A SHORT STORY ENTITLED " VICARIOUS REMINDERS"



THE ONLY LIE

The journey started rather late. It seems the lies of bus park operators have taken another dimension because one would be told the passengers on a journey are almost complete, but later finds out that the supposed passengers are fellow park operators who have been used as baits to attract un-suspecting passengers into the vehicle.
She got to the park early enough to avoid the delay, but her wishes were not horses and at best her beggarly state prevented any kind of stallion ride. Draining thoughts seems the current predicament that she has to contend with. Her digital wrist watch indicates 8:05am, followed by a quick mental arithmetic of how long it will take for her to arrive at Kafanchan from Lagos.
If Abuja were at least eleven to twelve hours from Lagos, then she just needed addition of five hours to complete her seventeen hour journey. She was slightly jolted out of her thoughts when the driver shouted on the bus conductor that he was not calling the passengers well enough. His response was immediately affirmative, causing him to shout himself hoarse and to the irritation of passengers.
Two hours later, the sixteen passenger bus has its capacity occupants and set out at precisely 10:15hours. She could hardly express her disappointment, because going on such a long journey at that time could mean not getting to Kafanchan until the next day. Her wish had always been to come back home with the announcement of her marriage, but this return cannot be explained because the welts on her heart are indescribable.
She sat on the left directly behind the driver, looking into space from within and not thinking about anything in particular. How her life suddenly make a downward spiral cannot be explained. To whom would the fault be imputed is another unresolved poser. She had to come up with some proper meaning to her unsettled mind as she needed all the sanity there is to enable her tell her parents how her life has turned.
The driver held the steering with his left hand, while he fiddled with some audio discs kept in an opening on the dashboard. It is not new to passengers to see this happen because long distance drivers need the noise to stay awake while driving.  The man in the car coming right behind the bus she was in honked so loud that other road users thought that there had been an accident. Except for being struck to consciousness again, she did not worry herself over what may not resolve the pressing issues of her life.
“Life, oh life, oh life, oh life, do do do”
She cannot miss who sang that song. It was the first song that hit her ears as she made for the short route which led to the bus terminal a couple of years ago. Desree as she later found out is an English Rhythm and Blues recording artiste. She was born in London to a Guyanese mother and a Barbadian father, but now lives in Canada. She heard that song every morning from the window of only God knows who, but did not care about the person who was addicted to a track which seems to play only when she is on her way to work. The song spurred her curiosity that she decided to go through the same route on a weekend for benefit of confirming who the music addict was. Her recollection was undisturbed until the driver’s voice came out loud against a careless pedestrian.
“Go die for your house, no be me go kill you”
She was again forced out of her shell where retrospections seem to choke her mind. The pedestrian ran quickly to the other side of the road, trading abuses, but his words were inaudible because he hurried off. She could not make sense of what transpired at first, until the lady sitting beside her shouted in support of the driver.
“Go die for your house you hear, dead body”
She is bespectacled and would not be more than sixty years. Her rosary clasped firmly as she recited her Hail Mary’s in quick succession. She looked worried and wearied out, causing one to wonder how much blows life has dealt her in a country where senior citizens are better dead than alive, because suffering appears to be the hallmark of hoary heads.
A bearded man sitting close to the other window uttered loud gibberish. His spontaneous response was occasioned by the altercation between the driver and the pedestrian. He looks like a Muslim with his beard but what he said did not even sound Arabic. Beards are not the exclusive preserve of Muslim men someone once said; Hindu worshippers have it as their trademark as well.
She rested her head on the window of the moving bus, pulling the blind to prevent the rays of the rising sun. Sooner had she rested her head than memories of how she met the music addict came rushing back.
She repeated her visits for three consecutive weekends before eventually setting her eyes him. He looks gaunt, with a piercing eyes and an indifferent countenance. He is about six feet tall, with burnt brown complexion. She was bent on seeing him and had thought that would do, but seeing him suddenly dug a well of curiosity. She just wanted to speak to him for reasons words could not momentarily express.
Three weeks went by and she thought it was all over, but the intense feeling of speaking with this stranger grew. She had initially avoided the short route and inconveniently settled for a longer one, but this decision only caused her longing to be more intense. She was not in the city to associate with stranger, but what kind of stranger could have such a strong hold on her. He does not strike her as someone she has seen before, but she just could not explain the inexplicable magnetism.
It was three days after she eventually saw who the music lover was that they got up and close. Time was 18:15 hrs. She hopped into an almost-filled bus and had to quickly take a seat before someone else did. Not really looking at the passenger by her side, she sat feeling relieved to get a moving vehicle ready at the park. It would have been hell of a wait had she not been timely, because Thursday evenings are always inexplicably difficult. Even if one had a car, the horrendous traffic would make the driver yearn for a long walk.
Sooner had the vehicle moved off than it bumped into a hole, the impact which made her forcefully nudge the passenger who had not turned his face to look at who was by his side.
“Oh, am very sorry”, she said, adjusting herself properly to give room.
“No shakes”, he responded with a wry smile, quickly looking away.
She could not believe it. Is she dreaming or what? This person has made her walk ten needless minutes from her home these past weekends and now he is seated next to her on a commuter bus. The pitch of his voice is baritone, a sharp contrast to the music which plays every weekday from his verandah. She wondered how someone could easily dismiss a forceful nudge as if it meant nothing. Maybe he was just being nice or had other weightier concerns than to be bothered about the in-deliberate inconvenience. 
The driver suddenly revved the car engine. She opened her eyes and realized they have to make the first stop since morning at Ore, 15 kilometers from Ondo town in South Western Nigeria. It was 15:55hrs and the sun, now high up, hot and very bright. Respite was the air-conditioner in the bus, lack of which would have made them really scorched. Stepping out of the bus felt like switching regions from Antarctica to the Sahara. She didn’t feel like having any meal, but needed some water to quench her thirst.
Her eyes caught a glimpse of two young adults on the other side of the road, playfully running after each other. It made her smile and suddenly took her down memory lane with him. They eventually struck friendship after the encounter on the bus, having employed her female tact, then starting a conversation. It was pretty interesting from that moment as the encounter left her wanting to hear more about this stranger who seems to have her defence mechanisms breached. She knew this was not like loving someone, but it was an attraction that longs to be satisfied, this curiosity that needed answers thus being satisfied.
The lovebirds brought back moments after she had become really close to him as she was being escorted on an evening back home. He said she was acting like a senior instructor in a school and ran off as her hands made to land on his shoulder for a slap. He had told her not to call her an instructor, but he refuses and kept doing so, especially when her questions seem too much to be responded to.
He leaves her feeling there was one thing left unsaid but he smiled each time, waving off questions about his family. He told her his was a family of six. Four children and their parents – his parents are dead and two of his siblings are living abroad. The last of the family is a sister who resides with an aunt and this makes him a lone ranger in the wild.
This story does not sound larger than life, but the absence of pictures of any family member in his apartment keeps her wondering. Well, people have a right to keep some things under wraps until they feel the need to divulge details; after all they were not married but only friends.
“Oya time don reach make we dey go” the driver called on the passengers.
Everyone trudged back in, having had their fill. It was not long after that a lass walked towards the bus seeking alms. She searched and gave her a fifty naira note, while others looked at the pre-teen with disdain. She has done her bit and that was all that mattered. The driver asked to know there were no vacant seats so as not leave anyone behind and this was confirmed in the affirmative; but as they made to leave then a mild drama ensued.
“How can you people leave me behind?” a woman shouted
She got everybody wondering because nobody with her body size came from Lagos with them. The driver was also surprised because to a large extent he knew those that left with him from where the journey started.
“Is this not bus 7373?” stretching the ticket to the driver for verification. Others looked at one another, thinking something had befallen them. Their bus number was 7337 and since most of them did not commit the figures to memory, it was very confusing at first. It took the driver 20 seconds to realize the confusion and set the records straight.
“Your bus is over there madam, even if the vehicles belong to the same company the codes are different”
He appeared to be losing patience, already setting out the differences in the number pasted on the side of his bumper.
“No vex abeg, my mistake” she walked away with her improperly packed bag, sweating profusely from the hot weather.


They left the eatery at 14:25hrs, having spent half an hour.
The driver immediately turned on the radio as the bus sped off the tarred road. He did not switch on the air conditioner, allowing the hot air in the car blow out before that will be done. A voice speaking from the radio wished a caller happy birthday, giving her the room to make a birthday wish. Request granted, Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday song was soon on air.
“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday”
The song suddenly struck a chord in her, making her pause from nibbling on her cookies. She decided against buying only water because of her state of health. It was a song she sang to him on his last birthday and afterwards changed the nature of their relationship. He had revealed after the birthday ceremony that his parents were killed in a car accident, being the incident that prompted the separation of their family.
 An uncle arranged for his two other siblings to come over and live with him in England, while his younger sister was taken in by an aunt because she was too young to be left without close attention. He was writing his second semester exams in his first year at a Nigerian university when tragedy struck and at best advised to round off what he had started.
It was tortuous without the comfort of his mum and the mentorship of his dad, but he braced the odds with the help of family and friends. She could not imagine how his friend survived this ordeal but her determination to add this one person to her life is now very definite.
The evening was unforgettable, but she still felt a vacuum that cannot be explained. If only she could see a seer, it would have been a huge relief because answers will help assuage this recurring feeling of un-explainable strangeness.

The vehicle arrived at Lokoja in the North Central part of the country and it was another time to disembark, while the driver is getting the car re-filled. She looked at her wrist watch, having wandered off in her thoughts from the song heard to bouts of sleep. It was 17:35hrs and darkness has sneaked in to occupy the fair brightness of the evening. Their journey would have been faster but for the bad roads leading up to Ore where they had their first break.
The gas station attendant wasted no time; while some of the passengers ran on to quickly ease off, her bladder did not feel heavy and as such the wait by the vehicle; at least she could stretch her legs before other commuters returned. Another mental calculation puts arriving in Abuja at three hours and the next round of journey to Kafanchan at four to five hours.
She just longed to be home and at least come to terms with the reality of what happening to her. If every other thing in her life seems elusive, the one thing that cannot be missing was her family. The eldest child and only daughter in a family of five, hers was a bond that is explained in waiting to have her eight years after marriage. Another set of male-twins came three years after her, putting the number of her family at five.
A vehicle whizzed off and she saw the inscription: “Lagos Here I Come”. Lagos was never a place she intended to live but the mandatory youth service brought her to the South from the North. Although she had heard of the golden fleece which drives men and women in droves to this city, her peaceful life back in Kafanchan, Kaduna state could not be substituted for another thing. These changed when she was retained after a year of compulsory corps experience, resulting in how she became resident in Lagos.
It was greeted with mixed feelings as other corps members who served at the same place turned blue from jealousy. She never expected it, but had to embrace the change after the assurances of her mother; her dad being really worried because of the bond they share. Theirs was a closely-knit family and except as a student of Psychology at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Kaduna state, there had never been any reason to leave her state for another in twenty five years.
The journey continued to Abuja where they would refresh and rest for the night before considering if to keep on or continue early the next day. In the dark and quiet of the bus, the driver’s music turned low caused a tear to drop from her eyes; she wiped it sobbing under her breath. The woman sitting next to her was asleep while others minded their concerns. She just has not fathomed how to explain things when her mother sees her or her father asked to know what went wrong.
“If I could turn back the hands of time”, Luther Vandross was still singing as the driver moves on.
How on earth could everything be a reminder of a path she would prefer to forget? It was just a friendship thought well of, the kind of closeness that you desired would make you brace the odds and allow you get the support and strength of a friend. It was not going to remain as she thought, one thing led to the other and she fell flat for him. He neither said no, nor imposed anything on her because she was allowed to follow her mind. In all of these, that strange feeling that cannot be explained hung in the air above her head like the halo of the spirit.
Her friendship with him grew to the point where she just could not let him out of his sight. There had never been another woman at his place whenever she visited him and the bungalow he lived had its gate separate from the main building. Once in a while he would have meetings with his neighbours but would always be indoors when he returned from work or other outings. He has never mentioned that anything happened at work or a boss was breathing down his neck. His was a life the average woman desired her fiancé or husband lived, but this strange feeling still recurs with foreboding.
It was on Saturday evening. She had not seen him throughout the working week because he was very busy and her longing could not be quantified. He felt like a baby when he set his eyes on her, making the feeling mutual; he held her close, kissing her longer than he ever did. The friendship had moved to dating but they have made it a platonic relationship until that day. Both of them have cuddled several times but she was not convinced enough and he did not influence her to change any decision as regards what he had desired at times.
Tuesday, 7th July, 2014 remains unforgettable. A day he made her a woman, causing her to triumph over mountains, defying valleys and soaring to incalculable heights of pleasure. His was not as a conquistador, being his first time as well made the feeling indescribable, causing him to sail with the winds to lands of unbridled euphoria. Two hearts and two bodies but one spirit, united in ecstatic unification of their bodies. They knew each other and thus created a path for another life soon to come to earth, but he was on a journey while she thought her permanence with him was guaranteed.
She became pregnant after they consummated their relationship and she had to see his aunt for assurances before they visit her parents in Kafanchan. She has never spoken to his aunt but was able to squeeze a picture out of him so as to know that he has some family connections. It was on their visit to his aunt that the unbelievable came to light. They both got to his aunt’s house and he urged her on with the excuse that he had to unpack groceries from the car. She went before him into the house, but he mysteriously disappeared leaving the car there.
That was the last time she saw him. His aunt visibly shocked revealed to her that he had died in an accident four years earlier on his way back from an official assignment in the South Eastern part of the country. The younger sister he spoke about truly exists; also every other story was true except that he was the only lie. The corpse was burnt beyond recognition because the car exploded and he was only recognized by his shoes. His aunt showed her every picture to corroborate the incident, including where he was buried.
...
She would have thought all was a dream, but getting back to his apartment and not finding a single piece of his property left her dumbfounded. It was then that the strange feeling she had been having began to make sense; the neighbours could not even say much about him because the house owner advertised the apartment’s vacancy on line and everyone had unique payment pattern.
Carrie Underwood’s Mama’s Song was playing as the driver moves on, but the meaning is lost to her because the father of her unborn child was, but now is no more. The mystery of carrying a dead man’s child is too heavy to fathom and indeed beyond words. Kafanchan awaits and her life depended on it. She touched her stomach, love filling her heart for him once again.



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