That same night, in another part of the city, another kid saw the strange man.
I knew about this because I was in that dark passage on the night in question. I have never been there before, have never seen the kid before and definitely did not understand what was happening, yet I knew there was something that connected me to this other kid and the others that I got to meet later.
Andrew or Andy like people call him was a very strong kid. He wouldn’t take a beating from any boy his age – even older kids try not to pick on him if they can avoid it. Kids fight could be clumsy, but Andy was anything but clumsy – Feisty would describe his temperament better. Yet, beneath his childish bravery lies an insidious fear; the fear of losing his mother. As far as a child’s love for his mother goes, Andy’s was an obsession. The reason for this is quite easy; his mother raised him alone after his father walked out on their lives when he was still just a baby. He has never met the man and the kid pretty doesn’t care if he was dead or alive. He does not ask the series of questions other abandoned kids ask about the parent that desert them. For Andy, as long as his beautiful mom is around, all is well in his world.
They live in a single room in an over crowded house; the kind of house where people have to share everything, except their cooking pots – and even that gets borrowed sometimes by neighbuors who need extra cooking for their over large families. An only child living with a single parent, Andy learnt to be self reliant and protective early in life. He’d stay close to his mother while she cooks in the general kitchen used by all the tenants and also stand watch at the buildings backdoor as she takes her bathe in the common bathroom – keeping an eye on their room and also watching out for her in case she needs anything. If he catches a neighbour in the act of gossiping about her, he’d hate that person for a long time and if the neighbour happens to have a child his age, the poor kid would get the Andy treatment for days.
On the night in question, Andy was in the corridor, playing with one of his few toys; but he was in fact watching over his mother who was cooking in the kitchen; ready to respond if she needed anything from the room. The kitchen is located at the back of the house, much like an after thought. The landlord probably forgot that the lucky folks who would live in the face-me-i-fight – you style of building might sometimes need to cook their meals before they eat them. The house has no fence around it, so it just opens directly into the street. There’s an entry way with an iron door fixed into it making it look like the entrance to minimum security cell. The door opens into a long and narrow common passage; lined with doors on both sides and an exit door at the rear which leads to the common kitchen and conveniences – not that there was anything remotely convenient about the facilities in the house though.
Andy and his mom live in the third room from the rear of the building and since it’s a 16 room house – eight rooms on either side of the long passage, he was closer to the exit door at the back than the front door.
The power was out as it was the case most of the times, but a thoughtful co-tenant had placed a kerosene lantern in front of her room, thus providing just enough illumination for people walking the passage. Andy had enough light to see all the way to the single entrance door of the house, though his attention hardly ever went in that direction – yet he’d know when anyone comes in through that door.
Andy! His mother called from the kitchen. “Go bring me anoda candle for inside the room. E dey near the bed. Do quick o, before this one burn finish o” she finished.
‘Okay mom’, Andy replied and dashed into the room. Their room too had a kerosene lamp similar to the one kept in the corridor by the thoughtful co-tenant; burning on a stool in a corner. The room was small and it was filled with things that only a woman – especially a mother would care about. A big cloth wardrobe, with shining Formica finishing dominated an entire wall of the room. There are two beds; one a standard king-size bed while the other was a little more than a cot. There is a cheap nylon blind that covered the room’s only window which does not even admit any sunlight or fresh air into the room because the house was built very close to another of similar size and design.
When there’s power outage, just like now, Andy’s mom usually lit a lantern from as early as6pm. The floor of the room had no carpet and the most modern electronic gadget you could see anywhere in the room was a 21” color tv; a German product with a name no one could be bordered into learning how to pronounce. It was one of the few things still surviving after the disappearance of Andy’s father from the house; the remains of his stuff are kept in a fairly large wooden box, stowed away under his mother’s bed. No photograph of the man hangs on the wall and she hardly ever talk about him. Besides, what do you say to a 7year old kid about a father he never knew – a father who dumped his 6months old son on his young wife and took off without a second look back?
After a year of struggling to take care of a new baby on her own, Janet finally picked herself up and went back to her used clothes sales business. It wasn’t much but helped her take good care of her baby and also took her mind off problems. Although she sells used clothes, Janet made sure that Andy only ever goes to outings in brand new ones. She also ensured that he had trunk loads of those ones and lots of good shoes to wear around the house. This result of this is that the boy grew up always looking smart and well dressed for a child raised by a single mother.
She had met Andy’s father on one of her trip to neighbouringBeninrepublic where used clothes are imported since the country operates a duty free port. They had fallen in love after a few meetings and had moved in together when they knew a child was on the way. But things took a bad turn just before the birth of their child. Once, when Janet had still been pregnant with Andy, she had gone to pick up some of her stock at the border, but on her way back home, there had been an armed robbery attack on their vehicle. The robbers held the passengers at gun point while relieving them of their belongings.
But then, one of the robbers seemed to see something unsettling. He became very agitated and started shouting at his fellow villains that they should get going. In his hurry to get away, he tripped on one of the luggage on the floor of the bus and fell off the bus. He was run over when the bus driver decided to bolt with the vehicle on seeing the confusion among the robbers. When Janet got home from that trip, she was really glad to be alive and even happier to have escaped been robbed. She couldn’t wait for her “husband to return from his own trip so she could share her testimony with him – but he never came back.
Janet never found out that her being on that bus at that particular moment had caused her hubby his untimely death and that his agitation had helped to distract other members of the gang from noticing her among their intended victims. How the leader might have responded to seeing a known face in the bus was unknown to him. Yet he somehow reasoned that, under the influence of all they drank and smoked before embarking on the robbery spree, his judgment might have been clouded, blinding him to the realization that though they could see their victims’ faces, their on visage would have remained identifiable under the wicked masks they wore for the operation.
Andy’s light sneakers squeaked loudly on the bare floor of the room as he went in to get the candle his mother asked for. He knew exactly where to look for it – on a well polished bedside cabinet where his mother also keeps her few cosmetics products. She had told him that the carbine was a gift from uncle tope, the only man that ever comes to check his mother at home. He is furniture maker who lives a couple of streets from theirs. Andy like the way he talks and always looked forwards to his visits – because he always came with stuff for him like wristwatch and comics. He was of course too young to understand the relation between the two grown-ups and they were quite discreet about what ever they did.
It took Andy just about a minute to pick one of the candles from the dresser, struck a match and lit the candle. He watched the wick kindle and the wax began to melt. He opened the door to the room, stepped into the passage, and closed the old door gently just like his mom had told him to always do if he doesn’t want the whole door to crash down. In the empty airy passage, Andy shielded the burning candle with one hand right in front of his face. The direct glare of the candle light made it a little difficult to see too far ahead.
Andy saw a man walked through the exit door at the back of the building, coming towards him. He couldn’t remember seeing any one come out of any of the rooms or enter through the main entrance before he went in to get the candle. Where did the man come from? He also noticed for an instanced, the light coming from the kitchen had become very bright. The brightness of whatever was burning in the kitchen cast the face of the approaching figure in a shadow. Andy willed himself to continue walking towards the kitchen where his mom was waiting for him to bring a fresh candle before the one she had burnt itself out. Though the bright light from the kitchen seems to make candle unnecessary, yet he knew he had to go give her the one with him.
Now everything seemed to be moving so slowly. The little boy felt his head grew bigger and his eyes felt like they were ready to pop out of their sockets. He couldn’t understand why a strong wind was suddenly blowing in the usually airless passage. Andy felt cold inside while sweat poured down his frightened face. The approaching figure seems to epitomize every of his childish fear of the unknown. It took like forever for him to make it to the next door on their side of the passage. By this time though, the man walking towards him in the opposite direction had also reached the second door from the back on the other side.
They drew level at these doors abd everything seemed to stop – for a while. Andy’s usually light sneakers felt heavy, like a ton of lead had been strapped underneath the soles. The invisible wind blew harder, causing the candle to burn faster, melting wax falling all over his little right hand, yet he didn’t feel a thing. What Andy felt at that moment, little as he was, wasn’t fear; it was an acute sense of powerlessness. Feeling suspended in time, he turned to look at the man who also appeared to be suspend in midstride, his hands in the pocket of his business suite, with one leg barely floating in slow motion above the ground. In his attempt to see the face of the strange man, Andy’s eyes travelled at an agonizing screeping pace from the stranger’s suspended legs all the way to his face – except there was no face to be seen. Where the man’s face should have been was a black hole – no eyes, no mouth, no face. Nothing!
They glided past each other, their bodies nerly touching; yet an invisible gulf seems to push them apart. Still numbed form the paralyzing sensation passing through his young body, Andy struggled to turn as the man went past him. Now he saw the face, smiling at him as the man went futher down the passage towards the main entrance.
The child in him had seen all it could take and he opened his mouth to scream. Just then, the candle went out leaving him in pitch blackness for split second before everything exploded into light and noise. At that very moment when Andy was ready to give vent to his fear with a scream, power was restored flooding the dark passage with bright light from the 100watt bulbs fixed to the ceiling. Someone let out the customary shout of UP NEPA from one of the rooms when the light came on while a woman began so scream from the direction of the kitchen – but the man was gone.
Andy dropped the dead candle on the passage floor and began running towards the kitchen. When he got to the part designated as the common kitchen when his mother was cooking his dinner, what he saw made a scream to rise up his throat once again only to be locked in by a feathery hand that was clasped over his mouth. Immobilized by fear from all he had just seen in the last one minute that however seem to have lasted for an hour, he simply fainted. Just before he finally succumbed to unconsciousness, he looked up to see a face covered with marks and framed by a mass of kinky black hair, braided in a weird style. The woman who had her hand over his mouth has feather all over her body starting from the nape of her neck, just below the braided hair. Her naked body was black and covered with with the coarse feather except for her chest and her belly which were clothed with soft fluffy chick feathers. Her eyes, dark and large were the last things he saw before slipping into unconsciousness.