Early last month, my pastor saw a vision for me and said I should pray and fast. He said he saw the angel of death hovering around my work place like a hungry hulk for a straying lizard. I became frightened not just for what he said but for the much he didn’t say. He was not detailed in his prophecy and that alone got my heart dangling like an egg on a dagger point. I only heard a little out in the middle of his long “sandelebe sandalaba sharikokobashita” prayers. I have always tried to learn to speak in tongues like him but my tongue felt glued all the times and refused to flow with the discordant sayings. Maybe I didn’t have the gift of tongues. Maybe because they say it was a heavenly language and my studies in linguistics had taught me that language is a combination of sounds and not a repetition of a particular sound pattern over and over. In the middle of his tongues, my pastor had stopped and staggered like a drunk and pointed limply at me;
“you you you’ he said, ‘you have to pray hard and fast for two weeks for the lord has revealed to me the presence of the angel of death hovering around your office like a cloud of impending rain.” His words slurred and I turned back to see if he was talking to someone behind me. All eyes were on me. The people behind me parted like the red sea as if they were afraid of catching a plague from me. I turned again towards the pastor to avoid their accusing eyes that were fixed on me with a little mixture of pity and suspicion.
I had wanted to scream; “why me pastor?” I had wanted to tell him to inform the lord that I can’t fast that I had ulcer but my lips felt glued together.
I just listened to hear more but he staggered up the pulpit like a mantis and slumped into the fluffy arm chair. Then the ushers held him. I felt like going there to open his mouth and draw out the details as to what the angel of death was doing in my office, what he or she wanted and what he or she looked like. My head felt woozy as I watched the pastor from my seat. I couldn’t pray like every other person in the church with their hands stretched towards my head. I just stood there encapsulated in a cocoon of fear and anxiety.
I had read about Israfael, the angel of death in a novel; how terrible his face looked and how he came in different forms – a dog, a cat, a bird, little girl, an old man and so on – but I thought it one of the fairy tales of the aged grannies to their toothless great grand kids. Now I started looking out for him. Anybody that looked at me in the streets and frowned seemed to be him – Israfael. Anybody that looked at me and smiled was Israfael and I didn’t fast as the pastor said lest my ulcer killed me.
Last week Monday I returned to my office from routine check up on our out stationed ATM and met the security men and drivers playing freely in the banking premises. Peter’s voice was laud enough to be heard across the road. He raised his voice as if to announce something to passers-by and demonstrated with his crooked left hand held high above his head exposing the hideous scar on his elbow.
“You fit call me aka nku or anything, I don’t care. Wetin I know be say I am 100% better than you. You see this hand wey you dey see so.” He paused and folded the short sleeve of his striped shirt to the shoulder showing his slender arms with the long black stitch scar on it that ran to the shoulders. He continued; “If wetin happen to this hand happen to you, you go don kpai since. You get mouth to call me aka nku.” His pronunciation of akanku lacked the normal Igbo tonations and vowel harmony.
“akanku!” Mazi screamed again and laughed out throatily and clapped his hands. He enjoyed making Peter sound serious. He drummed his head amid throaty laughter and said; “see this onye-nche, because they call you ‘security’ abi? Na em mek you come dey think say you no be common gate man again.” He looked straight into Peter’s eyes still laughing, to see some films of anger. Peter looked away for some seconds with his two hands in his pocket. His face was stone frowned. They were always antagonizing each other since the first day a girl came to look for “Oga Peter” and Mazi told her that there was no “Oga Peter” in the office but “Peter gate man”. Peter felt slighted. I called Mazi a witch and nearly fought him.
“See you; you think we are on the same pendulum?” Peter bragged to sample Mazi’s reaction to his use of the word “pendulum”. He was always in the habit of intimidating Mazi with some highfalutin jaw breaking words. Mazi’s laughter got him annoyed the more he looked at him laughing like that with his teeth held together and the chrrr chrrrrr sound of the laughter escaping from the gap of missing teeth on his upper right jaw. The gap was as a result of the first accident he had along ugwu-onyeama express way while conveying the banks money from Nsukka branch to CBN in Enugu. His bullion van had tumbled three times into the ugwu-onyeama slope. His forehead was torn open by who knew what and his blood covered his whole face. His white uniform had turned unidentifiably red with the blood. He had lost two teeth on that day and was admitted in the St Anthony’s Hospital for two months.
“So you wan show me say you go school abi? If you go school why you come be gate man for here na? na you for be manager” Mazi said and ran back to his duty post as he saw me walk into the bank premises. Peter tiptoed slowly back to the metal detector door where he always stood like a sentry solder opening and closing the gate for customers. I just looked at them as if I had not been eaves dropping from the outside gate. I didn’t just look at them because I enjoyed their so called yabs. I looked at them with pity and wondered whom the angel of death was going to take. The two of them had survived some deadly accidents before. I didn’t think death would come for them any soon.
“Good day sir” Mazi mumbled with face bent to suppress some mischievous smiles. I just looked up at him without expressions on my face. I had warned him to stop adding “sir” to me but he wouldn’t hear that.
A beautiful young girl was at the metal detector door. She was coming out from inside the banking hall while I was going in. she pressed the green button from her own end and the button on my side turned red. She entered and grinned at me. I liked the set of teeth like full stick of fresh corn in her mouth. I could read her lips say “I was faster”. Then I signalled Peter, the security man at the control switch and he threw the left door open. I entered and turned to the girl and grinned back. “I was smarter” I said and gave her a thumb up. I noticed she feigned a frown and pointed at peter standing beside the control switch. Then I remembered Israfael. I dropped my cash counting matching on the floor in the centre of the banking hall and dashed out to see the girl’s face once more. Before the metal detector door could swing open for me she had flagged down an okada. The commercial motor cyclist picked her and zoomed off into the busy traffic and her hair flew freely in the air like does designs little children put on their paper kites. I watched and watched until she got out of sight. She didn’t turn her neck. I felt disturbed throughout the day. The girls grin stuck in my head but I couldn’t make out her face any more.
“She must be Israfael” I thought as I worked. Even at home I didn’t sleep very well. The next day morning my head felt woozy with sleep. The girl that sat next to me in the bus read a voluminous novel. She didn’t look up and I didn’t struggle to look at her face till we got to Zik’s avenue junction where she alighted. I watched her as she disappeared into the police detective collage there and the bus moved on.
I got to the office late but I was surprised that the gate was still closed. There was no one at the gate. The security post where Peter used to stand and banter with Mazi was empty. There was no security man in there. Then I push the gate and it swung freely open. There was Ifeoma the cleaner sobbing.
“Ify o gini?” I asked in Igbo. She just raised her watery eyes and pointed to the metal detector gate. She opened her mouth to say something but some white viscid saliva hung on her lips like super glue. She shut the lips and broke down again as if my question had increased the pains she felt. I met Ochu at the metal detector door and he said that Peter was dead.
“What killed him?” I asked.
“We no know, na em do night duty and we come this morning come see em dead body for security room”
“Where is the corpse now? Why did he do night? I worked day yesterday”
“They don carry am go mortuary. He was doing it for me so that I will do his bits today. I wanted to go somewhere today”
“ok…” I said in want of words and walked into the banking hall. The tellers were already set for the day’s work. Nkechi was at the customer service desk; the redness of her eye balls said she must have cried. I greeted them and walked into my office. It was then that I remembered my Pastor’s prophecy of the angel of death and the beautiful young girl I met the day before. Then I bent on my desk and said some prayers. Work went on normally like nothing happened though every staff worked with faces ashen. The mirrors in the banking hall seemed to be unhappy too as they tended to show ugly reflection of everybody. I didn’t look at people straight. I looked at them through the mirror because they said I could see ghosts through the mirrors with their legs not touching the ground. Perhaps I could see the angel of death from there. Perhaps he could be laughing and dancing now. Nobody smiled that day. The banking hall was gloomy. The faces of our staff were gloomy. The mirrors were gloomy and the customers cared not. All they wanted was to get served.
The next day was a Friday. Life continued like ever before. Peter’s corpse was still lying in the mortuary. We all left it for the bank’s operations manager and Peter’s family. On Fridays I went with a teller and some money to load our out stationed ATMs in preparation for the weekend.
TO BE CONTINUED….
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