“I really can use a big, delicious glass of wine”, Ekene proclaimed.
“And a long dreamless sleep, probably one I’d never wake up from”, he added.
It was the third time he was talking to himself that evening. He was finally alone. The stream of friends and family with well-rehearsed sad faces had seemed unending. The last three days had been the longest and the most peculiar of his life. The pain in his right thigh reminded him of the events of three evenings ago.
The evening had crept in, like every normal evening, but with a slight promise of a cold rainy night ahead. The house was filled with the smell of rain that was brought in by cold breeze. It was the second week of July, and the downpours had become more frequent, and often aggressive.
Adunni had just driven in ten minutes earlier from the supermarket, where she had gone to buy frozen foods for the weekend. He smiled as he watched her unpack on the kitchen cabinet, patiently waiting for the surprise. They had been married for three years, and she had never gone shopping without coming back with a pleasant surprise personally for him. That evening, the surprise was a bottle of his favourite wine.
The day he married her had been the happiest day of his life. That changed, a year later, when he watched her deliver their son at the University College Hospital in Ibadan. He had loved her from the day he first laid eyes on her. He felt more for her than anything else, including himself. It was the kind of love that came without a warning. She had his heart before he could say no. Luckily for him, she had loved him back, and less than a year later, they were married. He felt even happier now staring at her, as she graciously held up the bottle to him. He pulled her in, held her tight, and planted kisses across her face.
They both froze as they heard a noise from the living room. They were the only two in the house, as he had dropped their son earlier in the afternoon with his own mother for the weekend. He wanted to spend the weekend all alone with his wife, without distractions from a two-year old.
They turned around to see two gruesome-looking men approaching the kitchen door. Ekene had instinctively shielded his wife with his body as one of the men pointed his gun at them. The front door had been left unlocked after his wife came in, and these men had gained easy access into their home. One of the men ordered them not to scream, and to lie down on the kitchen floor with their hands over their heads. Ekene got very scared, and all he could think about at that moment was the safety of his wife. He begged them to take all they wanted in the house, but not to harm his wife. It had not even crossed his mind to beg for his own life.
A few minutes later, they had gathered all the valuables they could gather, and were set to leave, or so Ekene thought. For some reasons, one of the men decided all they had gotten was not enough, and then made an attempt to rape his wife, Adunni. Ekene could not stay by, and allow his wife to be defiled in his presence, so he entered into a struggle with them, while still shielding his wife.
What followed happened so fast. Three shots were fired, and the robbers made a quick exit.
Ekene had caught a bullet in his right thigh, but Adunni had not been so lucky. The bullets had perforated her chest, and she had died almost immediately. A large part of Ekene died alongside Adunni that day. The pain from his wound was a pin-prick compared to the pain he felt in his heart.
Three days later, Adunni, his star-crossed lover was laid to rest.
The priest’s words still lingered on his mind; “The dead shall live. My slain shall rise again. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust. For thy dew is like the dew of the morning. And the earth shall give birth to her dead”.
He wondered if any part of that was true. Adunni had been the religious partner in the couple. He was a sceptic who could never bring himself to believe in things that lay outside of his human comprehension. Right in this moment, he would believe anything, as long as it promises him another sight of Adunni. He had heard tales of the afterlife, how loved ones reunite after they die. Such places come with no worries, suffering, pain, or death. He had always dismissed the possibility of such eventualities, believing it was some fairy-tale made up by men to give meaning to their flawed existence, and to provide comfort for the human mind grieving for a departed.
That evening, as he stood, staring into his bathroom mirror, he wished the mirror was a window into the afterlife. If only he could just catch a glimpse of his Adunni, that would kindle the faint idea that was beginning to form in his mind.
The doctor had prescribed for him some painkillers for the pain in his leg, and sleeping pills to help him sleep at night. In the last two nights, the sleeping pills did not seem to have worked. He could not keep the thoughts of his deceased wife out of his head. He had cried all through the previous two nights, and had gotten to a point where the tears had stopped flowing. An observer might have thought his sorrows had relieved him a little, but an observer would have been very wrong.
His son was still with his mother, who had instinctively held on to the boy upon hearing the tragic news. He did not worry much about his son; he knew he was in very good hands. All he was left to worry about was getting through another long night of anguish.
He decided to increase his dose in sleeping pills so he could get some sleep that night. He emptied the contents of the pill bottle in his palm, and gulped them down his throat with a cup of water. He went into the kitchen to replace the cup on the shelf, and he found his bottle of wine sitting there on the cabinet, right where his wife had left it. Tears filled up his eyes again, as he ran his fingers on the bottle. He grabbed a wine glass and a bottle opener, and settled down on the kitchen floor to have a fill of his wife’s last gift to him.
He woke up to a bright sunny day, and a bit of foggy memory. His wife smiled down at him as he opened his eyes. The shock on his face kept him mute for a moment.
“You finished the whole bottle last night. You know you shouldn’t drink that much”, she said.
He could not believe his eyes. He reckoned he had been dreaming all night; the robbery, his wife’s death, the funeral, his bullet wound. He ran his hand through his right thigh, and he felt no pain, no bullet wound. He was shocked beyond words.
“How could a dream feel so real?” he thought to himself.
The sight of his wife that morning was the most beautiful he had seen. He pulled her in and embraced her tightly, still not finding the words to say.
“Are you okay?” his wife asked.
“Strangely, I have never felt better”, he replied, with a grin across his face.
He told his wife he had just had a terrible dream, the type he could not bear to imagine. His wife smiled as he sat her down to narrate his dreams to her. He told her how she was killed in his dreams by some robbers that came to rob them, and how he was so distraught afterwards. He explained that he could not sleep at all after the first two days of the incident, and that he had to take some sleeping pills before he could eventually get some sleep on the third night.
“I can’t describe to you how comforting it is to wake up to your beautiful face again”, he concluded.
When he finished, she smiled at him and told him that everything was fine now. She then proceeded to ask him some questions about his dream.
“In your dream, when you were feeling so distraught because I was dead, did you at any point nurse the idea of committing suicide?”
“Oh yes, in fact I did!” he retorted. “I could not imagine living a life without you in it.”
“What about our son, where was he when all these was happening?”
“He was with my mother. I had taken him to spend the weekend with her the day the robbers came”, he replied.
“And when you were contemplating suicide, did you consider him? Did you consider how he would have to grow up without his two parents?”
Ekene could sense the tension building up in her, but he could not understand why she would get worked up over his actions in a dream.
“Honestly, that had not crossed my mind in the dream. I must have trusted my mother to take good care of him, and bring him up. And with the fortune I would be leaving behind, that would not have been a problem for her.”
“She did a good job bringing me up, didn’t she?” he added jokingly.
All this while, she had not stopped staring at him. He could not fathom the expression she had on her face. It was the type that made him feel all he was saying was garbage. He was beginning to wonder if he had done something wrong.
“In your dream, when you increased your dosage of sleeping pills on the third night, how many pills did you take?” she further asked him.
It struck him at that point. He had not merely upped his dosage in the dream; he had taken the entire content of the pill bottle. He had been so filled with suicidal thoughts in his dejected and absentminded state that he had overdosed on the sleeping pills without his own mindfulness.
“I remember better now. I think I might have overdosed on the pills. I couldn’t sleep, and I wanted to escape that reality so badly.”
“That was not good enough though. I should not have done that”, he added.
“You committed suicide”, she said with a sad face.
“But that was a dream, why are you…” he started, and broke off.
Confusion was beginning to stir up inside him. He was remembering the events differently now. They didn’t feel like a dream anymore. It all came back clearly to him; he had not been dreaming. It had all happened. But he still could not understand how he could be sitting there staring at his wife who had died four days earlier. The bullet wound in his right thigh had also completely disappeared without a trace.
“Adunni, what happened? I don’t understand. I remember now. You were shot. You died. I was present at your burial. Then I did something very stupid. How come you are here now? How can this be?” he inquired with a trembling voice.
He got very scared, thinking Adunni’s apparition had come to him. He panicked and drew away from her. He realised something was very different about her. Something had changed about him too. They were not even in their bedroom. He had not noticed the environment earlier due to the joy that filled his heart from seeing Adunni. He could have sworn he woke up on his bed, but looking round, he found nothing that looked like a bed.
It was Adunni’s turn to pull him in. She had a sad and faded smile on her face as she held him tight.
“Ekene,” she whispered softly in his ears. “You died in your sleep last night.”
Akinpelu, Adewunmi O.