|Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash|
The lone tricycle cab [‘keke’ as she knew it in her country] coursed its way through the thick black night that even the dimly lit road could not dissipate. A gloomy aura overwhelmed her in this foreign land even as she battled with the biggest mosquitoes she had ever seen. It was her first time in Pindicapolis and she had felt scared to have arrived in it after midnight. This small open cab [for the low class] was what she could afford with her meager means.
Its driver was wearing a yellow khaki shirt and a wrapper around his waist. He had a long unkempt beard and a moist tattoo dotted on his fore head. He smelt like sweat mixed with spices; in fact, the whole place smelt of a mixture of spices. It was what hit you on alighting from the plane. The smell was just more pungent sitting closely behind a driver it oozed from. It felt unsafe to be so exposed on an unfamiliar road and at such a time but she took the risk anyway, anxious to get into the safety of a cozy hotel room and rest before dawn.
Back home she had checked a couple of Pindicapolis hotels posted on the internet; they all looked nice and sparkling and so she chose the one that promised comfort at a cheaper price than the others; not that it was quite cheap if compared with others, “but as a student on a research and not quite loaded, you go for what was most cost effective”.
After over an hour of driving, the cab eventually found its way into the streets. The first street was lit much brighter than the horror road the cab had just emerged from. It had restaurants and motels with dazzling bill boards and few people in and about the place. She must have missed these motels on the internet or the owners were not informed of the benefits of operating a website. Perhaps, she would have gone for these cheap lot; or not, because they were “too close” to the dark airport road “for comfort”.
In another street people were engaged in a night carnival throwing fireworks, dancing and laughing. The frenzied atmosphere was as bright as daylight and quite refreshing after the earlier anxiety on the dark road. She could feel her blood pressure normalizing again as her headache and chest pain subsided.
Further on, some other streets were as quiet and scary as the grave yard, while some others were scanty and still scary. Some beggars were sleeping on a roadside. In another street, a frustrated drunk threw an empty bottle into the road and cried excruciatingly with his back against a wall. And in another again, a suspicious gang discussed in low pitch and all of its members simultaneously looked towards her direction with their eyes following her cab and on her – her heart began to visibly pump out of her chest. But the gang did not move from their seat, and from afar, she saw them resume their conversation.
The cab driver muttered in this language she could not understand and which was why she could not engage him in a discussion. He seemed scared too at the moment. He accepted to give this ride, perhaps because he needed the money he had inflated of the fare and she was willing to pay in order to get to the hotel she had booked on the net, and which printed address and picture he had recognized when she showed him.
The cab eventually curved into an open gate to stop at the threshold of a dirty white castle of two stories. It seemed quite the contrary of what she saw on the internet. Stepping out of the cab she frowned at the building before her and asked the driver if it was really the address she gave him, showing him again the printed paper. The driver vehemently muttered incomprehensible words pointing and nodding at the same time. She could understand he was sure he had brought her to the right place. The name of the hotel was boldly written across the castle wall over the double door of the entrance, and this proved she was in the right place.
The driver hissed and continued to mutter incomprehensible complaint as he drove away leaving her to her confusion. She took her time to look longer at the hotel before proceeding inward. The hotel had begun to slightly resemble that on the website; only that the one on the website was newer and whiter. As she made her way towards the door, a chauffeur, as tanned as the driver that brought her, came out of the hotel and warmly took her luggage from her. ‘You’re welcome, madam’, he said with an accent. Her appreciation did not go past her open teeth when she responded ‘thank you’, swallowing her saliva with difficulty. She was too anxious to fully express her appreciation for this little warmth from a humble servant.
On entering the hotel she found men and women floating about the reception and lobby. Their complexion was so white you would think they had never walked in the sun. The inner walls were grey and green, dulled by dust and time. But they were spotless and sparkling online. Perhaps, it would have been less frightening if these whitish people blended with the spark it presented online because this contrast was strangely chilling to her. Or, maybe it would have been more chilling if they blended. “Oh no! Neither feels right!”
Everyone was wearing different kinds of long gowns which dragged on the floor hiding their feet and shoes, and so, made their movement float-like. The men were wearing dull colour shades, while the women were wearing vivid ones; no patterned material. The women were also distinguished by the covering of their faces, leaving only their eyes to see; eyes like their men’s, finely circled thick with black ink and seemed to be staring into your soul.
Her emergence through the door seemed to pull all those circled eyes to her and she would have dropped dead at the glares if she was not afraid of what they would do to her lifeless body. And now, the encouraging smile of the tanned chauffeurs began to look suspicious to her. Was he in on this ‘horror movie in which she was an unsuspecting victim’, or was she just being paranoid?
They soon went about their routine as before she distracted them and, was it her imagination or were they actually floating? She progressed towards the reception, probably floating too against her will and with her head spinning and vision blurry. She felt she had no choice at the moment because dashing out into the street would make her appear crazy, or expose her to a greater danger in the dark hours of a strange land where she believed she had just passed by some hoodlums plotting the evils of that time of the day.
Arriving at the reception in what seemed like some ages’ journey, she forced a smile at the receptionist, but found a cold stare which preceded the steel smile that pushed through the cotton mask on her face; it was the briefest muster of pleasantry she had ever seen. She no longer only smelt spices since she began to breathe the air of this country but also now tastes it in the saliva she swallowed labouriously.
The receptionist’s modus operandi was swift as she confirmed her booking and handed her a pass card for her room while the chauffeur proceeded towards the way. She noticed that everyone was stealing a look at her and that she and the chauffeur were the only two people out of place in there: she was a black girl dressed in a jean-pants and top, while the tanned chauffeur was in the black uniform suit chauffeurs were known to wear. These peeping eyes were causing her to squirm and she knew that they could see her fear; they were staring into her palpitating heart. She followed the chauffeur mechanically doing her best to ignore the “ghosts” of them.
In her room, relief appeared to elude her. This is because the rest she had so sought for since her arrival at the airport and of which made her venture into the night for the comfort of a hotel, still hung far away from her reach. This hotel was nothing like the glister and pleasantness it advertised on its website, instead, it was disappointing, weird and unpleasant. Staring at the old couches and bed before her, she suspected that they could swallow her up if she dared to perch on any. No thanks to her interest in horror movies and her present paranoia. Her mind was now playing tricks on her and she knew it but could not stop it and did not want to stop it so as not to leave herself vulnerable to any looming danger in this Pindicapolis House of Horror.
She sat on the one wooden chair in the room to ensure she kept awake watching for daylight when she would match away to anywhere else other than this cultish confinement. “Why would people, weird looking people, be awake and about the reception like it is daylight?” she was thinking. “It’s all too strange for my peace of mind and morning will break in another three hours.” Looking out at the dark starless sky, it seemed a long time to wait and to subject her heart to fear, but she would wait!
Just because she was a graduating student of sociology, her project supervisor had to send her to Pindicapolis, of all places, to research on the life style of the people; that was, if she survived to tell the story and laugh about it in the morning that makes joke of the night. Fear makes one forget about their Omnipresent Lord; and now, in spite of herself, this moment spent in sitting and staring at the House of God, reminded her to give thanks thus far and to seek His help through the night and stay in Pindicapolis.
A shrill ring of the phone jolted her to stand and open her heavy lids! She hurried to answer it; it was barely five minutes she settled in the room staring and dozing, she believed. At the other end of the phone the calm and soothing voice of a lady, she believed could not be that of that receptionist she encountered just moments ago, sang this ballad to her ear: ‘Sorry Madam, we had expected you to arrive at daylight today at which time we would have concluded our annual ritual by 4am today. I could not turn you back earlier or ask you to wait outside because it is dark. But we really must conclude our ritual as it is 3:30am now, and it involves putting out all the lights and only putting on one candle in the centre of our gathering …’ The phone began to shake loose in her hand but the receptionist continued, ‘This hotel is always dedicated to our god at this period and many members of our religious group come here at this period to do this ritual with us. Please bear with us as it will only take 30 minutes light out. Thank you.’ But the receptionist heard the clang of the phone receiver to the floor and then the thud of a body.
– Pindicapolis – A name made up for a country in this story.
– Loaded – Rich
– Sang ballad to ear – Spoke gently and sweetly
© by Ifeanyi Oluwafemi Chukwudi – Feb 14, 2011