A short read by
Akanbi Albert Afeso
© June, 2015
Abuja, FCT, Nigeria.
‘….for everyone who’s ever dreamt…..’
Ebheshina. A unique word that carries in its bowel so much mystery. A word little understood by many yet so many more throughout history have claimed it opened windows in their minds to the unknown, vouchsafing them some glimpse of the divine. An expression found in the Ghotuo-Uneme-Yekhee branch of the Edoid linguistic lineage dialect, a tongue spoken by an equally inimitable people who occupies the land we today call Ososo, a scenic town of streams and rocks in the undulating Somorika hills of Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, Nigeria. Ebheshina. Dream.
A long time ago, as a child, I was told by my father that when one dreams, one was falling. Like falling from the peak of a huge mountain or falling into the dark depths of a bottomless abyss. As if to buttress this assertion of my father, many times in the wake of a dream, especially nightmares, I would usually find myself splattering on the ground from the spring bed which was my usual companion at night in those innocent days as a little boy. Many times those falls had been accompanied with the dreadful screams of a boy and beads of sweat covering my body. Apparently, the shock of seeing myself spread across the cemented floor of our room and parlour affair in those days like an abandoned empty sack of beans was always too much for my boyish psyche to process and so my mind would shake me awake. This was a phenomenon I had to live with most of my teenage years. Usually, when people misunderstand something, such misunderstanding tends to open such a thing to tremendous speculation. And, all my life, my head has been filled with speculation about the true meaning of dreams and the purpose they serve. I have always asked myself, why do men dream? Ebheshina.
Well, the dream I had was not one of falling nor was it one in which I was awake. Like day dreaming. No. Again, it was not the usual childhood nightmares of my teenage years. No. But this was such a real dream, so much so that it could have been Christmas day. A dream as real to me as Christmas.
It is a typical lazy day for me despite the hustle and bustle around me and I’m walking through the crowded Mayfair Round About area. The breeze is heavy with the choking smell of roasted corn and barbecued bolli that street sellers who sat underneath their umbrella shed beside their fire place were selling. The galling smell of sweat and body odour which had emanated from some nonchalant boys who had bumped into me amidst the rowdy crowd of people, only added to my frustration. Some near lunatic Sabo-Lagere bus drivers drove their rickety vehicle through pavement on the road, not minding and disrupting at the same time the normal flow of traffic as though oblivious of the FRSC rules, with speed that suggested they may as well be airplanes on a runway about to take off. At the same time, the conductors of these ugly moving machines are shouting their destination to prospective passengers and were cursing traffic officials with reckless abandon in their characteristic coarse voices. I ignore all the chaos around me and make a bend into a crowded sidewalk through where there is a collection of Electronics Shops. My mind is fixed on my destination. Ironically, this is a destination I am not really sure of in the first instance. I am in a hurry but not sure where I am going. Funny. I soon emerge amidst a small collection of people, in what seem like a mini market place. A totally grey headed old woman who is standing by her grinding machine smiles and waves to me. She is almost toothless. Her gum is as black as night. Her skin is wrinkled and she is almost bent forward with a hunch back with striking resemblance to the lump on a cow’s back. I return her greetings with an anxious smile and move on. As if to register her dissatisfaction with the manner in which I greeted her, a dog barks somewhere behind her as if it was calling me to come back and pay proper respect. I look back and suddenly see about four children around the old woman, a thing I didn’t notice before, they are spread out sporadically, eating roasted corn and holding hands in an awkward circle that is reminiscent of scenes from a Yoruba witchcraft movie.
I ignore them and continue to move only this time in rapid pace. Few seconds later, I see the same children, like dejavu, only now they are in front of me. Shocked, I pretend manliness, even though my heart is in my mouth now, I put up a brave face and try to manoeuvre my way around them. As I pass by this group, one of the children, a diminutive and threatening little creature around the age of six or seven, she looks me directly in the eye. She is dreadlocked. Her hair unkempt, her eyeballs red as though she is high on weeds. Her skin is almost as wrinkled as that of the old woman I had seen seconds before. She looks tiny, as if it is an older person crammed inside her small stature, like an outsized corpse in a body bag that is too small for it. Her visage expresses urgency that was just enough to refrain from devouring her frozen treat. She abruptly leaves her group of friends and runs after me. Fear takes the better of me and I increase my pace. Yet she catches up with me. Grabs my hand. Her tiny hand is as cold as steel. I break free from her grip more out of fear and reflex than out of a calculated attempt of an adult who knew what he is doing. She yells,
“Uncle, where do you think you are going? How many people do you see there where you are going? Mama is hungry and everyone is returning home. If you don’t listen to me, you will be all alone. So, go back home right away.”
I am confused. Who is she? What is she talking about?
Shoving her aside, I ignore her and started to run. Suddenly all sign of human life fades away and I am alone in the cold breeze. I stopped abruptly. Turn around but find eerily that the children and the old woman had disappeared! In fact, everyone was gone. I began to run, toward the pathway I had come. I pass the now abandoned Electronic Shops until I emerge at Mayfair Round About again. Only now to find Mayfair totally devoid of any traces of life. In fact, my footfalls echoes in the distance. At this point, a silence so loud that if a needle were to drop, it would sound like a plane had crashed, descends on the vicinity. Suddenly the cloud becomes dark like it is going to rain. Visibility level begins to drop to zero. I begin to run. Shouting at the same time for anyone to come to my rescue. No one only the echoes of my voice. All of Mayfair down to campus gate devoid of life. Not even a bird, a goat or hen was in sight!
When I reach the bend towards Parakin Estate, I begin to descend the slope towards the estate but reconsider and decided to go back and make the right bend toward OAU Campus gate instead. The speed with which I reach Campus gate is only comparable to that of a Cheater. As I reached, I realize my shoelace has become untied. Because it is uncomfortable and hampering my speed, I decide to lace it. As I bend down to tie it, an excruciating pain hit me in my right leg and radiates from my hip and immediately brings me to my knees. I fall onto my back only to discover that I am not alone.
A shadow falls on me. A creature, an old woman, half naked as she tied only a wrapper around her waist with her wrinkled breast flapping this way and that, stands looking down on me and smiling sheepishly. She bends over and touch my knee. Her hands are cold like that of the little girl. She bend over to my ear, her breath smells of garlic mixed with rotten egg. She, in a scary and shaky voice whispers,
“My love, I have been waiting all day long for you. Though I am hungry but I won’t eat you. Let me take you home, let me love you, I will take care of you….”
A numb feeling descends on me. Like some force, some spirit of incubus is holding me down. Like sleep paralysis. Like my spine had been replaced with ice, I cannot move. I scream so loud my throat might as well burst……
And just about the time I screamed, the dream ends and I awaken only this time I am not splattering on the floor but sweating as though a bucket of water had been emptied on my body, even though my LG air-conditioner is switched on and working at full capacity. I rolled out of bed, trying to convince myself that this dream means nothing. It is just a by-product of work-related stress, I decided, yet that did not solve the problem. This is because the experience I had just had was too real to be tossed aside.
From my learnings, I know dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions and sensations that occur usually involuntarily in the mind during stages of sleep. The content of dreams I am told, are not definitively understood though they have been a topic of scientific speculation, as well as a subject of philosophic and religious interest throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is called Oneirology. And I have read a number of books on Oneirology. In modern times, dreams have been seen as a connection between the real and the unconscious mind. They range from normal and ordinary to overly surreal and bizarre. Dreams can have varying nature, such as being frightening, exciting, magical, melancholic, adventurous, or even sexual. The events in a dream are generally outside the control of the dreamer, with the exception of lucid dreaming, where the dreamer is self-aware.
Opinion about the meaning of dreams have varied and shifted through time and culture. The earliest recorded dreams were acquired from materials dating back approximately 5,000 years, in Mesopotamia, where they were documented on clay tablets. In Greek and Roman period, the people believed that dreams were direct messages from one and or multiples deities or from deceased persons and that they predicted the future. This I know, may have led even some cultures to the practice of Dream Incubation with the intention of cultivating dreams that are of prophecies for use in the future. Even in the Holy Bible it is written, ‘…..your young ones shall see visions and your old ones shall dream dreams….’
Well, to my mind, all this was theory. What I had just experienced, the little girl, the old woman, the dream, Ebheshina, what meaning does it old? Why was it so real?
This questions kept dancing about in my head as I rose from bed, said my prayers and got myself prepared for work. It was a Monday morning and my boss doesn’t tolerate late coming. I soon arrived the parking lot of our office complex and duly parked my car in my parking space. I made my way to my office, clutching my laptop bag. Instead of the normal main gate to our office, I decided to pass the gate behind a corner where the office canteen is located. I had seen a colleague I didn’t like and didn’t want to spoil the rest of the Monday by letting him be the first staff I would exchange pleasantries with. As I was coming close to the canteen, I bumped into an attractive young woman. She was walking her daughter to school. At first I didn’t bother to take a good look at the little girl until the woman and I exchanged greeting. Soon after the greeting, I had walked pass the mother and daughter and was few feet from them when her daughter turned around and,
“Uncle, where do you think you are going? How many people do you see there where you are going…”
The words stung me in the ear like a rapacious bee for one single reason. They were familiar words. Shocked, I turned to face the little girl and her mother and just then…….
Akanbi Albert Afeso is Creative Writer, a staff at NASRDA, a Community Development Worker, Social Rights Advocate and Public Speaker. He is the author of a number of novels and a recipient of many awards. He was at a time the Osun State Coordinator of Society of Young Nigerian Writers, currently a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, a member of the editorial board of the prestigious COPINE Update magazine and a member of the Board of Trustee: Paulash Community Development Initiative, an NGO dedicated to helping mentally challenged children and advocating girl child education. He is the father of a beautiful daughter.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
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Thankless (A novel published by Charisma International)
THE BUNDLE OF JOY and Other Stories from Africa (An anthology of 50 short stories from 38 contributors drawn from 16 countries, published by Aalvent Books under the auspices of the Africa Book Club and currently selling on amazon.com)
URUSHI (A short read published by naijastories.com, Nigeria’s largest online short stories website)
That Sunday Afternoon (A short read which won the wordsmithchallenge.com competition in May, 2015)