By Godfrey Maduk
Monday afternoon, January 26th, 2017. Mathew Ishalu felt an inexplicable sense of impending adversity. He was not a man disposed to weird beliefs in fate and karma, but there was something that kept his customary state of mind foggy, other than the fact that he had lost his job of fifteen years; selling tickets at the bus terminus a couple of days ago to a high school student. He was very much troubled after this, and had come to recognise the pain all to well —losing a job sure wasn’t good thing, but there was always the hope of grabbing another one, a much better one—Yet hidden underneath, like a cataclysmic cloud brewing death and destruction, was a bad feeling he wanted to discover and unload as soon as possible.
He was thirty-six years old, five feet seven, and was married to a local girl: Monica Vanuk. For seven years now, his marriage was on course and the possibility of pulling a manoeuvre into uncharted territories seemed very much unlikely—he thought himself one lucky bastard. She had borne him a single daughter who was barely six years old. He named her Salim, after his elder sister and his only sibling who died of cholera at the age of twelve, February of 1990. Mathew had been nine then. The details of her death was a bit hazy, and the water was the worst—nevertheless he was pretty sure it was cholera.
Mathew was strangely a rare breed that cared little or nothing of making it big—get married have babies, make sure to get them schooled. That was his definition of a life well spent before the peaceful and final transition into absolute darkness.
Mathew wasn’t what you could call handsome. With a flat nose, tiny eyes and mighty red lips that almost looked inviting.
He had on a white Nike canvas, and was clothed in a blue jeans, with a black coat on top of a green T-shirt that had the words BOOM GAG IS SCUMBARG spelled on it in white that afternoon of the 26th as he walked along the side of 24 Sparkling street, trying to identify the source of his worries and doing a bad job of it. The street was drained of human movement, tall mango trees laid claim to a quarter of a mile—and very close to the sidewalk were electricity wires that hung parabolic on tall electric beams locally called pole-wires.
Mathew’s feet crunched on gravel as he made his way unhurriedly, listening for signs of approaching vehicles and hearing none. Just ahead, a couple of one-storied houses looking every bit like abandoned office buildings reclaimed the street. Just ten feet away was an intersection, Mathew took a right cut into an alley. There was an overflowing dumpster on the right, some papers, shards of broken bottles— two dogs stood turning over and sniffing the contents of discarded nylons and cartons. The air bubbled of heat and rot—and the January sunlight did little to illuminate much around here. After a short space of time, he came out on the other side of the road going right and left. Still and deserted. He hesitated for quite a moment to scratch his itching crotch, and, moments later, wandered across the paved road down a gentle rise into the wild country of zinc shanties called St Patricks.
It seemed like the last place God made—and was easily the largest slum in Plateau State with a population of over 500 hundred souls. A handful of houses were constructed using bricks and blocks; the rest were of zinc shanties, glowing a bright silver in the late afternoon sunshine.
Mathew thought briefly about going home, but, somehow, insisted on having a talk with John who resided three houses down the road from were he had his three bedroom shanty that badly needed some decent replacement of zinc. Probably, a reconstruction was inevitable, but Mathew thought it had to wait.
John was a long-time neighbour, a good man, and an excellent friend. Mathew had told him about losing his job four days ago, and John had promised to help—am I really doing this, talking to my neighbour about losing my job. Oh! Jesus. It wasn’t much of an appealing prospect—It had been four days now since John promised he was going to help. Mathew simply felt he needed to have a chat with him—maybe it slipped out of his mind. God knows John has got a lot troubles of his own.
He came upon the shanty and met Rose on the front door with her hands stuck inside a white bowl. The sun had vanished from the last visible section of the sky. In the darkness, Matthew noticed she was washing the glass of a kerosene lamp, and looked up when she heard the sound of an approaching foot step. She was a beautiful woman in her late twenties, clad in a white gown and something that looked like a black scarf wound around her head.
“Good evening,” she said pleasantly without a smile.
She motioned her hand for him to go right inside
Mathew parted the drape and was not surprised to find the room in darkness. John sat at the corner smoking a cigarette. The darkness pulsated with the orange glow at the tip of the cigarette.
He stood up when he saw Mathew, who offered his hand, but got a quick hug instead.
“My Man,” John said, parting Matthew on the back. He reeked of perspiration and tobacco.
“John, I hope I’m not intruding on anything.”
“Nothing at all; you did well to come.”
Mathew nodded thoughtfully.
“Let’s take a walk.” John said, and cleared his throat. They both filed outside.
Mathew watched him kiss Rose on the cheek—it was obvious she did not like it much. The both proceeded at a moderate pace towards nowhere in particular.
John was in his mid-thirties. His head was cleanly shaved like an ostrich egg, and gleamed when caught in the angle of light. He wore a white caftan and had a cheap large silver ring on his left middle finger.
They took a lonely path riddled with potholes and rocks, very slowly and came upon a large cheery tree. They both halted.
Mathew watched John flip out a cigarette and stowed the pack in his breast pocket. With the fluid movement of an accustomed smoker, he sparked a flame and cupped his hands round it as he guided the flickering fire to the tip of the cigarette that stood proud in the corner of his mouth. He took a puff and exhaled mightily. Mathew took his eyes away from John and gazed to hills where blazing headlights of vehicles sliced by. Thereafter, image of the glaring headlights formed a bloody patch of cracked lip in his field of vision. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked one or two, when John spoke up first, shattering the serenity of the night, “I’ve done something bad.”
Mathew watched him from the corners of his eyes.
“Like what? “
“You’re a good man, Matthew, and I think it be better if you don’t know.”
Mathew cast his eyes on John.
“I got blood on my hands man, “he said, and took a puff. “We never sleep,” he added, and gazed at the floor.
Mathew nodded, confused.
“I bet you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
Mathew shook his head.
In a small voice, John said, “Rose and I were having a good time, eating and drinking the night of Thursday last week, then came the knock that changed my life. “The first thing he said was, ‘Put out the light’.”
“Who said that?” Matthew asked, bewildered.
John did not break stride in his recollection of the event of last week. “Though I was quick to get a closer look at his face, which was like an ancient relic, a disfigured mask made out of mud, it was not really a face. I couldn’t sleep for days. Luckily, Rose didn’t see it. He took less than five minutes to tell us what had to happen that night. I figured he also told Rose to go fuck Stephens, the town drunk, which she did. According to rumoured history, Maduka Stephens was from the east, twenty two, never employed, and had gotten a local whore pregnant, which was eventually terminated —said the man was about jerking off, and couldn’t afford to pay a whore.
John suddenly skirted towards Matthew and grabbed him viciously by the collar with hands like iron mitts.
Mathew flinched—“Hey let me go!”
John bent over, his face was carefully set, and whispered, “He made us do it, the man that came after sundown.”
Mathew felt the icy fingers of terror crawl up the length of his spine—the man that came after sundown—this was supposed to be the devil; such a man was not of this world and never existed. What John was saying was absolutely unbelievable.
“He told you to do something you just have to do it, told me to kill old Lorenzo (old Lorenzo had been the only doctor in town) a fiftyish grey bearded old man that walked with a slight limp in his left leg. He had three daughters from three consummated unions that had gone to hell, all of them deceased —I knew it was wrong, but I had to; it felt like my life depended on it.” He left Mathew on the collar and covered his face with his palms and started to weep. “I knew there was something wrong with him when I first saw him dressed up in a brown apron and a white shirt and… his voice was like cancer.”
Mathew was struck dumb by these news. Old Lorenzo was murdered, that much was true; some said he was killed like a pig, butchered and roasted—yes, a bit of his meat had been roasted on the kerosene stove—nobody in town talked much about it, because it was thought of as the clear work of a mad man. But how could it be that John was the murderer. Mathew watched him for a moment and just didn’t want to believe it.
“He promised to come back and was going to get job for any damn person that lives in St Patricks.
“He promised, he promised!” Screaming, he crashed on his knees and started to crawl towards Mathew.
His eyes were glazed and shining an unhealthy white. “He promised! Promised!”
Mathew hastily took a step backwards and almost stumbled, but easily regained his footing. He lingered his eyes on John for a second, turned and bolted.