By Larry Sun
Continue from the last episode.
Then the journey began.
Little did Saka know about the misfortune that was bound to inhibit the success of the journey. They’d barely travelled five bus-stops when they encountered another lone traveller at the side of the road. The man, who was of a receding hairline and pot-bellied, was visibly weeping. This sob wrung such pity from the truck-driver that he was forced to step on the brake and demand the reason behind the smartly-dressed young man’s cry.
‘I’ve-I’ve been waiting here for over two hours with no vehicle to transport me. It’s so sad, so sad!’ he continued wailing.
‘Why didn’t you return home when you couldn’t find a vehicle?’
‘You don’t understand, sir. See, I have an interview to attend today; I’ve been jobless for years and today’s interview is the first in years, I can’t afford to miss it.’
‘Where is the company?’ asked the sympathetic driver.
‘It’s a cassava processing company in Ogbomosho.’
Dawodu knew the company, it was a popular one named Ogbomosho Cassava Barns.
‘Do you mind if I transport you there in my convertibles?’ The driver’s generous offer was not only the result of his kind heart but also because he was not totally comfortable with having only a coffin-maker beside him and a coffin behind. He felt like there was something quite ominous in this situation. Having the presence of a third party wouldn’t hurt terribly.
The job-seeker’s joy was demonstrated in a rather uncommon manner; he flew on Dawodu like an elated beau and kissed him on one of the disfigured cheeks. Saka almost puked with disgust at beholding such an unsightly sight. The man climbed into the vehicle and perched himself jubilantly beside Saka. The odour that immediately greeted the coffin-maker was redolent; the man smelt of ginger. He extended his hand towards Saka in greeting.
‘Hi, my name is Sule.’ he smiled, revealing wretched gums in the process.
‘My name is Saka. Do you know that there is a coffin behind this lorry?’
The shock that came to the face of Sule was instantly replaced by a terror which could match the fear of someone who had come face-to-face with a ghost.
‘The coffin is empty,’ The handsome truck-driver quickly chipped in. He was sure the young man was ready to excuse himself from the lorry with a hasty retreat. But the assurance from his new saviour made the job-seeker relax back in his seat and a grin was perfectly plastered on his face.
Then the journey continued.
Hardly had they journeyed another fifteen minutes when another remarkable traveller was spotted trying to flag down the lorry. The man was not only perspiring like a swimmer but also strangely dressed; he was white-skinned and was donned in a white garment that was in that time popularly worn by religious fanatics of the cherubim and seraphim gatherings, but the white linen was already turning black with sweat. And of course, the truck-driver pulled over to help the angel out. Dawodu, on getting down, discovered a stranger thing about the stranger he was about to help; the albino was barefooted. When asked, the stranger replied that strapping any footwear while still in the cloak of purity was against their religious beliefs. This explanation made Dawodu wonder whether his newest host was wearing anything under the white robe. Even the lower portion of the dress was swollen in such a trigonometrical proportion that would make Mary Magdalene run for cover. However, because the pronunciation of this religious man’s name tends to harden the arteries, the man told the driver to simply call him Sutana.
‘Where are you going, Sutana?’ Dawodu asked, evidently ready to help.
‘I’m going to church, and I’m almost late. This fuel scarcity is something else.’
‘Where is your church?’
‘At the outskirts of Ogbomosho. I just wish this sun was not as honest as it was today. I’m being baked alive here.’
‘Would you mind if I transported you there in my private jet?’
Sutana stared at the driver a moment before staring at the ‘jet’ itself; then he said to Dawodu, ‘The jet does not look like a private one to me, with those two marsupials perched inside.’
‘But that is the problem, there is no more space in the front seat,’ he thought about this and added, ‘You’ll have to use the back, that’s if you don’t mind.’
‘I don’t have a choice.’
‘But-er, there is a coffin at the back.’
The religious zealot’s expression, on hearing the new revelation, suggested he doubted the driver’s rationality, even his own. ‘A coffin?’
‘Yes,’ Dawodu replied quickly, ‘but it’s empty. I’m only helping out that skinny man in my lorry. I assure you, the coffin is empty.’
Sutana smiled broadly, ‘That’s not a problem; coffins don’t scare me, neither do corpses.’
‘I work in a mortuary.’
Now it was the turn of Dawodu to be scared. ‘I see,’ he said, though he was seeing nothing horror at what the man said. There was always something ominous in an albino wearing a white robe. Before he could change his mind about admitting the strange fellow in his lorry, Sutana had climbed the back, thereafter urging the driver to step in and start driving. A monkey couldn’t have impressed Dawodu more than he was at beholding the acrobatic display of Sutana as he climbed the vehicle. The driver slowly climbed into his vehicle, and as he drove on, he wondered if allowing the white-skinned and white-clothed man in the back of his lorry was a clever decision.
The journey continued steadily.
Then suddenly, without warning, the sky changed, the clouds gathered, and rain was threatened to be released soon. At this time, the trio that occupied the front of the truck had totally forgotten about the fourth man behind them; the man who would not look good in church if he got wet now.
Then the rain fell. It came very hard and loud; and within minutes, the road was about gathering potential floods. Sutana, however, could not help beating at the front for protection against the rising splats of the rain. His quest for help was rendered useless by the loud thunders that seemed not to take a moment to catch their breaths. There was no way anyone was going to help him out, he realised; the rain was going to bath him.
But Sutana was a fast-thinker, unfortunately. Before the rain could entirely drench him he came about a better means to guide against the downpours: the coffin. He stared for a moment at the object; it was smoothly scraped and painted brown—the maker had done a good job at it. Sutana approached the coffin and opened; the insides were padded white and it was looking quite cosy. For a moment, Sutana envied the dead, and he almost looked forward to dying. Without much ado, the white-clothed worshipper took the place of a corpse and closed himself inside the coffin. This was the only way he knew he could protect himself against the element, considering the circumstance. But sadly, the comfort of the coffin was too warm that it caused a soporific effect on its first inhabitant. Before long, Sutana was deeply asleep.
Less than half an hour later, the rain stopped and the weather became clear and cool. And as already mentioned, the lorry driver and his two passengers had totally forgotten the white-garmented man that had once occupied the back of the vehicle.
While Sutana remained asleep in the coffin, the journey continued surely.
Twenty and five minutes later, the kind motorist stopped to assist another stranded traveller; a tall fat man who claimed to be a prince of Ogbomosho land. The driver doubted the veracity in the robust man’s statement, because very few people of royal status would dress like beggars. The fat man’s bushy hair and beards were unkempt, and lice seemed to have taken dwellings deep in the thick shadows of his beard. The man, who also claimed to be named Kamoru, was dressed in an undersized agbada, and the pair of sandals on his feet screamed for salvation, for the once thick soles of these foot wears had been reduced to flat slivers as a result of numerous peregrinations subjected them by their master. Prince indeed!
‘The king would be so worried about me.’ lied Kamoru.
Maybe he was really being honest when he said he was a prince, reflected Dawodu. He wanted to ask Kamoru if he’d been mad for many years and had just miraculously regained his sanity. He had learnt about so many witches and wizards that had pitched tents in Ogbomosho since the time the little village was founded. Suspecting that the reply he might get was inimical to his own safety, Dawodu swallowed his question. That was not the kind of interrogation you make with a recovering lunatic, if he truly were. The motorist wasn’t ready to lose any of his teeth, not quite yet.
‘Okay,’ said the driver, ‘Would you join my caravan?’
Kamoru smiled, ‘With all pleasure.’
‘But the front seats are occupied. How about staying at the back? We’re already half-way to Ogbomosho anyway.’ Dawodu had totally forgotten about the coffin, let alone the white-garmented zealot who was still busy snoozing in the death mansion.
With efforts, Kamoru managed to hoist his bulky self to the back of the vehicle, and the lorry had already engaged in motion by the time he sighted the coffin. The kind of horror that registered itself on the prince’s visage was sensational. Kamoru, although gigantic and robust, was a helpless feretrophobiac (someone with little fondness for coffins). This fear had been made manifest in him since the day he was wise enough to know their use. His fear disallowed him even from attending funerals. He’d always believed since childhood that corpses were always after him, trying to get him to join them in heaven. He believed firmly that a corpse could rouse from a coffin and come after him because he’d dreamt about it many times than he could count; where corpses in large numbers struggled to pull his limbs. Each time that happened they were usually suspended between the realm of the earth and the underworlds. He was always waking up screaming and sweating and begging corpses that were not there to leave him alone.
On beholding the coffin now, the beat Kamoru’s heart skipped also skipped a beat. He prayed fervently that this was just another useless dream. Kamoru didn’t know that if you were in a dream you didn’t always remember to pray that the disaster befalling you in a dream was only a dream. Sweating even under the cool weather, Kamoru gave himself a tight pinch on the arm, expecting to feel no pain as a confirmation that he was really in a dream, but it was not to be; the pinch hurt as hell. The realization that what was happening to him was real brought him terror. He stifled a scream bobbing up from the depth of his mouth and what he was not able to control was the meek but innocent whimper of a kicked puppy. He was sure the coffin contained a corpse, and screaming aloud might wake the slumbering ghost. He wondered why the motorist refused to tell him about the presence of the coffin. Or was the motorist a ghost himself? And his passengers also messengers of Death? Were they trying to drive him straight to Old Salem? Kamoru quickly dismissed the silly ideas. Maybe nobody knew about this coffin. Maybe it just materialised there by sorcery.
He kept as much distance between himself and the coffin as he could, praying that he might reach his destination safely before the deceased took a visit back to the land of the living. Each gallop the vehicle made as it plied the bad road was a significant bump in Karimu’s heart. He also wondered why the vehicle was not adorned with an anti-ghost leaf at least.
Then suddenly, there existed a movement in the coffin. Kamoru bolted upright in an instant; his mental pendulum began swinging from side to side at a breakneck speed. The volume of sweat that immediately oozed out from his skin trebled the initial. Kamoru was certain about the movement of the content of the coffin, but he still wanted to prove himself wrong; to know if, perhaps, it was his mind playing tricks on him, yet he dare not move closer to the coffin. And before he could dismiss the idea of opening the coffin the movement came again, this time more conspicuous than the former.
A definite yawn came from within the coffin and Kamoru felt like fainting.
‘Oh, I can’t believe I slept off.’ the occupier of the coffin proclaimed.
Before Kamoru could collapse into unconsciousness, the lid of the coffin suddenly banged open and a very white man in white garment slowly came rising up from within.
Most times in this case, fainting was never a wise decision; it could become just a one-way ticket to heaven. Therefore, anyone in Kamoru’s shoes might deem it fit to flee – and flee was what Kamoru himself actually did.
‘Ghost!’ Kamoru screamed at the top of his lungs. He had never seen an albino before, until now.
Then all hell broke free; the driver, on hearing the shriek, remembered the coffin and quickly stepped on the brakes. Dawodu, the wonderful driver, was the first person to break a fast getaway; he was a gifted runner. The passenger beside Saka did not take time to open the door; he made his own escape through the window. The beholder of the corpse – Prince Kamoru – ran like he was being chased by a cutlass-wielding masquerade; occasionally falling down and rising up with renewed vigours and the determination to slip away from the abomination he had just witnessed—a corpse had come to life to take me! Kamoru’s survival instinct was undeniably the sharpest among the bolting trio.
Sutana, just rising from a pleasant sleep, came instantly awake at seeing men running in such a maniacal frenzy. Suspecting that there was maybe a riot in action, he also scurried off without asking questions. But he was running in the direction the three men went. And when Kamoru looked behind him and saw the ghost bounding after him in his flowing gown, he ran with the speed of a bullet.
As Sutana was trying to catch up with them, the three men increased their speed, as though they’d each been fitted with a gear mechanism. They ran, ran and ran!
But Saka knew nothing about driving, so he spent the rest of the day with the lorry and his coffin as both ghost and men chased each other to the end of the earth.