The conversation seemed to go on forever. He kept looking at his watch hoping the guys will make up their minds and he could get out of the office.
He had been in the office for hours it seemed to him. The Managing director seemed to have come to a decision and Dimeji snapped his mind to the present as he heard the man cough fixing a decisive look on his face.
“I think we can agree that you would do the programme for us for three million. We think we can manage that”
Dimeji shook his head and stood up, “I will accept four Mr. Richards that is a fair price.”
The man gave him a keen glance and grinned, “Let’s make it three and half, the rest of the board are going to kill me but what the hell it is my skin they will roast” and he laughed his hands outstretched.
Dimeji shook hands and the deal was concluded.
When he stepped out of the air conditioned office to the main street, he switched on his phone. He walked briskly to where his car was packed sighing at the gathering bedlam of cars, blaring horns and the mass of pedestrians that came at him in waves. His mind sank at the thought of driving through the crazy traffic but he shrugged and walked towards his car.
The call came and he sighed wondering if he ought to pick the call. He was close to his car. Besides, from the corner of his eye he had seen the area boys, these street touts were terrorist of a kind and people generally avoided them. They were a menace and could make frustrating for the unsuspecting person. Dimeji did not want their attention or attract it by answering his phone. So he made a brisk walk to the car park hoping whoever was calling will call back and he could answer in the safety of his car.
He was tired and moved quickly through the evening traffic towards easing his car into the gridlock of the evening traffic. Apart from the menace of the area boys, there was the need to be careful as the Lastma boys were still around intent on making last minute pickings on harassed motorists over any traffic offence real or imagined. This traffic personnel were generally called simply as Lastma. He sighed and followed the traffic. 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, avoiding hitting the trailer in front of him by bare inches.
He sighed 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. A smile tugged at his lips as he answered to the throaty deep voice of his wife. It was crazy the way her voice always gave him a hard on. Almost instantly, he used to say to himself. Their relationship never made sense, to him or to anyone who had known them for all the time they had met. He chuckled as he replied her enquiries about if he was close to her friend’s house yet.
“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, having to drive 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 was the infernal okada riders as well. Add to all his 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.
Dimeji’s 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 that first day. He wrote long letter to Jane calling off the wedding, her wedding he stressed. The panic his announcement had caused as his mother made a hurried trip to Akure in a vain effort to appeal to Abike to release him from the enchanted spell placed on him. His mother on that visit begged Abike to send him away and remove the spell she was supposed to have placed on him.
Dimeji refused to even return to Lagos. He sent his letter of resignation to his office in London. His mother sent for the other relatives to help. They were sure he was under a very powerful spell. Prayer warriors were drafted to help out in breaking the spell.
Each time any of his relatives came to see Abike, she was cool, remote and angry asking everyone to leave her house each time they came. Dimeji 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. Dimeji smiled and insisted, pled, and bore the brunt of the wails, screams and abuse of his mother.
It was his brother Akin who solved the problem without meaning to, the family sent for him to come to the aid of the family from far away Ikom a border town with Cameroon. His brother lived in Cross River state and made the nine hour grueling journey on bad roads surviving armed robbers along the way to come and sort his kid brother out. Dimeji remembered he was in Abike’s office trying to persuade her to come for lunch when his brother barged in. 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 Akin who he wanted to see.
His brother 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 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….
All seemed well until 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 crawled, his hands went clammy and he had struggled to maintain a smile when they met for the first time. Dimeji felt Lara was ugly and there was a sense of the sinister around her person.
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 jangling 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 the 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?” Abike asked him anxiously.
“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 understand what the bats are saying”? Dimeji queried his voice rising an octave and his skin goosed again
“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”. Abike said lightly not picking his concern.
Dimeji swallowed and tried to speak in a casual calm voice, even as he felt his heartbeats race “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 windows, the curtains billowed out indicating that someone sometime in the night had opened the windows. 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. She looked unearthly and bony and disgust rose in him. Dimeji dashed to the toilet and made peeing sounds and flushed the toilet noisily. His door snapped close. 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. He kept watch on the door for the rest of the night as all types of thoughts assailed him. He had heard stories of certain women using the semen of men for money making purposes. They usually made love to such men placing them under a spell. Dimeji knew that such men became slavish to those women and all their intended wealth would be appropriated by such women. The man so appropriated would lose weight as the wealth of the women increased.
Dimeji left as early as he could the next morning knowing he could not mention that particular experience to Abike. Lara returned to London the following week and Abike kept wondering at the sudden departure, but Dimeji always had a smile a knowing look, but no comments. He also never saw the bats again.