IDENTITY TRAIL (short story)

Bobby walked until he got to the door of the room. There he froze, took in the room for some brief moments and briskly marched straight to the mirror that was mounted on the wall opposite the entrance.  He surveyed himself in the mirror before he picked up his black tie that lay carelessly on the drawer, and flung it across his shoulders in a move to begin knotting. Today was going to be a good day

He skillfully began to twist the tie into a knot as he soliloquized instructions relating to the activities of the day, the florescent tube partially suspended above flickering disturbingly, accompanied by the static sound of buzzing electricity.

When he was done knotting his tie, he took in the neatness of his handiwork, growing a distant smile as he admired himself.

The smile faded as slowly as it had appeared, and he slid his hands into his pockets and stood properly, taking in his well-built frame and absorbing his all black look; he had on a black shirt, a black trouser and shoe, and a black silk tie. His dark complexion and dark afro oily hair completed his look of blackness, but his bright red lips properly positioned in the middle of all this blackness created a likeable contrast.

He would have continued staring at himself if the flickering florescent light didn’t begin to irritate his eyes.

He pulled out of his stare and picked his black leather wristwatch from the drawer, mouthing some more instructions to his hearing as he began to strap it on.

As he fixed it firmly on his wrist, he looked at the screen to check the time, but there he noticed a blank space where the face of the watch was supposed to be. His face rumpled in puzzlement as he processed what could have happened to his watch, but then he dismissed it and proceeded with his dress up.  

When he was done he took in his face in the mirror; he looked so stern, so emotionless.

He shrugged off the first wave of concern that wanted to build, and then proceeded to adjust his collar, casting his glance away from the mirror. When he was done with that, he would be ready to get on with the activities of the day 

He was halfway through this last activity when he looked up and noticed that his reflection in the mirror was still frozen at a position, no longer shadowing his actions.

Bobby frowned as his hands slowly left his collar to check if his reflection in the mirror would follow suit. His confusion mounted when the ‘him’ in the mirror merely froze and stared at him

“What the hell…” he mumbled under his breath, an uneasy warmth spreading over him as his brain tried to make sense of what was happening.

He blinked repeatedly, calculating that maybe his mind was playing games on him, but as he focused on the mirror again after blinking and rubbing his eyes intensely, he saw the reflection of himself still frozen and staring right at him.

Bobby turned around to survey his environment, now alarmed at this unusual happening.

Still puzzled, he turned back to face the mirror and his heart jolted when he saw his reflection smiling sardonically this time, blinking with an unnatural poise, its gaze still fully focused on him.

Violently frightened as his heart rate doubled, Bobby staggered some steps backwards before forcing himself to regain composure, ransacking through his brain to see if there were any logical explanation to this mystery. His reflection, now independent of its owner still looked on with a penetrating gaze that was greatly unnerving

After some more stares, Bobby’s reflection slowly turned to the left still maintaining its smile, and called out

“Mom! Dad! Hurry up! The photographer is here” the reflection spoke in Bobby’s voice, frightening an already shaken Bobby the more. The reflection turned again and faced him with an uncanny smile plastered on its face

What is reality, and what is merely an illusion? Bobby wondered, finding it hard to locate the line that distinguished the real from the unreal, the possible from the impossible, as everything at that moment intertwined right before him; his own reflection in the mirror, a mirror supposedly made of glass had suddenly gone rogue on the owner, and had called out to a mother and father.

Still unable to understand what exactly was going on as adrenaline began to drown him in, Bobby felt lightheaded, the hairs on his neck and entire body sprouting to an erect position.

The sounds of scurrying coming from within the mirror brought his focus back to the unrealistic reality in front of him, and soon the shadow of a male drifted in from the right and joined Bobby’s reflection, as Bobby gasped in absolute disbelief.  It was a dark and unclear figure of a man. The bodily and facial features made it obvious that it was a male figure, but the figure remained dark and shadowy, and nothing could be made out of it except that the man seemed to have a potbelly that arched his frame backwards. The shadow made deep snorting sounds as it adjusted itself and took a place beside the still smiling Bobby in the mirror.

“Oh my, I’m so sorry for keeping you guys waiting” a female voice called out from within the mirror, and soon the shadow of a female joined them from the other side, immediately stretching her hands over Bobby’s reflection. 

“Oh, okay we are ready now, you can take the pictures” the lady shadow called out as she stood beside Bobby’s reflection, striking a pose alongside the husband who also took on a pose

“Hello sir?” she called out again after a while, and Bobby realized with dread, that she was referring to him

“Me?” he stuttered in response, his heart pounding in his throat as the muscles in his stomach contrasted and his legs wobbled

“Yes, you” the man chirped in, sounding confused

There was a little more tensed silence with a now alarmed Bobby beginning to fear for his life

“Young man, we are ready for the photo shoot. You can take the pictures of us now” the male shadow added when Bobby didn’t say anything, as if the provision of some more information would suddenly make these occurrences appear to be a normal one. 

I don’t know what is going on here, whatever this is…” Bobby fumbled through a shaky voice, unable to complete his sentence or even process anything logically. He began to take panicked steps backwards, falling repeatedly and rising immediately in his sudden disorganized flight away from the mirror

“I don’t know what exactly is going on here…” he repeated again, still scurrying away as he felt dizziness hit him from the fear of the moment. When he was sure he was at the door, he turned around in one swift movement to dash out, but he collided against a wall where the door had once been. His hands groped at the wall as his mind wondered in alarm and doubled horror.

“Let me out of here, whatever this is, let me out here! Help!” Bobby screamed at the top of his lungs before turning to face the sources of his terror still in front of him

Sweating profusely, he took in the sight of the three abnormalities staring at him from the mirror, with his reflection smiling devilishly at him with hands crossed above its chest.

“Bobby?” the lady shadow called out

Bobby was already in shock as to how the shadow knew his name, but then his reflection answered with a faint throaty sound, still not taking his menacing gaze off him

“I thought you said this was the best photographer in town? Are you sure he is normal?” she whispered

Who was the photographer? Himself? Bobby pondered

“I thought so too mum, I thought so too” the reflection replied, and began to giggle. His giggle soon turned into laughter, and the shadow figures joined him, and soon they were all laughing at the top of their voices, deriving amusement from his panic.

With every second their laughers grew, the intensity of their sounds suffocated Bobby, and he felt an unexplainable resistance to air entering his lungs. He clutched at his throat as he began to gasp for air and struggle with himself, unable to understand why he was no longer able to breathe. In desperation he fought until he began to feel lightheaded, the floor shifting under his feet.  

Just when he was sure he was going to pass out, Bobby leaped out of his bed with a loud and deep gasp, and immediately began to pant as he took in the fact that he was safely in his bedroom. The fear didn’t ease up however, even when he discovered he had been dreaming.

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/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Johnson narrowly escaped colliding with the maid as he landed at the bottom of the stairs after a leap from the top.

He was a naturally exuberant youth, but today the energy of his youthfulness was double. Today was going to be a great day and he was mentally and physically prepared for it. Today was the finals of an all-round sports competition he was competing in, under the racers category

As far as he was concerned, the day was going to leave him with two options only; to win the trophy as the best runner in the competition, or to win the trophy as the best runner in the competition. Whichever way the course of activities wanted to tilt today, he just had to bring back the trophy.

“Hello baby girl” he drawled on his words as he admired the figure of the departing maid who had recomposed herself after the near collision and was impatiently making her way back to the kitchen while refusing to acknowledge the mischievous greeting that Johnson dished out.

“Baby girl I’m greeting you” he sung out again with a conceited grin, and it wasn’t until the maid was safely in the kitchen that she turned and cast him a glaring look of disgust before shutting the door with a loud bang, loud enough to remind Johnson that she loathed him, but not loud enough to upset Johnson’s parents, the owners of the house.

Johnson who chose to perversely misinterpret her actions to be some kind of inviting mating call cooed out a laughter as he shook his head and began to head to the dining room

“See her forming hard-to-get.” he muttered under his breath  

“It’s only a matter of time baby girl. I would eventually get into those clothes before you know what is happening” he bit his lips lustfully and clicked his fingers

With a shoulder slightly raised above the other, Johnson pranced into the dining room where his younger and only sister and sibling was seated, caught between trying to give attention to her bowl of cereal that was fast getting cold, and whatever it was she was doing on her apple tablet

“What’s up short child?” Johnson teased as he walked towards her direction.

“I’m not a short child” she replied in that child-like defensive manner, although her attention didn’t for once shift from the tablet she was intensely fiddling with.

“You are a ‘short child’, short child” Johnson shot back as he got to the air conditioner that was mounted on the wall behind her seat and fiddled with it, lowering the temperature.

When he was done he turned and stared at his sister who hadn’t responded to his last tease. She was too engaged in her device to give him her attention like she always did. If she hadn’t been doing whatever it was she was doing, Johnson knew she would have replied unpleasantly, arguing that she wasn’t a short child. That would have led to their early morning ritual of intense quarrelling that Johnson derived pleasure from

“What are you doing?” he asked, getting jealous of the attention she was giving to something that wasn’t him, while he stood there unnoticed. He reared his head and looked into her tablet, now curious.  

“Can you imagine? It is piano tiles, this boring nonsense” he hissed and waited for her usual defensive response, but none came forth

Despite the fact that he was twenty one and Esther his sister was thirteen, eight years younger than he was, he was still fond of her. Unfortunately, the way he expressed his fondness was by being a nuisance.

Irked by the lack of response from her, he carelessly tapped on the screen of her tablet, disrupting her game and causing her to fail.

Esther shrieked as she threw the tablet onto the table and her hands into the air in an expression of frustration

“What is wrong with you? I had almost beaten my former high score!” she protested as she shook violently in her chair. John laughed pettily and began to stride back to his seat, entertained by her tirade

“You think this is funny? You’re just wicked for no reason. Look at your black face like charcoal, and red lips like fire!” she spat desperately in an attempt to get back at Johnson. Johnson merely chuckled as he danced to the imaginary tune of success that the voices of his mischief played in his head.

“Now that is just a lame attempt at trying to insult me. Think of something better you short child. Many girls fall in love with this boy because of the red lips” Johnson licked his lips amorously, taunting his already perplexed sister

“I’m telling mommy!” Esther barked after some moments of frustrated silence and then she stood up and paced towards the exit, yelling out to her mother.

“When has that ever helped you?” Johnson called out after her, still laughing as he began to pour cereal into his bowl. Still grinning,  he proceeded to flood his mountain of cereal with more milk than two people would need to last them for two days.

After a brief moment his sister appeared at the door with their mother, holding on to her with one hand and placing the other hand on her waist, a scowl plastered on her face. As their mother spoke, she tried her best to sound rebuking enough to convince her younger daughter than she was equally furious with her brother, without actually being stern enough to upset her spoilt twenty one year old son.

“Hope you are ready for the finals today? The whole world would be watching” their mother, Mrs. Nwosu asked after the rebuke session ended, as she strolled into the dinning in her flowing night gown

“Yup, ready.” Johnson replied, popping the p while calculatedly sending a cube of sugar flying towards his sister’s direction, the sugar being propelled from the spoon in his hand. It landed on her forehead with a sting, causing her to yell in mild anguish as she grabbed her forehead and squeezed her face into a rumple.  

“Johnson! Stop that!” their mother rebuked

“You’re just a beast!” Esther growled and plunged her hand into the nearest cereal box. Swiftly she pulled out her hand now filled with cereal, and immediately flung them in Johnson’s direction before the words cautioning her against her action was out of their mother’s mouth

Johnson shielded his face with his hands as it rained cereal all around him

“You two are giving Sandra the work of cleaning this mess up!” Mrs. Nwosu scolded, just as Sandra the maid walked in, balancing a tray of fruits on one hand while trying to be professional and maintain a neutral facial expression

“But that’s what she is paid to do” Johnson smirked and leaned back in his chair, watching her walk round the table placing plates of fruits in front of everyone. She did this until she arrived by his side on the table

“I can pay for some other things not stated in your job description though” Johnson whispered suggestively when she got closer, and he attempted to grab her hand

As if Sandra anticipated his move, she reflexively evaded his grip and shot him an angry look while being careful to hide it from Mrs. Nwosu. When she stood back up, her neutral expression had returned.

Johnson show some respect” his mother said weakly, like she was bored of saying the same thing over and over, but felt obligated to play the role of a good mother

“When is the competition starting? You seem relaxed, shouldn’t you be there soon?” she asked, trying to get his attention back on an issue that didn’t revolve around the maid. She had begun to notice the tension that was building up between her son and the maid, and she was uncomfortable with it

“I’d be leaving in about an hour. You and dad would be there yeah?” he asked

“Of course; your dad and I would be there.”

“And by the time I win, next on the list is that brand new car you guys promised me yeah?” Johnson spelt out his words dramatically while rubbing his hands together

Today was even bigger than just the prospects of being a winner of a competition. It was also the day his parents promised to get him his first car, a Mercedes Benz.

His mother looked up and smiled.

“Definitely son” she replied

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Bobby sat on the floor with his back against his bed as he gazed out the window watching the sun rise. The rays were beginning to creep into his small stuffy room gradually, as they also cast itself on his body, creating a contrast of light and darkness on his skin.

He sighed and adjusted when his buttocks began to ache from sitting in that same position for so long. He let his head fall slowly into his waiting arms as his mind drew him back to what preoccupied him.

A feeling of longing

This was what overwhelmed him, a sense of longing he didn’t understand. A longing he didn’t know what caused or what exactly he longed after, but was heavy on him regardless,  like an unexplainable craving.

Still caught up in the gloom he had woken up with, Bobby heard the faint sounds of the clanging of pots coming from the kitchen, which signified that his mother was awake and about.

He sighed again and wished that at least he had gotten a good sleep from the night, before it was chased away by dawn. How could he not be able to get the one thing that the night was created to give?

It had been years he last slept without being plagued by nightmares.

Initially, as distressing as those nightmares were, there was a time when they were of abstract things that couldn’t have any deeper meaning, and Bobby preferred them then compared to what they were now. Then they were just plain nightmares, but recently they had begun to take an unusual twist.

His dreams now had a more detailed story line that seemed substantial, like they had deeper meanings and were purposeful. They no longer appeared in that blurry, dreamy like state, but they were clear and detailed like they were real, like hallucinations. The last one that had stolen and deprived him of sleep today seemed to be the height of it.  He didn’t understand what it meant, or why he would dream that his reflection in the mirror took life as an independent being. 

Who were the shadows, the parents of his reflection? Because they were certainly not his

For one he didn’t have a father; his father had died while his mother was still pregnant for him, she had told him

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Bobby stood up suddenly, overwhelmed with the puzzle his nightmares presented and overcome with an urge to resolve them before he imploded from the mounting burdens of sleeplessness.

He groped through the room that was still partially dark as dawn hadn’t completely broken, until he arrived at his door.

After extra efforts pulling at the old door that was now difficult to open due to many years of use without replacement, the door slowly opened, scraping the floor noisily as it dragged open to give way for him to pass

“Johnson?” his mother called out from the kitchen, alerted by the noise the door created, the way the clanging sounds of old pots alerted him of her wake too. Their house was too small that they invaded each other’s privacy, even though not willfully

“Ma?” he answered, halting at the door to dialogue with her

“Are you going to the toilet?” she asked, like the information was going to be of any help to her

“No. I’ve woken up” he replied

“Ah, so soon? It’s just six in the morning, or do you have anywhere you’re going to today?” she called out from the kitchen again, her voice echoing through the empty corridor, still heavily coated with sleep.

“No ma, I just woke up; I couldn’t sleep again”

When he waited and the sounds of clanging of pots resumed with no more questions coming through, he walked into the sitting room which wasn’t far from his bedroom. Their house was an overcrowded two bedroom flat with a parlor, a kitchen and a bathroom and toilet, and although they were the only two people that lived there, the ‘historical artifacts’ that his mother had obtained over the course of her life filled every space, making the house crammed and stuffy.

There were artifacts such as spoilt blending machines, mortars and pestles whose wood was almost halfway consumed by termites and a remarkably old sewing machine that was always spoilt since Bobby could remember. His mother never used it even for one day since his childhood, and he doubted if she could sew at all. There was even a landline and a pendulum clock stacked out somewhere in the house.

To Bobby, the house was equivalent to a domestic junkyard.

On several occasions he had appealed to his mother to dispose of all the unnecessary items so their congested house could have a bit more space, even offering to do it himself, but his mother’s excuse for refusing time and time again was that they could find those items useful in the nearest future.

Only God knows what usefulness could be found in shoes supposedly belonging to her father’s father that can never be worn in his contemporary society, or what usefulness could ever be found in his primary school uniforms that were faded and tattered.

Pushing aside the musty smelling curtain that demarcated the parlor from the rest of the house, Johnson walked into the parlor and made for the table where photo albums were stashed under.

The parlor was as small as the rest of the house, and the brown sofas were completely worn out, almost starting to look grey. They smelt damp, and had accumulated lots of irremovable dirt from over the years

He got to the center, sat on the floor and pulled out the first album, and then he blew dust off the surface with air from his mouth. As the first wave of bad breath from his mouth that bounced off the album cover hit his nostrils without pity, he jerked back, a grim look forming on his face.

Recovering from his near death experience from early morning bad breath, he began to flip through the album studiously. As he continued with a feeling of empty purpose, he realized that he didn’t even know what he was looking for or what he expected to find. Perhaps it was just one of those actions he felt could lead to something tangible, maybe if for nothing, to calm his disturbed mind with memories of good times.

He continued to flip through the album, taking in pictures of himself through his different phases of childhood. Apparently, this place had been his home for twenty one years of his life, as all the pictures were taken here. There were also pictures of himself with his mother as a suckling infant, guzzling greedily on breast milk, and in all of them she laughed. His mother was also often surrounded by one or more friends. He never saw any of them growing up, and he wondered where all of them disappeared to.

“Which one is it that you are looking at album this early in the morning?” his mother interrupted his thoughts from where she had been standing by the entrance for quite a while, observing him.

Bobby looked up at her in silence. She was ageing faster than she was supposed to, most likely due to the catalyst of hardship. White hairs were starting to gradually surpass the black ones on her head, and she was standing to slump over when she stood

“The day isn’t bright enough yet. You’re straining your eyes with the dim light” she observed in that motherly manner

“Don’t worry, I can still see” Bobby assured

“At least use the torchlight in your phone?” she suggested again

“My phone has been dead for two days now.” Bobby reminded her without looking up, still passively flipping through the album that was on his laps as he sat on the floor, leaning on one of the sofas

“Ooo. It is well with Nepa in this our country. Let us hope that they bring this light today. The soup in the fridge has already started to turn sour” she lamented

“Which album are you looking at?” she asked immediately, as she began to make her way to the seat Bobby was leaning on, perching on the arm rest when she got there

“The ones with my baby pictures” Bobby answered, not sure he wanted his mother’s company this morning, but knowing there was no way he could push her away

His mother laughed when she peeked into the album and sighted a picture of her only son wrapped in a napkin with only two front teeth in his empty mouth, grinning broadly.

“You were such a restless baby. Look at your chubby body! Where did all that fat go to?” she cooed with so much motherly joy in her voice “Aaah, look at that one” she squealed in delight as she singled out a picture from the album “you always had your glowing red lips” she squealed some more “it was hard to get you to stay at one place for any reason, you were always so full of life. Bathing you and dressing you up was always a war because you just couldn’t stay still.” she dived into an emotional story that Bobby knew would end with “but look at you now”

“But look at you now, so grown, calm and collected” she concluded, and Bobby smirked from the accuracy of his prediction

“If anybody had told me you would grow into this kind of man, I wouldn’t have believed” she said amiss more chuckles

Bobby wondered what kind of man she then thought he would have grown into, and for some moments he was tempted to ask.

She probably never even thought that far into the future he reasoned as he dismissed the question, uneager to start a conversation with her. It was better that she talked alone and he was only burdened with the responsibility of pretending to listen.

He flipped through the album some more, looking on at the pictures as his mother ran commentary, narrating in details, the incidents that led up to every picture

As Bobby continued viewing the pictures, trying to multi task between processing all that his mother was saying and looking at the pictures with a thoughtful perception, a realization suddenly dawned on him

He had gone through this album more than a hundred times in his life and was sure his realization was correct, but he still flipped through it some more to confirm his new thoughts.

“I have never seen any picture of you when you were pregnant” Bobby declared, unintentionally cutting his mother halfway through the commentary she was still running

Bobby looked up from the album when the silence lasted longer than he felt was necessary to think before answering a question

Mrs. Essien squinted as she stared at the album, before she finally responded

“I just didn’t take pictures during that period. There is really no reason why I didn’t, and I don’t even know why it happened like that” she replied, picking her words one after the other

Bobby stared at her some more

“Actually it was because of the death of your father. I was mourning during that period and I didn’t have the zeal to take any pictures while I was pregnant” she added suddenly

Bobby looked at her some more, then turned to stare at the album.

“You told me Uncle Bassey was always taking pictures. You said he was always keen on taking pictures of you then to save the memories. Most of the ones here were taken by him, most of them even without your notice. How come he never took any like this during your pregnancy?”  He pressed on

“Your Uncle wasn’t around during my pregnancy” she answered

Bobby ran through his memory to make sure he wasn’t getting facts mixed up; he certainly wasn’t.

“But, I remember you telling me one time that he was around throughout the period you were pregnant? You said he was always there after dad died” Bobby added, suddenly feeling a sense of puzzlement resting deeply in his heart

There was a silence Bobby perceived had some sort of tension in it, and it lingered before his mother coughed to begin to respond

“He was there, but never stayed long enough to take pictures. He was always coming and going during that time. He would spend a day or two with me, and then he would travel for work and come back again after some days. It was after your delivery he became stable” Mrs. Essien clarified

Bobby turned to look at her again, still brewing with questions he desired to ask, but when he perceived he was about to make the air unnecessarily tensed for no good reason, he sighed and asked her to continue narrating the events that led to every picture.

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/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Johnson kissed the award he held long enough to make his mother and sister wonder when he was going to be through with his metallic affection. He eventually separated his lips from the award with a loud smacking sound. He had been doing that since the beginning of the car ride, still submerged in a pool of excitement that had begun the moment he was announced as the winner of the racers category.

That one moment of being declared the winner was all he had thought about, desired, and planned for through the previous months, but when it finally came and all that was left was for him to walk into it and own the moment, he still hadn’t been ready for the glory.

Throughout the stages of the competition, Johnson had maintained an unstoppable streak that wowed the audience as they watched him defeat his opponents over and over at the different levels up until the final race. It was so much obvious long before the end of the races that he was going to be the winner.

Johnson ran effortlessly; his demeanor before every race was as though he wasn’t giving much thought into what he was about to undertake. He was always so at ease before every race, so much so that some people interpreted it to be nonchalance and a lack of passion for the sports.  That was probably why the people in attendance were constantly left in awe whenever he won the race; that and the fact that he ran with a jaw dropping speed, like he was being fueled with nitro gas through an invisible tube system.

By the times he got to the finish line, the closest person to him was always still a mile behind, already looking extremely gassed out and ready to pass out.

During those moments of glory as the audience yelled and screamed from the euphoria of the whole event, even Esther from where she sat beside her mother couldn’t help but feel proud of her brother  

It wasn’t a surprise to anybody (well except to the few that believe that in life it is never over until it is over), when Johnson eventually won the final race.

The applause, the glory, the exaltation and worship as Johnson mounted the podium to get his medal and awards was what he had looked forward to for months leading up to that moment, and as he stood there waving at the crowd that was obviously delighted in his performance for the day, he couldn’t describe the elevation he felt  

Back in the car Johnson kissed the award again, letting his lips rest on it as his throat produced a prolonged humming sound with eyes closed.

“Who is the best in this game baby? Tell me, who is the best in this game?” Johnson bragged rhetorically, still consumed with joy

The air conditioner in the car was tuned to the maximum, but there were still beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead.

“I said ‘who is the best?’” he asked again, his voice almost coming out in whistles

“We have heard you’re the best please, allow us to have peace of mind” Esther who had tried fruitlessly to be accommodative of her brother’s lousiness finally lashed out from where she sat behind, starting to get irritated by his persistent blabbing

“Oh common Esther, allow your big brother his moment of celebration” their mother chirped in subtly from behind the driver’s wheel, not ready for a faceoff between the both of them.

“I know for sure that he can do that without being a jerk. That’s all I ask for” Esther replied defensively

“You’re just jealous, that’s all. Find somewhere to shove up your jealousy please” Johnson taunted, turning to look at her as he stuck his tongue out and wiggled it in her direction

“Jealous?” Esther barfed

“Oh please. Sports disgust me and you know that. I hate sports, so I wonder how I would be jealous” she replied as the first wave of Johnson’s ridiculousness began to get under her skin

“That’s why you’re still short, and would always be short” Johnson replied curtly, striking a nerve as Esther grimaced from the sting

“Common Johnson, you know that’s a lie. Your sister is perfectly okay in height for her age, and she would grow with time.” their mother chirped in again, trying to mediate before the squabble escalated into a full blown Spartan war like it usually did

“You bastard!” Esther growled as she sat upright trying to resist the seatbelt that now served as a restraining material, restraining her from lurching at her brother’s throat. At that moment the seatbelt was saving more than her life; it was also saving Johnson’s

“Esther! Watch your language!” Mrs. Nwosu rebuked

“I am not short! I am perfectly normal for my age!” Esther stated, while wishing there was a way she could stuff this truth down Johnson’s throat, probably deep enough to make him choke on it long enough to stop him from ever making fun of her height

“And besides short girls are cute” she added as an afterthought

Johnson’s eyes widened in amusement as he turned and stared at her for some brief seconds before sprawling into a fit of irritating laughter,  the type that pinched at nerves and boiled tempers like water in a kettle till the kettle cover was tipping over from the pressure  

“Instagram is lying to you. Short girls are cute only in pictures and memes. In real life, they are a pain in the ass. Take you for example”

Esther dived forward again and was thrown back by her seatbelt

“I am not a pain in the ass. You are the pain!” she screamed

That was the queue for the Spartan war to begin, and Johnson and Esther began to throw jabs at each other, pointing out why they were sure the other was the bigger pain. Mrs. Nwosu shook her head and sighed

Exasperated from constantly having to settle these rifles, she looked over at Johnson and a distasteful feeling filled her guts. She pondered over her choice; had it been the right one?

Realizing the path her thoughts were taking, she shook her head violently and dismissed the thought as fast as they came, immediately feeling guilty. She was back to reality, where her two children were still verbally assaulting themselves

The argument was gradually reaching its climax and it was obvious that bombs were about to go off. The war was switching  from the Spartan war to the Second World War, and somebody was about to be Japan. Mrs Nwosu suspected it would be Esther, as her age and emotional nature seemed to make her more vulnerable to Johnson’s hits.

At that moment just as she was about to separate them, her phone rang.

“Can we have it quiet please, this is your dad. Let me take the call” Mrs. Nwosu pleaded, and the voices began to fade away, more out of reverence for their father, than in consideration of their mother

“You are the bigger pain in the ass” A red faced Esther called out finally before folding her hands and quickly looking out the window to make sure Johnson didn’t get the opportunity to throw her one of his taunting looks

“Hello dear” Mrs. Nwosu spoke into the phone she held with one hand to her ears while she controlled the car with the other

“I am fine…yes, they are fine…yes…Johnson is here” she began the phone call monotonously

“Of course, what did you expect? He won the competition effortlessly. It’s just sad that you had to leave before the end of the event, you would have enjoyed the moment of his victory” she said and turned to look at Johnson who was smiling broadly and looking at her, not so much because of the cozy words she said, but because she was talking to his father, who had left the game to go and sort some issues that concerned the car being purchased for him. He knew without a doubt, that his father’s call had something to do with the car, and it was certainly going to be good news

“I would definitely tell him that…” she smiled at him again, and then laughed into the phone

“Okay, what is that?” she spoke into the phone as her smile faded

Mrs. Nwosu listened as her husband relayed news that certainly wasn’t good. She felt her heart sink with worries, but deeper than that was with fear and uncertainty.

She turned and looked quickly at Johnson who was still staring at her, expectations boldly written on his face. She swallowed saliva that was gathering in her throat

“That’s just unfortunate” she managed to cough out a response to her husband

“Okay, I would tell him” she said, wishing her husband was here to deliver the news to Johnson instead, and not having to leave her to it.  She knew the situation would be more contained if he was the one to relay the news, as it was obvious that Johnson still had some reverential reservations for his father despite his ever increasing irrationality.

He somehow still managed to comport himself in the presence of his father, even when the voices of his madness at those times  spoke. He never listened to them when it concerned his father. It was probably from the realization that his father -a former military man now turned business man, despite being reasonable and mild in temperament, could lose all sanity under the right circumstances and triggers.   

“Alright dear, see you later then” Mrs. Nwosu ended the call and slid it down her face in dread, afraid to as little as look her son in the face.

“What is it?” Johnson’s voice came through from where he sat at the passenger’s seat, filled with anxiety of his own

Mrs. Nwosu swallowed and turned to catch sight of her son’s face for a brief moment before returning her focus back on the road. He had on a mild frown that looked to spread very fast if it found reason to. She was about to give it a reason to

“What is it? What did daddy say?” Johnson asked again, rather impatiently this time

“Okay, so your dad said that…” Mrs. Nwosu swallowed, feeling her pulse quickening, not knowing what to expect when she was done

“Your dad said that…that for some reasons the car wouldn’t be able to come today. Some customs related issues at the border”

“What?” Johnson scoffed and fell back to his seat, clearly disappointment

Esther smiled broadly at the back seat, beginning to accept that indeed, God does work in miraculous ways

He hissed and turned his head from side to side, his disappointment gradually transmuting into anger

He gnashed his teeth and mumbled words incoherently, and then began to bump his fists into the dashboard, the veins in his head starting to protrude as his anger got the better of him

“Your dad tried honey, but it just couldn’t be resolved. You know the state of our nation” Mrs. Nwosu tried to contain the situation with soothing words

“But it would be resolved soon darling, you would get your car, don’t wo…”

“You guys promised me that it would be today, you guys promised me” he groaned as he adjusted restlessly in the seat

“We know, and the plan was to get your car today, but don’t worry, we would get it ver…”

“How soon? When should I be expecting it then?” Johnson interrupted rudely

Mrs. Nwosu froze again and forced herself to breathe

“Well, from what your dad said, the soonest he can get the issue resolved would be about a month” her voice trembled

“WHAT?!” Johnson bellowed, his eyes nearly popping out from its socket

Esther chuckled in the backseat

“Calm down honey” Mrs. Nwosu pleaded, now utterly frightened

“A WHOLE MONTH?!” he yelled again in his baritone voice that filled the entire car

He fell back on his seat again and growled aggressively, reflexively unbuckling his seat belt and punching at the dashboard

Mrs. Nwosu now alarmed, cleared off the road and killed the engine before turning to face her son who was trying to contain his rage

“This is total nonsense, complete nonsense” he bellowed as his head shot up to look at her with bloodshot eyes

Mrs. Nwosu felt an icy cold feeling spread over her body as she took in the beastly sight in front of her

“Johnson calm down, your car would eventually arrive, just give us a little time” she pleaded as she made an attempt to reach out to him

He rudely shoved her hands away

Esther chuckled again

Johnson turned to scowl at her for only a brief moment before looking back at his mother, and then as if on impulse, opened the car door and stepped outside, closing it with a bang that reverberated through the car.

Mrs. Nwosu called out to him to no avail as she watched him take the next taxi and speed off.

“I hope he comes back a different person, whenever that is” Esther sneered as she turned her apple tablet on and fixed her ear plugs into her ear

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/\/\/\/\

When the Taxi dropped Bobby in front of the shopping mall, he felt like a prisoner that had just been released. That was what that taxi had been like for him, a prison.  He handed his cab fare to the driver as he stole one last glance at the obese woman who had made his journey a horrible one. The woman stared back defensively as if daring him to complain now after he had stayed quiet throughout the ordeal. Intimidated by the woman’s aura, Bobby looked away and shook his head as the taxi revved to life and crawled back into the traffic

The moment the taxi had stopped in front of him back at home and he saw the obese woman inside, his instincts had told him to wait for a more comfortable cab as it was obvious that she was going to take all the space. Rather, he had hypnotically entered the car, unwilling to stand under the scorching sun any longer than he had already done. Five minutes into the journey however, he regretted his actions as the woman continued to adjust carelessly, every adjustment squeezing him further to the door with no space for even the slightest movement. That would have been fairly manageable to put up with if that was all there was, but when she began to stretch her hands over him to keep buying one item or another from hawkers despite the fact that her underarms smelled terribly, Bobby knew that he had made the first terrible mistake of the day.

As a person who was a professional in suffering and smiling, he bore the torments diligently, especially when the other man in the taxi didn’t seem to mind or even notice any of the inconveniences.

Bobby was sure he was going to die when the woman began to shout over him to call hawkers that were far away. As she did, her bad breath found its way into his nose, the horrid smell reminding him to always be grateful that clean air didn’t come at a price.

As he continued to suffocate under the agony of the combined gaseous assaults from her mouth and body, Bobby couldn’t help wondering how many viruses were rendered homeless every time she opened her mouth to speak. Her spittle also hit his face with so much target accuracy now and again.  Death to him at that point was inevitable, also starting to look like the easy way out. The only thing that made him wonder, was why the forces that controlled the universe decided that this death should occur through such a demeaning means. He knew he wasn’t the most flamboyant person out there, but he also knew that death by suffocation from mouth and body odor was definitely below his prestige level.

Bobby sighed again and turned to head into the mall, immediately putting the incident behind him. The life he lived came with numerous inconveniences both large and small, and if he chose to dwell on each of them as they occurred…

The mall felt like a sanctuary when he stepped in, the cool air from the multiple air conditioners hitting him immediately. The air soaked into his clothes, permeated his skin, and found its way into his brain, where it cooled down all overheating plugs, screws, and wires that the scorching sun had tampered with. He froze at the door, shut his eyes and absorbed the air greedily, before proceeding into the mall.

‘Cleaning out my closet’ by Eminem was playing through the speakers, and he cringed as he heard it. He utterly disliked the song, and he always wondered how anybody could feel that way towards their mother, or  even have the audacity to produce such a song of hate for their own mother. He shrugged knowing that he would never understand how every person thought. 

There were lots of people walking around the mall, most of them dragging carts or holding shopping baskets as they examined items from the shelves. They dropped more items back unto the shelves than they dropped into their carts and baskets.

Bobby wondered what it would be like if everybody had to compulsorily buy whatever they touched in the mall. He giggled. He knew for one that the mall would drain hundreds of thousands of naira from him every time he went there; the hundreds of thousands he didn’t have in the first place. To him, shopping was a two package deal; the first part was examining thousands of items one could never buy due to their ridiculous prices, whilst fantasizing about being able to afford them, and then the second part was actually buying the items that were needed. For every item he dropped into his shopping basket, he examined fifty to hundred items he didn’t buy.

He walked and then stopped at the toiletries section where numerous bathing soaps, both liquid and solid were arranged splendidly. He scoffed as he looked at the prices, wondering how somebody could be comfortable washing his body with tens of thousands of naira. He also wondered what magic these rich people’s soap did that made it expensive, that his ordinary lux couldn’t.

He wandered further down the aisle, looking at the items studiously and shaking his head disapprovingly for each aisle he passed, with an air of superiority. His mannerism was as though he could get them if he wanted, but wasn’t satisfied with them all the same, and so declined to. If he was going to be true to himself however, he knew he couldn’t afford most of those items, but the shaking of head gimmick was a show he had learnt to put up, as he observed the rich do. At least the dilly-dallying that came with the display bought him time to enjoy the air conditioner a little longer than he would normally have.

When he got to the end of the aisle still with an empty basket, he paused to look at the TV where sports news was just coming up

…and for the sports news today, the ELFA sponsored sports tournament for youths across Nigeria held today, with a number of new winners in the different categories emerging. The event was greatly marked with different indoor and outdoor sports categories such as golf, snookers, table tennis, long tennis, long jump, javelin, races, short put, and chess, amongst many others… a Nigerian newscaster in a wannabe British accent spoke  

Bobby laughed within himself. The idea of some things that were regarded as sports still amused him, but deeper than that, he wondered how people discovered they even had talent for those things to begin with

How does someone discover he has a talent for javelin? Throwing sticks? How does someone discover his talent in that? He remembered asking his friend Emeka one time, over a table of a dozen empty bottles of beer

Emeka had processed the question reflectively for a while, and then suddenly burst out laughing, heavily intoxicated from the amount of alcohol running through his system.

Guy, that is what being rich can do for you o. When you are rich you would have time to discover things about yourself, because you are not busy trying to find food to chop take survive. That is when you would be able to discover that you know how to throw sticks very well. Imagine you’re a poor person that is struggling to find food to chop…how you go get time to know that you can throw stick very well?  Emeka had drunkenly analyzed the situation in broken English, his normal intellectual nature somehow finding a way to rear its head through his drunkenness

In the same way, being rich can also stop you from discovering some kind of talent that you might have. Like now, what if you are an expert in chasing fowls to their cage? If you are rich you would never know! Bobby had declared, and then took another swig from the bottle of beer in front of him

That one na lie! Richard yelled aggressively like Bobby was at the other end of the room, and then laughed, his head barely balancing on his neck as it swayed from side to side

If it hungry rich man to pursue chicken, the rich man go pursue chicken! There is nothing that would him! He would just go and buy an entire poultry, and begin to pursue chicken. Nothing can stop rich man in this life! Richard had declared with so much passion, that one would have thought him to be secretly rich

Bobby smiled from the memories as he came back to the present, putting the first item, a small sized can of insecticide into his cart. Mosquitoes were beginning to get extremely audacious and he was now out to deal with them. The fact that they were no longer sucking his blood in secret, but were rather announcing their presence with an irritating humming sound was simply provoking. That was pushing a tolerant man to the point of murder, and he was going to take the bait and commit mass murder tonight

and for the racers category, which was arguably the most sensational and exciting of the categories in this year’s sports events due to the admirable spirit of the racers, Mr. Johnson Nwosu was declared the winner in this category. There is no argument that Mr. Johnson didn’t only run, but entertained and delighted the audience with his unusual speed

Bobby scoffed from where he stood as he listened to the newscaster whilst studying a packet of new detergent. He wondered how fast this Mr. Johnson could run for him to have left such an impression, and then he wondered whether they would still say the same of him (Johnson) when they put him side by side with him (Bobby) in a race, and he (Bobby) beat him squarely. Bobby was yet to meet someone that could outrun him in any kind of race.

…after defeating his final two opponents in the last lap, Mr. Johnson went ahead to win the racers category, claiming the cash prize and endorsements that came with it

Lucky bastard Bobby growled as he dropped the detergent into his basket in frustration and turned to head up the aisle, the TV catching his attention for a brief moment. Almost immediately he took his gaze off to look at a beautiful lady that walked by, something he saw on the TV that his brain seemed to have processed late replayed in his mind and he looked up at the TV again, and froze

His throat went dry as he watched the video on the TV.

His heart sunk, then rose almost immediately and began to beat at a quickened pace. His eyes widened as the news station continued to play the video, thousands of thoughts immediately running through his mind, all of them trying to make sense of what he was watching. His shopping basket dropped from his frozen hand, as beads of sweats began to form on his forehead.

He didn’t understand what he watching or how it was even possible, but yet there it was, glaringly in front of him. He blinked repeatedly and shut his eyes, but when he opened them, it was still there.

The fallen basket attracted people’s attention as they turned to look at him. A certain man who had been following the news looked at him, and then almost immediately turned to look at the TV, and then back at him again and a smile grew on the man’s face as he began to clap slowly.

“I’m super proud of you my son. I used to enjoy running when I was your age too. I was so good, I bet even you wouldn’t have been able to beat me. But that was all before I had arthritis…” the man’s voice faded off in Bobby’s head, as he gaped at the TV some more. He didn’t know how this was possible, but he was watching himself being awarded the best racer on TV.

On TV, he was Mr. Johnson

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/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

The room was silent.

Not even the wall clock tick-tocked

As though the wall clock had foreseen this moment and dreaded it in advance, it had stopped working earlier in the day, and now even its normal ticking couldn’t be heard. It was dead silent as Bobby stared on ahead blankly; only remembering to blink when moist clouded his vision.

Bobby couldn’t believe any of what was happening, but yet it felt like this was a moment he had waited for his whole life. It was as though his subconscious had known all along that this day would come.  As he sat there processing what he didn’t understand yet, all his unexplainable experiences, dreams and feelings that had left him sleepless most nights began to seem to have a connection. They no longer seemed random now that he thought about it in light of his current discovery.

His eyes twitched as he processed all of these with a heavy heart.

Ironical was the facts that although he couldn’t believe what was happening and was overwhelmed from all of it, he couldn’t even say he knew what exactly it was that was happening.  

It was mentally tortuous; the fact that his life as he knew it was changing because of a discovery, but yet he didn’t know or understand what exactly he had just discovered. He hated how this discovery could have so much impact on his life as he knew it, give him so much fulfillment and satisfaction in light of all the questions that had lingered in his mind for years, but yet still remain vague and explicit while depriving him of peace.

Bobby sat still, still frozen on the sofa directly facing the door to the sitting room. His mother, or maybe not his mother (depending on where the road of his discoveries ended) would be home soon, and he was going to have a talk with her. There was suddenly a lot to discuss.

The video he had watched at the shopping mall, of a Johnson being glorified on a podium as he received awards played in his mind for the hundredth time and he shuddered, goose bumps sprouting all over his skin again. A wheeze of tensed breath escaped his slightly parted lips as he tried to normalize himself again, exerting every restraint he could harness to make sure he didn’t break down or flair up from the pressure of all the emotions he felt causing a chaos within him

He blinked again, very slowly

The video of Johnson, of himself out there collecting an award for a race he had just won came back to his mind, and he blinked, again.

It was inarguable, that person he had seen on the TV was him; it had to be, Johnson was him.

There was no mistake, no illusions or delusions. It wasn’t also a serious lookalike situation, or one of those wonders of the world where two complete strangers from different parents turned out looking so much like each other. This wasn’t any of that fascinating entertainment nonsense that made for good TV shows. This was reality, a thwarted reality, and in it he had just stood in a shopping mall and witnessed himself collect a prize in another freaking city.

Bobby was sure he was about to implode as he gnashed his teeth, closed his eyes shut and tried to exhale all the emotional fume from his system

As he stayed there trying to regain control of himself, he heard the compound gate swing open as someone stepped in, causing his eyes to shoot open and bring his gaze to focus on nothing in particular but to stare right ahead, twitching pensively.

He heard his mother’s voice begin to rise as she came closer to the house humming one of her many songs that gave glory to her alpha and omega, her miracle working god.

When she was close enough, Bobby heard her take off her shoes in front of the house, and then the door knob twisted, opening the door as she stepped in almost impatiently. She was slightly startled when she saw bobby sitting there, staring straight ahead.

“Bobby this one you are home by this time? Did you finally go to buy provisions for the house?” she asked absent mindedly as she made herself busy, trying to fold the umbrella she wielded and put it in its place behind the door.

Bobby heard her words filter into his ear from somewhere deep down in his mind where he was trapped in, but he could not bring himself to answer them. His body, and part of his consciousness was there in the sitting room, but his mind was locked away somewhere in his head, with all his five senses and motor functions.

Mrs. Essien finished tucking the umbrella away behind the door before she turned to face Bobby, realizing that he had not given a response to the question she had asked. She observed him seated on the sofa, gazing straight ahead as if in a trance.

He filled the sofa with his muscular physique, but there was something about his visage that filled the room, even as he seemed lost to reality. She got concerned, as her son was never one to be so lost in thoughts to not notice what went on around him. He was always sensitive to his environment

“Bobby, what is wrong? Where is your mind that you cannot greet me as I have come back?” she called out to him still standing at the door, her hands on her waist, her head tilted downwards in observation of Bobby

Bobby processed her question, scrutinizing every word and analyzing its implications and message, suddenly being objective of everything. He heard her call out to him again, and again, more loudly.

She called out the fourth time, almost yelling, and this time he channeled all his efforts into pulling himself out of his thoughts, at least enough to direct his gaze at her.

Mrs. Essien watched as her son blinked and then slowly rotated his head till he was looking directly at her. She searched his eyes worriedly; it was blank and frightening, like it harbored a different inhabitant inside that was not Bobby

“What is wrong with you?” she asked again, rebuke and mild agitation lining her voice as she stood, choosing to be offended that he did not welcome her home when she walked in

“Bobby, I said, what is wrong with you? You cannot talk?” she snapped as she stood looking at him. After observing his empty stare and hardened facial expression, confusion seized her.

Bobby looked at her standing by the door. She looked tired, both physically and emotionally, like she was clinging unto the very last strands of whatever it was that kept her going, and that one too was about to break

He blinked

He watched her suddenly scoff in confusion as she changed her stance, clasp her hands and then stand erect again to continue looking at him

“You’ve been lying about one of these questions all these years” he managed to speak out with a brazen voice, emotionlessly beginning the conversation that he feared would lead to the end

You say what?” she demanded, unable to make any sense from what was going on?

“You have been lying about one of these two questions” he repeated monotonously and gnashed his teeth

“You are my mother. I am the only child. One of these is a lie. Which of them is it?” he asked

Mr. Essien felt a thousand invisible knives stab her all across her body, reaching through her ribcage and getting to her heart, breaking her comportment. Visible fear washed over her for some moments as she trembled, then almost immediately, righteous anger replaced it

Her shoulders rose as she towered into an erect position, anger serving as the yeast her body needed.

“Are you normal? Have you gone mad this afternoon?” She rebuked, very offended with this accusations, even as an uncertain fear cowered within her bluster  

“How can you talk like that and think of such nonsense? Have something gone wrong in your head?” she spat in her crooked voice

Bobby searched her reaction with details, feeling his resolve waver a bit in the presence of her anger. The soft emotions he had for her tried to come into the mix, but he shrugged them off immediately.

“Answer me, and tell me the truth…mother” he replied sternly, slowly rising from his seat and taking a step forward.

“Which of them is a lie? That I am the only child you bore, or that I am not your child in the first place. One of them is a lie, or maybe both of them are, but either way, you have been telling me a lie…mom. Am. I. Your…”

Bobby who had been walking forward all this while was cut short with an unforeseen slap to his cheek that forced the remaining words down his throat, the piercing sound of the slap echoing round the sitting room. He opened his eyes and blinked back the twinkle little stars that could have only been summoned by the slap of an African mother.

Raising his head slowly still unfazed, he looked at her penetratingly with a new angry resolve, but another slap followed, dispersing his anger

“How dare you talk to me like that? Have you forgotten I am your mother?” Mrs. Essien growled with eyes widened from anger, as they searched his, daring him to be stupid one more time

Bobby shook the physical pain off again as he returned his tilted face to an upwards position, but this time he couldn’t shake off the emotional pain, and they lingered stubbornly. He felt himself breaking for the first time in years as the warm feeling of tears rising to the surface washed over him.

The first tear broke through his eyes and crawled down sorrowfully as he stood on the spot transfixed, still staring at the woman who he owed everything to  

“Just tell me the truth. Please” Bobby forced his voice out through the tirade of emotions that were clogging him, his voice barely above a whisper this time. More drops of tears made it through his eyes, competing to outrun one another as they raced through his face and down to the floor.

“I beg you” he whispered and swallowed, shutting his eyes tight in an attempt to keep back the tears.
“Just tell me truth” he added, as the pains of a lost identity he had subconsciously felt all this years mounted on him with new intensity

Mrs. Essien took in the tears that welled and slid down care freely now, and then took in the pain that was visibly registered on his face, and then she broke down

Tears of her own formed as she took steps back, bent her head and began to sob

She didn’t know what her son for twenty one years had discovered, but she knew it was the truth, and that killed her. Everything was going to change. The script she had created to put everything in place, the cocoon she had created and inserted him inside for him to stay in line and remain hers had torn somewhere, and he had taken a peek outside through that hole, and had caught a glimpse of some truth, no matter how little it was.

She looked up with red teary eyes and took in his figure standing there motionlessly, his eyes moist and twitching, his red lips firm and quivering, and she wanted desperately to reach out to him and hug him. Hug him till all there was to their pain was a reassurance of mutual love. A love that had been there from the beginning, no matter how wrong that beginning now seemed to

“Do you have another child other than me?” Bobby asked again, interrupting her thoughts, this time with a soft emotion filled voice

“No I don’t. I never gave birth to a child. I couldn’t” she confessed truthfully

“Then I am not your child either” Bobby stated with a realization he had begun to suspect as he grew older, but yet didn’t have enough  grounds on which to believe it   

Mrs. Essien broke down again, crumpling to the floor in agony

From the floor, she narrated the story of how he came to be her son, telling him the truth for the first time in twenty one years, whilst punctuating the story with sobs and tears that reflected a million pains, wishes, and some regrets

Bobby watched her crying figure for a while as she finished her story, and then he turned slowly and walked into his room. After a while, he came back clutching a leather bag that was filled.

Mrs. Essien looked up with dread in her eyes and he walked to the door and turned to look at her. What she wanted to do was to grab him, grip him by the trousers and plead until he changed his mind and walked back into his room. She wanted to wail, sob, plead and call out to him to stay and let them enjoy the pure mother to son love they had shared all these years despite the harsh conditions, but she saw the resolve in his eyes. Nothing she would do would stop him from walking out that door

Bobby got to the door and froze as he bowed his heads, and processed thoughts that were true and deep. He turned to look at her still crying on the floor, and the last of his humanity died.

He wanted to go and wrap his hands around her like he had done in the past years. He wanted to reassure her that everything would be alright and he was going to be here, and one day take her out of her pains, but he admitted he wasn’t going to be here this time.

“Mom?” he called out as he stood by the door, one of his hands on the knob. Mrs. Essien still sobbing, looked up in confusion, uncertain of what that word now meant to him  

“Thank you for taking care of me” he choked on the word because of the new emotions it brought, sobbed some more, and then walked out into the night that was just beginning.

Johnson was his twin brother; he now needed to know who his mother and father were.

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/\/\/\/\/\

Esther spread herself buoyantly across the sofa in the vast sitting room, enjoying the serenity that Johnson’s absence came with.

She didn’t bother to process the fact that he had been away for three days, and he could be in some sort of danger; her childlike mind didn’t give room for such worry. To her, she was living her best life without the pestering presence of her brother, and that was all that mattered; her peace of mind. She didn’t reason long or deep enough to begin to consider the possibility that something could go wrong with him.

As far as she was concerned, whenever he was done being a big baby, he would come home. She wished however, that this wouldn’t be anytime soon. After one or two years didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Mrs. Nwosu on the other hand did her best to believe that her only son was safe, that she was overthinking things and that he would be home soon. She prayed, she hoped, she wept when no one watched, and she called his phone like she had been doing for the past three days although she knew it was going to be switched off. Currently she sat in the sitting room trying her best to be engrossed in the movie that was showing on the TV, but her efforts were useless. She couldn’t stop her paranoid mind from conjuring horrid things that could happen to her precious boy while he was out there unguarded and unprotected. Her body temperature fluctuated along with her feelings of fear and paranoia.

Reflexively she picked up her phone again and dialed his number before holding the phone to her ears.

The number you are trying to reach is switched off…

In frustration, Mrs. Nwosu threw the phone down and hissed, grabbing her hair in her hands and pulling mildly. Her husband was furious, her daughter was nonchalant, but here she was dying from worry.

She stood up, walked to the window and pulled the curtains apart to peek outside, and then she closed it again and walked away, her hands on her waist. She stopped in the middle of the sitting room and heaved, closing her eyes shut as memories she had tried to suppress for years came back to her mind, triggered by the depression of the moment.

They came as flashes, but every flash no matter how quick it was, was tangible enough to open wounds from years back.

She saw a girl, that girl.

That girl grabbed another girl by her hair, the weaker girl, and pulled her on the floor as the weaker girl screamed and struggled weakly

The memories ended abruptly and another began immediately

She saw that girl again. She was sitting with the weaker girl on a dining table, and across them, a man and a woman sat talking to the two of them. That girl snaked her hands under the table and pinched the thighs of the weaker girl with intense pressure, and the weaker girl struggled to keep her composure and not break down in tears from the agonizing pain. Her light skinned face turned red as she struggled to absorb all the pain that was being inflicted on her, without revealing it to the people that sat across the table. The man across the table asked her questions, and she struggled to find her voice to give a reply, as that girl continued to pinch her forcefully, almost tearing her flesh out.

The memories ended and another began

The weaker girl was lying in the dark in a room that was barely illuminated by a candle at the center that was fast burning out. She prayed in fear, that her peace remained, but whoever she prayed to didn’t seem interested in answering, and soon that girl walked in and stood by the door. The weaker girl swallowed in dismay as her heart began to thump. That girl walked to where the candle was and picked it up, then marched to where the weaker girl lay curled up.

She bent the candle, and soon the hot melting wax began to drip off the candle and land on the bare skin of the weaker girl, and she winced, stifling painful cries with her mouth.

The memories ended again and another began

The weaker girl was cornered at one edge of a bed, her hands wrapped around her legs as she trembled in abject fear. A woman called out and after some seconds the woman walked into the room

Chinyere what are you doing there? Biko come let us take you and your sister to your grandmother’s place so I and your father can start our journey. Lagos is far from here  

I don’t want to go there

But you cannot stay here alone. Nne bia biko, come let us be going

I don’t want to go there

We cannot leave you alone in this house na? You would not be alone there; you would be with your sister till we get back

I don’t want to be with her!

Chinyere stop that!  She is your twin sister for gossake, what is all these one for? Biko come let us be going!

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Esther shrieked, pulling Mrs. Nwosu out of her thoughts. She looked over at Esther who had slid down from the sofa and was kneeling on the floor with her tablet firmly rooted between her hands.

Mrs. Nwosu looked away slowly as she leaned back on the sofa. She realized she was slightly wheezing, and there was sweat on her forehead as glistening little beads. She swiped them off with her hand and exhaled.

The memories drew her in again

She saw that girl come into a room where the weaker girl sat curled on the floor,  and she locked the door behind her. She held a bowl of hot liquid in her hands, and vapor and steam escaped from the bowl. She walked to where the weaker girl was, already crying, and she sprinkled hot water from her bowl on the weaker girl, and the weaker girl shrieked and dashed away cringing from the heat of the water. She had nowhere to run to as the door was locked, and that girl continued sprinkling the hot water on the weaker girl as she screamed loudly and desperately, about to run mad from the anguish.

The memories ended and another began

She saw that girl again, coming out of the house smiling and calling out

Chinyere! Where are you? Where are you hiding?

The weaker girl shivered from behind a tree at the back of the house, where she was hiding and struggling to choke on her sobs and not let a sound escape. There was silence, but before the weaker girl could wonder, she felt a sharp grip on her hands as that girl dragged her from behind the tree and threw her to the floor roughly. She yelped in pain and that girl laughed shrewdly

The weaker girl struggled to her feet, but before she could get up, that girl was on top of her pinning her down with her strength. She laughed some more, flung several slaps across her face and then gathered sand from the ground and stuffed it down the mouth and nose of the weaker girl.

Barely able to breathe, the struggle of the weaker girl intensified in an attempt to survive, and soon she threw that girl off her body and fled. She ran crying, wondering when this living nightmare would end.  She ran without stopping, even when she felt her legs giving up under her. She ran until she arrived at the stream, and after searching for a good hiding spot, she desperately hid behind a large stone. Her fourteen years old mind couldn’t find any place on time better before that girl arrived. She was sure that girl was chasing her.

That girl arrived some minutes after, giggling and laughing as she stood in front of the stream and looked around

The weaker girl shrunk as she shut her eyes tight, somehow hoping her inability to see anything going on around her would also mean that nobody could see her too. She soon realized she was wrong.

Come out of there! The voice of that girl ordered, and almost immediately the weaker girl sprang up to flee for her life again, realizing she had been found.

She was sure she was going to die if she didn’t seek refuge; everything around her was spinning, and she was barely to see anything clearly as fear and terror swallowed her. She was going to die if she let that girl seize her again.

She wasn’t far from where she had sprung up from, when that girl touched her shoulders and shoved her forward, causing her to stumble and fall. That girl grabbed her legs as she laughed menacingly and tried to turn her over.

The weaker girl cried, feeling the tight grip of that girl around her legs. The weaker girl knew she couldn’t bear another session of being stuffed down with sand while struggling to breathe. In desperation, her hands roamed the floor for anything she could use to wade off that girl, and her hand found a stone

“Come on! New high score!” Esther shrieked and jumped to her feet and began to dance around randomly, as she celebrated. Mrs. Nwosu forced a smile when Esther looked in her direction. When Esther’s gaze returned to her tablet, Mrs. Nwosu looked back up, now feeling completely weak, as every painful memory sapped her energy

The memories jerked her in again

she saw the weaker girl wrap her hands around the fairly big stone just as the first handful of sand from that girl found its way into her mouth, bits of it entering her nose as she began to choke and cough

In desperation, the weaker girl swung the hand holding the stone blindly whilst crying, and she felt it connect with that girls face, and that girl yelled and jumped off, staggering back. The weaker girl sprung to her feet immediately.

Still shaken from all that was going on, the weaker girl immediately dusted her face off the sand enough for her to see that girl bent over, holding desperately to a part of her face as she yelled in agony. The weaker girl could see the blood from where she stood

Panic gripped the weaker girl as she observed that girl bent over yelling. This had to be the end of it all; the weaker girl couldn’t fathom what that girl would do to her when she was done lamenting over the anguish. She imagined the new rage with which that girl would use to torment her in vindication, and her terror doubled. She was done for  

As that girl screamed in agony, blood dripping from her face to the floor, the weaker girl cried in fear of what her life would turn to, but the cry didn’t last, as a new thought formed in her head. Now she had the chance, she could do this once and for all and make sure that girl never got the chance to torment her again.

With a new resolution powered by blind panic and backed from the morale of a persecuted soul channeling all the pains of her persecution into achieving one objective, the weaker girl walked slowly to where that girl was bent over, and when she was close enough, she rose her hand bearing the stone high up in the air

“Aaargh!” Esther screamed in excitement, as she adjusted herself on the sofa and reaffirmed her grip on her tablet before continuing to press away

The memories pulled Mrs. Nwosu in again

The first blow of the stone on that girl’s skull came swiftly, and that girl crumbled to the floor while screaming. The weaker girl swiftly fell into a kneeling position and dealt several blows unto that girl’s head, not stopping, not fazed by the blood that spilled through the broken body. That girl twitched continuously, and after a while, stayed still as her energy began to drain off. She looked above through bloodied eyes, to see the weaker girl raise the stone in her hand one more time. That was the last thing she saw.

In the midst of sobs, the weaker girl rained more blows down on that girl, till a primal instinct of violence told her she had achieved her objective

When that girl had stopped moving, the weaker girl still in an adrenaline agitation, grabbed that girl’s still body by the legs, wary of touching her blood, and began to drag her along the floor.

Soon she was on the highest point of the land around the stream, from where many children dived into the stream whenever they came to swim. From there she pushed that girl’s motionless body into the stream. She watched as her still body hit the stream with a splash, and began to float inwards. She watched until the body was in the middle of the stream, and then she stood erect, and new fear washed over her as it seemed like a scale had just fallen of her eyes to let her see reality. She might have just killed her twin sister.

Now trembling, the weaker girl looked at her body, saw that there were no blood stains, and then she turned and ran with all her might.

When news got to their parents that night from some people in the village that they had found the body of one of their daughters, dead and floating in the stream, they broke down in anguish.

Chinyere watched as they wailed and sobbed, cursing whoever it was that had killed one of their twin daughters, and swearing by all the gods that bizarre happenings of violence, mishap, and calamity would always follow whoever the killer was. They cursed the killer, they cursed the killer’s children whether born or unborn. They prayed that violence and mishap would befall the killer’s children. They asked out loud, what a sweet, innocent child like theirs ever did to deserve such death.

Chinyere Nwosu quivered into reality as a strange cold sensation ran down her spine. She opened her eyes, and realized that her vision was clouded with tears. She blinked them away and sat upright, rubbing her hands through her hands as if to disperse the cold she now felt.

She didn’t know why her current predicament brought back vile and dark memories. All she wished for was her son. She needed him back into her care and household. She needed to know he was safe.

As she sulked, she heard a knock at the gate outside, and after a while she heard the scurrying of their gateman, trying to open the gate.

“Ah Oga, welcome” she heard the man declare in his thick Hausa accent, and Mrs. Nwosu felt anticipation wash over her, causing her to instantly jump to her feet and pace to the curtain. She pulled the curtain out and saw Johnson step in with a guarded aura.

Mrs. Nwosu exclaimed for joy as she jumped back from the curtain and paced to the dining room directly adjacent to the sitting room, overwhelmed with joy and relief, as her hands covered her lips and tried to curtail the sounds of joyful sobs

She heard Esther sigh and groan in disappointment as she understood what was happening, but Mrs. Nwosu couldn’t care less. Nothing could tamper with the joy that washed over her, as she realized her son was back

He slowly opened the door, stuck his head first, and then his whole body, before freezing at the door step. Mrs. Nwosu cried out as she took several robust steps hurriedly to where he stood, immediately taking him into an embrace, as she sobbed. He felt stiff and reluctant to share the embrace.

Mrs. Nwosu sighed; he was probably still angry over the disappointment with his car, but that didn’t mean anything to her; so long as he was back at home where he was safe.

She also made a mental note to herself to also do all she could, to make sure that the car would come in that month.

Mrs. Nwosu let the embrace linger some more despite his silent stiffness. She noticed that his smell was a bit queer, and that there was something else about him. He felt slimmer. How three days could make so much difference

“Look Johnson my son, I am sorry we were not able to get the car for you, but I promise, the car would come very soon, in fact, in a manner of days okay?” she desperately reassured, a part of her fearing that he could suddenly decide to walk out again

She looked up at him and saw him staring at her blankly, as if he hadn’t heard any of what she had said.

She sighed, more out of delight in the face of his stubborn behaviour, than out of tiredness; at least he was here at home to be stubborn to her, and not outside where he could get into any kind of danger.

“Calm down please Johnson, I am sorry for not being able to get the car on time like I and your father promised, please try to forgive us okay ? We promise to get it soon, unfailingly” she pressed on softly as she stroked his arms and searched his eyes for the usual first signs of fluster that usually indicated that he was softening, and had started down the path of accepting the apology, but there was none.

There was no fluster, but that was not what raised Mrs. Nwosu’s alarms. It was the fact that there was nothing in his eyes at all, no emotions, and no sense of familiarity or understanding; just a blank confused look.

Mrs. Nwosu wondered in complete confusion, but as she stared at him some more, her eyes widened in horror as a possibility formed in her head. She swallowed, as her legs became weak under her, and everything around became woozy. She took a step back and tried to regain control of herself.

He still stared down at her from where he stood towering above her like Johnson always did, but she saw it, the difference that sent warm fear down her spine

She couldn’t believe what she feared was happening; this wasn’t even supposed to be possible, it wasn’t supposed to ever happen, but as she swallowed again…

“Johnson?” she came closed and forced herself to whisper and wait, and when he just looked at her blankly, almost creepily and frighteningly, it dawned on her, what exactly was happening

She couldn’t believe it.

“I wish you didn’t come back; you should have just stayed wherever you were with all trouble” Esther spat out suddenly, unable to hold back the disappointment that she was about to be ushered back into a world of troubles and chaos that her brother always brought.

He turned and looked at her and blinked from the weight of the accusation

“Actually…”

“Johnson we have missed you so much. Why don’t you come inside and shower first and change out of those clothes before we talk about anything?” Mrs. Nwosu sprang into action, desperate to control the situation that she knew could turn into a catastrophe if…

“No, you are mistaken…” he started, finding his voice again, but Mrs. Nwosu cut him off again, even more desperately than before. She reflexively gripped his arms, and he flinched

“Let’s go in Johnson, let’s go” Mrs. Nwosu urged and began to pull him gently. He resisted at first, but after looking into her eyes and seeing the message there, he let himself be led through the sitting room and into the house.

As he walked past Esther in the sitting room, he looked at her deeply, and she looked back. Esther wondered, as she studied his eyes before he looked away. She squinted in thoughts, and then shrugged it off and returned her attention on her tablet

Mrs. Nwosu led him to one of the parlors in their large house, and as she turned to look at him, she knew was about to be ushered into a tirade of hells

“Who are you?” She asked the question with a heavy heart and mouth, knowing what the answer would be, but fearing to entertain such realization “

“I am Bobby. I am your son”

To be continued… 14th of May!

Tell me, what language should I use  to tell you how happy I am that you read this?

Leave you thoughts on this one in the comment box  let’s talk!

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35 comments

  1. TO BE CONTINUED????!!! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT????!!!! you should have announced that before you started the story na. You can’t just bring me to this point and tell me to come back in one week to know how this ends! Not faaaair!!!

  2. I’m outta here bih! I ain’t finna stay here and have this truth zombie give me a damn heartache. Buh bye! sobs

  3. The thing is that I’m tired of typing “wonderful, amazing, awesome” and all those things for your ur works, I need new works to quantity how wonderfully you write!! Aaargh

  4. Everytime I read your story and get to the part where you’re thanking us so much for reading, I can’t help but laugh. You don’t understand how much of a favour you’re doing to us by giving us good stuff consistently. Applause man! You’re still the man!

  5. Don’t I just love this zombie?? Let me hold my comments till I read the continuation next week

  6. I am Bobby and I am your son aaaargh!! Can’t wait for the continuation! This story is giving me chills

  7. Truth Zombie, do you ever just finish your work and look back and be like “what exactly have I written? This is absolutely insane” I mean, do your works give you the creeps that it gives me? Or am I overreacting? Do you really just reread your stories and be like “I’m one hell of a mad person?” “how did i come up with this craziness?”

    shout out from a fan from out here! I’m die hard!

  8. Meeehn. I would read anything that has truth zombie as the writer, even if is a scientific thesis or a sermon, a boring encyclopedia, or an atlas. So long as truth zombie is the writer, I’m reading that thing. Where is the continuation please?!

  9. Been long I read me some good African based stories with this pieces, there is no pressure to get hardcopy books anymore. These stories are everything!!

  10. I woooonder what Mrs Nwosu’s reason for not knowing her child exists would be. But I would just be quiet and wait to read. Storyline broooo

  11. Finishes reading, drops phone in shock wondering what I just read, gets up, walks to the window and jumps out. I can’t deal.

I would love to know what you think