Death was not an end, Chizu now knew that. It wasn’t a beginning either. It was a ubiquitous entity that followed you everywhere. It lurked in dark shadows and uttered its words in muted whispers. It accused. It judged. And it condemned. Death was in the house. It lived with them. It occupied every room. It lived—inside of her. She felt him, her dead son, right inside of her. Right inside her mind. He had taken a place inside her mind and she could not expel his onerous presence.
Ifee would not believe her. He was losing patience with her. He still thought she was imagining things and he was beginning to think that she was losing her mind.
The bathtub tap that had been turned on in their private bathroom and left to flood the bedroom just last week; he would not believe her even when she insisted over and over again that she had switched off that tap after her bathing and before leaving the house. Then the buttons of his brand new French suit which had been clipped off the suit; he refused to believe that it hadn’t been her who would so such a senseless, malicious thing. And he had strongly rebuked her when she’d reminded him that Jamuike had had the penchant for plucking buttons off clothes. Then just last night when the burner had been turned back on under the fresh pot of soup she’d prepared and the soup had burned to black nothingness, he had angrily rebuffed her claims that she had turned off the burner after cooking.
He said that she was taking things too far. He rebuffed all her explanations. He didn’t want to hear her; he didn’t want to understand her. No one would understand her.
The call echoed from a faraway distance. Then another came—louder, more urgent.
Chizu stumbled out of her reverie and stared up at Nkiru, their new housekeeper. She was dressed in one of her usual snug Lycra dresses, she vaguely noted. She was in her early twenties, not pretty but pretty endowed. That had worried her at first, having to hire such a physically accomplished young woman. But her distant cousin who’d brought her over had assured her that Nkiru was a good girl and a born again Christian. They weren’t assurances in themselves but she had accepted them.
“I am back from the market.” Nkiru awkwardly filled the long silence. It worried her how absentminded Madam usually was. But they’d told her that she’d yet to get over the loss of her only son, so she prayed every day for her.
“That is good.” Chizu gave a vague smile. Nkiru looked at her with an odd expression on her face most of the time. She supposed she thought her weird. Her thoughts didn’t matter. “Wash the meat and start cooking it. Then blend the ogbono and crayfish and slice the vegetable, I will come and make the soup when everything is ready.” She instructed.
“Yes ma.” Nkiru dipped both knees before leaving her.
Chizu got up from the L-shaped sectional sofa. She needed a pain reliever, her head hurt. Like it did each time her mind wandered. She crossed the living room and followed the connecting door into the hallway. She walked stiffly down the long foyer, as she now did since her encounter with Jamuike. Ifee continued to insist she had imagined his presence. But she knew better. She knew what her eyes had seen—and they continued to haunt her, his words.
She opened the door, walked through it and then stood transfixed for the briefest second. Then Chizu stumbled back against the solid wood door, a whimper trembling out of her mouth as her legs buckled and she slithered to the floor.
Jamuike raised his head and slowly angled it until his eyes were on her. “Hello, mummy.” He let go the long heeled sandal in his hand topple to the rug. “I’ve been waiting for you. I am playing. I couldn’t find my toys, so I made new playthings for myself.” He gave her a sweet toothy smile. “Do you want to play with me, mummy?”
“No.” Chizu whimpered and crushed her knees against her chest. “No, you cannot be here. You cannot be here.” But he was and he had carved up almost all of her shoes. Straps, buckles and insoles lay apart from the distorted skeletons of her brand new foot wears.
“Don’t you want to play, mummy? I have many playthings here.” Jamuike picked the gladiator sandal he had delightedly chopped off its wire-like straps. “Look at this one. Is it not fine? Come, mummy. Come, let’s play.”
“No!” Chizu rejected with vehemence.
“You don’t want to play with me, mummy?” Jamuike dropped the sandal and hung his head. “Why? We used to play together before. You used to play with me.”
“Stop it! Stop talking to me! Stop speaking!” Chizu fought with terror. With anguish. With guilt. “You can’t be here. You are not here!”
“But I am here, mummy. I am here to play with you.” Jamuike rose off the rug with one swift move. “I came to play with you, mummy.” He held out his hand. “Come play.”
His small hand seemed to stretch towards her. Chizu staggered up, shook her head even as she cringed against the door. “No! Stop this, Jamuike. Why are you doing this to me? Why are you doing this to me? Why are you tormenting me?” Her tears poured heedlessly, yet she saw him through her blurred vision. “Why won’t you let me be? Please, why won’t you let me be?”
“Because you are my mummy and you should have protected me. You should have saved me.” Jamuike’s eyes glinted with a sudden fierce light. “Will you save me now, mummy? See.” He raised his left hand with the fabric scissors on it and tilted it towards his neck. “I want to cut myself, mummy. Scissors is dangerous, isn’t it? I want to stick it into my neck.” He pushed the shears together and pushed the sharp tips against his jugular. “Save me, mummy. I am going to hurt myself. Please save me.”
Chizu stared at him with horrified eyes. The sharp end of the scissors glistened against his jugular. He wants to hurt himself, her heart cried. He is dead and cannot hurt himself, her mind reminded. “Drop the scissors, Jamuike.” She said, dropped her trembling hands from around her body and took one step forward. “Drop that scissors. You should not play with scissors. You will hurt yourself. Please, drop it.”
“I won’t drop it, mummy. Come take it from me.” His eyes burned like smouldering embers as he watched her creep forward. “I will push it in, mummy. I want to push it in.”
“No, don’t do it!” Chizu scampered forward and then staggered to a stop when she stood in front of him. He is not real, her mind told her. He is your son, her heart encouraged. She held out her hand. “Please give me the scissors, Jam.”
“Take it from me, mummy.”
Chizu hesitated. She fought with the voices in her head. But she had to save him. That was what mothers did, protect their children. Trembling, she reached out her hand, aimed for his own that held the scissors against his throat. She closed her hand over his—and touched nothing. Just air.
“Jesus!” The gasp tore out of her even as she stumbled back. She could see him but she couldn’t touch him. Chizu tried again to clasp him—his hand, his shoulder, his sneering face. Each time she touched emptiness. Because he was dead, a ghost. She was seeing the ghost of her son. A wild scream quivered up her throat and pitched out of her mouth.
The scream pierced the air, hissed past the door and echoed through the house.
Ifee was just entering the living room when he heard the scream that cut through the atmosphere like a stabbing knife. His heartbeat jumped and tumbled. The hairs on his back rose and stood at an alert. Then exasperation shook off the instantaneous fear. It was happening again. She was being haunted again. But after this, it will come to an end. That he was certain of.
“Where are you going?” He asked Nkiru who had leapt forward.
The housekeeper stopped halfway towards the connecting door. “To see what is wrong with Madam, sir.”
“I will attend to her. Go back to the kitchen.” Ifee ordered and strode past her.
He found her in the middle of their bedroom, talking to herself whilst vehemently demonstrating and crying at the same time. There was a heap of massacred shoes and sandals on the floor right in front of her.
“Chizu.” He quietly called.
Chizu flung her head around. “I can’t touch him, Ifee. He is here but I can’t touch him.”
Jamuike has retreated into the shadows and now watched the scene with malevolent eyes.
“I mean, he was here. Just now.” Chizu’s eyes darted around. He wasn’t to be seen anymore. But she felt him. She felt his sombre presence. “He is still here. I can’t see him anymore but he is still here.” She raised a tear-stained face to Ifee. “I know you don’t believe me. I know you think I am losing my mind. But I’m not. He did this. Destroyed all my shoes.”
Ifee’s gaze dropped to her hand.
Chizu followed the movement of his eyes. The scissors was in her left hand. Her eyes filled even as she raised them back to hold his. “I picked the scissors when he dropped it. He taunted me with it. He made me reach out— and then, I couldn’t touch him. He cut all my shoes to pieces. He did, not me. He is so different. So—” she wanted to say evil, but she couldn’t. He was her little son—had been her little son. “Why won’t you believe me? Why won’t you see that I am not imagining all these or making them up?” She stared desperately at Ifee. Implored him to believe her. “I am not lying. I won’t lie against him. I won’t—” she broke off with a sob.
“It’s all right.” Ifee walked across the room, avoided the heap of ruined foot-wears as he took her into his arms. She was trembling. Her entire body quavered against his. “It’s all right, Chizu. I know you are not lying. I know that you are—” Ifee swallowed, sought the right word. “I know that you are disturbed. That his death is still disturbing you.” He gently pushed her backward. “I spoke to Onwa about it and he has a solution. He gave me something that will help.” He slid one hand into the pocket of his trousers and retrieved the talisman. “This will help. You are to wear it. Just wear it and you will not again be haunted by him.”
Chizu stared at the talisman. It was a seashell attached to a black rope. “Onwa gave you this?” At Ifee’s nod, she frowned. “What if it doesn’t work? This can hardly stop him, Ifee.”
“It will work.” Ifee circled his hands around her neck and clipped the talisman there. “Onwa said that this will work and I know it will. Don’t fret anymore. You’re all right now. You won’t see him again.” He soothed, rubbing his hand up and down her back.
“No. No, I wouldn’t.” She could no longer feel him. All of a sudden, she couldn’t feel that heavy loom that has been hanging over the house in the last few weeks. Chizu touched the thin thread-like rope around her neck and a breath of relief shuddered through her.
“SHE has acquired a protection against you.”
Jamuike raised eyes that were cool with cynicism that should be alien on one that youthful. “Tobi, one cannot be protected from their conscience.”
“Are you her conscience then?”
“I am the one she sent forth as a fitting beast for sacrifice.”
Tobi was momentarily quiet. Then she spoke again, her voice tainted with puzzlement as she asked. “What is it you seek, Jamuike, death?”
“Justice.” Jamuike’s voice was as toneless as his eyes were now blank. “However it comes.”
“His time will come. When it does, he will be served the same dish he served me.”
That momentary silence passed again. “I am afraid for your soul, Jamuike.” Worry toned down the lilt of her voice. “Have you no wish to go into the light?”
“The light?” Jamuike looked towards the gleam of it. Above them, beyond the sheets of skies and clouds, the shadow of that unending light crept through. “The One who dwells in the light does not want our lives cut short, Tobi.” He felt certain of that knowledge. “He does not permit that anyone, but Him, terminates life. He is the beginning of life and the end of it. He curses anyone who would dare presume to act against His sole authority over it.” He lowered his gaze again and fixed it on Tobi. “It is not me who condemns them, Tobi. It is Him. For He is the voice of the conscience.”
“WHO God has blessed, no man can curse.” Annuli chanted with a loud laugh as she climbed down the Range Rover Sport 2016 SUV.
Was it God then who had blessed them? Chizu wondered silently, sliding out from behind the steering wheel and eyeing the magnificent duplex house with done up in limestone exterior. Already Ifee talked about them buying a house such as this one—or even bigger and better. Nothing was ever enough anymore. There was always something bigger, or better.
Aloud she joined in the boisterous laugh. “Indeed, no one can bring down he whom the Lord himself has lifted high.”
Behind them, a dog growled and then barked.
Annuli swept around, gave another quick laugh. “It is Scotty. I wonder how he came to be out here; he’s usually inside his crate. Scotty, come.” She whistled. “Come, boy.”
The black with patches of brown short-legged dachshund did not move. It growled and barked more menacingly, his dark eyes aimed in their direction, yet not quite on them. Chizu felt a sudden chill. She cast a quick glance about them. Seeing nothing, she rubbed her arms and the spate of goose bumps that had risen over them. Then unconsciously, her hand trailed upwards to curl around the talisman hidden amongst her twist bead neck-piece.
“Oh, maybe he is hungry. He can be quite temperamental when he is hungry.” Annuli gave up on trying to call the dog and turned. “I will have to reprove Akin strongly. Udeh would have been totally displeased if he had been the one to return now and find him outside.”
Jamuike stared from the departing women to the little dog. His mouth pursed in pensive contemplation as he retraced his steps towards the petrified-eyed barking dog. He crouched beside it. “You can see me, can’t you? Can you hear me too?” He looked at the long dual-coloured head. “Keep quiet. Stop barking.”
The dog growled one more time and then switched his noises to low pitiful whimpers.
“Imagine that, you can hear me too.” Jamuike angled his neck and observed the two who had crossed into the flower-hedged walkway and aiming for the big half glass, half wood door. He returned his gaze on the dog, looked into its eyes and commanded. “Go after her. Bark and growl at her. Go. Now.”
The dog charged forward, barking and growling as its short sprinting paws pounded on the stone-paved driveway.
Chizu spun around at the loud cries and shrieked at the sight of the dog charging towards her. “No! No! Get away from me!”
“Scotty! Back off! Back off at once!” Annuli ordered, flinging her handbag at the frenziedly barking dog. “What has come over you? Get out of here now! Akin! Come get this little beast!”
“Oh no!” Chizu galvanised into motion, sweeping past the barking animal and not caring that she shouldn’t be running when a dog was barking at her. She yanked open the door of her car, jumped behind the wheel and kicked the car into motion, gunning towards the gates of the duplex house at a speed that alarmed the security guard and had him swinging open the gates.
Jamuike strolled to the dog who now has switched to low whimpers and repetitive yowls as its mistress continued to rebuke it. “Good dog.” He whispered into its ear. “Good dog.”
The dog whined and quivered under the stroking hand that wasn’t quite touching its withers.