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There is a lump in Tim’s throat, he cannot speak. Almost as chilly as that weird scene from his imagination is the look on Christie’s face. His docile, mousey Christie has fire in her eyes. She walks out angrily through the front door. He turns around and Ufuoma is walking towards him with Mama Ekene. Tim closes his eyes tight and opens them, hoping he can change his dream but...it is not a dream. Mama Ekene wants to talk with him but she won’t enter his house. She has come all the way from Onitsha to see him. Tim takes one last fearful look at the living room before stepping out. They decide to talk at a buka just down their street. He asks Ufuoma to join them as she had mentioned being hungry. As soon as they are seated a few tables away from Ufuoma who is gratefully giving her order to the waiter, Mama Ekene asks,
“She went out”
He responds irritably. Mama Ekene never liked Christie and Tim is in no mood for idle chit chat.
“Who be this?”
She enquires pointing rudely at an oblivious Ufuoma. This has stretched long enough; Tim demands an explanation from Mama Ekene. Her pause seems unnecessarily long and this annoys Tim further. He cast a glance at Ufuoma who despite her cries of hunger is playing with her food. Mama Ekene begins to speak bringing down Tim’s life to a matter of the next few hours. There is no doubt about her story, it all adds up. Tim is cold and sweating profusely. For the second time in his life, the second time in the space of one hour, his heart beating hurts. He struggles to swallow the lump in his throat. He wills the rushing sound in his head to stop.
“So will you do it?”
Mama Ekene asks, with tears in her eyes.
When Tim is finally able to speak, his voice is a strangled croak.
“Do i have a choice?”
Back at the house, Tim watches Mama Ekene stroke her dog gently. They had left the dog behind when they’d moved and Bingo is very happy to see her. The dog is trusting and at ease as Mama Ekene places a finger by his eyes and scopes out the white discarge at the corners of the eyes. Ufuoma is dozing off blissfully on a bench in front of the large mango tree in front of the block of flats which housed Tim. She is totally unmindful of the goats resting just by her feet. Tim cringes as Mama Ekene rubs the whitish substance on a piece of chewing gum foil and stretches forth and rubs the inner corner of both his eyes with the same finger. He shuts his eyes as she tucks the folded foil in her bra.
Tim opens his eyes fearful of what he will see. His scrotum and scalp tighten up as his already cold blood turns colder. Three very old people; two male and a female are crouched in the exact same spot where the three goats had been just a moment ago. They are chatting casually and eating from an earthen ware bowl filled with frothing blood and what looks like entrails. A shrill crow’s cry moves him further into a new realm of fear. He looks up at the crows and the object of their fascination catches his attention. A decapitated human head is hanging from the tree above Ufuoma. The head’s eyes are darting around in fear as it mimics the crow’s cry. Mama Ekene taps him on the shoulder. She looks equally shaken but determined. As they walk towards the building’s entrance, a gnarled old dwarf drags a hand cart into the gutter at the side of the house. Tim’s thoughts race after his heart beat. Will he survive this? If he does, he will never again see life normally. his heart sinks impossibly farther as they walk into his living room. He is sure he will not survive this. The char burnt figures of a man with two kids; a boy and a girl are standing looking out the window wistfully. Their aura is very sad and angry. At the corner of the room in the same spot where Tim had seen his shadow is another burnt figure of a little boy. He is crying and exudes such melancholy that brings tears to Tim’s eyes. Mama Ekene lets out a groan of pain as she sees him. He looks up to her and his eyes light up though the tears don’t stop. The burnt figures turn and in the twinkling of an eye, the man and the boy are upon Tim. The man’s hands fix firmly on Tim’s neck while the little boys teeth come down repeated on his calf. The little girl is standing before the crying boy and snarling malevolently at Mama Ekene. Tucked securely at her waist, secured by her wrapper is a small gourd which Mama Ekene loosens quickly. She tips a bit of the powdery content into her palm. She makes to blow it at the little girl, who darts fearfully away from her sight. Mama Ekene with determination tucks the gourd into the waist of her wrapper and brings out a worn wrapper from her bag. She lovingly tucks in the crying little boy. His smile grows lucent as his tears cease. The world stands still as he is enveloped in a blinding white light. He calls out “Mama” as he waves at Mama Ekene. Motion returns and the little girl immediately shoves Mama Ekene hard from behind as the man and the boy continue with Tim who is struggling on one knee. Mama Ekene stumbles and the gourd topples over. She screams as she watches the gourd smash and the contents spill. She grabs a chair from the dinning and swings hard at the little girl with all her might. The chair lands heavily on the girl throwing her across the room. She lay stunned on the floor beside Tim who is clawing desperately at his throat. He is lying on the floor with the man and the boy upon him. His eyes are popping out of their sockets and little red veins appear around the outer circle of his iris. The man is sitting on his chest and maintaining his grip on Tim’s neck while the little boy is sitting on his leg. He is no longer biting Tim but giving Mama Ekene a snarling malevolent look. Mama Ekene rushes towards the spilled contents of the gourd. The little boy hurls himself at her. She is slammed into the wall by the force. She yelps in pain and crumples to the ground. Tim’s legs freed, he is once again on his feet and grappling with the man. They all pause as the door is flung open. Ufuoma walks in tentatively. She is instantly scared at the picture before her; also she can feel them, they are here. She looks up as she hears a wild screech just before the air is knocked out of her by the little boy who hurls himself at her, catching her with the full force of his weight in her stomach. She falls down hard but quickly picks up herself. The little boy is crouched at a corner getting ready to hurl himself at her again. Ufuoma wants to run but she can’t. She looks down as Mama Ekene repeats “The ash, the ash”. She places one hand in the ash just as the little boy hurls himself at her. As she falls backwards, she reaches out to the source of the weight on her. The little boy falls just beside her screaming and crying in pain. Her hand print is coal read and smoking on his side. Ufuoma hears his cry but cannot see him. She looks around in fear and asks mama Ekene what is going on. Mama Ekene brings out the chewing gum foil from her bra and slides it to Ufuoma, instructing her to rub the content inside in her eyes. Ufuoma hurriedly obeys. She screams and burst into tears as she suddenly “sees”.
Christie’s growl is feral as she stands at the door and takes in the scenario. She turns to Ufuoma and screams.
“Why aren’t you dead?”
She dives on Ufuoma, the first blow drives Ufuoma to her knees. She screams in pain and terror as Christie rains blow after blow on her.
“I won’t fight you Christiana. If killing me will appease you then kill me, but I’m sorry. I’m sorry Christiana and I love you and I miss you like mad. It was all my fault, my carelessness, I’m sorry”
Her crying is pitiful. Christie stops, tears are running down her face as she decomposes at fast forward pace. The room becomes unbearably hot with an accompanying smell of heat as she points at the door.
“Get out. All of you, and never come back.”
Mama Ekene and Ufuoma struggle towards Tim who is lying half dead on the floor. The man looks down at him and with a grimace which is actually a smile; he pushes the fridge down on Tim. Amidst the crash is the distinct sickening sound of bone cracking as the fridge lands on Tim’s right leg. Christie gathers her family together and they walk inward as the heats rises in the room. She turns at the door .
“This is our home, do not come back here”.
The curtains catch on fire as the door is broken down by neighbours who'd heard the sounds from the apartment.
Two days later, mama Ekene and Ufuoma are sitting beside Tim’s hospital bed completing the puzzle.
Ten years ago, Ufuoma had come to Lagos to stay with her older sister and her family. All was well until her sister’s husband and two children fell ill to typhoid fever all at the same time. On that fateful day on the Eighteenth of December 2000, her sister Christiana had gone to work leaving her to care for her sick family. Ufuoma had put beans on to cook while she hurried to the pharmacy to get some drugs. One her way back, she met her new friends from around the neighbourhood and had stopped to chat. Two hours later, she heard news of a gas explosion and fire at flat 3b Johnson close. With her heart in her mouth she ran back home to witness her sister fight off bystanders and rush into the house to save her family. They were already dead and roasted. Christiana died of asphyxiation three hours later at the hospital. Ufuoma never told anyone that she had been the cause of the fire.
Mama Ekene’s son had refused to be buried. Each time they tried to bring him out of the mortuary, something happened. He had died at the hands of Christie and her family as a warning to Mama Ekene for her snooping around. His spirit had lingered with them and needed to be set free.
The new occupant of flat 3b Johnson Street, smiles with relief as she shows her new house girl to her room.
“Tiana, you sleep here.”