Previously on TWO LIVES AND A SOUL…
This was much more than a dinner. It was a feast. There were about a hundred people scattered all over the dining hall, although the main dinner table sat over forty people, most of them my friends that I didn’t know and some family members I had just gotten acquainted with. I maintained a solicitous smile and an even more solicitous ‘thank you’ for all the attention I was getting from these people. So far, none of them had asked me the sort of questions that an awkward smile and a vague nod of my head hadn’t been able to answer.
Father sat at the head of the table and Suss seated on his left. My seat at the other end of the table was a significant gesture I didn’t need to be schooled about. The music was classical, the drink exotic, and the food was a mix of continental and local dishes.
Seated across the room from my father was one thing, but seated across the table from my son evoked a feeling I couldn’t describe. This meeting with my son for the first time, encountering him as an older person than I was, was creating a swirl of thoughts and emotions that bordered on insanity. It was all I could do not to scream out loud in this roomful of elegant people.
Father’s name was Theodore, I soon learned. Every now and then, he’d observe me with an expression that I found very familiar. It wasn’t long before I recalled why that expression was so familiar to me. As a child – as Eli, that is – I imitated the eagle’s beady offensive stare to scare away bullies at school. Somehow it managed to be my default facial expression. As I got older, it took a good amount of work to convince women I was interested in that I wasn’t some sort of predator, so intense was the expression.
This was the very same look that Theodore Akinfe was giving me now. Intermittently, he observed me, and I him. It was evident that he was an affluent man, and for that, I felt an odd burst of paternal pride in me. I wondered how he had gotten to his station in life. I wondered how the life before my death – Eli’s death – had been, whether it had been marked with the good fortune I hadn’t had at twenty-seven years of age. I wondered if Theodore had inherited his affluence from me, or had worked judiciously to get to where he currently was. Was his success attained from his sweat or other people’s blood?
And why was I thinking like this? I reminded myself again that this was a dream, although I couldn’t wake up yet. Not that I now wanted to.
The tinkling sound of a fork on glassware pulled me back from my reverie. Someone was calling for attention. I looked up from my half empty plate. My dad, Theodore stood six feet tall, pressed into a three-piece grey suit made of woven fabric. It spoke of nobility and elegance. Everyone became silent, as a speech was about to be heard. Was Theodore an orator? Was he a man given to plush things of life that might seem too extravagant for others? Was he a man faithful and thoughtful to the needs of other people? What could have ever made me think of naming my son Theodore in the first place?
The room was silent before he even ventured to speak. I fought quickly to quieten the din of my thoughts and focused on him as he started.
“My father once told me, ‘To demystify death’,” – Theodore looked around the room, before his eyes settled on his wife, like he was about to say something they both had heard umpteen times before – “‘you have to be prepared for it.’ But someone who is greater than my father, and arguably me” – he chuckled – “hasn’t only demystified death, but has also made a circus of it.” His gaze turned to me.
Cheers broke out across the room and faces beamed at me.
Theodore raised a glass in my direction. Everyone else did the same. I picked up my glass by its stem, a reserved smile tipping the edge of my lips as my father came to the end of his speech.
“Here is to my son, Samuel George-Akinfe. May your abundant life bring hope to this world and generations to come. Cheers!”
“Cheers!” the room echoed.
There was a resonation of clinks as wine-glasses were touched against each other. A lot more congratulations than I could respond to filled the hall. Amidst the resurgence of the festive spirits, Suss came over to me and pulled me into a gentle hug. When she pulled back, there was a glimmer in her eyes. Whether it was of tears or a trick of the lighting, I couldn’t tell.
As more guests swarmed around me once again, Joko stood by my side the entire time, while Dan kept nodding at me reassuringly whenever our eyes met across the room. He had told me once earlier on that I was doing fine. I supposed they hadn’t told anyone that I still suffered some memory loss.
You haven’t told anyone you are not Sam either, have you?
At last, the crowd had thinned out, and Suss and Theodore were out on the porch, bidding goodbye to some of their friends. I sat next to the pianist at the end of the hall while I watched members of my family move about, taking care of one business or the other. Under the reserved bustle of the servers, gradually, the party was getting cleaned out from the mansion.
Joko was busy with some chores, but I could tell that I was very much under her radar. She walked over to me once to ask if I wanted anything. I smiled at her and said, “No, I’m fine. I’m just enjoying watching Andre Wedd play.”
Joko drew back, mildly startled and exchanged a look with the pianist. I had heard his name when he was first introduced, and I presumed their surprise came from the fact that I knew his name. perhaps they thought I was remembering something.
But then, the pianist said with a shrug, “People change.”
“Clearly,” Joko said with a quick smile.
And I had the feeling I had just exhibited a characteristic Sam wasn’t known for.
Presently, I glanced toward the porch at my parents. The last of the guests had gone, and the couple stood there talking, bathed under the light of the porch. They looked tired, but their body language spoke of good chemistry.
“Come with me.” Joko had come over again. Without waiting for me to respond, she started off down the hallway.
I slowly stood and followed after her, but not before I caught the suggestive smirk on Andre Wedd’s face as his practised fingers moved deftly across the piano’s keyboard.
Joko stopped at the edge of the stairs, one foot lifted to the first landing. I noticed the lavishly decorated portal beside the stairs, but my eyes were fixed on Joko’s. She spoke no words, only beckoning me with her index finger.
I followed her up the stairs, the sound of music and conversations slowly fading out the further we went into the plush interior of the house. She didn’t look back until she stopped before a white ornate door. She turned to me again, and there was certain desire in her eyes. She jerked the door open and stepped in. With my throat dry and my heart beginning to pound a soft tattoo, I followed after her.
There was no time to get an impression of the room. Joko’s beauty had me entranced, her sight, her scents, her allure. She came to stand before me, angling her head as her lips drew closer and closer to mine. My lips parted as our mouths came in contact. Our breaths mingled. I felt her heart fluttering inside her chest, which was pressed lightly against mine. At first, it was a delicate butterfly of a kiss. Then her arms locked around my neck and pulled me closer as she pressed her body harder against mine. The kiss caught some fire, and my arms encircled her slender waist as our lips slipped and slid against each other.
I couldn’t have stopped kissing her, even if I wanted to. She was the one who broke the kiss, slowly easing apart from me. She was staring deep into my eyes as she husked, “I’ve missed you.”
“I… I…” I stuttered a little, not knowing what to say. It was clear Sam had been dating this lovely woman. And I so wanted to speak endearing words back to her. But I felt overburdened with what I knew: that I wasn’t the man these people thought I was. I’d already used them for their generosity; I couldn’t take advantage of this woman’s affection too.
For the first time, I noticed Joko was wearing a ring on her ring finger. It glowed enamel green as the light in the room reflected on it. It wasn’t a wedding band, I hoped. I thought for a moment what that could mean.
“You still don’t remember, do you?” she said, cutting into my wandering thoughts. Her eyes saddened, and then brightened immediately at the thought of another idea. “Hmm, this may just be a blessing in disguise.”
“How do you mean?”
She slid her hands from around my neck and took my hands in hers. She was about to speak when a knock sounded on the door. We turned to it, and I caught a look fleet past her face, a reflection of the irritation I felt at the intrusion.
“Yes, come in please,” Joko said.
The door was opened slightly, and then all the way. In walked Theodore Akinfe, his grey top coat now taken off, leaving a tightly fitted monkey jacket wrapped around his torso, and a loose tie hanging on his collar.
“Dan said you two had come up,” he said. “I’m sorry to bother you.” He stood by the door, clearly intent on going nowhere.
“Please come in, sir,” Joko said as she released my hands and moved towards the door. “I’ll let you both talk.” She had gently shut the door after her before I could think of an appropriate response for my father.
I swallowed and adjusted my lapels. I watched Theodore walk up to me. He pressed his lips together in a solemn expression that was also strikingly familiar. This man had inherited a lot more than his name from me – from Eli. The crow claws at the both sides of his face revealed a man who had not only fought many battles but had also chosen them wisely.
“Father,” I said.
“Son, how are you?” He put his hand on my shoulder.
I thought about his question. Other than that I suffered from amnesia, as the doctor said I would, I was perfect.
“I’m fine, sir,” I reassured him.
As he took in my features, the device strapped to my left wrist at the hospital beeped. We both glanced at it as I raised my hand. It was showing three pairs of numbers. I remembered Dan had given me a quick tutorial back at the hospital on how the device worked. But I had no idea what this meant.
“Hmm, your doctor is on your circuit,” my father said.
“He is what?” I stared, clueless, at him as he walked over to the end of the bed and pressed a button affixed to the wall.
A ray of coloured light diverged from a tiny source from the bedside, and a full-bodied hologram of Dr. Smith loomed up before us. I started back two steps before I found my balance, as I stared with open-mouthed shock at the new entrant.
“Hello, Your Excellency,” the hologram addressed my father in a voice that was distinctly similar with the doctor’s back at the hospital. “A very quick one, sir. I just wanted to be sure Sam was fine.”
My father turned to gesture at me with a wave of his hand, clearly inviting me to answer the doctor.
“I’m fine, doctor. Doing well, sir.” I stood at attention.
“Ok,” the hologram said, turning to me. “We are monitoring your progress from here, Sam. I just want you to remember you have all the time in the world to get back to your best. Your brain activity coefficient was raised to the power of four sometime within the last three hours. So I insist that you remain calm. Not all speed is progress, young sir.”
“Sure.” I nodded my head.
“That would be it, Your Excellency, sir. We would come by the Bay tomorrow.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Theodore answered, and the light puffed out.
He expelled a breath before turning to me. As he walked back across the room, I thought about how the doctor had addressed him. Your Excellency? Just how highly placed is this man?
“Son, I’ll leave you now for you to retire. It’s been a long day for you.” He put his hand into his side pocket.
I glanced around. A large overstuffed bed sat patiently at the head of the room. “Yes, father. I suppose I should get some rest, like the good doctor prescribed.”
My father drew closer to me, his hand coming out of the pocket. He was now holding a tiny box, one which he handed out to me. “It’s yours, son.”
I took the box from him.
He smiled at me. “We are glad to have you back, my dear boy. Remember, you’ve got all the time in the world.” He turned and headed for the door. “Goodnight, Sam.”
“Goodnight…” Theodore. “Dad.”
And just like that, I was all by myself for the first time since I got to the future. I stared at the box now in my palm. It was a tiny box helmed in silk material. It was so tiny that I wondered what it could possibly carry. A ring? A key? Perhaps some diamond-etched family emblem? I went to sit on the edge of the bed, my jacket now laid by my side. I sighed deeply, thinking of everything and thinking of nothing.
I gently flicked open the box with my finger. What I saw made me stare. It wasn’t a ring, a key or some family heirloom. What was in the case was a tiny quartz watch the size of a Two Naira coin, fastened to a silver chain. I pulled it out, my attention totally rapt.
I traced its silver frame with my eyes, studied the fingers of the watch, then the digital board at its base. I lifted the device up, closer to me. I squinted a little at it, and then tilted it towards the source of light by the bed.
I was looking for a clue: something that dragged my curiosity to the end of the world. And there it was! Umendikayt was etched on it, so subtle my earlier scrutiny hadn’t caught it.
A mixture of sorrow and joy whirled in my mind, and my heart began pounding a little bit faster again. If I was right, this device could be my gateway to my original life. I thought of my alarm clock and the words that were inscribed in it. Were they each powerful by themselves, or was the potency as a result of an exact numerical synchronization?
Aoys fun umendikayt ir gekumen, fun umendikayt ir vet tsurikkumen. The words hovered on my mouth as they had the first time.
Just then, the tiny watch in the hollow of my hand made a sharp sound. My brain must have taken a capture of the time as the fingers struck 10:30. Is a clock meant to strike at such a time?
I remembered what happened to me when the alarm clock in my original life had begun to glow. Now I was ready for this. I waited for the tiny chain clock to begin to glow. It didn’t. I braced myself for the quacking of my body, but nothing of the sort happened. I stared at the clock, not sure what to feel, relief or regret.
I was about to let out a sigh, when I noticed the fingers of the clock begin to move, slowly accelerating to such a speedy motion that I couldn’t make them out anymore. The clock didn’t glow. Instead, it began to turn a different colour. It turned a dark brown around its inner wall, and then black. I heard the soft whirr of the clock’s fingers as they continued spinning about on the clock’s face.
Suddenly, the light in the room began to dim, casting a gloom over the room. I turned a startled look about the room and then back at the clock. It seemed as though the tiny device was sucking away the light from the room. Within seconds, the lights were off and the room was overcast with an immense darkness. I could see nothing, not even my hand when I waved it across my face.
And then, the temperature in the room began to hike. The room began to feel warm, then a little too warm. It became hot, then a little too hot. I lurched to my feet, now intent on escaping from the room and its boiling-point temperature. But I hadn’t even taken up to two steps before I began to cough, as a choking sensation seized my entire adenoidal system. I spluttered, the coughs wracked through my body. It was as though my lungs had started to fail or the air had gotten incredibly light.
A mixture of panic and acceptance flowed through my veins as several thoughts raced through my mind. Was it the watch or the words? Was it a synchronization of the two that had made this mystification possible? Where was I going now? Was I getting sent back to my original present, or to some medieval past? Or was I being ported to a further future where only spirits sat at the table?
I lost my balance and fell backwards. I didn’t remember landing or crashing into anything. I just kept falling.
Written by Ojay Aito, tweets @1ojay