LOVE In A Photograph – Grace Ochigbo
The car flipped so many times that Linus had become disorientated before he even sustained the concussion that had him drifting in and out of consciousness. He was somewhat aware of the bloody taste in his mouth but he couldn’t figure out what it was. At times his eyelids fluttered and he thought he must be at home in bed right beside Ajuma because it was so dark. But he couldn’t possibly be at home neither could he be with Ajuma.
She was dead, he reminded himself.
Then, there was the cold and the sound of rain on metal.
Why the pain God, why so much pain? He tried to make sense of the whole situation when he noticed something… someone.
There was a man sitting rather comfortably ona stump on the other side of the tree he crashed into. He was facing his direction and appeared like he’s been sitting there for hours. Linus’ view was blurred but could still register the shift as the man crossed and uncrossed his legs. Movement like bees in their honeycomb, furtive, almost not there. Linus tried to pull himself up a bit to see clearer but the slice of pain cutting through his brain made him drop back tiredly unto the car seat. He turned his head again, this time slightly, briefly, to look at the man.
He was a middle-aged gentleman dressed in all-black and a hood. His face was clean, shaven and utterly serious. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of round sun glasses that mirrored the scene in front. He would stare at something in his hands for a while then return his gaze to the direction of Linus’ car. Linus wondered whatever the man may be doing out here in the cold this night. Almost no vehicle trailed this narrow road. It was Linus’ getaway route to drown his thoughts whenever the elements came crashing over him.
He’d found this road by just merely driving on during the first week of his arrival in this distant and strange land. Soon, as he continued his adventure, he found a local bar several several miles away. His activities had basically been to stay in the garage of the shack he’s made an abode, take this bush path some evenings until he arrives at the local bar dressed in such a way that no one recognized him. At the bar, he took only a bottle of chilled water. Alcohol scared him more than life itself these days. Whenever he sights a bottle of hard liquour, he remembers that fateful afternoon. The afternoon that had changed everything. He often stayed back in that bar all night and returned to the shack just a little before sunrise.
Linus looked up now and the man wasn’t there anymore. A metallic object was sitting on the wood he sat earlier but there were no traces of the man. Linus felt sudden chills run over him, it was as though he was bathing in a tub full of ice cubes.
He forced himself to sit up.
What a cold night!
The coldness reached to his bones, as if his heart was a door left wide open to the icy wind, slamming only to open again. The darkness was thick and the only source of light came from his car.
“It’s time to go home.”
Linus’ heart nearly exploded and his eyes grew white with fear as he sighted the man now standing right beside the passenger’s door of hiscrashed car. His body waned to either run out fast to the roads, screaming help while at it, but instead, he remained where he was. He had to face the fact. Another hundreds of miles from here before he’d see any resemblance of a human. That’s aside the fact that it’s a rainy and cold night. None of the people in the nearest village would be out now. He would just pray the man doesn’t hurt him.
“C’mon, don’t keep a gentleman waiting. Are you okay?” The strange man asked the question smoothly, the baritone of his voice reverberating through Linus’ bones.
Okay? Linus couldn’t believe his ears. “Who are you?” He managed to ask as the man moved towards the driver’s side where he’s stuck.
He squeaked and then flushed lightly when he realized that Linus was waiting for him to answer. “I am only here to take you home.” He chuckled, opening the car door. “C’mon.” his left hand crossed Linus’ shoulder and he helped him rise to his feet.
Linus rose unsteadily to his feet. It was against his better judgment to be moving right now but the man seemed to be controlling all his actions. There was a sharp edged band of purple-black that showed where the seat-belt restrained him, tearing through his cloth during the crash. The air bags had prevented further injury aside from some whip-lash. But in all he felt lucky to walk away from a roll-over.
“Where are you taking me?” Linus couldn’t hide his desperation.
“Home.” The man said calmly, his voice reassuring.
Linus knew he was moving but couldn’t feel his legs touching the ground. It was as though he was walking some meters above the earth. In a short time as they walked, he thought he recognized the area they had gotten to. The two of them walked in silence through the village rocky street. They passed the grocery store where Linus picked bananas and groundnuts and the butcher’s place he always noticed on his way out of the shack, and the market square and the small electronic store, then came out at the other side of the village on the narrow country road where there normally were no people anymore and very few empty farm houses. Where he had found the shack he lived in.
Linus’ face washed blank with confusion like his brain cogs couldn’t turn fast enough to take in the information from his wide eyes. Every muscle of his body froze as they approached the exact spot where he was certain the shack was; where he’d lived for fourmonths, where he had driven out from earlier in the evening before the unfortunate accident. The blood drained from his skin and every movement became robotic.
A building stood in place of the shack. The building from the distance looked to be made entirely of ice, but when they were close enough, he could see that it was a shining crystal clear building. The blocks must have been laid one at a time, perhaps on a fine sunny morning. Linus let his eyes wander from the widely spread out lawn to the porch. The house was made with love, that’s for sure. It was a large mansion.Golden lamppost littered all around the outside of the house made the darkest of nights feel like noon day. Linus wanted to talk, to ask.
How was the shack this transformed in hours? Were there in another place and he was mixing things up?
He had all these and more up his mind to ask but his tongue felt tied as the strange man led him up the few flight of stairs to the entrance of the house. Everything about the exterior of the house was welcoming until the door opened before them on its own accord.
“Jeez!” Linus exclaimed as he felt like running back. He stood, hesitant to step through the doorway.
The major residents of the house were the spiders. Many generations had laced the walls with cobwebs, webs weaved between the spindles of the stair frames and from the ceiling to the wall, they lay in dusty rags. The interior of the mansion looked like it had been five decades since a footstep had echoed within the walls, since the dust had been disturbed.
“Come on in.” The man urged Linus but didn’t wait for him to respond before moving him headlong.
If there were any occupants in this house, they weren’t humans but rodents or bird. Dust lay over every surface like dirty dew, not a foot print anywhere. Free papers piled up to the letter box and moved all the way up to the rough wooden stairs. Old tea cups lay on a dining table thickly encrusted with dried up mould, dust covered mirrors, smell of minute powdery fungi – the types found on diseased or decaying substances, stale air, air thick with dust
Linus sneezed and felt pain course down his spine. The entire room would have been dark except for the shafts of light bursting through gaps in the broken window, light streaming through the gaps in the heavy dirty curtains. Absolute silence, not even the hum of a refrigerator. Linus felt cobwebs brush his face as he stepped deeper into the house, a shiver rushing down his spine. He can’t tell what, but there was something eerie about this place.
“I see you’re hungry. You may want to check the kitchen.” The stranger’s voice broke through the silence.
Linus casted fearful eyes on him but a reassuring smile sat on his lips as the man urged him on.
The kitchen was medium in size, cluttered and dusty. The cupboards were faded pink with white flowers and handles, exactly as Ajuma loved them only that these were too dirty and dusty to reveal their real glow. The counters were fuschia pink, black and white marble with a thick layer of dust hugging it. The sink was also very dusty and it had dirty plates and bowls in it and a leaking tap. The tiles on the floor used to be white now the brown colour of dust, green and white moss pushed the tiles apart. Insects and plants had claimed the kitchen as their own. The plants were even forcing their way through holes in the wall and there was a small birds’ nest in one of the partially opened drawers.
Seeing he couldn’t eat anything from such a kitchen, Linus went to the adjoining hallway. It was dark and gloomy with large portraits in gold frames hanging high on the walls all the way down the hallway. His eyes burned. They had drooping spider webs clinging onto them. The house felt unnaturally still. Dust layered on the floor like a thick carpet, muffling his footsteps as he moved back to the sitting room where he’d left the man.
He met the door ajar and walked straight ahead towards it. The stranger was nowhere to be found. Outside, strikes of lightning light up the darkskies. Sounds of thunder echoed through his ears, taunting each and every thought. Fear grabbed him and he ran into the house and slammed the door shut. His heart began to pray. He prayed for all this to stop. He was alone. The man had left… without informing him. Alone in this cocoon of evil. His head felt beaten, his eyes were swollen from the flood of tears stringing his face. His lips were sown, his lungs were full of poisonous oxygen mixed with dust that can’t escape. He felt powerless, the adrenaline rush must have stopped.
He felt lost.
To be continued tomorrow…
Please stay safe.
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