“. . . In time, when eve’ comes, the banished spools of worms we birth in the darkness of our closets and expel, soon become serpents, rear their heads and slither back home.” – Limn
He awoke with a start to find the documents he had been working on in his study all squeezed and crumpled. This was the seventh time he has had this dream – same way, same time, same person. Two weeks ago, he was so sure he was through with all these years ago. He would get the occasional prick to his conscience sometimes but it wasn’t as sharp as the beginning. It had deadened by the years to tiny dull thuds to his heart; a small black smudge on the brightly coloured wall of his conscience and that was all there was to it. But six days ago, the dreams started – graphic and tormenting. It never changed except she got closer to him each time and tonight; she reached into his chest and tore out his heart. Even now while awake, he flinched and thought he felt his chest burn slightly and touched it to ensure nothing was wrong. He tried to steady his breath to no avail. In horror, he played back the dream he just had with his mind’s eye. As usual, he would be in his study sitting with his back to the window. This study. He would sense the window open and feel chilly breeze whip at his back. Getting up to escape the chill and close the open window, Joe would notice that the environ of the exterior of his house would take up the appearance of the part of the riverside cradling a pier. That pier. And while he watched, she… no… that wasn’t her, it wasn’t her. It. He would see it ascend from the river with its head bashed in and dark crimson flowing freely down over its face making matted hair stick to it. It’s neck had been bitten into by something. Something; he couldn’t tell what. The humanoid form would climb on the pier and with great difficulty, pull her right leg up, trying to drag an object tied to it with her as she climbed, all the while whimpering in – he could sense, a blend of frustration and pain. He would try to run away from the window but would find his feet stuck to the ground like it was part of the muddy bed of the river. Once it was fully out of the water, it would start walking towards him with spurts of blood streaming out of it and it’s head dangling loosely to the right. He would cry in horror as it struggled towards him all the while whimpering and pulling her burden with her. It was always about this time he woke up. Each time it would get closer, each time it would reach out to him… In between sobs it would remind him of promises, boons it was coming to collect. Then he would recognise her… In the pale light of the harbour he would see the grotesque mess of chewed flesh and blood that was her face… yet recognise her… who she was. He knew her.
Twenty-two years ago, he was sixteen and in his final year at Bright-brush Elite, one of the best mid-schools in town at the time. She would come almost every day at the close of classes and besiege the gate along with other traders selling pastries, groundnut and the likes with an easy gait and innocent smile… she was beautiful. His friends had discovered her name; Pauline and morphed it into Paul-lean which they repeated and laughed at for their enjoyment with an extra stress on the ‘lean’ as she was about their age, thin, with very skinny members but full breasts and hips. No doubt she enthralled them. Their eyes could tell it whenever they gathered around her and bought her wares but they were too shy to show it and laughed at her shortcomings to feel better. Yet whatever she sold, was most delicious.
He found her physique attractive, unlike his friends who made fun of the way she looked and patronized her frequently just so they would laugh at her attempts at speaking good English and the replies she gave to the big words they deliberately used when they bought the fruits or groundnuts she sold. He would watch her from afar and only come to buy when his friends were done before he went back in for extra classes. He would say nothing except what he intended on buying and the amount and would watch her closely and get a good view of her breasts while she stooped to get the right measure from her tray. He would leave, collecting his money’s worth without collecting his change. The first time she called out to give it to him, he waved her off and so continued the ritual. He began to anticipate breaks and closing, to see her… to see the spectacle and goods she offered; innocently. It fueled his imagination for the wild stories he would share with his friends. They would each bring stories of crazy and almost improbable sexual encounters with girls and almost always, they had a sachet of condom to show off as an act of corroboration. They all knew their stories were false but one could not bring himself to openly doubt the next person’s story lest his be doubted too. It made them feel all grown up and one was respected depending on how much sexual experience he had. Later on, he wondered if the concept of respect then among his friends came from the experience one had or the power of one’s imagination and skill to tell wild, intriguing but yet believable lies.
One day, he had come out to buy from her, feeling full and confident, had decided to speak with her.
“How are you?” he asked after telling her the money’s worth of groundnuts he intended on buying.
“You are very comely.”
“I mean you are beautiful; very fine.” He explained and she smiled coyly in reply as she handed him his buy. “Do you you ever come to the waterside?”
“I dey stay near there.”
“Really? I go there sometimes to clear by head” he said, pleased. “Okay, can you come there this evening by eight?” He asked feeling blood thumping in his ears.
“I want to see you… talk with you.”
“I fit come arand nine, na that time I dey get chance.”
“Okay, I will be waiting.” He finished and left his change as usual. She whispered a ‘thank you’ but he didn’t hear her. He was trying to lay out schemes in his head, searching for the perfect excuse to get his mother to let him out by nine. He was quite in luck; his father was out of town on business. Although his parents were the overly strict religious sort, his mother was warmer. He still remembered what his father did to him the first time he stayed outside the house after eight. He had returned to whips and cannons with his father reminding him while the strokes landed on him that he would rather die than spare the rod and let him bring shame on him. Luckily for him, his mother turned in early that evening as she complained of a throbbing ache in her head. He waited thirty minutes after she turned in for the night and after keeping the gatekeeper quiet with some money, he left the house and headed towards the riverside. It was twenty minutes after nine when he got there and found her waiting.
They started clumsily at first but with time, their meetings transcended beyond mere talking. He would bring her apples or money or both. And they would talk. He would promise her of life beyond what she suffered, a life beyond selling and hawking. A life free from jeers and taunts. A life constituted of just them both. He promised his heart. He marveled at the speed and manner with which she drank his words and it intoxicated him as much as his words he was sure, intoxicated her. She let him touch her in places he never thought he would touch a girl anytime soon. He could hardly contain the mix of joy, apprehension and thrill that coursed through him as he caressed the patch of downy softness between her legs and crushed the gelatin softness of her breasts in his hands while trying to morph it without success, into something lost in the depths of his imagination. They continued to meet whenever circumstances allowed and he looked forward fitfully to their meetings and the episodes of pleasure it offered.
One evening, he had met her at the abandoned pier which was their meeting place. She wasn’t all smiles as usual.
She was pregnant. And her mother was suspicious already.
The jolt of a nuclear explosion wouldn’t have matched the consistent dum-dum that exploded in his head when she told him. His father would kill him. He pictured the scenario and watched it play out. She would bring her parents, God forbid he would tell his father himself he impregnated someone he wasn’t married to. They would come to their house and most embarrassingly, would tell his parents that their son has impregnated their daughter, a hawker who comes to sell at his school. He could see his father slowly get up, climb the flight of stairs their duplex offered, pick the gun in his dresser load it, come back downstairs and rain bullets into his head as he almost always promised. His father had almost killed him for far lesser crimes before. This would be it – finally. He could see neighbours, members of their church in which his father was a deacon talk about it in hushed disturbed whispers in the cover of their rooms. He could feel the burden weighing on him forever… He felt feverish and began to hyperventilate. He thought of jumping into the water and killing himself. He thought of the best way to end it as images clad as solutions flashed before his mind’s eye but when he looked at her, uncomprehending her insistent “Wetin we go do?” he knew the solution to the problem. She was the problem. And he knew exactly what he was supposed to do. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t breath as the rapid dum-dum in his head was replaced by something else, the slither of something cold and hasty. He just stood there shivering with the thought going through his mind until she sat back down staring at the river with tears in her eyes. It was over before he fully realized what he had done. He was still shivering as he dropped the heavy metal bar stained with blood at the tip as she fell back on the pier with her head broken and blood pouring out. Then the floodgates opened sending a mixture of guilt, fear and damnation into his heart. He had killed before; his cat, lizards, and their neighbour’s dog as he held it down and slit its throat. Taking those lives sent waves of exhilaration running through him. It made him feel powerful. Very powerful. But this was no dog, it was a human.
He couldn’t leave her there. He couldn’t bury her either. He had watched enough on the news and read enough crime fiction to know that his biggest mistake would be to bury her as he wouldn’t have time for a proper grave. But he had to conceal the body somehow so he tied the free end of a chain buried in a ball of concrete lying nearby to her leg while wrapping the rest of its length around her body and rolled her into the river. He was shocked at her heavy she had become, how lifeless – her face covered in blood.
The pound of thunder jolted him out of his thoughts. When did he fall asleep by the way? Last thing he knew, he was doing the work he brought back home with him from the office and next, he was waking up from this terrible recurrent dream. But Baba told him the dreams would stop. Why did it continue? Earlier that evening, he had watched the witch doctor dance around and roll alliterations around his tongue in vernacular. He then laughed a raucous laughter and told him it was done. Telling him that if he saw her again in his dreams, he was no potent medicine man. But this very evening he saw her again. He opened his briefcase and brought out the pouch of powder that had been given him for protection and each time, taking a pinch of it, blew it thrice into the air. Now more self assured, he tried to straighten the documents on the table and put them away but noticed drops of blood on the sheets. He looked up at the ceiling and then his body but couldn’t find any injury anywhere. Then he touched his nose and found blood oozing out. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and held it to his nose. What in hell was happening to him? First the dreams… now this.
A bath of cold wind from the open window behind him made him shiver and he got up to close it and prevent the wind from carrying bouts of rain into the study. He paused at the window and looked into the night. He pictured the dream as it happened from this exact window and felt goosebumps grow all over him. He slid the shutter close and turned to return to his seat but his eyes caught something on the floor, probably a sheet from the folder on the table, blown to the floor by the wind. He picked it up and dropped it almost immediately. He recognized the word written in a scrawny hand writing with hasty crimson – PAULINE.
Kelvin’s body shook with shock. He backed away from the sheet on the floor until he bumped into his chair and yelped in fear. He remembered the dream. She was getting closer. He looked at the time – 10:15 pm and left the study for the bar in the living room. He began to lose his fear and felt quite reassured after some gulps of whiskey. His bleeding was probably due to stress. The nightmares on the other hand, were just the work of suppressed guilt. But what about the sheet of paper still lying on the floor of his study? Then it dawned on him, he must have been having that nightmare and must have mentioned the name ‘Pauline’. His six year old daughter must have come into the study, heard him, inscribed the name on paper with a broken red pen… ‘A broken red pen… Really?’ His mind taunted him. ‘Of course’ he reassured himself. Jennifer his daughter, was fond of disassembling pens. That must be it. He would ask her or the help in the morning. Right now, he just wanted to have a good bath and rest his head.
He downed the last of the whiskey in his glass and headed for the bathroom. He would soak himself in hot water for a while and that would be enough to clear his head of the pictures and terror. He took off his clothes, slipped into a bathrobe and entered the expansive beautifully designed bathroom. He let the water run so it would fill the tub but the sound of water hitting the ceramic tub, brought back memories of body and concrete slamming into water and unsettling ‘woosh’ echoing in his head. No one ever saw her again. His friends wondered what had become of her and only heard from her fellow hawkers she had gone missing. He never went back to the river. Ever. And was too happy to get into the university and out of town. Years after, he was a wealthy fulfilled man although divorced, with a beautiful daughter.
Another flash of lightning and the succeeding bolt of thunder caused a power outage and apprehension seized him. But what was he cared of? The dark? He gave a short laugh and chided himself from being so silly. Anytime now, his gatekeeper, Musa would switch-on the backup generator. He heard movements at the door of the bathroom and remembered he forgot to lock it. It was wide open. He called out the name of his daughter and she replied, setting his pounding heart at rest.
“What are you doing down here, are you not supposed to be asleep?” he asked and grouped for the lighter on a shelf above to light up the remnants of the scented candles his girlfriend who regularly visited enjoyed burning to enjoy alongside her bath.
“I couldn’t sleep daddy, I have done something bad” He smiled, understanding she was talking about the shenanigan in the study. He grunted in satisfaction as he finally succeeded in lighting a candle with the primary aim of vision rather than pleasure.
“What did you do dear?” He asked turning to her with the usual scolds and correction he would normally give her already in the offing.
“You know you told me never to collect things from strangers?”
“Yes I did.” He answered just so she would on, while squinting and trying to pick out her figure standing in the dark door way. He looked from her to the bathroom window – Where the hell was Musa and the darned backup electricity!
“There is this lady that comes to my school during break. She brings me apples. I refused them but she came again and again and said she is your friend… and that you made her promises she was soon coming to collect.”
“I took fruits from her, I am sorry dad, please don’t be mad.” she finished in her childish singsong voice.
He felt fear thick and palpable seize him again, so much that it made him feel dizzy.
“Did she tell you her name?” he asked in half-whisper. He tried again to pick out her form from the dark doorway with the little light afforded by the candle.
“I can’t hear you dad.”
A lightning flash helped him. But he saw not just his daughter at the doorway. The flash picked up a bloody humanoid form behind her in the hall, with half of its neck missing, its head hanging to the right and hands cradling an object, something like a child.
He felt horror as palpable as a rock hit him. He felt his nose bleeding again and strength draining out him. He asked again more out of shock than the quest for knowledge.
“What is her name?”
But he knew before his heart failed him, before consciousness washed out of him like the sea from the beach. Before his legs gave way and his head hit the tub and broke open… And the water in the tub took up a reddish hue… Before the backup generator came on and his daughter, apprehensive, screamed. He knew what she was going to say.
- Caleb Nmeribe