By Nora Vasconcelos
— — —
[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna Udenwe’s blog]
…Father and the neighbours couldn’t believe it!
Everybody in our street had felt relieved when the spirit man had died. Things were supposed to go back to normal. Why was this happening to us? We all wondered.
As soon as the news went around, people gathered outside the building were the spirit man used to live. Nobody really knew why we were there. The spirit man was dead, so why we should expect to get any sort of explanation by standing in front of his apartment.
May be we wanted to be sure that he was really dead. After all, he was the spirit man, and his feet never touched the pavement, or so the kids said.
Would it be our collective guilt that had brought us here? I thought.
What if the spirit man didn’t have anything to do with our misfortunes and he’d been killed for no reason at all..? No! That couldn’t be. Everybody in the neighbourhood said that he was guilty because people had died just because they had looked at him…
All these ideas tormented me over and over while I was standing there. Then something happened… Something nobody expected.
As a big gray cloud covered the sky, we saw how some light was coming from the spirit man’s apartment.
How was that possible? We wondered, asking each other if we had actually seen what we thought we had seen.
Silence invaded us. Then we watched more attentively. A chill was felt around our paralysed bodies. There was not only light coming from his apartment, but also noise…
‘Someone is there!’ A woman screamed.
‘That can’t be true!’ A young man said. ‘We got rid of the body at the lagoon… Even more, we saw it disappear as it sank in the muddy waters.’
It couldn’t be the owner of the building as he was away this week, visiting his family in the countryside.
So, who was there?
The uncertainty was terrible. But nobody dared to get closer to look inside the place. A young boy had passed away even after the spirit man had died, so, it was for sure that whoever looked through those windows would share the same faith…
‘Spirits don’t died, that’s why!’ A young boy said, hiding among the crowd.
Was that true? Had the spirit man come back from the land of the death…?
‘I’ll go and see!’ An old man said. ‘Cancer has already taken the best of my years, pain’s unbearable and one less day on this earth won’t really matter.’
We all looked at him when he started to approach the place.
As he was getting really close to one of the windows, the lights in the apartment went out.
Anyway, the old man had the chance to get a glance. ‘It’s empty!’ He yelled, just before he fell onto the floor and died.
Screams filled the air… Then everybody ran away, leaving the body of the poor man lying there.
When we got home, father said he had to come back. ‘It is not right to leave him there,’ he told us. But little time passed before he came back.
‘He wasn’t there anymore!’ He said. His face pale and his hands shaking.
‘What happened?’ Mother asked. ‘Please don’t tell me that you saw the spirit man?’ She begged.
‘I cannot say it was him, his features were different, his face was different and yet, there was something familiarly odd…’ Father said. Then he remained silent for a while, his eyes fixed on the wall, his body leaning on the door.
‘I can’t stay here with all of you! Not now that I’ve been haunted. I have to go somewhere far away from you. I can’t allow my family to get what I might have…’
And in a second, father was gone.
Mother ran to the door, but when she got close to it, she stopped, afraid of touching it.
What if ‘it’ was contagious even through the objects…? We all dreaded.
Then we cried all the evening until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and we felt asleep. Only mother remained awake. A candle on the window, a chair blocking the door…
The next morning our doorbell rang. Mother didn’t dare to answer.
The bell didn’t ring again. Only the sound of someone going away was heard.
I shouldn’t have done it. But I did it anyway. While mother was still trying to make sure that whoever had been there was really gone, I looked through the window. A man with a limp was leaving our place …His feet barely touched the street.
I didn’t recognize him. But when I was about to go back to the room, I saw his face as he was turning his head toward our door. His nose was twisted, the same as one of his eyes and one of his ears… His eyes were as brown as the light that appears right after the sun has set and just before the night comes to rule its realm.
An hour passed before mother gathered the courage to open the door. And when she did it we noticed that our house number had disappeared. What did that mean? Were we condemned as well…? Were we going to be the next…?
‘The man with the limp had taken it for sure. But why?’ I said.
‘Let’s go kids!’ Mother ordered, gathering a few clothes in a hurry. ‘We can’t stay here!’
A friend of the family had a small apartment on the corner of our street because it was convenient for him to stay there any time he visited his grandparents who lived two blocks from here.
Mother and father took care of the apartment when he was away, making sure that it remained functional. Now, it would be our hideaway house. Nor the spirit man nor the man with the limp would ever know that we were there. Or so we thought…
The following morning everything was silent. Not even the wind blew around.
When we were getting ready to have our breakfast a bang on the door made us jump from our chairs. Nobody was supposed to know we were there!
Trying to be quiet, mother got near the door and looked through the peephole. ‘Nobody’s there,’ she said. So, she opened the door.
The house number had disappeared again!
Mother went out, hoping a mischievous kid had taken it, but we all knew that it had been the man with the limp.
Then we went out and walked along the street. There were no people outside and all the numbers of all the houses had disappeared. The same as it had happened to us!
Faraway… almost on the opposite corner, we managed to see the man with the limp entering the building where the spirit man used to live. Were they one and the same?
At least no more people had died during the night. Or none that we were aware of. We still didn’t know what had happened to father. It’d be better if we went back to our new place. After all, it had been him who had suggested that we moved there in case things turned more complicated, so he should know where to find us when he felt it was safe.
A few hours later, a note was left under our door. We all thought it’d be from father, so we rushed to pick it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The note wasn’t sign, it only said: Meet me at the apartment in an hour.
We all knew what apartment was that.
At 2pm all the neighbours got together at the spirit man’s place. Even father was there. Then we were certain that nobody else had died in the last hours, so we felt it should be safe for us to be there. Even so, no one dare to get too close to the apartment.
The man with the limp opened the door and looked at us. His expression was a puzzling one. Who was this man?
‘You all have been part of a terrible crime here,’ he said with a severe voice. ‘You’ve killed a man who never said anything . If he was a spirit or no, you’ll never know.’ The man paused and studied our faces.
‘I’ve come all the way from Gabon, where a cholera epidemic destroyed our hometown. People blamed the spirit man, but there was no way to probe it was his fault even when death became his constant companion…”
‘Oh’s!’ Were heard from the people around us.
‘By taking off the numbers of your homes I’ve prevented the disease from knowing where you live, so it won’t be able to kill anyone else. I’ve also cleaned this apartment with all the herbs and chants I know, so no one will get sick anymore. But remember, what you have done here it will remain for the spirits to be judged, so you might as well never be safe again…”
* * *
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project