Every last Saturday of the month, some of the youths of Ungwan Tirka gathered together in the cemetery to level the grass and rid the place of dirt.
It had been a while we had done that since the lockdown started, so we rallied ourselves in the morning of June 27. I always loved gisting and telling scary stories to some of my guys as we worked. It scared Shinoh and Francis, but not Matthew. We looked at the other guys working in several groups. The pay wasn’t much, but it was enough to get the guys going. I wasn’t going to let Francis and Shinoh deter me, so I told my story regardless.
While the other guys worked, Nomsu, a young man of 22, saw a single one thousand naira note and an android charger atop a grave. He had worked on this graveyard for two years now and there had never been any horrific tale so far. What’s the worst that could happen if he spent it? If any of the boys claimed it belonged to him, he’d just argue the ‘tsintuwa ba sata ba’ mantra — a recitation that protects one who picks an item from the original owner.
He picked both the charger and the note and put them in his pocket. As he worked, he imagined how lunch would be like: hot beans from Mama Ayo, moi-moi from the Igala woman and yoghurt from Andy’s shop. It had been a while he had enjoyed himself. It was approaching midday and the boys were rounding out the work. It was then that Nomsu saw it — the picture of the deceased. It was of a fine young man. But why would people leave a picture of a dead person on their graves? He smiled at his lack of proper response to the question he posed to himself. Who cares? For a minute, he felt as if time froze his consciousness, but somehow, he shook it off.
He made sure the boys were all gone before he went ahead to enjoy his beans, moi-moi and yoghurt. A very peculiar grub.
“Ah, ah! Nomsu! Na enjoyment tins be dis na.”
“Mtcheew. Which enjoyment? You see pesin join beans, moi-moi and yoghurt, you dey call am enjoyment… They go soon bury you.”
Danny and Miko were the last people he needed, but he couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable at the sound of ‘bury’ from Miko’s mouth. Like always, they both got spoons for themselves and joined him. He was upset, but he knew he couldn’t afford to challenge them, not today at least. He didn’t want anyone questioning him on how he got the money to spend in such silk-stocking fashion.
As he was about leaving Mama Ayo’s shop, he thought he sighted a familiar face looking at him. He looked back for a while. Damn! How could it be? Was the food combination poisonous as Miko had stated? The man looking at him was none other than the person he picked the money and charger from. He had spent the money. He had also sold the charger and spent the money on football betting.
The man began to walk towards him. This couldn’t be happening. Nomsu turned around and ran with all the energy his limbs could muster. Everyone would eventually die, but he wasn’t going to die today, not in the hands of a ghost. He could feel the beans and moi-moi’s slapdash stir in his stomach as he took one leap after the other. It was better to get sick than to get killed.
It had been eight hours since he got home. There was no sign of the ghost. Tonight might be survivable after all. He might even be able to sleep if all turned well.
It was almost 10pm when he heard the footsteps in the compound. He peeped through the curtain and saw him. It was the dead man. He quivered, and his unsteady hands couldn’t close the curtain without giving himself away.
“Come out here, you thief. I can see you behind the curtain.”
Nomsu knew it was over. He wobbled away from the room and into the compound towards the ghost. He had never seen a ghost, but he had heard dreadful stories about what ghosts did to people.
“Please, sir, I don’t want to die.”
Nomsu was on his knees with his head bowed to the ground in a prayer-like position. His sweat-filled face blended perfectly with the tears that it was difficult to distinguish.
“Where is my money and charger?”
He didn’t understand why a ghost would want money or a charger or what he would do with it, but he dared not mention it.
“I spent the money and I sold the charger. Please don’t kill me, I will repay you.”
“Do I look like a killer to you?”
Nomsu didn’t know the proper response to the question. Hadn’t his father told them that ghosts and evil spirits often asked trick questions? He didn’t answer the ghost.
“So, when am I getting back my money and charger?”
“Tomorrow, sir, I swear I will bring it to your grave by tomorrow.”
“My grave? Are you mad?… Oh, oh, you think I’m a ghost? You stupid boy.”
“I don’t understand, sir, but I saw your picture on the —”
The ghost didn’t seem mad anymore but was almost laughing. Nomsu wasn’t sure if that was a good sign, and so he composed himself even further.
“Guy, I just collected my picture from the photographer today. I said I should stop by and check my cousin who was working in the cemetery. I dropped my picture, my money and my charger on top of a grave to go and pee. But before I came back, it was gone. A guy told me you took them.”
Nomsu wasn’t sure he wanted to believe the ghost, or as he presented himself, the guy.
“If you’re not a ghost, how did you come into this compound? I personally locked the gate from the inside.”
Their compound didn’t have fences. It was surrounded by rooms all through with a gate in between. There was no way anyone could have entered unless they climbed on top of the roof which wasn’t the case here. He would have heard the sound of the zinc.
“You got me there. The gate was actually locked, so, I walked through it.”
“What do you mean by walk… walked through it?”
“I think you know what I mean, Nomsu.”
“So, you’re a ghost?”
“Maybe. I saw when you picked the money. In fact, I knew all the times you came to work in the cemetery, Nomsu. I had been watching you.”
He told Nomsu all those moments over the last two years about his activities in the graveyard. He told him things that were impossible for any other person to know. He told him things that he himself had forgotten prior to that moment.
“My best day was when you peed on Gloria’s grave. Don’t worry… I didn’t like her, too. She came and met us but acts as if she owns the place.”
“You mean the ghosts in that place talk to each other?” Nomsu was so scared at this point, he couldn’t move a finger.
“You see, it was never about the charger or the money. It was about your body. I needed to go back to rectify some things in my past and Daniel — a ghost who had stayed the longest there — told me I could get a body. So I chose yours, Nomsu.”
Suddenly, Nomsu began to —
“It’s okay like that, Suleiman. We can’t be working in a graveyard and listen to you tell this story.”
Shinoh didn’t want any more of it, but Matthew didn’t mind.
“But you know that Suleiman likes telling lies and calling it fiction. How can you think that what he says is even possible? I tire for you o, Shinoh.”
“I hear. Just don’t continue with this Nomsu story abeg. Let’s just work.”
I kept quiet all through the work to the gratitude of Shinoh and Francis. Matthew on the other hand insisted I continue with the story.
“What later happened to Nomsu, na?”
I promised to finish the story when we got home.
As we collected our pay for the day’s work, we walked through the path behind, away from the rest of the guys. Francis was already excited and told us about what he’d do with his money. It was then we saw it: a thousand naira note, a charger and the picture of a young man atop a grave.
The others thought that I had taken my story too far by providing items from the story and putting it on the grave just to freak them out. It was sensible to think that way because I was the one who insisted that we took that path.
The others weren’t as scared as I was because I seemed to be the only one who knew that I didn’t keep those items there. Whoever dropped them had definitely heard me telling the guys my story and decided to play a mean prank on us.
“Suleiman, this is getting out of hand o. You mean you dropped this stuff just so that you can scare them?”
Matthew was laughing at my ingenuity as he bent to pick the items. He was saying something like ‘tsintuwa ba sata ba’ when I saw him from afar — the man in the picture.
I wanted to stop Matthew, but it was too late. He had already picked up the items, and when I turned to look at the man, he had disappeared. It was impossible since he was standing in an open field of graves, but then I wondered, it wasn’t impossible if he was a ghost.
Matthew smiled at his good fortune as we walked home. He made funny remarks about buying beans, moi-moi and yoghurt to match my story’s narration. I tried convincing him that I wasn’t the one who kept those things there, but the coincidences were accurate.
“So, what happened to this Nomsu guy, na?”
I hadn’t figured what happened to Nomsu because I made up the story as I narrated. But I was so sure Matthew would find out for himself tonight.
is an up and coming writer from Kaduna, Nigeria. He started writing as a tag-along to his ICT career at first, but has developed much more passion in the process.
He writes a lot of “first draft” short stories on Facebook for the day-to-day social media Nigerian while he works on other literary projects by the side.
Moving as ever, even now that I am reading it again. Good to see your work here. Mr Suleiman.