- Bibiana Ossai
I walked down the stuffy aisle in the overflowing archaic chapel of St. Peters catholic church that is mounted at the epicenter of the city’s mainland. The pews glistened in the eerie atmosphere of the empty chapel. Before visiting the father in his wooden boxed confession room at the opposite end of the hall, beside the tall built Victorian doors, I decided to stop at the altar for a brief one-on-one dialogue with the crucified Jesus on the cross. There on the altar, I watched a tamed yellow light fall right before eyes on the red-carpet floor and when I looked up, I saw it was cast from the communion stained glass above my head. In a split second, the light bounced off the floor and pierced my heart in sharp brief sequences in the same exact manner blood is drawn from a person’s vein. Then tongues of fire arose from the ray of sunlight; they blossomed into a lotus fiery flower that chanted hymns of mass in crystal-harmonic voices; while I gaped at its surreal existence, the lotus flower spun itself into my mouth and slid down my esophagus.
It had been two weeks since Uncle Abem died in a car accident. The firefighters who arrived at the scene described the grotesque manifestation of his death as incomprehensible because there were no external wounds or blood on his body despite how brutally damaged the car was and the fact that the car was found at the bottom of a mountain in Abeokuta. “He looked like a baby asleep. Only, he will never see the light of another day” was what they said of his corpse.
About two months after my confession, I rest my back on my bed. On the chair in the right corner of my room beside the entrance door is a grumpy man, who chants vague words fit for no one to hear. He focuses his face on my now paralyzed body in my nightwear moist from sweat. He feels somewhat familiar yet cold. I call out to him but my words bounce back like they hit a force field. Tears trickle down my face like pebbles. My body crackles and spits spark of a thick fluid outward that takes the shape of a human. With every passing moment this figure forcefully comes out of me, it leaves a stab that punctures the micro vessels in my chest.
I look up to stare at the creature that floats above me; what I see is a mirror reflection of myself, the only difference is its devilish facial expression. This sight is incomprehensible. When our eyes encounter each other, it feels like I am dancing with a part of my soul. Before I utter a single word, it vanishes. I jerk my body in repetitive motion to its left side with force. Then close my eyes hoping this is all a dream and by the time I open them, I find my dad looking at me with a smile on his face on the chair few inches away from my bed.
“Dad? What are you doing there?”
“How long have you been sitting there?”
“Not long. I came in about a minute ago.”
“How long have I been asleep for?” I ask in a confused state.
“Were you sleeping? Heard you mumbling. So, I presumed you were meditating or needed some time to yourself.”
“Are you sure Dad because I think I just had a frightening dream.”
“Get some rest, my daughter. I am sure it is nothing for you to worry about.”
It is Saturday night, my brother - Bas is coming home for a visit. It has been almost a year since I last saw him after his move to the United States of America, but it is draining waiting for him to arrive at the airport. Meanwhile, my dad traveled to our hometown earlier today on a business trip.
Earlier on in the morning, as I escorted my dad down to the garage, there was a loud tingly aching sound in my ears. My Mom later suggested it was stress from the cooking I did the previous day. She comforted me with the words, “A little rest will sooth the pain.”
My mom, my older siblings, Bessy and Daniel along with myself are standing in front of the ‘Arrival’ pathway at the airport, where I catch sight of my long brother with a broad chest and a face like mine. It is hard to see the clothes he is wearing because of the crowd, nonetheless, I run forward in the same direction to make sure I don’t miss him and him, us. Jostling my way through the crowd; I spot him where he stands with his luggage and the scenery makes me smile. When I reach him, I wrap my hands around his waist and rest my head on his arm. It is nice to hold him in my embrace after a very long while.
Most of my childhood memories are with my brothers. We are tight-knit. They made my childhood exciting. One time, we created a live wrestling match in our Dad’s room – Bas and Daniel were the fighters, and I was the referee. Lately, it feels as though life is trying to create a distance between us, which is what makes this moment of being in the same space with Bas special. After our prolonged greeting, I tell him where the rest of our family are, and we go meet them back at the arrival pathway. Only this time around, I drag his luggage behind me. Everyone greets each other before we leave for the car park.
The tingly sound comes back to reverberate in my ears. It is persistent and continuous, but I ignore it and resist the pain. Bas takes the driver’s seat on our way back home. During the cruise, Bas reminisces about his hustle, the roads, infrastructures, and sceneries of the city before he left for America.
At around a couple of minutes past 7 pm, we arrive at College road, Fagba, Lagos – the connecting busy road to our estate. There is traffic. So, my two brothers, Bas and Daniel, bore us with their technical tales about games and movies. Out of nowhere, a mentally unstable young man wearing a tattered brown shirt and grey shorts begins to hit the hood of every car stuck in traffic. When he gets to our car, Mom keeps repeating to my siblings and I, “Ignore him, he will leave.”
The mentally unstable young man leaves, but the ringing in my ear increases the volume of its reverberations to swallow the voices of my family. When I tilt my head towards the left direction outside, I see him holding a green beer bottle in his hand. He is standing on the demarcation at the center of the road with his body facing our direction. Hawkers walk past him. But I look at his deluded existence, not knowing what he intends to do with the green beer bottle in his hand that is lifted in the air. He swings the bottle in the direction of our car. And in the blink of an eye, I hear the bottle collide with the vehicle's window. One-piece after the other – the glass comes crashing down on Bas. There are no words.
Bas's clasps his bloody face in his arms and cries, “Mommy! Mommy!! What happened?”
My mom, despite being taken aback, gets herself together. When we look outside, the man has disappeared. Mom switches seats with Bas who places his bloody head on Bessy’s thighs. I can feel his roaring pain. So, I close my eyes while fighting back the reverberating sound in my ear to pray that by some miracle, his pain subsides. All the while, Bessy is also in tears. When our eyes meet, she looks at me strangely. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I worry about my brother, who needs medical attention.
My Mom drives straight to the nearest hospital using the wrong lane of the road because of Lagos traffic after we were rejected assistance from the Fagba police station. In the hospital, Bas's blood-soaked shirt is the least of our concerns. One of the doctors on duty this night, treats his wound as an emergency. While Bas receives treatment, we wait in the waiting room where on the opposite part, our mom took care of the bills.
Later in the night after we return home, my sister comes to where I sit and asks, “How come you were calm after the whole incident?” Without knowing what to say, I just smiled at her.
Three weeks later, when I get up from my bed, I find myself in another realm. There are cars lined up on the left and right lanes of an infinite road, and I am standing in the center. From the corner of my eyes, a man in a security uniform runs towards me. Then the road changes from a tarred to muddy road. I try to run away before the man reaches where I stand but my legs are immovable. I hear the man shout out to me, “How did you end up here? Are you lost, kid? Are you lost?”
The cars begin to circle around me - forward, backward, and over me. One of the vehicles is about to crush my head and boom! My eyes open to the features of a yellow-painted room with books everywhere on a bed. This place is green. There is a garden, streams of water, birds chirping among other animals, trees of sweet fruits on every corner, and a swing made from thick green branches with colorful flowering plants. At the center of the garden, I join my friends seated on the ground where we laugh and chat about our silly fun memories. However, there is a tugging and disturbing feeling that warns me to leave the garden immediately.
“Let’s leave this place and go back home,” I say to them. They all follow me even though they complained about me being a party pooper.
We reach the gate and pass through it. Every one of us. As we are about to get to the road leading to our homes, more gates appear to obstruct us from leaving. The further we go, the smaller the gate becomes. A young yet wrinkly woman shows up in front of us out of nowhere when we reach the second to the last gate. The woman who has the spots of a cheetah on her neck wears a petite black leather dress and black stilettos with red neon nails reaching the crown of her head, and a long golden staff in her hands. She orders in a sly hissing tone, “Stop and sit on the fence, each and every one of you.” I dwell for about a minute on how her body moves in an awkward wine that slouches her back and limps her leg. I notice that she has a nasty plump cherry mouth that shoots out spit like an automatic gun.
My friends stop moving as if they have been hypnotized and they begin to climb the fence. One after the other, they climb like soldiers of war, slaves to the world around them. I do not follow, or at least I do not feel compelled like my friends to obey this strange woman. So, I scream at the top of my voice: “Don’t listen to this woman, she is just going to keep you here,” but no one listens to me.
Headstrong, I fight my way out of this place without the woman noticing; at least I do not think she sees me. I am about to pass through the last gate, but she appears in front of me and shoots black-colored dust at me from the staff in her hands. I escape it and run as far away from her as possible in the opposite direction of the gate. She laughs straight from her lungs like a possessed monkey. I wonder why until I realize I am cornered. She shoots colored dust at me again for the second time. My mouth begins to chant strange words retounen tounen nan moun k la paske mwen simonte pa pouvwa a manifeste nan mwen as all I can think about is finding my way back home. This chant sends the red-colored dust back to her and it transforms her into a chameleon. Everything else changes to black and white, including my friends. Eventually, they all turn to ash. With nowhere to go and the speed increase in the color change, I fear I am at my last until the cemented walls shatter. I enter into the open space without a second thought.
I am within and without inside a gigantic titanium bubble, while beneath my feet is a glass blocked floor that stops midway in the air. Below me is a dark abyss. When I look ahead, I see an exact replica of myself snoring in her sleep on my bed in what seems to be another dimension. This sight spooks the sanity out of me as I think to myself, how can I be in this space and there at the same time. And for the first time, I question my existence. This very moment, my stuffed teddy bear with his deep chocolate eyes now in a crimson shade with only his head turned to face me whispers to me in a small voice, “Your soul belongs to me now” and he pushes me out of the bubble into the abyss, but my hands are quick to hold onto a moving branch of a Cherry Blossom Bonsai Silk tree.
From where I hang on the tree branch, I can hear the palpitating rhythm of my heartbeat. My teddy peeps from the edge of the glass platform at me with his tongue stuck out. Right then, one by one, my fingers begin to lose their grip on the tree branch so, I switch my hands but they both slip away and toss me into the abyss below. As I fall to my nonexistence, I catch a glimpse of my teddy bear waving at me before my eyes close out in fear. Luckily, my body drops on what feels like tiny hands. These hands hold me and help me float back upward. When I open my eyes, there is a glowing rainbow light that serves as a protective shield around me. I can also hear the clashing of tiny voices coming from different directions. However, it is when I look up that I see a winged creature with thick legs, a tiny waist and wide hips in an amethyst gown and a yellow halo above her head flying in front as if she is leading a pack of others like herself. At the bottom of where her presence graces, there are tiny shimmery golden powder that accompanies her. I realize the hands carrying me belong to creatures of my dreams. The ones who keep at bay my own murderer that hides inside my shadow.
Bibiana Ossai is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing program at Long Island University, Brooklyn where she was awarded the Marilyn Boutwell Creative Writing Award for Fiction. She is the winner of the Equinox Journal 2019 poetry contest. Her works appear in The River, The Book Smuggler's Den, Refractions (iō literary online journal), Sad Girls Literary Blog, and The Republic Journal. She is a writing tutor at LIU Brooklyn and volunteers her time as a prose reader for Athena Review.