Urushi [1]

On his way to the living room, the call stopped again for a few seconds. Just as Folu paused to decide what next to do, like some strange pianist who had suddenly found his keys, the voice resumed, but this time from one of the empty rooms in the flat which he had converted into a store where he kept household items which he considered useless but still kept with the hope they might one day again become useful again.

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‘Urushi…an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or the anticipation of danger…’

***

Folu reached for his bunch of keys. The large bunch he was accustomed to hooking to the bet rail of the chinos trousers which he was fond of wearing. It was a very hectic and an exhausting day. The rain that started pouring almost at cock crow that morning had continued nonstop, at times as a drizzle, other times as heavy downpour. Most of the time the torrents was accompanied with blaring thunder and bright flashes of lightening tearing across the sky, sending fear into his mind. All day, he questioned himself whether the world was coming to an end like it did in Noah’s day.

Standing in front of the steel door leading into his flat, with his fingers, he located the house key amidst the vast array of keys in his clustered key holder. Days before, Fasote his colleague at the office had questioned why he kept such a large bunch of keys. Other colleagues made jest about his bunch of key being synonymous with his large and bulky form. It was all a joke which was an attempt at humour. Usually when such jokes were made, it usually elicited rounds of laughter which generally reverberated in the hall that was their office section. Such jokes were a welcome development considering the fact that what they did mostly in the office was to sit, play with their computers, chat and for those who may be bored, sleep. And for the feeble and devious minded ones, they saw mischievous gossip as a way of passing time. Why he kept such a large key holder Folu himself could not tell. As a matter of fact, many of the keys in the bunch were out of use as even Folu himself could not tell what purpose they served or which locks they opened. Yet, he kept the bunch of keys.

He heaved a sigh and then inserted the house key into the key hole. The door bulged. He entered his massive living room. Against the counsel of his friends months before, he had paid for this large apartment anyways. The fact that he was a bachelor which was the point his friends raised in support of their argument did not discourage him. He paid the rent with the justification in his mind that even if the apartment seems too large for him presently, its size would not be a factor in the near future because he would soon get married and begin to have children. After all, what other priority could a man of 35 years in this part of the world have if not marriage? Either way, when the children starts coming, he would still have a need for such a flat as large as this, one way or the other.

He opened the door. He did not as much as drop his bag or relieve himself of his shoes even though they were hitching him, and then strode through the massive living room into his bedroom. It was the tick-tock-tick-tock sound coming from the Quartz wall clock hanging conspicuously on the wall in his living room that attracted his gaze to it. The time was 11:40 PM. He had stayed out too late again, he reasoned. He removed his gaze from the wall clock almost as soon as he stared at the silver coloured object which was a gift from a colleague a few weeks before. The fanatical Pentecostal woman had handed the gift to him with the words, ‘Brother Folu, you see this wall clock? You see it ticking? That is your life ticking away. Repent today for tomorrow may be too late’. Folu accepted the gift with a mocking grin on his face.

Within seconds, he was in his room. He was too tired to go into the kitchen to fix dinner. The lunch Mrs. Alao bought him earlier that day would do for the night he decided. As soon as he entered his room, he dropped his bag, undressed and entered the bathroom attached to his bedroom. In another few minutes he had emerged, beads of water covering his massive body and protruding stomach, he felt some relief from the stress he had gone through that day. There was nothing in the whole world as refreshing as a warm bath he thought to himself with relish as the warm shower had given him some semblance of strength. There, hugging the tiled floor in a perpetual union was his massive bed beckoning on him to fall to it. He would empty his massive, lazy and bulky form on it and when he does, it would take only the sound of his alarm clock to wake him up at the crowing of roosters the following day he decided.

With this, Folu fell to his bed with a thud. However, almost as soon as he emptied his exhausted form on his bed with the hope that Mother Sleep would come and take him to dream land, he heard something….

***

…what he heard was a strange sound. The uncanny sound was coming off at first like the mewing of a cat. It was when it filtered into the room the second time that he recognized what it was. It was an unmistaken sound.

“….F-o-n-u…” the voice, dragging and sluggish, called. Initially coming off like a whisper, the caller gradually began to increase the tempo of the sound of its voice. A child’s voice! Was he in a trance or dreaming? Folu wondered yet he could not explain. As a matter of fact, the very moment he heard the voice, he could not put in plain words what he felt. Fear? Surprise? Shock? He could not tell for certain. He lived in the house all by himself. There was no way there could be an intruder how much more an intruding infant. The incessant call however continued to filter in from the direction of his kitchen. The child that was calling would not be more than two years old he reasoned from the way the voice sounded. And the child sounded as one child who was learning to talk and was in distress! Certainly this was a child learning to speak from the manner it was pronouncing the name.

Folu sat up on his bed. At this instant his adrenaline rose and sleep grew wings and flew from his eyes. His exhaustion had disappeared. He was wearing boxer shorts over a singlet that served as his night wears which he had changed into soon after he emerged from the bathroom earlier. Should he run? Hide? Call for help? As he sat there thinking of what line of action to take and as fear had already taken over the better part of him, the intensity of the rain suddenly increased. Increasing as though huge grapes were on a free fall from the heavens. The sound was as deafening as it was scary. Ironically, the call of the infant continued to filter into his room loud and clear despite the sound of the rain. The television was still switched on. Paradoxically and unusually too, despite this heavy torrent, there was no power cut. Earlier, soon after he entered his room, he had switched on the television to find Channels Television beaming signals of “Zombie the Flesh Eater”, a horror flick. Not interested, Folu had reduced the volume of his television to the barest minimum and then ignored the television. The flashes of light from the television screen served to provide brightness for his room. A thing he liked since he was fond of switching off the light bulb any time he wanted to go to sleep. Folu tiptoed slowly to where the television was and switched it off. He then groped in the darkness for the wall switch and then switched on the light bulb. He needed the room to be really quiet and at the same time well illuminated for him to be really sure what sound it was he was hearing, whether he was sleep walking or dreaming and which direction exactly the sound was coming from.

“F-o-n-u……. F-o-n-u” the call kept coming from the kitchen. Folu began to shiver. Despite his fear, he summoned the strength and rising to his feet, he began to tip toe soundlessly as if hearing the sound of his own foot fall would kill him, towards his kitchen. Upon reaching the entrance of his kitchen, the call stopped abruptly. It stopped as if whoever the infant that was calling was knew he had reached the entrance to his kitchen. He stopped in his track. While he was still standing there, his heart beating against the wall of his chest with beads of sweat now appearing on his forehead at the same time even though he had just had a bath, while he was wondering what child it was that was calling out his name in that awkward manner and at that odd hour of the night, the call resumed again.

However, this time the call began to come from the living room as against the kitchen which was the first place he first heard it. Baffled and yet as if some invisible hand was pulling and leading him on, Folu headed for the living room, still tip toeing. On his way to the living room, the call stopped again for a few seconds. Just as Folu paused to decide what next to do, like some strange pianist who had suddenly found his keys, the voice resumed, but this time from one of the empty rooms in the flat which he had converted into a store where he kept household items which he considered useless but still kept with the hope they might one day again become useful again. Just as he decided to trace the voice to the empty room where it was now coming from, there was instant power cut. ‘JEEEZ!’ Folu exclaimed. With this power cut came darkness so thick a knife could slice through it. At that instant a massive thunder tore through the sky. The sound of the thunder was so loud that Folu experienced momentary deafness. With this thunder came flashes of lightening so bright that it could have been brighter than ten advanced search lights put together which beamed as though directly into his retina. That brightness made him lost his sight for a few seconds. Even the sound of the thunder sent waves through the flat which made the wall vibrate. Despite all this, Folu still managed to grope in the dark to find his way back to his kitchen where a candle stick and match box was sitting on top one of the kitchen cabinets. He bit his lips in regret. He had been advised countless times to get a rechargeable lamp but had refused. The call kept coming.

Folu reached the door leading to the empty room more out of reflex than the illumination that the candle light, whose flame he was shielding with his massive palm, provided as the flickering flame was dancing to and fro to the rhythm of the breeze pouring in from outside. At the door, again as if the infant in the room knew Folu had reached the door, it stopped calling. This sent fear rising from the pit of his stomach and remaining trapped in his throat. Despite this, he pressed his right ear hard against the door to pick any sound. SILENCE. The silence made him feel as though he was in a huge bubble. In a vacuum. He pushed the door gently. The door gave way. As soon as the door bulged, a stench so thick it could have suffocated an elephant oozed from the room and hit him. Dazed by the stench, Folu recovered just in time to see it. To see the creature behind the voice that had caused him so much fear these past minutes…

CONTINUED…

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