In May 30, 2020, I dropped a story idea in a storytelling class I was anchoring. This class had three wonderful women who were writers, and one of them was Kumashe. We worked on the premise of her story and she decided it was a good enough to develop into a book.
Today, we have her first published book: While She Slept.
I am super proud of her and I can’t wait to get my copy. I highly recommend it to you. It’s thrilling and creeps up on you.
Here’s a blurb about the story:
A young man returns to his childhood city for a work assignment. He is poised to explore the city’s pleasures but he doesn’t know that a hundred-year-old spell agreed upon by his great-great-grandfather and a powerful diviner will soon manifest in him, changing his life forever.
Meanwhile, an evil genius plans a vendetta against his adoptive family when he finds out he was lied to all his life about his mother’s death. He has rendered his stepsister comatose at the hospital by pure evil devising, inducing her with drugs. The girl’s spirit, divided between life and death, has found a way to free herself from her unnatural state. But her saviour, the only person her spirit can communicate with, only knows little about her to help, since she can’t remember anything other than her name.
Three fates. The past has come to the present. A traumatic child must find his revenge. And a girl tries to save herself from oblivion..and for all three, time is an enemy.
While she slept is on Okadabooks >>> HERE
And on Bambooks >>> HERE
Here’s a little teaser
Mama Agerzua sat on the raffia mat under the hindi mango tree, sobbing as she looked upon her son’s swollen body oozing pus. The tree’s breezy atmosphere cooled the sun’s burning heat. Yet, it brought little respite to the grieving mother whose only child was dying and taking her world along with him.
Only two weeks ago, Agerzua was one of the strongest young men in the village, whose hunting prowess earned him a place in the hearts of the young girls of Adekaa. But what was meant to be a successful hunting trip one ordinary day turned sour when he returned with a snakebite that was fast causing his right leg to swell. The herbs from the ortwer did little to help and only seemed to exacerbate the situation as the swelling spread to the rest of his body. Papa Agerzua visited different herbalists and found no solution. He was told the snake was no ordinary one, so its antidote was hard to come by.
With nowhere else to go for help, the heartbroken couple gave pain-killing herbs to their son, praying and hoping the gods look their way. While Mama Agerzua had eventually given up hope and wouldn’t leave her son’s side for fear of him dying, his father returned from his farm every day with new herbs.
“Aôndo, er nan u hungur se?” Why do you forsake us, Aôndo? Mama Agerzua said quietly, as she cleaned the pus from Agerzua’s aching sides. Fresh tears blurred her vision and she began to cry again. Agerzua was asleep, but it appeared more painful than restful. He was swollen, a shadow of himself. His mother pleaded with the gods to end his pain.
A few minutes later, she heard whistling from a distance. It was her husband. He only whistled when he was excited about something. But nothing was exciting about their current predicament or returning with herbs that did not heal but merely managed their son’s pain. The sight of him whistling puzzled her as she rose to welcome her husband, who entered the spacious compound.
He was with his brother, Tavershima. “We’ll be leaving for the neighbouring village,” he said, once he stopped whistling. “We hear there is a seer there who can help Agerzua’s situation.”
“A seer? But what does a seer have to do with healing? Orya wam, are you sure about this? Agerzua has been through enough already, and I’d hate for us to raise his hopes once again only to break his heart. He’s in so much pain,” she said with a trembling voice as she began to cry again.
“Enough with the tears, woman!” her husband barked, doing little to hide his irritation. “Call two servants. They will be leaving with us before sunset.” He resumed whistling as he walked past her and into the hut.
“Don’t worry, we have a good feeling about this one,” Tavershima said, placing a hand on her shoulder to console his brother’s wife, who did not feel any better but took his words for it.
And so, Agerzua was taken by his father, uncle, and two servants to the neighbouring village. Even though it was sunset when they got into the village, their hope was as solid and bright as ever when they eventually arrived at the seer’s compound, which was fenced by numerous mango trees.
But what was meant to hold the key to Agerzua’s life turned out to be yet another disappointing dead-end. The seer was dying. This was not what Tavershima had told Papa Agerzua. As Papa Agerzua confronted Tavershima, one of the wives of the seer beckoned on them to bring Agerzua into the hut. With a confused look, Papa Agerzua did as he was told.
Inside the hut, they met the dying seer lying by the fire. He looked frail, and nothing like the powerful being many bragged about. Doubt filled Papa Agerzua about the possibility of his son being healed by someone a few seconds away from meeting the gods. The old man stretched his hands and pointed to the space by the fire across him. His wife, who had called the visitors in, instructed them to place Agerzua in the spot.
They did as they were told.
Agerzua was awake by now, his eyes moving from one end of the thatch roof to the other. Several minutes went by without any sign from the seer nor instruction from his wife. Papa Agerzua remained standing. He knew he needed to be patient.
“The seer has found your son worthy enough to make this great sacrifice for. As flawed as Agerzua is, he has a good heart and for this, his life shall return to him. A promise made is a promise fulfilled.” The wife spoke in the language of the fathers, her eyes looking up to somewhere beyond the thatch roof.
Papa Agerzua nodded as she spoke. It was true. Agerzua was a good son and was kind to people.
The seer stretched his hand in Agerzua’s direction so that his fingers touched the flames. The flames immediately turned blue, and the warmth in the room disappeared. Without being told, Agerzua stretched his hand across the flame until his palm touched the seer’s. The flames burnt, but neither party flinched from its tongues touching their skin.
The servants hurried out of the hut in fear, but Papa Agerzua and Tavershima remained, taking everything in. After a few seconds, the seer began to incant in whispers, and as the whispers grew louder, the flames grew taller, and the hut colder. Agerzua began to jerk vigorously, his eyes rolling to the back of his head. His father made to move to him, but the seer’s wife stopped him with rebuking eyes.
And so, the promise was fulfilled. As the seer breathed his last, Agerzua’s life returned to him. However, with the return of his life came something much more.
Tarfa Tsar woke up with a jolt just when he was about to drown in his nightmare. He remembered nothing from the dream except the silhouetted figure standing over his bed, watching him eerily. As he sat up in his bed, Tarfa felt another presence in the room. He thought he saw a human figure in the corner where the big armchair was. Puzzled but more curious than afraid, he slowly got out of bed and edged towards the chair. It turned out to be his pile of clothes creating the illusion.
He heaved a sigh and chuckled to himself. He knew binge watching the horror movie collection was a bad idea the night before. His sister Doowuese, who relocated abroad with her husband, had gifted him the collection on his birthday the week before. The NGO he worked for transferred him to Makurdi to handle a new project. So, he threw a huge birthday bash to celebrate turning twenty-five, which later morphed into a humorous sendoff party.
When it was past 10 am, Tarfa left for the office, which was fifteen minutes from his house. As he drove on the road riddled with potholes, he shook his head in disappointment at how little had changed in Makurdi. He hated returning to its rustiness; his family and friends knew it. Despite growing up and having most of his education in the state capital, he despised it for its inglorious backwardness.
Yet, he couldn’t deny the peace that came with his return, and the fun memories it brought him. The unique hospitality and kindness of Makurdi welcomed him with arms wide open. He remembered his childhood friends and all the places they patronised: from the famous Tito Yoghurt to Wine Bar that provided many nights of ecstasy. But while he strove to improve his life, many of his friends didn’t. So, after earning a degree in Computer Science from the state university, his father shipped him off to the UK to get his master’s degree. He returned to Abuja and began working with a child-focused NGO as a software developer before he was transferred to Makurdi to lead a project. He hated the idea, but it looked good on his CV, so he didn’t fight it.
His phone rang as he drove into the office complex. It was Scarlett, a final-year student of the state university. They had met on his first night out with his friends since his return and had gone on several dates. Things were looking good between them, and they planned to take things to the next level tonight. She would come over for a movie night. But neither of them had any plans to see a movie.
“Hey baby,” her soft voice cooed from the phone as soon as Tarfa answered in the car.
“Are we still on for tonight, or are you going to cancel on me like you did last week?” she asked.
Tarfa let out a small laugh. He had been invited to a house party the same night she was supposed to come over. He didn’t want to turn down a night of fun with the guys, which held the possibility of meeting other ladies, to spend the night with her. And he had told her this. Clearly, she wasn’t over it yet.
He had sent her a decent amount of money that night to hang out with her friends. But Scarlett, so far, proved to be more attracted to his body than his pocket. She was from a relatively wealthy home, so it didn’t surprise him much.
“C’mon. But I made it up to you, didn’t I?” he said with a laugh.
“Hmm, wuhever,” she said in a mock British accent. “I’m going to be at your place by 7pm, so you better be home by then.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tarfa replied with a wide grin. He found it sexy when women took charge and went after what they wanted. Scarlett had been consistent with her moves on him ever since she walked up to him at the club and asked him out within seconds of meeting him. Although her massive derriere and very noticeable bosom in her plunging neckline dress immediately caught his attention as she walked toward him, her boldness had him sprung entirely. Tonight was definitely happening. This, he would make sure of. They spoke for a few more seconds before getting off the phone. He was suddenly motivated to do his work for the day. The promise of pleasure and ecstasy the night held energised him to start the day. When he stepped out of the car, he hummed Chris Brown’s Rock Your Body and took long strides into the building. He was so excited he didn’t notice how cold the office suddenly became a few seconds after he walked into it. The office was usually warm, save for rainy days. Today, it neither rained nor were the clouds gloomy.
The day went by, and very soon, it was a few minutes past six. Tarfa quickly cleared his desk and was out the door. Scarlett was yet to call, which meant she wasn’t on her way to his house yet. There was nothing for them to eat at his place, and he didn’t want her spending time in the kitchen that she could put to better use in his bed. So he drove to a popular restaurant a few blocks from his house. It was an overly pricey place with more hype than it deserved. But it had good food, so he didn’t mind. He had already placed his order before arriving, so he could leave quickly. As he walked into the restaurant, fully lit with fluorescent lights, he first noticed a lady sitting alone at the table in the corner. She was beautiful, and her skin glistened effortlessly. Tarfa walked to the cash point and asked for his order. It was to take another fifteen minutes, he was told. He didn’t mind. He had enough time to start a conversation with the lady in the corner.
He turned towards where she sat. She was still alone and was neither drinking nor eating anything. Her eyes stared into nothingness, and as he drew closer, they looked sad and empty, almost lifeless, save for occasional blinking. He was curious and wondered what could have put her in such a state. She sat motionlessly and even when a waiter mistakenly dropped an empty tray, causing a loud, banging noise that startled everyone, she didn’t flinch.
“Hello . . . Can I join you?” Tarfa asked as he reached her table. She raised her head to meet his gaze, and he noticed her eyes light up almost immediately. She responded to his question with a slight nod.
“Are you waiting for someone, or are you here by yourself?” Tarfa asked, hoping he would get a verbal answer this time as he sat across her. But a few seconds went by, and she said nothing. Something about her demeanour made him slightly uncomfortable, but he wasn’t one to get brushed off so easily.
He was about to ask another question when she said, “My name is Mirabel, and I think I need your help.”
For Tarfa, this was an odd way to start a conversation, and even though the art of professional begging was common practice almost everywhere, something told him this was not the case. He leaned back in the seat, an amused look on his face. He was curious about what she would say next, and since his order hadn’t arrived, decided it would be a perfect way to kill time.
“And what kind of help could an ordinary guy like me offer to such a beautiful lady like yourself?” Wack line! What the fuck is going on with me today! Tarfa thought. Charming ladies came effortlessly to him, but he was off his game today. And something about the way she held his gaze unnerved him.
“What is your name?” she asked calmly.
He caught the knowing smile on her face, like she only needed to confirm his identity. Maybe she did, he thought. Makurdi was a small place, and his reputation with ladies seemed to be resurrecting.
“I need him to pay for what he did to me,” she said, her eyes turning glassy.
The switch in emotions set off the alarm bells in Tarfa’s head, but he kept his composure. Unfortunately, things only seemed to get weirder. The cold gradually became unbearable, and he contemplated telling one of the servers to turn off the air conditioner. The sleeveless blue dress Mirabel wore should have made her feel chilly, but just like her reaction to the clattering sound earlier, she was unperturbed.
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” he asked her as he sat up in his chair.
“I wish I was. But he is going to walk away scot-free if nothing is done.”
He noticed her tears.
“You need to tell them that he did this to me,” she said, her voice going up a notch. “They need to know that he did this to me.”
What the fuck did I just get myself into?
Tarfa was confused and unsure of what to say. All he wanted was to get away from the beautiful nutcase sitting across him, but he didn’t know how to, without coming off as rude.
“Wait, what are you going on about? Who did what to you? And why aren’t you at the hospital receiving treatment for it?”
“Orya killed me and must pay for it!”
Yup, she is definitely crazy, Tarfa thought.
Just then, the waiter carrying his food showed up at their table, his forehead furrowed in concern. He gave Tarfa a questioning look as he placed his order on the table. Tarfa noticed how the waiter didn’t acknowledge Mirabel’s presence.
“Sah, is everything okay?” the waiter asked in a heavy Tiv accent. Tarfa looked at him, confused about where that came from.“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Ehm . . . sah, it looks like you have been talking to yourself ever since you sat here,” he said slowly, as if afraid to sound insulting.
“What do you mean by…?”
He froze as his gaze returned to where Mirabel was sitting and beheld an empty chair. He looked back at the waiter who still wore a puzzled look and then returned his eyes to the empty chair. “Is this a joke or what? Are you trying to tell me you didn’t see the lady sitting here with me?”
The waiter slowly shook his head sideways in response.
Tarfa leaned back into his chair as he tried to figure out what just happened. It had to be a prank, he thought to himself as he quietly brought out his card and paid for the food. He wanted to get out of the restaurant as fast as he could as he struggled to come to terms with Mirabel in his head.
Where the fuck did that come from? How was she sitting there one minute and then gone the next? No, she couldn’t possibly be a ghost! Or could she? How was that even possible? Tarfa thought to himself. This was the type of story he often read about on blogs but never thought he would experience. The thought of having conversed with a ghost left goosebumps all over his arms. He was suddenly cold and as he walked out of the restaurant, he felt the strange chill remain with him even though the evening air outside was much warmer than inside the restaurant. He rushed into his car and drove out of the compound as if being chased.
So quickly did he leave the restaurant that he didn’t notice Mirabel standing outside the gate, watching him drive away. The tears were gone and, in their place, a sense of hope shone brightly in her eyes as she sauntered back into the restaurant.
* * *
Growing up, Tarfa was considered fearless between himself and Doowuese. Despite being raised in a typical African home – where it was the parents’ way or the highway – he was never afraid to voice out his opinions and call his father to order whenever it seemed like he was out of line. He wasn’t exactly a rebel as he got into trouble for talking back at authority figures more than he did for skipping classes or coming home late. He hated being taken advantage of or bullied into fear. His father loved that about him, even though they had difficulty getting along when he was much younger.
Sitting in his bedroom on a Sunday afternoon, too scared to step out of the house, Tarfa wondered where all the courage he always possessed went. The past few days were some of the craziest he had ever lived through and the events that occurred left him confused and scarred. Turning twenty-five was supposed to be a beautiful new year for him. Yet, it started with something so terrifying that for the first time in his life, he didn’t feel like he was in control anymore. Tarfa hugged the blanket tightly as the room grew colder. It had been like this ever since Scarlett stormed out of his house angrily and a bit freaked out too.
Two days prior, what was meant to be a night of intense lovemaking turned into a scene from a supernatural movie.
Although Tarfa was freaked out after his encounter with the mystery woman at the restaurant, he managed to convince himself it was some sort of sick prank the workers there usually played on unsuspecting customers. As he drove home, he then made a mental note to speak with the manager after the weekend was over.
A few minutes after he stepped out of the shower, Scarlett arrived, wearing a nude-coloured, thin-strapped spandex gown that was so tight, her breasts struggled to be set free with each movement she made. Although he was a bit concerned about how she could breathe in it, he reminded himself she would be spending more time underneath his sheets than in the dress. Barely a few minutes into the movie, Scarlett was all over him like a rabid dog, taking his lips with the confidence only a woman who thought herself a goddess would. He matched her passion as his hands roamed all over her back in blind search of the hook on the zipper. By the time they got to his bedroom, neither of them had clothes on, and they breathed heavily, deep lust in their eyes. He laid Scarlett gently on the bed and then pulled back to take off his boxer shorts.
Just then, the hair on his nape stood, but he didn’t overthink it and attributed it to the sight of Scarlett in her lingerie. With curves in the right places and beautiful hair – he had a thing for thick and long, natural hair – Tarfa thought she had a body sculpted by the gods. Too bad he didn’t want anything serious, he said to himself as he leaned over to take her lips, his hands moving down to her thighs. The hair on his nape stood again, and this time he was sure there was someone behind him.
But before he could turn, he heard a woman’s voice say, “I need your help.” He turned immediately, unceremoniously breaking out of the kiss. That voice, he knew that voice. It was the same voice from the restaurant.
“What’s wrong?” Scarlett asked as she tried to pull him in again.
But he heard the voice again.
“I need your help.”
The voice was louder this time, angrier even. It was her, the beautiful psycho from the restaurant. Mirabel. How the fuck did she know where I lived and how did she enter my house? Tarfa thought to himself as he got off the bed, looking witlessly around the lowly-lit room. It was supposed to create a romantic ambience but now gave him chills. He turned on the switch.
“You didn’t hear that?” Tarfa asked, certain he wasn’t imagining things.
“Hear what? Is there someone else in your house?” Scarlett had an alarmed look on her face as she adjusted her panties and sat up. Tarfa continued walking around the spacious bedroom, unsure of what to do. His hard-on was gone and in its place, the strong urge to urinate borne from the trepidation that enveloped him. She couldn’t possibly be a ghost, he said to himself. She just couldn’t. Tarfa stood with his back to Scarlett, looking through the window that faced the gate.
“Tarfa, what is it? You’re beginning to scare me. Please, what is going on?” She asked further as she got off the bed and walked toward him. He turned around to face her, and that was when he saw it: a cloud of dew coming together to form a shape. He walked an inch closer, trying to understand what he was seeing. It continued to form, and within seconds, Mirabel sat on his bed, staring dead into his eyes. She had the same sleeveless blue dress from when he met her. Tarfa was shocked and confused but at the root of his feelings was fear.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he roared, but he didn’t move towards her.
Scarlett jumped at the sound of his voice, but Mirabel neither batted an eyelid nor did she flinch.
“Tarfa, who are you talking to?” Scarlett asked carefully, looking from him to the empty bed on which his gaze was intensely fixed.
“How can you not see her? She is sitting right there on the bed!” Tarfa cried out, unsure if he was running mad or in a scene from a horror movie. Something was definitely not right here.
“Look, if this is some sort of sick joke, you can count me out,” Scarlett said and hurried out of the bedroom.
A few minutes later, Tarfa heard the front door open and close. But he didn’t move nor take his eyes away from Mirabel.
“What do you want?” he begged, fighting the fear that threatened to swallow him once he realised there was nobody else at home except this figment of his imagination sitting comfortably on his bed.
“Orya made me snort cocaine with him and had me overdose on it for fun. The result of that fun is what is looking at you right now. It was my first time. I only did it because I wanted to please him. I didn’t think my pre-existing heart condition would eventually claim my life,” she said, her eyes growing glassy, turning almost translucent. It scared Tarfa even more. “He then lied to everyone about it. My parents are heartbroken because they think I had been doing drugs for a long time, which led to my death – a story Orya has done very well to sell to them.”
“What exactly is my business with all of this, for fuck’s sake?! Why aren’t you haunting him? Why me?” Tarfa questioned, agitation growing in his tone. He closed his eyes and sandwiched his head between his arms, wishing her away.
I’m definitely imagining things. This cannot be! I’m going crazy.
“This is very real, Tarfa,” Mirabel said as she got up from the bed and walked toward him. Only that she wasn’t walking but floating, her feet inches above the ground. “I have been hovering around, hoping I can meet someone to talk to, looking for a way to expose the truth. I didn’t think it was possible until you walked up to me in that restaurant. So, until you decide to help me expose him for the devil that he is, I’ll continue popping up like this until it eventually drives you insane,” she continued as her eyes stared intensely into his soul. It made his stomach run.
“And trust me, the concept of time doesn’t work over here, so I imagine I have it in abundance,” she added with a smirk. She stood barely inches away from a now-trembling Tarfa who was still rooted to the same spot. He opened his mouth to speak, but his phone’s abrupt ringing in the corner startled him. Almost immediately, she was gone, and the cloud of dew he recognised from before took its form in her place.
He sank to the floor and ignored the ringing phone. He didn’t know whether to go to the hospital or see a priest. After what seemed like hours on the floor, he crawled back into bed and shortly afterwards got enveloped in sleep, his phone still ringing.
“When you didn’t pick up, I thought something had happened to you!” his father’s voice thundered over the phone. Tarfa massaged his forehead, trying to soothe the hangover he currently suffered.
It was a Monday morning, three days since the incident occurred, and his only companion was the now-empty whiskey bottle still lying by his bedside back home. His father had been the one calling shortly after his encounter with Mirabel. When Tarfa eventually picked up, his father announced that he would be paying a visit to Makurdi. His father lectured at a private university in Abuja and was a busy man. He didn’t say what he was coming into Makurdi for, and Tarfa did not tell him what he was going through.
“I’m sorry, dad. I just had a lot going on at that moment and didn’t hear it ring.”
“Well, I was calling to tell you to have my room cleaned up. I’m coming into town in a week.”
Tarfa felt relief wash all over his body. He wasn’t going to go through all he was experiencing alone. He would wait until he saw his father, to tell him about his growing insanity.
“I’m currently at the office but will get on it once I am home.”
“That’s fine. Have a good day at work. I’ll see you soon, boy.” With that, the line went dead.
Tarfa tried to concentrate at work but kept zoning out every few minutes. He was more aware of sounds he usually didn’t notice, and every movement made him jittery. It became increasingly difficult for him to maintain his composure. Soon enough, Emmanuel threw curious stares his way. A stout man with a penchant for tight pants that came in vibrant colours, the project assistant wasn’t Tarfa’s favourite person to work with. And this had more to do with his self-righteous attitude to work than his eccentric sense of style. Tarfa knew he couldn’t afford to give him fodder for office gossip so he tried to maintain a calm disposition.
Tarfa pretended not to notice as he avoided eye contact with him. Suddenly, the office grew cold again, as it did on Friday. This time, it wasn’t as strange to Tarfa as it was the first time he noticed it. As he turned to pick up a folder to his left, he saw someone move from the corner of the office towards the door that led to the convenience. It was Mirabel, and she was clearly following through on her words. She was not going to let him be until he helped her. He dropped the folder and took out his phone to visit Orya’s Instagram page. Makurdi was a small space, and their internet community an even smaller one.
It took just two community Instagram pages and one page dedicated to celebrating Benue entrepreneurs for him to find the young man. He was quite the celeb, with a few thousand followers and loads of compliments on every photo he posted. He had a lot of photos of himself giving to the poor, visiting the orphanage, and giving food to the needy on the streets. Knowing he could have had a hand in Mirabel’s death made Tarfa unimpressed, and a bit repulsed. Orya’s recent photo was one of him and Mirabel smiling into the camera. Mirabel looked very happy in it and oblivious of her damned future.
“Always and forever my girl. Heaven gained an angel,” the caption read. The post was flooded with condolence messages with a few “say no to drugs” and “mental health awareness” hashtags in the comment section. He closed the post and called a friend who knew Orya’s family. It turned out that rumours were going around about her death not being from an overdose, and his family was doing all they could to kill the story. Mirabel’s family began to doubt the story as well. It was a welcome development as Tarfa wanted Mirabel to be gone as soon as possible.
There was a memorial service at her family residence at 4 pm later in the day. Tarfa thought about going but realised he had no idea how he could help Mirabel. But he decided to go anyway. He needed to be done with the creepy ghost and regain his sanity as soon as possible.
The hours passed and Tarfa left the office for the memorial. He stepped into his car only to find Mirabel sitting majestically in the passenger’s seat.
“Can you stop doing that?!” Tarfa said and jumped back, alarmed. He immediately turned around to check if anyone was close by and heaved a small sigh seeing that he had caught no one’s attention.
“How are you going to help me, Tarfa? It’s been two days of you doing nothing about it,” Mirabel said calmly, her eyes looking straight ahead. She looked human this time, with none of the blue fog around her. Tarfa made to speak but sighed as he closed his eyes as the absurdity of the whole situation hit him again – he was speaking to someone who wasn’t real.
“I’m not going away if that’s what you’re wishing in that pretty head of yours.”
“How do you expect me to help? Your autopsy seemed like the only thing that could have proven Orya was lying. But your blood work shows there was coke in your system, according to the news. There’s no case here except you have some uncontaminated blood lying around somewhere,” he added flippantly. She glared hard at him, and he recomposed himself.
“Just get to the memorial on time and find my cousin, Ben. He’s a chubby fellow, not hard to find in a crowd,” she said. Before Tarfa could ask any other thing, she vanished.
Frustrated, unsure about what he was walking into, Tarfa drove to her family home, where a growing crowd gathered in her honour. The compound was small, and this made the area choked with cars packed in every corner. Mirabel had been quite popular, he later learned. For a split second, he wanted to turn around and head home, but he thought against it when he remembered Mirabel’s threat of not allowing him any moment of respite. He walked into the compound and after exchanging pleasantries with a couple of familiar faces from his university days, found Ben.
Mirabel was right; Ben wasn’t hard to spot in a crowd. With a generous amount of flesh enveloping his huge frame, Ben’s almost quiet face was an amusing contradiction to his intimidating structure. Tarfa began to sweat even though the evening breeze was chilly. As he walked over to Ben who was walking away from the register where people gathered to put their names down, he thought of a thousand ways the conversations could go wrong and wondered how much damage Ben’s punch could cause to his face.
His pace slowed as he watched Ben walk to the back of a car to light a cigarette. A few seconds later, he stood inches from Ben, a cluster of thoughts in his head.
“Hey man, I’m sorry for your loss,” Tarfa said, thinking of how to broach the awkward subject. Ben nodded as he took a long drag of his cigarette, his eyes staring into space.
“Do you believe that story?” Ben asked after a minute of their shared silence didn’t provide Tarfa with the needed courage to state the purpose of his visit.
“Wh-what story?” Tarfa asked carefully.
“You know, I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that someone who gave me grief over my smoking, and made me eat more salads than goats, could have been nursing a coke habit. Not only is that an expensive habit to maintain, it just doesn’t make any sense.” He crushed the cigarette and brought out a new stick.
Tarfa took it as his cue. “Actually, that’s why I am here.”
Ben turned to look at him for the first time, a curious frown on his face. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve been having these weird dreams of late. I mean, I never met Mirabel while she was alive. But for some reason, I’ve been seeing her in my dreams, and she seems to think you can help figure out this mystery surrounding her death.” Tarfa drew in a deep breath as he braced up for an anticipated drama.
Who would believe me anyway? He thought. This is clearly a bad idea.
“Makes perfect sense.”
“It does?” Tarfa asked, doing little to hide his surprise. He was not prepared for this reaction.
“Look, ever since she di . . . passed away,” his voice grew soft, “I have been feeling her presence almost everywhere I go. At first, I thought it was just me missing her. Then, I woke up one morning and, for a few seconds, I could swear I saw her sitting at the edge of the bed staring at the painting she got me at a cheap art exhibition. Thinking about it now, I’m sure of what I saw. It was her.”
Tarfa’s mind went back to when he first saw her in his room.
“Do you think there’s foul play at work here?”
“Well, what I do know is my cousin was no coke head.”
Tarfa leaned on the car as he thought of the way forward. Mirabel wouldn’t let him be unless they found a way to fix this.
“How do you intend to prove that? It seems everyone has bought this story. Even the autopsy shows coke was found in her blood.”
A few minutes passed without a response from Ben. Then, suddenly, he looked up straight and crushed the cigarette with the heel of his foot, a smile creeping onto his face.
“Of course!” he said with renewed energy as he brought out his phone and opened his calendar. “Coke addicts can’t donate blood. And this, Mirabel did a week before she died. Excuse me, there’s somewhere I need to be.”
He placed a hand on Tarfa’s shoulder as if in gratitude, smiled, and took long strides back into the house.
Tarfa wasn’t sure how Ben planned to go about it, but he couldn’t be bothered. He wished him well as he left the compound.
Much to his relief, there was electricity when he arrived home, as he didn’t want to put up with the noise from powering the generator. He sighted his father’s Peugeot parked in the corner. He sat in the car, hoping that Mirabel would appear so that they could get things over with and he could get his peace back. She eventually appeared in his passenger seat.
“Thank you, Tarfa. You’ve steered him in the direction I wanted. Hopefully, the truth will be revealed soon.”
“As long as I don’t have to live another moment of this insanity, I’m more than happy to have helped. Now, please, go away.” Now his life could go back to normal.
She stared at him, her eyes telling more than her lips did. It seemed like there was a lot she wanted to say but thought against it.
“You definitely won’t be seeing me anymore,” she said and, poof, she was gone.
As he stepped out of the car, Tarfa felt several times lighter than he had been the past few days. The air was cool, but this time, it felt more comforting than creepy.
He strode into the house and heard his father’s voice, and then his grandfather’s voice. They sounded serious and were discussing in low tones. Tarfa wasn’t expecting to see Grandpa Tsar, at least not until the following week when he was supposed to travel with his father.
He walked in and followed their voices to the dining area. They had just finished lunch.
“Baba, u pande ve,” he greeted his grandfather good evening as he joined them at the table.
Grandpa Tsar dressed in a polo shirt with a stone-washed pair of jeans. It was his style for as long as Tarfa remembered. It was one of Tarfa’s favourite things about the old man. Mary, the housekeeper, brought an additional plate to serve him the pounded yam and genger soup they had been eating. She only came around the house once a week unless his father was in town, then she came every other day to cook and clean.
“How was your trip, dad?” Tarfa asked as he rolled a morsel of food.
“It was okay. You don’t look so good. What’s been going on with you?”
His grandfather had barely said a word to him, and his father looked at him with more concern than usual. What was going on? He wasn’t sure if it was the best time to bring up the ghost story but he needed to get it off his chest before it drove him crazy.
“I have had some of the craziest days in my life. I honestly don’t know how to say this without sounding like I’m losing it.” Tarfa watched as his grandfather’s face became curious, his eyes saying more than his lips attempted to.
“What exactly happened, son?” his grandfather asked, folding and unfolding his arms in one go. This unsettled Tarfa even more. Something told him his grandfather knew what he was about to tell them.
“A dead girl has been appearing to me for the past few days. I’m still here trying to convince myself these past days never happened and that, perhaps, I need to see a doctor or a priest.” Tarfa leaned back and waited for their reaction, half-expecting at least one of them to laugh or drive him to the hospital.
But they did neither. Instead, he watched his father and grandfather exchange a knowing look before turning to him.
“Fa, there is something you need—” his father started but Grandpa Tsar stopped him with a gentle tap on the shoulder. “Let me handle this.”
“Handle what, exactly?” Tarfa looked from his father to grandfather in confusion. He didn’t like where the conversation was heading.
“Get up, let’s take a walk.”
Washing his soiled hand, Tarfa stood and followed his grandfather quietly, curiosity taking control of his mind.
As they strolled out of the house, he watched his grandfather move towards the até, a round, open hut with thatch roofing held up by solid wooden poles, where his dad usually had drinks with his friends, or held important meetings.
“On a second thought, you might want to sit down for this one,” his grandfather said as they entered the hut and each settled into an agbajen, a local bamboo chair.
“Do you need a drink?”
“Baba, what is going on?” Tarfa asked quietly, ignoring the drink offer, something unheard of as drinking was their favourite pastime.
“What is so important that you’re taking this long to tell me?” He put in extra effort to remain calm.
Grandpa Tsar looked at Tarfa with a sympathetic smile for a long while before blurting out, “You’re gifted.”
“Okay, this isn’t exactly news, although it feels good to hear you say it out loud. But what does that have to do with anything?” Tarfa asked, wondering when his grandfather would get to the point. His patience was thinning out.
“Well, in this case, everything. You see, the day you clocked twenty-five, you unlocked a power within you that – depending on how you see it – might be a blessing, a curse or even both.”
“What do you mean?” Tarfa quietly asked as he moved to the edge of the wooden chair.
“Ghost Whispering. You weren’t hallucinating when you saw the dead girl from a few days ago. It is as real as real can be.”
Tarfa was momentarily shocked before he burst into laughter. Grandpa Tsar remained calm, observing him.
“This has to be some poorly thought-out joke, right?” Tarfa asked, his eyes desperately begging Grandpa Tsar to agree that it was.
“Many years ago, when your great-great-grandfather Agerzua was a young boy, he fell ill, and no remedy seemed to be working. According to how he recounted it to me, his father had gone around the village seeking a cure, and this was when he was told of a seer who was also a great healer. So, he took Agerzua there and much to everyone’s relief, he was healed.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“You see, Pa Agerzua didn’t have to pay a dime to see that his son’s health was fixed. It was free of charge; at least, that was what he understood. However, the seer used his dying breath to heal Agerzua, drawing out the poison from his body and in that process, he gave him the power to mediate between the living and the dead. He took Agerzua’s illness and gave him something that would remain in his lineage forever.
“It was only until a few weeks later that Agerzua started complaining about seeing people and hearing things that weren’t there. He was taken back to the seer’s compound, where the late seer’s wife told them what had truly occurred on that night of healing. More interestingly, she said the powers weren’t going to die with him but would be passed down to his son and his son’s sons. She revealed that these powers could only activate when they turned twenty-five, for it was around the same age her husband was blessed with the power of ghost whispering, among other gifts.
“For a brief period, Agerzua resorted to drinking, for he often said he didn’t have to deal with seeing things when intoxicated. But, he later adjusted to the new life and was believed to have helped many ghosts in his lifetime.”
Tarfa sat still, his jaw hung low as he stared into nothing. He couldn’t believe a word of all his grandfather had said. It felt like something from a movie. Surely, these kinds of things never happened in reality. This was one big joke.
“Your great-grandfather went through his journey when he turned twenty-five. I did too,” Grandpa Tsar continued.
“You see dead people too?” Tarfa asked in bewilderment, looking at the old man with new eyes.
“I haven’t seen any in the last year. But yes, I do. Your father lost his ability to see them shortly after your mother passed. We still can’t explain how that happened. But now, it is your turn to go through this journey.”
He leaned forward, sandwiched Tarfa’s palm with his, and said, “Lucky for you, you won’t have to go through this alone.”
Tarfa did not feel comforted. A few moments passed while several thoughts went through his mind. He was confused, amused, shocked, and a little scared of the future in light of what he had just learnt. Grandpa Tsar sat patiently, watching him take his time to process the information.
“So, if I understand this correctly,” Tarfa began, having found his voice eventually, “you’re telling me now that the ghost that had me moving crazily about town is the first of many to come?”
Grandpa Tsar nodded sympathetically.
“Fuck. I think I’ll take that drink now.”