The early morning Harmattan breeze blew callously as Ngohide walked into the bus park with her father dragging her luggage. Despite her thick sweater, she felt a shiver as she tried to catch up with her father who by this time was heading towards the ticketing area. Something felt odd about the cold she felt all over her body; it wasn’t coming from the dry wind blowing around the spacious compound of the popular transport company, but from within her body. She adjusted the sleeves of her sweater as she waited to get her ticket from the attendant who for some reason, had a permanent scowl on his face.
Ngohide and her father stood outside in the busy motor park filled with many other young people who just like her, had answered the Clarion Call and were all packed up and ready to begin the next phase of their life in a not-so familiar territory. She wondered why she was not excited, but afraid. Afraid of what, she couldn’t point out. As she stood guarding her luggage amidst traders who were gearing up to start the day in their usual optimistic and noisy manner, she remembered the conversation she had with her grandmother the night before and how strangely she had stared at her after she prayed and blessed her trip.
“Mama ka nyi i er?” she had inquired, concerned about her grandmother’s unsettling silence. But the old woman only waved her worries aside, stating that she was going to miss her.
But before she retired for the night, her grandmother gave her a brown amulet with black and white scribbling on the edges of its round pendant. Right at the center of the pendant was what looked like a painting of a cat’s eye.
“You’re going away from me and I probably won’t see you for a long time. Always wear this underneath your dresses. It will protect you just like I have always done,” she had said, the concerned look back in her eyes.
“It was my mother’s and was given to her by her mother. Since your father was the only child I had, I kept it hoping for a granddaughter. And then, you came along,” she smiled as she wore it around my neck.
“I love it, grandma. Thank you!” Ngohide said, excited to finally have a relic of a powerful woman she never met but greatly adored.
She was her grandmother’s favourite as she shared an uncanny resemblance with her own mother who was a seer and a traditional healer. Her name was Awaime.
Ngohide was considered a reincarnation of the woman and was told she had the same birthmark on the back of her left arm. This was why she was given the name Ngohide, which meant, “Mother has returned”. She grew up listening to stories about her great grandmother and the evil she had fought with her powerful gift of foresight. Even though Ngohide’s parents were Christians, she found herself drawn to the traditional practices.
Listening to her grandmother tell her stories, she sometimes wished she possessed the same powers as the great Awaime. Her grandmother however, believed she had it in her. All she needed was the right time for it to manifest. Even though she believed this was merely wishful thinking on her granny’s part, she indulged her. They were close as a grandmother and a grandchild could be, but it felt like there was more to the bond they shared than mere maternal strings because she felt more connected to her grandmother than her own mother.
“Ngohide Iorhemba!” a short woman in a thick red sweater called out from the corner of the bus they were supposed to board. As she bade her father farewell and proceeded to the bus, she began to feel the chills again and at this point, concluded she was going down with a fever. As she dug in her handbag for the pack of vitamin C tablets her father had given to her when they got to the park, she felt a gentle tap on her shoulders.
“Looking for this?” Ngohide turned around to see a slim frame smiling at her. He was holding the pack of vitamin C tablets she was looking for in her bag.
Puzzled, her eyes darted from his face to his hand holding the vitamins, and back to his still smiling face.
“I saw it drop when you collected it from your dad to put in your bag.”
“Picked it up and thought it wise to wait till he left, to return it,” he added with a slightly nervous laugh.
It didn’t take long before they got talking. Tortyav was so interested in keeping the conversation going that he swapped seats so he could sit beside her. Although Ngohide enjoyed the conversation, she couldn’t help but noticed how very little he spoke about himself and whenever he did, there was always an air of authority which she found captivating and intimidating as well.
She, however, was so engrossed in their conversation that she didn’t notice when they left the borders of Benue. Soon enough, she began to feel sleepy and adjusted in a way that was a bit comfortable for her to place her head on the back of the seat in her front. The bus was cramped up and made it difficult for one to enjoy comfort. But she noticed Tortyav was still in the position he had been since the journey commenced. He neither moved his legs nor his torso. She found it strange but didn’t think too much of it. Perhaps he was comfortable.
She looked at her wristwatch, it was 12:04 pm. As she took on the sleeping position, her phone began to vibrate in her bag. It was her mum. She picked up but could not make out what her mother was trying to say. So, she cut the call and decided to try again. It connected and it was her grandmother on the phone.
“You cannot…the bus…where…before it’s…. late,” she heard her grandmother’s voice, her words incoherent due to the poor network service. Although, she couldn’t make sense of what she had just heard, it left her feeling a bit alarmed as her grandmother rarely spoke English to her even though her command of the language was top notch.
Ngohide cut the call again and tried to call back but it didn’t connect. By this time, they were on a road sandwiched by thick vegetation. Getting good service was going to be a Herculean task.
While she continued to dial her mum, the bus slowed down and as she looked ahead, she noticed a group of teenage boys redirecting the bus towards an almost narrow sandy path. She overheard them tell the driver that there had been an accident just ahead and the road was completely blocked. Although, she noticed other cars drive past, the driver took their advice and decided to ply the alternative route.
As they began on the dusty road which ran across a village, she noticed theirs was the only vehicle on the road as there was none behind them. She couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was not right, but her chills were back, so she blamed the unsettling feeling on her abnormal temperature. Coupled with the fact that every other passenger seemed comfortable with the choice of route, she decided to relax. Looking through the window from Tortyav’s side, she noticed how the children immediately stopped playing and stood rooted to the ground, staring intensely at the car in a strange way. Their eyes lacked excitement but possessed a look that felt like they knew something passengers of the bus were ignorant of.
The village looked abandoned with no adult in sight.
Things became more worrisome when they drove past what appeared to be an abandoned church building with a giant cross, upturned, broken and surrounded by dead grass. The area surrounding the askew cross looked dark, like something had burned around it.
At this point, Ngohide wasn’t the only one scared. Confusion and panic set in as the other passengers realized there were no vehicles behind them and the clear path which they passed through seconds ago, seemed to have closed in and in its place, thick and tall green bushes stood.
Ngohide remained quiet, too scared for words but it wasn’t the same for the other passengers who by this time started to pray and scream, except for Tortyav and the driver who remained calm.
As if on cue, the blazing sun vanished behind a thick cloud and immediately rendered the area dark, darker than night itself. But the driver remained calm and even though it was pitch dark, he made no move to turn on the headlamps but kept driving straight ahead.
The man in the front seat attempted to open the door but the lock didn’t open. He punched the driver and pulled at him to stop the car but he neither budged nor retaliated. It was like he had come under a spell.
Ngohide remembered the strange call from her grandmother and immediately rushed for her phone. She tapped on the screen to take her to the call log, but it didn’t. She noticed the network bar was blank and the phone screen, frozen. As she tapped on the screen repeatedly, she felt a dark liquid splash on her braids. She raised her head up in time to witness the strangest death ever. The lady by the door had her neck violently pushed backwards by an invisible force. The same thing gouged at the throat, leaving perforated veins splashing blood all around. And almost immediately, the body caught fire and was incinerated within seconds.
The same thing happened to the next passenger, a man who appeared to be in his 40s. He was the one who led the prayers before the journey commenced. His scream ended with the same attack to his throat and next minute, he was ashes. And in an exact manner, the invisible force took out every other passenger in the bus one gruesome moment at a time as Ngohide watched in horror, helplessly waiting for her turn. She turned to Tortyav and pleaded that they escaped the bus but the look on his face showed he was enjoying the horrific executions. It was at this point Ngohide realized she was truly alone, and he was a part of what was happening.
She felt helpless and too scared to make any move. She turned her gaze to the front and noticed the driver’s seat was empty even though the door never opened. And as she returned her gaze to Tortyav, she noticed his body had taken on a different human structure. The lean boy with brown eyes she met at the park was gone and, in his place, sat a huge, dark and older man with glowing grey pupils that looked more feline than human.
“We have been expecting you, my darling bride,” he spoke slowly and menacingly, his voice sounding more like a growl than a whisper. Ngohide at this point, began to cry. But this only seemed to please him.
He lifted his left palm abruptly and the roof of the bus came off violently. Ngohide screamed as Tortiav reached for her arm and pulled her out of the bus flying into the dark air polluted by evil.
And immediately, she jerked out of sleep. It was all a dream, she thought to herself as she wiped the tears that began to dry up on her cheeks.
She brought out her phone from her handbag to check the time. It was 12:04 pm and almost immediately, her phone began to ring. The chills suddenly returned in full force, so much that her teeth clattered. Immediately she answered the phone, she heard her grandmother cry out, “You need to get out of that bus. You need to get as far away from Tortyav as possible!! He’s back for you!”
While she was still trying to make sense of what she just heard, she noticed that the bus had taken a turn into a sandy and narrow path, just like it had done in her dream. And from the corner of her eyes, she noticed Tortyav looking straight ahead, wearing a strange look on his face.
It looked like a smile, but it was more dark than cheerful.
This time, it happened fast. The strange smell of burning flesh assaulted her nostrils before the piercing screams of the passengers.
And so, it began.