“This beautiful, dark fantasy; my love’s most quaint melody; the night has come, we severe our ties; for these, the last days of our lives” – Nancy’s Book
Tunde’s house, a two-storey building, was rooted third from the estate’s main gate, in a row of similar constructions that boasted of superior craftsmanship and architectural brilliance.
As was to be expected on a Monday afternoon, when most adults were at work and children, at school, the cobbled road network connecting the houses in the estate in byzantine I’s and T’s lay empty and quiet.
Nancy stood before Tunde’s front door, a traveling bag in hand. She threw furtive glances here and there, and then she let herself in.
Inside, she leaned against the door and took deep breaths. This was it, the end of the road. After so long, she was finally putting a stop to all this madness and freeing Tunde from himself.
But at what cost? The question nagged at her.
She disregarded the irksome thought and walked upstairs, to the master bedroom.
There, she placed a book on the vacant reading table – “These, the Last Days of our Lives” by Nancy, no last name – and kicked the travelling bag under the table.
Her meticulous eyes traversed the barely lived in room. The bed was too neat, like it hadn’t been slept in, in days. The open wardrobe had no clothes hanging in it, no suitcases or shoes assembled at its base. She spotted, by the reading table, a curled, thick rope on top a stool, and frowned.
She checked her watch: 5:36:01.
Downstairs, Nancy examined the shabby door at the end of the hall, right next to the kitchen door. It was the only door in the house in dire need of a makeover. Tunde didn’t like going through that door, didn’t like the secrets it concealed.
But Nancy wasn’t Tunde. She wasn’t afraid of secrets.
She squared her shoulders, approached the door, and opened it – it creaked too loud. She descended the dilapidated stairs to a basement.
Though she didn’t need to, she flicked the switch and a fluorescent tube lit up, illuminating the room, the rows of corroded metal tables … and the bodies atop them, wrapped in ugly sheets of grey tarpaulin.
‘Oh, Tunde…’ An overwhelming sorrow cut across Nancy like a fatal blow.
Nancy had unveiled the faces the corpses, inspected them to be certain she hadn’t been mistaken, and covered them up. They were all women, and she had known them intimately at some point in her very long life.
She sat in a rickety chair, her face buried in her hands, awaiting the inevitable.
An impatient sigh… A quick look at her watch: 5:36:01.
She heard the front door open then close. Tunde was home. She sat up and listened.
Alongside an insatiable appetite for blood and the macabre, an unnatural speed, a strange hypnotic sway over people, and a vision that illuminated even the darkest of places, Nancy possessed ears that unravelled whispers miles away.
Tunde was in the master bedroom. She heard him collapse in the chair by the reading table … he sat there for a while … then he was up.
The legs of the stool scraped the floor.
His weight left the ground.
The rope … she heard the fat rope entwine.
The stool clattered. A gasp, followed by nauseating strangled splutters.
Nancy allowed the air she held to ease out of her lungs. A tear drop slipped down her cheek.
She raced out of the basement to the master bedroom.
Tunde hung from the ceiling fan, his life, long extinguished.
Nancy stared for a short while at his limp body caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between the rope and gravity, and then she glided to the table. Tunde hadn’t opened the book. She hadn’t expected him to.
She hunkered, dragged the travelling bag from underneath the table, and unzipped it. She retrieved from it a suicide vest and its trigger, and placed them carefully on the bed, along with her wristwatch. She had no further use for it.
She ambled to the upended stool, righted it close to Tunde’s floating body, and climbed it.
‘Time to wake up,’ she said.
She gripped the rope with both hands and yanked hard. It severed. Tunde’s body plummeted to the ground. She lowered herself to it, loosened the rope around his bruised neck and tossed it aside.
She ran the back of her hand along his warm cheek … kissed his forehead as a grieving lover would, and departed the room.
No sooner had she left, Tunde’s eyes snapped open. He sucked in air and coughed, his wild, panicky eyes sweeping across the room in search of nothing in particular. He sat up, crawled to the reading table, and used it as a prop to clamber onto his feet.
He was back, alive and well. Unsurprising. But where was the body that usually accompanied him? He looked left then right, and without meaning to, his watery eyes fell on the book on the table.
‘These, the last days of our lives…’ he muttered, reading the title emblazoned on the cover.
He opened it. The first few pages were empty. His brow creased in frustration. He flicked on, page after page after page, until he discovered his quarry:
This beautiful, dark fantasy
My love’s most quaint melody
The night has come, we severe our ties
For these, the last days of our lives
A ragged sob broke from him. Unrestrained tears poured. He placed a hand over his trembling lips and traced the words on the page.
These weren’t Nancy’s words. They were his. He had written them long ago, in a time out of time, as an anchor, a reminder, a beacon to guide him back to the path he had set for himself when he drifted off course during his strange journeys away from home.
He needed to bring her back, now more than ever, but to do that he needed something bigger, something more terrible than a rope. A rope could only take him far, but not far enough.
Tunde spun around, combing the room. He spotted the suicide vest on the bed. Curiosity got the better of him and he edged towards it. He saw the watch, picked it up. It read 5:36:02.
The SSS headquarters was a revolting mess of broken furniture, torn down doors, twisted metals, bullet-riddled walls, and strewn body parts.
Tunde had no idea what had happened. He had arrived and met the place like that. He would have turned tail and run if he hadn’t already designated the headquarters his protocol five-three-six ages ago. Changing venues was out of the question at this point in the time. He had come too far.
He took the stairs in twos and got to the top floor in record time. He checked the suicide vest to ensure it was well secured and functioning properly. Satisfied, he armed the trigger, placed a thumb over the red button, shut his eyes-
That voice … it could only have come from the innermost recesses of his mind. Yet, he knew he hadn’t imagined it – he had spent the better part of the year doing that, so he understood by now the difference between imagining her and actually hearing her.
He turned slowly.
She stepped out from behind a dented shelf.
The wind got knocked out of him. He staggered. How could she be here?
Try as she might, Nancy couldn’t put some cheer into her smile.
‘I’m sorry about all this,’ she said. ‘It was the only way I could get them to give you some privacy.’
Tunde inched towards Nancy as he would a strange apparition that was both frightening and breath-taking.
‘I don’t understand. How … how are you here?’
‘I tried so hard. I tried to bring you back. How…?’
‘I can’t explain it,’ Nancy said. ‘I’m not the part of me that’s very good with words.’
‘No.’ Tunde shook his head vigorously. The anger hardened his voice. ‘You don’t get to just waltz back into my life without telling me HOW!’
Nancy studied him calmly.
‘I’m not the part of me that’s very good with words. But she is.’ She nodded at someone behind him.
Sally graced him with a gentle smile.
‘What is this?’ Tunde said, his mystified gaze alternating between Sally and Nancy.
‘Hi,’ Sally said.
‘How can you be here’ – he pointed at Sally – ‘and be there’ – he directed his finger at Nancy – ‘at the same time?’
They were alike in every way, Sally and Nancy, down to their molecular level. The same hair … eyes … face … build … the same heart-rending beauty and perfection.
Tunde’s heart thumped faster. He was having a difficult time accepting this as a reality.
‘Forget about her,’ Sally said. ‘Focus on me.’
Tunde clenched and unclenched his fists.
‘OK,’ he stammered.
Sally drew closer to him. She reached and her hand found his cheek, lingered for a moment. He shivered at her touch.
‘I have missed you so much,’ she said.
‘Please,’ he said, ‘tell me how this is possible…’
‘I have always been here, Tunde. I never left.’
‘But you did, and I tried to bring you back.’
‘I know. I saw them. In the basement. They wear my face.’
A haunted look cast its shadow over Tunde’s eyes.
‘They smile for a little while when we return,’ he said. ‘Then they die.’
Sally took his hand into hers and squeezed.
‘I need you to remember, Tunde… I need you to remember how you got here.’
‘How can I forget?’ The ominous shadow darkened. His lips thinned. ‘We were in a car… It was dark…’
The 3rd mainland bridge was sparsely populated that night. The red Honda jeep sliced the air at top speed. He manned the wheel, confident, ecstatic. She sat beside him, speaking of how wonderful the day had gone, how much that meant to their future. A new beginning…
‘You had your book launch that afternoon,’ Tunde said, smiling at the memory. ‘You were so happy, and I was too. I was very proud…’
She twisted in her seat, stretched a hand to the back and grabbed a copy of her book: “These, the last days of our lives. A collection of poems of love…” He laughed at something she said about his poetry skills, something about him having none. He couldn’t argue against that…
‘I was supposed to protect you. Wasn’t that what I told you back in ’32? I didn’t see.’ Tunde’s eyes welled.
At the other side of the solid balustrade, in the incoming light traffic, tearing along the wet road, headlights searing the night, a Toyota … its tire ripped from its hub and bounded lightning-quick.
The Toyota veered sharply, smashed into the concrete barrier, and flipped in a terrifying spiralling dance.
Its loose tire kicked off the barrier and shot into the windshield of a small truck. The trunk ran into the barrier. The force of the impact lifted its tail of the ground, and then the entire vehicle soared into the opposite lane, heading straight for the red Honda.
‘I couldn’t save you then.’ Tunde sniffed and brushed the tears aside. ‘But I can save you now. I just need to travel back a little further, and you need to hold on a little tighter-’
‘Tunde…’ Sally stopped him. ‘I’m right here! You don’t have to save me anymore.’
Tunde glanced at Nancy, uncertain: she stood aside from them, a dour, watchful presence in the room.
‘What was the last thing you told me?’ Sally said.
‘I told you … I told you a poem. The one in the book. Nancy’s book.’
‘Your anchor.’ Sally nodded. ‘But that wasn’t the last thing you told me.’
Tunde was perplexed. No, he remembered clearly. He had told her the poem after she had teased him, right before the truck had rammed into them.
A wet sensation invaded his nostrils. He felt with his finger. Blood.
‘You told me never to leave you,’ Sally said. ‘You made me promise.’
Tunde grunted. His side hurt.
‘And I haven’t.’ She helped him with the vest; he slid his fingers underneath, and when he dragged them out, they were stained with blood.
‘You’ve been trying so hard to hold on to our memory, our dreams, that you forgot what was right in front of you.’
Tunde stared at his red hand. The implications of its meaning began to unfold, but he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to head down that road. His chest was so heavy he couldn’t breathe.
‘I never left, Tunde. I am still by your side, in that car.’
Nancy sighed and bowed her head.
Tunde stared at Sally in stunned silence. Everything he had believed, everything he had fought for, had been a lie.
‘I died,’ he muttered.
‘No.’ Sally cupped his face. She kissed him and wept with him. ‘Not yet.’
‘I don’t want to go,’ he protested weakly.
‘Tunde, listen… I don’t know what this place is, or where it is,’ Sally said, ‘but I do know, whatever you’re doing here, it’s tearing the fabric of reality apart. You have to come with me. We still have but a flitting moment together. Let me say my goodbyes properly.’
‘It’s not fair. We had plans. I wanted to make you happy.’
‘You did make me happy, babe. I was happier with you than I ever was in all of my lifetimes. For that, I am truly grateful.’
Sally folded Tunde’s quivering fingers around the trigger and held them steady.
‘It’s OK. You are not alone,’ she said and kissed his tears. ‘I am with you, always, even in the end.’
Tunde savoured the feel of her lips on his. Such magic, such beauty… He would cherish the memory of their touch forever.
The watch on his wrist beeped: 5:36:03, but they paid no attention to it.
They pressed the trigger together-
3rd MAINLAND BRIDGE
The Mercedes-Benz ML jeep rose, starting with its rear, suspended in the air by a force that could neither be felt nor perceived.
Mrs Clarice Dimka gripped the steering wheel. Her body trembled, her lower half drenched in piss. She had seen the same thing happen to the seven other cars, the last one, a black Kia – its occupant, a fat woman, had opened the door and stuck her legs out in a frantic attempt to escape, just before the car had been compressed to a flat sheet of mangled metal and mashed flesh by … what exactly?
Clarice knew her fate was sealed. She prayed to God for forgiveness. She hadn’t meant to sleep with her husband’s best friend for five-hundred thousand naira. Ok, maybe she had – her greed and lust for shiny, expensive things had propelled her to his bed. She was genuinely sorry about the things she had done.
God, please, when I die, don’t throw me into the pit of hell.
The ML dropped. Clarice shrieked. Her lean frame shook from the impact. Then… Nothing.
She was still alive. She stared out the window, waiting … still, nothing happened. An awful shudder suffused her. She wept on the steering wheel. They were tears of joy.
In the middle of all the strangeness, the red Honda jeep reposed, hunched and battered to an almost unrecognisable shape.
Inside the Honda, on the splintered dashboard, “5:36:03” blinked. Tunde awoke, his laborious breath kicking in short gusts. His nose bled. A twisted, iron bar impaled his left side. He couldn’t feel his legs, if there were any of them still left. He turned to his right, a simple action, yet with terrible consequences – pain mauled his body and pulverised his mind. He groaned, coughing blood.
She was in the car beside him, unharmed … unspoiled. Nancy. Sally. Kate. Ify. Damilola. Hauwa. Benedicta. Names she had adopted throughout the ages. Guises she had assumed in her long and gruelling pursuit for a normal life. She had found it with him. They had truly been happy. He smiled, even though it hurt to do so. The tears broke unannounced. Fate was such a cruel companion.
This time around, she was IJ. She clutched his hand.
‘It’s Ok,’ she said. ‘I’m right here.’
‘Ij…’ His throat worked.
She saw the desperation in him, the desperation to cling to her, to life; the anger, the confusion at failing to do so even with all the power he possessed; the loneliness of having to journey on without her; the fear of the unknown. She kissed his lips.
‘I love you,’ she said.
One final emotion overcame Tunde – joy. He drew his last breath.
Ij had watched many people die, some at her hands, but this one broke her completely.
‘Goodbye,’ she muttered.
She punched the door – it flew off its rigid, damaged hinges, over the side of the bridge and into the water. She got out and stood before the car, her longing, pained eyes on Tunde’s still form. She had been right all along. She was destined to be able alone forever.
Ij turned and disappeared into the night, fast as nothing human or machine.
Note from John Varane:
Original WriteRight 2 entry does not include the 3rd Mainland Bridge scene. This was added as a special for the blog.
Read John Varane and The Word’s interview with Akinwale Agbaje here.