He was tired and moved quickly through the evening traffic towards his car, hoping the traffic boys called Lastma had not done anything to his vehicle. He sighed and started the car. The flurry behind him made him jump. A bat!
His skin crawled suddenly and a scream died abruptly in his throat as he shooed the darn thing out of his car. What the hell he thought. How had that gotten into a closed car. He was more angry than frightened and eased himself into the traffic sighing as he saw long lines of car-lights far into the horizon. It was going to be one of those nights. His phone rang. Abike calling said his phone.
“Not likely until maybe midnight. I am in Lagos remember? and it is bedlam here right now”.
She laughed making him adjust his trousers. He wanted to be in bed with her right then and she picked that desire in his voice, laughing. They chatted for a while and he promised to call when he arrived at her friend’s home. He put the handset off and tried the best he could to concentrate on the traffic.
Another bat flew across his windscreen almost causing him to bump into the car in front, but he stopped just in time swearing as he wound up, hastily putting up the air conditioning in the car. He hated Lagos and hated more driving at night. He also was not so sure he actually wanted to spend the night in Lara’s home but he had promised Abike that he would. But where did all the bats come from he wondered absently as he followed the traffic and avoided the ‘danfo’ buses, as well as the tricycles that defied all control squeezing into every space they can. There were the infernal okada riders as well. Add to all that misery pedestrians crossing and hawking all manner of wares, the roadside musicians, records shops and blast! the religious revivals everywhere, he wondered why anybody in their right mind would like to live in Lagos. It was like living in bedlam. His mother never understood why he was always in hurry to return to the quiet unhurried life of Akure .
His mind wandered as he drove at the snail pace of the traffic towards his destination. He had been born in Lagos, left from there to London in the tradition of his age mates, got his degree, worked for a further five years and decided to come home so he could discuss his wedding plans with his family. That was the plan, and that was ten years ago. He never returned to London.
It was just a trip to one of the towns outside Lagos to see his aunt who was to represent his mother at his wedding and pick the mandatory aso oke.
He had stood outside her house the morning after his arrival as Abike walked past. One minute he had been chatting with his Aunty and his voice trailed off as he suddenly found himself breathing hard and desperately praying that the lady walking pass will stop or look at him, and she walked right over to him to say hello to his Aunty. He tried very hard to this day to remember what he had been saying but he never could. He, however, knew he walked over and smiled and she looked at him and he was lost.
His next words shocked everybody including himself. He said “Please marry me”
The silence was thick as they all stared at him and she spoke in that deep voice that was so masculine in a face that was totally feminine,. “I beg your pardon”?
His Aunty had simply stared and cleared her throat frowning heavily at him in reproach. Her voice was sharp as she told her friend that her nephew had come to finalize his wedding plans and maybe he was still reliving the way he had proposed.
Abike had smiled in understanding and not giving him a second look went on her way. He had been very alarmed, scared and hurried after her insisting he meant every word he said.
Dimeji smiled now as his mind replayed the panic, tears, and total chaos of the first seven months after the first day. His long letter to Jane calling off the wedding, her wedding he stressed. His mother’s visit to beg Abike to send him away and remove the spell she was supposed to have placed on him. He had refused to even return to Lagos. He had sent his letter of resignation to his office in London. His mother had sent for the other relatives to help.
Abike had been cool, remote and angry asking everyone to leave her house each time they came. He had however refused to leave. He couldn’t. He begged, cried and explained, at least he tried to explain what was wrong with him but he did not know it himself. They took him to all the prayer houses seeking solutions for his instant and almost total captivation. Nobody could shake him. He was adamant. He wanted to marry Abike full stop. It was like an obsession. Abike would cry helplessly begging him to go and he couldn’t. He was as helpless as she was. No, he corrected himself, she was never helpless just bemused, wondering what she had ever done to attract such pestilence she would say. He would smile and insist, plead, and bear the brunt of the wails, screams, and abuse of his mother.
It was his brother Akin who solved the problem without meaning to, he had been sent for to come to their aid. His brother lived then in Cross River state and came over. A nine-hour grueling journey on bad roads surviving armed robbers along the way, Dimeji remembered he was in Abike’s office trying to persuade to come for lunch when his brother barged in. Then all three stared at each other. Abike who had angrily been telling him to push off had stared in the same anger at his brother and asked his brother who he wanted to see.
His brother had simply sat at the table and offered to pay for the lunch if he can come for lunch as well. Dimeji still laughed at how his brother had lost the battle to save him without a much of a fight or even a voice raised.
A very sheepish Akin had asked him what story he was to tell his expectantly waiting mother when he returned to Lagos. Dimeji had laughed, it was the Abike effect.
Five people attended his wedding three months later, his friend Taju who had been summoned to come to Nigeria from America, his cousin, and the besotted Akin his older brother. Abike came with her Chinese friend Lin. It was a very strange wedding as Abike returned to work almost immediately. Peace was made a year and a daughter later with the rest of the family. Gradually the rest of the family had accepted that Dimeji had truly fallen in love. After all, spells usually last only seven years they had reasoned. Dimeji and Abike had been married for ten.
Two daughters came in quick succession and Dimeji’s mother was now a firm fan of Abike and would start practically every sentence with. “Abike thinks….
Then Abike introduced her friend Lara to him. Lara had been living in London with her husband when Abike got married and so Dimeji never met her until two years ago. His skin had crawled, his hands went clammy and he had struggled to maintain a smile.
That first night in the home of Lara, he had been unable to sleep. Lara had spent hours talking to Abike, so maybe that was why he had been uneasy. But then he saw the bats. No, not in the room, but just outside the guest room windows.
He mentioned the bats to Abike and she said airily that the bats were nature ‘s joke in describing a bird or mammal. She had calmed him down. But he could not sleep. He was happy that they left Lagos the next day. However, for a few more nights, he kept dreaming of bats. They flapped in his dreams and chattered endlessly. It affected his work and he sighed. One morning about a week after their return from Lagos he held his wife, breathed in her warmth when he suddenly heard the bats again. He jerked his head and listened. Abike asked him what the matter was and he had shrugged saying he just remembered something.
He decided to visit his friend Taju who was back in Nigeria now. He explained about the bats and Taju had laughed that he did not think it meant anything but just to be sure they went to visit Baba Aladura at Ketu. A fruit fast was recommended for him. Baba took him to a stream on the seventh day and he felt cleansed and invigorated. Nothing happened after that and he went back to his own schedule.
Dimeji did not know why he was thinking of all these now as the traffic eased and he made better progress to Lara’s home. He drove in. The house was palatial and Lara descended the stairs in flowing almost see through long dress, reeking of perfume and bracelets. She hugged him and laughed, “You survived the traffic I can see. I was on the phone with Abike. I guess I had better tell her you are safely here. She kept checking every five minutes I swear”
Dimeji laughed and said he had already called his wife the minute he drove in. A tiny frown came into Lara’s eyes but she still smiled and called her housekeeper to get her guest dinner. Lara gave him a small look of concern as she mentioned that a guest room was ready for him. She seemed to be amused about something.
Dinner did not take long and he retired to the guest room for a shower when he saw the first bat. He froze as the hair at the back of his neck rose and his skin goosed.
Ergh, he said to himself swatting at the bat as it flew out of the room. He went to windows and fastened them shut switching on the air conditioning. His phone rang, it was Abike.
“The bats are back darling” he blurted and was chagrined. He sounded like a frightened boy. So he laughed and tried to joke, but found he was sweating and his hands were shaking.
“Bats? What bats sweetheart? There are bats in the room?”
“Er.. well I just chased one out” he tried to say in a casual voice but he was suddenly frightened again.
Abike sighed over the phone “I am sorry love, it is Lara I guess with those silly trees too close to the house and they do tend to attract bats. I told her that several times but I think she enjoys the conversation of the bats”.
“She understands what the bats are saying”?
“Well, she claims she does. She just likes being spooky. Ask her to change the room. She has more than one guest room, you don’t have to sleep in a bat room love”.
“I guess it’s nothing much, I just don’t like bats you know and well it is just one night. Will leave as early as I can in the morning. Should I pick you in the office”?
“That will be fine. I have that advert meeting for twelve, would be nice if you come in time to sit in, so they don’t give me a price and I say yes too quickly right”?
He laughed, kissed her on the phone and went for his bath. He chided himself for being nervous about bats and settled in for the night reviewing the events of the day.
Much later, the whispering voices woke him and he sat up with a jerk. He had been having a silly dream in which … he pulled his mind away from the dream. It was a dream he did not feel like repeating to himself. He had been making love to his wife or some figure he had assumed was his wife but he had felt bony flesh and not the warm softness of his wife and he could almost swear that he saw the ends of a flowing gown as it swished over him. He was also sweating so he snapped the bedside light and gasped. They were two bats in the room. How had they entered? A soft knock sounded on the door and he froze. Someone tried very gently to open the door and Dimeji searched the room for anything strong enough to defend himself.
The bats kept up their chatter just by the window and the door was tried again. He went to the back of the door trying to determine who that was. Just soft scratching noises, he heart pounded and he sweated. Armed robbers? The house was silent. In the distance, a night guard struck a gong twice. It meant it was 2 am. If they were armed robbers they would not be so silent he thought to himself. He silently went to the window and softly tried to open, the curtains billowed out indicating that someone sometime in the night had opened his window. He closed it again by the soft light of the bed. Then he heard a soft click as he tiptoed to the bathroom leaving it slightly closed but giving himself time to see the robbers.
He grabbed the toilet seat as a strong urge to pee gripped him. The door opened and the intruder walked in, Surprised to see the bed light on. From the slightly opened bathroom, Dimeji was shocked. Standing in the middle of the bedroom was Lara with no clothes on. Dimeji dashed to the toilet and made peeing sounds and flushed the toilet noisily. His door snapped closed. There was nobody in the bedroom after he had given her a decent five minutes.
Dimeji sat on the bed and laughed till tears rolled down his cheeks. Lara returned to London the following week and Abike kept wondering at the sudden departure, Dimeji always had a smile but no comments.