Previously on SNAPSHOTS…
The nightmares would start differently but would always end the same, with Waliu’s face looking at him with dead eyes.
He didn’t know why he dreaded those dreams. There was nothing about them to qualify them as nightmares, but still he’d wake up with his heart beating fast and a sense of dread and loss pervading him.
It had been almost two months since Jide moved from Lagos to a small nondescript town in Oyo State. One of the first things he had done was to change his number. If he had found work in another more populous place, he would have also set up an account on Grindr or manjam, but he knew he was simply asking for trouble if he did that here.
Instead, he let himself sink into the work that involved moving to somewhere entirely new. He’d gotten himself accommodation which was a bit on the outskirts of town, but it was inexpensive and the cost of transportation was cheap too.
But as things slowed down and life settled to a routine, Jide began to wonder about Waliu. The last time he had seen him was the night before he left. He had wanted to just disappear quietly, but he didn’t know when he’d called him and asked to see him. They met at a bar and it was plenty awkward.
“I’ll miss you,” Jide had said like it was some sort of token.
Waliu snorted, downed the last of his beer and said, “Yes you will”, before limping out.
Jide had spent the rest of the evening alone at the bar, staring at his glass and wondering why he felt bad and sad.
Sometimes he felt the urge to call Waliu. But he had deleted his number and BBM pin and email address. He told himself that there was no way to reach him, but he knew that he knew Waliu’s number like the back of his hand. His brain kept refusing to let him forget it. Sometimes he’d reflexively reel out the digits mentally to see if he still remembered it.
Sometimes he’d lie down at night wondering why he felt like he was the one trying to get over a breakup when it was clearly what he had wanted. Gradually, he admitted to himself that he missed Waliu, psychotic though he was. He still had the audio note where Waliu had threatened to kill him.
He often replayed the last kiss they’d shared in his head. The bite. He wondered why Waliu did it, but he also thought he understood. Waliu’s love language was pain. It was sick and twisted, but it was Waliu.
“And he isn’t all that bad,” Jide had told himself while they were dating, and even now that they had broken up.
But what was good about Waliu he couldn’t figure out. He seemed to have gazed into the dark abyss that was his ex’s mind and fallen into it, before trying to find a way to get out.
If only there was someone to fuck around in this town, he thought when he caught himself thinking about Waliu at work or at home. He was horny and his right hand was getting too boring to work with. He just needed someone else and he’d forget all about Waliu.
One day, he couldn’t take it anymore. He picked up his phone and his thumb danced around the keypad. He dialed the number he’d refused to forget and placed the phone to his ear. The line rang for what he thought was an eternity, and then there was a click as the call was received.
“Hello,” he heard the familiar voice say.
His heart began racing and speech failed him.
“Hello?” Waliu said again.
Jide panicked and hastened to cut the call. Then with his heart still thumping, he placed the phone on his office table.
A week later, Jide’s phone buzzed on the same table. He picked it up to see on the locked screen that it was Whatsapp message. He opened it to tell whoever it was that he was busy and would get back to him, but stopped when he read the message.
Hey, Jide I’m at the garage. Come get me.
Jide looked at the unknown number and recognition dawned on him followed closely by panic. It was Waliu.
This had to be a joke. He hadn’t been in contact with his ex since that impulse phone call he’d made a week ago. He’d driven thoughts of him from his mind by reabsorbing himself in work and even offering to help some colleagues finish up stuff they were supposed to do.
But there the text was, asking him to leave work and come get him, as if they had planned it all along. He was going to ignore the text. Waliu was most likely lying anyways.
But Jide couldn’t. He texted back: Dude, are you crazy? What are you doing here?
I came to see you, was the prompt reply.
You didn’t tell me you were coming.
Jide heaved an exasperated sighed. He glanced at the office clock. It was a few minutes till closing.
No! He wouldn’t go get Waliu. This was the psychotic behaviour that had made him want to leave him in the first place.
But then he thought about how he left things between them and felt guilty again.
Jide’s phone buzzed.
Jide swore under his breath and began packing his things. He left the office, ignoring the nagging feeling that he was going to regret this.
He reached the garage and disembarked from the keke. A quick glance around and he saw Waliu a short distance away from the entrance, fiddling with his phone. He was casually dressed in all black with a green duffle bag. His top was long-sleeved, which made Jide fleetingly wonder how he could fare well in the afternoon heat. He seemed to have grown leaner. Jide didn’t think Waliu had noticed him yet and was wondering if it was too late to bolt when Waliu sharply looked up directly at him. Without a word or any expression acknowledging him, he started toward Jide.
“Jide,” he said curtly.
“Waliu,” Jide said, swallowing.
They got into a cab. Jide sat in the front seat this time and stole glances at Waliu from the rear view mirror. The bike ride from the junction to his house was silent and Jide wished he’d sat in the middle or chartered separate bikes, because Waliu’s familiar scent and body close to him made him feel anxious.
Jide lived in a studio apartment that also happened to be the Boys’ Quarters of a much larger building that was mostly unoccupied because the owner travelled a lot. On many nights, it was just him and the gate man. He liked the quiet most times.
When they entered his apartment, Jide turned to face Waliu. Looking him dead in the eye, he asked, “Why are you here?”
Waliu shrugged off his duffle bag and sat on a plastic chair that was beside a plastic table. He returned Jide’s glare with an impassive expression and said, “I told you, I wanted to see you.”
“Without even making plans?”
“I didn’t see why. If I’d asked, you’d have said no and I’d have still come anyway.”
Jide continued to glare at him, irritated by his audacity. Still, he had gone to get him from the car park, just like Waliu was sure he would.
He sighed and turned to go into his small kitchen.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
There was no response. He turned to look back at his guest who was still staring at him, impassive.
He was about to reiterate his question when Waliu said, “Why did you do it?”
“Do what?” Jide asked, even though he knew very well what “it” was.
“Try to let things die?”
“I didn’t try to let anything die. We ran our course and it was over,” Jide said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
“Don’t lie,” Waliu said with a sneer.
Jide didn’t say anything.
“It didn’t work though, did it?” Waliu continued.
“We broke up,” Jide said flatly.
“But nothing died.” A beat. “You still haven’t told me why.”
Jide didn’t say anything. He felt like a child whose mother was asking why he fought in school, trying to maintain some form of bravado in the face of the query even though he was quaking inside. Waliu’s face was no longer impassive. It was stern and his eyes squinted at Jide as if trying to look into him.
“Do I scare you?” Waliu finally asked.
Jide tried to hold his gaze, a front for a pounding heart. “Why would I be scared of you?”
He hoped his voice didn’t sound as shaky as he felt, because Waliu’s face had turned dangerous.
“You think I’m not normal, don’t you?” Waliu queried.
Jide opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it and closed it back. His response wouldn’t help. He did think Waliu was a nut case but it would seem that he, Jide, was no different because he still had strong feelings for this nut case.
“I was normal, until I met you,” Waliu continued. He had gotten up now and was pacing the room. His manner was increasingly agitated. “I know I was weird, plenty weird, but I was normal. I felt normal. I felt like me. The thoughts in my head stayed there and everything was under control. Then you came along.” He stopped pacing and turned to face Jide, saying the “you” to him like it was an accusation.
“You broke me!” he bit out through gritted teeth. “And after you broke me, you wanted to leave me there in the pieces of not knowing what to do with myself.”
Waliu’s face had turned stormy with anger and raw anguish, and Jide found himself wishing he wasn’t so far from the door.
He began placatingly, “It wasn’t my intention to –”
“I fucking started to cut myself!” Waliu flared. He lifted one long-sleeved hand, and with the other, he tugged the sleeve up to reveal a crisscross of several badly healing wounds.
“Dude, that’s –”
Waliu cut him off, his tone suddenly soft, “I thought the pain would make me feel better, but all it did was remind me of you and how much I love you.”
Jide couldn’t believe what he was hearing and seeing.
“Waliu, you can’t do this,” he rasped, concern and worry etched on his face. “You need to stop this. You can’t continue like this.”
“I know I can’t. It didn’t help.” Waliu went over to and picked up his duffle bag. As he began rummaging through it, Jide tensed again. “Nothing was helping,” he was saying as he rifled through the bag. “I had to get rid of the source of my pain.”
When he lifted his hand from the bag, he was holding a knife.
“Jesus! Waliu!” Jide took an involuntary step back, alarmed.
“I bought this after you called me with your new number,” Waliu said as he set the knife on the table. “I’m no longer sure who it’s for. Me? You? Me and you?” He shrugged. “Help me decide.” And then he snatched the knife back up and lashed out.
He was fast and lithe despite his limp, but by some luck, Jide weaved out of the knife’s striking arc. He leaped forward and grabbed Waliu’s wrists, adrenaline lending him strength in the face of the other man’s madness. Waliu fought to bring the knife down to Jide’s neck, and Jide knew with time he would succeed. So he began shouting for help.
Moments later, the door banged open to reveal the gate man who instantly turned wide-eyed with shock when he took in the scene before him.
Waliu was straining with all his might, inching the knife closer and closer to Jide’s neck. Jide could feel his strength failing, and felt tears prick his eyes at the inevitability of his murder.
Suddenly Waliu’s weight was lifted off him at the same time that the tip of the sharp steel bit into the skin of his neck, not drawing blood but stinging just the same.
Waliu was struggling with the gate man now. The knife had dropped to the floor. The two men were fighting madly on the ground, with Waliu quickly gaining the upper hand when he caught the gate man’s neck in a vise-like grip under his arm, clamping down in an attempt to choke the man. The gate man was alternating between trying to pry his arm loose and thrashing about on the ground. His frantic wailing withered slowly under the choke-hold.
Without thinking, Jide picked up the knife and screaming, he dashed forward and stabbed once, and then twice into Waliu’s back, leaving the knife there after the second stab. Waliu grunted and let go of the gate man before dropping forward on the floor.
The realization of what he had done slammed into Jide instantly. He rushed over to Waliu, dropping to his knees in front of him as he lay there, huddled on his side. Blood was starting to pool underneath him from the stab wound behind him.
“Oh God, Waliu…” Jide cried in a wretched tone. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” He kept saying the two words over and over again with a voice that trembled beneath the fervent wash of tears. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
“It’s okay…” Waliu finally croaked. His eyes were fluttering over a ghostly expression.
“No, it’s not okay!” Jide wailed as he took his hand. “I’m sorry… Oh God, I’m so sorry…”
And as the man apologized agonizingly for this and the past, Waliu’s face twitched into the rarest expression, a smile, and stayed with it.
Written by IBK