A QuarterofMyMind with Winifred HMENSA: A Portrait of the Dark Side (Part II)

A Quarter of Mind: The Night Niko Turned (Part III)
Winifred hMensa

I slammed my shoulder against the door repeatedly, yet it remained resolutely shut. The only option left was the window, but my dash towards it was intercepted by a floating shadow that rushed overhead. I ducked and crawled under Kenny’s desk. The room filled up with taunting echoes and dancing shadows, one of which flew across the desk, forcing me out of my hiding place. I headed back to the door on all fours, becoming very familiar with the floor. At the door, I sat facing the dark room, crying and screaming as loudly as my lungs would permit.

I heard someone fumbling with a set of keys. A few seconds later, the door swung open and I fell backward. It was Saba, my favourite night guard. I hugged his legs and quickly kicked the door shut. He helped me to my feet, holding me up by my elbows, and asked, half-snickering, “Madam why, sometin’ dey chase you?”

“My wife too, hmm, she dey fear to stay in the dark o,” he continued, giggling to himself as he let go of me and locked the door. I ignored him, tried to compose myself, wiping away tears with the sleeve of my blouse, and remembered I’d left my bag inside.

“My bag,” I said, my voice trembling.

“E dey inside? Oh, I go get am give you.” He said confidently.

“It’s behind the door.” I couldn’t go home without it; money and the keys to my apartment were inside. Saba dove back in and returned with it. When he stepped out of the dark, I caught a glimpse of a pale figure hovering above him. It disappeared when he stepped out into the light but its effect lingered on him. He looked disturbed, empty, as though his soul had left his body. I didn’t dare ask; I was too afraid his response would give substance to my fears.

Outside the gate, I imagined walking down the dark street on my own. After the frightful experience I’d just had, I wasn’t going to take that chance. Saba walked me to the bus station. There was no sense in guarding a demon-infested building. We had an unusually quiet walk to the station. It was a far cry from his typical bubbly self. When we got there, he simply turned around and left without as much as a goodbye.

It was almost midnight when I got home. I sat up in bed, propped against the headboard, armed with a flashlight (already switched on). Not a single light was left off. The next morning, I woke up feeling like death warmed up; my body was stiff, and I could hardly lift my arm over my sore shoulder. Nevertheless, I got ready for work. I put Bobo’s meal out on the balcony and left, uncertain where he’d disappeared to.

At the bus stop were a mother and daughter. I watched as the mother brushed lint from the little girl’s uniform, smoothed over her edges with her palm, and made sure the tiny pink ribbons were fixed on tightly. It reminded me of my mom and I imagined how different my life would have been if she’d never fallen down that well. I smiled at the little girl and waved. She smiled back.

A trotro tooted its horn from afar and the mate waved in the direction I was headed. It stopped right in front of me, blowing dust my way. I closed my eyes for two seconds. When I opened them, a barefooted vagrant wearing at least six layers of tattered clothing and reeking of sewage appeared before me, insisting I give him money for food. I tried to step past him but he kept cutting me off. The trotro moved forward and picked up other passengers. I was running late and didn’t want to miss that bus. I stuffed my hand in my bag and dropped the few coins I could find into his palm. He stared at the coins, looked me in the eye, and said in Fante, “Aba, hwɛ yie wɔ nsu bura no ho,” and walked away. I stared back at him, confused. He stopped, turned around, and repeated, this time in impeccable English, “Aba, be wary of the well.” After a pensive pause, he added, “But if you fall in, find yourself. Find yourself.” With that, he walked away.

The trotro mate yelled, “Madam, ooya allo?” I doubled up and joined the half-empty trotro. The guy next to me said, “Mɛnnfii no, he’s a mad man”. But he wasn’t. He knew my name, and he knew about the well.

The trip to the office was sombre. My thoughts drifted back to when I was a little girl, to the night my mother died. She had gone to the well for water. I was to follow her with the kerosene lamp, but I couldn’t get it to light. From the door, I saw something come from behind and pushed her into it. I could still hear her screams as she fell and the soft gurgling sounds she made as she drowned.

“Be wary of the well…Find yourself.” Those words echoed in my mind as I walked from the station to the office. A siren wailed past me, sounding the anguish I felt inside. Following its trail, I arrived at the entrance to our office where a small crowd had gathered. They fanned out to let the ambulance through, and I followed in its wake, worming my way through to the gate. The policeman on guard saw my ID and let me in.

The ambulance stopped behind two other policemen who stood about a metre clear of a dark gooey substance in which a figure lay, face down. As I approached, I realised that the figure was Saba. My heart sank. The policemen whose courage I admired, waded through the tar-like fluid in their plastic boots and pulled a tarp over his body. Kenny stood on the porch and waved at me. I ran over to him.

“What happened? I asked, my voice shaky.

“Nobody knows. The day guard found him like this when he came in this morning. They say it’s juju.”

But it wasn’t juju, it was me. I did this. I killed him! The lump in my throat made it hard to swallow. I choked on tears as the police carted the body away and dispersed the crowd.

We had hoped for a day off, but not on Lockmann’s time. He kept everyone in until about 7:00 pm. After he left, we took off. This time, I made sure to leave with the group, half-hoping someone would offer me a ride, but they all jumped into their cars and drove off without looking in my direction.

The night was exceptionally cold. The streets were also dark, darker than it normally was. I looked up into the sky. Not even a star dotted the upper regions. A taxi straight home? I pondered. Considering my budget, that would mean sticking to a water diet for a while, so I hit the pavement. I put on my headphones and started my trek to the trotro station. No matter how crazy life got, music always helped. A cold wind blew over me. I threw my shawl over my shoulders to keep warm but my arms suddenly felt heavy. The sensation carried over to the rest of my body like I was under the weight of the world.

Five minutes later, the heaviness forced me closer to the ground and the cold wind resisted my every move. Bent over and exerting each muscle in my body, I pelted sweat beads through every conceivable pore but made very little progress. Then came footsteps from behind. Slow, steady, and unhurried steps that vibrated through my soul, maintaining a constant pace with my feeble steps. I fought the urge to look back; a sinking feeling of panic simmering inside. The steps did not relent. They quickened and inched closer until they collided with a ghostly blaze and spun around me.

I saw the headlights of a car coming my way, going above the speed limit. This was my chance. I’d rather be hit by a car than suffer the same fate as Saba. I waited until the car came close and with weighted steps, threw myself in front of it. The brakes of the car screeched and its tyres squalled, swerving to avoid a collision. The driver poked his head out of his window, pointed to his temple and shouted angrily, “W’agyimi?”

I got up painfully and crossed slowly over to the other side. The footsteps appeared to have stopped. For a space of about ninety seconds, I felt safe and thankful to be alive. I contemplated the journey ahead. Given my current condition, it seemed impossible. On top of that, only 2 street lights dotted the road ahead. Thankfully, the lights from people’s shops and corridors brightened my path.

I would be at the station in no time, I assured myself, feeling the bite of the cold wind in my bones as I laboured on. Three cars had stopped at the traffic light. If I could get to them before the signal turned red, perhaps I could get a lift to the station. Seconds away from the cars, 3 crows flew in and settled eerily on the STOP sign before me. I was about to shoo them away when the power suddenly went out. The streets went dark, the cars drove off, and I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder.

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