The fluorescent tube flickered intermittently, each time plunging the veranda into pitch black darkness. The night was hot and humid and the air stood still; the cheap fan in the room blew nothing but hot air. The heat was unbearable. So he had no other option than to drag his mattress onto the veranda and brave the outside, just like the times when he was in secondary school. The darkness beyond the circumference of light unnerved him somewhat. It did not help matters that he was an alien. He was Yoruba, thoroughbred, and the nuances of the native Efik were gibberish to his ears. While they were at the camp, tales were told of grotesque tribal fetish. The stories played in his head, this time in audiovisual.
The barrage of images planted fear in his mind-a tiny shoot growing bigger every moment till it became an ugly gnarled tree. The innocent sounds of the night-the chirping of the crickets, the hooting of the owl-began to seem ominous. A sense of foreboding came over him, and his heart pounded audibly. Then there was a power outage and everywhere was plunged into darkness. The previously obscured night sounds took over the night. It made matters worse. He contemplated going back into the room, but discarded the idea as soon as it came to his mind. He was no longer an insecure adolescent. The days of shivering under sheets, dreading the dark were over-or were supposed to be over. He was not going to give in to fear. He forced his mind off his present circumstances, and thought about other things. He thought of his colleague-the very light complexioned svelte lady who stayed a few houses away. He was fascinated and awed by her pristine beauty unaltered by cosmetics, and by her musical voice, and by the luscious curve of her lips when she smiled. The NYSC khaki trousers and shirt had a way of accentuating her hourglass shape, and he looked forward to Thursdays when they were mandated to wear them.
He adored her from a distance; watched various guys try to no avail. Maybe she was married. Aderinola. He mumbled her name. He began to drift in and out of consciousness, absurd thoughts and scenarios playing through his mind, till he fell asleep.
Something cold slithered over his foot and he forced himself awake. The clouds had drifted away, and the full moon bathed the night with its silvery light. The heat was no more; a wind was blowing. The grass rustled, bowing before the swift air currents. He made to stand up, and then he saw it-a hooded cobra. Fear paralysed him. It was frightening with wickedly long fangs, and eyes that stared right through him, demanding servitude. It was very beautiful, with skin that caught the light, as if made of precious stones, adorned with a plethora of colours woven in strange striking patterns. It was coiled at the foot of the mattress, head swaying from side to side as it studied him with horrifying intensity. His body disobeyed every order he gave it: Shout! Run! His heart pounded like a pestle against mortar. He just looked on in horror as it slithered up the bed and coiled it length around him. He shuddered as its cold slimy skin touched his. It brought its head forward, until he was looking into the cold yellow eyes with vertical black slits. He could feel his head swell, just like those years ago when the clothes in his wardrobe became a bogeyman that wanted to take him away.
‘Love me,’ it whispered.
His heart raced faster than before, and pounded painfully. The snake spoke! He could not believe his ears.
‘Deji, will you love me?’ the thing swayed forward and licked his lower lip.
He wanted to faint, or die; to just sink into blissful oblivion. It was wishful thinking. He was stuck with a talking snake that was asking him to love it.
‘I love you,’ it continued in a doleful tone.
‘I don’t know you,’ he blurted out without thinking.
‘You want to know me?’
Right before his eyes, the snake began to change form. The tail metamorphosed into long supple legs, the mid-portion into a naked torso that was so perfectly sculpted. The head was the last part to change. The chin was nicely curved, so were the luscious lips. The nose was as if carved from marble, perfect like a Greek sculpture. The eyebrows were arched, and the eyes-it was Aderinola!
He woke up to a beautiful sunrise. He got up from the sweat soaked mattress, thanking heavens it was just a dream.