“New” was the first word I heard. My vision was blurry. The light was too bright but there was a shade in the middle. Someone or an animal was in front of me. “He’s new,” said a female voice with a hint of desperation. Sniff, sniff. “He’s new,” she said loudly, this time with exuberance. Wild laughter followed her words. Something was caressing my face and chest. Suddenly a malodorous stench filled my nostrils, my insides was being violated by disgust. It was then I saw everything.
Her skin, her clothes, everything about her was dirty. She looked like she had spent a lifetime rolling in dirt. Her short dark hair was shaggy. There was a mad woman on top of me. Catatonic from shock, every cell within me froze as I observed this moment. Her big lips stretched into a broad grin, revealing teeth so brown like she only feeds on mud. Her eyes were wide and alert, filled with a plethora of excitement. The electrical feel of pins and needles washed over me. One moment I was in a car, driving home after work, and then I got here. It doesn’t make sense.
I shoved her off me. She fell to the side, sitting upright immediately, probably about to pounce on me again. First thing I did was check my zipper to ensure nothing funny happened. I was safe. The sky was bright as day with a fleecy white clouds floating across the blue. Spotted a few birds going about their daily flight. My eyes darted around for a clue of where I was. I saw a first bank building and some shops. I’ve never been here before.
“Where am I?” I asked this woman.
“We are around WAEC office,” she said. “Not like that’s useful information.” She got on her feet and stretched an arm towards me. “I’m Ayo.”
I glared at her dirty palm and the grin on her face. Her ebullience refused to abate. She lowered her hand and said, “When you die you pop up at a random place. I think it has to be somewhere in the same city and country, which sucks. Death would be much better if you showed up in America.”
My eyes narrowed at her. “When you die?” Those words echoed in my head. A shudder ran through me. Over and over I told myself that this was a nightmare.
Pins and needles again. Flashing image of a black jeep blocking mine. Armed men bursting out the doors.
“Yeah, you’re dead,” said the woman. “You may not like strangers but you’re going to stick with me. It’s not like you have a better option out here. I haven’t met anyone new in ages.”
Her words trailed off as I looked around me. Empty cars were dashing through the street, motorcycles were riding themselves. I heard voices. Bus conductors yelling locations and people laughing and talking but it was just Ayo and I here.
“This can’t be real,” I mumbled.
“The Christians tell you about heaven and hell but it’s all crap,” said Ayo. She goes on to add, “It’s very disappointing to know that no matter what you do you’d be stuck in this boring world. Funny thing about death is you never get hungry, you never get tired.” I was trying to make sense of everything but she kept talking and talking. I wanted to yell at her to shut up but she talked so passionately about this like one does when they find someone they have something in common with. Like when you learn someone’s about to watch your favourite TV show and you want to tell them all about it.
She said, “Death is the worst punishment because it’s what you’ve feared the most. Loneliness. But you’re lucky, you’ve got me. For ages I was stuck here without anyone to talk to. You see those empty cars and you hear those voices but you never see anyone. The dead are ghosts to the living and the living are ghosts to the dead. Sadly they can’t hear you.”
Pins and needles ran through me again. One of the men shot me.
Suddenly, I spot a man running and screaming. Just like Ayo, he’s filthy and his clothes are ripped like rags.
Ayo said, “He’s dead, that’s why you can see him. Most of the dead are crazy. Loneliness makes you crazy. You start to invent your own reality. I keep myself sane with goals, just like you do in the real world. I’ve been roaming around Lagos searching for someone new.”
“I need to head home,” I said to Ayo, raising on my feet.
“That’s a bad idea.”
“I have to see my wife.” I walked a few steps and she followed me.
“Trust me it is. I did the same thing. I went home. For years, I stayed home. I couldn’t see them but I could hear them. I wanted them to notice me but they didn’t. They talked about me for some years and with each passing year my memories faded and it got to a point where I only heard of me once a year and then later on I was like a myth. At least people talk of myths. I didn’t exist. The family that never left my mind, completely forgot about me. Like I said, death is the worse punishment. You watch everyone you love forget you.”
“She won’t forget me,” I said, not like I needed to prove anything to this pessimistic clingy woman. “My wife. She’s all I’ve got. I lost my family many years ago, my wife has been my rock.” I stopped myself, turning around to look at Ayo who has been lagging behind me. “Look, Ayo, you seem like a good girl. I appreciate you filling me up on these details of your life story and whatnot but this isn’t Oprah. I have to get home.”
“Ok, I’m sorry,” she said. “Forgive me.”
I twirl, walking down the street.
“I’ll follow you home. I won’t stop you.”
For what seemed like eternity, we walked to my place. You can’t use transport when you’re dead. My feet didn’t hurt. Death is torture. What hurt was the longing. The thoughts of my wife without me.
Dusk had fallen when I arrived home. She wasn’t home yet. Ayo taught me how to pass through walls. Inside I waited on her arrival.
“You can touch whatever you want,” said Ayo. “We can only feel objects when there’s no living present. Once a living appears the objects loses our touch. Ever stepped in a room and something falls or have you ever been in a house and you hear knockings but there’s no one there? It’s the dead.”
I felt Chioma’s clothes, breathed her scent into me. Her dress fell off my grasp when I heard footsteps.
Laughter muffled through the walls. “I can’t believe he’s finally dead,” said Chioma.
The door swung open. She walked in, tugging on the hand of a strange man. She swirled on her high heels. Her hands cupped his face before she planted a kiss on his lips. She said, “You did a good job.”
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Daniel L. Balogh