Christopher came back and found his door open. Ajar. He froze on the spot. His neighbor, Oga Emmanuel, looked from him to the door.
“Didn’t you tell me the door was locked?” Oga Emmanuel asked, the stick he bore in his hand lowering to the ground.
“It was,” Christopher said. “I swear.”
“Looks like you’ve gotten yourself drunk again,” Oga Emmanuel said, pointing his flashlight in front of him as he walked away.
Christopher contemplated following his neighbor, but he heard something move inside his apartment.
“It’s like someone’s in there,” he said, catching up to Oga Emmanuel.
“In your own house?”
“You said you lost the key.”
Christopher looked at his fingers. Dirt was still lodged beneath his nails from upturning mud in search of his keys. “Yes. I did.”
“Does anybody else have a spare?”
“No. It’s a single key.”
“Then go and sleep, Chris. I don’t think you’re well.”
Christopher watched as Oga Emmanuel tapped on his door and bolted it shut after his wife let him in. The compound descended into as much darkness as a gibbous moon could allow. And as much silence as the animals feeding on someone’s trash could permit. At this time, generator sets had long been turned off. Men’s wives didn’t let them leave when a neighbor knocked to ask their help in breaking their door lock. And people were crossing the threshold from slumber to dream.
Was Christopher also dreaming? Did he not just hear someone or something move inside his supposed-to-be-locked apartment? Was a bottle of small stout suddenly enough to make him begin to hear things?
The gate creaked as he stepped outside the compound. The air here was different. It came from houses packed together and stale water in potholes and spilling refuse.
Christopher found his phone and dialed Kola’s number. It rang out the first two times before the guy picked up.
“How far?” Kola’s voice sounded exhausted, but not the kind that came from a long day’s work.
“Wussup? Are you in my house?”
“Are you okay?”
Christopher hung up. Kola wasn’t the one in his apartment. He’d have to apologize to the guy later for interrupting his lovemaking with such a ridiculous question. He walked back into the compound and found the stick Oga Emmanuel came with to help him break his lock. It was half Christopher’s height and more than half of Oga Emmanuel’s. With a newfound bravery springing his stride, he made for his apartment. Whoever was in there was about to get their jaw reshaped.
He nudged the door with the stick. It whistled on its hinges. The darkness beyond the curtain seemed impermeable. The light from his small phone braved the task though, cutting a slim path into the void. From the door he directed the stream of light around the parlor, turning in different angles. The calendar, the wall clock, the chair, the window. All seemed to be in their natural positions. He listened but only silence echoed back. When he stepped inside the house, he focused the light on the doorknob. The keyhole was devoid of key. How the fuck did this door get unlocked?
He opened the kitchen door quickly and pointed the flashlight and stick in front of him. He ruffled a curtain and did the same. The bathroom door, his room’s door, dirty clothes in a pile, cartons, trash, wardrobe, shoes. All were displaced to make sure nothing was behind or beneath.
He then checked the windows to be sure they were properly locked.
He finally let out a heavy breath and relaxed into the sofa. Maybe whoever came in here had snuck out and jumped over the low fence into the next compound. Or maybe there wasn’t someone in here at all. Maybe when he came back and tried kicking the door open, it did come undone without him knowing. So, when he went to call Oga Emmanuel, the wind pushed it ajar. The sounds he heard were just his mind playing tricks on him. He probably drank more beer than he could remember.
Christopher unplugged his mini freezer and used it to wedge the door. He propped the stick against the wall, took off his shirt, and stretched himself out on the couch. Mosquitoes made their way to his ear and bare skin. He wondered how the useless things located him in this menacing darkness, and soon enough was in the throes of a nightmare.
Christopher was in a boxing ring that stood at the center of a coliseum. The spectators shifted between medieval Romans to modern day WWE fans, but the hunger for blood was the same across eras. What was it about Saturday Night RAW that always crept its way into his dreams?
He swore he could see his mother’s face in the crowd. Then his sister’s. His uncle’s. Wait, his whole family was there. They all had this sad look on their faces. As if the next time they’d see him again would be in the afterlife.
Christopher’s opponent soon mounted the ring. He had a shield on one hand and a baton on the other. He was clothed from head to feet in black. Black beret, black shirt with inverted Vs on both shoulders, black trousers, and black shoes; clothes typical of Nigerian police officers.
The crowd jeered. The ground shook. So much ado for this elderly man Christopher could take with one blow. He had beaten the man before; he could do it again.
A few days back, Christopher’s sister had come to him crying with black around her eyes and fresh welts on her skin. The policeman she was dating had hit her again. Christopher and the other family members had warned her to stop seeing him but she wouldn’t listen. How couldn’t she see that he didn’t love her and his promise of marriage was only so he could keep getting access to her bed? If love blinded her eyes, did it also numb her skin to his beatings?
Christopher had asked around and found that the policeman had gotten a woman pregnant in Port Harcourt before he was transferred to Lagos. He also had a wife and child in Cross River. When Christopher told his sister, Abigail, she looked at him like he wasn’t saying anything she didn’t know. He swore to wash his hands off anything concerning her affair, until she came to him that afternoon. He took one look at her and fires illuminated his eyes.
Christopher found the policeman in his compound waiting to use the public bathroom, a bucket of water in his hand and a brown towel tied around his waist. He pushed the man to the ground. The fall almost exposed his loins. The officer made an effort to come back at Christopher but a jab to the chin sent him back to the ground. Before the people in the compound could intervene, Christopher had separated the man from his towel, pulled his own belt, and returned enough strokes to the man’s naked skin to compensate for the ones on his sister’s.
Christopher was picked up later that day by the officer and his colleagues. But before nightfall, money had exchanged hands and he was released. He had already humiliated the officer to his satisfaction so he wasn’t bothered about the bribe.
Before Christopher left the station that day, though, the officer looked him in the eyes and said, “You think your sister is staying with me by her own will?” A grin spread across his face. “Fool! I done tie her keep. This battle, we would not fight it with hands and guns. But we would fight it till the end. Either you kill me, or I kill you.”
So the match was set, the first arena a coliseum-cum-boxing ring in the ethereal planes of Christopher’s mind. The officer should have been easy to fend off—he was old and pot bellied—but dreams weren’t as predictable as real life. Sometimes the policeman became Abigail, and other times The Undertaker from WWE. Christopher was battered and pummeled till he sank to the ground and descended into a black abyss.
Something reached from the darkness and held his neck, choking him till he jerked awake on the couch in his apartment. He pushed the fridge aside and ran into the open night. The watchmen in his street didn’t look like they’d believe his story, so he spent the rest of the night awake in a stall close enough to them to feel safe, and far enough to not attract attention.
At dawn he was at Kola’s. Kola’s girlfriend answered the door and looked at Christopher like she hadn’t seen him before. He couldn’t figure out if she was blaming him for his bad timing the previous night or the fact that he hadn’t taken his bath.
“Bro, I couldn’t sleep last night,” Christopher said when he pulled his friend to the balcony.
“I told you that beer wasn’t good for you, but you thought you could drink like the rest of us.”
“Kola, it’s not the beer.”
“That’s why you couldn’t allow me enjoy my night.”
“So what was it then?”
Christopher opened the balcony door to be sure Kola’s girlfriend wasn’t eavesdropping. “I think it’s that officer,” he said in a whisper.
“The one I beat up the other day na.”
“Oh, Abigail’s boyfriend?”
Christopher glared at Kola. “Yes.”
“What did he do?”
“He attacked me in my dream last night.”
Kola took his time with a hearty laugh. He placed one hand on his belly and the other on the railing, laughing his senses out. Christopher focused his gaze on an agege bread seller outside the compound. She was walking through the street and announcing her presence. When she lowered the tray on her head so a customer could choose his bread, Christopher wondered which was softer between the wares she was selling and the voluptuous ones she wasn’t.
“So,” Kola said, “you’re actually afraid of that man’s threat to fight you in your dreams?”
Christopher suspected laughter still brewed in his friend’s belly; he ignored Kola and followed the bread seller’s behind till it became a dot on the horizon.
“Na wa o,” Kola said, “you’re no longer talking?”
“My door was open when I came back, Kola. Someone was moving inside my house and I had a strange dream. Tell me it’s all coincidence.”
Kola studied Christopher’s face for a minute, the laugh now sunken into his throat. “Are you sure of what you’re saying?”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
“Ok. Let’s give it another day. Maybe you forgot to lock your door and you’re over thinking the officer’s threat.”
“I doubt that’s—”
“Relax. Go home and freshen up. I’ll come over tonight and we’ll see if it happens again.”
Later that night, Christopher came home with Kola. Nothing was out of the ordinary. They ate fried yams and watched WWE. One conversation led to another till they were both snoring.
Christopher got up hours later to switch off the TV and ask Kola to go to the bedroom. But when he tapped his friend, the man he saw wasn’t Kola. Christopher rushed to the door but it had become steel bars beyond which were roaring waterfalls and cloudy mountain peaks. When he turned, the man supposed to be his friend had risen to his feet. He said something inaudible over the rage of the water, but held up two fingers, and Christopher understood.
They began a brawl that spanned the entire flat, breaking and falling everything that could be broken or fallen. Hour after hour after hour they fought, the man gaining strength each minute till Christopher was sprawled on the floor begging for no more.
It took Kola shaking Christopher awake to save him from an asphyxiating choke hold. Christopher held his friend tight, dry heaving and gasping for breath. If Kola was as bad at timing as his friend, Christopher would have gone the way of the people who passed away in sleep.
“We have to do something about this,” Kola said. “I know one prophet. He’d give you superior power.”
Christopher couldn’t have slept on the journey to the prophet’s even if he wanted to. They boarded three different buses, each one’s conductor appearing more aggressive than the former. The people at the prophet’s temple sat like patients waiting to see a doctor. Their faces told stories; their demeanor sang dirges.
When Kola and Christopher sat before the prophet, they soon noticed how different his own face was. He laughed easily and had a reassuring look in his eyes. The only objects on the mahogany table that separated them from him were a bell and a big bible. Or maybe not a bible because Christopher could see strange symbols on the cover of the book. Occasionally the prophet would look away, as if studying the picture of Jesus on the other end of the wall, then he’d close his eyes and mutter something under his breath. Halfway into Christopher’s story, the prophet motioned for him to stop.
“It is a minor issue,” he said. “Take this holy oil and pour five drops into your water before bathing tonight. On your way out, meet the girl to your right and buy the soaps to bathe with. After cleansing yourself, you’ll be free from the spell.”
That night, asleep at Kola’s, Christopher was the man with a brown towel around his waist and a bucket of water in his hand. The officer pushed him to the ground and pulled the towel from him. This time, the neighbors had gathered and laughed as Christopher’s penis dangled in the open. He attempted to run away but they crowded around him. Christopher couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw someone in the crowd, laughing to her heart’s content. Abigail.
The officer pulled a belt and lashed Christopher with it. The leather curled around his body and stung like a snake’s bite. Or was it actually a snake? It was. It dug into his skin and drew blood that spilled unnaturally. Like a faucet had been opened on his skin. Christopher’s screams attracted Kola and his girlfriend.
“I have to beg him,” Christopher said. “I have to beg him.”
The next day the officer wasn’t home and Christopher waited in the compound till dusk. The neighbors, as if aware of his humiliation the previous night, stole looks at him and snickered. Maybe they were in on the spell that was cast on him. Maybe that old woman at the gate selling stockfish was the one who gave the officer the juju. Yes, she was old enough to know witchcraft. Wasn’t that what old people did, witchcraft? Christopher felt sick, like the snake’s bite left venom in his bloodstream. He spat repeatedly till his throat went dry.
When insects had begun to trill and the stars were out, the officer lumbered through the gates. Christopher stood from the step he sat on. The officer looked less menacing now in his black on black, but Christopher couldn’t help wondering if he was in yet another dream.
“Oga, what do you want?” the officer asked. Christopher let him walk past and trailed him to the backyard. “Ehn, I say what do you want?”
“I’ve come to apologize.” Christopher held out the bottle of Campari he came with. The officer sized him up from head to toe, his face yellow from a halogen bulb’s light.
“Apologizing for what?” he asked. “Was I not the one who beat your sister?”
Christopher stared at him, stupefied. “Apologizing for attacking you.”
“Hmm… Go home, young man. I told you it’s a fight to the death. We’ll continue tonight.”
Christopher took coffee and provigil and stayed awake till morning. He stayed awake the next night too. And the night after that. On the fourth night, alert from stimulants, he became aware of another side to his room. His mind led him to his shoe rack. Investigating shoes he hadn’t touched in months, he found a totem wrapped with red cloth lodged inside one of them.
He showed up at Kola’s door looking like something out of a zombie movie the next morning. Kola’s girlfriend served tea and bread. She was a little nicer than usual.
“I think I know what it is,” Kola said, poking the totem with a stick.
“I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.”
“What didn’t you think of?”
“This is ihazi, powerful juju. It’s what he’s been using to gain access to your mind. So long as it’s attached to something of yours, he can always manipulate your dreams.”
“So what do we do?”
“We use it against him,” Kola said.
“By planting it in his own room.”
Christopher considered it for a moment and said, “I think I have a better idea. Since he comes to my dreams, then he’s in my turf. If I can control my own dreams, then I can control him.”
Christopher called Abigail later that day and asked her what it was that scared the officer till his teeth chattered. What kept him up at night. What it was that if the officer was asked to pick between it and the devil, he would gladly pick the devil. Abigail named a few on the spot and asked Christopher to wait another day for her to find out more. Christopher stayed awake for the fifth night. But this time, he was up watching videos of people drowning on YouTube till dawn. He watched a movie where a young man who recently joined the police academy went below water and couldn’t make it out. He watched people drown till every thought in his head was about someone succumbing to water filling their lungs and gazing at a receding surface.
When Christopher eventually slept in his apartment the next morning, he was at a riverbank. Children were washing clothes in the brown water. They slapped jeans against rocks and splashed handfuls of water on themselves. Across the bank was a man in black. He stared at Christopher like a petrified thing. Like an animal retrieved from a thousand-year-old glazier.
For the first time, Christopher found zeal in his dream. He ran to the man and tackled him into the river. The officer didn’t fight back. He just lay there in the water, thrashing his arms as Christopher drowned him. Christopher slept long into dusk that day, awakening for the first time in a long time with ease.
That evening, after meeting Abigail, Christopher surrounded himself with syringes, antiseptic, and medicine. He watched videos of medical procedures and bought drugs he didn’t really need. He visited a hospital the next day and fell asleep in the reception with medical podcasts playing in his headphones. He wore green scrubs when he met the officer and reminded him that they were now in round five.
The officer, Abigail had told Christopher earlier, had stayed away from hospitals for as long as she could remember and resorted to local drugs rather than white medicine. Nobody could ever talk him into visiting a hospital and he told his people that if ever he sustained injury from a police operation, he should be treated locally or allowed to die.
Abigail wasn’t sure, but she suspected the officer’s family’s death after he joined the force made the halls of hospitals forever haunted grounds to him.
So Christopher attacked the policeman in the hospital. They ran around the hospital till Kola showed up and caught the officer. They strapped him to a gurney and locked him up in a ward, alone.
In the next dream they were at the officer’s marriage ceremony and his bride was Abigail. The next one was an accident scene where a family was trapped under a somersaulted bus. Then they were back at the riverbank in the dream after. And then the hospital. And on and on till the officer came begging. He had grown ill and often called out for help in the middle of the night. He couldn’t be taken to a hospital because that would have been a living nightmare.
By the time they got to round fifteen, the officer was a whitish, limping thing. Christopher held him in the cold, shimmering river till the officer had water coming out of his ears.
“To the death,” he said to the policeman’s bloated body in the dream, and repeated the words the next day in real life when Abigail informed him that her boyfriend had passed in his sleep.
About the Author:
Chisom (he/him) is a Nigerian fiction writer and poet. He holds a degree in English and literature. When he’s not watching movies or writing about fantastical things, he’s tweeting about movies and fantastical things at izom_chisom. His short stories have been featured or are forthcoming on Second Skin Mag, Omenana, Apex, and Mythaxis.
*Featured image by Tamanna Rumee from Pixabay