DOORWAYS AND PORTALS
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, it is my honour to welcome onstage your host for the show. He’s been all over the world, and now, he’s back home for this gig. Recognized for his work in Italy, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States and Nigeria, please welcome, Mr Raymond Elenwoke.
If I hear.
Good afternoon, everyone, this is your host, Raymond Elenwoke. How have you all been? Hope dandy? Have you made money lately? What, they haven’t paid you? Well, just because you haven’t been paid doesn’t mean you haven’t made money. Wait for Payday.
I hope you enjoyed the last story. If you haven’t read it, do so right now. Check out the last blog post.
Today, I want to share something I hold dear; the very first short story I ever wrote. I was going to start a project of mine here, but I will hold off on that for now. Soon, though.
Anyway, I want to share this little, very imperfect story here. I don’t remember publishing it anywhere. The very first story I know I had published online, about 5 years ago I think, was CHECKPOINT. But that was not the first.
In the beginning were these words, and these words made this tale.
I have been endlessly fascinated with doors and portals. Doors are symbolic in every way, in every aspect of life. A story is a door in much the same way as a door is a story. When you open a door, what do you see? Do you see the same room you left a while ago, or do you see a whole new world? Has anything changed? Is there a door beyond this one? Is there a line that shows you the way from the doorway, a line that pulsates with a light alien to this world and different from anything you’ve ever seen, or are you left alone to navigate your way through the mist with nothing but your senses to guide you? Does a monster hide behind the door? Is there a clawed hand just behind you as you search for the next door in the mist? Do you feel the cold touch of a ghost’s kiss on your neck? What moves just beyond your peripheral vision?
What madness awaits you beyond the door?
Honestly, I have no idea. However I believe that everyone will find what he or she is meant to find beyond the door he or she opens. More or less.
As for this door, I opened it, and found this. What you make of it, is up to you. One thing I will tell you though?
Watch out for those old, weather-beaten doors. If there is a crow anywhere near it, for the sake of your life, and your sanity, please do not open the door.
And if you do, never, ever step into the room. Not without a guide.
“Guy, are you crazy? Do you really know what you are saying here?” Fred asked.
“Look,” Solo said, “I’m telling you nothing but the gospel truth-”
“Yeah, some truth.”
“-and I know it’s hard to believe. But trust me Fred. Believe me.”
“But,” Fred said, obviously confused, shaking his head in disbelief, “do you realize what you are telling me? Boy, you are a shoo-in for the nut-house.”
“Fred,” Solo said, chuckling, eyes bright, watching his friend.
“Did you sleep well? Lemme see…” Fred placed the back of his hand on Solo’s neck then made a show of being burned, withdrawing his hand quickly. “Ouch! Boy, you need a doctor. Really.”
Somehow, this wiped the smile off Solo’s face, and he let his shoulders slump as he exhaled. “Okay, I know it’s downright impossible to understand. I don’t blame you man. It was like that with me, until… Anyway, enough of this, let’s go and have our bath. Time don go.”
Solo picked up his empty bucket containing his bathroom accessories, slung his towel across his shoulder, and stood up. His sombre expression pricked Fred.
He really is serious about this shit, he thought. Okay, just humour him. After all, this is Nigeria. Anything can happen.
Still disbelieving, Fred stood and went after his friend who was almost the door of their room. He clamped his hand on Solo’s shoulder. As Solo turned, the haunted look in his eyes shocked him.
Is this real?
“Look, Solo, is this a joke?”
With a stonily steady gaze, Solo replied, “Do I look like I’m joking?”
Exhaling, Fred let his gaze drop. “Guess not.”
“Look-” Solo began, “You don’t have to-”
“No, no no no,” Fred said, cutting him off as he shook his head. “It’s okay. I think I have to go and check this out with you. Let me see this. I have to, I guess.”
This softened Solo’s expression. “Thank you. I appreciate this, a lot.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Fred said, lifting his head, eyes bright. “If na scam-”
“Don’t worry, no be scam.”
“Okay, let’s go.” Taking his own bucket and stuff, he followed Solo. The door closed behind them; the gateway to their sanctuary.
“It’s that one there, right?” Fred asked, pointing.
“Uh huh.” They set their buckets of water down on the floor.
“Ok, let’s go.”
“Go where?” Solo asked, incredulous.
“Ah ah?! There of course. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided to check it out now, see what happens.”
Solo, through all this, had been looking at Fred with his eyes wide. Then he gave a small laugh. “Boy o, you sure say you well?”
Fred, his face clouding up, said, “I’m not joking.” And he meant it.
Solo, seeing that Fred would still go there with or without him, consented. “Okay. We’ll go, but we no go spend time there. We no go enter inside there, at least not now.”
“No stress.” Some of their friends that came to have their bath, and they exchanged greetings. Then, Fred said, “Let’s go.”
They made their way through the mini-crowd in the bathroom; boys gisting, side-stepping small puddles on the floor, weaving around the boys, muttering ‘excuse me’ to those they couldn’t go around.
At last, they stood before the cause of their morning anxiety.
It was the last stall in the line of bath-stalls. It looked old and decrepit, dry; to Fred it seemed like a withered old man experiencing harsh times. And yet, it seemed wet at the same time; somehow filled with life. How that was possible, Fred couldn’t say.
“Exactly how does this work again?” Fred asked Solo over his shoulder.
“Umm… Well, you step inside and close the door, then you think of a place you want to be, just about anywhere. You have to think real hard, at least let it be foremost on your mind. Then, all you have to do is close your eyes, and you’ll be wherever you want to be.”
“Huh?” Fred said, eyebrows up, eyes glinting mischievously, as he turned to look at Solo. Around them, some boys were looking at them, though with apparent lack of interest, and they soon went back to their bathing. “Why should I close my eyes? Abi you don dey scam me again? E no dey hard you, you know.”
“Ah aah?! Haba. Don’t you trust me again?”
“I know for you?” Fred said, as he turned his attention to the door once more. At the base, some mushrooms sprouted, fighting for space with the green algae, and it seemed to be winning, as the algae were drying and falling off.
He pushed the door, and it swung inwards with a long creaking sound.
The door was an appropriate advert for the inside of the bathroom. The floor was nothing but broken chunks of cement and broken tiles and sand. Here and there, grass sprouted from the sand.
No wonder no one bathes here anymore. And this place took Solo to those nightclubs?
Quite dandy eh?.
Fred looked at the tiled walls, or what was left of them; most of the tiles had joined the chunks of cement on the floor.
Boy, I need a cool bottle of beer right now. The thought just popped up in Fred’s mind. I need it in a hotel bar, and after that, I’ll need a glass of champagne.
At that moment, he heard a sound from above him; a cawing sound. Fred looked up, and saw the rafters, with a crow perched atop one of the rafters. The bird turned and fixed its beady, black, one-eyed stare on him. He felt an involuntary chill run down his spine, as though someone had traced an icy finger down his spine.
He shook his head. Nothing, he told himself.
What are you doing there? Fred asked in his head, not expecting an answer.
Suddenly, the bathroom just sort of… wavered, and then it seemed that an invisible hand reached out and pulled back the curtain of reality, offering Fred a full view of the fantastic.
But a glimpse was enough for Fred.
With a sharp intake of breath, he pulled back quickly, promptly banging his head on the lintel.
“OUCH!” Fred exclaimed, bending and pulling out still, rubbing his head, cursing.
“Wetin?” Solo asked him, turning around sharply to look.
“Nothing, just bumped my head. Let’s go and have our bath.”
Fred and Solo stood side by side, scrubbing their bodies in silence which was as heavy as a pregnant woman. After a while, Fred spoke.
“You know why I banged my head back there?”
Solo stopped scrubbing and looked at Fred, face wet and partly covered in lather.
“What did you see, Fred?”
Fred looked at him quizzically for a moment then looked forward. “For a second, I imagined that I needed a cold bottle of beer, after which I would have a glass of champagne in a hotel bar, and then I saw this bird, a crow. It looked at me for a moment, and then the room sort of… shifted somehow; it wavered.”
Solo’s eyes took on a knowing look as Fred looked at him. He realized that Solo knew what he was about to say, but he felt he had to say it, just to get it out of his system, so he wouldn’t go crazy.
“I saw a hotel bar.”
“Where are you going?” Fred asked, as he pushed himself off his bed, leaning on his elbows.
“I just wan’ enter school go check person.” Solo said, as he put on his shoes. “Shebi I fine?” he asked, as he stood and straightened his shirt.
“When you reach you ask the person U dey meet.”
“Rubbish man like you.” They both laughed. “I’m off.”
“Anyhow. Play safe.”
“Trust me, I’m a G. See ya.” Solo went out, and then poked his head back inside the room. “When I get back, we’ll check that place out.”
“Okay.” Fred settled down to continue his reading. Solo looked at him for a moment, before he left. Something kept bothering him, but he shook it off.
Fred continued looking at the pages of the book in his hand, but to be truthful, he had stopped understanding what he had been looking at; it had become a confusing jumble of words and lines, all of them overlapping. All he could think about now was what he had seen in the morning. After bathing he had dismissed the whole thing, or at least he had tried to. Instead the entire episode had retreated to the back of his mind, biding its time, until it rose unbidden and unchallenged in Fred’s mind. After that, it had been jumping everywhere in his head, and Fred could do nothing but dwell on it. Now that he was alone, it was all he could see, all he could think about.
You have to wait for Solo; he’ll tell you how to really deal with this.
I just want to see it again, he thought. I won’t enter it, at least not yet.
You know what will happen when you will get near it, right?
Fred took his handset, and got up from his bed; he put on his black chinos trousers and black sleeveless and his shoes, thinking; I’ve got to see it one more time.
The bathroom was deserted in the hot afternoon sun. The bath-stall doors gaped open, like impoverished children in a refugee camp. Fred could hear the buzzing of the million flies that made the toilets their homes; he didn’t dare to open them. Anyway, his business wasn’t with them, not now.
Fred walked slowly, till he stood in front of the door of the bathroom that had become the focal point of his day.
What are you, really?
The sun threw his shadow before him in a slant.
A light breeze ruffled his trousers and the sleeveless vest he was wearing. He walked forward slowly, as if dreading going near the door.
Don’t you go in there boy, don’t try it.
Still, he felt the pull on his psyche, telling him that it was alright, nothing was gonna happen to him, he’ll be safe.
Curiosity killed the cat.
Yeah, and satisfaction brought him back. Besides, wasn’t Solo here? And he had been through this a couple of times. So, why the worry?
But it was too late, for he was already pushing the door inwards and stepping inside – mind your head boy – and pushing the door close.
Now, all he could hear was the faint echo of the door creaking close, and when that was gone, he could hear nothing. It seemed to him like he was the only one left in…well, in the world; it was that quiet.
Quite spooky, I must say. But still, nothing has happened, has it?
Even the voice in his head was gone; it felt as if it had never been there.
I’ve got to get out, Fred thought, and he stretched his hand to push the door open.
Had he touched the door, Fred could have been here with us today, probably sitting in a real hotel bar with Solo, taking that cold bottle of beer, and chasing it down later with a glass of champagne, and probably more.
However, that foolish imp which is pride, which resides in each and every one of us, spoke up; it whispered in Fred’s head, and he listened.
Don’t be such a wimp. What do you want to do? Run with your tail between your legs?
“I have no tail,” Fred said aloud, but his hand faltered, and then, as if weighted down, came to rest slowly at his side.
Good. Now, you’ll do what you came here to do.
What did I come here to do? Fred asked himself.
C’mon you know.
And he realized that he did.
Fred closed his eyes, nudging his memory, and Solo’s face came up; Solo telling him it was so easy, just close your eyes boy, close them do not look at all or you’ll go crazy.
Fred shut his eyes.
Now, where do I want to go? An image came up in his mind, of swirling bodies, bumping and grinding against each other to some beat.
A club. A night-club.
Fred settled within himself, and then he heard that cawing sound again, the same one he heard in the morning. His eyes opened reflexively, and he looked up in the direction of the sound. He saw the crow perched on the same rafter, its beady eye upon him.
“What’s with you eh?” he asked it.
The transformation going on around him took his attention away from the crow.
The walls seemed to be dissolving and coming back together, colours swirling, merging. As the room started to spin, Fred shut his eyes so tight he was sure that he had pulled an eyelash or two; they hurt.
Oh God, please don’t let me die please I don’t wanna die help me please.
As Fred was sucked into that vacuum between worlds, his last thought was of Solo; shit I didn’t ask him how to get back…
Then, all was truly quiet, the bathroom empty.
It was as if a young boy named Fred, just past his 20th birthday, had never been in there.
This brings us to the end of the first part of this tale. I remember the sense of accomplishment I had when I finished this story; I had written two novels before this (they must be around here, somewhere) but this was something else. Something special, even with its obvious shortcomings.
Hey, I was learning. I still am.
I decided to leave it in its original state, despite its need for a rewrite. Maybe later..
Okay, I have to run now. See you later.
And stay away from old doors with crows in front of them.
You have been warned.