Dennis was torn between pressing down hard on the accelerator and splashing muddy rain water on pedestrians and stranded commuters and slowing down and risk arriving late at Afara. It took a little over six hours to make the journey from his home at Aggrey Road to Afara. The place was not really far, but the roads were terrible—numerous potholes, giant craters and the constant traffic jams. He wondered when driving would stop being a nightmarish activity for the inhabitants of the state. Thank God the worst of the bad roads was behind him.
He glanced at the silver-gilded watch on his left wrist: it was 07:21. He hoped to be with his friend, Nedu, by, at most, 08:00 p.m. As he sped along, somewhere around Rumumu, his headlamps caught a female form some distance ahead of him. The person was standing, leaning on one leg, and looking intently in his direction. Something clicked in his head and he slowed down a trifle to take a better look. As he drew level with her, she flicked her right wrist in a familiar gesture.
The car, a grey Toyota Corolla, jerked to a stop, a couple of yards past her . The girl stooped low and looked straight at Dennis.
“So sorry to trouble you,” she cooed in a tired voice, “but could you, please, give me a ride?”
Dennis switched on the inside light and, simultaneously, leaned towards her, his eyes taking in all the visible parts of her.
“Please, I’ve been standing here for over an hour and there are no taxis or bikes!”
Her trembling voice was laced with urgent appeal. While her left hand clung tightly to the pink bag suspended from her left shoulder, her large eyes held tightly to his face. She stooped lower still until his roving eyes could make out the rotund swelling of her bosom and his nose her soft alluring perfume..
Vehicles hurtled by, horns blaring, their headlamps picking the needle-like drops that drifted from the sky. The milling passengers struggled and fought one another with renewed frenzy with every taxi that stopped to spew out its passengers. It began to drizzle again.
“I said, get in.”
“Oh, thank you!”
* * *
“What’s your name?” Dennis asked, his eyes on the road.
“Janet,” she muttered, almost imperceptibly.
“You’re from this village?”
“You live with your parents?”
“You’re going home, now?”
Now that she was just about a yard away from him, her perfume wafted to his nostrils in strong waves. For a moment he pulled his eyes off the slippery road and fixed them on Janet. Despite her rather profuse makeup and hair that reached down to her wide shoulders, he could see she was still young—probably no more than nineteen.
She had the complexion of a cocoa drink that contained slightly more cocoa than milk and, judging by the way her knees were buckled up before her, he guessed she couldn’t be less than five feet ten. Her slender neck was encircled by two very thin chains and she had on a sleeveless tight-fitting pink satin dress that barely reached down to her knees. She was stunning and very good to look at.
“Why don’t you come with me? I’d be glad to have—”
“What?” He leaned towards her, straining to catch her words.
“Where are you going?”
“Afara .I’m attending the funeral of one of my friends,” he explained.
“Do you know the place?”
Her voice still had that tremor to it. Dennis suddenly realized she was shivering. He leaned over and wind up the glass, gently brushing his elbow over her grape-sized bosom. Then he automatically wind up the rest of the windows. She clasped her hands between her thighs and peered at Dennis in the semi-darkness.
“So, are you coming with me?” His voice trembled now, but it was not from the cold.
“No. I don’t even know you. And besides, my parents are expecting me now.”
“Where are you coming from, then?”
“A friend’s birthday bash in town.”
She smiled and from the corner of his eyes he glimpsed a badly mauled head with blood trickling out of its open mouth. He turned swiftly to look at her, but she was staring ahead of her, silent and immobile.
“Here,” she announced a while later. He slowed down and pulled over.
“That your house? He enquired, throwing his chin at a brightly-lit two-storey building, a stone throw from the main road.
“No. It’s about a three-minute walk from here—just two blocks away.”
Crickets screeched and frogs croaked while the power generator added a background roar to the cacophony. The surrounding houses and bushes were dark forms in a water-colour depiction of night.
Janet snapped open the car-door and immediately slapped it shut as if she’d seen a ghost.
There was alarm in his voice.
“The cold—I can’t go home in this rain!”
Then she felt the thick woolen jacket lying on the gearbox between them.
“What’s this?” she said, raising it up and examining it .
“Just my jacket.”
He flicked on the inside light.
“No!” she exclaimed, in an agitated voice, “put it off!”
“Someone might see me!”
He studied his watch and turned off the light.
“I have to run now. It’s past eight.”
“Could you lend me this jacket, please,” her sibilant voice stayed on the ‘please’ a trifle longer. He wanted to ask her if someone might not see it, but she cut him short:
“You can have it back on your way back!” Her voice was fierce, warm and passionate, like one in the heat of love-making.
Dennis simply stared at her as she put it on and stepped out of the vehicle.
“Our house is the pale-green bungalow after that one over there. Thanks and see you tomorrow.”
She minced away, huddled in the jacket, picking her way over the wet badly lit-path that led to her home.
Dennis turned on the engine and fired away into the cold darkness that led to Afara.
* * *
Nedu was almost thirty-two, but he had the frame and stature of a twenty-year-old. He was thin, diminutive, and smooth-faced and spoke in a high effeminate voice. But he had a cheerful and jovial disposition and, amongst his peers, was rated as the most open-fisted.
It was 03:46 a.m. and all but the musicians and a handful of spectators were asleep in the chambers provided for them. Nedu was tipsy, so also were Dennis and Ralph, another of their friend from their days at the University of Port Harcourt.
“You two will crash here in this bed, “Nedu announced, smelling faintly of Heineken beer. “The others and I will sleep in the next room.”
Dennis asked, “Where’s the bathroom?”
“Which bathroom?” Nedu retorted, eyeing Dennis.
“You wan come form town-guy for dis village, ehn? If piss catch you, go for bush for backyard.”
“What if na shit? Ralph asked, his bearded face creased in a mischievous smile.
“Carry’am go back to Port Harcourt!” Nedu promptly fired back. He left the pair and presently they could hear him exchanging banters with the few young men in the adjoining room.
* * *
Dennis winced and turned over . He felt the burden in his lower belly and knew he wouldn’t be able to hold it till daybreak .He hated the inconvenience of having to disrupt his sleep to empty a troublesome bladder .Yet he wouldn’t make the mistake of peeing in his dream only to wake to find out that he’d actually wet his pants—and the bed! What an embarrassment that would be should it happen here .In those days when he was a little boy and shared a two-roomed apartment with his parents and six siblings, if he woke up in a pool of his own urine, he would simply move a still dozing brother or sister unto his own side of the mat ,change his clothes, and go back to sleep in his new dry place. Of course he would hide the urine-soaked clothes and wash them secretly later in the day. However there were times he forgot and had to face humiliating taunts from his siblings and, occasionally, parents.
He got out of bed and, not wanting to disturb the others by switching on a light, groped his way through to the entrance door. Everywhere was quiet as the unrelenting music band had finally put their things away to rest their limbs for the next session at sunrise. The 100-watt bulbs glared under the canopies in the compound revealing the sprawling forms of the band members, sympathizers, and all manner of individuals sleeping in white plastic chairs .The motley lot dozed in different grotesque positions. But most had their legs stretched out before them, their heads thrown back over the chairs, and their mouths ajar and drooling saliva.
Dennis walked with short unsteady steps to a corner of the backyard. It was cluttered with broken furniture, heaps of firewood and other odds and ends that he couldn’t make out in the pale moonlight. He stopped, undid his zip, and whisked out a very stiff penis and forced a steady stream of water. He heaved and contracted his muscles to expel the liquid much faster, his eyes fastened on the yellow, banana-shaped moon.
Suddenly, he perceived a rather familiar fragrance floating into his nose. He sniffed hard and turned around to see if he had company and then was hit by a wave of dizziness .He instinctively went down on his haunches to steady himself and to clear his head .That was the time he saw and heard it.
The sounds came first, continuous heart-breaking sobs and moans; and while he was trying to figure out where it was emanating from, the pile of junk, upon which he was passing water, began to rise, like a smoky mist. He heard a gurgling guttural noise. He panicked.
A paralyzing chill raced from his nape to his buttocks. He backed away, frantically shoving his shriveled member back into place and spraying warm urine on his trousers and thigh.
He was almost at the door when he heard his name whispered:
He paused in the doorway and wheeled around, his heart like the piston of a locomotive.
He saw a dark form with the appearance of a statue that was draped with a dark shroud,rise and begin to float towards him.
“Dennis, please don’t leave me. I hurt!”
He fled into the safety of the house and shut the door softly. He made his way to his side of the bed and lay down, his limbs trembling uncontrollably.
He had never seen anything like this before! The closest he could remember occurred when he’d got admission to study sociology at Uniport, some twelve years ago. Being an orphan, he’d got up early the next morning to go and acquaint his maternal uncles in the East with the good news and to solicit their financial support. It was still dark when he carried his bucket take a hot bath .As he stepped outside, he’d seen a naked old person sitting at the bathroom door and staring at him with luminous eyes. He’d dropped his bucket ran into the house and came back only to find a dark tar-like substance at the spot the thing had sat. Of course, he’d, consequently put off his journey to the East.
He was almost dropping off to sleep when he heard some scratching sound like iron nails on a glassy surface. He shifted his gaze to the only window in the room and, sure enough, he could make out a blurry dark form moving at the other side of the louvres, trying to scratch its way into the room. He sat up slowly and then shrank back at the huge warped visage that suddenly pressed against a window pane. He clamp shut his eyes and tried to pray.
It took him close to an hour to go back to sleep. But by daybreak he’d forgotten all about what he believed was a vivid hallucination.
* * *