‘Urushi…an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or the anticipation of danger…’
The sight of the infant drenched in blood shocked Folu. She was sitting on a pool of blood; thick blood all about the floor where she was sitting and facing the wall. A crawling or at best, an infant who had not been walking for long! She sat facing the wall and toying with an object that Folu could not readily make out what it was at the moment he saw her. Folu stood there like a piece of statue staring blankly at the infant. The candle stick still in his hand, the flickering flame still dancing to and fro as if it would go out any moment, Folu strained his eyes to see what the child was toying with. Unable to see what the child was toying with in the poorly lit room, just as he regained his senses and made to turn back and flee, the child turned to face him. The smile on the child’s face was as scary as it had that kind of a knowing expression in it; that kind of expression one would see in the face of some mischievous adult who was up to something sinister. The child continued to hold the weird smile as if she was posing for a photographic camera in preparation for some weird horror movie. Folu stopped in his track and made to scream but the words froze in his mouth. He had wanted to scream and take to his heels. But as if some spell left the child’s eyes and charmed him, he stopped and remained fixed on one spot like a sculpture. Just then again a massive thunder tore through the sky.
The walls of the building shuck again, but this time it was as if a mild earth tremor had happened. The lightening that followed the thunder this time made it possible for Folu to see it all. He saw that the child was holding out something that looked like some raw meat. This raw meat was a combination of the inner and the intestine of an animal or was it that of a human being? The infant held it up for Folu to see as if she was offering it to him. While the child held up the huge combination of raw meat as if she was oblivious of its weight or as if some unseen force was helping her to lift up that size of meat, she kept smiling and this time her eye balls began to shine like that of a cat lurking in the dark. A chill ran down Folu’s spine. His legs became weak and he felt as though his soul had left is body. The child lifted up the meat and offered it to him. The shriek that escaped Folu’s throat echoed in the distance. He screamed so loud he could have as well been a town crier for some tyrant king. And just about the time that he cried out…
…he woke up, drenched in his own sweat and shivering. He rolled of the sofa he had been reclining on and fell on the tiled floor. He had been dreaming. And this dream was so real. The afternoon dream that made him scream so loud he had interrupted the conversation his uncle was having with members of his family in his living room. Shocked, everyone from his uncle, his uncle’s wife to their two daughters, Folu’s cousins, rushed to his side.
“Ha! Boda Folu, what is the matter?” Sade was the first to speak.
“It must have been a bad dream” Sade’s younger sister Foluke added
“Eyah, pele. And I told you to go and sleep in the room o you didn’t listen. Pele. See as you are sweating. Go and have a bath. You sure could use a bath” His uncle’s wife said.
“Uncle Folu is too fat that is why he is always sweating like a hippopotamus” Foluke, very young, attempted some humour. The family laughed.
“Common hold your tongue. Who told you hippopotamus used to sweat?” the older sister chided her.
“Hmm. Afternoon dreams.” These were the words that dropped from Folu’s uncle lips amidst a sigh and with a thoughtful nodding of the head. Everything that his uncle and his family was saying meant nothing to Folu as he sat there on the tiled floor staring at the family now gathered around him, his eyeballs darting from one member of the family to the other as he tried to put himself together and make sense of what was happening. He could not utter a word. Seconds later, he lifted himself off the floor, sat back on the sofa for a few minutes and tried to regain his senses and make certain that what had just happened was really a dream or for real. The dream was so real; as real as his head on his shoulders. Yet it was a dream; a terrible and scary mid-day dream at that. Just then, Sade prompted the dad.
“Daddy, oya continue your story now” she said as everyone took back their seats in the modest living room.
“Yes daddy it true, continue the story” Foluke supported.
Folu’s uncle cleared his throat and then continued.
“Yes, like I was saying, that was how we buried my father that evening o and strangely enough, two days after baba died and was buried, one of my uncles came in from Okene a town in Kogi state and told stories of how he saw baba! All efforts to persuade uncle that baba died two days before fell on deaf ears. He insisted he saw baba that very day before making his trip to see us”
“Really!” Asked Sade
“Yes” Folu’s uncle replied and continued.
“Weirdly, on the night that my father died, something creepy happened. It happened that after his burial on the night of the day he died, I had no place to sleep in the family compound because of the number of relatives that had come to join us in mourning baba’s demise. So, on that cold night I went into the house, retrieved my mat and came out to the open compound. Because the compound was small and crowded I could not find a suitable place to lay my mat on. And so, I laid my mat on top baba’s grave, still fresh because it was dug and covered that evening, and slept on it. That was the only available space I had in the compound to lay my mat on that night. That night, I had a dream. I am not sure if I can describe it as a dream, a real life incident or a trance. In the dream, baba was sitting by my side on the grave side. He placed a hand on my chest. His hand was cold; as cold as ice fresh from a freezer. He then instructed me to dig up the ground beneath the mango tree that was few feet from where he was buried when I woke up later in the morning. He told me that that’s where he buried the clay pot which contained his savings. The family had been short of funds to perform his burial rights as at when he died. So this information came as a welcome development. No one could explain it yet we were little bothered because we needed the money. The following day, we the family members who had been wondering how we would get the funds for his burial ceremony as a chief that he was, a ceremony that was destined to last a few days, suddenly found we had access to a huge amount of money to cover for all the expenses that would be incurred during the ceremony. All this happened of course, because of a mere dream? Even though we were all shocked, we-”
“Na wa o. This is serious o” the uncle’s wife interrupted
“Yes, very serious” the uncle replied and continued.
“As a matter of fact, when I woke up and told family members what baba told me in the dream…”
Before now Folu had decided he had heard enough. So while the discussion was still going on, he had dragged his lazy self from off the sofa and headed for the room. Going out of earshot, he heard no more of the conversation between his uncle and his family. Within minutes, Folu was under the shower in the bathroom attached to the room. He had made up his mind to leave for Ile-Ife his base that same evening. He had come to Lagos the day before, a Thursday, to buy the battery for his Sony laptop. Upon discovery that it was the battery that was making the laptop go out of power so quickly, he had searched every computer shop in Ile-Ife but couldn’t get the exact type which was the make of his laptop to buy. That was why he decided to go to Lagos to get it. He had originally planned to return to Ife on Sunday, but suddenly changed his mind following the dream he had just had. Before he left his uncle and his family in the parlour, he had stolen a glance at the wall clock and the time read 4:15 PM. While in the bathroom still taking his shower, with the faint and distant chattering of his uncle and his family filtering in from the sitting room, he suddenly heard a commotion in the living room. Someone screamed and badged into the living room. It was Chichi, a tenant in his uncle’s house. It was her voice that he heard.
“Ewo eee!” Chichi was screaming as she was at the same time catching her breath. Her scream was so loud she might have been speaking to Folu directly in the bathroom.
“Wonders shall never end ooo! Neighbourrrrrrrrr make una come see fawol wey no be man wey dey cry for hot afternoon ooo” she cried in a heavily accented Igbo tune as soon as she scrambled into the living room taking Folu uncle and his family by surprise.
“Daddy, what is ‘fawol wey no be man wey dey cry’?” Foluke, 12 years and always inquisitive asked the father trying to mimic Chichi’s accent and attempting humour again for the second time.
“Hmmm. Aunty Chichi is trying to tell us that something strange has happened. Usually it is cocks that crow not hens ok? And even at that, cocks crow mostly in the mornings and not during day times like this. So, it would be really strange indeed if aunty Chichi is right that instead of a rooster crow, it’s a hen that’s crowing.”
Turning to Chichi who by now was standing and panting and occasionally rubbing her palms against each other and showing them to the ceiling in a questioning manner, Folu’s uncle asked.
“Are you sure of what you are saying? That there is a hen that crows in this compound in the afternoon?”
“I say make una come see. The whole yard don gather for there. Tufiakwa. Aruu eeee”. Before the words dropped from her mouth, she was out the door as fast as she had come. By now Folu had turned off the shower and was listening intently. He heard commotion followed by footfalls in the living room. In seconds, the living room was empty and silent. Folu could tell this even though he was in the bathroom because of the massive silence that descended on his uncle’s 2 bedrooms flat in the massive compound soon after the commotion that he heard and the voice fading as they rushed out of the living room. This area of Lagos is strange he thought. As a matter of fact, he had not particularly enjoyed his stay in Lagos this past 2 days. By the time he was done having his bath and parking his things, his uncle and the family had returned. He reached the living room and without bothering to ask them how the episode of the ‘Crowing Hen’ went, he informed them he was leaving for Ile-Ife.
“Ha! Bodaaaa. This is not our arrangement o. What about the thing you promised me?” Sade was the first to speak.
“Don’t worry Sade, I will send it to you as soon as I get to Ile-Ife.” Folu assured her with a mild pat on the back.
“Uncle Folu, its almost late now, why not wait till Sunday as you planned or at least till tomorrow morning” the uncle’s wife advised.
“Ife is not far. If I leave now, in another 3 hours, I will be home”. He returned.
“Why the suddenly change of mind, I thought you said you will be leaving on Sunday?”
“Uncle, I just got a call that I need to be in Ife today. Besides there is a report I need to submit to my oga which we must present to the management of my office on Monday. And he needs to get it tomorrow so he can vet it before work on Monday” Folu lied.
“Oh o. I see. Isn’t it that same oga of yours, pa Okotete the one you told me about? Why would he bother?”
“Hmm Uncle, he will o. The man is a workaholic o. Even if he finds nothing to do, he’d rather work on irrelevant matters. ‘Movement without Motion’, that’s what we call his attitude to work in the office” he said and laughed.
“Well, that may be his nature. There are people like him who make themselves busy even if what they are working on is not necessary or important. I used to have a staff like that.” His uncle returned.
“Uncle, this one, his own is worse” Folu said and laughed again.
“Well, you can’t bend a dry fish. If that’s his nature then your duty is to learn how to cope with him… Its ok then, drive safely ok”
“Sure uncle I will. Thanks for everything, bye bye” Folu said. By now the uncle and family members were standing by Folu’s car. One by one, he gave all of them a hug and entered his car. Revving the car, he drove off…
30 minutes from when he left his uncle’s house, Folu was already at Berger end of Lagos Ibadan expressway. His Toyota Camry ‘Pencil Light’ as he likes to call the car was in good shape and so, in another 3 hours, he should be in Ile-Ife, he reasoned. By the time he reached Berger, he discovered that the express way leading from Berger to Ibafo-Mowe area was caught in a massive traffic. ‘God! What is this?’ He cursed under his breath. All the vehicles in the expressway were literally at a standstill. So enormous was the traffic that most motorist, led by the yellow-with-black stripe Lagos buses popularly called ‘danfo’ created alternative routes anywhere they could find any semblance of a road. The scene was chaotic. The entire expressway, as massive as it is was jam-packed with vehicles of different shapes and sizes. Looking at the expressway leading off from Lagos, Folu saw the cars filed in a long stretch like one large immobile snake. Upon enquires, he was informed that one of the countless church camps own by one of the countless protestant churches, almost all of them members of the powerful umbrella body of Pentecostals, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) that lined the expressway was the one holding one of their religious programmes. That was the chief cause of the traffic gridlock. He could not go back to his uncle’s house. He had no choice but to wait it out. The next 5 hours that Folu spent in the traffic was the longest and most agonizing 5 hours of his recent driving experience. Thankfully, he later left the traffic without having to go back to his uncle’s house at the expiration of the 5 hours. At least he was grateful for that. That eerie house where nightmares were part of afternoon naps and hens crow at mid-day he thought.
By the time Folu reached Gbogan, a town in the State of Osun, it was 11 PM in the night. But his Car seemed ok therefore there was no cause for worry. His only regret was that the State of Osun was not like Lagos where by this time of night the streets would still be bubbling with life. Lagos, the city that never sleeps he thought as his lips stretched in a smile that brightened his face. In contrast, the State of Osun, the state that was permanently in a deep state of slumber he thought with a hiss. In another 30 minutes or less, he would be in Ife he consoled himself. So he continued on the journey.
Few kilometers after Gbogan, Folu noticed on the dashboard of his car that his car was overheating. The needle-like indicator on the dash board was reading very high, an indication that the temperature of the car was high. Long before it became a source of grave concern for him, Folu had noticed but had initially ignored it. He had actually hoped he could rough the journey till he got to Ife. However, the fact that some steam was now appearing and forming inside the car as though the car was smoking inside made him decide against roughing the journey to Ile-Ife. He knew the radiator of his car was ok. Why then was his car showing signs of overheating and now appeared to be smoking inside? He sensed that the whole vicinity was so quiet and empty that the very sound that insects were making was as loud as though planes were crashing by the seconds despite the breeze wiping against his ears from outside. He decided to pull over as soon as he came upon a place that had the minutest traces of life and check his car.
Luckily, he soon found an old building. Thankful, he pulled over by the side of the road just in front of the building. It was a one storey building. An old house actually. Folu alighted from his car. As soon as he alighted from the car, he noticed a difference in the cold outside breeze as against the breeze that had hitherto been wiping against his face inside his car. He opened his burnet. First, it was raw heat that wiped against his face upon opening the car burnet before he saw it; the culprit. The reason the temperature of his car was so high. The radiator of the car was empty. All the water had drained. His Gasket would have burnt had he continued on the journey, he knew. Confused Folu stood there thinking of what next to do. His predicament was made worse by the reality of the fact that he was in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. He hoped and prayed a Good Samaritan would happen by.
Suddenly, like what appeared to be answers to prayers, an old woman nearly doubled forward by age appeared behind him…