The atmosphere is calm. The school hostels are empty. The silence is so strong you can almost touch it. You alight from the keke that brought you to the girls’ block and search your purse for a 50 naira note to give the driver. Finding none, you hand him a 100 naira note. While you wait for your change, you eye your Ghana-must-go bag seating snugly on the keke seat. It is too heavy. You ask the keke driver to help you carry it to your room. He agrees. You remind yourself to give him a small tip.
Dragging your suitcase, you lead the way. The keke driver hefts your Ghana-must-go up his left shoulder and follows you. As you go, you survey the hostel. Girls’ hostel is quiet today. Perfect. It’ll stay this way for a few days, till school resumes next week. No music blaring, no noisy chatter, no ruckus. The hallways sparkle immaculately: No water splashes on the floor, no dirty footprints, no overflowing dustbins. Everything is perfect, just the way you like it.
You hear a few fans whir on the first floor. Some students, early birds are back: students who either have assignments to round up, just love the quiet, or like you, just hate people. You are kinda glad you won’t be the only human in girls’ hostel this night, though you strongly hope and pray none of the students gets any neighbourly.
You soon get to the fifth floor. Rounding the corner, you get to your room. The keke driver brings your bag down from his shoulder, carefully dropping at the left side of your door. He turns to leave. You call him back. Opening your purse, you retrieve the 50 naira note he gave you earlier, you hand it to him. He leaves with a grateful smile. You unlock your room. There’s a thin layer of dust on practically everything. You check your cupboard. No ratty smells. Kneeling down, you check under the bed for your broom. You pick it up and set to work. You sweep down cobwebs, clean the ceiling fan, sweep the floor, dust the mattresses and the rug and furniture. You then unpack your bags. Dresses and blouses on hangers; perfectly folded skirts, jeans and tops are stacked on different shelves. Underwear folded into tiny little perfect squares are piled in a drawer, toiletries in another drawer. Foodstuff and beverages go to your cupboard. Books go to the book shelf on the wall.
Flexing your shoulders, you survey the room – perfect. You are tired, and desperately crave a shower. You head for the bathroom where you undress and step into the shower stall. You turn the knob and wait for the cold water to hit your back. Nothing. You let out a frustrated sigh. Stepping out of the shower, you pick up the garments you discarded earlier and put them on. You pick up two buckets and head for the tap, swinging them as you go.
You take the staircase at the side of the hostel. It is getting dark. You flip light switches on as you go. The hostel is a lot quieter than it was when you came in; the birds are not singing anymore, even the crickets and night insects are silent. You hear a lone bird wail somewhere. Shivers run down your spine. Your mind sets to work, painting scary scenes, like in the horror movies your brother made you watch, only worse. You shake your head to clear the images. It doesn’t help. You fish your phone out of your pockets. Music always chases your demons away. You unlock it and scroll till you find your music player. You tap it and Rihanna comes alive singing ‘Monster’. You stop her. Her voice only fuels the images in your head.
You scroll down searching for something calm and soothing, a gospel song maybe. You find one and hit play. Calm violin strings and Bella’s soothing voice fill your head. You find some peace, but it is short-lived.
Just as you round the corner, a large black mass flies past you very fast, so fast it looks like a shadow. Your head feels light. A sprinkle of goose bumps covers your otherwise smooth skin. Somewhere, the lone bird wails again. You change your mind, and turn to head back upstairs. You take two steps and stop. Feeling cowardly, you chide yourself and change your mind again. It’s just your imagination, you tell yourself.
You turn back around and head for the tap. You are almost there. Someone else is at the tap. You hear water running steadily into a bucket. For the first time in a long while, you’re glad to have some company. Your last steps to the tap are hurried, to catch up with whoever is there. You hope she’ll wait for you to fetch your buckets of water so that you two can head back up together.
You reach the tap just as her bucket fills. She turns of the tap. Her back is all you can see.
“Hello,” you say. “Good evening. Happy New Year.”
She grunts a reply, still backing you.
“It’s really nice to see someone to – ” You never finish that line.
She grows, turning round to face you at the same time. And in no time, she is fully changed. Her height has tripled, but she’s still slim. You look up at her face and it is so ugly, so contorted you want to scream. There are fangs where her teeth should be, and her tongue is forked, and there are weird clumps of horns on her chin. Her red braids are now alive, and each one is a snake. Her skin is a hauntingly beautiful pattern of scales. In her hand, she holds a sharp object dripping blood. You look into the bucket you just heard her filling at the tap – blood.
She raises her hand to strike you. You raise a feeble hand in self-defence. You can feel her hand coming down fast. And your life draining fast. As you embrace the darkness, you wish you had just stayed home.
* * * * *
You see a little light, just a spot. It grows slowly. You hear dim sounds. Someone, some people call your name. The light keeps growing. You follow it. Slowly, you open your eyes. Your whole family is gathered around you. You run frantic hands over your chest. No knife stabs. No blood.
“Aren’t you going to school again?” your mother queries. “You will be late oh.”
You spy your bags, all packed for school at a corner of the room. Then it all comes back to you. You remember packing, then laying down for a quick nap … you remember everything.
“I’m not going back to school,” you tell her, “not until I am sure the hostel is filled.”
Written by Hope Eboh
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