It was a normal day, the day I died. In my eyes, there was nothing wrong with the gloom that enveloped the morning. After all it was a September morning and September in Lagos is one unpredictable month. It rains in September: the clouds are at most times morose, dark as the human mind yet the moodiness of the clouds doesn’t always guarantee rain. Sometimes the sky immediately becomes bright, its ill humour forgotten, like a lover in the arms its beloved returning from a journey of many months.
Since it was from a nightmare –one that left me sweating and jittery- that I had woken, I found the unusual familiarity of my home welcoming. There was something strange about that morning, something I couldn’t place my hands on. Everything seemed as it should have been and yet nothing seems to be right.
I was feeling healthier and more alive than I have ever been as I rose from bed. The nightmare that had had me racing from my sleep to the land of the living was by then a distant memory to me. I could not remember a single detail of it but it was there at the back of my mind threatening to thrust out.
The room was eerily silent as I got up from bed. The tick-tock of the grandfather clock down the corridor from my room resonated like it was in my head. I heard it loud and clear and I had never heard it from the room before. It seemed like someone had smoked the room. I could see things clearly though it felt to me like I wasn’t really seeing through my own eyes, that there was a device other than my eyes that was transmitting images to my brain.
I stretched out of habit and then looked outside the window into the yard. I stood in that one spot for many minutes. It was as if I was seeing the universe in a whole new dimension. I took everything in, every detail of the morning. The sun was about coming up and I waited to see the first sunrise of the day. I saw the sun that day like I had never seen it before. Every colour was sharp and more proclaimed than ever in my eyes. I used to see the sun as just a yellow disk in the sky. That morning, it was more than that. It was a burning disk that exploded into a million golden lines. It was magical. I stretched my hand in front of me and felt the warmth of the sun permeate through me.
Once the sun had found a comfortable spot in the sky, I walked out of the room, passing by the standing mirror which I stopped in front of for a second to look at myself.
Until that morning I had held on to the notion, like every sane human, that mirrors don’t lie. I stood in front of it and stared at the improbable image that was in it. It was me, that much I know, but it wasn’t the me that I remember before going to bed. In the mirror, I looked perfect in my own eyes, saintly and beautiful like I had always wanted to be.
I am a little bit on the big side but I looked like a beauty queen that morning, the only thing missing was a tiara. Gone was the huge ring formed around my belly and deleted from the image were my flabby arms and puffy cheeks. I looked like I had always wanted to be.
A scoff escaped from my mouth without me thinking it. It had graduated into a full blown laughter when I decided to move away from the mirror and face reality. I walked out of the room wondering how weirder the morning could get. I had had a lot of wine to drink the night before and thought maybe it was the after effect of it that was fooling me that morning. I was seeing things like I had never seen them before.
As I made my way downstairs, I didn’t know what it was that awaits me. No one in my situation would have thought it, too.
There were voices coming from the living room. Not only was my sight sharper that morning, my hearing was keener too. I hadn’t even gotten halfway to the living room that I began to hear the voices. They weren’t shouting, it seemed like they were whispering and yet it was audible to me from where I was. Weird, I remember thinking.
I recognised the two voices. There were my husband’s and his best friend’s.
“… I just hope she’s safe wherever she is,” my husband was saying and I could sense pain in his voice as he said those words. He spoke like it was a burden, that with every word he uttered, he needed to regain his strength before attempting to speak another.
“She’s safe and she will be back. You just have to put your mind at rest.”
“I hope so,” my husband said, wiping his hand over his face. He had been crying, I could see and I was alarmed. I had only seen him cry once, a long time ago and it was horrifying to see him in tears. Whatever it was that was making him cry, I knew it wouldn’t be a scenario that would leave my own eyes dry.
“I am scared,” he continues to say, “I can’t even think straight. I am praying she’s okay.” He was unshaven, too. That gave me more concern than the pain I heard in his voice. There was no way my husband would step out of the house without shaving his face clean. He hadn’t touched a blade for days, I could see as I approached him. I had seen him just the night before and he wasn’t that hairy. How could he have grown so many stubs in one night?
“Who?” I finally found my voice, “What is wrong, baby?” seeing that none of them turned to look towards me, I convinced myself that I had only thought what I believed I’d spoken and that they were yet to be aware of my presence. I start to make my way towards Tunde, my husband, but there came a knock on the front door and he bolted out of his seat the instance he heard the first knock. He raced to the door and opened it without even demanding to know who it was that had knocked.
There were two officious looking men with sombre faces at the door. When Tunde saw how pale they looked, he slowly began to make a retreat into the room. He said no words to them. His eyes were on them as he made the retreat but I knew he wasn’t looking at them. His mind wasn’t where his eyes were.
The two men allowed themselves into the house and the shorter of them said, “We found her body.”
The squeal that escaped from my husband’s mouth shocked even me. I was by his side in an instant and demanded to know what was going on. No one was answering me. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that they could not even see me at all.
“No, no, no.” my husband repeated amid tears, like a mantra, “this can’t be happening to me.”
“It is well.” His friend, too, was saying. “All will be well.”
To say I was confused would be an understatement. I felt like I was in a dream once more, that what was happening wasn’t real. Whose body had they found and why would it make my husband cry so much? His mother was dead and he was an only child. There was no other woman in his life except me.
“How did it happen?” my husband finally found his voice, interrupting my thoughts. “Where was she found?”
“We found the body somewhere on the highway this morning,” the older of the men said, “and we believe it was dumped there sometime during the night or very early today. She had been dead way longer than that, hours we think. What we believe is that she had been held somewhere this whole time.”
“Who did this?” Tunde, my husband asked, “I want to know who did that to my wife.”
“We are working on it,” the man said, “Your wife isn’t his first victim. She is the sixth we know of in recent times. The perpetrator of the crime is a sexual predator who abducts women, tortures them for some days before he kills them. We have been on his trail for quite some time and I promise you that we’d apprehend him soon.”
Tunde scoffed, “will that bring back my wife.” He was crying again, not audibly but the tears were dropping. “Will everything be kosher after then?”
No one answered him. The man who had spoken seemed to have diverted his attention to the shoe he was wearing. Silence reigned supreme for a couple of seconds until the two men announced that they had to leave. They demanded that he came to identify the body. Segun, my husband’s friend promised to bring him over when he got back to being himself.
I stood there like an idiot wondering what was happening. I was yet to know my fate then. I didn’t know, at the time, that I was nothing but a spirit. That I was an entity in my eyes alone, that no one could see me, that I was nothing to them. I was still thinking that I was in a dream and not that I am dead.
Who thinks about death in such situation?
We all know that it is the only way by which we’d leave this world and that it is certain, but no one expects it. Not many even wish it upon themselves. Few do, but they have to have seen its emissaries; disease, loss, poverty, depression. No one knows the exact time of its arrival for death visits unannounced, like a thief, and sneaks into us to claim our souls.
Whatever happens to those souls it snatches? No one knows. I don’t even know what doom awaits me.
“Why should this be happening to me, why did Toni have to die now?” it shocked me to hear my name and the reference to it in the past tense.
“It is inevitable, bro. We have no choice but to accept it when it is time.”
“Why now?” He said more to himself than to his friend, “Why should it have happened to me? It’s just been a little over a year that we got married, weren’t we meant to be together till old age? We are just starting our lives together. We were going to get old together. I promised her.” His eyes went to the portrait of us that was on the wall just before where he sat. It was our wedding picture and we were both beaming.
“There is no right time to die”, Segun said, “We can’t be the architect of our own fate. There is a greater force that determines that, all we have to do is just deal with it when it comes.”
“A greater force you say, but why? Why us, why me?”
“We might never know why and we cannot question God. To do that is to blaspheme.”
“To hell with blasphemy…” He suddenly looked behind him towards where I was standing but his eyes went through me. Though he could not see me, I realized, he could sense me. He would never see me again.
“I think am going mad,” he said to his friend, “I keep sensing her. I keep thinking she’s around here, that she can hear me. I could have sworn that I felt her just now.”
“Am here, baby.” My voice was only a whisper, it was choked by emotions. I guess I’d be crying if I was still human. I want to cry but it just was not happening. The tears wouldn’t come but I felt it in me, the loss. It was like a hole within me. He had been a part of me and I felt incomplete.
“I am here.”
I walked up to him, stood before him and then lay my hands on him.
He smiled, looked up towards my face and burst into tears. “This whole thing is crazy. I can feel her. I feel she’s still alive.”
“It’s all in your head, brother. She’s all memories now and you don’t have to deliberate on them for too long else you’d never let go. You have to let her go. If not for yourself, think of the little one she left behind.”
As if on cue, there came a cry from upstairs. A child’s. A little child’s.
“I will be right back.” My husband got up from his seat and raced up the stairs, taking them three at a time. I was right behind him and we both entered the room at almost the same time.
He reached for the child that had just woken up and carried her in his arms.
“How are you doing, cutie?” he asked as he lifted her up from the cradle. She was just eighteen months old. I was behind him with the child facing me. She was looking towards me and I was damned sure that she could see me.
“Mama.” She said while pointing towards me.
“You miss her, don’t you?”
“I miss her too baby, but we are alone now. You and I?”
“I want Mama.”
She tried to get down from his arms, wriggled until he had no choice but to let her go. Hardly had her feet touched the floor that she tottered towards me with her arms stretched wide apart.
I got on my feet and opened my arms too, expecting and longing for the hug. We were however on different planes. She moved right through me and almost hit the wall behind me before she stopped to look back at me. The confusion on her face was indescribable.
She moved slowly towards me, tried to touch me when she got to me. Her hand once again passed through me. It was then that my husband walked up to her and took her hand in his. He pulled her towards the door and she willingly followed him but never took her eyes off me.
“Mama.” She mouthed and then waved at me as she went out of the door.