Dapo watched as his wife slept. Her breath was light and even, in perfect sync with the rise and fall of her considerable bosom. She’d obviously had a tiring day and their extra explosive lovemaking must have further sapped whatever energy she had kept in reserve. His business trip to the United States had taken the better part of three months so the ardor with which their bodies had collided was perfectly understandable. He had missed her so much, she, him and the release of pent up need was more than sweet. He sighed as his eyes shifted from Folake’s sleeping form and fixed on the pale cream bedroom wall. Slowly his thoughts wandered.
They’d been married for almost three years; a union was blessed with a baby boy, Alfred, who was just a month shy of his second birthday. He had a thriving business, a beautiful 5 bedroom duplex in the choicest part of town and a couple of posh cars to complete the image of a young man living the life. He was the envy of his peers, everything he touched seemingly turned to gold with unbelievable ease. Life had been perfect until about six months ago when the ‘dream’ had started.
Nightmare would probably be more of an appropriate description. Having the dream was terrible enough; not being able to share with anyone was worse. It haunted him, coming back night after night; so much that sleeping had now become a chore to be endured daily.
For the past six months, every night he closed his eyes and fell asleep, he immediately woke up to another consciousness. He was still Dapo ‘there’, looked and sounded the same, but that was where the similarities ended. The other Dapo was a struggling musician, broke, unmarried and sickly, nothing like him at all. Hooked on marijuana and cohabiting with a dancer cum prostitute in a single room deep in the slums of Ajegunle, being the other Dapo was not fun at all. Every night without fail, as soon as he closed his eyes in sleep from ‘here’, he opened them to a new day ‘there’ to continue his struggle. The fact that he carried memories of both lives was nerve shattering. That had been his secret burden.
Dapo sighed again and looked at the wall clock with heavy eyes. 12.50 a.m. How long could he resist after all the exertions of the day? As much as he hated the idea, he knew nobody could cheat nature indefinitely so he resigned himself to sleep, closed his eyes and was soon breathing deeply.
Right on cue, his eyes opened and there he was stretched flat on his mattress in Dapo’s room. A quick glance at his cheap wristwatch told him the time was 12.50a.m and his eyes were heavy with sleep. This had never happened before. He had never entered his alternative consciousness at correlating times of the day and with the same feelings or emotions. Before he could will his mind to make any meaning of his situation, his eyes closed and he was fast asleep, again.
Again, his eyes opened. He was still on his back, but looking up at a thatch roof partially blackened with soot. It took a couple of minutes for his eyes to adjust to his new surroundings after which he started making out the outlines of objects in the strange room. A few discarded items of clothing, a couple of pots and pans, a hoe and a bicycle leaned against the mud wall. Heavy breathing alerted him to the presence of another person, sleeping next to him on the mud bed. A mountainous ebony skinned female with a baby girl suckling at her huge breast snored with reckless abandon. Surely it couldn’t be what it looked like or could it?
After waiting a couple of minutes to see if he was going to continue swinging across realities and nothing happened, Dapo stood up from the bed and stepped outside the hut. The chill of the night air brought goose bumps to his exposed skin. A swollen moon glared in the sky as he crossed the courtyard, his feet moving with a strange familiarity. It was his first time here yet he walked with a surefooted assurance. Sleep had gone from his eyes.
Inexplicably drawn to a stool under a mango tree in the courtyard, he sat and folded his arms, shivering slightly. An Owl hooted from somewhere in the surrounding darkness.
“Strange isn’t it? ’’
The sudden question startled him from his reverie such that he hurriedly jumped up and turned around. Nobody was supposed to be around at this ungodly hour.
“Who goes there, ta ni yen o?” His voice sounded hollow to his own ears. It also spoke of his fear.
“It is I, Dapo” replied the disembodied voice, sounding much closer.
“Have you forgotten me so soon?”
As if by magic, a man dressed in white stepped out from behind the Mango tree. When he finally stood directly in front of Dapo, there was a familiarity to the stranger’s face. He felt he knew this man, though he couldn’t actually pinpoint where from. As if he could read Dapo’s thoughts, the stranger in white spoke again.
“I see you’re struggling to remember me. Don’t worry, you will in a minute.
In another time and place, I saved you from shame.
All that worries your mind, all that is hidden from you, all started from that day under this very tree twenty years ago.’’
The stranger’s voice was very calm and soothing.
“Do you remember yourself wailing inconsolably here, years ago, due to your father’s inability to pay for your going to College? Do you remember a well-dressed stranger, who promised to double your money and your journey? Do you remember how your father mysteriously came upon a large sum of money buried on his farm, the next day after our encounter?
He was able to pay your way through College and then University from that money, which I supplied.
Your success in business is also due to my assistance. I know many times you’ve wondered at the ease with which you made money, even when people with more savvy and capital failed? I have been your invisible fountain, honoring my part of the contract that was signed under this same tree twenty years ago. Six months ago, you started honoring yours.”
“You may go back to your lives. Now you know why you have to live twice at once. All the affluence and success Dapo enjoys today is from the pain and suffering of Dapo. The more your riches grow in one life, the sicker you’ll become in the other. Sickness and wealth will always be in balance, there will be no escape through death, not until your years clock ninety. Those are the terms binding the duality of your journey.”
Dapo’s eyes fluttered open. He was back on his own bed beside Folake, who still breathed light and even, lost in the ignorance of sleep. His heart raced as realization burned bright in his head. The time according to the clock on the pale cream wall was 12.51a.m.
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