Story by Fon Touma (Cameroon)
Published in Issue 31.
So one day, while was strolling single-edged through the mildew chaos that becomes dusk on Fridays, I met a man sitting by the road sipping from a bottle. He was ragged of dress and torn and worn, his eyes were empty and the glaze of sweet drunkenness was on the verge of assailing him. He looked up as I came, eyes teary and as I hurried by, he raised the green bottle wordlessly towards me. This took me back and I halted ever so tentative to look down at him. He must have been with the fleas and a nasty, dirty cut dissected his left eye. He held that bottle up and after having met my eye, turned his attention to traffic still with the bottle held high. I meant to ask his name and what he was doing on the street thus garbed but somehow the look I saw on him stayed my tongue and before I knew it I was sitting before him Indian fashion tipping back the liquor. It burnt like a brew from the devil's hand as it went down the gullet and spread fires into my stomach which at the time was empty. Warmth spread through me and I tipped the bottle again... and again, and again. He did not seem to mind and held out his hand without looking my way when I offered the bottle back to him. I rose and he said nothing, I thanked him and still he said nothing. I realized I was giddy with the drink and my feet felt like they were sliding above the ground. As I moved away, an oncoming car swerved wildly in a screech of angry tyres, headed right in my direction. I jumped away from the glare that bore towards me like the look of leviathan piercing the gloom of the deep. I heard a sickening crunch as I stood up from the pavement and looking back saw the car parked where the beggarly man had entertained me not moments before. A woman raised a cry.
I rushed ahead without looking back and soon found myself on the better side of town. The buildings sat behind perfectly manicured lawns and the lights that illuminated them shone from soft-natured bulbs placed in the ground. A man jogged past me sniffing as he did. Then only did I look down at my attire. The shirt was falling away in places, the trousers were soiled and oily at the front. The shoes were of the sport category although they looked like having come from a garbage heap. I sniffed at one armpit and was forced to raise my head back to the air. Had water become so expensive? In my hands was a bouquet of some sickly looking flowers long since shriveled and died. Without waiting, I pushed ahead towards the last house on the street where an over-head torch burnt. The hedge to my left before a squat brick house moved and I was surprised to see a praying mantis walk out dusting his hands against his shirt.
"The fuck is you staring at?" he cried. I continued moving.
The house I sought stood right before me, two stories tall with a basket ball hoop right in front. Finding a pebble, I tossed it to one of the front windows and was relieved to see a blind stir as the stone rattled the glass. A small light came on and I waited stamping to ward off the touch of impatience that had come to keep me company. Soon I heard her singing from the back of the house and immediately stole my way under the hedge, across the lawn and towards the back and the sound of singing.
She stood there like the light of a newborn star, glittering in brown sandals and her night gown of flimsy silk blowing about her. Her hair was wild and her eyes alive. At this very moment, the moon moved from behind a wisp of cloud and the backyard was bathed in clear, silver light. She was gorgeous. I walked towards her, the bouquet held up. But a look of horror flashed through her eyes and I felt her cringe from me. Was I dreaming? I walked faster towards her and that made her turn towards the house with an emotion I realized was horror sprawled all over her face.
"Wait" I tried to say, but found that my lips would not move. I followed her to the glass door through which she disappeared screaming. It was only then, looking at my reflection in the door that she had locked from within did I come to see the cause of her terror. My face was missing and the lips were a twisted mass of rotting flesh. The meat was absent from my face and had been going to rot. Decay had set in. I stood there afraid of leaving her forever, afraid that she might wake her brother, the one that hated me. I tossed the bouquet into a bin as I left the house. Somewhere, sometime during that night of wanders, I heard music coming from an alley way. There was laughter too of the sort that said these cared nothing for decorum - raucous and free. I moved towards it.
Fon Tuma is a Cameroonian poet from Bamenda. He has lived in Lagos, Bangalore and Goa. He likes to explore the relationship between man and art. His works have been published with africanwriter.com, Bakwa magazine, The Ofi Press, Happano issue 80, Artistic Muse and his work has featured in a book called ‘Double Fronts’, an anthology of Cameroonian poets. He likes the sounds the moon makes when she is serene.