Previously on TWO LIVES AND A SOUL
The rest of the journey home was more like travelling through a park in a giant pod. I could barely contain my amazement as I stared through the tinted glass at the high rise buildings on the right. This was nothing like the Lagos I used to know. The roads shone a lustrous black, with the sunlight bouncing off the macadam like it was a newly polished pair of boots. The highways were wide, extending to at least six lanes on either side. And as I observed the well-ordered fashion of the traffic, I couldn’t help but wonder if all the vehicles were also self-steered with human embodiments of technology for chauffeurs. Most of the buildings were obelisks of marble and glass, the skyscrapers staying true to the terminology and stretching so far up into the skies, their rooftops appeared to skim the cumuli.
“Suss, we are five minutes away from Bay,” Peter’s mechanized voice came through the speakers. “Would you want to put a call through to security?”
“Sure, please contact security,” Suss responded and went back to her talk with Clay. From the snippets of their conversation that reached my hearing, I gathered that Clay must be in her first year as a History student in the University.
I was grateful for the reprieve I’d been given from the attention of the other occupants of the car. However, my relief didn’t last long. I felt movement on my right and turned to see Joko moving closer to me. She lifted a slim white arm and placed it on my shoulder, and turned her head to one side in order to get a better look at my face, causing her the midnight curtain that was her hair to fall to the side of her face. There was something so intimate about her hand on my shoulder, an expression of such tenderness that it suddenly hit me. I meant something to her. Perhaps we were a couple, certainly not married, I confirmed with a quick look at her fingers. She was wearing no ring. I certainly wasn’t wearing one either. Then again, perhaps they did things differently in 2075.
“Everyone is waiting for you, Sammie,” she cooed. “Glad to have you back.”
“It feels good to be back,” I replied, attempting a smile.
Is it really?
I don’t know! I don’t even know where I came back from.
A few minutes later, I felt the vehicle slow down, and I looked out of the window. Even though I struggled to comprehend how I happened to be experiencing the future, whether through a dream, a trance, or some sort of time travel, I didn’t want this to end. I was inquisitive to learn a few more things. If I happened to wake up from this dream at any time, I wanted to do so with as much memories as I could take away from this life.
I watched the gates to an estate part before us. On the pillar flanking one side of the entrance, I saw the inscription, elegantly baroque, which read: Lagos Bay. On the crest of the pillar was the small statute of an angel-like structure. It held a sword in one hand and an open book in the other.
Beyond the entrance, the road twisted and vanished behind deciduous trees. The car moved down the road that snaked through a valley. The trees suddenly thinned, giving way to a panorama that was so unexpected I almost gasped out loud. There was a bridge just up ahead, which stood over a rushing stream. There were a few scattered mansions surrounded by hectares of green hills and gently rolling fields of manicured grass, which reminded me of the Swedish farms from my Lady Bird picture books. Glistening like a jewel was a pond with wild irises, through which a pair of swans glided.
I was stunned by the view. Where had all this been some sixty years ago? It looked more like something that was modeled after twentieth century’s early curation.
Suddenly, I was aware that the focus in the car was back on me. I turned away from the window to see them looking at me. There was a certain expectation in their collective stares. Even before Suss spoke, I knew what they were anxious to know.
“Do you remember?” Suss asked me.
I looked in her eyes. The question carried a certain kind of weight. This was, as far as Sam’s existence was concerned, where I was born. His life must have revolved round this place. No, I didn’t remember. Couldn’t.
For the first time, I sensed that these people felt more pain than I did. It was in their eyes. For the first time, I wished I could at least remember something. Or someone. If not for me, then for Suss, for Dan and Cinda, and Clay. And Joko. And maybe everyone else. I had to remember.
“No,” I said, looking straight into Suss’ eye. “I don’t remember. Can you help me to?” My expression was earnest. There seemed to be a lot at stake here. How were things here before the accident? How did they cope during the three months Sam was away? Who was Sam? How did he live? And now that I was in his skin, how was I supposed to live?
“We will.” Suss leaned forward to hold my hand in hers. “We will.”
The vehicle had navigated a few corners to emerge suddenly and unexpectedly into a parking lot centred by a giant pouch of a mansion. When Peter pulled up to a halt, doors were opened for us to alight. I stepped out into the evening breeze. The sun was a little shaded by the clouds. The zephyr caressed my face with a refreshing assuredness. Suss held my right hand and led me up the stairs. Everything was white and exquisite. The concrete and panes seemed freshly painted, the marble stones newly polished. A big brown oak door stood before us. As we came closer, it parted in a deliberate slow movement, embracing us with the whisper of classical music coming from within.
I was just about to take in the sight of the hall, when a burst of light before my head shredded my vision in a million directions, causing me to flinch while closing my eyes to the illuminative onslaught. I remembered the last time I’d suffered this had been in my room – in Eli’s room. And for a moment, I feared that I’d open my eyes and find myself back there.
The noise from the hall quickly assured me that I was still here, in my dream.
I slowly opened my eyes, and before me was a small crowd of people, young and elderly, with different skin colours. The noise was a mixture of cheers, claps, whistles, and music which had swelled from the initial whisper. Two huge banners festooned the walls and read: ‘Welcome Back, Sammie.’
Soon, I was submerged in the crowd, receiving hugs and claps on my back. Suss had said there’d be a dinner. This was no dinner. It was a banquet. There were so many people wanting to welcome me back. These were people who clearly knew me very well, but who I had no idea about whatsoever. Just when I was starting to wonder about his presence, Suss came to my side to quickly speak into my ear about my father arriving shortly.
My father. Something about the impending meeting sent horripilations across my skin.
Before long, Joko had maneuvered me out of the hall down a corridor. She had changed since the time we arrived from the simple wear she’d had on to a lovely dinner gown. And she looked even more beautiful, with eyes that sparkled with delight and rouged lips that twisted and turned around the words she said to me. It was fleeting, but I suddenly felt a quick desire to kiss her.
Oh God no! Don’t even think that! She must be Sam’s girlfriend.
But I am Sam!
No, you are Eli!
“After dinner, we will have all the time to ourselves.” Joko looked me in the eye as if to be sure I knew what she meant.
She was showing me around. We had just come into a cavernous room upstairs. Hanging from the wall on our left were family portraits. I instantly spotted Cinda’s beam on the first picture. She must have been ten or eleven in this picture. The next was Clay’s. As I turned my look to the next picture, my heart began beating a little faster as I realized what this was.
Joko seemed to read my mind. “There goes the family genealogy on the wall,” she said with a wave of her hand at the rows of bronze-framed pictures down the wall.
I started forward, looking urgently from picture to picture. Below every photograph, etched on the bronze frame were the names of the photographed person. I muttered their names. I glanced at their visages. I kept moving.
Joko moved beside me. I could feel her nervous energy. No doubt, she was thinking that I was acting out on a nudge from my memory, perhaps I was remembering something. She watched my lips move, not hearing what I was mumbling. She wanted to ask, I could feel it. But she remained silent as she followed me down the room.
As I drew close to the end of the wall that wore the history of the family in frames, my fingers began to twitch. My lips began to tremble and my knees could barely hold my weight, barely support my gait. I saw a picture of Suss when she was younger. Her hair glowed.
“This is your dad’s picture,” Joko said, watching to see if she’d answered any of my worries.
I glanced at the face mounted next to Suss’. He looked familiar. I simply nodded my head, and moved on.
Then I stood before the next frame on the wall. The image stared back at me. I smiled even though my hands were trembling so much. I lifted a shaky hand to the frame, as I read the name at the base of the picture: Sir Eli George Akinfe (1988-2073).
“That’s your grandfather.”
I shut my eyes and reopened them. I saw those very familiar tribal marks that stood one stroke apiece on each cheek.
That’s your grandfather. Joko’s voice echoed in my mind.
No, that’s me, I whispered in my head.
This was surely a dream, but this was also my future.
I turned to look at the bearer of the voice. He was the one I had seen in the picture just before the one I was now standing before. He was about six feet tall, somewhere in his fifties, with an impressive carriage. I couldn’t help but think what kind of father I had been to him.
That Eli had been to him.
But I am Eli!
I looked at the man as he approached. I looked him into his eyes, and I could see a piece of me in there.
Hello, son, he’d said.
I shut my eyes and reopened them.
“Hello, dad.” I was finally able to say something.
Written by Ojay Aito, tweets @1ojay