By: Uche Ozo
The night was dark, and the silence deafening, with occasional chatters that sounded like the hoot of owls. I lay still on my bed, eyes to the ceiling and sweating profusely as if I had embarked on a cross-country marathon. I tried to come to terms with what had transpired in my dream.
As a young boy, I developed this unusual ability to wake up from my dream whenever I wanted, because somehow, I could tell I was in a dream, and snap out of it in times of danger. I did so by simply shutting my eyes forcefully and then reopening them. More often than not, I opened my eyes to find myself on my bed, or wherever it is that I fell asleep on. It was an ability which even I couldn’t explain, but I suppose it came about as a result of my fondness for dreams. To me, dreams are an avenue to get away from the norm, a gateway to the metaphysical, a world where everything is possible. One moment you could be in an open-top bus parade waving at your supporters because you just won an election, and boom, in a blink of an eye you find yourself falling twelve stories down only to land as a feather. It is a world where you have the opportunity of becoming everything you couldn’t be in real life.
I often asked my father questions pertaining to dreams, like why we dream, and whether death in our dreams meant death in reality. My father always told me that our being consisted of two portions—the body, which is the ruler of the day, and the spirit, ruler of the night. My father was a very intelligent man. He wasn’t thoroughly educated, but he tried to gain knowledge by way of reading books and listening to the radio. He had this old rickety radio which he told me he had had since I was born. Whenever he wasn’t reading one of those daily newspapers, his ears were glued to this radio of his.
We lived in a small house that consisted of two small bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen that had an extension to the rear of the house because it was barely big enough to contain my mother, let alone the whole family. My father had inherited the house from his father when he passed on. He also inherited this old but strong tricycle which he used as a commercial carriage to complement his main occupation, which was fishing. He did a great job of making sure he put food on the table, and also ensuring that I and my brother went to school.
Each morning, I would hold my brother by the hand and walk to our school which was about two kilometers away. My little brother, Ubong, meant the whole world to me. He was seven years younger than I was because after our mother gave birth to me, she tried so hard for many years to conceive again, and just at the point of giving up, she had my brother. I often told him about my effortless ability to wake up from my dream whenever I wanted, but he never believed me. He would often sneakily put on the lights after out mother had put us to bed, and watch my face for long periods just to see if I was telling the truth or not. He often told me his dreams, but him being a kid who was barely four years old, he would tell it in such a way that I had to use common sense before I could make a meaning of what he was saying. His favourite dreams were the ones in which he seemed to levitate. Oh, how he loved them so much. One time he got so angry with me for waking him up from his precious sleep just at the point of the most ecstacy.
Ubong had his own share of nightmares too, especially ones in which he found it difficult to run away from danger. Our father also told us that sleeping with our legs crossed was the reason why running was impossible in our dreams. I found it hard to believe because I saw no logic as to why the posture of our physical body could interfere with our spirit. Or imagination. Perhaps I was being excessively curious.
Christmas period was my favourite time of the year. It was a time when our parents bought us the finest clothes and the most gorgeous shoes. It was also a time when my mother prepared the nicest delicacies. This was one of the few times I was allowed to do real work in the kitchen. My mother would ask me to cut the fish, and I would do so exactly in the manner which she described to me. She always liked them. Being that we lived in a riverine environment, fish was a major constituent of our meals, and at this time of the year, it was inevitable that the amount of fish in the rivers doubled—and my father usually had large catches. Even as an experienced fisherman that he was, he couldn’t explain the reason for this. Could it be that God knew that the demand for fish at this time would increase so he consequently increased the amount of fish in the waters? Or perhaps it was the fish that instinctively multiplied out of consideration? How inquisitive I was.
On Christmas day, we would all attend church service, flaunting our new clothes and meeting other children who had returned home for the festivities. My parents weren’t really spiritual to the core—in fact, I could count the number of times they took us to church—but they made it an obligation to take us to church on Christmas days. After supper, my father would gather us at the sitting room and tell us Christmas stories. This was my favourite part of the day because I often enjoyed my father’s storytelling. Although he often repeated stories Christmas after Christmas, it felt new each time he told it to us. I loved this particular one he told us about Father Christmas and his flying reindeers, and how he flew from house to house dropping Christmas gifts for little kids. There was one time I even dreamt about being Father Christmas. How lovely it was.
Walking to school, and back, every weekday turned out to be a fun process for Ubong and I despite the long distance. It was a time when we took turns to tell stories to each other. We told stories of things that happened in school, and we also narrated our dreams to each other. Ubong loved to listen to my stories because, just like our father, I was quite a good storyteller. Most times in school, a few boys and girls would gather around me to listen to my stories, but they never realized that all I was narrating to them was my dreams. The girls loved me for this, and some of the boys hated me because of it. They would often falsely accuse me of wrongdoing to our Head Teacher, but somehow, I always escaped grave punishment. The worst I would get was a gentle drag on the ear which hardly hurt.
Walking to school, Ubong often brought to my attention this creepy-looking old man who often sat alone in front of his house. His house was a little mud hut with thatched roof and two small windows either side of an entrance. The entrance had no door but was covered by a grey curtain from the inside. The old man sat on a wooden bench just in front of the hut. Beside him was always a long wooden stick which seemed to be his walking aid.
One day, on our way back from school, the most intriguing thing ever, happened to me. This creepy old man called me by my name, “Ukeme!”. Momentarily, I stopped to look around to see if there was anybody else who might be bearing that name, but we were the only ones there.
“Ukeme!” he shouted again, his eyes bulging as if they were about to pop out of their sockets. He then made a gesture to me, urging me to come toward him. At this point my heart was pounding and I could feel sweat trickling down my head. I began to walk toward him, and Ubong followed closely behind me as though I were some sort of shield to protect him in case anything happened. The man shifted to one end of his bench and urged us to sit down. Ubong gently pinched me from behind as if to mean he wasn’t comfortable with this, but I ignored and sat close to the man, and Ubong sat next to me. The old man began to talk in a slow faint voice. “You are the son of the fisherman,” he said.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“I see the striking resemblance. Your father is a very good man, but…” the old man began to cough. “Water,” he cried out, pointing to a keg standing close to the entrance of his hut. I quickly got up to get the keg, and he grabbed it from my hands and began to gulp hastily from it. When he was done drinking, I couldn’t muster the courage to urge him to continue what he was saying about my father.
“I see curiosity in your eyes, my child. What bothers you?” he asked, breathing heavily. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to hear another person’s perspective on dreams, so I asked, “what can you tell me about dreams, sir?”
He chuckled, like he was amused by my question. The look on his face felt like he was expecting this question.
“What an interesting question,” he said. “No man on earth can give a perfect definition of dreams, no matter how hard they tried. It is something that emanates from our daily thoughts and encounters. It could even be an unclear description of what is to come. Dreams, my son, are as real as they come. They are spiritually connected to our mind and body and soul.”
At this point, the skies began to darken and I could sense a storm coming. There was hardly enough time to tell him about my ability to snap out of my dream whenever I wanted.
“You should head home now, my son,” he said as he reached for his walking stick which was by his side. Ubong quickly sprung up from his seat, and I could tell he had had enough of the melodrama. As we took our leave, the old man, standing at this point, said to me, “dream well tonight, my son. Dream well.”
By the time we arrived home, it was already dark, and we were drenched by the rain which was already pouring. Our mother, who had been expecting us, was happy to see us and at the same time mad at us for returning so late. She made us some hot soup and helped us get dry. My father wasn’t home yet. It wasn’t unusual for him not to be home at that time of the day because at times when he had a bad day at sea, he added some extra hours just to make sure it wasn’t a futile day. A few times he even passed the night at a friend’s place which was closer to the sea, but he always returned home at first light.
That night, I had a terrible dream. I was wearing a white robe that dragged along the ground as I walked. To my right was a very large landscape of vegetation, and to my left was a huge body of water which seemed to have no form of impurity, because I could feel the pureness as I breathed in. Just a few feet from above me was a raging fire which burnt so violently that I could feel a burning sensation from inside of me. As I walked on, a forceful stream of wind blew towards me, which was almost strong enough to sweep me off my feet, and at the same time gentle enough to let me walk on.
As I walked, I began to see people that I might have met before in real life, because their faces looked vaguely familiar. They were on either side of me, some of them smiling, some of them frowning. A few of them were pointing to my direction and whispering to each other. Ahead of me was what seemed like an alter, where four huge men wearing black capes were carrying a coffin. As soon as they dropped the coffin, I moved closer and opened it. Behold, there my father was, lying motionless and pale. Immediately, I began to hear echoes of the voice of the old man I had met earlier that day. Instinctively, I tried shutting my eyes and reopening them only to find myself still in the dream. There I stood, seemingly perplexed, because part of me subconsciously knew I was in a dream, and the other part felt like reality—because if I were in a dream, I would simply shut my eyes and reopen them to find myself awake. It went on for a good few minutes before I found myself awake on my bed, sweating profusely. After a few seconds, I heard Ubong call my name. He told me I had been talking in my sleep and so had to wake me up. My special ability to wake up from my dream seemed not to have worked this time around for reasons unknown.
Still breathing heavily and trying to come to grips with reality, I hastily got up from my bed and darted to my father’s room. I opened the door slowly to take a peek, and I found that my father wasn’t on the bed. I feared that the worst had happened. I went back to my room and laid down.
When day broke, I heard a knock on our front door. I watched from the door of my room as my mother strode to answer it. Two men that I recognized from my dream stood outside. Hardly had they finished talking than my mother fell to her knees and broke down in tears. My world came crashing down. I knew the worst had happened. According to my mother, they had found my father’s lifeless body ashore. I mounted my bed in agony, face down, my pillow pressed against my head trying to squeeze myself out of the dream I thought I was in. Then my mind flashed back to the encounter I had with the old man the previous day. I hopped out of my tear-drenched mattress. With tears running down my cheeks, I quickly jumped out through my window and ran to where the old man lived.
As I approached, I began to see clusters of people around the old man’s hut. I bulldozed my way through to find the old man lying dead on the ground. The people said he had died in his sleep. Consumed with shock, I began to wonder how it all added up. Could there have been a connection between this old man’s death and that of my father? Could there have been a spiritual relationship between the two of them? I wondered as I walked back home. Perhaps my father would still be alive if I hadn’t made physical contact with this man. I was convinced that my curiosity led to the untimely death of my father.