Toyin got on her bike that deadnight because she wouldn’t have it any other way. She just received news that her mother had heart attack while coming out of the bathroom and was rushed to the hospital but there was no one to take care of her. Their help in the house had traveled for her usual Christmas/New Year vacation and her younger brother was, as usual, wasted at the bar.
She hated how her life sucked. She hated that she couldn’t be a normal twenty three year old with a boyfriend and life at least half-figured out. Most of her mates were done with university but she was still in her third year and she wasn’t sure how she would keep on for another year.
Why was her life so messed up? She would often ask herself. Her dad was in jail for beating their mum until she had miscarriage. Her younger brother was a hopeless drinker and ex-convict for carrying drugs. Her mum had heart attacks every now and then. And though she was the only holding the family together, her own life was a dangling piece of steel, like a pendulum bob–always moving, front and back, but never reaching a destination.
She was dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie, all black like the colour of the night. However, her bike helmet was white, bright and stainless like a baby’s tooth. She let her bike skid down to the hospital, avoiding the potholes covered in red mud. She’d thought of wearing something less fugitive-looking, but black clothes had always been her skin’s companion.
She was crossing a T-junction when a speeding van hit her bike. The bike somersaulted a couple of times and left her lying helplessly in the middle of the road.
The van stopped and the driver came down. She could only see the shadowy figure of the person. He walked over to her purse lying on the ground, opened it and took something from it.
She, however, couldn’t see what he stole or his face. He went back into the van and sped off.
She closed her eyes and breathed her last.
Toyin’s eyes flickered open. Her breath was stiffened as if a Halloween monster was feeding from her lungs. Her mind was dark and void, and so was her surroundings. She tried to lift herself but her bones were too heavy; the tip of her fingers alone felt like they were holding the weight of the entire universe. She felt the dampness of her clothes and could perceive the dread of blood. If she was covered in her own blood and was having these strange feelings of malfunctioning organs, then it could only mean one thing—death was giving her a rousing massage.
Her eyes began to water. If she was going to die, she should at least, tell her family goodbye first and patch things up with her dad. The tears streamed harder. Her cry deepened. She wheezed and wept, yet she could not hear any of these sounds. She’d heard stories of how people on their dying beds hallucinated and conversed with dead people but she never believed in those stuff. For her, death was a firm, tight grip that yanked people off from life, and not some hard drug that gave people vertigo.
She noticed a white figure standing next to her. Considering the figure’s hip size and shape, she could tell it was a woman. She would have darted away from the strange figure if death hadn’t stiffened her bones.
“Toyin, get up,” said the figure.
She gasped in amazement, but not because the strange woman knew her name, but because she could recognise that voice—her grandmother who’d passed away since she was twelve years old.
“Get up,” her grandmum said.
“I can’t move,” Toyin replied, and to her surprise, she could hear her voice this time. She tried to move her fingers and they moved. A few seconds ago, she could neither move or hear anything, so she wondered how things suddenly changed at the presence of a dead grandmother. She lifted herself up and stood in front of her grandmumm who was all covered in white except for her face and thick afro hair.
“Grandma,” she called. “You’re dead. Does this mean I’m…” She let her words drift off.
“Not exactly. They haven’t accepted you yet.”
“So where am I?”
“The question should be, why are you here?”
“Okay. So why…
“Because a chicken saw a python and mistook it for an earthworm,” the old woman replied.
“I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
“Go back and you’ll find out.”
“To go where? How…
Before she could finish talking, the old woman had vanished. She scoffed, then laughed, then scoffed again. She looked around, but as usual, her surroundings was thick with darkness and filled with voidness. She moved around with no direction, shouting her grandmother’s name and calling for help, but all she heard were the echoes of her voice. Defeated, she fell to the floor, laid down and closed her eyes again in anticipation for a less complicated kind of death.
She opened her eyes and found herself standing a few distance away from a small crowd.
Mourning chatters escaped from the crowd. She looked beyond and saw two men covered in mostly white, lifting a body into an emergency van, except that the van was apparently heading to the morgue rather than a hospital. Soon, the men were settled in the van with the body, then the van took off. The crowd began to diverge slowly. She moved closer.
“Hello, sir,” she called a middle-aged man who was shaking his head in displeasure. The man didn’t look her way, but continued shaking his head like she wasn’t present. “Sir?” she called again. There was still no response. She gave up and tried the woman beside her. “Excuse me ma’am,’ she said politely but worse—the woman walked away without at least, pretending to notice her presence.
Toyin hissed angrily and would have called a third person if the realisation hadn’t hit her—she’d come back to the land of the living, but as a ghost and the corpse which had just been taken away was her body.
She saw a stranger trying to steal her abandoned bike and felt the urge to give him a hard punch but she knew it would be as futile as hitting the air, literally. Anger roused within her.
She’d never felt so pathetic as a human. When she was alive, she would often imagine herself as a ghost and thought of the many things she would do with her powers, but now that she was indeed a ghost, the only power she had was the feeling of a helpless infant who can’t tell his mum he’s crying because in between his buttocks is itching and not because he’s hungry.
How would she accomplish this vague mission if she moved around as a dumb and powerless ghost? She wondered.
“Patience, Toyin,” said her grandmother’s voice in her head. “The patient dog eats the fattest bone.”
“Right,” she said with a snare of sarcasm. “After the rest of the dogs have finished the meat.”
“Real dogs don’t eat meat, Toyin. They eat bones, the toughest bones.”
Toyin rolled her eyes and headed to the hospital to see her mum. She’d walked only a few distance when she suddenly stopped. “Wait,” she told her grandmum in her head. “If you brought me back as an invisible dumb ghost, the least you could do is give me power to appear and disappear like a proper ghost. Or am I supposed to trek to every damn place like the
Israelites moving to the Promised Land?”
There was no reply.
She continued walking.
She stopped and began to grumble.
Still no response.
Or maybe this is just a dream, she thought. If so, she’d better wake up soon before she would lose her mind.
She continued walking, and in no time, she’d reached the hospital. Her mum’s ward was locked when she got there but since she was a ghost, all she needed do was pass through it. The first thing she heard when she entered was her brother saying to her mum, “It has happened. Toyin is dead.” His voice lacked emotion.
Their mother was lying down with oxygen on her nose. Though her eyes were open and her mind conscious, she looked so frail like one at the brink of death.
“Stupid. Foolish! Idiot!” Toyin cursed at her brother. How could he deliver such bad news despite their mum’s condition. Even if his head was so empty like a poor man’s refrigerator, what happened to his heart? Had it also charred like his wrinkled lungs he’d wasted from excessive smoking? She was maddened. Now, she really detested being a ghost. If she was animate, she’d have given him a miraculous slap, one that would instantly heal his brain malfunction.
What she, however, never saw coming was the stab that followed their mum’s response.
Her mum yanked off the oxygen from her nose and sat upright. It seemed like she was never sick.. “I hope no one saw you.”
“And did you get the key?”
He brought out a key from his pocket and she recognised that to be the key to her apartment.
She was carrying it in her purse when she died.
“This key here is very important to me,” their mum said to him, slipping the key into her bra.
“You’ve done well. You may leave now.”
Toyin couldn’t believe it. Her brother was the one driving the van that hit her and he got the order from her mum? She sank to the floor defeated. If her family was responsible for her demise, then what was the need for justice? They won and she lost. End of story. She wept bitterly and screamed for her grandmother to take her to her ancestors already. She wasn’t interested in any mission or getting justice.
Next, Toyin went to visit her father in prison. He’d always been a jerk since she was born, but he was still her father anyway. Plus, apparently, he wasn’t the real devil after all, her mum was.
“Our daughter is dead. I stopped by to tell you that,” Toyin heard someone say to her dad when she got there. The person was wearing a big black gown covering almost her entire body that one could hardly tell who she was by her physique, but when Toyin looked at her face, she saw it was her mother. She too had come to visit him.
Her mum went on, “You know how she died? She started associating with some bad guys who claimed they were experts at helping convicts escape. They promised her that they would get you out of jail. Unfortunately, they didn’t keep to their promise, so Toyin refused to pay them.
And gues what? They sent one of their members to kill her.” Her voice was sour and blackmailing with no tinge of guilt.
Toyin couldn’t hold back anymore. She dashed off to the woman and threw a hard punch, the hardest she’d ever thrown. But of course, the punch landed like it’d been thrown to the air and because of the force she used in throwing the punch, Toyin fell down. She cried hard. It felt like she was facing death for the second time. She watched her father weep and curse himself, watched him believe the lie and blame himself for her death. She wondered what must be going on in his mind, how guilty he must be feeling. On the other hand, she watched her mum glare at him with snare on her face. Her blackmailing silence alone was suicidal. She was surely enjoying seeing her husband suffer.
Yet, Toyin could do nothing but watch.
Angrily, Toyin jerked up and left the prison. She couldn’t stand the sight for another second. She begged her ancestors to take her away or make her animate but they all seemed to have turned a deaf ear to her ordeal.
As she was walking out of the building, she heard her grandmother’s voice screaming in her head, “Fool! You were so close to her! So close, yet you couldn’t see that which is so evident.
“What are you talking about?” asked Toyin perplexed.
“I know you’re just twenty-three but come on! I had my first child at the age of seventeenth, so there’s no justification for your stupidity. You can’t tell me you’re so naive that you couldn’t see the truth.”
“What truth?” Toyin was getting impatient.
There was silence.
“Answer me, what truth?” Toyin demanded and when she got another silence for a response, she concluded the old woman was done talking. It was her duty to find out for herself.
Her instinct—ghost instinct perhaps, told her to return to the hospital. She did, and to her amazement, her mum was lying unconscious. She had oxygen in her nose and a pulse monitor connected to her. She looked nothing like the person who she’d seen blackmailing her dad.
Toyin wanted nothing but to curse and spit on her face. How could one be so cunning and pretentious?
Her brother entered the ward followed by a doctor.
“She’s stable but you have to be more careful,” the doctor told him. He was a bald man with too much facial hair. If Toyin wasn’t in her predicament, the man’s face would’ve reminded her of one of her lecturers in the university who swore that she would have a carryover because she refused to have sex with him. And indeed, she had a carryover in that course because she refused to have sex with him.
“How am I supposed to tell her about my sister’s death?” her brother asked, his voice trailling off into silent sobs.
“Any bad news will take her away from us. I advise that you wait for her to recover first. You won’t want her suffering from another attack, or worse.” The doctor patted his shoulder, offered his condolences again and excused himself.
Toyin burst into laughter. Was her eyes now deriding her or had the world just got into a state of confusion? Had her family turned psychopaths at her demise or was she the one who’d lost sanity after become a ghost? If not, what was going on?
What sort of insuperable mystery was this?
Toyin stopped in front of house, a small apartment almost the size of a grandpa’s shoe. She stared at the purple hibiscus plant in front and wished she could pluck the flowers or at least, smell it. Unfortunately, as far as being a ghost was concerned, every object including humans were nothing more than air, only difference was that this “air” had shapes and pretty colours.
She smiled sadly and went into the apartment. She found her mum standing close to the window—or at least, the person had the same figure of her mum. She couldn’t see the face because the woman was backing her.
She moved closer to the woman and noticed the tattoo of a flying hawk behind the woman’s neck. Her mum didn’t have tattoo. She dreaded it. Loathed it. For her, tattos were artificial and immoral. She often called it the Mark of The Beast. The day her brother mentioned something about getting a tattoo, their mum threatened explicitly to disown him. Toyin would never forget that time. They were having dinner and watching Fast and Furious when her brother complimented Dwanye Johnson’s tattoos and said he would like to have something similar.
Their mum stopped eating and went to switch off the tv. She retured to the dining but didn’t continue with her food. The children stared at her confused.
Toyin was too afraid to speak—truth is, they were both afraid if their mum when they were kids.
There was silence for a while until her brother took the bait. “Mum, why did you switch off…
“Not in this house!” she blared. “Is it because I allow you watch tv you’re beginning to find interest in this… this…” She let her words trial off.
They were confused but they said nothing anyway. Their mum went on, swearing and yelling at them, quoting as many Yoruba proverbs as she could and threatened to disown any of her children who misbehaved, and by misbehaved, she meant getting a tattoo.
So even when her brother became an unapologetic drinker and smoker, he stayed clear of the no-tattoo boundary.
The woman standing by the window turned around and headed away from the window. This was when Toyin saw her face—almond-shape head, tiny eyes that almost seemed like she was blind, flat wrinkled cheeks and ashened lips, too ashened one could easily tell that she was a devoted smoker. She looked nothing like her mother, at least, not with the face. Physique—yes, but not the face. Absolutely not the face!
It was that moment Toyin learnt that there were things that happened in the land of the living that even death couldn’t comprehend.
A young man no older than thirty came out of her room. He was tall, dark and handsome—a replica of a black Prince Charming. He had an excited grin on his face as he approached the strange woman. Somehow, the man reminded Toyin of her late boyfriend. He’d passed away two years ago. They shared the same complexion, and had the same bouncy gait. His grin, too, sent an eerie feeling of déjà vu down her spine that she wondered whether ghosts were allowed to have arousing sensations.
But when she saw the man kiss the old woman, the feelings melted instantly, she became disgusted that she’d felt them in the first place.
“I found it, Tin-Tin,” the man said, breaking the kiss.
Tin-Tin, so that was her name? Noted.
He revealed the pearl bracelet in his palm. Toyin recognised the jewellery to be hers. Her boyfriend had given her three days before he died in an accident. Jimmy hadn’t just been any random boyfriend. He was the love of her life. Eighteen months they dated had been the best days of her life. He’d loved her. Supported her. Rooted for her. Shown up for her again and again. And showered her with many gifts. The bracelet, however, remained her favourite because, first it was his last present before he died, and second, she knew it was expensive except she was only about to find out how expensive.
Tin-Tin collected the bracelet from him and slipped it into her wrist. “I’ve missed you baby,” she said kissing the wrist.
Missed? Toyin was puzzled.
“Thank you,” Tin-Tin told her lover and kissed him once again, a lasting tongue-sucking kiss that threw them to the sofa.
Toyin winced in disgust. All her life, she’d thought the most bizarre things happened in the land of the dead, but for the short time she’d been a ghost, she was proven otherwise—even the dead learnt uncanniness from the living.
“Not here,” the man said, breaking the kiss. “We’re not done with business yet.”
“You’ll get your cut, don’t worry,” she said and tried to kiss him again but he rose from the sofa and bottoned his shirt.
“Fine.” She too stood up and adjusted her blouse.
“To be honest, I still don’t understand why we had to end her,” he said. “We could have just burgled in at night when she was asleep.”
Tin-Tin chuckled and sat down. “Do you know how she got the bracelet?”
“You said Jimmy gave it to her.”
Toyin wondered how the man knew the name of her boyfriend.
“Yes,” confirmed the older woman. “And they were lovers, strong ones.” She stood up and walked around, then she stopped at his front. “And if there’s one thing I’m certain about that girl, it’s that she never lets things go without a fight. I’m sure as hell that she would look for the bracelet and discover us in the process. I’m not ready to listen to a little girl’s screeching about her lover boy’s bracelet.”
“Are you sure that’s the reason?” he asked with a sly grin.
“Fine. There’s a little vendetta attached too,” she confessed. “She took Jimmy from me.”
“No. He saw a pretty young girl and took his shot,” he said, stressing the word, young. “It takes a lot of resilience to juggle two women at the same time and Jimmy didn’t seem to have that kind of grit.”
“And so he dumped me.”
“Technically, he chose the able lass,”
“And you sound like you’re about to do the same.”
A tear dropped from Toyin’s eye. “Grandma, please take me away,” she pleaded in between sobs. More tears ran freely until her cheeks were drenched. Her heart shattered so badly she felt it’d become powder.
“No, Toyin,’ her grandmother replied. “There’s still one more unsolved puzzle. Now wipe your tears, my dear, and focus.”
Toyin wiped her cheek and watched Tin-Tin bring out a mask from her purse. Her eyes widened on seeing the painting on the mask—her mum’s face. An exact replica. Apparently, this was how the woman was able to disguise as her mother.
But what about the voice? It was so real. Or not?
“I’d like you to make more of this for me,’ said Tin-Tin.
“It’s not free,” he said.
“You can start by paying for the coke.”
Vertigo? Toyin thought. She’d heard about that drug from her brother. A strong hypnotising drug that could make one get ordered around like a puppet. It was the only drug her brother feared because it could make one do the most horrible things.
“Oh,” Tin-Tin said. “You’ll get your pay. Although I wish he could remember. It would be so satisfying to hear he’s committed suicide from the guilt of killing his sister,” she said with a devious smirk.
Toyin’s chest sank into her ribs.
“Tinuade?” he called sternly.
“You drugged Toyin’s brother with Vertigo, made him kill his sister and take the key to her apartment so you could steal her lover’s bracelet. You also disguised as Toyin’s mum and accused her dad of killing their daughter. You’ve not just ended her, but also ended her family. I think that’s more than satisfying enough.” His tone was harsh and reprimanding.
“He’ll remember later on, right?” she asked, ignoring his scolding.
“I need him to remember,” she stressed.
“That’s your cookie to bite, not mine. All I care about is my cut.”
She swallowed hard.
“Meet me in the car,” he finished and headed for the door while Tin-Tin followed.
Toyin watched them until they were gone. “Grandma,” she said with gritted teeth. “You can’t let me listen to all these without me getting justice.”
“Yes, my child. I know,” answered the dead old woman in her head. “You’ll be given the ability to become human again.”
“Okay,” she said elatedly. She felt adrenaline surge through her spine.
“But only for ten minutes,” the old woman finished.
“Yes. That’s all the ancestors can offer. You can either use ten minutes to get justice for yourself or say a proper goodbye to your family and warn your brother not to blame himself for your demise. That’s the predicament.”
Toyin opened her mouth to speak but the old woman interrupted, “Don’t think about it. You can’t do both within that time.”
Toyin scoffed in disbelief and said sadly, “A predicament indeed.”