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They would listen at first when he speaks, with mock attention. It was funny but also clever in an eerie way, the way he would turn their discussions of currency to abstract planes and stuff existing only in his world. The way he equated death to a light-switch. A flick of which could birth darkness, night; rest. They would tolerate the sermons for a while then shut him up while laughing out loud.  His eyes were probably his undoing. Wide, almond and meek, pleading for companionship. His lips almost always turned in a smile, in search of warmth-crusted approval, seeking someone to share his mind’s content with, without judgment. A friend.

Friendship is a whore of a term, strangely broad and encompassing in its accommodation. Being the perfect term for the relationship between two or more souls bound in true loyalty and familiarity as it is a term for describing a situation of two kites sharing the same space at first-meet, soaring together in mid-sky, borne up by rising sheets of warm air only to fall away  the moment the sheets disintegrate. For some, it comes easily in its purest form. They are lucky to find at least, a person from their time. Someone who understands them, the way they are and think, in their peculiarities and differences. For some others, well, they deal with what brand the universe offers them.

*

They watched Jane stride past and clustered discreetly sharing notes on the subject of their sight; her backside. More than once, they would throw their heads back in laughter. Peter was making a joke when Donald let his eyes wander about the 200 seating capacity Lecture Theater. That was when he saw Tolu, his almond eyes now pained and on fire and he was looking at them. He tapped Joshua on the shoulder and pointed barely hiding his snicker.

“I think your friends are disgusting at-times.” Tolu provided, as they walked back to their respective hostels after lectures.

“Why?” Donald laughed. “You have a thing for her don’t you?”

“Jane?”

“Yes, Jane.”

Tolu didn’t respond but continued walking, the granite employed in carpeting the park they were trudging through, crunching under their feet.

“We were friends once Donald, what happened?” he asked suddenly with pain in his eyes.

Donald looked sideways at the bespectacled undergraduate and wondered if the boy was twelve. He thought he felt things too deeply and even as a young man of eighteen, he seemed to always be a foot away from breaking down in tears. And those eyes. They represented everything he now hated and detested since secondary school; weakness. Eyes and demeanour that begged for torture and spite and a body that was small; more feminine than masculine. They were thick a few years back and he had assumed the role of friend, big brother and bodyguard to Tolu, smacking cheeks, entering fights and staring down anyone who would say mean stuff about him. But he knew the names that eddied in their wake… Tolu’s husband. Freaky. Nerd. Weirdo. Wizard. Homosexuals. As time flowed free of the clock, Donald slowly decided he was done, tired of the restraints somewhat. Tired of the names.

“I don’t know man” Donald responded.

Seconds passed.

“But what I do know is, if you like a girl, you ask her out”.

“I like Jane”.

“Then go for her” he told Tolu with a smile playing behind his lips. He would tell his friends about it tomorrow, this is going to be quite a laugh.

Tolu wasn’t good at reading between lines and he bought it.

“You really think so?”

“Sure,  what’s the worst that could happen? I have got your back bro.”

“Okay, I think I will tell her tomorrow and ask her out. I think she likes me too she is nice to me”. He spilled quite chirpily.

“Keep me posted, Tolu” Donald said using the last bits of his will power to constrain his laughter.

**

Somewhere in the heart of the faculty building near the space open to the clouds, on the highest floor where the top of the almond tree growing free of the earth towards the sky is visible from the many balconies surrounding it, Tolu bowed his head for a few seconds saying nothing, only waking to address her, roused by her overt show of impatience. He spoke for a while, slow and deliberate. While he spoke, her eyes widened a heartbeat then narrowed. Then she raised her left hand, cutting him off and started speaking; throwing in all the feminine mannerisms she could muster. When she was done, she left him and returned to her friends. Tolu turned and saw them watching with Donald, ridicule in their eyes, his eyes hearing their snickers and choked laughter. He averted his gaze for a few heart beats to hide the shame no one was helping him share. And then as if possessed, he marched off in their direction.

“You all are wicked humans… empty idiots who enjoy seeing others suffer. Especially you Donald. You freaking useless back stabber. Am I the first person to face rejection? What of your father, does he accept you?”.

They were stunned.

“Wait o, who is that freak calling useless? Nonsense. Donny I don’t think you should let this lie… You need to teach this boy a lesson.” Peter said after Tolu stormed off.

***

Tolu sped off, still sizzling from the burst of the bottled up anger he seldom expressed. He took two turns; one left, one right… heading for his special spot in the faculty building. In two seconds… one. He got there and mounted the balustrade, sitting with his face to the walkway that projected into the balcony and his back to space. In a hurry to get out of the mood he was in at the moment, he buried his face in a paperback. This was the way he liked his escape; his mind in another universe and the wind on his back.

****

Donald felt on fire all of a sudden, Tolu’s words hitting him through and true like lava limned daggers hitting him again and again, amplified by his friends. How dare he? That rat he had protected for so long. The freak. On impulse he stormed off knowing where Tolu would be… and they followed him in thirst of the spectacle that would follow, primed to explode into laughter…

*****

Tolu was in a room, in the house, in the book, with a serial killer and robber trying to hack down the door to the room, where he helped the smart eleven year old Ashley hold the blinds while she opened the shutters so she could slip outside and escape. ‘Where are her parents?’ she thought, they should be back by now. Tolu didn’t want to tell her Whitesocks, the killer breaking in had just killed them. It would mess with her resolve to escape. Whitesocks kept hacking at the door with the axe he had taken from the shed outside. She kept struggling but the shutter was stuck. He willed her… gave her strength to lift it. Little by little… Inch… Inch… She pushed it up and scrambled out with a little help from him just as whitesocks broke into the room. He closed his eyes, his back to the window covering her escape and praying Whitesocks would not notice the open shutter. He smiled to himself knowing he was invincible to anything Whitie could cook up. ‘She’s gone and I helped her escape’. In his mind’s eye,  Whitesocks walked towards him… he came close and Tolu could smell him. He felt his shadow looming over him, deathly and depressing. Then Whitesocks pushed him . . .

It all happened almost in a flash but the two seconds of inferno felt like forever. Donald could hear the claps of feet coming towards him, to help him as he called out to the others while struggling to hold Tolu’s right leg. One more second and they would all pull him back together and knock his head and make fun of him. They would make jokes tomorrow about how he almost fell to his death and was bawling and yelping like a dog… In those two seconds, Tolu’s voice came to him surprisingly clearly.

“Don’t let me die. Please, don’t let me die”.

******

The sonic realm is both magical and muddled in its adeptness. Its power to do opposites at instants; order or pure chaos… to bolster fiery belligerents in the face of battle, yet send waves of fear into opposing hordes… to heal yet unsettle in the guise of music… to guide, yet confuse in the voices and calls of traders in markets and fairs… to allow you hear yourself yet reduce sonic comprehension so that it stifles the thud of a body landing on the earth while you’re screaming with blood thundering through your body and people are screaming and shouting and talking all at once.

And hours later, while seated on the bench in the passage outside the ICU with his head in his hands and half asleep, Donald’s mind kept staring at the body five stories down. Pictures flying past his eyes. He could see his father quite tipsy but busy with the day’s papers bespectacled and unsmiling saying ‘I told you so. I told you, in this Lagos, you will land yourself in trouble one of these days, I told you, you will shame us, stupid boy’. He sees himself elsewhere, away from the future he had all planned out, with that face and those eyes haunting his dreams saying… ‘Donald, don’t let me die… Don’t let me die.’ A shiver rolls over him and he mutters intermittently… Uncontrollably, as if in reply…

“I didn’t… I didn’t… mean to do it… I was just angry… I didn’t mean it… It was  an accident…”

With his mind on overdrive, he senses a distant rhythm building in his head and perceives he must have heard it or thinks he did; the thump on the earth when Tolu fell a few hours ago… it comes to him in shivery instants like the thud of many ripe fruits on the earth. And as the heart monitor in the room behind him showed a flat line with an unbroken ping, it comes again, this time, like the plop of several lambs hitting the earth at birth and the unending flick of a thousand light-switches as they give ground for night.

  • Caleb Nmeribe #Carlflame
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