It was evening. 6:45 PM precisely. After a long drive to the outskirts of Lagos, no thanks to the mad traffic, Stanley finally pulled to a halt in front of a black gate protecting a very wide compound. From inside the car, Christiana could make out two bungalows standing side by side. A low fence surrounded them, painted yellow. The bungalows were pained yellow too. But the pillars were lemon.
On the second sound of the car horn, a dark-skinned uniformed man opened the gate. He waved happily at Stanley. Stanley waved back, promising to catch up with him after helping Christiana settle in.
As long as Christiana was concerned, the most beautiful part of the compound was the flower garden gracing the far left of the compound. It had thatch roof huts for relaxing, as well as benches under small trees.
“You mean your mother built such a beautiful house away from the city?”
Stanley laughed, pulling the car to a halt, “Actually, I did. For reasons you will understand later”, he added, when he saw her raised brows
Getting down from the car, Stanley, having done some shopping for Christiana in town before the ride home, picked up the bags from the boot and then led the way in.
The sitting room was simply furnished with leather chairs. Fluffy pillows rested on them. A brown center rug lay beneath the center table. Yellow curtains stood, pulled back from the windows. A dining table graced the other end of the room. Soft music, old skool actually, emanated from the small radio setting on it.
A rechargeable lamp sitting on the TV shelf illuminated the room.
The cozy little house was a little warmer than the harmattan breeze blowing viciously outside. Christiana was sure in an hour or two, she’d be able to take off her thick jacket. However, the welcomed development soon faded off as the sweet aroma of freshly cooked ogbolor soup wafted into their nose. It was another welcomed development, as she was sure she couldn’t compare it to the kind of hospital meals she had endured for the past few days.
Christiana inhaled the aroma, savoring its taste. Stanley laughed, “Mama is truly invested in giving us a satisfying welcome meal”.
“It smells nice”, Christiana smiled
“Yes. It does. Come, I’ll show you to your room”, he led her into a narrow passage illuminated by a smaller lamp, and stopped at the last room, actually the third room to the right, and pushed the door open.
The room was a small one and simply furnished too. A bed, big enough for two, stood at the right-wing of the room, not so close to the window. A dressing table with a mirror sat directly opposite the bed. The curtains were light brown. But the room walls were creamy.
Stanley moved to put down the bags on the neatly laid bed, before proceeding to her wardrobe. Apparently, he had visited her home earlier in the week to get some of her clothes and other important personal effects for her. And they were all neatly arranged in the wardrobe.
Stanley had read a lot about victims of amnesia recovering their memories when in contact with something they knew or liked in the past. As much as he loved for Christiana to get her memory back, he was scared that when she did, she’d find out something he thought was best kept a secret.
True, she’d accuse him and walk away. But he had to try to do what’s right. So here they were, in the same room with personal items he was sure would help Christiana overcome her condition.
“If you need anything else, you can look in your wardrobe”, he said, opening it wider, “I was able to get some of your personal stuff from your apartment”.
“My apartment?”, Christiana looked surprised.
“Yes. You have an apartment in Lagos. But I do not think it wise for you to stay there. There was a reason you had this accident”, Stanley swallowed, looking reluctant to say more, before adding, “they may still be after you. It’s better they can’t find you”.
“They? If you know anything about what led to me being hospitalized, please tell me. Who did this to me?”
Stanley took a deep breath. Eternity almost passed before he summoned courage and moved to stand in front of her, “some very bad people who want you dead. They failed. But they’ll try again. And this time we will be alert. Do you trust me, Christiana?” He had to ask because he saw her eyes waver.
Christiana paused, took a deep breath too and looked away. She felt a strong attraction for him. Something even she could not understand. The guy was as good as a stranger to her, even though, he seemed to know so much about her life than she presently did. And if she was going to keep getting help from him, as well as with recovering her memory, her heart convinced her, she would have to stick with him. But even then, she wasn’t going to lie. Telling a lie is different from being careful. And careful she would be.
“I will be frank, Stanley”, she said, “I am trying very hard to trust you. You’re a total stranger to me. And until I get to know you more, I cannot trust you. At least not a hundred percent”.
Stanley nodded, slowly. He understood her concerns, “but?”
“But nothing. I just need time to know you more”.
Stanley nodded again and sighed, “you’re right. I cannot expect you to trust a total stranger. But I hope we become best of friends again. I really hope so”, he closed the distance by pulling her into a warm embrace, “and I believe when everything falls back in place, we will be ok. You will be fine Christiana. This is only for a while”.
It took all of her will power not to jump back from the warm and once comforting embrace. He said those words again. The exact same words he had said at the hospital was what he repeated and in the same tone. She was truly sad and scared now. But she knew, her best option was to play along with whatever games Stanley was playing.
It was a while later Stanley pulled back to look at her, “let me introduce you to my mom”.
Christiana nodded in agreement and managed a slight smile, not ignoring the warning alerts in her head
Minutes later, the duo made their way back into the sitting room, then the kitchen. The woman by the cooker didn’t look anything like her handsome son, although he did get some of his features from her. She was dressed in a plain blue dress that reached just below her knees. Her hair was tucked under a net that hung to her neck. Her ebony skin did glitter in the golden flame of the kerosene lamp sitting on the table. A door, obviously leading to the backyard, was open, letting the harmattan cold in.
She turned slightly from her pot of soup and smiled at the duo, then her son, “oh my boy! You’re here”, she looked really excited.
“Yes mama”, Stanley moved to hug her from behind, before planting kisses on her cheeks. Christiana smiled, watching Stanley shower his mother with love.
“Good evening ma”, that was Christiana.
“Good evening my dear”, the elderly woman replied, “and you must be Christiana”.
“Yes ma”, she nodded.
“Well, I guess there would be no need for me to do any more introductions”, Stanley chuckled
“No. No need”, his mother turned back to the pot, as if not caring Christiana was still in the kitchen, “but you can help set the table. Dinner is ready”.
“Sure”, Stanley pecked her cheeks one last time before moving away to set the table.
“What should I help with?” Christiana offered.
“You can join me”, Stanley winked at her. She smiled, temporarily forgetting to keep in mind the fact that she didn’t trust him.
Within minutes, the table was set. And Mrs. Odisi served a mouth-watering meal of pounded yam and ogbolor soup. The trio ate together at the dining.
The first taste was heavenly. Christiana was extremely relieved, she was no longer eating hospital food.
“The meal is very delicious ma”, she said, after a third swallow.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it”, Mrs. Odisi beamed.
Christiana could tell though, the woman wasn’t very fond of strangers. Could it be the reason Stanley had emphasized at the hospital that his mother was a good woman? He probably already knew she wouldn’t be so warmly welcomed and he didn’t want her feeling his mother didn’t like her.
After lunch, Christiana helped cleared the table and with Stanley, washed the dishes. Afterwards, she retired to her room, as Stanley went out to do some catching up with the other occupants of the large compound. He had invited her to join him. But she refused, wanting to be alone. Besides, it was dark and she really just wanted to retire
“Some other time, please”, she said.
“Ok. But don’t fail to let me know if you need anything”.
“I wouldn’t. If I need even a glass of water, I’ll call on my guardian angel”, she smiled. Stanley chuckled. It was good though, seeing her smile.
“And your guardian Angel will answer as fast as he can”.
While he made his way out calling out to someone to put on the generator, Christiana made for her room. Minutes later, she heard the gen come on somewhere within the compound. And so did the light.
Leaving her window open for fresh air, she pulled the curtains together before moving to unpacked the things Stanley shopped for her. Christiana arranged them neatly in the wardrobe before stepping into the bathroom for a warm bath. Thanks to Mrs. Odisi who saw to it that she warm water. She was grateful for having a bathroom built-in her room. It saved her the stress of sharing.
Thirty minutes later, she’s in simple pajamas, lying on the not so wide bed. Her eyes fell on a book by the side cabinet and she reached for it. It had no cover, as both the cover and a few pages were missing.
At the top left of the pages though, the author’s name appeared, “Anthony Okon”, she mouthed. At the top right, the title, In The Land of The Living, stood out. And since sleep refused to claim her, curiosity did. She started to read.
She was only fifteen minutes into the book when from the corner of her left eye, she saw movement. Christiana shifted her gaze in the direction of the movement and her heart almost gave out when her eyes rested on the form of a man in black clothing. Light skinned, tall and covered, neck to toes, in a black robe. He held an axe in one hand. Her eyes couldn’t miss the blood dripping from the sharp edge of the axe.
His eyes had a mysterious look that held her spellbound, making it impossible for her to move or talk. Then he pointed at her, “you cannot escape me. I will kill you”. He disappeared almost instantly, and that was when Christiana found her voice. Her screams rang through the entire house, causing the building to vibrate, like an earth wake was on-going.
It took Stanley busting into the room, obviously scared something wrong could be happening to her, and hugging Christiana to himself, to calm her down. And still, it took some time for her to eventually relax, but not without ranting hysterically about the man she saw in her room, about the axe he held and the words he spoke to her.
At that time, Mrs. Odisi, the gate man, along with a lady, were already in the room. One look at their faces and one could tell they were worried as well as confused about what was actually going on.
It took great efforts for Stanley to finally understand what a very scared Christiana was saying. He pulled back a little and looked in the direction she pointed. But there was no one there.
“He was there. He was there. He said he’ll kill me”, Christiana continued.
Stanley sighed knowingly, pulling her back into his embrace, “he won’t touch you. I won’t let him”, he said into her ear, “now you need to rest. You’ve been through a lot lately”.
“I don’t want to rest. I can’t sleep if somebody wants to kill me”.
“No one can kill you”, the young lady, dressed like a tomboy, said, “I’ll stay and watch over you while you sleep”.
Christiana studied her briefly. For some reasons, the girl didn’t seem to be smiling or look cheerful in any way. But she was certainly serious about keeping watch over her.
“I trust Grace to take proper care of you”, that was Stanley, “you will be fine with her…”.
“I don’t know her”, Christiana cut him short, clinging closer to Stanley as she buried her face in the hollow of his neck.
Stanley swallowed. A million thoughts crossed his mind before he looked up at the others, “it’s ok”, he assured them, “I’ll stay with her”.
They nodded and then one by one, reluctantly, left the room. By the time Christiana lifted her head, her eyes were wet. Stanley had since felt her tears on his neck.
“Christiana talk to me. What exactly happened?” He asked, wiping off her tears with his thumb.
It was after series of persuasion and quiet sobs, she was able to explain to him what she saw. Stanley frowned, as he reached for the book Christiana had been reading, In The Land of The Living. A knowing look crossed his face. Christiana noticed, but she didn’t ask what he was thinking. She expected him to tell her without her needing to ask.
“The person you saw, his axe had blood dripping from it?” Stanley asked.
“Yes. You know him?” Christiana was curious.
“Yes. What I don’t understand is why you’d see him right here”.
“Why I’ll see him right here? You think I’m making up stories?” She was getting angry, and he could feel it.
“I don’t think you made up anything. I’m only wondering why it happened”, he calmed her down, “I’ll need to talk with my mom”, he started to his feet and Christiana quickly joined him.
“You don’t have to tag along. I’ll be back shortly”.
“I’m not going to sit here alone. I’m coming with you”, she looked desperate. He’d seen that expression before and he knew, nothing he said would make her calm down or stay back.
“Ok. So let’s just sit back. You’re tired and you really need to rest. I can speak with my mom later”, he sat back.
She sat too, rather slowly, and then looked away, “I’m sorry, Stanley”, she started, “I don’t mean to be a burden on you. I … I really wish… I really I’d ju…”
“Stop it, Christy. Just stop it. You’re not a burden. You never were”, he reached for her hand, caressing it fondly.
Christiana couldn’t help but notice the excitement that steamed from his touch, spreading all over her body.
As much as she thought it weird, she liked what she felt. Looking down at his strong hand with long, finely shaped fingers caressing hers, the feeling seemed to double and surprisingly, Stanley didn’t look like he wanted to stop. He lifted her hands to his lips and planted soft passionate kisses on them, sending more chills down her spine. Her heartbeat doubled and as much as she wanted him to stop, she actually didn’t know how to tell him.
But then, as suddenly as he started his exploitation, he stopped and quickly got to his feet, rubbing one hand over his head. Christiana didn’t know if to be happy or sad. But before she could speak, he did.
“I’m sorry, Christiana. I shouldn’t overstep my boundaries or do anything that would make you feel insecure”, he turned to face her then, and Christiana saw he was doing everything to put himself under control.
“Do I affect you?” She asked before she could stop herself.
Stanley smiled, lightly, “let’s have this conversation some other time. Right now, you need to rest”.
She nodded, deciding it was better not to pursue that line. Christiana got on the bed. But Stanley, he suddenly started acting like she was hot coal that’ll burn him if he got too close. He took the chair by the wardrobe instead, swiped out his mobile and started to chat away on Whatsapp. He needed the distraction, else the bulge between his legs started to show.
Christiana wished she knew who he was chatting with and what they were chatting about. But she knew, it was better to mind her business. She got under her blanket and turned the other way. Occasionally, she felt his eyes on her. As strange as it may seem, it made her feel safe.
The night, however, was far from safe. At least, not for her. Christian, for every time she managed to doze off, had more terrible nightmares. The same man she had seen in her room earlier, along with other horrible looking people, chased her ceaselessly.
The first time she had the nightmare, Stanley, upon seeing her struggle in her sleep due to one of such terrible dreams, was quickly by her side, shaking her vigorously so as to wake her from the nightmare. And when he eventually succeeded, her hand went for his neck with a death grip.
It took some serious battle to get her hand off his neck and wake her up to her reality. Christiana sat up, panting hard, as she apologized to Stanley for the attack.
“What happened?” He asked, ignoring her apology and pulling her into his embrace. He saw only a part of the dream she had experienced and it wasn’t good at all. And since he was distracted with his Whatsapp chat, he hadn’t seen the start of the dream. He needed to know what happened, hence he was asking.
Christiana was reluctant. But with more persuasion, she spoke up. The man she had seen earlier in her room was after her with his bloody axe.
“I really don’t know what’s happening”, she said, after narrating her terrible dream, “I just think my nightmares are getting worse”.
“You had several nightmares back at the hospital. Where they like the one you just had?”
“Yes. But at the hospital, it was a different face”, she admitted. “And he didn’t hold an axe, just a cigarette, and a gun. But the attack is the same”.
Stanley frowned, “the same attack different faces?
“Yes”, she swallowed, as her breathing gradually steadied,
“It’s ok”, Stanley hugged her closer. “By day break, we will need to talk with my mom. She knows more about these things”.
To be continued…
Karo Oforofuo. December 2017. All Rights Reserved
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