By Ottih Onyedikachi
Are the gods to be blamed? What would you have done differently?
Stella thrashed her legs about on the bed. A sad feeling of doom enveloped her. She lay still trying to recall her dream. A pair of big arms circled round her and cradled her.
“Good morning, baby,” Izu greeted. The sleep hadn’t gone off his voice yet.
She smiled thinly and kissed his arm, whispered, “I love you, babe.”
The rays of the sun began to steal into the room. It was time to get water. She did not feel like getting up. He shook her slightly.
“What’s wrong, b? You’ve been quiet.”
“Ha. Nothing. I think I had a bad dream but I can’t recall it. Do we go now?”
“No. Let me go alone. Stay, ok?”
“No, babe. I can’t watch you go alone.”
She struggled out of bed. Her legs felt like solid jelly. What was wrong? What did she dream about? Why did she think something would go wrong?
The sun slapped their faces as they walked to the tap. It was frustrating having to fetch water in this village with the villagers’ eyes following you everytime like it was the first time seeing you.
As the water rushed into the yellow can, he nudged her to see ‘the neatest person’ they had ever seen in the village since they started their job as teachers at the community schools over a year ago.
It wasn’t just they that noticed the difference in the boy’s look and carriage. He exuded confidence, looked at faces like he recognized them, waved at some, stopped to talk to some. He looked strangely familiar.
She looked at her Izu who stood beside her, her face contorted with ‘whys’ and ‘hows’.
“I know him,” she said.
“I don’t know. I teach someone who looks like him. Or maybe he’s the older brother of my student.”
“Hmm. Might be the brother.” He turned off the tap that was overflowing from their can.
She looked away from the boy and started to fold her piece of cloth into a wrap.
“Good morning, madam.” It was the boy. His footwear had a gleam. It looked like it had a rocket blaze under it. “Good morning, sir.”
“Yes. Good morning,” they replied.
The boy had a smile on his face. “You don’t recognize me, madam?”
“Ermm, no. I’m sorry,” she replied with a courteous smile.
“I’m Edidiong, ma. Blessing.”
“Ohhh. You look different, Edidiong. That’s a nice one. This transformation is very startling.”
“Yes, ma. I’m from 2025.”
“Hahahaha. What?” She looked up to her man who stood trying to understand the joke.
“I’m from 2025, ma.”
The couple burst out laughing. Stella held Izu to steady herself from falling. “Are you Edidiong or the older brother?”
The boy held their gaze, unflinching.
“OK,” Izuchi smirked, a mischievous smile playing on his lips. “You’re from the future. I believe you. We believe you. How did you go to the future? What would I do tomorrow? And what would I wear?”
They looked quizzical at him. Edidiong put his hand into his pocket and brought out a luminous object. A cell phone. They could see his fingers through the phone. He looked at it and it flipped on, touched a few icons and a question popped out asking him what he wanted to know. He put the cell close to his mouth and asked Izuchi,
“What is your name, sir? Your full name? Say it loud, please.”
Izu looked at Stella who gaped at the scenario.
“Izuchi Kelvin Obidike.”
“What would Izuchi Kelvin Obidike do on 22nd May, 2020?” The boy asked the voice from the phone.
“He planned to recharge in the morning to call his father. It’s his father’s birthday tomorrow. He would make the food for himself and Miss Stella Bukola Oremide. He would go out to buy fuel and stay in till the day is over.”
Izu looked at Stella who looked taut with panic. Yes. He already planned to call his dad tomorrow.
“Are we in 2025?” Stella asked, holding her breath.
“No? How? How do you mean?”
“Because I know, ma.”
“How? You know what?” Her legs trembled and Izu held her up and guides her to sit on their yellow jerry can.
Edidiong did not answer. He looked uncertain. Confused.
“Yes?” Izu was fidgeting.
“You died this year, ma. This month.”
Stella’s heart stopped.
She scoffed dryly and lost her balance. She hunched, placed her equally tottering hands on her knees to support herself.
“I died this year? How?” Her voice tremored. Izu sat on the block placed under the guava tree close to the tap. The boy looked frightened. He seemed to consider whether to leave or to stay.
“You were burnt, ma, together with him in your house.”
“No. How?” Her voice was failed her.
“Just before our exams, ma. We heard that your house caught fire and you were trapped inside.”
Stella slipped from the jerry can to the floor. Her head whirled like a tornado. Izu glowered at the boy who left them immediately to meet the women who stared at them from the compound. Izu shook Stella up till she steadied herself, launched the jerry can on his shoulder and with his free hand held Stella’s hands and half-dragged her with him.
The house was unusually quiet. They had planned to make food when they returned, but now they sat on the bed. Stella laid down immediately while Izu tucked his arms in between in his legs. Hours of long silence followed before Stella asked,
“Do you think it is true? Do you think it would happen? That we’re going to die soon?” She clutched the pillow and wailed. Izu laid with her, brought her to him and consoled her.
“I don’t know babe. I don’t see into the future.” They managed a laugh.
Before nightfall, the young lovers had reached a decision in their (their what?). They were unsure if the prophecy they heard in the morning would come to pass. Their hearts did not stop beating and their minds did not stop working.
Stella decided she would go to church to pray. She would pray against the spirit of death. Then, she would tell her parents of the prophecy. Then, she would marry Izuchi. She thought herself silly to think of marriage when they had a few days to live? A week?
Izuchi decided he was going to take them out of the house. If they were going to be burnt, would it not be better to avert the death?
The night passed by without them blinking an eye. They were both lost in the myriads of thoughts that spawned in their heads like cobwebs.
The morning brought with it sour hearts, fears and uncertainty.
Stella dressed early and attended the Jesus is coming International Ministries, five compounds away from theirs. The entire congregation, about fifteen people, gathered and laid hands on her as they prayed against the spirit of death.
“We bind! Amen. We fire! Amen. We destroy! Amen. Every plan of the devil! Amen. Back to sender! Amen. Have mercy, Lord! Amen. My father, my father! Amen. Every spirit of death! Amen. We bind!…”
She prayed and spoke in tongues on her way home after the church service. She returned to the house energized and positive. Stella yearned to meet the student that had given the prophecy. Her heart felt lighter. She would convince Izuchi to go to church and pray.
At home, she found Izuchi pacing up and down.
“Sit down, baby,” he stuttered.
She obeyed, worried about what he had to say. She knew what she wanted to do, what she wanted him to do. She hoped his words would align with hers.
“I’ve been thinking. You know he said we would die in this room. It could be a gas explosion, generator explosion, electricity, anything at all, Stella. And we can’t stop using these things. We need to cook to eat. So, even if we stopped using our generator, there’s no need. What if it’s a truck that will ram into our house in the middle of the night when we’ve locked up the place and have slept, and it catches fire? Why don’t we move?”
He bent to take her hands in his and looked into her eyes.
“Move?” She asked. “How can we move? Move to where? We have jobs here. We are not married. I thought we agreed we would marry? I think you should go to church with me. We can overcome this. We are worried for nothing.”
He shook his head at her words.
“I don’t know, baby. I don’t know.”
She blinked back the tears in her eyes, and wiped the ones that trickled down his brown face.
“Go with me, Ella. It is almost the end of May. You can go to your people if you like, but if you will, I’ll take you home with me. But we can’t stay here. I can’t die here, Ella.” He sobbed like a child, face buried in her thighs. He was devastated. He did not welcome the idea of going to church till she agreed they would leave the very next day.
At best, they could try in their own little way to avert the tragedy from the mysterious, future boy. In the night, they packed their bags. They had reached an agreement: Stella would go home first and stay there till the end of July. If the Prophecy said they’d die together in May, it was best to be apart.
The next morning, they went to the Ministry where they had hands laid on them and din of prayers poured on them loud enough wake up the people who lived close to the Ministry. The pastor blessed them and wished them a safe journey. Izu felt light.
He was doing something to avert the impending doom on their lives. Thoughts of the boy stayed in his head, and he imagined all the horrible ways they could have died if they stayed in their house. He imagined their screams and torments as they helped the bus driver pack in their luggage in the boot.
The bus started on the smooth journey from Akwa Ibom state heading to Abia State. Izu joined the other passengers in commenting on how useless the Abia State government was, how they would have a smooth journey till they get to the boundary between Akwa Ibom State and Abia State, how the governors of past tenures swallowed billions of Naira as a python swallows a deer, how the people disgraced this and that governor because he would not fix the bad roads.
Stella bent her head on the seat and hummed quietly to the Nathaniel Bassey’s songs playing from her earphones. Izu put his hand on her back to reassure her that he was him. One of the passengers would not stop talking.
“We need Biafra! That’s the only solution. All this things this people are doing to us, na Biafra go stop am.”
The driver had a contrary opinion. “Oga no talk day tin abeg. No be the same Biafra Ojukwu use scam Ibo people? Na so im put people for fight, enter aeroplane with im family go dey enjoy.”
But he was not looking. He turned to look at the person he addressed. And the truck making a turn from the junction did not see the bus turn into the corner. The bus driver realized too late that he was heading into a headlong collision with the truck.
He marched his brake and turned the steering wheel at the same time. He jolted the truck which sormasulted multiple times and burst into flames with Stella and Izu trapped in, unable to escape with all the passengers trying to leave through the unopened windows.
As the vehicle rolled in the air and hit the ground before bouncing up again, Stella thought, in those few seconds what she did not do right. Maybe there was something she missed? Maybe she should not have traveled together in the same bus with Izu? Was that her mistake? Would it have saved them? Or was her forgetfulness another button pushed by fate? She would never know. They would never know.