The shadows never leave

Another midnight phone call from Emmanuel left me shaken to the bones. My wife had been awoken by the loudness of the ringtone with suspicions about who it was that was calling so late in the night. She didn’t know Emmanuel, and there was no point opening old wounds. So I claimed it was a wrong number and that put her back to sleep.

That unfortunate Friday evening ten years ago has always been with me despite already pouring it out to the Reverend Father at confession who declared me absolved of all my transgressions. My guys and I had gone out to the pub as usual, and on our way back we had seen her. I don’t even know her name, none of us does. She was tall, she wore a skirt, her hair was braided and she had a big nose and eyes spaced apart. She was walking alone, hurrying with her bag clutched to her side as though her life was tucked in it. It was Taiye who first saw her, and he made drunk passes amidst encouraging jeers from the rest of us, which she didn’t respond to. Then he grabbed her arm, and when she slapped him, he was outraged. He hit her hard across the face, dragged her to a corner of the road where even star lights couldn’t reach, and raped her. We watched as she cried and begged and called on names we had never heard, and we too, one after the other had our way with her after Taiye had had his fill. She stopped struggling at the sixth person, and it was then we realized she was unconscious and fled for it.

Taiye’s senator father had somehow found a way to keep the story under wraps and we got off easy, but my conscience would not let me be. So I ran. I fled Lagos and settled in my Eastern hometown.

Years passed and eroded my guilt slowly till I could sleep at night without her face haunting my dreams. I got married and had a kid, and things began to look pretty good until the calls started coming.

Emmanuel, now based in the UK and the only one I remained in close contact with, called to tell me about Taiye’s airplane crash, and how his remains were never found. He also called about the fire incident at Yusuf’s home that gutted his entire family beyond recognition. Kalu’s death was rife on social media; he and his groomsmen were shot by robbers on his way to his wedding in Owerri. Matthew drowned in his bathtub. In a space of three months, four mysterious deaths had happened, and now Emmanuel was calling to tell me he had been diagnosed with cancer.

I knew this might come, but I hoped confession had somehow let me off the hook. Now, staring into emptiness and replaying the conversation I just had with him in my head, I know something is coming.

Or maybe it’s already here.