Musa lay face up in bed in the place that he called home – for now, at least. Home was a stuffy, cramped room on the first floor in a block of face-me-I-face-you rooms. Home was also shared with his brother, Ahmed and his brother’s friend, Labaran, along with their messy and unsanitary habits. Home was therefore completely unsatisfactory to Musa, who would have preferred a bigger space – preferably one with air conditioning, or at least a working fan. Even better would have been if home was his and his alone so that he didn’t have to deal with Labaran involuntarily stinking up the place with his bad body odour and voluntarily stinking it up with his flatulence – but when you are new in Kaduna, having only recently arrived to start a new job as a accounts assistant, and the only place you can stay is your brother’s, you can’t really be choosy, he thought.
But his problem right now was not his confined quarters or the bad habits of his room mates. It was something more immediate – how to get to sleep.
Musa had never really been a believer in the “early to bed, early to rise” mantra. As he lay in bed, he recalled his days growing up in Kafanchan, when long after Ahmed and his sister, Amina, had gone to bed, he had remained awake, wishing he could continue to play with his toys; only the threats of punishment from his father had kept him in bed. When he had gone away to university in Jos, he had delighted in being able to stay awake for as long as he liked, even if it meant him missing some of the suicidally early morning lectures fixed by sadistic lecturers. He never really saw not being able to sleep at night as a problem; if he couldn’t sleep, then he could always read, go out for a stroll, or do whatever it was that people did during the day. It became so common to see him drifting around the hostels at night that his friends took to calling him ‘Ghost’.
But now that he needed to be able to get up early to hold down a job, it looked like his ghostly habits were coming back to haunt him. This was a real job, he thought, not the charade of NYSC orientation. Then, he could get away with two to three hours of sleep – after all, who needed their brain to be functioning at full capacity when they were simply being asked to stomp their feet on the parade ground? But in a job where he was going to be asked to reconcile accounts, the last thing he wanted was to be found dozing at his desk.
As these thoughts hurried back and forth in his head, he flicked away the sweat that had beaded on his forehead under the stifling heat of the night. There was a power outage, so the table fan stood helplessly inactive on a nearby dresser. Musa cast a reproachful look at his sleeping brother; even though Ahmed had a small generator, he had decreed that it should only be used for life-and-death purposes, such as watching Champions League matches. It was not fair that he should be condemned to sweat to death, he thought, as he listened to the sound of generators in the neighbouring compounds; the irony was, while they were providing much needed relief to other sleepers, they were keeping him awake with their racket.
Musa sighed and turned over again, trying to tune out the noise. After a while, it seemed to fade away to a dull thrumming. Even then, he could just make out the different pitches. There was the basso profundo of the heavy duty diesel behemoths; the casual tenor of the regular 4.5 kVA units; and then, there was the energetic soprano of the smaller capacity generators, which seemed to be escalating into a high-pitched…
Musa jerked up from his bed and flailed away at the invisible but very audible mosquito that had rudely interrupted his thoughts. For a while, he sat up, staring this way and that in agitation, then he flopped back on the bed with a sigh of frustration. Stupid mosquito, he thought. For the thousandth time, he wondered why these insects couldn’t just take what they wanted without disturbing the owner. And he had been on the verge of drifting off to sleep, too. He thought awhile, then he grabbed a fold of the bedsheet and wrapped it around his head, covering his ears. Hopefully, that would block out any further annoying whine.
He turned again to look at his fellow room occupants; how could they be sleeping so peacefully while he was condemned to the hell of insomnia? As if in answer, the sound of a loud, ripe fart burst forth from Labaran’s bed. Immediately, Musa jumped up from the bed; from bitter experience, he knew that if he hesitated for even one moment, then all was lost. He hurriedly pulled on his T-shirt and jeans which were hanging on a chair, slipped on his leather sandals and dashed out of the room, just in time to avoid being assaulted by the stench that would shortly follow.
Once out in the corridor of the block of flats, Musa decided that there was no point in trying to go to sleep. Maybe it was the stress of not being able to sleep that was keeping him awake. Better to go for a stroll around the neighbourhood to relax; sleep would come in its own time, and if it didn’t, then… well, he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
He shut the door to the room, then he strolled down the dark corridor, descended the stairs, and soon he was out in the open air of the compound, where a gentle breeze was blowing. He looked up; an almost-full moon was high in the sky, bathing everywhere in its pale light. He inhaled deeply, taking in the fresh air, and for the first time that evening, he allowed himself a smile.
He wandered over to the gate and looked through. The street that his block of flats was located on had an eclectic mix of buildings; some were blocks of rooms like his, some were more upscale blocks of flats, and a few were standalone houses. Most were walled off in compounds. As far as he recalled from his few excursions since arriving in the neighbourhood, the street didn’t lead to anywhere particularly interesting, and he did not feel inclined to do any exploring at this time of night. He decided to just walk to the end of the street and head back; that should be enough, he thought. After all, he didn’t know the place very well, and didn’t want to get lost.
Thus decided, he walked through the gate, which was slightly ajar. As he started down the street, it banged shut with a loud clang, making him jump.
But when he turned round, there was nobody there.
Maybe it was just the wind, he thought, but he would go back and check.
To his consternation, a chain had been drawn across the bars and locked with a heavy padlock.
There had definitely not been a chain and padlock when he left the compound. Was someone playing a joke on him? Maybe Labaran had seen him leave the room…
“Labaran! Labaran! You better open that gate now, or else I will show you pepper!”
At that moment, the pale light suddenly faded into darkness as the moon went behind a cloud.
Musa looked up in alarm. What was this? “Labaran, open the gate, now…” he pleaded, shaking the gate for emphasis.
At that moment, he caught a movement at the edge of this vision. He turned round for a proper view, and saw the outline of a human form emerging from from one of the compounds across the street. It glided towards him till it was standing across the road from him, where he could see it properly. What he saw drove a jolt of fear through him.
It was a human form alright – but nothing like he had ever seen before. For one thing, it was very tall – well over eight feet. Its skeletal frame was clothed in a black, billowing cloak, and its face was almost completely shrouded by a hood. But what transfixed Musa with fear were the hands extending from the arms of the cloak. They were… long, sinewy, with claws at least a foot long extending from them and reflecting a sinister glint in the scant moonlight.
“Wa ke chan?” he asked in a voice made hoarse with fright.
In response, the form shook its head slowly, remaining mute; it was obviously not interested in revealing its identity. Then just as slowly, it turned round and raised an arm, beckoning…
Musa screamed in terror as he saw them come forth. Hundreds and hundreds of dark humanoid forms, much like the first, but with eyes blazing a malevolent red; pouring out from the neighbouring compounds, racing down from both ends of the street, leaping down from buildings, all heading towards him, all uttering the same chant: kashe shi… kashe shi… kashe shi…
In a wild panic, he made a desperate attempt to scale the locked gate, yelling for help, but the bars had mysteriously become coated with a slippery slickness, and his hands slithered helplessly off. Even as he hammered on the gate and his yells reached a frantic crescendo, he could feel them converging on him, with the relentless chant of death on their breath. Then as he felt himself violently seized and dragged away by many hands, he gave one, final desperate shriek…
…and he sat bolt upright in bed, eyes rigid with fright.
So it was all a dream, he thought to himself, as the waves of relief hit him. He wiped away the sweat that was streaming down his face, and flopped back in bed. What a horrible nightmare. If that was what was waiting for him on the other side of being awake, then he would gladly stay where he was.
He flicked away more of the sweat on his forehead; the power was out, so the table fan on the dresser was useless. If only Ahmed would let us use his generator, Musa thought peevishly. But no, he preferred to hoard its usage, except when Man U were playing in Europe. It wasn’t as if he was being unreasonable; after all, everyone else in the neighbourhood seemed to have a generator running at this time of the night, even some people in this face-me-I-face-you building. He didn’t mind the deeper sound coming from the bigger generators; those could easily be tuned out. It was the sound of the smaller ones he found irritating; loud and whiny, like…
Musa cursed as he swung his hands this way and that to brush away the mosquito that had intruded upon thoughts. He stared into the darkness in irritation, then he lay back on the bed, grabbing a fold of the bedsheet and wrapping it around his head to cover his ears. Of course he was trading one source of discomfort for another, but he knew he would not get to sleep if he had to endure further high-pitched whines.
The minutes ticked away slowly, and he turned again to look at his fellow room occupants. Why couldn’t the mosquitoes torment them instead? After all, they were already asleep and deaf to any noise. A moment later, there was the loud, rude report of a fart from Labaran. Musa hurriedly jumped up from his bed and fled from the room, concluding that the mosquitoes were smart after all to avoid Labaran’s natural insecticide.
But as he stood outside the door, a thought struck him.
He had been here before. Had he not just had a dream about this?
He scratched his head, but as hard as he tried, he could not remember what the dream was about. All he could remember was that something terrifying had happened at the end. He was baffled; after all, he had woken up not so long ago. How could he already have forgotten?
Well, he didn’t want to stand here waiting for the smell to clear away. It would be better if he took a stroll outside instead. The air there would be fresher, and maybe it would relax him enough to feel sleepy. Yes… that was a good idea. He squared up his shoulders and strolled down to corridor, smiling to himself for the first time that night.