While he lived in that other sphere, he did not live long enough to know in depth the guilt of wrongdoing. In this sphere where his life being violently terminated had condemned him to, the being that he was now refused to recognise that guilt.
“You are not meant to take life. None of us have a right to.”
“And I did not take it.”
“But you almost did.” Tobi’s voice accused, albeit quietly. “You sent down that chandelier light with the intent to kill him.”
“But it did not kill him.” His eyes smouldered with an impenitent glint. “He jumped back and saved himself.”
“And if he had died?”
He had thought about that possibility—after he had scaled out of harm’s way. “Then he would know what it is to have death served to you before you were ready for it.”
“You’re eaten up by your crave for vengeance.” There was no judgment in Tobi’s voice now and her eyes gleamed with compassion as they beheld him. “I fear for what will become of you.”
“I fear nothing anymore, Tobi.” Once he used to be afraid of the dark and afraid of the cane when daddy threatened him with it. “There is nothing more to fear. I exist, yet I do not live.”
“There is life beyond the light.” Tobi reminded.
“I want the life they took from me. I want the world they cast me out of. I want the joy I once knew. I want an end to this fury and bitterness and helplessness!” He kicked up a ball of solid cloud and sent it flying into the atmosphere. “I want what I once had. What I once knew.”
“It is gone. That life that you knew, it is gone.” Because she understood his grief, and shared it, Tobi lowered limply to the stirring clouds. “That life is gone, Jamuike. But I think we can have another. I am exhausted of this existence. I want to leave it.”
He turned and eyed her. “What keeps you then?”
“The same thing that keeps you.” Tobi looked about them. “The very same thing that keeps us all prisoners here—a life untimely cut short and a spirit wrought with un-forgiveness.”
“So you do not forgive them too, they who cast you here?”
Tobi thought of them. And she felt afresh the stab of sorrow and heat of anger. “I am unable to. Hate, clothed in fury, lies as a stumbling block. But I am fatigued. I want to see the light. I want to dwell in the light.”
The light is heaven. That was how his mother had taught him. Heaven was filled with light. He was not certain he wanted the light—not without his justice at least.
“You think we will not be welcomed into the light if we seek justice ourselves, Tobi?”
Tobi raised her eyes to gaze sadly at him. “Is it justice you seek, Jamuike, or vengeance?”
“I don’t know the difference.” He confessed after a thought. “I don’t think I care to know. They took my life, snuffed it out of me and cast me off the earth. I want them to pay. I want them to pay for their evil against me.”
“He says—‘vengeance is mine’—the One who dwells in the light.”
“Then if vengeance is his, I demand he brings it upon them who have done this to me. To us.” Jamuike cast his furious eyes heavenward, towards the sheets that cloaked off another existence and cried. “If yours is vengeance, then take it on my behalf for I shall not give up my quest for it. Let the One who alone gives life and can take it, avenge the innocent life that was taken without cause. Let him who alone are God arise and war in my stead.”
A roaring rumble was heard and it echoed down from the sheets above.
IFEE stumbled out of his sleep. He did not know what had woken him but it was as if he had heard a call of his name. A call from a piercing resonate voice.
He peered into the semi darkness. There was something in the dark. He hated to admit it, but since the crashing chandelier incident yesterday, he had begun to perceive the presence of something he could not see.
He was there, their little son. Their dead son. He was there in the dark. Ifee knew.
He would see Onwa about it. Dibia must have a permanent solution to rest his soul. He was dead and should rest among the dead.
Ifee slid back to his side, glanced at Chizu sleeping beside him. She’d taken a sleeping pill to induce sleep. She did most nights. He would too if he did not prefer to remain on the alert. A watchman never went to sleep with both eyes closed. That was the code of the brotherhood.
He closed his eyes. But whilst he drifted back to sleep, Jamuike watched in the semi dark room and beside him, a being clad in a black robe with a sceptre of judgment, watched too.
MONEY was exalted as the answer to all life’s wants but foolhardy humanity failed to note, in Chizu’s opinion, that it wasn’t the answer to lost contentment. Whilst she had no money, she had a contentment that was rooted in the peace of heart she possessed. Now having lost that peace, no matter how much money she had, and she was willing to spend, she could not reacquire that contentment.
She was dissatisfied. She literally possessed all that she had ever dreamed of, and much more, and still she was dissatisfied.
Chizu stared at the rack of designer handbags with that gloomy expression of dissatisfaction etched on her face. She did not need a new handbag. She did not even want one. But she needed to spend the money that seemed to flow in an unceasing bounty. Who knew that one could ever find money fatiguing?
She would start an NGO, one focused on charitable aids, she spontaneously decided and studied disinterestedly the Rebecca Minkoff bag. That would keep her occupied and provide her a place to sink all the money Ifee suffocated her with. She would even triple the donation she’d promised the orphanage home come next Sunday. Surely that would bring the children joy?
She was still unable to conceive. The gynaecologist said there was nothing the matter with both of them. They were perfectly healthy and capable of conceiving naturally. She was only to relax and let go every worry. That was his recommendation.
Let go of every worry, how possible was that? Chizu dumped the Rebecca Minkoff and picked the pastel pink meli-melo tote bag.
“Is that what you sold me for—to own new handbags?”
The tote bag slithered off her hand. Chizu spun around, not paying attention to the apologies of the sales girl who’d been standing with her and her haste to retrieve the bag.
He was back. Back staring at her with hate-filled eyes and wearing those clothes from his last day on earth. “No.” She answered his query. His scorching eyes demanded an answer.
“Ma?” The salesgirl stared bewilderedly at her. “You don’t want this one?”
“If it wasn’t for handbags, for what then did you sacrifice my life, mummy?”
“Nothing. For Nothing.” He would never forgive her. Chizu sensed it and her eyes pooled.
“You don’t want anything anymore, ma?” The salesgirl was even more bewildered and a trifle apprehensive for the lady was not looking at her at all. But was staring ahead, like she was seeing, and speaking, to someone else along the aisle. Only there was no one else on that aisle but the two of them.
“Greed.” Jamuike accused. “You and he were greedy and you sacrificed me to feed your insatiable wants.”
“I did not know.”
His voice vibrated and the force of it shook her. “I did not know.” She swore and then flinched when his eyes smouldered with fiery storm. “He told me you will be all right. He said you will be fine at the end.”
“Do I look fine to you now, mummy?” Jamuike demanded. “Do I look like I am all right?”
“No.” Chizu shook her head. Her son was not all right. He never again will be.
“Madam, are you all right?” The salesgirl cast a frantic glance about them. Fear made her take an involuntary step backward. “Is everything all right, ma?”
“Remember what you used to tell me, mummy—‘a naughty boy must be punished’?”
She remembered. She told him that before she had to punish him for any of his misdeeds.
“You were right, mummy. There is punishment for every wicked act. Your judgment day has come, mummy.” And he turned and started walking away from her.
“Jamuike!” Chizu scampered after him. But his small feet were gliding in the air, not actually walking, and they moved faster than her own running feet.
SHE banged on Nkem’s front door. When she could not catch up with him, she’d gotten into her car and driven off, not certain which way she was headed. During the drive down, she’d sensed he was her companion in the car. A silent, watching companion. How she’d driven down without slamming into another vehicle, Chizu could not fathom.
It was Nkem’s first daughter who opened the door.
Chizu grabbed the teenage girl in a frantic grasp. “Adaobi, where’s your mother? Where’s Nkem?”
The startled girl pulled back and called out. “Mummy! Mummy!”
“Nkem!” Chizu burst towards the rooms. She collided with Nkem at the door adjoining to the bedrooms’ hallway. “Nkem.” Chizu grabbed her and held on tightly. “Judgment has come for me. Judgment has come for me, Nkem, and I cannot escape it. Ewo! What have I done? What have I done?”
“Judgment?” Nkem gaped at her. Then noticing her violent trembling, she pulled her back to the living room and to a seat. “What happened? What did you do?”
“Tell her.” Jamuike ordered.
“Oh God!” Chizu whirled around. He was directly behind her. Something about his stare was relentless. “I will tell her. I want to tell her. I cannot bear it anymore.”
“Tell me what? Who are you talking to?” Nkem yanked her around to face her once more. “What is wrong with you, Chizu? You’re scaring me.”
“It’s Jamuike.” Her heart wept. And so did her eyes.
Nkem’s heart lurched. Fear made her tone sharp. “What about Jamuike, Chizu?”
“We killed him, Ifee and I.”
A gasp tore out of Adaobi. And only then did Nkem remember her daughter was still present.
She spun around and sharply rebuffed, shaken and trembling herself. “Get inside! And keep that tongue of yours locked in your mouth or I’ll slice it off myself.”
Adaobi fled the fury in her mother’s eyes.
Nkem returned her gaze on her younger and only sister. She wasn’t quivering anymore. She looked oddly calmly. Calm like one resigned—to their fate. “Chizu, what are you saying?” Nkem asked, her eyes filling.
“Ifee came to me, one evening after he returned from Onwa’s place.” Chizu began her narration. “It was seven months after he’d lost job and four months after he’d become Onwa’s boy. You know how desperate we were for money in those days. He said Onwa knew how we can be blessed with immeasurable wealth. He said it would only take a small sacrifice on our part and neither us nor our generations to come would ever again want for anything.”
“WHAT do you mean it would only take Jam?” Chizu stared at Ifee in their ill-lit shabby bedroom. Their son lay on his side on the bed covered with worn sheets.
“That is what Onwa said. He said it is something simple and that once done, we will never want again.” Ifee’s voice coaxed. “We cannot go on like this, Chizu. We can barely feed. What we ate this evening, you begged of your sister. Others cannot continue to sustain us.”
“You will soon find another job, Ifee.” His suggestion unsettled her. “Let us be more patient.”
“And when I do, what next? We go back to surviving on a salary that barely lasts half the month? No.” Ifee rejected the thought, and counsel. “That is not living, Chizu. That is not the life we should want for our children. We can barely feed Jamuike. He goes to a public school instead of a private nursery school. Who sends their children to public schools these days?”
Parents of other under-privileged children her heart responded. Aloud, she asked the one thing that scared her. “But what will happen to him, Ifee? What does this sacrifice entail? Will he be fine? I want nothing to happen to him.”
“Of course he will be fine, Chizu.” Ifee reached for her hand and squeezed it in assurance. “Onwa only requests that I bring him on my next visit. He will return with me, Chizu, fear not.”
“HE did return with him but he was not the same.” Chizu’s voice was empty of all emotions. Vacant, as her haunted eyes were. “I knew the sacrifice would cost him his life, deep in my heart, I knew it. Yet I refused to acknowledge what was a glaring truth. I blinded my eyes to it. When he became ill and thereafter, died, I told myself it was malaria that killed my son. But it was not malaria that killed Jamuike, Nkem. It was Ifee’s and my greed. We wanted wealth and we bought it with the life of our only son.”
“Ewo!” Nkem stared at her sister in shock, unable to believe the tale her ears were hearing. “Chizu, tell me this is a lie. Biko, tell me that this is one of your jokes.”
“He is here.” She felt his presence more than ever. “He is waiting for me.”
“Who is waiting for you?” Nkem grabbed her and shook. As if she wanted to shake her out of a hallucinating state. “Who is here, Chizu?”
“Jamuike. He has brought judgment upon me.”
“No! What are you saying, Chizu? Only God can judge.”
“Then it is God judging me.” Chizu rose. “I have to go. When I’m gone, remember to blame no one. I am only paying for my sin.”
“God forbid! Don’t speak of dying!” Nkem rebuked. “Let us go and see Pastor. He can help you. He will pray for you. You will make penance. My God! This cannot be happening.” Nkem still fought with the reality that was facing her.
“No one can help me.” Chizu looked at her sister and wished she had been more like her. More hardworking. More independent-minded. Less wealth-conscious. “Don’t blame Ifee, Nkem. I gave my consent freely. I could have run with my son but I too hungered for that life of wealth and affluence. I too wanted the satisfaction of having unending money. Now—” A single tear slipped. “Now, there is no satisfaction. No peace. No joy.”
“I can’t yet believe what you are telling me, Chizu. My mind cannot grasp or comprehend it.” Nkem shook her head, willing this horror away from her.
“Love your children better than I did my only child, Nkem.” Chizu counselled and then with a sad, vacant smile, left her.
“Chizu, wait!” Nkem ran after her.
But she got into her car. “Let us go home, Jamuike.” She murmured and started the car, reversing without looking into the street.
That truck driving past the un-tarred street, honked loudly and its driver cursed at her for her carelessness. But Chizu did not care. She feared death no longer. Not when it her closest companion.