“How long has he been like this?”
“Two days now, sir.”
“My son, oh my son!”
The voices seemed to be coming to me from far off. I opened my eyes and saw that I was lying down in a comfortable bed. The air conditioning was soothing to my skin and the television was on with a football match showing. The fluorescent light from the ceiling was blinding my eyes and I winced as my pupils constricted to accommodate the bright surroundings. I recognized the pictures in my room and I sighed with relief. What a nightmare! So I had been dreaming the whole thing all along? I turned to my side and saw Nina still sleeping on the bed beside me. Sweet, sexy, adorable Nina, my personal angel. Her beautiful skin shone smoothly in the fluorescent light. I imagined her chest moving gently with her breathing and turned, smiling towards her…
But she wasn’t breathing. She looked cold, unmovable, still as, as… I couldn’t think it. Suddenly my heart started beating hard against my chest.
“Nina? Nina?” I called out, getting more panicked by the minute. I shook her hard but she didn’t respond. I wanted to turn her over, but I was suddenly too afraid to look at her face. Her beautiful face, what if I looked and it wasn’t beautiful anymore? But curiosity got the better of me and I turned her on her back.
Her face was gone, nothing. Nothing was there just a blank mass of flesh. I tried jumping out of the bed and suddenly chains from nowhere wrapped themselves around my hands and feet. I screamed louder and then the door to the room opened and I saw myself, myself as a child, looking in and hissing angrily.
“You are having a nightmare, you idiot .” My child-self said scornfully. “Wake up!”
I screamed and jumped up- and I was out of the nightmare only to find my parents rushing towards me, worry all over their faces.
“Chukwudi, my son, what happened?”
I looked around me confused and saw that I was in the same room I mistook for mine in the dream. Only that there was a nurse beside me and my hands and feet had been chained to the bed. Both my parents were standing beside me, looking very worried, and behind them stood – Mr A****! He looked even more concerned than my parents and for a moment I thought I had indeed been dreaming. And then I caught him smiling wickedly as his eyes met mine.
I said “Mum, dad, get away from this bastard! He is evil!”
But what came out of my mouth was:
“Skelewu, Jump the bridge! Wind your waist and dance for me!!!”
My parents gasped, Mr A**** shook his head sadly. I was shocked! Shocked beyond words. What happened? I tried again:
My mum started crying. I stopped talking and looked at her. I tried smiling to encourage her but found myself grinning maniacally instead. I knew what was happening but they didn’t. I saw my mother hold my father and weep for her son. And I looked at Mr A**** who, standing behind them, was watching me with a hidden smile. And there and then I swore revenge. It would be absolute and merciless. I didn’t know how I would get out of this but I intended to do so with every fiber of my being.
My father was talking. “So that’s how you found him?”
“Er, Yes sir.” Mr. A**** replied humbly. “I had dropped him off on Sunday and came back to my daughter in law’s place. He even sent her a text message a few hours later saying he was going to town to buy something to eat. The next thing we knew he called and started shouting that some men were chasing him and that he had bolted himself in his house. I went along with my daughter-in-law to his place with a few policemen only to meet him like this. They later found a few wraps of Indian hemp on his table, both used and unused. The doctor said it is common for hemp smokers to start hallucinating especially when they have been taking it for a long time.”
I don’t smoke hemp! I shouted
“E don tay since I dey take igbo naa…!” I heard myself say.
“Our son, a hemp smoker?!” my mum interjected. “I don’t believe it!”
“Eees very possible ma.” The young nurse by my side had decided to enter the conversation. “We dey see them plenty for this side o. Dey go dey look responsible meanwhile…”
“Thank you nurse”. My father said grimly. “We’ll take care of him from here. Thank you Mr A****, you have been very kind, paying all his medical bills…”
Mr A**** nodded quietly. “Its no trouble. I liked him fro the first moment I saw him, his charisma, his intelligence. He reminded me of myself when I was younger. It’s a pity he went into drugs. I am sure the doctor will be able to do something for him. My daughter in law says she will come by later to see him. Maybe I’ll drop her off before returning to my hotel.”
“Thanks again sir” my mum said and he smiled and left. The nurse adjusted the drip on my arm and left as well. As soon as they left my mum went to my side and sat down close to me.
“Chuks, what happened?”
I opened my mouth to answer but instead spat on her face. She withdrew and cleaned it off and looked at her husband.
“Can he really go mad?” she said, looking more alarmed than ever. “Do you think he saw…something he shouldn’t have seen?”
My father was quiet. He seemed to be deep in thought. My mother had to get up and go to him and physically shake him before he broke out of his reverie.
“What is it, woman?!” he asked angrily.
“What can you be thinking of at a time like this?” my mum said getting hysterical. “Our son is lying here, not his normal self and you are silent? What do we do?”
“First of all, calm down.” My father had become the man I knew. I could see him building inner strength, becoming a rock of stability and support. Hopefully he would know what to do.
My mum, however was still on the verge of a massive hysteria. “I won’t calm down o. where is the doctor? How can he have been here for two days and the doctor has seen him only once? When did our son start taking hemp?
My dad stared at her with fiery eyes and she finally kept quiet. His look was altogether menacing and for a moment I thought he was going to shout down the place. His voice however remained calm.
“My son already sees visions, he would never resort to drugs that would make him hallucinate even more. You know chuks better than that! With all the stress he has gone through trying to adjust and appear normal, is it now he would resort to drugs for comfort?
My mother saw the sense in that and nodded quietly in agreement.
“secondly, we must tell the doctor or nurse immediately to stop that man from coming to visit chuks. I didn’t like him at all.”
“But why?” mum said, “he seemed so nice.”
“Too nice,” my father retorted. “how long has he known chuks? ‘he reminded me of myself when I was young…’ rubbish! Make sure he doesn’t come near here again!”
“Yes dear,” my mum said.
“Now please, there is something I want to try but I’ll need you to stand outside and let nobody interrupt us.
Her eyes widened. “You mean, you want to call…”
“Yes.” He said. “I don’t see what else we can do. It may have been too long and it may not work but I have to try.”
My mother’s eyes filled with hope. I watched her and inwards I smiled. My dad had always been the one to hold unto in times of crises. My mum and I adored him so much although we never told him to his face, lest he become too full of himself. A foolish reason, I thought now, as I watched, trapped, a prisoner in my own body, as my mother left the room and my father came to the foot of the bed.
“I love you, dad.” I said.
“Comot for here, bastard!” I spoke.
“Its all right Chukwudi, don’t say anymore.” He said. He sighed deeply and was quiet for a while before he started to speak:
“When you were little, your mum tried to hide your peculiarities from me. Funny woman, how won’t I know if my only son is strange? I found out after a while and at first pretended I didn’t know. Then I started getting angry and thought I could force it out of you, especially when you told your mum about the feelings her friend and I shared, even though you didn’t know what you were doing at the time. I was so blinded by my lust, anger and selfishness I thought I could beat it out of you. So one day when I was at home with you and your mother went to work, I went to the back of the house and cut a big cane. I said I would flog you mercilessly and warn you never to repeat anything you saw again. The strange thing was that you showed no signs of fear even as I raised the whip. I flogged and flogged you and you uttered not a word. I was still too angry to notice the evil I was doing so I threw the whip away and pulled my belt. When the head of the belt hit you, you screamed and ran back. I chased after you with the belt and hit you again. You had nowhere else to run and so you grabbed the belt. I was about pulling it out of your hands when you screamed again.”
My father paused for a moment, as if he was about to expose a big secret whose weight had burdened him for years. I watched him in silence.
“ I don’t know what you did that day, but I found something escaping my body. It was like a disgusting, ugly looking monkey with a big manhood. I saw it with my own, normal eyes, it wriggled and squirmed about on the ground for a short while, then lay still, dead. And then it disappeared. I immediately lost all feelings for your mother’s friend. I didn’t even understand why I had been so angry with you. I dropped to my knees and begged you for forgiveness and you held my hands with yours which had swollen from my whipping. And you smiled and told me that you saw when your mother’s friend had put it on me, that it had been sitting on my shoulder the whole time.”
I opened my eyes wide in amazement. I had done that as a child? I could do that? How come I didn’t remember?
“i told you then that you were stronger than me and you said you would do it for me anytime I called you Chukwudi the stronger. That you liked the way the name sounded. Chukwudi the Stronger! And I used it there and then. I selfishly asked you to remove any other thing from me, anything that was hindering my way to greatness.” He was crying now. “Chukwudi the stronger! I made you remove as many obstacles from my path and your mother’s that day. That was the day things really began to change, the day things started to get better, but it had an effect on you. You slept throughout the next day and when you finally awoke, you had no recollection of the incident. You seemed so stressed out, so overworked, so drained. Your mother and I decided we would never use you for such selfish purposes again. We didn’t know how it would affect your health. And so we kept it a secret between us. And a secret it has remained for all these years, even from you. It was after then we started hearing you talk of Pachios, whom you called your guardian angel. I personally felt that a higher power had sent him to you to protect you until you could fend for yourself. And since he allowed this, this thing happen to you, I believe your time has come for you to do just that.”
I was stunned. I had never heard this part of my history before. And then I realized it. When I was still a child Pachios had always been there to protect me from harm. The odd scrape there, the adventurous escapade there. I remember when I was in primary school and some dogs chased after a group of us boys as we ran home from school. Each and every one of those eleven boys had been chased down or bitten by the dogs, except me. They simply behaved as if I wasn’t there. I knew Pachios had been covering me with his wings. And the scar I had gotten on my wrist when escaping from school…I had actually fallen right unto the barbed wire. It was because I stretched out my hands as I fell that I had any injury at all. Pachios had been there to catch me. And since I had come to Lagos Pachios’ visits had become less and less frequent. But surely this was an emergency? Where was he? Did he expect me to do this on my own?
My father had pulled himself up to his full height and he had stopped crying. His voice took an authoritarian tone and he set his face firm as a rock and spoke loudly:
Chukwudi the stronger!
Are you asleep?
Listen to the voice of your father, the voice of the one who calls you Son!
Chukwudi the stronger!
Are your eyes still heavy?
Awake from your slumber and vanquish those who would make you a mockery.
CHUKWUDI THE STRONGER! RISE!
At first nothing happened. I felt silly, watching him there looking at me, looking at me almost the same way Mr A**** had done back in the large, dark room. What did he want me to do? And then…I felt myself fall. I was falling deep into my own body as if my body itself was a huge room and I was dropping right down to the centre. I shouted but no sound came out and I continued to fall, until I landed on a firm surface. My landing was gentle despite haven fallen for a long time. I stayed on the ground for a while and looked around me. I was in an empty room. There was a source of light coming from above but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact location. As I walked around I realized the room was no longer empty. Lying on the floor, sleeping peacefully, was a small boy of about six years. I knew who he was before I even approached him. In fact this room for some reason appeared very familiar, like I had lived in it my whole life. I went over to the boy and shook him but he mumbled something and went back to sleep.
“Wake up!” I said. “it’s time for you to wake up!”
He turned around sleepily to face me and I recognized my younger self, the one I had seen in my nightmare earlier that day. He yawned and mumbled some more then turned to go back to sleep. I shook him again.
“You again? What is it?” he asked sleepily.
“I need your help,” I said. “Someone put a lunacy creature on my head”
“Well, get rid of it,” he said, stubbornly refusing to open his eyes.
“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t know how and Pachios isn’t around to help me anymore.”
“Pachios is gone?” he said opening his eyes and sitting up. He suddenly smiled. “So does that mean I am in charge now?”
“Yes it does.” I said feeling a bit funny talking to myself. “I am in charge.”
He stood up and stretched about a bit. It really seemed he had been sleeping for a long time. Then he said “This is going to be so much fun! You are not a strict kind of adult are you?”
“Get me out of this predicament, and we’ll see.” I said. “Get me out, Chukwudi the stronger!”
He grinned then, and bellowed at the top of his lungs, “WHO DARES TO SIT ON MY HEAD?!” and I heard a trembling from above and the creature attached to my head screeched in terror.
Chukwudi the younger, the Stronger, looked at me, still grinning. “Let’s go back up. I have a feeling you are going to enjoy this as much as I am!”