Obi had the first dream in a late October thunderstorm.
The wind hurled rain missiles at the window glass and the pattering sound was an oddly soothing background noise. Obi lay on the bed, curled up under covers, and faced the wall. Momentary gusts whipped rain streaks at the glass. He purred and turned towards the window.
The room was dark, intermittently illuminated by the violent flashes of lightening followed by crashing thunder. October rains were usually like that; they seemed furious at their imminent end and the coming of the dry season. Lights outside diffused into the house slightly and the room furniture stood out only as silhouettes, looking almost surreal, as if formed out of the darkness itself.
Obi was suddenly aware he was sitting, was aware that something was amiss. He felt a bit cold and reached for his blanket. He grasped thin air, then he realized he wasn’t sitting on his bed; that he was sitting on his chair. The rain still pattered on the window. His bedside refrigerator still droned. He shivered. Wondering what he was doing awake in his chair while he should be sleeping on his bed, he got up and shuffled across the room to his bed. He fell in and threw the blanket over himself.
As he was drifting off into sleep, a sharp sound got him alert. It was a mewling sound. He listened. It must be those stupid rodents in the kitchen. He should get some rat poison. He heard the sound again. It was more like a human sob, a girl’s sob. And it was from inside his room!
He froze and felt the skin on his butt contract. He strained his ear but he couldn’t hear anything. The sound came from the side of his desk, beside his chair, the chair he just vacated! His throat dried up and his palm and armpit begun to sweat despite the cold. He listened for a while and peered in the darkness but he couldn’t make out any shape. He decided his mind was playing tricks on him. He was about to shut his eyes and sleep off when a fiery whip of lightening cracked and thunder rumbled amidst the murmuring rain.
His heart stopped. He heard himself exhale audibly, like he was hit in the gut. Then he heard his heart pick up, slamming against his rib cage like a scared prisoner seeking exit. He felt his bladder almost let go.
In the brief flash of light, he could swear he saw a small woman sitting on his desk, her legs hanging over the edge. She was leaning on the window and had her forehead rested on the glass. He even saw a brief reflection of her off the dark glass. He thought he saw she had a trail of tears down the right eye of her reflected face. She seemed oblivious of him.
A small ‘eek!’ sound spurted from Obi’s throat. He leapt up from his lying position and launched himself rearwards, his back hitting the wall, and then he scrambled off the bed and groped along the wall for the light switch.
Light flooded the room, 100-watt bright, and this stung his fully dilated pupils. He reeled and got a vision of blurry colors for a moment before everything came into focus. No girl. It must have been a dream. His desktop had papers strewn across it just as he had left it before sleeping off. The only thing he saw was his reflection in the window across the room and he looked so scared he was scared afresh.
As one wading through tar, he edged slowly towards his desk. His face got larger in the opaque wet glass, emphasizing his wild eyed look. He glanced only briefly at it and he turned his attention to the erstwhile seat of the intruder (imagined or real, he couldn’t tell yet). He touched the wooden top; it felt warm. His gut clenched. He peered at the glass but there was no smudge left by her face; it was evenly and lightly fogged over. He wiped it with his palm viciously, the glass squeaking in protest. He felt suddenly tired, drained and let his arms drop by his sides. He could feel his knotted muscles unclenching, his trembling fingers regaining nervous control.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
He felt stupid and uneasy at the same time; stupid that he made a fool of himself for imagining something that wasn’t there, uneasy that he might not have imagined it anyway. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t just a dream; he thought there was a barely perceptible scent of a stranger in the house—something citric and soapy at the same time.
Obi noticed the rain had dwindled into a light drizzle. He was still sleepy and he checked the clock on the wall above the desk: 3:54. He crawled back into the bed and slept off almost immediately with the light still on.
At the office the next day Obi was sitting in front of his boss, Miss Ene, apprehensive. He was not often invited to her office and while she was walking into her office she had seen him chatting (okay, frolicking) with Denise, the buxom beauty who sat two desks across from him in the upstairs banking hall. The upstairs hall office had no customers and they were on break, so he wasn’t very worried. Miss Ene might have something to say about it (actually she would have something to say about it) but Obi knew he wouldn’t be reprimanded much so he was more uncomfortable than anxious.
She rifled through some papers on her messy desktop and Obi appreciated the deftness it would take to work in so cluttered a work surface. She was taking her time doing it and he let his eyes stray and he took in Miss Ene’s office; filing cabinets with files sticking out, a filled waste paper basket, and window blinds hanging askew. He watched her, bemused. She looked like her office too; harried, ratty and ugly. She didn’t get here by being tidy, he thought.
She interrupted his thoughts, “You want to leave this branch.” He started. She still was rifling through the papers and hadn’t found what she was looking for.
“Em..er..I applied for a transfer.”
He had applied for a transfer from the local branch of Prime Guaranty Bank in Enugu where he worked, to one in Abuja. He felt it was the best career move he could do, moving from the sleepy city to the vibrant capital city. He had applied once last two years and it was turned down. After securing an account of 180 million naira (his distant uncle, a dealer on Italian fabrics, fearing for the safety of his money in Standards Bank which had been recently shaken up, had him open an account for him), he applied again and apparently he was successful. He smiled unconsciously.
She finally stopped searching and extracted a piece of paper and handed it to him, absently flicking away a lock of her untidy weaved hair from her face. “You have an interview appointment at the Maitama branch office on the Monday after next.”
He took it from her, scanned it and glanced back at her. She watched him pinch-faced, her small pockmarked ugly face looking vaguely predatory. He held her gaze for a moment and she dropped her gaze to the top of her desk.
“That’s all,” she said, shuffling back the papers on her desk into a different order from before.
“Thanks.” He stood up and strode to the door.
Still holding the door knob, he turned around.
“We discourage office romance. I hope you haven’t forgotten that.”
“Yes, Ma.” He walked out, more amused than irritated, but still a little embarrassed. So she mentions it finally. Mtcheeew!
The second time Obi had the dream, three days later, it wasn’t raining.
The night was sweltering. He had put his shirt on his chair and lay stretched out on the bed in his shorts. The windows were open but he was still sweating.
The full moon cast ghostly shadows, cutting mellow swaths of light through the windows into the room. The dark ceiling fan whirled overhead making clacking sounds. The clock ticked dully but not quietly, the night’s silence amplifying its sound. A light, lazy breeze sighed in through the window.
Obi heard a quiet rustle. It’s her again, his mind screamed! There was a sniffle. In the darkness, he could make out his chair and he thought that there was something else on it, a figure. It could be her! As he strained his eyes watching the chair, a human shape rose up and slipped into the shadows, towards the table.
He tried to scream but he couldn’t. He tried to rise but it seemed his joints were bolted in place. He felt his bed getting less solid, more fluid. He felt himself sinking. He felt his bed getting less fluid, more vaporous. He felt himself falling…
He woke up and found himself facing the opposite wall. He whipped his head around, the whiplash stabbing in his neck. He stared for several moments at the chair. He was weak-limbed and it took him a while to muster enough strength to raise himself from the bed, all the while never taking his eyes off the chair.
He switched on the light and walked to the chair. The clothes draped on it looked sat on, but he might have sat on it before going off to bed. He regarded his hairy chest glistening with sweat and flicked it off with his finger. The bed sheets also had a wet sweat map on it. He fetched a fresh sheet, replaced the drenched one, switched off the light and went back to sleep.
The next morning he stopped over at the chemist shop four blocks from his house and bought some anti-malarial pills.