Behind The Mask (1)

by Opeyemi Ojomu

Never could we have seen, 
Though we claim to have eyes; 
A mask as real as skin, 
We are naught but blind! 
To look beyond the apparent, 
None can own up to the task. 
But lies the evil of man, 
Behind the mask.

No light comes from the horizon, no shiny stars above. The world seems lifeless, like the aftermath of a nuclear war. Every creature seems to have perished except the frogs whose croaks penetrate the deep silence. I keep moving with just my rechargeable lamp in my right hand. The quietness in the environment doesn’t scare me, but what will make me piss down my pants is if my lamp goes off. It will throw me in utmost darkness since that is the only light that illuminates the land.  

The light gets dimmer as I move on, and I keep having the feeling it would go off whenever it blinks. I pass through thick bushes without even pausing to imagine I could be stepping on a snake. I have a phobia for reptiles generally, but staying behind is a quicker death for me. Just before a mango tree, I feel sharp thorns pierce mercilessly into my skin, and I shiver both in cold and fear. It is now I realize it has been drizzling. My clothes are slightly soaked, and streams of water trickle down my forehead. I‘ve been deeply engrossed in my thoughts, causing me to be partially oblivious to the environment. The steps come closer and closer, slow but steady. 

“Scream? Is that the best thing to do?” I ask myself. The logical purpose of screaming is to attract attention so people can come to one’s rescue, but in this case, it makes no sense since the ‘’animal’’ and I seem to be the only existing souls in the land; the frogs are helpless anyway.

My heart beats faster as the footsteps come closer; the best thing is to run! At first, I think of looking back to see what it is, but I am too terrified to do so. Deep inside me, I feel like screaming. Now the illogical reason for screaming becomes clear to me – it is to let out the tension bottled up within. As I’m about to raise my left leg in an attempt to run, fate does its worst. My shirt hooked on a thorn, causing me to leap backwards, making the lamp go off. 

I fall flat on the floor. 

Closing my eyes so tight, I cover both ears with both hands and begin to scream as loud as I can. The gentle tap on my shoulder makes me stop, and I turn because it feels like a human palm. I see a masculine figure before me and not a lion after all. He holds a paraffin lamp that gives a rather dim glow. For a few seconds, I am speechless. I run my fingers across my lamp, gently caressing it. My fingers go towards the switch, and guess what? The light comes on. I must have switched it off out of panic. Now I can see clearly or at least, to a large extent.

The man looks very old, older than the word ‘old’ itself. He is on an old grey T-shirt with a slacked collar and a blue pair of shorts. White hair covers his entire body, which instantly reminds me of my white pair of socks which I soaked in bleach when I got back from school but forgot to wash. He has long beards carefully shaped into an ‘L’. He wears a dirty white pair of Dunlop slippers that have been made so flat due to overuse. His feet are dry and very white. I wish I could see a picture of him when he was young; every area of his face is wrinkled, and one eye seems to be blind. 

Something is amiss, and it takes me a few seconds to figure out. My God! He has no nose. The main problem is that there is no scar to indicate he once had a nose; it appears natural. I wonder how he inhales and exhales air. I lower my gaze a little; he has no left arm. Well, that seems a bit understandable. He might have gotten it amputated for medical reasons. I look at him thoroughly now, and it seems I’m staring at a phantom in the dark. Even the shape of his head defies description. This figure before me is certainly no specimen of humanity!

“My son, what seeketh thou so late in the night?” he asks slowly with curiosity, and his voice quivers as he speaks. 

A cold shiver runs down my spine, and my fear gradually diffuses into deep sympathy towards him. From his voice, he sounds like one who has been cut by the sharp edges of life. From it, I can read weakness and pains. He sounds like one who has been treated unjustly in life, one who has been cheated and victimized. I now feel compassionate towards this strange man, and for the first time, I feel relaxed and comfortable. This figure in front of me is undoubtedly harmless.

My motive of wandering into the night flashes back in a second. I sneaked out of my house through the back door at about 10.30 pm, with the assurance that my mother would have been deeply asleep. Though a few of my peers sneak out to clubs or parties at night, I am not that kind of boy. My mission is entirely different. I am out to set free my family from the satanic chains of life. I am far from being a miracle worker, so I intend to do this physically.

To break this ‘Satanic chains’ as I’ve termed it, I have to remove the silver bracelet my father wears around his left wrist! He died barely three days ago and was buried with it by his relatives, who insisted it must be so. Efforts made by my mother to convince them that the bracelet is evil proved abortive. Here I am, taking a shortcut to his grave. I have no shovel, but I hope to find one hanging carelessly around. I shall dig six feet, open his coffin, and destroy the bracelet if I can. I must take it off his wrist, at least. All I need is courage, because the tragedy is:

There Can Be No Progress In Any Aspect of Our Lives, So Long As He Wears the Bracelet.


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