When my mother died, it rained heavily. It rained like the heavens were trying to drown the grief that wafted through the four walls of our compound in its frothy vapour. My father refused to be consoled; he sat glass-eyed and stared sightless at the endless streams of sympathizers that thronged in and out of our parlour like headless termites stumping on crumbs of wayward debris.
He shook his head countless times and muttered under his breath to the pleas and encouragements of the mourners. He was a man and I never saw a single tear drop kiss his cheek. But I was disturbed; for it seemed to me that father was not with us or with the entire well-wishers. It seemed to me he had transcended the lofty confines of humanity and was only waiting for a chance to be completely emancipated.
Father and mother were very close and still so much fond of each other even after 20 years of marriage. He still stared at her with a million galaxies exploding in his eyes and she still danced for him and caressed his almost greying hair like I had seen her do so many times when I was a little boy. Their laughter was tinged with so much affection and joy, it sometimes made my siblings and I uncomfortable. Such love was envious, powerful and divine, and when she died, I knew father would never be the same again.
He visited her body in the mortuary for the two weeks she was there. He left first thing in the morning and came back late in the evening, not saying a word to anyone. Only bathing, brooding and going to sleep. Almost a year after she was buried. Strange things began happening.
We began to see a mysterious owl fly into our compound and nestle itself on the big mango tree every evening, its eyes eerily familiar. It never stayed later than 11pm and it was always back the next evening. Father instructed us not to pay it attention. In fact, he dutifully fed it crumbs of leftover bread with a nostalgic smile playing at the corner of his lips. I and my siblings began to think Father was going crazy.
Then, there were noises at night: strange eerie noises that pushed through walls and rang close to your ears even in the darkness of a peaceful sleep. The noises sounded like windy howls through the trees, except that it resembled a human voice. More than once, we the children had dreamt that we saw strange, unearthly creatures. These nightmares happened simultaneously and so vividly, we could recount every detail upon waking up.
Then a woman that looked strikingly like my late mother began to come Sunday afternoons to cook for my father. We knew she cooked because there were always leftovers of what looked like a really satisfying meal. She was always dressed in black and her arrivals were usually ushered in by a light breeze that smelt of ashes and incense. We were scared to death but each time she came, a sudden unexplained weakness would overtake everyone and we would fall asleep till she went back to God-knows-where. Nobody tried to confront her; we were just children, we didn’t yet possess such courage.
When we asked Father who she was, he vehemently denied having any visitor or seeing anybody closely resembling who we just described.
Four months later, Father died mysteriously of food poisoning.
And two months down the line, the real terror would begin.