The most fascinating thing about being a ghost is that I can steal one thing no thief can: a person’s mind. I can take a hold of it and sear it from their soul, assuming control of every part in there — well, every part except that which makes decisions, because, for some reason, ghosts are not allowed to reach here. Nothing to worry about if you’re human. I usually don’t assume much control over my hosts’ minds, anyway, let alone try to solely influence their decision making.
Today makes it three days since I left my last host. He was a bore who never knew what to say to his girls on dates. I’m in need of another now. And I need a woman this time, preferably one who is dark and plump. Floating past a mall, I spot a woman as she enters into her car and slams the door shut. But I don’t take much notice of her until after her car races past me, smoke from the Toyota Camry clouding the air. It is then that it dawns on me that she fits! The hell! She fits! I chase after the car, and in minutes catch up with it. I would seep through the front window, to sit in the passenger seat and take a careful look at this woman.
She looks just like I did when I was still alive: her brown skin glimmers in the evening light, just like mine used to, and her hair has been braided into cornrows, which makes her forehead look prominent. Her body is what anyone would call fat. But to me, it’s beautiful. For a while, everything goes dark, but the world soon takes form again; it is brighter, much louder, and faster now. Everything feels different inside her. Cold air from the AC rubs across my host’s skin. Feels good. Soft music plays in the background, but the unsteady thumping of my host’s heartbeat wouldn’t let me enjoy the rhythm. I think she is scared. And if she isn’t scared, then she is upset or worried or just tired. Whatever it is, I don’t enjoy the music.
My new host heaves a sigh after she makes the turn into a big compound in which stands a white bungalow. She puts off her car engine, grabs her bag and walks up to the front door of this bungalow. She pushes the door and it opens to a big sitting room stuffed with expensive furniture. A shirtless man seated on a couch, whom I figure to be my host’s husband, looks up at her, his face tightened into a frown, and then he withdraws his eyes.
“Good evening,” she tells him drily.
“Good evening,” he answers without raising his head.
“Have you eaten?” My host would return to the sitting room after having a bath to ask the man.
“Do not ask me nonsense, Amaka,” he blurts. “I have told you to stop asking me nonsense.”
I expect her to do the opposite, but she says nothing. She just stands there, looking down at him, then sighs and walks away. I should be, but I am not disappointed. It’s a bit too early to be disappointed, I think; too early to draw conclusions. Although I think I have a clue to what is going on. I guess I just have to wait until it all unfurls.
“He has started again o, Mama,” my host, seated with crossed legs on the edge of a big bed, says to a woman over the phone. “He has started again.”
“Who?” The other woman’s voice is light and sickly. “What is happening over there? What is it again?”
“Emeka, Mama. I just got home and asked if he has eaten. He told me to stop asking him nonsense. Mama. I am tired of all this trouble. Honestly, I really am.”
She quickly puts down the phone when the door squeaks open and the man who was seated in the sitting room enters into it. This man stands up to six feet tall.
“Who was that?” he barks. “What and whose trouble are you tired of?”
The thumping of my host’s heart begins again, this time even faster and more irregular.
“Nobody. I wasn’t talking to anybody.”
“What do you mean nobody? Are you now mad to talk to yourself?”
He lunges forward and takes a clamp-like hold of her left forearm. At first, I feel the contact, but after the sensation fades, I know that my host must now feel pain across this arm.
“Give me this phone!” the man barks. My host’s struggling is useless against him. He soon squeezes the phone from her hand. The room becomes uneasy with silence as he looks into the phone screen.
“You said you weren’t talking to anybody. Then what is ‘Mama’ doing on your call log? You have called to report me again, haven’t you!?”
“You think because you have money you can be misbehaving anyhow?” The man pounces on the woman. She raises hands to shield her face. But he pulls them away and continues to hit her. I don’t feel it, but I know it would hurt like death.
My host spends the night locked in the bathroom, crying. There is blood on her face, oozing from a wound across the bridge of her nose. I see it through her eyes when she looks into the mirror. The area under both her eyes are swollen and purple.
Everything that has happened this evening reminds me of my life when I still had a body, when I was married to a man called Mark, when I could still feel pain. To me, Mark was pain itself. He hit me at any chance he got, with words and with fists alike, never once holding himself back. Once, he spat on my face in front of his mother, who had called me barren, and threatened to throw me out of his house. Even though I was the bread-winner, which I suspect my host is, working my ass off while he sat home with stretched legs and watched TV all day. He never respected me. Whenever he came home at around midnight, smelling of alcohol as usual, he pounced on me for not opening the front door as soon as he knocked, and would yell until he fell asleep. It was in one of these punching sessions that I had drifted off one night and never returned. So it’s only normal that I am this drawn to help this host. I can’t feel her pain, but I know it’s there, like a hornet’s sting. It’s only normal that I am drawn to cross my boundaries and whisper into her mind. I can help her. I know I can. I can tell her how to escape this, without interfering with her thought process or reading her mind. If she listens to me, she would escape it all. All she needs to do is listen.
“Hello, Amaka,” I whisper into her mind the next morning as she dresses up.
She lets go of the small mirror in her hand, which shatters as it hits the ground.
“Don’t be afraid,” I say, and she screams the name of Jesus, running out of the room.
“What is it?” Her husband barks at her when she enters the parlour. “You have started with your nonsense again this early morning, haven’t you? If I should touch you now, you’d go straight to your mother and report me.” He pauses, as if suddenly concerned. “Oya what is it?”
“Nothing,” Amaka says. “It is nothing. I thought I was hearing things, I’m sorry.”
“I think you should stop telling him sorry,” I say to Amaka as she climbs this flight of stairs that, I suspect, leads to her office. The air is cold and carries in it a silence and calm even I feel. Amaka says nothing, as if she hasn’t heard me. So I speak again, but after she’s sat on a padded chair, behind a computer screen.
“I am your guardian angel,” I say this time, knowing that she would be more open when I say something God-related. “And I am here to help you, Amaka.”
“Get behind me, Satan,” she says, squeezing her eyes shut. “Leave me alone, you devil. In the name of Jesus Christ, leave me alone!”
When she opens her eyes, I see through them the devouring eyes of my host’s co-workers, who shrug and look away, pretending not to have noticed what has just happened.
“I am not Satan, Amaka,” I speak again when she gets home after a long day. “I want to help you.”
Staring at the mirror, groping her wounds, she breaks down.
“But I am not worthy of help. At least, not God’s help. I hate God. He would not give me a child. He would not change my husband. I hate him so much. So why does an angel of his want to help me?”
“Don’t ask too many questions. Just do what I say and you’d be okay.”
I don’t speak to her anymore until the next day, when her husband asks her why she has returned from work this late; I don’t speak even when at night she kneels beside her bed whilst her husband sleeps, and prays, “Speak to me, Lord.” I don’t speak still. After all, I am not the Lord. I am something who just wants to help.
“You are following your boss up and down again, and have left me hungry,” Amaka’s husband says this evening, “No wonder God has punished you. No wonder he has made you barren. No wonder you can’t give me sons.”
“Tell him, ‘Emeka, you should learn to talk to me with respect. I am your wife and I deserve your respect’,” I whisper.
When after seconds of hesitation she says it, Emeka’s eyes widen with shock. I can tell he doesn’t believe what he has just heard. I can tell it stings his ears. The guts. It is a cold hand pressing his chest. Oh, I can tell.
“What did you just say?”
“Tell him, ‘I said what I said. You need to start respecting me as your wife or find someone else who would replace me’.”
“I said what I said! You have to start respecting me as your wife!” Amaka echoes, skipping the last clause, as she walks away. I know her husband’s eyes are following her.
“Don’t be afraid. He wouldn’t hurt you,” I tell Amaka when the thumping in her heart starts, and her chin warms with tears. When confronted, men like this withdraw, like a snail into its shell. I know Emeka wouldn’t hit her tonight. He wouldn’t be able to bring himself to do so. And, truly, he does not hit her. When dinner is placed before him, he says a curt, “Thank you,” which Amaka answers with a smile. She sits opposite him. An awkward exchange of glances. Emeka does not dig his food into his mouth until Amaka first eats hers, and I know just why. Men would always be men, I scoff to myself.
This misunderstanding starts, a little more than two weeks after the last one, because Amaka complains when Emeka tells her that his mother would be visiting in three days.
“But she has already visited this year,” Amaka says. “What does she want again?”
Emeka doesn’t answer her, but I see the rage in his eyes and so warn Amaka to be careful around her husband. She doesn’t listen, and it lands her in trouble. Amaka has been a bit too bold lately, I agree, and it annoys more than it scares me. I don’t mean to say that I don’t want her to be bold. But being too bold? That’s death, especially when your husband is the kind who feels intimidated by a woman’s successes.
When this morning Emeka walks up to the couch she is sitting on and asks for her car keys, she brings up the job issue again. She says Emeka would have had his own car by now if he didn’t spend his days watching TV and lazing around whilst his mates work to keep their families happy. Face squeezed into a frown, Emeka punches her face, and then turns around and is soon out of the house. Amaka tries to fight back, but a man’s strength always overpowers a woman’s even if she’s as bold as a lion. What my mother always said.
“I thought I told you to listen to me?” I say to Amaka as she sits here and cries. I say nothing more until an hour or so passes.
When the door opens, Emeka walks into the sitting room alongside a mid-aged woman and a younger one who wouldn’t stop looking all around her, as if she is awed by the beauty of this place. This one’s holding a small, dirty bag.
“Welcome, Mama,” Amaka says to the mid-aged woman, knees bent in reverence. This woman does not reply Amaka. Neither does she stretch out a hand to tap Amaka’s back as is the custom common in Nigeria.
“Come,” the mid-aged woman says, pulling the younger girl’s arm. “Look around. This is your husband’s house now. You’re the new wife of this family. You would give birth to sons for my son, unlike this overblown woman who does nothing but eat my son’s money.” The overblown woman Mama speaks of is Amaka, who looks too shocked to say or do anything.
“Walk away,” I whisper to Amaka, and she turns around, after looking at the younger woman’s forehead and then feet, and leaves the sitting room to long hours of tears in the bedroom.
This night, her husband does not come sleep here, in their room, and Amaka and I know why. It is because of the soft moans coming from the guest room. It’s because of the new girl.
“Why is all this happening?” she yells, throwing herself to the ground. “God, why?”
I ask her if she wants to remain in the marriage, quipping that it’ll be best if she leaves. It never ends well when a woman decides to stay in an abusive relationship.
“No. He is my husband,” she says. “I will fight for my marriage. In my family, daughters never remain in their marriages. But that can never be me! Mba! I will fight for my marriage, and you, o God, will help me! I will bear sons for my husband! I haven’t endured all this only to leave now. Mba!”
She does not sleep throughout this night; she reads Psalms and calls on God, spilling apologies I am tired of hearing. Two days after, Amaka, chest thumping, moves into the sitting room and takes a hold of the new girl Mama brought, and begins to yell.
“You demon! In the name of Jesus Christ, the one who lives in me and talks to me. I bind you!”
The girl snatches back her hand, but Amaka — who is bent on casting out any demons in her — takes a hold of the hand again. “I bind you. Leave my home in Jesus name!”
“Ehn…ehn! What is it?” Mama comes rushing into the sitting room. ‘Do you want to kill her? Why are you pressing my son’s wife’s neck? Emeka o!” she would yell, beating a hand over her mouth to voice an infuriating sound. “Emeka, come and see. They want to kill your wife.”
“What is going on here?” Emeka walks in, a wrapper around his waist.
“She just came and held my hand, as if she wanted to kill me,” the young girl says, stepping away.
“It is true. I saw it with my own eyes,” Mama says, clapping hands before Amaka’s eyes.
Amaka slaps Mama’s hands away, then ambles off. Mama follows her, screaming, clapping her hands. “You have to leave this house. Barren woman. You have to go.”
It all happens so fast after Amaka enters the kitchen. I try to stop her. I scream louder than ever. But it happens too fast. Amaka pulls a knife from a cupboard and jabs it into Mama’s stomach, twisting and turning it until Mama falls dead. Amaka then moves back into the sitting room, the knife still in her hand, dripping blood.
“God will deal with all my enemies,” she murmurs. “I am tired of keeping up with all this. The God I serve has arisen to set me free. I have received victory!”
I see what is coming, and so would leave now. I can no longer stay here. I don’t want to watch anyone else die.
UBONG JOHNSON (UBEE)
is a medical student, and emerging short-story writer from Nigeria. He reads and writes when he isn’t sleeping or playing the piano.