‘Guys, it’s a few hours before our meet,’ Enobong types her comment unto the Facebook chat that is secluded behind the doors of the Smart Alec Roundtable (SART) group. ‘What’s the final head count? Who and who is coming?’
‘I’m coming,’ Enaji is the first to respond.
‘Aye, aye, ma’am,’ types Chinwe Obayi.
‘I’ll be there,’ Jerome comments.
‘Me too! Me too!’ Ifeanyi responds with the kind of banshee-like glee he whips up whenever he’s being taunting.
I sigh as I read his comment and my fingers race over my Blackberry keypad as I type my response. ‘Abuja SARTians should really learn to keep quiet when Lagos SARTians are discussing their meets.’
‘Because it’s a presidential retreat you people are discussing, abi?’ he ripostes.
‘Touché,’ Eketi types, along with a sniggering smiley.
‘You people should focus,’ Enobong comments with the attitude of a schoolmarm. She follows up with a pleading, ‘Uzo, I hope you’ll be there this time. I’d really love to see you.’
I read this comment and I chuckle, as I imagine my cousin arranging his mouth into a moue of dainty disbelief, that incredulous expression he gets when he cannot believe nobody has been listening to him all this time.
His comment confirms my suspicion.
‘You people want me to come and yet you set the meet all the way in Maryland. How am I supposed to leave the Island to come all the way there? Plus I’m in Law School for heavenssakes! Things can get very hectic around here. You people should be more considerate.’
The two people I imagine are rolling their eyes harder than I am at the comment, all the way from SART to Sri Lanka, are Kaynna and Emem, two other SARTians who get easily exasperated by Uzo’s sense of self importance.
‘This one is not serious abeg,’ Kaynna dismissed.
‘Was that for me, Kaynna?’ Uzo retorts, clearly miffed by the dismissal. ‘Hmmph! It’s you who is not serious.’
It is during moments like this that I imagine my cousin as a young British aristocrat of the Victorian era, with sleek blonde hair coiffed to a shoulder length, which enables the tresses to move with such grace whenever he flips his head with lofty petulance.
‘Moving on,’ I comment.
‘Who else is coming?’ Enobong types, apparently moving on.
‘Thunder! Lightning! Hailstorm!’ Emem threatens, as is customary of her whenever she’s not part of a Lagos SART meet that seems potentially fun – as they always are. ‘May the heavens open up a heavy rainfall tomorrow.’
‘May the heavens do so indeed,’ I concur. ‘This Lagos heat is unbearable, and we need all the help we can get to get Baba God to cooperate.’
‘Rain should not fall until I get there o,’ Kewe comments. ‘Shey the venue is at Chicken Republic.’
‘Yes, it is,’ Kaynna affirms.
‘And God doesn’t like latecomers,’ I type. ‘So I think He’ll go ahead and let the rains fall on your way.’
‘Walter, don’t let Emem – sorry, the devil use you,’ Kewe retorts.
‘Eh?! Melting Heart, did you just use me as a synonym for the devil?’ Emem is instantly outraged, complete with a furious meme.
Eketi, Adaure and Nene all respond with guffawing emoticons. I am laughing as well, as I observe the shenanigans of this group of lovely, crazy and hilarious people I’ve come to call family.
Kewe must have been cowering with abject horror at the thought that he’d incurred Emem’s wrath, because his response is swift, his apology profuse. ‘Ah, Morgana – sorry, Memmy, it is not me o. I didn’t type that comment. I just logged in now to see that my account was hacked. Eno love, defend me na.’
‘Don’t worry, my darling, I’m here,’ Enobong coos. ‘No weapon fashioned against you will prosper as long as I’m here.’
I roll my eyes again, this time from Sri Lanka to Swaziland. Kewe and Enobong. Kewobong, I often like to think of them as. Their love rivals Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s in the ‘Can we make them go away already’ department. The way they faun over themselves online makes me just want to gouge somebody’s eyes out. Always acting so lovey-dovey and forgiving each other’s discretions, those two. Kaynna and I are actively working to break them up. Photographic evidence, DNA evidence, fingerprint evidence, lipstick on shirt evidence – at this point, anything is admissible in the court case of The People versus Kewobong.
The thread of comments continues with more hilarity. It is late though, 11.15pm, and one by one, everyone drops out of the chat into retirement for the night. I am in bed already, and as my eyes become heavy lidded with approaching sleep, I turn on my side, my phone slips from my nerveless fingers, and I drift off.
The discordant honking of car horns yanked me back to self awareness. I blinked and stepped back hastily, even though I was already well out of the way of the Honda that had taken a growling turn round one of the arcs that constituted the roundabout in Maryland. The day was warm, and there was a dank humidity to the air that almost made it hard to breathe. Sunshine, hot and golden, blazed down on a metropolis that was at once bustling and wilting under its glare.
Thunder! Lightning! Hailstorm!
I gave a start as I remembered Emem’s comment.
May the heavens open up a heavy rainfall tomorrow.
It was all coming back to me now, the Facebook chat wherein plans for Sunday’s meet had progressed. The venue was Maryland, Chicken Republic.
And here I was. I squinted over the traffic at the familiar sight of the building that sat morosely in the filling station, phalanxed by restless Lagosians and vehicles jockeying for parking spots or positions beside the fuel pumps.
This must be Sunday, I thought perplexedly. I was here, in Maryland, apparently on my way to the meet. So where had the time between when I slept off last night and right now – where had all that time gone?
The possibility of answers, the exploration of those rosary beads of truths and clarifications filled me with faint unease. I shut my mind to the blackness, took in a deep breath and started toward the eatery.
It was such a hot day, that the air conditioning system that soothed the eatery’s interior with quiet murmurs of cool air appeared to be suffering from the temperatures beyond its abilities. As I stepped in through the glassy door, I could feel the friction of heat and chill stirring the hairs on my skin.
But the day’s temperature quickly fled my mind as I scanned the room and spied two familiar faces tucked away in our favourite corner of the fastfood joint. I was smiling widely as I moved toward the duo. Enobong beamed back at me, a smile that was big and wide and pure dynamite, its effect made more attractive by the gap at the top centre of her dentition.
I barely acknowledged the bushy-haired Kaynna as I sank into a hug from Enobong.
As we broke apart, a reprimand followed. “Walter, you live just here, just at Maryland’s backyard, and me who lives all the way in Ajah got here before you.”
I laughed as I felt a cold gust in my heart. I could explain, but I couldn’t even remember my entire day up until that moment. So I said the first excuse that popped into my head. “I’m sorry, I was catching up with past episodes of Madam Secretary.”
“You didn’t come with your laptop, did you?” she said, standing back to survey me. She hated the distraction devices bring about during SART meets.
“In this small bag?” I said as I lifted the shoulder bag that was hanging across my front.
“Ehn, maybe you’ve shrunk it na.”
Kaynna sniggered before he quipped, “And that’s all you think is shrunken on him?”
Enobong and I doubled over with laughter at the innuendo. Kaynna was a master at lewd puns and lecherous innuendos. Enobong and Edgar were close seconds. In fact, nearly every conversation amongst SARTians was potentially corruptible. The way these people taint the English Language would make a blushing Queen Elizabeth seriously consider making Igbo England’s new official language.
Within the next hour, there was a steady trickle in through the door of other members of this family living in Lagos. Jerome met Kelechi right at the entrance, and they were shaking hands and exchanging their long-time-no-sees as they walked in. Enaji appeared, a solitary figure. Chinwe sauntered in, a splash of colour and radiance that simply refused to be overshadowed by the much darker presence of her companion, Kewe. Chiedozie hadn’t met Ruth before, and so couldn’t understand why he had to share the welcome spotlight with the svelte-framed, pretty, dark young woman who entered the eatery right after him.
With every new arrival, the atmosphere got more and more rent with bursts of animated conversation and boisterous laughter. The glee surrounding us was reckless and didn’t care for serenity. We drew constant stares from the other diners in the room, but there was something so infectious about our uninhibited joy that quelled any complaints about our disturbance.
And then it was time to get fed, and a great number of us shuffled to the counter; only Ruth sat back to keep an eye on our possessions. Nine of us crowded the counter, instantly commanding the attention of two of the servers. One was male, gangly with long arms that seemed to move in uncoordinated gestures about him. The other was a wisp of a girl, intensely pretty, with a full head of hair she’d bound back in an elegant chignon.
“Your name is Becky?” Kelechi said to her, with a glance at her name tag which read ‘Rebecca.’
“No, sir, it’s Rebecca,” she replied in a soft tone.
“Yes, and the short form for that is Becky,” Kewe interjected.
She responded with a demure smile and a lowering of her eyelids into an expression that was almost flirtatious. Kewe smiled, clearly pleased to be the recipient of the girl’s coyness.
“And she’s got such good hair,” Kelechi drawled as he slid a glance at me.
He motioned with his head.
I followed the nod to where Enobong was standing.
She was frowning, a small percolation of thunder on her brow.
I chuckled again and turned back to Kelechi. “What was it they said on Becky with the good hair’s Wikipedia page?”
His eyes twinkled wickedly as he replied, “That she died under a lemonade stand?”
We laughed heartily at that, not realizing how portentous our humour was.
The banter of nine friends stretched across the length of the food counter as we called out our orders to the servers. They darted this way and that on the other side, filling up platters and passing trays across to us.
“Kewe love, you’ve not ordered. What are you having?” Enobong cooed as she sidled up to her beau’s side.
Kewe had his eyes on the pretty server, switching on a grin each time she turned to him one of her coquettish looks. “Don’t worry, babe,” he said distractedly to Enobong, without even looking at her. “I’ll order when everyone else is finished.”
Enobong reared back, stung. Her brow clouded with more thunder. The stare she turned to the woman on the other side of the counter was dark and hooded.
Eventually, we cleared out of the counter and returned to our corner, which had been expanded by the addition of another table and more chairs. The next couple of hours were characterized by a repast of food and conversations, and the intermittent flashes of phone cameras as photographic mementos were documented. These pictures would soon flood BBM display pictures, Facebook timelines and Instagram updates. I was already way ahead of the rest of the gang as a thumb here and there sent my photos off to the cyber space.
Emem, can you see? I teased in a caption.
‘Photoshop, that’s what this is,’ came her curt response.
“Where’s Kewe?” Enobong inquired after some time, glancing at the empty seat beside her.
“He went to get the ice cream,” Chinwe answered around a swig of Fanta.
“I thought I was the one who was supposed to go get the ice cream,” Jerome said as he sliced through chicken.
“Yes, Jerry did offer to go and get it. So why then did…” Enobong’s voice trailed off as she glanced in the direction of the counter. Her eyes narrowed and a tic leaped to life on the side of her face.
I followed her stare to where Kewe stood at the counter, clearly flirting with the pretty Rebecca. He’d just said something and the girl canted her head as she let out a small laugh. A curl of her hair sprang free from her chignon, and Kewe instinctively reached forward his hand to tuck the stray curl back in place. It was such an intimate gesture, so bold that I gasped, while quickly glancing at Enobong.
Liquid anger had suffused her face, and her breath was starting to hiss out from between her teeth. Her fist clenched around the knife she’d been using on her chicken a moment ago, and I thanked God I’d had the wisdom to not sit right next to or across from her.
“Kewe! Our ice cream o!” Ruth called out.
The man gave a guilty start; it was clear he’d forgotten about the errand. He turned a quick smile to us, carefully avoiding Enobong’s hard glare, muttered something about how he’d be right with us, and turned back to Rebecca, who had moved over to the metallic chamber behind her and was maneuvering coils of the frozen dessert unto small white bowls.
“Eno, are you alright?” I enquired with faux concern, smiling as I reached forward to pat her hand.
She flinched, as though my touch had startled her. Her fingers slowly unclenched from around the cutlery as she took in a deep shuddering breath.
“Don’t worry, Eno,” Kelechi intoned. He’d apparently been observing as I had. “Becky with the good hair never has the last laugh.”
“No,” Enobong said quietly. “She never does.”
A shiver of something dark and foreboding slithered up my spine, and my smug smile wavered.
After a few moments, Kewe returned with a tray. Amidst cheers, everyone reached for the bowls of ice cream, clearing out the used dishes as well. Sometime during the fresh burst of revelry, Enobong heaved herself up from her seat.
“I need to make a quick trip to the convenience, guys,” she muttered to no one I particular, and walked off.
We barely noticed her leave, because just then, Ruth had been challenged to a twerking duel, and she had just gotten to her feet to give the dance a go. For the next several minutes, we cheered as she shimmied and dipped and twirled and bobbed. It was wild, and our caper drew the amused attention of the other occupants of the room.
The strain of so much laughter soon began to weigh down on my bladder, and then I had to go visit the gents. I slid off my seat and sauntered off toward the other end of the eatery. Fleetingly, I thought about Enobong’s earlier exit from our table and how odd it was that she hadn’t returned yet.
Was ‘a quick trip to the convenience’ really just code for attending to her period? I thought with a chuckle.
The convenience was cooler than the main fastfood, and when the door glided shut behind me, the din from outside was turned down to a muted buzz. There was a disinfectant smell in the small space, and two doors on my left led to smaller compartments. On the doors were labeled ‘Hot Chick’ and ‘Spicy Hunk’.
My mouth twitched with wry amusement at the labels as I pushed in the door identifying me as a spicy hunk. As I went about my business, I felt something frisson across my skin, an awareness. A stir somewhere in the room, some breathing other than my own. I stiffened. Someone was in here.
Yea, probably some girl peeing in the other stall, genius.
I quickly zipped up my fly, washed and dried my hands, and hastened out of my stall, intent on returning to the warmth of my friends, away from the chill I couldn’t shake off in here.
Midstride toward the door, I stopped. My gaze was arrested by a ribbon of crimson on the floor, slowly edging out from under the door marked ‘Hot Chick’.
What the – Is that blood?!
My heart started thumping as I found myself drawn to the strip inching its way forward as pressure mounted from whatever its source was behind the door.
I slowly stretched out my hand and touched the door. It budged. It hadn’t been latched!
“Hello?” I called out, hesitating.
I felt that stir again, the sense of something dark separated from me by a mere wooden partition. I was at once intrigued and terrified. My mind screamed at me to get away, to simply step back from the door and run, run back to the blissful obliviousness of my company. And yet, a stronger pull tugged at my locomotion, beguiled my senses, urged me to open the door.
I did. I pushed the door open to reveal a sight that had me choking back a gasp.
She was lying there on her back. Her arms and legs were spread-eagled. Her eyes were open but hard and flat, and her throat was shredded, ribbons of skin and muscle stretched in a tangled mess with her blood. Her hair was no longer bound; the abundant tresses were spread out around her head like a halo.
And a manicured hand was smoothening the curls down from her head with loving, almost reverent strokes.
Slowly I followed the hand up to the head that had turned up to face me. Horror slammed into me as I jerked backward, jamming my shoulder against the doorpost.
“Oh my God…” I gasped. “What have you done?”
Enobong smiled, but her expression was off somehow, a grotesque and demented caricature of what it was supposed to be.
And then she said in a soft whisper, “She had such good hair.”
The horror surged up my throat, rushing to my mouth in a scream –
…That caused me to leap up from my pillow.
The momentum carries me all the way from the bed to the floor, and I remain a heap down there, clutching at my chest behind which my heart is banging with such ferocity, I fear a heart attack is close by. My phone comes alive as my alarm trills. I reach for the device to silence the racket. I enter my security code and I’m navigating to the alarm system, when a Facebook notification drops into my line of sight. My eyes flicker over it before it disappears, and a chill engulfs my heart as the words register.
It read: Enobong Akpan-Nya commented on a post in The Smart Alec Roundtable.
I am @Walt_Shakes on twitter