A CUP OF TEA AND TALES OF DARKNESS
I sat at my dining table in my one-bedroom flat, groceries still in their bags on the table. He…it…my shadow had actually helped me carry some home. It had been disconcerting, having to watch two bags of groceries levitate as if on invisible strings, and then slowly disappear. I got the feeling that this had been for my benefit…or discomfort. Thankfully, no one had seen any of this. The walk home had not been any easier; it had taken some willpower not to freak out each time an invisible bag brushed against my leg.
In spite of this, I’d felt…complete, for the first time in a very long time. Like a part of me that was always searching for something was finally at rest.
I watched this strange, blurry shape lean on my kitchen counter in front of me. I felt its presence strongly in my mind.
“Are you a ‘he’ or an ‘it’”? I asked.
A chuckle. “Crazy question, but understandable. For all intents and purposes, I am a ‘he’. But I can be an it sometimes; which will you prefer?”
Raising my hand, palm outwards, I said “Let’s stick with ‘he’ for now.” My palm came to rest on the table. All around me, the world slept. I looked out the window; there was quite a wind building up, making the tree outside sway lazily. If it got any stronger, I would have to close the window. I turned back. “Do you have a name?”
A scoff. “I told you; I am you. Ergo, my name is Chike.”
“Is there any more to you than…”-I gestured with my hand-“…this?”
“Of course!” he answered, sounding surprised.
“Alright then. Show me.”
A feeling of slight amusement, and then the air in front of it shimmered.
How best to explain this?
It was like watching myself emerge from behind a film/cloud/bubble/alternate reality. Slowly; first the legs, crossed at the ankles; same scoffed, black Converse sneakers, black combat trousers, the hem of the same red-blue-white striped body-hugging T-shirt, black, woollen, zip-down jacket, arms folded…and then the face…my face.
This was more than looking in a mirror. I was looking at myself. In the flesh. Chike Gabriel Duru. Identical, down to the wrinkles on the clothes and the scrape on the left knuckle. I stared long and hard at this…apparition in front of me, awed by the sameness…until I took a good look at his eyes. They were filled with mischief and deep, dark knowledge. They were eyes that said I have been to depths unknown; I have experienced darkness unthought-of. I felt barely constrained malice fighting for space with goodness.
“Hmmm,” I said after a while. “Interesting.”
“Better than that cheap parlour trick of yours eh?”
I shrugged, then got up and went to the cupboard on the wall beside the window and opened it. Took out a tea cup, a tin of hot chocolate, milk and sugar. Turned to him. “Do you drink or eat anything?” I reached out and switched the kettle on.
“Well…yes and no.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I can, but I don’t need it.”
The water began to boil. “How did you grow then?”
“Are your questions always this retarded?”
“Whatever.” I turned to make my beverage. Tasted it. Sweet. Turned to find that he had gone back to his previous state. In the light of my kitchen, he was a mottled, indistinct black shape with the barest indications of limbs. Slowly, he wavered out of focus until I could see through him to my kitchen door behind him. Then he turned back to a black shape. I chuckled. “You seriously plan on taunting me, don’t you?” I asked, sipping my beverage.
“Every chance I get.” I felt his grin.
I realized that I was happy, truly happy. I’d felt this way only a few times, with the feeling coming to me less these past years. Sometimes, I felt like an old man in a young man’s body. But with my shadow back, I felt complete.
“Can people walk through you?” I asked, closing the window and moving back to my seat. “Do you really go invisible?”
“Yes and no,” he answered. Again.
“Answer me straight, you monkey.”
“Shut up. People can walk through me, but it’s an unpleasant feeling, both for us and them. It’s like walking through a bubble and trust me, having to disintegrate and come back together is not pleasant at all. As-”
“Us?” I asked, cutting in. “How?”
“I’ll get to that. As for the disappearing, well let’s just say I can manipulate light to some extent, bending it around me…I can actually do a lot of amazing stuff, but more on that later. I’m here…for now. As for the ‘us’, well, I am you, and you are me. Just as I have felt every single thing you’ve felt since the day I left you, so also will you have felt everything that I have, in some way or another.”
As he said this, I realized he was right. Childhood memories filled my head; peculiar, frightening times. Growing up, there were times I’d felt inexplicably afraid, bursting into crying fits that no one had been able to stop. Sometimes, I’d even caught glimpses of images that had scared me shitless or caused me to laugh uncontrollably. School had been hell for me, with my parents having to change my school one more than one occasion, until I had learnt to control my reactions to these episodes, as they had been called. I’d simply attributed it to one of the peculiarities of being me.
“I’m curious as to how you survived this long without me,” my shadow said.
“Simple. Loving parents.” I spun my cup slowly in my hands, taking care not to spill any beverage.
“Seriously, you have to tell me.”
“Well, tell me yours first.”
He pulled out the only other chair in my kitchen opposite me and sat down at the table. I saw his hands on the table, merging, and I thought he’s clasping his hands. This close, he looked like ethereal smoke, wafting in different directions but having a defined almost-shape.
Then he asked me. “Have you ever killed anyone before?”
The question made me pause with my cup halfway to my lips. I stared at him over the rim, and then drank the tea as I mulled over his question. I set down the cup.
He chuckled. “Well, I have,” he said, sparing me the trouble of having to answer. I looked up. “Yes. More than one actually. Maybe I’ll tell you about them, maybe I won’t ; we’ll see as the night unfolds. But don’t go thinking that I’m a wanton killer.”
“I’ve killed…something before,” I said, sighing. Doors I didn’t want to open.
“I know,” he said. “More than once, right?”
I looked out the window to my right. The tree outside said I am here, and I will still be here until I am needed no more. So go on and have a little chit-chat boy; I’ll stand guard here.
“Where do you want me to start?” he asked me.
“Start from the beginning.”
Death-god: Humble Beginnings
I was born in 1961 in Eastern Nigeria to two parents who never noticed what I was until it was too late for them to do or say anything about it. I had a few…incidents when my other-worldliness revealed itself, but they didn’t amount to much, and they are fuzzy in my brain anyhow, except for two. My mother may have gotten glimpses of what was within me, but she probably refused to believe what it was she had seen. Denial of the truth, something I can never forgive. Oh, I tried to make them see how special I was, but in the end I was nothing but a burden to them. So I killed my father and drove my mother mad.
What was I to do?
I didn’t kill them as a kid, but the process started then. Slowly, surely. We lived in the city of Lagos until my father was eventually transferred to England by the company he worked with back then; Nestle. Business Advisor, or something like that; I was a teenager then, so I don’t remember much. This was after the Civil War, and I welcomed the change. We lived in Luton while father worked in London. Good school, quiet home, not too many friends, black or white. I always kept to myself, and being an only child only reinforced the feeling of dislocation I always felt. So when I revealed what was in me, how was I to know that it would bring grave consequences?
The first time I noticed I was different, I was five or six. My father was still at work, and I’d just gotten back from school. I was playing alone outside, the day hot and still. Our neighbours’ kids were probably having lunch or sleeping, and I didn’t mind the solitude. I think I was scribbling in the sand, although what I’d been scribbling is lost to me now, but then I remember the air seeming to hold its breath for a moment, and then a crow landed in front of me. I was immediately fascinated by its shiny black feathers. It fixed me with its beady stare and I stopped what I was doing, leaning back on my haunches. It fixed me with its beady, obsidian stare, and I was sucked into a swirling vortex of darkness and screaming faces. Mentally clutching for handholds, I nevertheless felt an excitement within me that I’d never felt before. It was like being alone in an amusement park with the keys in my pocket. After what seemed like a long time, I was spat back into my surroundings. There was no way for me to find out if I’d left this plane of existence, but when I came to, the crow was no longer in front of me; it was perched on my shoulder. I blinked, and the world became bifurcated; I could see the front of my house and the entrance to my compound at the same time. I realized I was somehow looking through the eyes of the crow, and then I felt the bond. It was like something locked into place, and I felt complete. I felt a tingle in my palm and looked down to see shapes engraved in my palm; through the crow’s eye, it was one-dimensional. I blinked and I returned to myself. The shapes; runes, circles, triangles and some others I knew nothing about all glowed blood-red and black, pulsing with dark life and standing out in stark relief. I stroked it with my other hand, and I felt the heat from it; a sweet sensation began in my belly and I felt as if I could run forever.
And then my mother called me inside, and everything vanished. I blinked stupidly and looked around, but I was alone. No crow, no shapes in my palm. Still, I felt that residual tingle that let me know it had not been a hallucination.
That was the first time I’d wished I could kill my mother.