Eyes wide and staring at nothing, you sit at the edge of your bed. Your body is completely immobile but your mind runs miles. Thoughts swirl around in your head, unbidden and wanted, yet irrepressible. It is 1 a.m. and sleep is far from your eyes. It has been like this for some time now; night after night, you fight the battle with sleep, trying to bend it to your will, but it often wins. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror opposite, and for a moment, find it hard to believe it’s your reflection. Face gaunt, eyes deeply sunken with the corneas redder than an igbo-smoker’s, it is debatable that you are the same person in the framed picture beside the mirror.
A cough brings you out of your mental wanderings. You are certain it’s from Akpan, your immediate neighbour. Various sounds diffuse through the thin wall separating your rooms each night as you lay awake in bed. Sometimes it is the sound of his creaking bed, as he and his young wife hump away, but most times, it is the sound of him snoring away in his sleep that intrudes upon you. More than once, you’d felt like taking a machete to his head; anything to have some peace and quiet.
You pull your thoughts from Akpan and his irritating nocturnal noises, trying to concentrate once more on falling asleep. You lie back in bed and close our eyes to aid the process, but your mind, instead of going obediently quiescent, chooses to disturb you with the very thoughts you know you must avoid – thoughts of money. The moment that word slips into your head, a dull pain which signals the beginning of one of your notorious migraines rises. Money, like sleep, has been playing hide and seek with you.
“Which shouldn’t be so,” you whisper to yourself. “Not after everything.”
You hold your head in your hands, as though that would act as some sort of remedy for the headache. You had stopped using painkillers a long time ago, trading them for more effective tranquillizers, but even those you eventually stopped using; they had grown useless against your headaches and sleeplessness in time.
You try to keep your mind clear; try to force some calm on it, but it stubbornly replays the phone conversation you had had this afternoon with Mr. Ogbemudia, the manager of the microfinance bank you are heavily indebted to.
“Ebuka, hope you know there are only twenty-eight days left of your three-month grace period,” he’d informed you.
You are an electrical implements dealer at the popular Alaba International Market, a lucrative enough trade which began doing poorly after your decision to import your goods on your own. You felt it best to stop waiting for your former master to bring goods into the country before buying your share off him. You are an ambitious young man, with mammoth dreams of wealth that you did not see yourself achieving if your head remained tucked under your ex-master’s wing. The business of importation was more difficult than you had envisaged, though. Your savings fell short of the amount you needed to pay for the goods and you had to sell your share of the family land back home in Umuahia to make up the needed sum. When the goods finally arrived at the port, you had been faced with yet another gargantuan problem, and this was the problem of raising the money to clear them. With no funds of your own and with no one willing to lend you money, you had resorted to borrowing from the bank, putting up your shop as collateral. Still though, even after paying the custom duties and bribing everyone bribable, your goods were seized. It was said that they were sub-standard. You had taken the matter to court of course, but at the end of it all, you lost the case.
With your goods gone, you had no means of paying back the bank. As the loan neared expiration, incessant calls started pouring in from the bank along with unveiled threats to seize your shop. You knew you couldn’t let them do that; you would have nothing left if you lost the shop.
You had turned to your friend Chuks who suggested it to you as the swiftest shortcut out of your quandary. Money ritual.
“Everyone that is wealthy and successful has done it,” he’d told you. “Real money cannot be had without one doing something extra-ordinary.”
“So why have you not done it yourself?” you’d promptly asked him.
“I no get the mind o, nwanne,” he’d said, switching from Igbo to pidgin. “But e dey real. If you get the mind to do am, do am o, because this your case dey critical. You no fit let bank take your shop just like that now. Hian!”
You hadn’t needed much convincing. As desperate as you were back then, you would have done anything. The very next day, you were on your way to the outskirts of Ikorodu with Chuks, to see a certain Baba he knew who specialized in it.
The Baba, a scrawny septuagenarian, lived, surprisingly, in a modern bungalow with all the fixtures of a comfortable lifestyle in place. He had gone straight to the point, telling you that you had to send the spirit of someone who loved you and whom you were having sexual relations with into the netherworld. That she would fetch you astounding wealth and good fortune. That shocked you. You had known he would talk about sacrificing a human life, but why did he have to be so specific? Why did it have to be someone who loved you and whom you were having sex with? Why could it not be anyone else?
The Baba had laughed cacophonously when you put this thought into words.
“Only the spirit of someone who loves you and with whom you have formed an unbreakable bond through sex would convey money back to you once at the other side,” he had educated you. “Anyone who tells you anything different is simply deceiving you.”
You had furiously refused to do such a thing, and hastily walked out of the evil place.
“O boy, how you go bring me come this kin place?” you’d queried Chuks angrily. “Imagine wetin that old man dey yarn!”
“Shebi I tell you say na person wey get mind fit do am. Me myself for never do am if na simple thing? Nwanne it’s in your hands o. If you can do it, good for you. If you can’t, be prepared to go back to the village a failure.”
Back home, you had spent hours mulling over the whole thing. You could not imagine doing what the Baba had prescribed, yet you badly needed a way out of the katakata you were in. Sacrifice someone who loved you and whom you were sleeping with? The only person who fitted into that cast was Nkechi, but no! There was no way you were doing that. Not to your precious gift.
But you had gone back. After a few days, you had decided to do whatever it took to get rich, hardening your heart to the love you had for Nkechi. When you returned to the Baba with Chuks, he’d given you a knife for which you paid thirty thousand naira, telling you to take Nkechi’s life with it. You were to return it to him with her blood on it, along with seventy thousand naira.
The actual deed had gone down smoothly. You’d gone to Nkechi’s neighborhood, which was two streets from yours at about 10:30p.m. You called her phone and asked her to meet you by the canal at the back of her street; picking this location because you knew it was always deserted, more so at night. You told her you had something important to show her and did not want anyone else seeing it. You had also asked her not to tell anyone where she was going or who she was off to see. She had done exactly as you requested, never one to disobey you.
And you had done it. The moment she hugged you, you had locked her tight in your embrace, clamping your mouth hard on hers in a passionless kiss, and driven the rusty knife between her ribs. Just like that, without an explanation for your act of extreme cruelty; without any last words of affection or emotional goodbye, you had done what you had to do.
She had put up a fight, of course, her body jerking spasmodically with a strength that was at odds with her delicate, reedy frame, but she was no match for your might and determination. You had held her fast in your grip; mouth tightly meshed with hers as she struggled. And you had stabbed her again and again and again, until she was completely still and limp in your arms. Only then did you take your mouth off hers, feeling pretty much like a vampire that had just sucked away her life-force. Your mouth had tasted of blood and something nauseating.
You’d pulled her phone out of her pocket before shoving her into the dark, murky waters of the canal. After deleting your last call from her records, you sent an almost incomprehensible message to her sister—which was supposed to convey the fact that she had gone to see her bosom friend—before tossing it into the canal too. Then you took off your blood-soaked upper shirt, wrapped it around the knife and chucked them both into the polythene bag you had previously conveyed the knife in. You did these things as swiftly as you could, worried that at any moment, someone would yell “Murderer, murderer!” But nothing like that happened. The night remained as peaceful as before, and the canal was as deserted as ever. You walked away from the scene without anyone accosting you.
You went through the next few days like a programmed cyborg; projecting the emotions you knew people expected from you and expressing words that had been rehearsed in the privacy of your one-room apartment. Through it all—the search for Nkechi, which you actively participated in, the arrest of her bosom friend, and the eventual retrieval of the putrescent corpse form the canal and accompanying hasty burial—you had performed better than any Oscar-winning actor. No one had suspected you; no blame had fallen upon you; no one but Chuks and the Baba knew what you had done.
In the first couple of months after her demise, you had had no thought of the money her death was supposed to bring you. But after her burial, you became confident that you had gotten away with it, and only then did you wonder about the money.
When you returned the knife to the Baba, he’d said you would become a wealthy man within seven days, but that was yet to happen. Confused, you went to Chuks for answers.
“Nna men, me too no understand o,” had been his response. “I know someone that did the same thing and now he’s as rich as mad. It’s through him I knew the Baba now.”
He then suggested you both go back to the Baba. But that yielded a far different result from what you’d expected. The Baba acted like he had never met you two and denied giving you any knife to kill anybody. You blamed Chuks for taking you to a false medicine man and felt you had been duped. The hundred thousand you gave the man was money you could not afford to spend. Now it was gone and so was Nkechi. Chuks had vehemently denied knowing he was a dupe and advised you to let the issue die down, to prevent a fourth person hearing about the whole thing.
That night you tried to take your own life. You had the necessary tool, a jar of otapiapia, but you couldn’t do it. Taking another person’s life was one thing; taking one’s own quite another. You discovered that night what a coward you really were.
And that was the night it started – the sleeplessness. You spent the whole night thinking about money and Nkechi, and regretting the whole thing, wondering why the Baba had asked you to kill her when all he wanted was your money.
Things got worse for you from that point. Your business started doing badly and you had to let go of the two boys working for you. There was also the imminent loss of your shop as the bank deadline drew closer. You started thinking deeply, turning different ideas over in your mind, contemplating supplementing your fast dwindling income with activities like scamming and robbery. The first robbery operation you executed went down badly, though, and you were almost lynched. You were as unsuccessful at scamming.
You tried to remedy your sleeplessness and attendant migraines with drugs; starting with painkillers and graduating to psychotropic drugs, but in time even these didn’t work. The doctor who prescribed the drugs to you stopped when he realized you were overdosing in your bid to induce sleep. He referred you to Yaba Psychiatric Hospital but you had refused to go, scared of being diagnosed with mental derangement.
So here you are, an incurable insomniac on the verge of madness, night after night trying to think up ways of entrapping the ever elusive money. If you could trap money, you were certain, her sister sleep would return too. If you could get money, then you’d be able to forget Nkechi, you’d be able to drown out thoughts of her, and maybe no more would you see her face whenever you closed your eyes.
Suddenly, the light goes off in your room, jerking you from your thoughts. PHCN has struck again. You groan for you can’t stand the dark these days. You sit up and feel around for your torch on the bedside table. But just as you pick it up, something brushes against your hand…something warm and squirmy. You manage to choke down a shriek as you jump away with fear.
“Who’s that?” You croak.
But only silence responds.
You flick on the torch, partially lighting up the small interior of your room. There is no one in there with you. You could have sworn something touched you, though. Then you see a quick movement at the corner, just beneath the table and train the torchlight on it. It turns out to be a rat. You let out a sigh and almost laugh at your over-reaction. You wonder why you scare so easily these days.
The clock chimes again, three times. 3 a.m. You lay back on your bed, the torch still on. Your headache has intensified and your eyes feel sore and grainy. Still, sleep would not come. You moan, and as though praying, say, “Sleep, please come now. After all, it is not you I murdered…”