Tuesday, 2nd October
On a hot and humid evening, Ajoke decided to go buy oranges at the junction to her house; it was just five houses away. She got there and saw that the orange seller, an old, withered woman, was busy washing some unpeeled oranges.
“Welcome my daughter, please pick your choice, they are all sweet oranges” she intoned smiling her encouragement.
“This woman sha, she always knows how to escape holding the nylon for me” Ajoke grumbled within herself as she went closer to the tray and started to choose.
She looked through the tray till she got to the bottom, she prides herself on knowing how to pick succulent oranges and pick she did. Until she saw a pebble in the tray, it was in no way special, “just a brown pebble that probably some little boy had thrown but I like its smoothness” she mused to herself as she took it and put it in her shopping bag. “I’m not stealing it…
Friday, 4th October
No one knew she was behind the chair.
Grateful for the lack of attention, Ajoke closed her eyes and soaked in the fresh air and the noise. There was no petrol to power their generator and it was already 9p.m., the fuel station would be closed. The windows were open instead and two torch lights were turned up on the table near the door. Siji and Kike, her younger sisters, discussed loudly on the other side of the sofa, the radio blared some mindless tune and a generator droned on somewhere in the neighbourhood. She took it all in, reveling in the sounds of life. “Getting irritated would do no good, these sounds are here to help and I need to sleep”, she encouraged herself. Just then a car door slammed and Ajoke smiled, knowing she was safe if she slept before these sounds ceased, slept under the illusion of guardian angels, people around her, protective cover. If not, she slept straight into the dreams where It ruled.
“It…” she thought as shudders ran through her frame. She retreated further into herself physically by curling up but mentally, she sought and sorted out the night noise. Tonight, Siji is excited and has an opinion on everything but Bola, the fifteen year old baby of the family, is quiet and is already in the bedroom with ear phones blocking both ear pores, she’s moody.
Ajoke did not care tonight if anyone was in a mood or on fire, she needed to sleep and her sisters’ antics are useful to divert her attention long enough to sleep.
The rest of d night passed by without any event of note and Ajoke could not have been more relieved. The day was pleasant at work too except the brief moments when she had flashes of “the dream”. She closed on time and even the route home had light traffic. Ajoke was already imagining the hot and spicy stir fry she will make for dinner.
Saturday, 5th October
“Sisi, welcome.” the orange seller by the entrance to the street greeted Ajoke as she strolled by.
“Good evening, ma”, she replied without breaking her stride.
“It’s like you want to give me something, my daughter”, she continued but Ajoke did not pause only acknowledging the orange seller’s words with a mirthful “mama, I’m not buying oranges today”. Since she did not even take a peep, she missed the anger and worry on the woman’s face, stir fried rice await her and she was sure she would make it just as good as whoever invented it, if not better. Her sisters were in for a treat.
Bedtime met her singing along with Pink, ‘Split Personality’, fighting the urge to sleep before she eventually dosed off.
Tuesday, 15th October
It came back, crying, with face full of mucus and a tray filled with peeled oranges. It placed the tray on a cowering Ajoke’s head and sat on her laps. Complete revulsion climbed up Ajoke’s tummy as she tried to imagine what kind of liquid seeped through her clothes. She bent to throw up her dislodged food only to hit her chest against It. In her horror at the impact, she threw up on It’s legs. It promptly packed the vomit and force-fed Ajoke. A struggle started but the muscle power was greater on one side. Ajoke found herself swallowing and crying. Then It made her stand, hold the tray and walk around.
Suddenly they were at the entrance to Ajoke’s street, It stopped at the exact spot where the old woman displayed her wares, placed the tray, on the table and pushed Ajoke to stand behind the table. Before she could gather her wits, shapes formed around her and came near, one by one. They emitted terrible odors and seemed to expect her to do something, when each saw that she would not move, they put money on the table and took oranges, as many as they wanted. In a time span that felt like eons, the tray was empty while the table held more money than the oranges’ worth. She did not, could not move. She did not even want to look at anyone’s face or shape, she was so tired. Then It started to cry again, tears that ran down and formed a puddle.
“What else now?” Ajoke thought, remembering when It gripped her neck and would not let go. Ajoke joined in the crying without looking up. “Surely I am dead”, she reassured herself, “why else would I be here?”
She jerked awake to a watery greeting. Her mom and sisters took turns at slapping and watering her down. It took her a while to assure them she was awake then her mom launched into prayers while they all dutifully said “amen” at intervals. When she finished, she confidently announced, “I do not know what it is that makes you cry in your dream, but I know it is over in the mighty name of Jesus”.
Ajoke had been having the exact same dream for about a fortnight, had told her mom the dream, re-hashed the dream scene by scene with her siblings and stopped going to bed so sleep took her wherever she was. By now, she was too weak to contemplate leaving her room, forget going to work.
It was that same morning that the old orange seller came to her house and told her mom that Ajoke owed her fifteen thousand naira. Alarmed, iya Ajoke expressed her disbelief while the old woman encouraged her to confirm from Ajoke. After Ajoke’s many denials, the old woman became incensed and asked Ajoke for the ‘Aje’ she took from her tray. “I will no longer be patient; I am not leaving this place until I have my helper in my hands. I do not know how children of these days behave like this, taking things that don’t belong to them…” on and on, the woman raked as the pieces of the puzzle fell in place for her…the smooth stone.