BEYOND THE SILVER LINING
by Efe-Khaese Desmond
Alero sat amidst the animated blackness. The only source of light sprung from the tranquil screen of a computer device, which stood on the wooden table, observed by a tall suntanned stool.
Her palm scrolled through her unmade hair, drawing irregular searching patterns. It found the source of the itching and massaged with the strength of her annualry. This sent a stimulating feeling through Alero’s mass of sordid flesh. She wrestled her finger between the kneading that soothes the itching and that, which turns the tingling into a suppurating sore. She fought the urge and let her hands lay static between the fabrics of her trousered thighs.
The screen brightness of the laptop dimmed a pale white.
Alero knew this to be a forewarning of the system’s screen saver – a slideshow of pre-stored photos. Pictures, which will dissolve into memories. Memories. Hurt. She was crawling reflexively to the device to shut down its proposed blitz on her passions when an image of a young smiling boy appeared on the display.
His peculiarities were a set of teeth that threatened to pop out of its enamel as he clasped a basketball between his hands; a sweatshirt, the number 19 scribbled on it, and a pair of black tracksuit pants. One would have precisely deduced the base of his delight but for the bespectacled Alero who stood behind him gripping the handlebars of his motorised wheelchair. She was wearing a complete lawyer’s outfit – a dark robe that contained a white long-sleeved shirt, topped by a funny looking cap. It was the day her child had wagered that if his team wins the Paralympian games, she would don her legal costume to celebrate his victory.
Alero gave off a burst of maniacal laughter. Her voice rippled across the thin striped walls of the small room. The echoes, in turn, ricocheted to her, moulded with teary whimpering.
It has been two years since she allowed the metonym of her wig and gown to sail with the winds of fate in order to write her book. A thing she picked up after reading an article on the therapeutic effect of transcribing one’s feelings into words. In effect, hers were worthy of a book. Although she had been downing the therapy, the healing has refused to make an early rapport. It was like walking a tight rope – you know what is on the other side, but what befogs the mind is the downside – the apprehension of tumbling down. The years have been poured into a cause built on a chasm of uncertainty and loss, which wove through the lives of her family like the fabrics of spider knots.
Two years, yet, she still struggled to find the right grains to shape a model of her curse. The curse that takes the form of virtual motions and shadowy insignias, continually plaguing her to transcribe her early intimacy with dead bodies.
Alero punched a button on the laptop. The screen came alive with excitement.
“Set your ears atop the lifeless form of a cadaver”, Alero recited, “Feel the soft sounds of life sip slowly from form, and watch with a most satisfying feeling…”
These were the opening lines of a new chapter. The words sound almost macabre, she mused. On the other hand, her mind had mutated into that form. The fear of the loss of her son had somewhat warped her psyche from the breasts of typical thoughts.
It began when Alero was newly possessed with the aporia of leaving the legal practice, and she had told her husband atop the tenderness of bedroom pillows. He had set out the next morning and returned with a near facile speech on how her decision would disintegrate the income of the family, especially with the condition of their son, who was selectively needy. Alero had tried but she knew her husband could not understand the recurring nightmare she had been having. She only fed him her distant gaze and the arch of her back as she walked away.
Alero had nodded, perspired and went to her laptop to draft a resignation letter to her law firm. She addressed it to the human resource office and since then had not gone to work. Not when she received interrogatory emails, not even when these mails transmogrified into teeming knocks at her door or when they downsized into tiny bytes of text messages nor plethora of missed calls.
She found comfort in the darkness, and voice, on her computer’s keyboard. It helped when she typed those words but when she read them back to herself and they brought back images to her head, she would abstain for days and release these shrouded words out of its cocoon, in slant watery anecdotes – her eyes becoming the pen, and tears, the lines.
It was during this phase that her husband wheeled their son out of the home. By way of an overdue jeremiad, he sent a message about how her newfound hobby has become inimical to the well-being of their son. He did not say further on this but went on to give a notice about how he will file for custody if she does not change. Those were how the words came across even though he had used something as nocent as “…if amendments are not made”. Alero knew this to be a penance for defying him but she did not care. Her love was for her son. He was being exhibited between a conflict founded on self-importance. But Alero had not responded.
Her phone chimed. 2:25 pm
A reminder. It was time to visit her esoteric therapist, Kaycee, who was being inhabited at the state’s prison facility.
Fortunately, the drive took more time than she predicted. This gave her a chance to think about the origin of her ‘sessions’ with Kaycee.
He had been one of her clients with a case of murder and a possible death sentence in proximity. In truth, Kaycee had not committed the killing but had only been a negligent pharmacist who misplaced drugs in the right bottle. This caused the death of the young boy.
Kaycee had doused all the humility he could muster as he told her the emotional turmoil his life had been spinning in since the loss of his children to the overseas. They neither contacted him nor were they considering it. Alero had empathised with him and fought to upturn an impending verdict of murder to manslaughter. Nevertheless, she could not save his license nor the next 16 years of his life. Although, he was grateful that she had preserved it.
He was an old man, in his mid-50s, and the visits started as a friendly call to check on his wellbeing in prison. Still, when her troubles were born, the table was transformed into a therapy session where she simply talked, and he paid attention. To him, it was an escape from the angular life of prison, for her, it was a conversation with a person who would listen because he had to, despite any perceived sentiment he might harbour.
Alero soon arrived at the prison. Turning the 2004 Toyota Camry through the old prison gates, she viewed the chief warden handing out instructions to the subordinates. The chief warden must have seen her car drive into the compound because just as she stepped on the doorframe, the warden saluted. She smiled. He thinks I am still a lawyer.
“Madam”, the man called out in his accentuated tongue, “Welcome o. How is the family?”
Her stomach did a tumble
“They are in God’s hands”, Alero managed to reply
“Hmmm… okay”, the warden beamed “Eh you are here to see our doctor àbí?”
They called Kaycee ‘doctor’. He had told her a remarkable experience. When he was doing his baptism – the part of telling them about what he did to warrant imprisonment – they could not phantom who a ‘pharmacist’ is. He had had to explain it in the light of a ‘doctor’ description. The latter appeared to have stuck better and stuck well as a nickname.
“Yes, I am”
“Okay. Kingsley”, he called to a younger officer “Go tell doctor sey him get visitor”. The designee hurried off to do his senior’s bidding “Madam”, he turned to Alero “Oya put your bag for that locker make this boy carry you go where you go siddon”
A few minutes after, she was in the faintly lightened waiting room. It had a flinching fluorescent bulb with half of its illumination in the darkness.
Kaycee soon came to join her. He was a well-built man for his age. Alero had no fear that he will not survive his term in prison. The oil that wheeled her visits was processed because of his perceived loneliness. He was looking untidy and sad. Alero wanted to hug him. She had tried, one time, but was rebuffed by Kaycee who said he did not want word to travel that he is weak. Alero could not connect the ley lines so she had let it be.
“How have you been?” Kaycee inquired, his eyes searching the answer on Alero’s face
“Jul?” he pressed on, the lines on his face already toning with strings of concern
“Eh? I’m coping”, her voice came out in a whisper.
Kaycee looked over his shoulders. The guards were not visible
“Why you dey whisper? Police no dey here na”, he jested
“Sorry”, this time it came out loudly “I have barely said a word to anyone for the past four days. I guess I am still finding my voice”
Kaycee let out a sharp sigh. He felt guilty about mocking her predicament
“You still dey write that book bá”, it was not a question
“Hmm”, Alero said, with a static nod
“So how far, you don finish?”
Alero did not reply
“Hello, I am the one in prison here”, Kaycee bellowed sharply
“What do you want me to say?” She retorted with a strain in her voice
“I asked you a question”
“I am not done, okay”, She said begrudgingly
“You know why”
Kaycee took his hands from the table to lean on the rickety chair. Then he folded his arms across his chest to observe the woman in front of him.
“What are you writing about? At least, that I don’t know”
Alero paused then. This was the first time he was asking her about the subject matter of her troubles. Despite the repetitive visits, Kaycee had not earned the badge of her friendship – the insignia that allowed him into her nightmares. She looked away as if to retreat from the question, but she knew he would not allow her. The silence was not an answer either.
“‘Personal’ as in it happened to…” his finger, pointing at her, complementing the sentence “or personal as in you don’t want to talk about it?”
“All of the above”
“So what are you doing here?”
“I don’t know what to do”
“Finishing the book. I want to finish it. I really do, but I just can’t find the right stones to mount the building”, Alero muttered rapidly
Another blank stare
“Kaycee, time is ticking”
“I know”, he replied “and that is why I have six words for you…no seven”, he babbled, then he moved on to count his fingers
“Who cares, just tell me”, Alero demanded
“Get your hair out of this mess”
“What mess?” Alero probed, puzzled
“This mess”, his hands motioned to signify all of her.
“Yes, you”, Kaycee motioned again, “you sit down in your darkroom, and you reminisce about the blackness around you. You think about your husband and the impending loss of your son. You reek of regret about your decision to leave the legal profession. Forgetting that time walks on lighting feet and the sooner you move on the better for you not to be trampled. No one leaves a profession like Law in Nigeria, except they are pursuing a higher calling. Get your hair out of this mess and think forward, Alero”, Kaycee concluded breathlessly.
Alero marvelled at Kaycee. This was the first time he had ever scolded her for the tides of her life. Other times, he had just sat there and listened. She had been content with that or she thought she was. This newfound trait in Kaycee was shrouding. Intimidating.
“Okay. I will put that in mind”, that was all that came out, as the guard banged the door to indicate that their 5-minute tête-à-tête was over
“You had better. Come here”, he outstretched his hands as the guard knocked on the iron door.
“But I thought you said you don’t want the guards to think you weak”, Alero uttered slyly as she moved to the imprisoned man.
“Who said the hug is for me?”
This time Alero was in squalor. She could feel it; something was with her beyond what the eyes could comprehend. The hue of the room was a still nothingness merged with a vantage observer, or observers, stowed away, invincible. She knew there were spectators of this darkness.
“Who is there?” Alero asked the threatening gloominess
Her voice did not come back to her, although it felt like it was let out in a barren room. It was as if a huge hollow jar had been opened to swallow her echoes – as if something was denying her even the companionship of her own presence.
It was in the likeness of her writing room, yet, a structural flaw betrayed it.
Alero stretched her hand into the thickening air and groped for a wall or anything solid. Her hand caught on the stiffness as she clawed away, ripping at it like posters on a street wall. She kept tearing at it in search of a wall, a door, or anything concrete she could hold onto. When this failed, Alero tried to retrace her steps back to where she once stood. Just as she reclined backward, she hit something hard. The wall where she had woken up. An arduous malaise filled her temple. Had she advanced only a step?
Alero closed her eyes briefly and when she opened them, she made out the highlight of a door few paces from where she stood. It was either the darkness had cajoled up the door or the shape of her eyes has become allied with its rich contours.
She advanced, this time keeping track of how many paces she was away from where the door was mounted. Thankfully, she was moving closer to it. A few steps passed and she was dispersing her fingers across the doorframe, searching for the lever. Just as she was about to move it into opening, her ears became fixed on a quiet call behind her, which almost immediately became a fusion of different stages of wailing. While one cried out her name in a fit of benign erudition, a gentle one, with a tinge of motherly composition, seized the first syllable of her name, dipped it in the crevice of her throat, and let out the last syllable in a rocketing pitch. Another, a gruff voice wailed like that of a big man. A timid one, like that of a child, called out too. They were all calling out her name.
A sweetening sensation enveloped her as she stood there absorbing the effect of the grotesque spectacle. It carried the smell of resin and another familiar odour. This one tumbled into her nostrils and surged her memories into a forgotten time. The smell usually held strong around the figures of dead bodies. This awakened a feeling in her, a feeling of dread that these voices were warning her; inviting her, calling out for her not to go through the door. The voices became faint as her hand pushed the handle down to open it. She could not will it to do otherwise. Then she noticed that her body was not the one performing the action. Either someone was prodding the door from the other side of the door had an animated likeness.
As the door slid open, the sensation heightened and rolled into a whirlpool of dread. The stench of cadavers grew with a rocketing geometry alongside the detail of the room.
Alero saw an array of stretchers by the end of the wall, seated as if hypnotized. She would have attempted to move back but for the young girl who was walking towards one of the tables. The girl wore a pale nightgown and her black hair has been twisted into a cornrow with multi-coloured beads sticking out from its ends. Alero recognised this girl, even though her back was turned to her. It was someone she once knew. It was the young Alero spreading over two decades.
And she knew what the girl was about to do.
She called out to her, to stop her, but her words became strangled in her throat. Then it began to fall back into the pit of her chest.
A tightening in her chest was preventing her from alerting the young girl. From averting her young eyes from what is underneath the covering. She still struggled to call out. But the girl’s hand was already on the head of the stretcher, lifting the covering of a bulging pile. The girl raised it and she saw it – a disfigured skeleton of what might have been a man rested on the head of the stretcher. This bone slowly took the form of flesh, filling up the indenture on the macabre form. Flesh became a whole face and the whole face appeared to be her mother, lying still atop the stretcher. The face then began to decay in tiny pieces, slow motion of horror.
A scream erupted from the nether, the observer, then Alero woke up on the floor of a small room. Her laptop laid stock-still a few feet from her head, undamaged. She picked it up and wiped the base with an opened palm. The pulsating light from the laptop stole a sigh of relief from her lips. Her hands quivered, not from fright, but eagerness. As she touched the keyboard in the darkness of the room, the voices in her head became her light.
Source: From the Rebel Issue (October 2019)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
EFE-KHAESE RINSE DESMOND is an award-winning writer whose stories mirror the issues he feels are not given enough recognition. This makes his works transverse from a virtual paedophilia to the enigmatic mind of a child stammerer. His hobbies are seasonal alongside his interests. Nevertheless, he is passionate about animal and societal welfare and the value of true feminism. Desmond was the Winner of the April edition, Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest 2019. He was first runner-up at the African Poetry Contest 2017 and was recently shortlisted for the Chronicles Short Story Prize 2018.