Ekene stood at Dust Bin Bus Stop waiting for a keke. He wasn’t used to taking keke to anywhere, it was usually a bus for him, but this one was different, nay, special. He was going on a date in UNEC. UNEC, the campus where they mint beautiful girls, as his friend Emma put it. After weeks of stalking her on Facebook and bugging her on Whatsapp, Precious agreed to see him. She didn’t actually agree; she just didn’t refuse. She said she was hungry and he offered to come and take her to an eatery. She said nothing. “Hello, should I come? Please say yes.”
“If you wish,” she said. He dashed into the bathroom. A warm bath and splashes of his precious perfume later, he was ready for the date of the year.
The kekes that sped past him were occupied with passengers. He didn’t want buses and he had counted more than three buses going to Independence Layout. They would waste his time. UNEC would take less than ten minutes on a keke; he would be lucky to make it in thirty minutes on a drop and pick bus. So he waited.
He brought out his handkerchief to wipe the beads of sweat beginning to form on his forehead. The time was quarter past four pm and the sun was still at its irritating best. It’s time I got my own car, he thought for the one hundred and sixty-seven time this month.
A car stopped just before. A grey sienna that had seen glorious days, still a car. He wouldn’t be proud to drive this to UNEC, still a car. A car is a car; a car is always better than waiting for keke in this dispassionate Enugu sun. A man came out of the car. First, Ekene noticed a heap of hair. Uncombed hair, massive beards and wayward moustache. The man came towards him. He smelt like an unwashed jersey.
“You will die tomorrow,” the man said, turned, got into his car and drove away.
Ekene closed his mouth that the man’s words had opened; the man’s car was now at All Saints Round About. He heaved a sigh of despair. What does he mean? A keke came to a stop before him. A fat man came down and walked past him. The man smelled like rotten onions. Fewer and fewer people now take their bath in this town, he thought. “Chere,” he said to the keke driver.
He hopped in. No energy to bargain. The keke smelt like a distant rubbish dumb but he paid no mind to that. He would die tomorrow, someone had said to him. How? What does that mean? He tried to push the thought out of his mind but like a bad smell, he couldn’t force the thought away by merely wishing it away and ignoring it. It was there, towering over his thoughts like the giant shadow of a midget. He no longer felt like seeing anyone today. He ached for his toilet seat.
The keke stopped at the gate of University of Nigeria Enugu Campus and he waited for three-quarters of an hour for his date. On a normal day, he would have been impatient and harass her with calls and messages. Today, he just stood by the playing field just inside the school, occasionally pacing like a husband whose wife was in a labour in an old Nollywood movie. I shouldn’t be agitated by the empty words of a stranger, he kept telling himself and failing to listen.
He turned and beheld Precious. She was pretty in knee-length jean knickers under a sleeveless shirt that revealed a chunk of flesh and accentuated figures.
“Beautiful,” he said.
“You look sick,” she said.
He tried to smile but succeeded in grimacing. He began to give her a reassuring nod but she had resumed walking. He stepped in by her side.
They went to Ntachi-Osa in New Haven. He ate eba and ora soup while she abused eba and bitter leaf soup with a spoon. Halfway into his meal, he began to relax a little and relegate the words of the foolish stranger to the back of his mind. Her present was precious; it overshadowed evil thoughts. Suddenly, she said: “I had a bad dream this morning. I lost a friend and I was crying. It was so painful.”
Ekene’s hand froze mid-air, near his mouth. “A friend.”
“Yes. I don’t know the person. It was your call that woke me up and it made me thought of you.”
“Thought of me? How?”
“Maybe you were the one who died in my dream.”
Ekene returned his hand and eba to the plate and pushed the plate away. A cold chill crept down his spine. He rose to his feet and walked to the tap. As he began washing his hands, he saw a coffin in his subconscious mind. Perhaps they are right? Perhaps, I will die.
On a bus home, Ekene sent a Whatsapp message to Emma. “Nna, everybody just the talk say I go die.”
“Guy, that thing the fear me,” Emma replied immediately. “I just the perceive say person go die soon.”
First, a stranger, then, a crush, now, his nigger!
He alighted at Dust Bin with foamy legs and a heavy heart. How can this be, his death, at the mid-morning of his life? The suddenness of the news, the cruelty of its confirmations and the surreal atmosphere it had wangled around him made him ill. Without thinking, he stepped on the road. He didn’t see the speeding petrol tanker until it was just a few seconds to knocking him down.
“Not yet,” he shouted.