Two Lives And A Soul #18 By Ojay Aito
The drive over the lagoon would have been a beautiful experience had I not occupied my mind with so much more than it could bear.
My life in the past one week flashed before my eyes. All the emotions and the passions of the past three years could not come to par with these few days of overwhelming pressure and topsy-turvy. I was almost a mental wreck. Tonight, I could have drowned.
I imagined what it would have been like had we been arrested and interrogated by the state CID, or the very empathetic secret service. We would have secretly vanished like the missing Malaysian plane of the earth’s surface.
I turned towards Sally, who now looked pale after wiping the gothic makeup off her face. Her eyes were filled with a mixture of gratitude and apologies, but she was yet to found the words to express whatever sailed through the ocean of her mind.
“All I wanted to do was get the watch back for you. For your granny. Felt it must have meant something really important.” I looked past her into the dark stretch of the water body below us. My focus drifted to infinity as I looked beyond Sally’s reflection on the rolled up glass.
I later turned to watch her swallow a lump in her throat. Maybe she was just replaying the scenes in her mind, and realized how close we were to being caught.
How had she even made it inside the gallery? I remembered the lady that had asked if I would be bidding tonight. Who was that lady?
There was no doubt that she must have planted some allies within the gallery, but how she had pulled off the most important act of getting back her granny’s priced possession, was still a mystery. Why she chose to get me involved in the final lap of the grand theft was another question I wanted answer to. I waited.
Our car descended the bridge ten minutes later, and snaked through the familiar Osborne road before it disappeared into a dark street off Gerard Avenue. Soon we made another turn, this time into a half-lighted lane with weak solar streetlights. I was trying to figure out why I was even in this car; and more critically why Sally’s granny wanted to see me.
The last landmark I saw, and saved in my memory was that of a beautiful edifice, more like a church, from the view I could afford. I had to know my way back, just in case of incasity. Now I couldn’t say precisely where we were, and Sally seemed to have been mandated not to speak to me while we were in transit.
The two flanking steel gates opened on their own accord. It was as if our car activated a sensor on the concrete pave. I looked out from the tinted window for any personnel around the gate – one might never know- this might just be the place I get my next employment. How I had brought myself this low into thinking of getting this kind of job was a thought I wasn’t prepared to mull over
Sally was now eager to get out of the car. I hoped she would fill me in on what to expect, or how I was supposed to approach her grandma, but she simply smiled at me and opened her door when we entered into a large compound. She was still barefooted like a member of one of those churches that mandated their congregation worship barefooted.
I caught the driver glance my way. He hadn’t said a word since the drive either, and I could have nursed the thought of him being deaf and dumb. Tonight wasn’t the night for such derision. I said my ‘thank you’ and I climbed down from the car, following after Sally and hoping my deep rooted fear wasn’t evident.
My granny would like to meet you.
What granny would be awake at this time of the night? Last I checked, it was a few minutes past midnight. I didn’t look back at the navy blue salon car, as I heard it pull away to wherever.
Sally was a few paces ahead of me. She went down a long stretch of stairs. She did it so fluidly, like she had done so a million times before. One step lower, then lower, until my legs were fully cooperating with my head. But for the white light that sprouted from frog holes in the stairs, tapping it all the way down, I wouldn’t have been willing to go down that way, regardless of who led.
For the first time, I thought about the whole concept of Sally. An entity I had only met once in my life. Now I was descending a ‘black-hole’ merely for the reason of a wave postulation that perhaps needed me, so as to complete an equation.
Sally waited for me at the thick oak door intricately engraved with the kind of carving that emphasized a medieval work of art. Another smile, then she pushed open the door lightly, showing that it was perfectly hinged to the strong doorpost.
Inside proved to be more ancient than I had expected. Carvings all around the long dimly lighted corridor, like a sculpted market place preserved in time. There was a painting of the Oba of Benin, and his chiefs on another side of the wall. This place was no doubt a private museum of some sort. A refreshing thought slowly began to impress on my mind, as Sally urged me forward.
We walked through another door, and it was as if we fell upon another lost century. This corridor was foreign, and amazingly stocked with a lot of ‘un-african’ things: a few Amish pictures on the left; a bit of Eastern Europe history on the right. Another corner was filled with pictures of first dweller Broken Moccasin Indians; while straight ahead directly in front of me was a collection of Black history, an expected picture gallery of slavery, the fight for freedom, and the acceptance to the new world order.
To Sally, it was probably just a walk through a dusty antique corridor, but I was beginning to get tipsy from the excitement in my bones. A shadow of trepidation hung above me in all these, though. All the blood-money movies I had seen in the past were beginning to take a toll on my thoughts.
We ascended a spiral stairway and walked down another corridor that was entirely unadorned. The room we entered next was designed with a twenty-first century taste. It was roomy and elegant. I figured out this was where I would be meeting with her granny. So far, I hadn’t seen anyone, but this was one of those houses that you were sure had hidden cameras everywhere.
“Unfortunately, I can’t wake granny up. It’s already too late.” Sally said to me, as she motioned for me to take a seat in the middle of the room.
“Please make yourself comfortable. This is my side of the house.”
I sat courteously on the edge of the thick sofa. Wondering what she might have meant. I waited for the next command, as it seemed I had somehow been admitted into a facility.
“I’m okay for the night, but would you mind anything? Drink? Water?” She could tell I was attempting not to be nervous.
“Fine. I’m fine.” I put my hand around my belly to demonstrate that I wasn’t hungry.
So I’m not seeing your granny tonight. Then why did you bring me here? … Not that you should have left me on the bridge.
“I really need to catch some sleep before it’s four. Four is when I wake every day. Even if I don’t want to, my eyes just pop open at four.” Sally had found a pair of slippers and was now sitting by the edge of another sofa, mirroring my position. Her eyes sagged from tiredness. She had packed her long slit gown into the middle of her thighs like a proper Benin girl. She was home. The silver time piece she had retrieved was nowhere in sight. She must have strapped it deep down her thigh. Or placed it somewhere safe.
I sighed. “So…” what next?
“Let me show you to your room.” Sally stood up again, and headed towards a door. I slowly followed her, first checking that my senses were working just fine.
Inside the room was pure white. From floor to ceiling; furniture and decors. Everything was white. I felt the shivers up my spine. As creepy as it was, I also found this room almost peaceful, like a ghost had finally gone to rest from the trouble of the day. As I walked into the middle of it, just after Sally, a strong sense of déjà vu hit me. I slowed my breath and took a step back.
“Are you okay,” Sally was looking at me with concern. She had immediately moved closer.
“Yes,”I said. “Yes. Just… Guess I’m tired as well.”
Sally put her hand over mine, and looked up into my eyes. This was the first real contact we were having- maybe apart from the handshake the first time we met.
“I know there is a lot on your mind. But I promise we will talk tomorrow. Just take a rest, and tomorrow, I promise to explain everything.” She talked to me like I was her blue-eyed boy.
I nodded my head in response like an obedient schoolboy, sensing every cell in my hand stand at attention. Her touch brought a sensual yet reassuring feeling. I made a weak attempt at smiling, and swallowed a lump swelling up in my throat.
“Everything you need is here. Bathroom, change of clothes, blanket, light switch… what else would you need?”
“I’ll be fine. Thank you.” There was no way I could compare my room to this place. That would be a far cry.
“Good night.” Sally slowly peeled her hand off mine, and walked towards the door. Her dress enunciated the slight curves on her back. I watched her as she went out the door, closing it firmly. And finally.
I stood before the snow white bed, memories slowly dripping into my head. I looked back at the door, then back at the bed. Wasn’t this the way everything was when I was in my future? An all white room.
I sat down on the bed, hoping that these people didn’t live a stark life in spite of all they had. Well, maybe it was true that the rich also cry; and not all that glitters is gold. When I realized I had began to feel some kind of pity for these people, I shoved the thoughts aside, as I did the quilt and pillows. I didn’t like using pillows, not even if it was made of feathers from the wings of angels.
I rested my head on the bed, and lifted my legs off the floor. Oh boy! I realized I was in a perfect position to be slaughtered, remembering the picture of Abraham and Isaac I had seen when I was a kid. I jolted up and sat on the edge of the bed. Hollup, I couldn’t have been led to the slaughter, could I?
I decided that if I must see the next day, I would have to trust Sally, and this entire house with my life. I had to tell myself that this was just one night away from home, and there were no demons waiting to suck my blood.
I laid down again in that position, my arms wrapped around my body. I wrapped it around my head on a second thought. Then I changed my mind, and safeguarded my chest. Guarding my heart with all diligence.
I stared at the ceiling. Thinking. Tracing the intricate lines hanging above me with my eyes. Old habits…
Granny would like to see me…
“Tomorrow will come. I’ve been told.
To soften this ground so I may with laughter sow
Fine patterns, now to weave; a journey for the bold
She will play her medley, knowing neither friend nor foe
She will make us men, free at last form Penury’s snare
Oracle, queen diviner, reader of leaves and cowries
Dangler of lure, she’ll make the rain fall and goad us to dare
Gallant warriors eager to pay the debts of worldly dowries
But tomorrow has been a runner, skilled and devious
A seductress, eyes afire, irresistible allure
Skin like marble, mind a rocky wall impervious
My mind was wrapped in a mist, and only the words I heard permeated through the cloudy thickness. I didn’t struggle. I couldn’t. I seemed paralyzed, and only the curious part of my grey matter worked. The words were clear, as if they dripped from the oily lips of a master orator.
They rose, and I could see through my mind, the words gathering and racing towards a crescendo. Like a thorn bird searching for the sharpest thorn to fall on so it could make the most melodious of sounds… But suddenly, and abruptly, the world stopped. The words ceased in my head. The voice lost eventually to the thick stormy wind that showed the final strength of its source. The wind blew over my face now, as my consciousness began to reach its brim… I was dreaming.
I was sure my soul must have levitated, because slowly, I began to feel my body weight descend like gravity. I tried to move, but my arms and legs refused to take part. So I laid still, allowing the last of the wind take its enduring whips on me.
Was I dreaming?
I recalled the words that I heard from the voice; the few ones that had clung to the roof of my tongue on their way into the innermost part of my belly. They were food, because somehow they brought strength.
She will play her medley, knowing neither friend nor foe… She will make us men…
I muttered the words, like an insatiable child licking up crumbs. Then I was done. Done, because the wind said I was. Or was it the engulfing stillness that followed? I felt my left arm twitch. I felt my eyeballs glide under the thin skin of my eyelids; searching for light. Willing themselves to awoken from this dream.
My eyes flicked open, and stood at a stare. Like a light beam focused on steel. Then I heard the voice again, which had somehow donned the cloak of a woman’s tone.
“Good morning, son.” An old woman’s voice.
I turned sharply to my right, breaking my search with a number of blinks. Seated beside my bed was an old woman who must have lived two centuries from the colour of her hair. The strands were as white as harvest, waiting for the labourers. … Waiting for the labourers.
I remember now. I laid here last night, in this room. In this house. Sally’s house. And now, I am awake.
“You are awake,” the old woman said.
“Ye – yes.” My voice cracked.
The old woman had a worshipful smile on her face, all her teeth still perfectly rooted. “Wouldn’t you say good morning to your friend, Sally?”
I turned to my left, and there was Sally in a black slim morning gown standing at my blind side. I immediately pushed myself up and sat on the bed.
Sally walked a few steps towards me, micmicking the old woman’s smile. “Sure you slept well, young man. This is my grandmother.” She said this and immediately returned to her straight face, as if compelled. This was the Sally I was first introduced to a few days ago at the park.
“Good morning,” I regarded both ladies.
“One fallacy of the concept of time, as we all know, is that tomorrow never comes.” The old woman’s voice resonated through my entire being. This was certainly the voice I had heard in my dreams. She cocked her head forward, bracing on the arms of the chair she sat on.
“There is one fallacy that isn’t revealed to mere mortals, though.” She said. I watched as the flesh underneath her chin jumped up with every word she spoke, like jell-o scooped from a jar. Something in me was prepared to grasp all the words I was hearing. I looked around the all white room in a glance, and settled my attention on the old woman again. Sally’s grandmother.
“This fallacy can’t be spoken of freely. Only a few have discovered it, and it is the privileged of this few that have ever used the knowledge.” The old woman’s face still held the smile together.
“The physical life is ephemeral, and trying to define the concept of time by this term would only bring sadness and gloom.” She looked up at her grand-daughter as if to confirm whether she had made the right statement. The expression on Sally’s face was a mixture of impatience and bemusement. She must have heard these words a million times, and yet she seemed eager to hear them again, perhaps even more closely this time.
All the fear and uncertainty that I felt last night seemed to give way in the light of this new information that might just soon become my obsession.
“So she told me about how both of you got back my time piece. Is that true?” Sally’s granny asked, her face brimming even more like a toddler asking the obvious question just for the fun.
I didn’t know what else she wanted to hear, or what Sally must have told her. I looked at both ladies and simply nodded my head slightly.
“Hmm, you know I remember it all as if it was just yesterday How time seem to fly.” She stalled for a second. It seemed the more she spoke, the more she literarily relived the moments of her past. I realized the only thing that had grown old in this woman was her body. Her soul was as young as that of a kitten.
I didn’t exactly remember shifting my position on the bed, but I realized that Sally now sat beside me, her legs folded yoga style under her. Her lips pressed together, setting a certain mushiness over her face.
“Although we live in a chronological world, it is the Kairos moments of our lives that changes and dictates the course.” Granny looked steadfastly at me. I adjusted again. This was more than a philosophy class back in my schools days.
“Everything we do is noted by the steady mark of time. Seconds lead to minutes to hours; then weeks turn to years and decades turn to centuries. The challenge is that our chronos is always ticking, quickly precipitating into our past as we struggle to race along.
We pursue a career, we fall in love; one day the children are born, the next they fly out of the nest, and all we do is struggle against the dogmatic belief systems and cultures than keep us bound to status quo. At the end of the day, we give in, and accept that man is dust, and to dust shall he return.”
Sally and I sighed in sync. Where was this going?
“The kairos moment however, is somewhat different. To be said in easy terms, it is that moment that defines our lives. Each of us experience this moment at a point. This kairos defies the past, disregards the present, and even destroys omens of the future. Somehow it is tied to the chronos’ day to day activities of our lives. What you call routine. Sometime, we call it hard work.”
She saw the slight frown on my forehead; saw that I was trying hard to understand the statement she just made.
“An example is the story of John. You know John the Baptist, right?”
“Every day he was at the Jordan, doing his work. But one day he met with the man on who the Dove stayed on.”
I exhaled. I had heard and even read the bible story more than a thousand times, but I saw this for the first time in this very simple way.
“It’s different for everyone. It might just be you meeting someone special in some place. Your Kairos moment could even be a disastrous moment. But it sure changes your life absolutely. And dramatically.”
It was like virtue left the old woman and entered into me. I felt it. It was tangible.
“The Kairos moment neither considers your age, or your experience. Or your lack of it. As the heavens are far above the earth, so is it with the ways of the Kairos above our ways.”
That last statement strummed a chord inside me.
“Unfortunately children, many people still miss these significant moments in their lives. And it’s only because of how they observe the events that happen to and around them.”
“True,” I said this out of habit, rather than understanding.
“Let’s change the subject please. If I don’t do Sally will get weary.”
I turned to face Sally, with the expression, Is that true?
“That’s not true.” Sally protested.
“Is granny lying?”
“Okay. Maybe not totally true. And you can’t take her side.” Sally was frowning at me now, like how dare you.
“Ah, I see it’s true.” Granny broke the conversation. It seemed she liked to take charge of conversations. From my experience with old people, they all were the same. Now she was saying something else.
“What’s true, gran?” Sally asked this time.
The old woman looked at me instead and said, “Yesterday before my daughter left for the Freedom Park where she had barred me from going, she said she met an interesting young man who must have helped find my lost watch.”
“She did?” I reiterated the only thing that stuck to my brain.
“Yes. She did. Which thoroughly amazes me. Because Aisosa has never used the word interesting to describe a young man.” I thought the old woman was going to shift the conversation to her lost and found watch, but I was wrong. I remained patient.
“Aisosa.” I echoed. I took note of her other name.
“That she even agreed to bring him over is beyond me.” Sally’s Granny said.
I thought about what the old woman just said. Had Sally really wanted me to meet her granny, or she had only invited me over because we had happened to escape the park together. We could have gone our separate ways after we got out of the park, but instead, she had asked me to join her for the ride.
“Hey, Sally is my name. Okay?” Sally warned me with that girly tone. I nodded my head to show her I understood perfectly.
“So my interesting young man, my granddaughter wouldn’t tell me your name still. She feels I will turn it into a singsong. Although I agree with the part that I sing terribly, compared to her.”
“She would?” I look at Sally with a feigned surprise.
“Hmm, but unfortunately, this is not one of the many things in life that you can stop. This is now inevitable.” Granny was sure enjoying herself in her own way.
“There is going to be a medley of my name in this house.” I could only imagine what it would sound like. Gross.
“Eli, don’t feel too good with yourself. I can throw you out right now.”
“I’m used to people throwing me out. Just last night was the last time. Remember?” I thought about my job I was sure I no longer had.
“Oh, I see. So the young man’s name is Eli. Is that so?” Granny looked at me surprised, somewhat perplexed. She must have blinked more than ten times in that passing second.
“Yes ma. My name is Eli. Not Elijah, not Elisha. Just Eli.” I didn’t need to be defensive about my name but it was done out of habit.
“Hmm, I see.” Granny’s voice suddenly pitched above her normal scale. I could even sense a stealthy change in accent. She was looking right at me, only that it was obvious she was lost in reverie.
“What a coincidence.” Granny said, turning to look at Sally, who was as clueless as I was. “I used to know someone from long time ago with the name Eli. Long long time ago.”
I was sure Sally was hearing this for the first time. Her face was as straight as a crow line, void of expression.
I could only nod my head. And I did it so many times it must have sent enough oxygen to my brain to get it thinking again. “Sally told me you are a horologist.” I resumed with a different conversation, not sure if it was right for me to do so.
Granny didn’t respond. She seemed transfixed. She was lost in reverie again.
“Yes. For a lack of better word, yes.” Granny finally spoke out slowly, her face gradually returning colour. Because of her complexion, it was easy to see the blush on her left cheek. Sally must have seen it too.
I wasn’t sure if it was the words I spoke that made her lose colour, but it was obvious she didn’t want to allow the moment be about her. I looked at the two ladies, observing the slight resemblance between both of them.
“I need some fresh air, Aisosa.” She made the request to her granddaughter. “Would you like to join us on the patio for breakfast? Maybe you could tell me more about you and I tell you about the Eli I used to know.” Granny asked me. Her default smile was beginning to return.
“Not that there is much to say about myself, but ma, I would do anything for a free meal.” I said cheerfully.
I watched Sally move around till she stood behind her grandmother. That was when I realized that granny sat on a wheelchair all along. It wasn’t the usual wheelchair with two conspicuously large wheels at the back. This looked high-tech.
I joined Sally as we helped the old woman out of the room.
(1 When Tomorrow Comes by Othuke Ominiabohs)