back he rested his palms, one on a shoulder blade, the other on a butt cheek.

Chima Okafor felt the warmth and fragility of her body, her scent permeated every pore in his body. She does things to him, she had done something to him, what is she going to do for him. She made him strong and weak at the same time, it was no different from how he felt the first time he met her over a year ago. He had forgotten how alluring she was, and now he was in trouble again. He has to get away from this woman, he had to console that woman.

“Am sorry” she whispered beneath the hair.
“It’s OK, it’s OK”
Chima could not recognise his voice. Humphrey looked away in embarassment or may be distaste or both. He coughed and Vivian Sylvester raised up her face and regarded Chima.
“Excuse me”
She said as she disengaged and headed for the ladies room, leaving Chima and Humphrey puzzled as they sat down near a window at Mama Cass.

Like someone choking on a crayfish bone, knowing full well that crayfish had no bones, Chima Okafor could not re-program his brains to free himself from the past. Coughing and sputtering through the present, his malady defied all the remedies he could personally offer himself. All his efforts which were akin to swallowing the whole cross river (the water body not the state) did not help him dislodge that crustacean exoskeleton that had taken up permanent residence in his oesaphagus.

He was fed up with being a passenger on this helium-filled dirigible orbiting the earth. He was ready to jump off and re-unite with humanity. It did not matter if he crashed on landing. It did not matter what part of the globe he landed. He was just tired of that mental incarceration that had him trapped. Unfortunately he had no parachute, he would have to stay put and ride it to the end, even if it was heading straight to hell.

He had often stared at a Tuesday Guardian newspaper with disgust as he appraised the numerous job openings. They often had one thing in common, they needed more than 3 years work experience which he did not have. The ones that did not require such lofty qualifications were either behind his age-bracket or full of crap. His irritation increased whenever he considered that most of the companies were similar to his previous employers. Probably well established but also probably having ill defined organizational structures. A heirarchy that permitted only one authoritative leadership. The rest of the workforce would be engaged in ‘eye-service’ and an eternal struggle to be the ‘favored’ as they tore each other apart. With accusations and some times unfounded rumours.

Chima Okafor had only worked for less than 2 years at Oceanic Ventures an advertising agency located at Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja Lagos. He was sacked for being absent from duty for over 4 months (a good enough reason), but he suspected that it had more to do with the dark cloud of the rape allegations that surrounded him.

It wasn’t like he could no longer use corel draw or photoshop, but employers seemed to avoid him like he was suffering from leprosy. Perhaps they just could not afford to pay him what he deserved. A skilled graphic artist, he still believed in himself. Nevertheless, that self-belief was hanging by a single thread these days. A year and 6 weeks had passed since he was accused of raping the daughter of the minister of state for environment. A year of heartbreak and shame he did not even feel. A year and 6 weeks of anger, hunger and unemployment. The kindness of friends and family and the occasional odd job were what kept him alive but the suicidal thoughts were never far away.

That was the mood prevalent in Chima Okafor’s life when he was invited for a lunch time meeting with Vivian Sylvester at Mama Cass. He was not looking forward to it, the food at best was immemorable. Also he shuddered involuntarily as he took his mind back to that merry evening more than a year ago at Pekas (a stone throw from Mama Cass). A night when a happy situation had gone completely awry and subsequently changed his life forever.

He had not known whether to honor the invitation or not. He had received a call the previous day, a female voice who said her name was Vivian had asked him to meet her there at noon the next day. It was the same Vivian Sylvester who had contributed greatly to his present predicament. Not the intense desire he felt on meeting her again, but the ordeal that led to his joblessness and hopelessness.

It wasn’t like he had anything to fear or that he still haboured any grudges. It’s just that he had moved on, and now this meeting had ignited emotions and a passion he thought he no longer possessed. Vivian was a stranger the day they had met and despite a very brief period of intimacy, she was a stranger still.

What Chima remembered most about the day he met Vivian was actually the toad that had hopped into his apartment. It had been a hot day and there was power outage as usual. He was too tired when he returned from work to go out and buy fuel for his ‘tiger’ generator. So he had left the door to his one bedroom apartment open. Night had fallen and the cold breeze of imminent rain made him realise he had dozed off. He got up from the sofa and made to shut the door. Out of the corner of his eyes he detected some movement. He had turned around thinking it was a rat or worse a skunk, it was neither. A medium sized toad that tried to conceal itself behind the sofa he had been sleeping on moments before. He walked casually to the bathroom, grabbed the mop and switched on the video light on his smartphone.

It took him over 30 minutes and a dead battery before he was able to cajole that toad out of his home. His apartment was also in shambles by the time the toad had left. On returning with a mop from the bathroom, the amphibian was no longer behind the sofa, it was not behind the TV set and DVD player, it was not behind the refrigerator, it was not behind the gas cooker, it was not behind the plastic drum, it was not in the bathroom. In the bedroom it was. Not under the bed, not in the wardrobe, but squeezed between the pile of magazines on the bedroom floor.

The amphibian did not possess the massive hop of its frog cousins or those Triple Jumpers at the Olympics, but it was a master of disguise and stealth. It used its camouflage dressing and the inadequate presence of light efficiently. One minute blending with the floor length curtains, the next minute it was hiding behind travel bags. Moving constantly and seemingly without haste, it melted into the shadows with amazing fluidity. It frustrated Chima from one household item to the other, feinting left and going right like a skilled boxer. It seemed to have the ability to read Chima’s mind. It guessed quite rightly that he was not about to squash it and smear his apartment with cold blood and gore. So it danced around the apartment and confounded the exasperated tenant.

Just when Chima had decided he was going to kill the intruder, the toad hustled quickly towards the doorway and hopped outside. Chima shut his door and collapsed on the rug in exhaustion, he had no idea whether to laugh or cry. He was still lying on the rug when PHCN restored electricity supply. Kids in the neighbourhood screamed “NEPAAAAAAA!” and he got up smiling with new found respect for toads. He had previously considered them to be ugly and sluggish creatures, but as he re-arranged his apartment, he realized they were actually quite smart although still repugnantly ugly. That happened the day before he met Vivian. He had since regarded the toad’s visit as a premonition he had ignored to his detriment.

“Chima you dey house”
his friend Humphrey had called from outside, the morning before they went to Allen Avenue.
“I dey oh” Chima had responded as he welcomed his friend into his apartment.

Humphrey lived on the same street with Chima, they had become companions ever since Chima lost his job. Humphrey has been unemployed since he finished ‘Youth Service’, so their friendship was not awkward. The situation with Vivian made him uncomfortable, Chima had told his friend. He was wondering if spending some his scarce resources to go to Allen Avenue for a midday rendezvous with an enemy was going to be worth his while. Aside from the fact that he was trying to put that whole other episode behind him, he was wary of female company, but she had sounded so sincere on the phone.

Humphrey had laughed and said. “Dude, she can’t do you a damn thing, the case has been closed since last year. Who knows, she may be looking for an opportunity to apologise and this may just be your chance to get some closure, or at least figure out what the whole thing was really about”.

Humphrey had never met Vivian but he knew about the fall-out from Chima’s previous encounter with her. He felt the radioactivity whenever he was in contact with Chima Okafor who had more mood swings than a pregnant mid-wife. Chima who was weirder than a clean-shave on a street lunatic. It was after they had carefully (Humphrey was more careful) considered the pros and cons that Chima had decided that closure may just be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Although he was still somehow affected by his experience with Vivian Sylvester, the sting of the trauma had waned over the passage of time. The trip from Egbeda to Ikeja will be embarked on with Humphrey as company. Together they will wrap their heads around whatever Vivian had to say. “Two heads are better than one” was quite a popular saying after all.

(to be continued)

SWINE FLEW 3

I sprang from the bed like a startled amphibian, crashed into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I could barely distinguish the racket in my room from the deafening drumming of my heartbeat. I collapsed on the cold hard tile as the import of this event hit me. On all fours, I crawled to the toilet bowl and threw up everything I had ever digested since I was born. From breast milk to plantain they all poured forth till my gullet knotted and my rectum bled. The excruciating pain I felt on all of my six senses squeezed the last photon of light out of me.

Consciousness returned at about noon the next day. Rays of sunlight from the tiny bathroom window filtered in and caressed my sunken cheeks. Completely disoriented, I could not make out my surroundings. The sharp smell of dried vomit made my nostrils flare and my eyes water, increasing my confusion. I closed my eyes again and gradually, reluctantly recalled what I decided was an unusually vivid nightmare. That assumption reassured me as I cleaned the bathroom and scrubbed the filth from my body. Filled with a mixture of hope and mild trepidation, I toweled myself dry and opened the bathroom door.

Apart from the unmade bed, everything in my bedroom was in its usual place. The shirt I wore the previous day was draped casually on the chair, the ‘Complete Sports’ I bought since last week was folded just the way I left it. My phone was plugged in to the bedside socket, it should be fully charged by now.

Sixteen missed calls were registered on my Samsung dual SIM phone. Half of them were from Cynthia, a member of the NYSC in Bayelsa State. Three missed calls from Bode my colleague at Union High School, the rest were from unknown numbers. I thought about calling them all back, probably one of them may provide a clue to what I had experienced last night. I thought about praying. I thought about my late grandfather and his antecedents. I was hungry.

“When I see u I run out of words… to say ay ay!
I wouldn’t leave U… ‘cause you’re that type of girl… that makes… u stay”
Beautiful by Akon was the ringtone I had chosen for Cynthia. I stared at the phone like someone would stare at a positive HIV/AIDS test result.
“Hello CC” I answered rather than throw the phone out of the window.
“Mike! Where have U been? I’ve been calling U since morning” Mr. Asuquo to my students, I was Mike to Cynthia.
“Sorry, I left it at home to charge when I went to Bode’s place this morning”
I did not intend to lie but my tongue seemed to have a mind of its own.
“Your voice sounds funny, do you have catarrh?
“Yes I have catarrh, how are you?”
I tried to change the direction of the conversation but couldn’t help noticing the beginnings of an itch in my throat.
“eh yaah! Sorry, am sure you’ll start chewing that your bitter kola and alligator pepper now”
“It works”
“No it doesn’t, please go to the pharmacy and buy yourself some real medicine, I don’t want to catch it when I come around” she joked.
“Ok, when are you coming”
“Am coming on Friday”
“Ok “
“Don’t forget to go to the pharmacy!”
“Ok”
“Ok, I love you babe”
“I love you too”
She ended the call and I immediately dialed Bode’s number. Vacations were usually boring and devoid of activity. We made plans to hang out at our usual spot, a quiet often deserted stream deep in the Eliowhani ravine. Bode George was my best friend, we were both teachers at Union High School, Eliowhani. He taught physics while I taught biology. Our friendship was formed during idle hours in the staff room. Gin drinking and weed smoking trips to the streams of the Eliowhani ravine solidified our friendship.

I boiled some rice and ate it with the stew Cynthia had prepared during her last visit. I gave one last glance at my sitting room and bedroom before locking up and going downstairs. Ignoring everyone I saw, I marched out of the gate.

At One Life Pharmacy down the road, cartons inscribed with ‘TAMIFLU’ were descending from a truck and entering the pharmacy at a hasty pace. Mute like the crows I saw in my vision, the activities of the labourers stopped me dead in my tracks. I shook off my paranoia, approached the counter and made a request for ‘Dequadin’. As I was paying for the lozenges, a voice said
“You better buy yourself a pack of Tamiflu and some Paracetamol Mike.”
I turned and stared at a fat man, his rimless eye-glasses gave him a sinister look, his bald head looked like my late grandfather’s doorknob.
“Why?” I sneered at him, refusing to acknowledge his familiarity.
“There’s a report of swine flu outbreak in this area” he smiled. His mention of swine flu was disconcerting. I felt like I was being cornered by forces greater than I.
“Swine flu rarely affects humans” I tried to sound dismissive.
“You just woke up from sleep my friend” he said knowingly and smiled. I stared at him one last time and hastily left the pharmacy and the presence of that barrel shaped man.

Alligator pepper and bitter kola are not hard to come by once you could locate a garlic seller. The familiar bitterness of bitter kola and the awesome hotness of alligator pepper soon made me forget my recent troubles. Chewing that combination brought tears of joy to my eyes. ‘Dequadin’ will have to wait till Friday.

As It turned out, Bode only intended to warn me about the swine flu. His strategy was to stay indoors to avoid contact with infected individuals. With heavy eyelids and weed smoke coming out of my lips and nostrils, I told him it was all bullshit.

Six people died that day in Eliowhani due to diabetes and old age, but they also had H1N1 in their system.

With the force of a category 5 storm, H1N1 commonly known as swine flu created panic in the town the next day. One Life Pharmacy was besieged by scared folk who wanted to safeguard their existence with Tamiflu. The pharmacist neglected to mention that the drug, like other flu medications, provided only minor relieve but no cure. Nevertheless townsfolk queued up like it was election day and bought Tamiflu and nosemasks. The next everyone went about with nosemasks like doctors performing surgery.

Meanwhile evil had crept quietly into town. A Coca-Cola truck ran off the road and crashed into a residential building, killing the driver and three members of the same family. A woman stabbed her husband to death after enduring abuse for sixteen years. A multiple car accident caused twenty two people to be cremated.

Beyond the doors of the Men’s Ward of the General Hospital, arms out stretched like a Catholic bishop during benediction, a figure seemed to float. Gray mist swirled around the figure. It glowed brighter than the fluorescent tubes overhead. Strangely, neither the patients nor the hospital staff seemed to acknowledge its presence. I stepped into the ward and felt a cold blast on my face. Despite my trepidation, I approached the strange figure, reached out with my right hand to touch it, It swung around.

His eyes were like the pits of hell, bottomless and dark. I stumbled back in fright.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” he growled.
I could only stare, petrified in my spot as he grabbed my hand and released it immediately as if shocked. The mist cleared, his glow dimmed, warmth returned, sure enough it was the same portly fellow I met at the pharmacy the previous day.
“What do you want?” he smiled.
“I just came to see how my friend was doing?” I croaked.
“Let’s talk outside” he said and grabbed my hand. This time he did not let go as if he was burnt.

He offered me a chance to partner with him in what he referred to as ‘The Harvest of Souls’. He informed me that he was the major host that facilitated the rare human to human transmission of the H1N1 virus. He informed me that I was a major catalyst of the swine flu outbreak. He spoke of the town as a farmland, he spoke of the townsfolk as crops. He reminded me of the box my grandfather left me.

Archibong my grandfather, was a reknowned headmaster and diviner. Losing both parents before I reached the age of eight, I was raised by him. My father was killed during a communal clash involving my clan and a rival clan, my mother died giving birth to me. GrandPa Archibong’s entire legacy and property was mine after he died. With no intention of carrying on the family tradition, I had sentimentally decided to keep a wooden chest he had given me before he died.

I told ‘Fatman’ that such a box did not exist, that I was just an ordinary school teacher.
“Please stop your harvest and go back now to wherever you came from” I pleaded. “The people of Eliowhani do not deserve such a cruel fate”
“WRONG SIR, WRONG!” He screamed.
“DESERVE HAS GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, I HAVE PLANTED AND I SHALL REAP”
“How will the death of innocent people be of benefit to you” I querried.
“IT’S NOT YET TIME, BUT SOON IT SHALL BE, YOU CANNOT STOP MY IMPENDING GLORY, WHEN I LEAVE TOWN, ALL THE SOULS SHALL LEAVE WITH ME”
Not that I was cowed by his threats, but his malevolence triggered an usual dread in me, it also left a germ of an idea in my head. I declined to say another word and just walked away.

Back at the hospital ward, I was informed that Bode was dead along with seventeen others. On wooden legs, I returned to my apartment. I called Cynthia and told her to cancel her proposed visit to Eliowhani. In a frenzy now, I ripped the sole from one of my old shoes, something metallic peeked out, it was the key I had kept hidden there.

There were numerous streams in the dense vegetation of the Eliowhani ravine. My favourite was the one least frequenced by the townsfolk. Bode and I had spent many lazy hours in its serene atmosphere. A small stream, rich in flora and fauna, it was my usual solace, it was also my secret fortress.

The stream was peaceful and deserted just like I hoped. I divested myself of all clothing and waded in. In waist deep water, I spoke to my ancestors.
“Let me dissolve like salt,
Let me be washed away like sand,
Let me disappear like mist before the morning sun, I came into this world empty handed, empty handed I shall leave, but before I come to you, be my guide”

Then I submerged myself and swam underwater towards the mangrove and water lilies. Small fishes scattered in alarm as I disturbed the serenity of their aquatic habitat. I’ve swam with the eels, carps, perches and tilapia, this time I was completely oblivious to their beauty.

Under the roots of the mangrove I probed till my hands found the stone, I pushed the large stone away and dug furiously with my hands. The water became muddy and full of debris, I kept digging till just over a foot deep, my hand touched my buried treasure, my grandfather’s box. I pulled it gently from its watery grave, slippery with slime and kicked backwards like a frogman, box clutched tightly in the crook of my right hand. With the key I had ripped from my shoe, I opened the box. The contents were few but significant, 2 short sticks, a brass ring and a knife with an ebony wood handle. I took the knife and destroyed a oilpalm shoot by the water side. After cutting out the pith, I chewed and swallowed it. I grabbed a handful of selaginella and went back to the stream. After dunking it seven times in the water, I rubbed the selaginella vigorously in both palms till green juices dripped between my fingers down both arms. I squeezed the juice into both eyes and felt my eyes enlarge. I caught a reflection in the stream and saw that my eyes were now inky green.

My body went slack, my knees buckled and I toppled into the stream. Water filled my lungs and I started to drown, then everything went white.

I arrived at a green field, acres of grassland as far as the eyes could see, no trees in sight. The voices of my ancestors washed over me like rainfall as I bowed my head and imbibed their wisdom.

Darkness had enveloped the ravine by the time I emerged, it was close to midnight. My eyes gleaming like a feline, I hurriedly put my clothes on, inserted the ring in my index finger and picked up the two short sticks. Massive vibrations coursed through my body as I fought to handle the sticks which seemed to have come alive. Writhing in my hands like serpents, they forced me back to the stream. I came back out dripping wet as the wind blew great clouds of vapour towards the town. Stumbling like a drunkard, the sticks led me to the deserted highway. There I found fatman ‘harvesting’ the souls of the departed.

The night sky exploded in blue light as I tackled his glowing form. This time he did not even flinch. Without even pausing in his gyration, I received a huge blow that sent me sprawling on the gravels of the road side.
“I shall cut U to ribbons and harvest your spirit!” he whispered approaching me menacingly arms out stretched, machetes miraculously appearing in each hand. I scrambled to my feet and ran into the bush, the foliage whipped at me but I ignored the pain, intent only on reaching the ravine. Without hesitation, he pursued me, sensing imminent victory. Perhaps I had misunderstood the wisdom of my ancestors.

Finally I reached the stream and turned around to face him. The broad blade of a machete hit my left arm as I raised it in defence, sparks flew. I jabbed at his throat with the sticks and the serpents struck, causing him to drop his weapons. He suddenly seized me in a massive embrace and we fell into the stream. The water hissed and bubbled, sending up vapour, several fishes floated belly up in the stream stunned by the electrical charges. I dropped the sticks into the water and he screamed in pain. He tried to leap away but I now held on to him tightly despite my pain. I dragged him deeper into the stream and held fast. In the depths, he became just like any creature that dwells on land. Gasping for scarce oxygen, he trashed and transformed into the winged pig, beating at my face with the wings.
“let me go and I’ll leave town immediately!” the voice seemed to emanate from right inside my head.
I held on breathlessly.
We remained in that embrace ready to drown till we descended to the bottom. The pig got larger in size and I could not hold on anymore so I let go. It shattered into tiny fragments of glass scattering brilliant sparkles in all directions. Weakened and disgusted by my ordeal, I closed my eyes and relaxed and everything became white.

THE END

SWINE FLEW pt.2

Unseen hands grabbed my foot a few meters from the precipice and saved me from plunging to uncertainty. Tears of gratitude stung my eyes as I scrambled from the ground.

Before my eyes, at the edge of that field, a barrel shaped creature stared at me with rheumy eyes. Fat and greasy with wings like a bat, I was astonished at this strange pig. It plowed its snout between the ridges, noisily and purposefully no longer mindful of my presence. Over bloated like a drowned corpse, the pig must have weighed at least 150 kilograms. Grunting, coughing and crying, it labored on.

Foulness like a wet blanket threatened to choke the last molecule of oxygen from my lungs, I covered my nose and stepped back. The pig raised it snout and a nail popped up and fell down the abyss, moments later I heard a dull clink and my heart turned cold. The ground had opened like a page. Burrowing its snout beneath the opening, the pig was stuck between the roofing sheets directly above my bed.

The night got darker as the moon and stars became gradually hidden by some animated black blotches. Then with a clatter like sudden rainfall, huge black crows, white-chested like a conference of barristers landed one after the other on the roof. The pig smelled but the crows stank, their stench was over powering, it reminded me of a rubber plantation.

The pig became frantic as it tried to free itself from the jaws of my roof, its wings beat at the roofing sheets in futility as the crows approached. A heart stopping “huuuuuuuuuhhhhhhnnnnnnnn” from the throat of the pig pierced the silence of the night as the crows started eating it alive.

Desperately the pig flapped its wings knocking a few crows senseless, they soon got up and joined the buffet. For every crow that caught a blow, twenty more took its place. Soon blood and gore was sprayed all over the roof. The pig must have been pregnant with seeds because hairy yellow spores now floated in the air like bubbles. My knees buckled at the stench that assaulted my olfactory nerves. My lungs shrunk, my heart ached, my ear drums hurt and my head pounded, yet even with my head bowed, my vision of the noxious feast remained unimpaired.

Quietly, a hundred beaks pecked, daintily a million spores flew. In their frenzy, the crows failed to notice that some of their comrades were thrashing in epileptic fits on the roof top. Some would fly away in dizzying patterns before returning to feed on the living corpse. Speckled with yellow and red, the crows now resembled a group of clueless amateur house painters.

The muteness of the crows was enhanced by the futile struggle of a pig in a curtain of yellow spores. My eyes could no longer track the flight pattern of the speckled birds, the more speckled, the more erratic the behavior. Some would now fly away and never return, returnees dropped dead as soon as they came in contact with the yellow curtain. Dead crows were piling up around the loose part of the roof. The pig was no closer to death than when I first encountered it.

Behind the yellow curtain, a half-eaten swine, spine exposed, entrails trailing, ribs like a basket, a winged pig was becoming more confident than a crowd of crows. Tangled in the roofing sheets, attached to metallic shoulder-blades, blows from the pig’s wings was now authoritative. Crows were dying in numbers. For the first time since they arrived, the crows circled hesitantly overhead before diving in to die. A reinforcement of ‘barristers’ soon arrived and swarmed the scene.

As the weight on the roof increased, the pressure on the bed seemed to reduce. Finally my eyes flew open as the ceiling cracked and the roof caved in.

(To be continued)

SWINE FLEW (pt.1)

I was awake before I opened my eyes. It was a quiet night, the companion of NEPA light. After a while I realized it was too quiet, not even sound of crickets or distant frogs punctuated the eerie silence. A ‘whoo whoo ooh ooh whoo’ of an owl sent a cold tingle down my spine and reassured me of my membership with the club of the living.
I sighed and adjusted my position on the bed as a rumble from the highway half a kilometer away brought more evidence of normalcy to my senses. Mild vibrations from what sounded like a passing tanker coursed through my room. The echoes of its adventure with potholes were however not music to my ears at all, a good night’s sleep is not easy to come by.
The driver must be too fatigued to dodge potholes I thought, I could picture him with chewing stick between kola-nut stained teeth, huge brown lips and blood shot eyes. Eyes that were heavy with monotony, alcohol and sleep. I kept my eyes closed and willed myself to be embraced once again by that kingdom of overlapping images, I wanted to be lost in its mutating story lines, hallucinations and flash memories, I wanted to succumb to oblivion.
I have slept through storms and caravans, yet I have also been roused to consciousness by the tiniest whisper of my name. Did someone say “Asukwo” while I was in deep slumber? Is that why I woke up, I wondered? I listened hard till there was a mild discomfort in my Adam’s apple. It must have been the owl.
Unable to shake off my unease, I started counting sheep to cure my current insomnia. I felt so small in a bedroom at the top floor of a massive four-storey apartment. The weight on my shoulders was not noticeable, till I heard something like a pin drop on the concrete below. Stunned by the clearness of the sound, I was alarmed at a movement on the roof. I soon found out that I could not open my eyes, getting up was also impossible, something invisible and strong had me pinned firmly to the bed. A struggle to get up seemed to suffocate me, so I relaxed to catch my breath and found myself on a field. Endless rows of small ridges covered a field that sloped sharply towards a dark horizon. Stars glittered like fire flies in the night sky while the moon gleamed balefully in one corner.
A gust of wind knocked me to the earth and I started rolling inexorably towards the horizon. Bouncing among the small ridges, I felt no pain. I was caught in a wave, like a surfer who has lost his board. Yet my surroundings were arid and the only wetness I could perceive was the smell of years of rain mixed with sunlight. I shuddered as I thought that this might be the end.
(To be continued)

SMOKED FISH (pt.3)

Like a thief in the night, they came in three vehicles and hit the culvert at the beginning of Raffia Street. Dust, sand and pebbles flew in all directions as people froze in shock, petrified at this after dinner-time invasion. Two black Pick-Up trucks were closely tailed by the mobile prison known far and wide as ‘Black Maria’. The vehicles barely came to a halt before anti-riot policemen equipped with guns, batons, torchlight and tear gas hustled down and fanned in all directions.

The football match between Chelsea and Zenit St. Petersburg was about to kick-off in Russia as scheduled. Football fans were casually making their way to the only Viewing Center in the neighbourhood located on Raffia Street. There was a large turn-out occasioned by the usual NEPA induced black-out. The policemen were also on their way to the Viewing Center but not to watch the match.

There was major confusion as people were seized and forcefully dumped into the foul smelling ‘Black Maria’. A blast of Tear-Gas increased the pandemonium as people ran into the darkness to escape the noxious fumes. Most succeeded in running into the waiting arms of the AK-47 totting policemen who assisted them into the gaping jaws of the menacing ‘Black Maria’. Gunshots were fired severally into the air to discourage those who tried to resist capture. The make-shift benches at the ‘Viewing Center’ were broken as all the customers fled.

“Officers, what is the problem, did someone commit a crime?” Reuben the owner of the business asked politely. The answer was a vicious blow from a police baton, Reuben grunted in pain as another blow to his knees sent him crashing to the ground. “Where is Skipper?” the policemen demanded as they kicked and clubbed him like an off the ring mayhem from an episode of The World Wrestling Entertainment. Except there were no cheering crowds, and Reuben’s bruises and dislocated shoulder was real.

He agreed to lead them to Skipper’s house, not because of the excruciating pain in his shoulder, but because of the murderous glint he saw in Sergeant Aliyu’s eyes. He could endure pain, but he was not willing to die for his best friend. The broken benches will be fixed again, the smashed decoder and ripped cables will be replaced, the business will be restored and the customers will return but he desired to be alive to witness that revival.

So he allowed himself to be shoved and prodded towards the mango tree, where more policemen waited with guns, batons and torchlight.

Lucky was not a ferocious guard dog, it just looked dangerous because of its size and loud bark. It loved chasing kids up and down the street but was never known to bite anyone in its two years of existence. Lucky initially thought the police was its friend as it was barking excitedly under the mango tree. The policemen could not tell where it came from, they had been through that compound already, everyone had fled. “Somebody shoot that dog!” Sergeant Aliyu bellowed as he came into view. But when one of the policemen shot in the air to scare the dog away Lucky pounced on him. They could not shoot at the dog now for fear of hitting their comrade. Lucky had bitten the man several times before a nasty blow to the ribs sent it whimpering into the night.

Tom also known as Skipper was a local football hero. In his youthful days he had captained the local football team to many victories in State wide competitions. Nowadays he coached a youth team in the small town. Still a bachelor at 38, he lived alone.
“That is Skipper’s house” Reuben pointed with trepidation, an AK-47 poked him in the back “Next time you will mind your own business, let’s go!” The policemen chorused. Sergeant Aliyu and his team marched Reuben to Skipper’s door and broke in. The living room and bedroom was turned upside down but there was no sign of Skipper.

As Reuben was being led to the ‘Black Maria’, a careless beam from a policeman’s torchlight picked out an unfortunate Skipper perched at the top of the mango tree, his seventeenth ‘hail Mary’ ended at that instant. “Come down my friend!” Two pokes with a bamboo pole sent Tom also known as Skipper crashing down to earth. Boots stomped on him, batons cracked at him, gun butts struck him as he was battered and dragged into the waiting jaws of the dreaded ‘Black Maria’.

The Divisional Police Station had a carnival atmosphere that night as the policemen congratulated each other for a successful raid. The detention cells were packed to capacity as the victims smelled the rust of the iron bars and the stench of the urine, some of them for the first time. They were all charged with assault and battery, disturbing the peace, conspiracy and stealing.

‘Statements’ were obtained, ‘undertakings’ were signed, friends and relatives paid cash the next day to secure the release of the captives. Case closed.

Arit John was fortunate not to have been arrested. She was not a resident of Raffia Street, neither was she a Chelsea fan. Information about the raid only reached her the next morning at the market place as she was buying foodstuff. She immediately hurried home in fear and was not seen outside for several days. It did not matter to the Police, they had exacted their revenge. However, it mattered a lot to Arit John. She was never to be seen hawking smoked fish again. Tired of looking over her shoulder whenever she was outdoors, she began studying feverishly for a ticket out of town to pursue her dreams.

THE END

SMOKED FISH (pt.2)

I apologise for taking too long to post, I’ve not been feeling too well the last couple of days.

SMOKED FISH (pt.2)

“Is it fresh?” The woman asked disdainfully as she took in Arit’s tired look.
“noooo! Its rotten!” Arit John wanted to say but “yes Ma” was the natural response as she set the basin to the ground.
“How much?”
“Its 250 naira each”
“Am paying 200 naira”
“How many do you want?”
“Four!”
“Ok Ma” Arit responded excitedly. The woman looked pretty in a sleeve-less black dress with tiny yellow horses galloping orderly all over. Gold wedges, red toe nails and a flat snakeskin purse with a metal clasp accentuated her affluent appearance. A whiff of her fragrance teased Arit’s nose as she set her goods down. The difference between the two women was like the difference between night and day. With her non-descript dress partially covered by a dark green apron, Arit looked right at home under the mango tree by the side of an un-tarred Raffia street, the other woman looked out of place.

Strangely all that elegance was nothing more than a surface coating. 15 minutes of prodding, poking, flipping and shifting had left 5 smoked fishes broken.”This one doesn’t look good, let me see that one” the woman scraped on with shiny red fingernails. Completely intimidated by the woman’s appearance, Arit endured her discomfort and masked her displeasure with a forced smile, but inside she was beside herself with anger as the woman mindlessly continued her onslaught.

“Your fishes are so small” the woman declared with red lips curved downwards, but she handed 600 naira to Arit. At last! Arit John sighed in relief. After counting the cash and pocketing the stash, she grabbed a few pages off an old Daily Trust Newspaper and quickly wrapped three smoked fishes, put them in a black plastic bag and handed them over to the woman.

“I told you I was buying four fishes! You must give me four fishes!”
“But you only paid for three!” Arit John said exasperated at the woman’s demand. “Am sorry Ma, I can’t sell four smoked fishes at that price” she added as she raised the aluminium basin to her head, “maybe next time” she smiled sweetly at the woman, meanwhile her train of thoughts were hurtling at breakneck speed down the tracks of worry. For over thirty minutes she had waited patiently for this woman to make her selection, perhaps it was the shade, damn this heat. She was not prepared to spend another second in this woman’s snooty presence. Hopefully prospective buyers will overlook the peeled skin and protruding bones of the remaining smoked fishes. Hopefully she will sell the left overs before nightfall.
Usually customers reached their decision to buy or not to buy after a few minutes, made payment or simply allowed her to walk away, but this particular customer was of a different breed.

Without warning the woman reached out and knocked the basin of smoked fishes to the ground. The racket caused by the falling aluminium basin suddenly drew a lot of attention, eyes peeked out of windows, heads poked out of doorways.

Arit’s patience completely evaporated, she no longer had time for civility, the sight of her labour scattered all over the place propelled her to angrily seize the woman by the wrist. “You must pay me my money!” she cried. “Let go of me, foolish girl!” Was the scornful retort. There was a brief stare-match which the woman found amusing, clearly she was enjoying the whole affair. Completely unperturbed by the small crowd that had gathered, she gave Arit a stinging slap. Arit’s confusion increased, her ears rang and her eyes watered. The fragrance of the woman’s perfume that had hitherto been pleasant now made her nauseous.

There was a brief struggle, Arit was bitten on the arm before both women sprawled on the roots of the mango tree. With the taste of victory in her mouth, the woman took another bite. Arit could not bear it anymore so she seized the woman by the throat and applied pressure. The woman may have been richer and taller, but on the ground they were both of equal height and Arit John weighed more. Fortunately Tom also known as ‘Skipper’ assisted by his friend Reuben were around to make sure the woman was not choked to death.

After being pulled from the woman, Arit took a few steps and crumpled in a heap, inconsolable as she tried to fathom out the situation. Her arm was bleeding, her shoulder was bleeding, her face was scratched and dirty, her smoked fishes were swimming away in the sand. “What am I going to do!” She weeped softly. What is she going to tell her mother, what is she going to tell the church. A few people went to assist her but she could not understand a single word of what they were saying.

The other woman was now a far cry from elegance. Her clothes were torn and soiled, her fingernails were broken and dirty, her lips were like that of a leopard after a jungle kill. “It shall not be well with any of you… you are taking her side?…Ok take her side, God punish all of you!”
“Do you know who I am?…You’ll regret the day you decided to mess with Stella.” Few people showed interest in her tirade, most people concluded that the woman was mad.
“Where’s my phone, they’ve stolen my phone….thieves! You will pay, all of you, I’m going to show you pepper!”
She thundered as she made her way from Raffia Street and quickly flagged down a commercial cyclist. Stella instructed the Okada rider to take her to the Divisional Police Station. Unknown to the small crowd, Stella was the wife of the DPO.

(To be continued)