Now standing there all by himself, lost for words and scared to death, not knowing exactly what line of action to take next, he turned and regarded the house one more time. It was then he saw the house proper. Almost dilapidated, dirty cloths, empty sachet water nylon flew about the approach to the house.
‘Urushi…an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or the anticipation of danger…’
Folu had not heard her approach. He just saw her behind him. At first he was taken aback. But then the fact that the old woman apart from looking a little unkempt also gave the impression of being frail and harmless made him loosen his guard.
“Kale o omo mi. Se kosi o. Ta lo bere?”
Folu regarded the old woman. She was totally grey. Slim, a little bent and holding a funny looking walking stick, her hair was in-between unkempt and tidy. Her voice quaked and shook as she spoke. Even though visibility level was down to zero at that time of the night, with the help of the headlights of his car, Folu could make out the features of the old woman. As she spoke her greetings, Folu noticed her teeth were almost all gone. Only a few remained attached to her gum. Her hands looked frail and wrinkled as though they had died long ago and were eagerly waiting for the rest of the old woman’s body to join them and they shook with every gesticulation she was making. Who was this old woman standing in front of him and asking him if there was any problem? Couldn’t she figure out for herself that there was indeed a problem and that he was a stranded stranger? Folu reasoned.
“Ha! Mama, e kale ma. Ilu Eko ni mo’n ti’n bo. Ile-Ife ni mo’n lo”
“Kilode ti o se fin oru rin? Kilo se mutor re? Folu felt a little irritated. He had explained to her his ordeal why was she asking him what the problem with his car was again? He ignored the question. Instead he asked her a question.
“Mama, ejo, ni bo ni mo ti le ri eni ti o le ba mi tun moto mi se?” This question was necessary he thought because he was trying to play the optimist by thinking he could get a mechanic to help fix his car at this hour of night. However, as he asked this question of how possible it was for him to get someone who could help fix his car at that hour of night, he wasn’t thinking straight.
“L’oru yi? Ile ti su o ati pe ojo ti lo. Gbogbo awon mekaniki ti se tan o, o’n de ti lo le o”
Folu looked at his wristwatch. 11:55 PM. The old woman was right. It would be difficult to get a mechanic at that hour of night. He looked at his phone, there was no service network. No signals. At this point his adrenaline rose and he lost the ability of thinking aright for that moment. As it were, he was now a desperate man in a literal sense. His mind was now working like a shredding machine.
Though a little wary of the old woman, with her help all the same, Folu was able to get some water with which he filled the radiator of his car but the car wouldn’t start even after the trouble. After many tries, he knew if he continued to force the car to ignite, the ignition might be damaged. With a lot of hesitation, he heeded the old woman’s advice and decided to pass the night in the woman’s house. Folu used his Steering Lock to padlock the steering of his car, satisfied that his car was secured even though it was packed in front of the house and by the side of the expressway; he entered the storey building with the old woman. When offered amala and ewedu, Folu declined politely pointing out to the old woman that it was too late at that time of the night to eat. After chatting for a few minutes with the old woman from whom he learned, expectedly, that her children had all grown up and left home, he was shown to the guest room where he was to pass the night. Fear had however prevailed on him and thus made him decide he would stay on the faded couch in the parlour where he decided to pass the night instead. He did not sleep that night. He stayed awake praying the day would break as fast as possible. That prayer was answered. The day broke before he knew it.
Folu rose very early from sleep the following morning, so much so that even before rooster crew, he was already up. He didn’t get the chance of taking a good look at the house the night before part because it was dark and he was tired and part also because the old woman was a constant companion before they both bade each other good night the previous night. Now he had the chance to survey the house. Glancing around nervously, he saw somber looking portrait of the old woman and an old man whom he guessed may be the husband hung on the wall and staring at him behind layers of dust and some cobweb. By now, the early morning cold hesitant light were beginning to stream into the house through a slightly opened window in the parlour. Even though the old woman told him about her kids, he noticed there were no pictures of kids on the wall save the old couple’s pictures. As Folu walked up to the door leading to the old woman’s room he couldn’t help but feel someone was following behind him. The sort of feeling of one been monitored. Still he braved it there to the door. At the door, he called out
“M-a-m-a” a number of times and then added, “E karo mama, mo ti ji o” registering his greetings. SILENCE. Wondering where the old woman may have gone that early when all the doors in the house were still firmly under locks, Folu tried the door handle leading to the old woman’s room. The door bulged at one touch. He opened it up to half its arc and peak inside the room. The old woman wasn’t there in her room. Instead of the old woman, he saw some large bundle of white fabrics arranged upon her bed. He knew for sure it was the bed the bed the old woman had slept on. The cloths were arranged as though it was a human being who lay on the bed in an awkward sleeping position. On the wall near the bed, close to where the ceiling met the top of the wall was a large portrait picture of the old woman smiling mischievously to Folu as if she was beckoning on him to come inside the poorly lit room. Near the bed were a long broom and a set of very old and won out bathroom slippers. As Folu regarded the objects on the floor by the bed, suddenly he felt as if something or someone brushed pass him. His heart skipped momentarily and he stole a nervous glance around behind his back and inside the untidy and clustered room. Seeing nothing, he bonded straight for the main door in the parlour more out of fear and reflex. His mindset at that moment was that of a police officer friend of his who was accustomed to fleeing from any kind of duty he suspected maybe dangerous: ‘run first, and then ask questions later. Don’t try to be a hero’, he always told Folu.
Reaching the main door, he opened it with shaky hands and emerged outside the house. Outside now, Folu saw that the expressway was still barren of life. While still wondering where the old woman had gone that early, he saw a motorcycle popularly called okada screeching towards his direction. From where he was standing, he could see the wobbling tyres of the old machine as if it was protesting the weight of the two men sitting on top it. Upon the motorcycle was the young man riding it and an old man who sat astride it behind the rider like some weird eagle would perch on a tree. He waved them down. At first they didn’t want to stop. After some hesitation, they wobbled to a stop but not exactly at the front of the old house where Folu stood.
Having stopped, Folu jugged up to where they were and enquired of them where he could get a mechanic. As if surprised what he was doing in that vicinity, he was told he needed to go into town to get a mechanic. He had pleaded with the duo to help him to town. Before they agreed, still surprised, they asked what he was doing at the approach of the house, and whose car it was that was parked nearby. Folu explained his ordeal and how an old woman came to his rescue by accommodating him the previous night. What old woman? They asked. They were even more alarmed to learn that Folu had slept in that house till morning. While Folu insisted that he slept in the house, he was informed by the old man on the motorcycle that no one had lived in that house for the last 5 years. All the time the old man was speaking with Folu, the young motorcycle rider was nodding his agreement to all that the old man was saying. The old woman in question and her husband died childless years before. Since their death and burial 5 years ago, that house has been empty and uninhabited. In fact, bats, vultures and all manner of weird creatures were now the only form of life that could be noticed around the vicinity of the house. In fact, it was these creatures that now regularly converge there and were now using it as their rendezvous and meeting point every night. This was part of the reason why everyone stayed away from the house he was told.
The old man who informed Folu that he was the ‘Abore’, the chief priest of the town, and that it was him who actually performed the burial rights for the late couple, upon seeing the look of shock and disbelief on Folu’s face, he invited him to follow himself and the young motorcycle rider into the compound. Initially hesitant, on a second thought, like a lamb been led to the slaughter, Folu dumbly followed the duo into the compound without any question. In the compound now, he was shown two marked graves which he had not notice before then. On one of the graves he saw, to his utter amazement the following inscription:
Late Madam Efunsetan Ikuforiji Aniwura
Nee Iyalode of Gbogan
July 11, 1920- May 14, 2011
May her soul rest in peace
These were the lines boldly inscribed on the marble slab on the topmost part of the grave. The words evoked fear in him as though they were tiny leeches who had crawled up from hell and were now threatening to suck the blood from his veins. As if that was not enough, Folu saw the statue head of the same woman he had met the previous night, whose portrait picture he saw hanging on the wall inside the house earlier that morning, on top the grave. At that instant Folu’s mouth became dry, totally devoid of saliva. All the hair behind the back of his neck became erect in dread. He felt light as if he was floating or as if his soul was floating effortlessly behind him. Just then, a headache tore through his head. He opened his mouth to speak but could not get the words out.
“Sho tan?” the young motorcycle rider, seeing the look of shock in Folu’s face, as if to scold him for arguing with them, asked him what else he needed to know before turning to the old man.
“Baba, e daku e je ka mo lo. Ema je ki boda yi fi ti e koba wa”
The young motorcycle rider’s advice to the old man that they be gone before Folu infected them with his bad luck stung him in the ear like a rapacious bee. Before Folu stammered another word, the two strangers were out the gate. Before he regained himself and rushed outside the gate after them, what he saw and heard upon reaching the gate was the receding smoke and the fading engine sound from the motorcycle. The two strangers were gone almost faster than they had appeared.
Now standing there all by himself, lost for words and scared to death, not knowing exactly what line of action to take next, he turned and regarded the house one more time. It was then he saw the house proper. Almost dilapidated, dirty cloths, empty sachet water nylon flew about the approach to the house. A large part of the fence was almost falling apart. He looked up at the sky and saw some weird looking vultures and bats hovering around in the sky just above the roof of the house as though they had heard a church bell and were gathering for a meeting. He had not noticed all this about the house before now. The cloud suddenly looked like it was going to rain. Dark and heavy. It was then it became clear to Folu that truly that house had not been inhabited for some time. It was a cursed house as it were. By now, fear had taken over the better part of him. He began to shiver as though ice had replaced his spine. Still standing there confused and really scared, he heard a voice behind him again; that same familiar yet cracking voice.
Folu turned around and faced the direction of the voice calling ‘my child’, that was when he saw it all…