THE OTHER DWELLER
by Frances Ogamba
Lana is dead.
But she has etched rooms in our present, in the intricacies that braid our realities. She breathed her last underneath a duvet, curled up and cold beneath a covering, a seeming enclosure, perhaps this was why she went on finding crannies to get stuck and burying herself in them. At first, our rooms hummed a song that was as rhythmic as the claxons of vehicles from the gridlock in the morning hours. The songs were repeated at night, monotonous; they rapped at the windows of the three-room bungalow and clambered in and encircled the bedposts and the reading tables and pushed really close enough to fan our nostrils.
There are four of us. We share the same mother, but different paternity. One of us is dark-skinned. One of us is small of stature and has two navels. One of us squints when staring at remote things. One of us is me.
Often, we hear scurrying, sprightly and brief, it disappears the way it comes. Something unlatches our doors and blasts in a gust of wind. The clothes in our wardrobes quiver as though shrinking away from our touch, as if a pair of hands squeezes them first before we can.
Lana was our maid. She laid the table and brewed our tea. She bustled in the kitchen and made soup treats that heated up our taste buds. She loved peppers, that one, our Lana. When we finished the dining, Lana swung in and picked the plates. She made the beds just as we were about to crumble into them. She was swift, as she is now, living in our walls, whispering, surviving in airless passages.
We got Lana into our employ after our mother went to bed and swallowed her last breath. While we mourned, we needed help with the laundry, and cooking. We made a post in the town paper and a plump, light-skinned woman knocked at our door a day later – Lana. She owned neither a man nor a child, so every of her moments was forsworn for our convenience.
Our walls breathe recurrently, rising and falling like a heart. Someone dusts the floor before we ever reach the broom. Somehow, our plates get cleaned and put away. Something walks right into our rooms each time we unlock our doors, inhabiting the rooms before we march in. We scare at first, and then it feels so convenient that we relax into this comfort of being cleaned after. We tell no one, or how do you tell about a hand that depresses the button on the water closet just as you stand from the toilet seat, pushing your effluent into a sea of wastes? How do you explain the clean floors when you haven’t lifted a mop in months?
“We should visit a seer and know what all of this means,” the dark-skinned one says.
“In some stories, this whole thing stops the moment we go to find out anything,” the one who squints when staring at remote things says.
“It is beginning to get uncomfortable,” the one who is small of stature and has two navels says.
None of us visits a seer.
The worrying dies off. When we tell one of our friends, she says that we needn’t bother because these things happen a lot around here. We don’t say who we think it is. All we know is the woody fragrance that was Lana’s pastime, and how it is still sprinkled in the air of every room.
We cannot recall how long Lana has been dead, or the time spanning her service years between living in her physical body and in our walls. One day, she, while channeling her soul and her fury into keeping our rooms clean, spills water on the floor in error and one of us slips on it. Then there is some tongue lashing as we scold the empty air. This would have cut across as ideal if Lana still moved about in her blue uniform and flat shoes, her large eyes twinkling in embarrassment, except that now she is a feeling, a presence. There are more chidings thrown to the wind for someone’s dirty footwear, for the unpolished walls, for the bathroom curtain left hanging downwards for too long. You’d think when you heard the reprimands that Lana is still with her body, seated on her favourite stool in the laundry room.
Something appears to reverse in time right after this thrift. We return home to enmeshed clothes spilled all over the house, trailing across the floors like droplets of some liquid. The beds seem to rid themselves of the duvets, every surface shudders as our breathing hits the walls. We hear Lana when the plates clink and litter the kitchen floor when our boots go unlaced, and when the electric light bulbs dim and irradiate the rooms instantaneously. When this hurricane of activities passes, there is a steam of defenseless ease spread in all the rooms.
We seek the seers. The first seer says that the house we love, which perches on the cleft of a highland, overlooking a small neighbourhood with more houses than people, is haunted by the dead.
Does the dead not go home to the dead?
“No. There’s no other home for the dead except amongst the living. They loiter and bury themselves in their favourite things, rooms, and people,” the seer says.
Why is Lana happening to us?
“She worked for you and died in your house. There’s no other place for her to go.”
She seems hostile now.
“You took her services for granted.”
How do we undo it?
“Give her some time. Spirits are often surly and may delay granting absolution.”
The second seer asks us to break eggs at the doorways and make the egg yolk splash on the sills. He assures us that the mischiefs of the dead will go away after the ritual.
Nothing changes and we do not leave. The walls have on them the green paint which we love, and the sands of the yard graze our heels with a time-long familiarity. What we do is immerse ourselves into our present, find a pattern in the heartbeats of the walls, and make wisecracks about the clothes that walk away from the hangers after a force pulls and loops and knots them around things. We stop cleaning and arranging the house too, and align our lifestyle to the activities of the other dweller, our Lana.
The neighbours call us ‘weird’ and point us out to their children as the adults to never go close to. The whole thing is as disconcerting as it is normal.
There is always a rip in the air, we hear the slit loud and sharp. There is always a buzz, like an undertone, the severe intake of breath never quite escapes our hearing. There isn’t complete silence in our heads. How can there be when our pots clank against one another, and our toilets are filled with flush sounds as if a whole sea is out and crimped in our rooms, lashing out at us?
Source: From the Rebel Issue (October 2019)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
FRANCES OGAMBA explores varying themes in her writing. Her short story appears in the 2019 New Weather for MEDIA anthology. Her nonfiction piece, The Valley of Memories, won the 2019 Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction. She also won a joint first place for the 2019 Syncity Ng Anniversary Anthology. She is on the 2019 shortlist of the Writivism Short Story Prize, and the 2019 longlists of OWT short story prize and the K&L Prize for African Literature. Her stories appear on Enkare Review, Munyori Literary Journal, and Arts and Africa. Few of her stories are interspersed in Afridiaspora and the 2016 and 2018 Writivism prize anthologies, Dwartonline and YNaija websites. She is a workshop alumnus of Writivism 2016, Ake fiction 2016, Winter Tangerine 2016, and YELF 2018. She works as a content developer from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.