The summer wind left a trail of brown leaves across the compound. It was the same every dry season, but there was no security guard to keep the place tidy now. None of the tenants cared about the state of the place…
None except Lanre.
Lanre moved the rake back and forth across the ground, forming several mounds of dead leaves. He thought idly to himself that the motions should be therapeutic. However, they did nothing to dispel the void embracing him.
He knew what was happening. After years of living with this darkness, Lanre was familiar with the process. He was as dead inside as the leaves he raked.
The darkness had come again. It had never really left, but was passive most of the time. It was akin to sleeping with a lion. You would always be aware of this beast, slumbering beside you. It felt to Lanre as it periodically did, that the lion had woken.
Lanre was such that even when he was at the bottom of the abyss, he was always smiling, always laughing. He would engage in numerous small acts of kindness for anyone he could. He would rake leaves, hold doors, lend cash, grant wishes, buy gifts and the like. He noticed that he could make people genuinely happy with his benevolence.
One would have thought this would help to keep the darkness at bay.
Lanre knew that others, who suffered like him, were plagued with such nonsensical queries as;
“Are you better now?”
“How are you doing?”
They were nonsensical, because what they truly meant was this;
“Have gotten over your little issue?”
“Are you done being uncomfortable to be around?”
One did not get over it. One did not become done with it, nor does it become done with you. He wished they could at least understand this.
God, he did.
Lanre faced many similar enquiries. He often got;
“How do you manage to suppress it so well?”
The implication being that others were not quite as adept at hiding theirs. As if it was something disgusting, and they didn’t know any better than to keep it away from the public eye.
Thank God, Lanre didn’t bother us with his melancholia.
His secret was simple. He didn’t suppress it. He just covered it up.
He had become so good at hiding how he truly felt…
No – he had become so good at hiding that he didn’t feel.
He wasn’t sad, he wasn’t blue. He was numb.
Lanre felt as if he was being crushed beneath this immense nothingness.
He had been sad on occasion, and would give anything to feel that now, but the eroding apathy clung to him more than ever. He just couldn’t care.
Lanre felt this emptiness within, which seemed to weigh so much it was a small miracle he was still standing. Some days, he couldn’t even get up from bed. He would lay in all day and wallow.
He was beginning to see that the emptiness was not the problem. It was this awful awareness of it. Something was missing from him. He didn’t know what it was, but he knew of its absence.
It wasn’t enough that he was a broken man…
He knew he was, and he knew he couldn’t be fixed. It was the ultimate betrayal by his body; he was incomplete, and wholly aware of it.
Lanre often pondered, perhaps everyone was created with this emptiness but few were created with the awareness of it as well. He thought that might be why they could live life so blissfully.
Some claimed they had filled this space with religion, with people, with lifestyles, amongst other things. He would never know how they did it, and he would never experience another’s consciousness.
Even with all his humanitarian activities, Lanre still felt useless and insignificant.
“How was it that they couldn’t see this?” He thought as he continued to rake.
How were they fooled by the fake smiles, the fake laughter and the faked air of joviality? For God’s sake, he even had to fake being sad just so that he could pretend to feel something.
That was just people for you, they never saw past their own issues. If there ever seemed to be people who did; others simply assumed they could never have problems of their own.
So, they were quite happy to let themselves be fooled by the pretence.
Only one person saw through Lanre’s veil.
Lanre’s oldest and closest friend. She had a way of making things better when he slipped into this mood. They had been friends for so long it had transcended family status. She wasn’t just his friend or sister. She was his Taylor.
Lanre finished up the raking and went upstairs to his obsessively clean apartment, sinking into his bed, face first. The weight, finally, had proven too much.
He couldn’t be sure how long he had lain there. Two hours. Two days. Vaguely, he heard the sound of someone unlocking his door, but didn’t care enough to raise his head.
He caught a whiff of the culprit’s perfume, and the guava of her hair products. He smiled. He knew who it was.
He was still too drained to turn around, as he heard the footsteps stop right behind him.
Suddenly, he felt his bed sink, as she nestled against him from behind, wrapping her arms around him. He could feel her warmth against his back. They remained just that way for a while, and then he asked;
“What are you doing?”
“Snuggling and wallowing, silly,” Taylor replied.
“No talking allowed, so shush” she added.
Lanre smiled again as he drifted off to sleep. He felt the darkness shy back, if only a little.
Taylor always made things better.
The weekend went on with Lanre’s cheer growing by the moment. It was hard to feel down in the rays of Taylor’s sunshine.
“Thank you for the weekend,” she said, as Lanre opened her car door for her.
“That is the most ridiculous thing I have heard all day,” he said with a mock scowl.
“A ball of glass bounces higher than a ball of rubber,” Taylor countered calmly.
“I retract my earlier statement,” he replied, rolling his eyes
“Seriously, I should be the thanking you,” he said.
“It’s quite alright. I had fun. We’ll be doing this again sometime. I’ll call you. Bye!”
She hugged him goodbye and Lanre waved as she drove away, truly thankful that he had survived another episode.
He wondered how someone as happy as Taylor was able to cope with, and even understand, a person like him. No answer came to him. Whatever it was, he was glad to have her.
A month later, Lanre ran up the stairs to Taylor’s apartment, panting. He skipped three steps at a go. He had to get to her fast.
He had received a chilling video from her about an hour ago.
Lanre had driven to her house as fast as he could, calling her relatives to get to her, but none were in town.
She had said only five words in the video.
“Lanre, I can’t pretend anymore.”
She had been wearing her Mickey Mouse pyjamas, her hair unkempt, but her eyes… Her eyes were what put him into frenzy. They were dead and lifeless. He knew that look well, from staring into the mirror. One did not acquire that look overnight.
Lanre was mortified. He should have known. No one could understand that much without having first hand experience. The video had been sent the day before, but he’d had only seen it an hour ago.
He wished to God he wasn’t too late. He got to her door and started banging. “Taylor! Taylor! Open this door!” he screamed
There was no response.
Lanre took a step back, inhaled, dreading what he would find behind the door, and then kicked it down.
Taylor’s legs dangled inches above the floor. Her face was puffy, her tongue lolling about.
Lanre stared at her lifeless form, feeling numb. His lifelong friend suffered just as he did and he hadn’t known.
Lanre suddenly felt his weight triple. The palms of his hands turned clammy. His heart pounded to a violent and ominous beat. He couldn’t inhale properly – the precious few breaths he drew filled his nostrils with that familiar perfume. That sweet guava scent of Taylor’s hair products.
Lanre put his arms around his midriff, trying to keep his stomach from collapsing. His feet turned to dead weight, unresponsive and immobile. His knees began to buckle, and bit by bit, he dropped to the carpet.
Tears would not come, as he stared up at her slowly revolving corpse.
After all his frustration, that no one had noticed, lurking behind his eyes, the truth… He had been oblivious to her own pain.
A little voice answered in his head.
“She was better than you at pretending, and you were worse than those who refused to see.”
“You were always my Taylor, but I was never your Lanre, was I?” he whispered, still looking up at her. The motions of her swaying body answered in the negative.
Lanre thought of all the times she had rescued him from the brink. He thought of how many times he had wanted to end it.
He thought about it a lot.
He had always felt as if he was being crushed under the immense weight he carried. He still felt that way now, but this time, he shook it off, and refused to carry it.
He staggered as he stood, and walked toward her body on shaky legs. His trembling hands made the loosening of the noose difficult. His sweaty palms kept slipping upon the rubbery rope.
Finally, he undid the knots. The rope had cut into her neck, leaving a chaffed and pale line upon her ebony skin. As he carried her down gently, he noticed she was lighter than he remembered.
Surely she should weigh more than this?
Even in her death, she was still lessening his burden.
Lanre laid Taylor down on her bed. Her bloated face appeared almost peaceful to him in that moment. He wasn’t conscious of what he did next.
He didn’t care.
The exact moment he decided to take her place in the noose, Lanre wasn’t sure.
It wasn’t his own life that flashed before his eyes as he faded away, but Taylor’s.
He pictured her in the position he was now. He saw her clutching at the taught rope around her neck, like he did.
He saw her legs flailing about, like his did.
He saw her stretching her toes out to reach the floor, like he did.
As Lanre struggled, he noticed the dart board hung upon the door, directly in his sight. Was this the last thing she saw? He thought. The numbers on the edge of the board? His jerking legs weakened. The concentric circles growing smaller and smaller? His hands fell to his sides. The colours? His eyelids fluttered, slowly closing.
Amadin Ogbewe is from the ancient city. He’s a student of Chemistry at the University of Benin. He’s a lover of epic fantasy, sci-fi, sitcoms and… errm… sarcasm. He has been published in elsieisy and naijastories. He also has a forthcoming publication in fireside fiction magazine.