“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” Edgar Allan Poe [January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849]
It was about six in the evening when he got home. The sun along with all her amber gracefulness was almost lost in the horizon. Rolling off the road, he turned into the driveway, bathing the front of the house with the car’s bright headlights. The building was quite impressive – a Luxury three-bedroom flat structured like a wheel with a lawn in front of it, curtained by overgrown rose bushes. That was his fault. It was his turn to trim them and mow the lawn but his busy schedule didn’t let him. Leaving his car in the garage, he stepped out surveying the fast growing jungle and made a mental note to trim and mow it the next weekend. With a glance at the building opposite, he ambled to the door. He liked this place. The quiet neighbourhood, the simple beauty and view it afforded was heaven compared to other noisy places in Lagos. From the granite clothed shelter on top of it, one could see the entire town sprawled out in a softly drawn mix of multicoloured roofs, lawns and clustered trees. He wouldn’t have gotten this place save for Stella his girlfriend. She used her resources in the Real Estate firm she worked with to secure the place for him and his flatmate, Sylvester. He had been friends with Sylvester since childhood and they had at some point, shared a room during their university days. So when he got the apartment after youth service, he asked him to join in, not because he couldn’t afford the rent, he just wanted company. Sylvester was magic at slashing onion with lightning speed and in the kitchen. Sampling his delicacies was like eating ambrosia. They shared everything from the details of their day to every other thing that came to mind. But there were things Stanley didn’t share. Like the fact that Kemi – his flatmate’s fiancée and himself were long-time bed mates and still had secret meetings sometimes . . . behind his back. But that didn’t matter, they decided to end it a fortnight ago.
The evening was quiet. Stanley tried the handle but the door didn’t give. ‘So this guy finally traveled and he hasn’t even called me’ He thought, brewing materials to grate Sylvester with when he got around calling. But then a grin escaped him, it was his fault; he remembered his phone had been down all afternoon and he had forgotten to charge it. He was that forgetful especially when he was working and had only noticed it in the car on the way home. On lifting the beautifully patterned pot carrying a few thirsty flowers, he fumbled for the key they normally kept beneath it. He had been meaning to make another copy but just hadn’t gotten around doing so. The night was going to be a dull one.
He hated loneliness, which was one of the reasons when Sylvester slept out or some business took him out of town; calling Stella his own girlfriend to fill the void was inevitable. But they weren’t weaving flowers into their hair at the moment and he still didn’t feel like calling her. His seeming inability to speak with her hurt but his male ego always got the better part of him. He would give her some time before he gave in or she called, whichever came first. They had moments like these sometimes, times when they stayed apart and refused to speak with each other because of some disagreement they had, each person acting like they could do beautifully without the other while waiting for the ice in their will to thaw. He won the last one two months ago and in a crazy way, he kind of liked it; the longing, throbbing and then the steamy sessions they shared when they finally worked out their differences. Grinning to himself, he opened the door and felt a cold presence behind him making the hair on his neck bristle as he came in and turned the key in the lock. It felt as if someone placed an ice statue behind him and he whipped round.
With her fingers firmly gripping the steering wheel, Kemi nodded slowly but rhythmically to the country music flowing from her classy Toyota’s speakers. She felt incomprehensibly tired having had a rough day at work with this tugging at her being and the cold feeling in her legs – the one she felt when very good or lame news was about to hit her. Some of her friends like Tricia called her superstitious sometimes but they knew she was seldom wrong. Her day had started beautifully with a call from Sylvester. He called her like that sometimes in the early hours of the morning, asking her about her night and pouring sweet beautiful things into her ears. Next, they planned their day and it felt funny, the way he playfully dropped the regimented schedule she was to follow. She never followed his maps half because chance didn’t allow, half because it was simply too regimented but she indulged him; with her loud smiles, sweetly executed awwns and feminine laughter. This morning, he had intimated her he would travel by road to Abuja. He would have taken a flight but he had places to stop along the way to attend to business. She warned him to look for a hotel to lodge if he became tired or darkness fell. Playfully he pretended to think about it but agreed afterwards.
She had resumed work that morning to a message by her boss to see him in his office. Rolling her eyes, she left her office and strolled through the hallway with her usual grace which beautifully advertised her lithe body. She understood the way she always made heads turn; male and female alike wherever she found herself and hated it in a way – the way her boss and the male folk around the law firm where she worked were always ready to accede to her demands not only because she was all brain and business which she was sure they had come to realise but also because of her sensual beauty. She wanted people to give her credit and benefit only because of her abilities, not because she was beautiful or was born a Jones.
She rapped softly on the door before going in. He was sitting on his chair as usual his lips slowly putting on the evocative smile she had come to hate. He called her to his office sometimes, not because there was a case to discuss but because as she chose to suspect, he simply enjoyed ruining her mornings. He felt by repeating his intentions again and again, she would eventually yield. A victory by attrition. She had read somewhere about it. About its employment in battle; constant attack, until the enemy fell. But she wasn’t some tool or a city under siege waiting to be captured. Surprisingly, this morning, despite the idiotic smile he was all business.
“Good morning sir” she handed him politely, while she closed the door.
“Good morning, how did you sleep?” He asked, the smile widening.
Without waiting for her to sit, he handed her a file covering a new case she was to work on and continued with his work. She took it gratefully; happy he didn’t begin his immoral sermons about the benefits of being his pet thing. Just maybe, he had gotten tired of trying to convince her. She had liked him the first time she started work here. In a way, she had been infatuated with his grey eyes, gait, keen mind and handsome face. He had inherited the firm from his father and was doing a good job running it. She could have sworn she was falling for him, until she found out his way with women, the way he considered them play things for his pastime, this was of course set into her mind from corporate gossips and obvious facts. It was from that moment, married with the thing she found she had for Sylvester, she began to dislike him. He knew she had everything he had and could promise her. She wasn’t some lass he could throw out in the street or bend either. She had actually given up practicing in her father’s huge law firm to work here and he knew it. Her surname like her form, made heads and ears turn and prickle respectively wherever it was spoken. It opened doors in ways that made her feel ashamed. As much as she was grateful for her father’s powerful nomenclature that smelled beautifully like a fragrance about her, she would have loved to begin her life with her fate unpolished, like every other lawyer in the country just fresh out of school. She turned around to leave and just as she was about opening the door, he said;
“The perfect measure of everything is time. Even Troy took ten years but it fell before Greece. What will be, will be.”
She stopped and turned around puzzled.
“How do you mean?” she inquired.
But he offered nothing immediately only the sleazy smile he reserved she was sure, for women. She called it idiotic but deep down, the woman in her knew it was awesome and was charmed by it.
“Don’t worry dove, I will get you soon enough.” He supplied.
She felt enraged by his cockiness and the confidence in his voice. The way excuses for men like him thought they could just wave their hand and she would cower on her knees, simply because she was a woman. That was nonsense. Men instead cowered before her, seduced by her grace and charm while she had her pick of them if and when she wanted to. Sometimes, she felt like going back to her dad’s establishment but she didn’t want to eat her words. She had told her father she was not starting off her career working with him like some infant that was helpless without her guardian. Quitting her current job was no problem, she could apply to work elsewhere but some good friends had been made here in her colleagues over the past couple of years since she began work here, leaving them behind would be painful. Annoyed, she slammed the door and left for her office. This had spoilt her morning, coupled with her work load and an out-of-office duty, her entire day was sort of strangled. The only beauty in it all was her fiancé’ text messages during the day bearing sugar ingrained words and the lay of his day.
Her phone rang and she instinctively looked at her timepiece. It was 7:15pm. She did this whenever it rang for reasons she couldn’t fathom. She pulled over; picked up the phone and a soft smile caressed her lips when she saw the screen alight with his name.
It hit him the moment he opened the door, the aroma so delicious he could almost taste it by simply taking deep drags of air. Shaking off the feeling something was behind him, he noticed the orange glow from the incandescent bulb in the kitchen and his smile brightened, ‘he didn’t travel, this old boy.’ He must have re-entered the house through the back door as he was fond of doing sometimes. Without looking for its exact position, more from practice than luck, Stanley accurately flipped the switch in the sitting room on to create illumination as it was steadily getting dark.
“Sylve?” he called just to be sure.
“Stan welcome” came the reply from the kitchen in his usual cheerful voice.
“so last last you no gree travel abi?”
Sylvester didn’t seem to hear him but continued with the clanging of pots and petty utensils. He couldn’t wait to have a taste of whatever his flatmate was ‘creating’- like Sylvester would always call cooking. Incredibly tired, Stanley dropped his leather briefcase by the sofa, plugged his phone to the wall socket and turned it on. Without taking his clothes off or going to freshen up, he relaxed on the sofa, grabbing the remote to switch on the television to watch the six o clock news.
The image of the newscaster lit up the screen. ‘They didn’t use Shade today’ he quietly bemoaned. He preferred the beautiful newscaster and her eloquence whenever she appeared on TV. The continued adulation he rained on her, annoyed his girlfriend Stella whenever she was present and he knew it. The newscaster reeled out different pieces of news pausing only for an advertisement. Most of these pieces, Stanley had read earlier during the day so it didn’t feel like he heard something entirely new.
The pictures of men drinking and singing noisily in a club in advertisement of his favourite brand of beer made him chuckle. He remembered the first time had gotten drunk when he graduated. He had thrown a party to celebrate and according to everyone, the strong wine got the better part of him and he ended up on the decked roof of his rented lodge singing the song seeping out of the television speakers now; ‘. . . grab a beeeer, chill with frieeeends, chill your streeeess, watch them reeeend . . .’ Stella had found him up there and stayed with him. According to her, he refused to come down even after all her entreaties. So she slept up there with him till morning.
He woke with a start. The darkness was overpowering. He was dreaming about taking a pleasure trip in a cable car and falling to his death when the lines suddenly went taut and snapped. Feeling a deep chill in his spine and bones, he mentally attributed it to malaria. It had been long he took preventive drugs so he made a mental note to take some the next day. Where was Sylvester and why was everywhere so quiet? Even the road outside was devoid of the occasional vehicles flashing by. Yet he was so sure something had made him wake up; something loud and certain. Then his phone rang. He found his way to it in the darkness guided by the lit up screen. Kemi was calling. But why?
He heard sniffs and muffled sounds coming from her end and became suddenly apprehensive.
“Sylve is deeeaad” she cried.
“Kemi, how? Wha… what do you mean? Where did you get this?”
“The… theyy called me just now with his phooone” she supplied, still crying.
“when was this exactly?” he asked rising from the sofa
“A few minutes ago. I called his parents, they know alreadyyy”
“This can’t be… I mean he was… he was…” he trailed off, shock welling up in his mind.
“Where are you now?” but she didn’t respond… the line went dead.
Amidst sobs, she tried to relax and still her jumpy nerves. She felt guilty. Guilty because all the time they had been together, only her heart had been exclusively with him, her body hadn’t. Despite the covenant they shared – a stupid promise they had made to each other one evening in her apartment, sealed by blood shared from their tongues and doctored by swims in weed and alcohol, she hadn’t been true. They had promised to live and die together, get married and raise kids. But all that would never happen. Not anymore. She just wanted to get home now, fix some drinks and cry herself to sleep.
Kemi didn’t check behind her before she sent the car back into the road. She never knew a person was capable of being conscious of so many things in a moment, when their end came. She was conscious of only three – The fearsome blow from the other vehicle. The way it sent her hurtling towards her windshield. Darkness.
A sick terrified feeling began swelling in his chest. Somehow, this all looked like a sick tall joke. He turned towards the kitchen and bedrooms using the light from his phone screen for guidance and illumination, his tread careful and soft while his heart tried to explode from beating too hard. He could hear his own pulse as blood coursed his veins at an alarming speed. The door to the kitchen stood ajar and he stopped right outside it. Feeling the chill blow against his back again, he spun round pushing the light in front of him as if it was a weapon capable of vanquishing whatever he had felt behind him. Seeing nothing, he turned to the kitchen door again and called in a strangled voice that surprised even him.
“Sylvester. . . Sylvester….” only silence returned the call.
With his left foot, he sent the door flying open with one deft kick and stepped inside with a shout before the door bounced half closed again, ricocheted from its impact with the wall. No one was there or even behind the door. Scared yet curious, he inspected the pots and plates in the sink. They were exactly as he had left them that morning when he finished breakfast with Sylvester. No one washed up after, as they both had to leave early. Careful fingers on the electric and gas cookers sent icy chills up his spine. They felt as cold as they should feel if they hadn’t been used in hours. But he was sure he hadn’t been asleep for more than 30 minutes before the call came. He was sure someone was cooking in this kitchen some minutes ago and he was so certain it was Sylvester!
The door creaked and a shiver rolled over him. He was sure he heard a grating sound in the passage he had just come from. Just then his phone went off. But squat on the time he heard the door creaking, between the moment he felt the chill and the second before his phone went off, he wasn’t sure if his senses were not playing tricks on him but he was almost certain that in the void created by the darkness cradled by the half open door, his eyes apprehended a form translucent yet grotesque.
And it was staring right at him.
- Caleb Nmeribe