3 a.m. The witching hour.
That night I was sleeping well, but a friend of mine wasn’t. His name is Chukwuka, but we all call him Chuks. He woke us all up at exactly 3 a.m. (someone later confirmed the time for me) with his screams.
I bolted out of bed, moving from sleep to wide-eyed wakefulness seamlessly, my eyes darting, trying to pin-point the exact location of the disturbance. The lights came on and I saw Chuks, eyes scrunched tight, veins taut, limbs flailing as he struggled with something only he could feel. It was almost comical; this tall guy who fought to sleep comfortably (his feet always came out from the end of the bed), screaming his throat raw. I was torn between bursting into laughter and punching the bunk; I did neither.
And then I felt it. It began with a thickening of the air; it became too hot to breathe. My brows furrowed in confusion and I looked at George. No help there; he was watching Chuks. I tried to call out but I couldn’t. Something had my vocal cords in a stranglehold. My vision began to get blurry; I thought I saw Daniel clutching his throat, but I wasn’t so sure.
Oh God, I thought, as my knees buckled, what’s happening?
I held onto the bunk beside me for support, bending forward. Pinpoints of light danced in the corners of my eyes and a black void seemed to come out of nowhere, rushing forward to meet me.
The lights were going in and out of focus, and crazily, a line from a Phil Collins song popped into my head
‘My harbour lights are fading fast…’
God no please…
Suddenly someone shouted “JESUS!”
The air cleared and I sucked in air greedily, like a drowning man coming out from the depths of the ocean. The blackness cleared and the lights became brighter a little too quickly. I was vaguely aware of my forehead touching the floor, and then I heard a thud and gasps. I dimly heard George shout “JOHN!”, and then my body followed my forehead.
I blacked out.
When I came to, I was on my bed. George’s face loomed over me, concern and worry etched deep in his face. Dan stood behind him-did he look tired?- with a couple of my friends. I re-focused on George as sensation slowly returned to my limbs, and I felt the insistent pressure of his hands on my body as he asked “Are you alright?”
“Um…yeah, I think.” I sat up, then swung my legs off the bed onto the floor. Felt like I was on a boat. I rested my elbows on my knees and cradled my head in my hands.
“What happened?” someone asked.
I shook my head, no. “How’s Chuks?” I asked.
“Asleep,” George said.
“Okay,” I said. “I think I need to do the same now.” I lay back down.
“You sure say you no dey possessed?” Samson, one of my friends, quipped, drawing a few snickers. I even managed a smile.
“Na you be the evil spirit abi?” I asked him weakly.
“Sorry oh,” he said. “No faint again.” He left for his bed. After voicing their concerns, they all finally left.
As I closed my eyes, the image of Dan gasping for breath chased me to sleep.
In the morning I felt better, and after breakfast and a bath, I felt even more so. However, the events of the previous night hovered in my mind, like a dark shape just on the edge of my peripheral vision. Dan didn’t say much all day, but there was this…resignedly haunted look in his eyes. He looked less like a rabbit caught in the glare of headlights and more like a man bound and tied to rail-tracks, with no room for escape, with a train horn sounding in the distance. He avoided contact with me all day. He would be with someone, and then if he saw me, he would make a hasty exit. The only time I managed to accost him, he said two words. “Not now.”
So I waited. I needed answers. I didn’t know of anyone I could talk to. We only had ourselves and somehow, I knew this wasn’t going to be something George could understand or do a thing about. So I had to be patient.
As for Chuks, he was gone most of the day; must’ve been lectures or something. But when he came back in the evening, he had Dan in tow. They had been looking for me. I followed them and we found an empty classroom. I was the first to speak.
“What’s going on man? What happened to you last night Chuks?”
“Easy man,” Chuks said, signalling with his hands for me to take it slow. “Easy. You’re not helping.”
“Sorry, but I’m confused.”
“Aren’t we all,” Dan said softly. He turned to Chuks. “I guess there is really one question that’s bothering all of us.” He looked at me, and I realized that my eyes had not deceived me about Dan the previous night. I nodded, turned to Chuks, and asked the question.
“What happened last night?”
“Honestly,” Chuks said, rubbing his eyes, “I don’t know.” He looked up, and I saw how he would look like thirty years from now; it was like the ghost of a face super-imposed on his own, and then it vanished.
“I know I was dreaming,” he continued. “But before I proceed, I want to know what happened to you two.”
And so Dan proceeded to tell him what had happened to the both of us, with me chipping in whenever it was necessary; it was basically the same experience except that he had the comfort of his bed while I was passed out on the floor. Chuks eyes sent signals that ranged from awe to surprise to uncertainty and back again. It was as if some important piece of a puzzle had fallen into place, presenting him with a clear picture, and what he saw frightened him to no end. The air was so charged that I was surprised it didn’t crackle. When Dan finished, Chuks just nodded slowly. All was quiet as Chuks seemed to contemplate and digest all he’d just heard, and then he spoke.
“That’s basically what happened to me, but I think mine was triggered by the dream I had.” He looked at us, feeling somewhat self-conscious, then cleared his throat and narrated his dream to us.
“I was standing on a barren land, nothing but sand as far as my eyes could see, which wasn’t far given the fact that that things were hazy and clouded, shrouded in dust-like mist. The air was hot; it seemed like late evening. I remember sensing that I was not alone, and when I took a closer look around, I saw shapes, human-like shapes. I never really saw anyone clearly, as there seemed to be a sandstorm brewing. But I couldn’t feel any wind. The sand and dust just seemed to hang heavy in the air, like they were part of it. I’ve never seen anything like it, but then again, it was just a dream. In the way that only dreams can be, this sand didn’t hurt me.
“I heard a sound, a keen howling, like the wind was rushing towards me. Everyone around me turned to look in the direction of the sound.
“And then I caught something abnormal on the edge of my vision. I turned and peered into the storm as hard as I could. The air seemed to shift, and I saw an elevation, like a small hill. But that was not the anomaly. No. It was something else.
“It was you. Or rather should I say the three of you; you, Daniel and George, standing on that hill, and I thought, ‘These are the people that’ll make a difference in this war.’
“Oh yes, I forgot to tell you. There’s a war coming. And it’s coming fast.”