It is mid-day. The sun is high and ablaze with a cloying brilliance. I watch as it treks into a cluster of stratocumulus clouds and mollifies. Time is crawling a tad too slowly as I await Ejike, my little brother, my back against the side of a nearby candy truck. To pass the time, I duck into a rundown eatery and greet the people inside absentmindedly. There are two middle-aged men seated leisurely on a bench on the far side, near Iya Franceska, who is rinsing off an exhausted enamel plate. I take a seat near the doorway and the scent of melon wafts to my nose. One man starts to complain:
“Madam, be fast please, it’s almost 6pm.”
“Oo,” she calls back, “Oga Paulinus, you’ve heard the stories?”
“He has heard,” the man beside Paulinus says, laughing, “I think he’s afraid even—”
“Tah!” Paulinus interjects, “I’m not afraid of anything in this life.” He puffs his voice to sound boastful.
It fails miserably and I scoff. I know Paulinus is just as scared as everyone else in Brass. This past week alone, there’d been fervent reports of more than a dozen sightings in Lower Enyong alone, where I knew he lived; reports that recalled the dead with startling undeniability, and called forth thoughts of Lucy. It seemed utterly bizarre that she could be back here, in this here Brass, roaming the shadows—perhaps following me, willing my mortal eyes to grasp spirit. I found myself watching my back every so often, feeling spooky eyes poking it, wishing for a half-moment that those eyes would be Lucy’s and they’d stay gazing just long enough for me to behold them when I turn.
Some people, like my father, were eternally skeptical, and perhaps rightly so. But everybody cannot be lying at the same time; certainly not Mama Amaechi, whom I saw with my own eyes. I’d been returning from school, hungry and in the grip of aimless thoughts. I saw her pivot over a small fence in frenetic flight, land, lunge and fall mercilessly onto red earth, all the while screaming the name of her dead husband,
Wide-eyed, frozen at my deepest core, I stood and stared at the emptiness behind her, the battered shrubbery, the lone wild mango tree, and the breasts of hills in the distance. Where was Ejima? I certainly knew him when he was alive: stout, severe man who ran a clothing store at the edge of the market near Ajunta River, where the fishermen caught bonga fishes with large, encompassing cast nets. I don’t think I ever saw Ejima smile as a living person. I remember once, when his wife forced him to celebrate his fortieth birthday in front of their house on Igwe street and invited friends and neighbors. Ejima cut the cake with what looked like bitter amusement on his lips, and when the cameraman insisted he smiled a proper smile, he gave a look of bones that shut him up for the rest of the evening. I imagined Ejima as a white-garbed ghost and I felt fingers crawl up my spine; that immense sternness etherealized by a stint in the underworld, that irrevocable glare. Mama Amaechi got up and ran, on and on, towards her parent’s home two miles away at Abbah. I heard she died three days later of an illness that confounded all the medicine men the whole of Brass.
I request a small plate of okpa, eat it quickly and exit the eatery.
Outside, I can see the market, milling about, sending up an indeterminate wall of white noise. I wonder if the sky changes color when a ghost unveils itself. If it goes from a patient blue to a menacing grey. I feel uneasy. Today, everything relates to the finger of ghosts; the flock of birds that scatter haphazardly from the top of a building in the distance, the domestic animals in wild commotion, fleeing what seems to be their shadow, the rabble I can now see forming up chaotically, knocking things down in their haste, dispersing at breakneck velocities away from the market and towards the town. I stand upright, suddenly apprehensive. It looks like a riot out there and Ejike is still amongst them. I am suddenly aware of a vast greyness in the sky when, suddenly, Ejike appears beside me, screaming.
“Brother, let’s run. Faaassst!”
I swallow hard.
“What about the vegetables, did you buy them?”
“Brother, let’s run!” he urges, raising an impatient eye to the rabble dashing towards us.
“Anh-anh,” I mutter, “what happened in the market?”
He casts me an ugly look before he breezes through the narrative. He was buying Oha under the shed where Anty Ananta sold vegetables when suddenly he saw someone he knew he shouldn’t have seen, Lucy, pricing a bunch of periwinkles beside him. It was her own mother that had spotted her and shrieked her name in befuddlement. Lucy turned and ran towards the river and the entire market erupted in chaos.
My heart stops and I want to ask Ejike which Lucy he saw – was it my Lucy? What id she wear? What did she look like? – But the rabble is already too close and Ejike turns to flee.
Amidst the blood-curdling fear, I nurse a thought. Even after 3 years, I can remember fervently her face, her supple eyes and ebony skin, the peculiar shade of milk that was her nails. Love does that to you, and Lucy and I had been embroiled in it like pigs rolling in mud before she left me. The fleeing mob speeds past me mercilessly and I jump aside to let them trample past, all their screams, and fear, crystallizes a question: what if this is the only chance I ever get to see her again?
When I begin hasting my way towards Ajunta River, I recognize I am little more than a profoundly stupid man. But I cannot help myself.
Divine Inyang Titus is a writer, performance poet, and songwriter keen on exploring the nuances of the human experience through art. He is the winner of the STCW Future Folklore Climate Fiction Contest, 2021 and author of the chapbook “A Beautiful Place To Be Born”. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Brittle Paper, The Parliament Literary Journal, The Puritan Literary Magazine, The Hearth Mag, The Shallow Tales Review, The Kalahari Review and elsewhere. He deeply enjoys reading, making music, and observing the rudiments of excellence.