Divided, and the light of mine burnt dim.
Now in the haunted twilight I must do
Your will. I grasp the cup which over-runs,
And with my trembling lips I touch the rim.
-The End, Amy Lowell.
He gripped the rider’s sides with apprehensive fingers as they whipped through the streets and took a hard right, zipping around cars and people. When he had hailed the okada a few minutes ago and given him the address, he had stressed that he was in a hurry, that he absolutely needed to be in the restaurant in under ten minutes. He had expected speed, he had expected short cuts, he had not expected five near death experiences, horns and shouts. But then again, maybe it was better he died on the road than face Linda late again.
He spotted the Chicken Republic that stood at the beginning of the street and as the rider lurched left into the close, both of them almost parallel to the road, Kingsley just wished he’d make it in time today, at least. They were in front of the dark brown gates of the restaurant when he got down with shaky feet and hastily paid the rider, speeding off into the building, barely saying good evening to the gateman.
He stumbled through the backdoor where there was busy activity with everyone buzzing about, beads of sweat caking his face, and he whipped his black apron from a rack, put his black jacket on and pinned his name tag on his chest. The smell of fresh food wafted through the air and Kingsley’s stomach rumbled. He hadn’t even remembered to eat. He glanced at his watch. Okay, that was good, thirty minutes late and Linda was no —
“Are you trying to be a stupid man?” A shrill voice said from behind him and Kingsley froze, the bag of clothes in his hand. “Like, are you actively trying to be stupid or were you just born this way?”
Kingsley stood there his back to her, staring blankly at the rack in front of him. It was a nice rack, sturdy. It did all things a rack was meant to do, all things considered, and for that he was thankful.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you.” She said, in a quiet voice that made his blood turn cold as he spun slowly to face her. Today she was wearing a bright green dress that managed to retain none of the shape of her shapeless body. He hair was done up in a bun that could have framed her face if she didn’t have the expressional range of a dinosaur. Kingsley was easily taller than her but that didn’t deter her spouts of rage. Linda had come in when her father, some such business man bought the whole chain of restaurants, and while her father provided everyone with salaries, healthy workplaces etc, Linda took it upon herself to personally frustrate everyone who worked under her and could breathe. So, unfortunately for Kingsley…
“I’m sorry,” He blurted out, tripping over his own words, “my car broke down this morning and I tried my best to — ”
“Don’t even give me any of your dirty excuses, Kene. Isn’t this the same car that had issues yesterday and the day before?” She asked, looking at him sideways.
She never got his name right and he felt that she did it on purpose. “Yes, it’s the same car, I’m trying to get it fixed but I don’t really have enough money right now.” And not all of us have millionaire daddies to help us.
“You know, when I was your age, I was a lot more hardworking than you are now.” She said, flipping over the notebook in her hands.
Kingsley nodded. “Yes, I’m sure you were.” He said, hoping this would be the end.
But she continued. “I was never spoon fed, I had to work hard to get what I wanted.”
“Carrying your purse must’ve taken a lot out of you.” He murmured.
“What?” She said, her eyebrows raised.
“Oh, nothing, I just said that yes your hard work shows, that’s why you’re able to afford nice dresses like,” he swallowed, “the one you’re wearing right now. It…really shows your…shape.”
“Really?” She asked, looking down at herself and stretching the gown. “I always thought it made me look like a block of wood.”
That’s what I meant.
“Uhm, I’m just going to go and serve our customers,” Kingsley said, pointing to the door, “I’m really sorry again about today, it won’t happen again.”
Linda looked at him and waited. Kingsley cursed under his breath.
“…It won’t happen again. Ma.” Kingsley said.
“That’s good, Kola, try better.” She nodded, coming forward to squeeze his cheeks as she went to yet another victim and as Kingsley passed by and saw the chef’s blustered face, he knew he didn’t stand a chance. He got his notepad and his pen and pushed through the wooden doors that separated the main room from the kitchen. A petite woman with a tray laden with food on her hands stepped through with him, walking at his pace and Kingsley smiled at her.
She didn’t return it. “Are you trying to be stupid or were your born like this?” Adeolu asked. Her eyes cast forward, away from him as they walked. He looked at her tray and saw the little number inscribed on it. 16. Adeolu had trouble remembering the numbers on the table so when the chef was making food, she’d secretly inscribe the number of the table on her tray.
“Funny, Linda asked me the same thing this evening,” Kingsley replied, looking for a table that near number 16 that wasn’t being attended to yet.
“You’re really popular with the ladies,” she said, smiling back at a man who smiled at her. She continued talking, plastering another smile to her face as an older man greeted her. All the male customers loved her and most of the female customers too. “She’s going to fire you one of these days. She’s waiting for the right time. I hear rumours that she wants to start making cuts.”
“Cuts? Why would she be making cuts, everything is doing great.” Kingsley said.
Adeolu shrugged, “Who knows what goes through the mind of that witch?” She looked at her tray again and spotted the table. “Well, I have to go now, we’ll talk later. Good luck with him.”
“Wait, ehn? Good luck with who?” Kingsley asked, but he was talking to empty air. Adeolu had already zipped by.
Kingsley sighed, the table he was approaching was in one of the darker parts of the restaurant, with only a lonely orange light casting a warm glow on the seats. This evening, there was only one person sitting there but from the way the person moved, it was like they were engaged in a heavy conversation. From behind, Kingsley could only tell that it was a balding man, he wore a blue cardigan that was faded but clean. Kingsley was about to wonder why Adeolu had looked at the table with so much…what was it? Apprehension? Disgust? Kingsley didn’t know but he was there already so why not?
He walked to the table and found that the man was indeed alone. “Good evening, sir, what would you like to order this evening?” He said, putting on his nicest tone. Linda always said that he should add a little British accent when he was talking to customers but he found that stupid. Though, as he looked at Nwachukwu at the other table, speaking and laughing like he had spent his whole life in Manchester though he had never left Gbagada, he found that it wasn’t stupid to everyone.
The man looked at the menu with gold rimmed glasses, going up and down the many, many kinds of food available. He was an aged man, his wrinkles speaking volumes. There was a bit of stubble under his chin but apart from that, nothing, his face was bare. There was a pale band of skin around his left index finger. Despite his wrinkled face and wrinkled fingers, the man’s eyes were intelligent and focused, surveying the menu carefully. Kingsley waited. And waited. And waited. Kingsley cursed under his breath, this was probably why Adeolu didn’t want to serve him. Indecisive customers were the worst, second only to customers who, after looking at the menu, ordering the food and eating, requested for the bill with a strained, “Ah, this your food is expensive o.”
Kingsley waited patiently at the table and just when he was about to say the specials on for today when the man finally spoke up.
“I’ll have,” he said, his voice was nice, smooth yet deep, “the , uhm…I’ll just have two plates of the chicken, don’t put too much pepper on the second one please.” He looked directly opposite him at the empty chair as if he heard something. “And then two glasses of champagne.”
Kingsley’s eyebrows furrowed as he wrote the order down, he saw a glimmer opposite the man but he shook it out of his mind. “You’re expecting someone, sir?” He asked. But the man didn’t reply, he just smiled.
Kingsley still had his confused expression as he got to the kitchen and placed the order on the order hangar. The expressions till stuck as he waited other tables, it still stuck as he saw Adeolu looking at him as they snuck to take a break outside behind the kitchen.
“I don’t get,” he said, leaning on the wall.
“I told you,” Adeolu said, “the man is — ” She made a circular motion with her finger at the side of her head.
Crazy. That was the only word for it, wasn’t it? The way his eyes had glazed the seat in front of it, it was like he actually thought there was someone there, he even ordered two of everything. Or maybe it was some kind of practical joke?
Ade paused a moment before she spoke. “I served him when he came yesterday, it was the same thing. Kingsley, I don’t know sha, just do his food quickly and get to the other customers. That man’s own is too much.”
Kingsley nodded without saying a word. Any word he spoke could’ve betrayed him.
Because while it was absolutely crazy for there to be some invisible person sitting there, for a moment, a short one, he could swear on his God that when he saw the glimmer, it was of a man, sitting right there.
“And here is your order, sir.” Kingsley said simply, keeping his eyes on him as he laid the food and glasses on the table.
He turned to leave when the man waved him down. “Hello, uh — ” he looked at his name tag, “Kingsley, how are you today?”
“I’m fine, sir,” he nodded, wishing he had walked faster, “And you?”
“Oh, I’m good,” he said, smiling. He had a kind smile. He hadn’t touched his food. “My name is Darius, by the way.”
Kingsley nodded again, “Nice to meet you.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” He asked, leaning forward.
Kingsley looked around quickly for Adeolu so she could help get him out of this but she was nowhere to be seen. So, instead, he nodded, “Yes, sure.” What harm could a question do?
“Okay,’ he said, then he leaned in even closer, Kingsley almost had to bend a little to hear him. “My boy, have you ever been in love?”
The man blinked.
Kingsley blinked again. “Uhm, no actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been in love, not really.” There was a pause so Kingsley filled it. “Have you…ever been in love?”
Darius laughed as he rested his back on his chair. “Yes! Many times, but it was that one time I fell in love that has stuck with me through the long decades.”
Kingsley nodded again, willing the conversation to end. “She must be a wonderful woman,” he said.
Darius smiled again. “Well, he was. Well, a wonderful man, that is.”
Kingsley’s mouth was suddenly dry.
Darius smiled again, this time it was sympathetic. “Don’t worry, Kingsley, maybe we’ll talk another time?”
He just nodded, gave a weak smile and walked away.
He got home that day, cursing NEPA after he met nothing but darkness. He lay on his bed and thought through what happened that day, sifting through his memories.
Well, he had never actually met one of them before but now that he had, it felt strange even referring to them as them. Darius had seemed like a nice old man, nothing to fear from and he had never been one to harbour hatred for another group for no reason. He hated people who drank Malt for humane reasons, hating homosexuals just for being homosexuals, though…he didn’t know, it just felt wrong somehow.
He whipped his phone from the charger near his bed and went through his contact list, he did it more for show than anything else, he actually only had one friend.
“Hello?” Adeolu answered on the third ring.
“Hello, it’s me,” he said, “Kingsley.”
“Yes,” she replied, and he could almost see her rolling her eyes, “I know, you goat, I have your number saved.”
“Oh, oh, yeah.” He said.
There was a pause.
“Kingsley?” Adeolu said.
“Yes?” He answered.
“You called me.”
“Oh, that’s true. Yes, yes, I wanted to talk to you about Darius.”
“The old man from the restaurant.”
“See, he’s actually really nice.”
“He talks to people. That are not there. I don’t understand, isn’t that a bad sign for you?”
“I mean, don’t we all talk to people that aren’t there sometimes?”
“But not all of us go to restaurants and order them food, Kingsley.”
“Okay, I won’t lie, that one was somehow.” He conceded. “But still, he’s a nice person, we even talked more after, he’s also gay. Funny enough, He goes to the same church I go to, and — ”
“Wait, what?” Adeolu said, the surprise in her voice apparent.
“…I said that he goes to the same church I go to.” He said.
“No, before that. Did you…did you say that he was a fag?” Adeolu asked.
“Actually, I don’t think that you’re allowed to say that word anymore. It’s, uhm, offensive.”
“Kingsley, I really don’t give a damn.” She answered. “Let’s call the police.”
“What? No.” He said.
“Adeolu,” he said, sitting up. “They’ll kill him.”
“I know.” She said. “Isn’t that what we want?”
“No, no! Why would we want that?”
“Because he’s a fag!”
“You’re not allowed to — ”
“Okay, see I just want to talk to him some more. I don’t know, maybe he’s lonely.”
There was a pause and the only indication that Adeolu was still on the phone was her angry breathing. “Wait, Kingsley, oh God, are you…”
“Are you a fag?”
“That word aga — ”
“Answer.” She said, her tone deathly.
“No, I’m not.” He said, “I’m straight, okay?”
“Okay, good, but if I ever see him touch you, I’m calling the police.”
Kingsley didn’t respond. That sounded like the best deal he was going to get from her.
Days passed and customers came and went but Darius was always there, at exactly 7:15 pm, ordering the same dish and the same dish. He was always too busy to stay and see if Darius ate from both the plates but when he came back, the plates and glass were always clear. They talked about a lot in those tiny moments. Life, his experience in work and his most favourite, Love. He talked about him a lot, Emeka, his name was.
“We met somewhere around here, years ago, actually.” He said, in between bites.
Kingsley raised his eyebrows as he stood there, pretending to take an order. “Oh, really?”
“Ah, yes, though there wasn’t a restaurant here back then, there was a small park here, anyways.” He said, looking sideways as if remembering. “It was dirty, littered, the grass was long and the mosquitoes were sent from hell.”
Kingsley wrinkled his nose. “It sounds horrible.”
“Oh, it was. But because it was so horrible, nobody would even come around here at night, it was the safest place for us to meet.” He said, his eyes glossing over in front of him. “We would talk and sit for hours on end, and he would tell me things, things that you would never believe. We were just teenagers then. So young…”
“What happened?” Kingsley asked quietly
“He died in the war.” Darius said, his hand on his chin.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” Said Kingsley, searching for more words and then failing.
“It happened years and years ago. Don’t worry about it.” He said, bringing out his wallet, and handing Kingsley a wad of cash. “I think this should cover the bill.” He said, giving Kingsley a wink.
Before Kingsley could even reply, he stood up from his seat and shuffled off.
Kingsley stood there at the empty dark corner staring, dumbly, at the money in his hand, almost four times what he was owed.
Darius shuffled out of the restaurant, moving quickly, or rather, as quickly as he could. His hands shook against the cool Lagos evening. He coughed. He walked to the car, putting one foot in front of the other.
“Why did you leave so soon? I wanted cake.”
Darius kept on walking, ignoring the voice, he had tried his best, he really had. But it didn’t work and he felt like a total fool.
“Well, you’re not a total fool, my love. Maybe partially, a strong sixty percent.”
He opened his car door with shaking hands, and slid into the driver’s seat, fumbling around to fit the key in the ignition.
“If you’re trying to leave in a hurry, you’re a doing a very bad job of it.”
“Shut up!” Darius said, turning to him for the first time that evening. He was wearing a simple checked shirt with dark trousers. His eyes were still as alert as ever, his hair was cut low. He always liked it like that, back when he was alive. Emeka looked back at him and smiled.
“So, after a whole night of silence, you’ve finally acknowledged me.” He said, his voice cold.
“I’ve tried my best to lead you away from this path you’re on.” Darius said, anger biting at his voice. “I’ve been meeting you here, talking to you because I know you can only leave once a month when the moon is full. But my dear, please, you must forgive them and find peace.”
“You’ve always been ashamed of me.” He spat out. “You were then and you are now. Where’s that little ring you’ve been hiding from me, even? How’s the wife, is she okay? And the kids?”
“It wasn’t like that,” Darius said, his heart beating wildly.
“Then what was it like, my love, what was it like?” Emeka said leaning closer, so close that if he were still alive, Darius would have been able to smell the gentle scent of clover that always clung on his clothes. “You forgot about me.”
“I didn’t, Emeka,” Darius said, tears welling in his eyes. “Not a day went by that I forgot about you. But please, forgive them, find peace.”
“Forgive them?” Emeka breathed. “They killed me!” He roared. “They killed me in cold blood and you ran! You left!”
“I’m sorry,” Darius said, the tears flowing freely now. “Please, I’m so sorry.”
“You say you came here to see me, but that is a lie. You’ve been coming because you’re guilty.” He laughed but there was no humour behind it. “I also invited you with my own agenda, you see, I may have lied a little.”
Darius’s face was blank. “I don’t — I don’t understand.”
“You’re right, I can only leave this place, the same place where I died, on the day of the full moon. But there’s something I didn’t tell you. If a ghost, like me for instance, were to graft itself to a living person a day before the full moon, they can permanently host the body.”
“But… But… The full moon is tomorrow.”
“That’s right.” Emeka said, and he laughed, the first real laugh he had made since had been back. It felt good.
Of course, Darius screamed as he body was taken over. Emeka took care to remove some of his pesky memories along the way and managed to destroy most of his soul just for kicks. The car shook and shuddered as he struggled and fought for his life.
The poor soul, he really put up a fight bless.
It was too late, thought, he had lost, before the fight had begun, the years had dulled him. Too bad. Emeka opened his eyes in his brand-new body straightened his collar and started his car. He couldn’t wait, it had been decades since he was back.
Oh, it felt good to finally come home again.