The dream was the same as always. He was flying. It always began by flying, soaring through the thick somewhat dark cummnilonibus clouds racing for the prize.
What prize? I can hear you ask. Even he did not know. In some ways, he did not think it was important. All he knew was that the prize lay beyond the purplish, orange light at the opposite horizon. His invisible wings carried him towards it at breathtaking speeds.
But like the million and one times he’d dreamt this dream, he started to slow down; losing speed. It took another couple of seconds and he was plummeting to the ground like a stone dropped from high altitudes. He fell through the smoky grey clouds beneath him so fast that a void, so wide and vast formed in his bowels that he knew no substance could fill.
The green covered earth came into view and he streaked like a meteor towards it. Just as he closed his eyes to brace for impact_______
“Huh!!!!” Wole gasped sitting up. His room was gloomy shrouded with black shadows. The large window to his right which was covered by thick grey cotton curtains caught his attention almost immediately. He could see the faint light of dawn streaming through the half a dozen tiny holes in the threadbare curtain.
A sigh burst from his lips at the sight and he rose off the bed stepping on the cold terrazo floor. His bed was nothing more than a large vitaform mattress covered by sky blue cotton sheets.
As he raised his right hand to stifle a yawn the faint sounds of pots and pans rattling reached his ears. His mum was already up. He knew it was just a matter of time before she started heading his way to bang on his door as she did every morning. The cycle never changed and he did not see it changing anytime soon, especially today of all days.
As if she knew what he was thinking, he heard her heavy footfalls striding towards his door. Stifling another yawn, he strode for the door pulling it open before she even reached it. Their gazes locked and held for several moments as mother and son appraised one another.
His mother was five feet five inches tall. Though she stood and behaved in a way that made most people think she was much taller. She was not too plump. Teddy bear round was how he liked to think of her; the way all mothers should be.
Her face like her body was round, with full red lips, jet black eyes and skin which was a milky brown color. In his opinion, her skin was her greatest asset. At five feet three inches, he was almost as tall as she was. He had a slim athletic build; his face was lean and angular with eyes that were bright; too bright in his opinion, shining with a gleam that seemed almost maniacal.
His mum said he was handsome but he did not really think so. The best thing he had going for him was his height, which was not bad for a fourteen year old.
“Aaaah so you are up?” his mum’s stern voice interrupted that train of thought.
“Yes mummy__” He got out in a glum voice.
“What’s wrong with you?” She asked noticing the glum look on his face.
She gave him a long hard look, shrugging a few seconds later as she started back to the kitchen.
“You better get your act together and go sweep the sitting room and the verandah.”
“Mummy naaa___” He protested angrily. “Shey emi lo da be ru?” *Am I the one who disarranged the sweeping room?
She froze turning around slowly with her eyes glittering with fury. He grimaced, his body growing tense as he braced himself for the beating he knew might likely follow. Surprisingly however the beating never came.
A relieved sigh burst from his lips. His mother was and had always been a disciplinarian. She had whipped his hide for less.
“You are very lucky I am in a good mood otherwise___” She let her words hang in the air for a bit before she continued.
“___ you best get the broom out of the kitchen and go sweep. I will not wash the plates, cook breakfast for you and your father and still sweep while you are here. Is that clear??”
“Yes mummy__” He replied in a subdued tone of voice.
“Get to it__” She barked.
What else was there to say? She had said it all. He sighed and got to it. His ears cocked as he heard movement coming from his parent’s bedroom. It appeared daddy dear was up. The sarcasm in his thoughts puzzled him. Quickly dismissing it, he hurried along with his chores.
There was no light as usual. Only God knew when NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) or was it PHCN (Power Holding Company Nigeria) would give them light. Two weeks had passed since the light bulbs had come on.
A deep sigh burst from her lips. This was great, just great. The most annoying part of the whole thing was her mother knew someone who worked there. If memory served her well, he was a manager.
Mother however was being stubborn. She refused to call him to find out what exactly was going on with the electricity. The look on Tunrayo’s face grew grimmer as she remembered her mother’s words.
“I don’t want to be a bother Tunrayo so stop disturbing me about it. I am not going to call him and that’s final.”
When her mother used the words final, it really was final. Her frown deepened as she bent low and continued sweeping the concrete path in front of their three bedroom red brick house.
The gloom around her was becoming lighter. Dawn was almost here. To her far right she could see that the black skies were slowly turning to navy blue. Turning her attention back to her task she switched on the torch she held in her hand. The white light it emitted illuminated the concrete in front of her.
On her extreme left, just a couple of feet in front of some thick bushes lay the battered carcass of her dad’s 1996 Toyota corolla. Another sigh left her lips as she looked at it. She could not remember the last time that the damn thing had worked. Looking at the car made her think of her father and her face grew grimmer.
It was impossible to describe to anyone what she felt about her father. Love was not close to it. She did not hate him, that much was certain, but she could not say she was that fond of him.
A light came on in the sitting room behind her. She turned looking at it with a wan somewhat sad expression on her face. Her mother was up. The look on her face softened. Dear mummy, sweet mummy; the woman could be annoying__ her thoughts briefly drifted back to the electricity problem. There was no doubt, however what her feelings for the now forty eight year old woman was.
She loved her to bits. Her mum was always there for her. She always ensured that the bills were paid, helped her with her homework and put food on the table.
In the silence of the early morning, she heard a creak as the bedroom door opened. A few seconds later, a second form joined her mother in the sitting room. The gruff tone told her that her father had awakened. The expression on her face grew hard. She could not hear what he was saying but she doubted he was saying anything pleasant. He hardly ever did.
It was sort of a routine with him. He woke up very early in the morning, got out of bed and started castigating anyone he met. She did not know why exactly he did this, but the look in his eyes made her feel he derived some sort of perverse pleasure from it.
After he was done, putting everyone down, he would head back into their bedroom and fall asleep. He usually slept until ten or eleven in the morning. Luckily for everyone he remained in the room after he woke, only coming out for meals. Recently however, her mother had taken to carrying his meals to him in the room so no one had to see him much. The only snag with that arrangement was sometimes her mother made her take food to him.
It was painfully obvious to her mother that she did not really like her father. This made her always try to explain away his bad behavior. She would go on a long tirade about things not being easy for him and he being unhappy because he lost his job three years ago.
He had worked in a bank, Cadmick Chartered Bank if she remembered correctly. But he was fired. Laid off was the term her mother used. He had been unemployed since then. Her mum always said he was seriously looking for work, but somehow she doubted it. In her opinion, he seemed content to lie back and let his wife take care of him.
The sound of her mother’s voice snapped her out of her angry thoughts.
“Yes mummy.” She called out as she quickly continued sweeping.
“Have you finished sweeping?”
“You better hurry up. You don’t want to be late for school do you?”
A smile lifted the sides of her lips ever so slightly. At sixteen, her mother still thought she was a child. In two more years, she would be eighteen and an adult. If all went well she would be on her way to the university. She could not wait to leave the house. Two years seemed so far away but she knew the time would pass quickly and then she would be free. That thought made a thrill of excitement to race through her insides.
She finished sweeping with that thought and headed back into the house. Her mum was right. It would not do to be late.
The sleep was sweet. Chai!* *local expression usually used as an exclamation to show enjoyment. It had been a while since he enjoyed sleep the way he was doing now. No dream sef. Just satisfying blackness, yes na so things suppose be. He could feel a smile lifting the corners of his lips as his thoughts switched to Pidgin English.
Something inside told him that such bliss was not meant to last. His thought was confirmed a moment later as something began to intrude on his bliss. What it was he did not know. It was a noise; a shaking that refused to go away no matter how hard he tried to ignore it. The damn thing was gonna be very sorry if it woke him up, but the noise and shaking continued. Though he did all to fight it his eyes fluttered open.
“CHIKE!!!!!” His mother roared.
He sat up with a jolt shocked to see the light streaming through his window.
“Don’t you realize that school starts in about forty minutes? Not to mention the fact that you have to walk; I no know wetin sleep use enslave you__ go bathroom immediately.”
He leapt out of bed and edged away from mother’s furious gaze. She was a five foot eleven inch, two hundred pound angry woman. Her bright hazel eyes flashed in their sockets and her large mouth was curved in a disapproving frown.
He reached the door of the bathroom in seconds. A quick glance down the narrow corridor and into the next room whose door was wide open told him that his younger brothers were already dressed and ready. They looked smart in white cotton shirts tucked into brown shorts. Their short legs wrapped in knee length white stockings, while brown leather sandals encased their tiny feet.
With a deep sigh, he ducked into the bathroom. It took him less than five minutes to bath. Dressing took even less time. His mother ever efficient had laid out his clothes. His uniform was starched and ironed. On the verge of rushing into the sitting room, he quickly remembered that he had not brushed his teeth. He briefly considered not brushing his teeth but discarded that thought almost as soon as it came. His mouth always felt terrible if he did not brush.
When he was done, he headed to the sitting room. A thrill of fear stole into his heart when his eyes settled on the tall imposing figure of his father seated at the dinning table.
A frown quickly replaced his troubled look. He thought his father ought to have left. He usually left before he was up in the mornings. ‘Well he is still here as you can see.’ A sardonic voice in his subconscious growled.
His father’s disapproving stare was fixed on his face. Not one word left his lips as Chike sauntered over to the dinning table. His silence was not surprising. He never said much. His father was someone who preferred to act rather than speak. Oftentimes that acting usually involved a spanking. He didn’t seem that keen on giving him a spanking now or was he merely clutching at straws? With his father, it was usually hard to tell.
A half second after he thought this his father spoke. His voice came so suddenly that he jumped startled only just realizing that he had been standing beside his chair without attempting to sit down.
“You no go sit down?” His father barked out in Pidgin English. He shuddered. Whenever his father spoke in Pidgin, it usually spelt trouble. He slid onto his chair staring at the food on his plate as if he entranced by it. The rich delicious scent of Jollof rice and chicken wafted into his nostrils making his mouth water. By the gods, his mother sure knew how to cook. His father provided the means for her to exploit and explore that talent.
His father was a big car spare parts dealer. Maybe even the biggest in Oraromi (town where they reside). His mother most certainly seemed to think so. He however was not so sure, neither did he want to analyze his thoughts on the subject too deeply.
He darted a glance at his father and saw his hard disapproving stare still fixed on him. He took a deep breath and began eating. Only then, did his father’s hard gaze leave his face and return to his food. The silence that enshrouded the table was cold and unnerving.
Alaba and Joke (Pronounced Jor-ke)
He was still, watching her chest rise and fall as she slept. She looked breathtakingly beautiful as she slept. She always did. He liked watching her sleep, which was one of the few things he did with every fiber of his being. He spent many a night watching her, just as he was doing now. He doubted she knew he did it. If she did, she would probably have chastised him, saying she was robbing him of his beauty sleep.
Secretly though, he knew she would be pleased. A small smile lifted the corners of his lips making his early morning stubble covered jaw seem less hard. He studied her face. He knew every inch of its exquisite and near perfect surface. Every line, every curve, the soft fullness of her lips was as familiar to him as his own face. Her eyes were closed but he knew the grayish brown pupils that lurked beneath those gorgeous lids.
She had eyes that mesmerized. That drew you in. Eyes of perfection, pleasantness and understanding; eyes that made you feel you were no longer alone and even if you were you would no longer be.
She was everything to him and more. His gaze traveled down her sleek sensual body which was covered in a pink nightgown which reached only halfway down her thighs. His roaming gaze came to rest on the bulge in her belly. His left arm moved, slow, suddenly as if it moved of its own volition. His open palm came to rest on top of the bulge. Immediately, as if on cue he felt the baby kick.
His breath caught in his throat. That singular thing never ceased to amaze him, no matter how many times he felt and experienced it. The wonder of it almost, always blew him away; the miracle that was growing every second, every minute in his soul mate’s body.
His child! Their child!! It was their first. As these thoughts flashed through his mind a sense of unworthiness and incapability filled him. He was not sure he had what it took to be a good father and better husband.
‘You’ve managed just fine thus far and Joke sure hadn’t been complaining.’ A soft voice in his head reminded him. A frown roughened his brow at that. The voice in his subconscious or was it his head always had a sardonic/sarcastic quality about it. Almost as if, it was permanently mocking him.
He shook his head to clear it of his errant thoughts. As usual, sadness flooded his insides as he did this. He could not help wishing he could do more for her. His gaze flitted across the walls of the tiny room they were in. It’s stained faded blue walls never ceased to infuriate him.
The apartment was what they called a self-contained unit. It had a sitting room, a bedroom, a toilet and a bath. The kitchen was a communal kind of thing. The six of such apartments that were in this building used the same kitchen. He wished more than anything on earth that he could move them to a bigger place, especially with the baby coming.
Maybe a two-bedroom apartment; one room for them and the other for guests, that was until the baby was old enough to stay on its own. But he couldn’t afford it. Being a geography teacher in a second rate secondary school in a town as small and insignificant as Oraromi did not offer you that many high paying job options.
He realized that he had been extremely lucky to get the job he had. There were literally thousands of graduates roaming around on the Nigerian streets that had no employment. He did not have to look that far to find an example.
Joke was one of the unlucky jobless ones. With a degree in Accounting and a master’s degree in Economics, she was no pushover. Not that he was resting on his oars either. He had a bachelor’s degree in Geography and a Masters degree in Educational Administration and Planning. He was also planning to go even further and get a PHD. That was in whatever century their finances grew stable enough. With a baby on the way, he did not see it happening anytime soon.
Another sigh burst from his lips as soon as he thought this. Before he could dwell anymore on that Joke stirred, her eyes fluttering open slowly. Anger surged on his insides. There he had gone and done it. Now she was awake. Silly dolt that he was, he had woken her.
“What’s wrong?” She asked immediately becoming alert when she saw the serious look on his face.
“Nothing__ just thinking.”
“Of?” She asked sitting up with some difficulty. At five and a half months, it was not as easy to move about as before.
“Just things___” He replied his voice low and distant.
“Worrying about money again are you?” She asked with a, you cannot fool me look on her face.
He froze. How in the world did she always know?
“Babe__” She began leaning forward and running her cool hands over his heated skin. “I have told you time and time again that you should stop worrying. We will be fine. We always pull through.”
Her confident words did not reassure him. He nodded simply to pacify her and managed a wobbly smile.
“You know what you are my darling?” She asked leaning closer still and planting her cool lips on his cheek.
“What?” He asked with his eyes closed as her lips touched his cheek.
“You are a WORRIER!!! JEEZ!!!”
A wan smile crept on his face. Warmth filled his insides and he could feel a bubble of laughter building. She was a gem. She always knew how to make him feel better. Joke was the true personification of the word soul mate.
“We’ll be fine darling. We always are. Remember what Pastor Silvester said? God will never leave us or abandon us. He will be with us even to the end of the earth.”
He sighed and lay back down on the bed. Those words for some reason brought less comfort than they usually did. Seeing this Joke sighed and patted him on the stomach. Her soft pat brought a smile to his face and for that, she was grateful.
“It is well dear. You best get up. You don’t want to be late for work do you?”
He nodded and got up immediately. He did it so quickly that Joke could not help wondering whether he had just remembered that he had to get to work. Before she had even finished thinking this he was already in the bathroom. A couple of seconds later the sound of water running greeted her ears.
She got up___slowly. It was time to start preparing breakfast. She did not much relish the thought of walking down the long staircase to reach the kitchen, but there was nothing else for it.
Like Alaba, she wished more than anything that their finances would improve so they could get a bigger place. Unlike him however, she did not fixate and get depressed because of it. She believed very much in the saying that life was in phases and men were in sizes. This was just one of their low points. She firmly believed that it could only get better from here on out.
A smug smile lifted the corners of her near perfect lips. Alaba called her an unrepentant optimist; whatever that meant. The fact remained that she had been like that for ages and she did not see that changing anytime soon. With a weary shrug, she strode to the door of the bedroom, which led into the tiny sitting room, opening the door of the sitting room she stepped out into the corridor closing the door firmly behind her.
Wole strode down a narrow path, which had tall bushes rising up on either side. Because of the height of the bushes, it kept most of the path shrouded in gloom. It was not completely dark though. He could see where he was going, and since he had walked this path over a hundred times, he knew he could find his way even in the dark.
The path went on for another couple of kilometers ending at the main road. This road was the major conduit for traffic and it ran through all of Oraromi. His commute to school would include a four-kilometer trek along the road before turning off and going down another path.
Another five or ten minutes walking through some thick bushes would lead him to the front gates of the school. Some people were of the opinion that the trek was long but to him it was not. In fact, he enjoyed the walk. It afforded him the opportunity to think, especially in this first stage of the journey.
Today like most days when he walked, his thoughts were fixed on his strange dream. When the dreams first started, he felt it was a one off thing. Now it had been coming more frequently. So much so now, that sometimes there was barely two days interval between each dream. What did the damn dream mean? The flying and then suddenly plummeting; was it to his death? He had no idea.
The falling scared the hell out of him. He kept getting closer and closer to the ground in each dream. It would not be long before he struck the earth.
His troubled thoughts came to a swift halt when he realized that he had almost reached the road. Two shapes stood at the point where the path joined the road, almost hidden from view by a thick cluster of plantain leaves. A small smile curved his lips.
Tunrayo and Chike stepped out from under the shroud of plantain trees. They both had broad grins on their faces.
“You are late!!” Tunrayo said still smiling. Her face seemed to glow in the early morning light. Her orange pinafore and white cotton blouse fitted her perfectly. The socks and sandals she had on sparkled as if they had been polished to a bright hue. Her long hair was tied into a bun at the back of her head.
The senior female students were allowed to plait their hair. She however never did. When asked about it, she said her mother did not want plaiting her hair. Wole did not really believe that story.
“How long have you guys been here?” He asked smiling at the two of them.
“I got here first__obviously__” Tunrayo began grinning like a Cheshire cat. “__ chike got here about ten minutes later.”
Chike walked up to him at that moment and smacked him on the shoulder. Wole jumped startled.
“You better lets get going__ you latecomer.”
“So just because you HAPPENED to get here before me today you are posing and making Ako* bah? *Bragging, strutting, pride.
“I will be here before you tomorrow__ you wait and see.”
“Is that a challenge?” You are so on__”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Wole asked in a sardonic voice. “I will win and you know it. I am sure the only reason you got here this early was cos your mother took a cane to your behind.”
“Na you sabi!!” Chike growled striding away. Wole and Tunrayo burst into laughter and followed suit walking towards the school.
Chike chattered as they walked leaving Tunrayo and Wole to simply sigh and nod. They said little or nothing at all on these long treks. Most often Chike did most of the talking while they pitched in occasionally. Sometimes Wole could not help wondering whether Chike talked like this everywhere or simply when he was with them. He had not gotten round to asking Chike anyway and it didn’t look he would ask him today either; not with the he was carrying on.
He tuned out Chike’s voice as his thoughts were dragged inexplicably back to his dream. As usual, he had no answers to the questions his dreams evoked. His face grew pensive as he became more entrenched in his thoughts. It took a him a couple of minutes; three in total before he noticed Tunrayo’s hard gaze fixed on him.
“What??” He asked with one eyebrow raised.
“I was about to ask you the same thing.” Tunrayo said the hard look on her face not softening.
“Why do you always answer a question with a question?” Wole shot back hoping to distract her from the querying he knew would soon follow.
“Nice try___ but you and I both know that is not what is important here. What were you thinking about?”
They had fallen behind Chike and were talking in low voices, so he didn’t realize that they were not listening to him. There was a pause before Wole spoke again.
“It’s the dreams.” He said in a weary voice.
“You are still having those dreams?” She gasped shocked. “Thought you said it stopped months ago?”
“I thought they did. But they came back two weeks later.”
“Why haven’t you said anything?”
Since he did not have an answer to that, he simply shrugged. Finally noticing that they were not listening to him, Chike turned and stopped talking.
“You guys are not even listening to me__” He growled spitting out the words through clenched teeth.
Grinning from ear to ear Tunrayo walked forward patting him on the shoulder twice before walking off.
“Don’t take it too hard Chike. If you must know we hardly listen to you anyway.”
Wole burst into laughter at Tunrayo’s jib and the look on Chike’s face hardened.
“Oh come on__” Wole cried walking forward and putting his arm around Chike’s shoulder steering him towards the second path which they had finally reached. They walked into the cool gloom of the bush path shrouded by the large branches of the trees on either side of it.
They fell silent as they always did when they passed through it. There was something about the path that demanded silence when you walked on it, mercifully, it did not go too far. Already they could see the end of it, which opened onto another road.
A sigh burst from Wole’s lips as they walked. He was glad Chike’s interruption had put an end to Tunrayo’s questions. She had the unhappy knack of going on and on about things. He would not call it nagging but___ his thoughts drifted off.
They stepped out of the gloom onto a wide dirt road which led to the gates of the school about two hundred meters away. Half a dozen kiosks lay to their right under a thick cluster of teak trees. The kiosks were deserted. The owners had not opened for business yet. It was still too early.
To their left was a tree. It was larger than most of the trees around it with long, wide overlapping boughs which created a large perimeter of shade. It would have been a nice place to hang out, save for one thing. That thing was Eze. The town’s mad man.
As expected, he was crouched under the tree, his muscles tensed as if he was preparing to spring at something. He looked like a predator stalking its prey. The only problem here was there was no prey.
The brown cotton trousers he wore were torn and ragged, as was his grey shirt. His dreadlocked head was dirty. As if, he had buried his head in white sand. His skin was so black that Wole could not help wondering whether that was its true color or it was simply because of his not bathing for months.
Something about Eze made a cold shiver run down Wole’s spine each time he saw him. The way Tunrayo always edged as far as she could every time they passed his tree, he suspected she felt the same way he did. Chike on the other hand was the complete opposite. He always made it a point of duty to walk as close to Eze as possible. As if that was not bad enough he also had a habit of taunting him. Today was no exception.
“Hey!! Smelly idiot! What are you doing bent down like that?” He yelled walking forward until only six feet separated them.
“Phew!” He gasped waving a hand in front of his nose and turning his head away.
“God you smell. Didn’t your mother ever tell you to bath before you leave the house?”
“Stop it Chike!” Tunrayo yelled grabbing his arm. “You always do this each time we pass this tree. It’s not funny anymore. One of these days you are going to get into a lot of trouble.”
“Oh go away Tunrayo!” Chike scoffed. “How am I going to get into trouble? The stupid man cannot move. Look at him!”
To prove his point he stepped forward and waved his left palm mere inches from Eze’s face. Wole and Tunrayo held their breath half-expecting Eze to attack. Eze however did not move. His eyes and demeanor gave no indication that he even knew anyone was standing in front of him.
“You see? Like I said the silly man cannot move.” Sniffing in disgust, he stalked towards the school gate leaving Tunrayo and Wole staring at him with wide-open mouths.
Shivering slightly Tunrayo immediately hurried after him. Wole waited three seconds and followed. He could not help glancing back at Eze as he walked away. The hollow feeling in his stomach grew greater when he saw Eze’s dead eyes following him.
Joke stepped out of the Kekenapep (Motorized Rickshaw style vehicle) her left arm cradling the bulge of her stomach. She looked smart and pretty in a long flowing green dress with short sleeves whose length reached several inches beneath her knees.
Her hair was slicked back, tied in a bun at the back of her head. Her make up was light and so skillfully applied that unless you looked closely you would not know she was wearing any. Comfortable leather flats covered her slightly swollen feet.
The expression on her face was wan and pensive. As if, she was worried about something. She stood facing a four storey blue and white building surrounded by a five-foot tall concrete fence. The wrought iron gates that marked its entrance were opened. There was a large signboard beside the gate with the words Oraromi Crown Hospital painted on it. The words were written with red paint, making it contrast with the all white background of the board.
Taking several deep breaths, she walked through the gate heading to the sliding doors in front. The nurse’s station was the first room she came to. It was a wide room about six feet wide and ten feet long. There were several six seater chairs to her left. On her right at the extreme end was a long desk. Four nurses were seated around it rifling through hospital treatment cards. The white uniforms they wore seemed to reflect in the early morning sunlight streaming through the windows on the right wall.
One of the nurses looked up as she walked in. Her flat shoes hardly making any sound on the sparkling white terrazzo floor. As with most hospitals, there was a strong scent of disinfectant hanging in the air.
“Ah Mrs. Olorunsogo! Nice to see you. You’ve come for your antenatal check I see.”
Joke smiled at the nurse. She felt a little embarrassed that the nice woman knew her full name and only knew her first name. She was not even sure that the name she knew her by was not just a nickname. Everyone called her nurse Susan, so she did too.
“Yes I have. Hope you slept well?”
“Yes I did__ thanks for asking__” Susan said beaming at her. “If you will step over here.” She pulled a chair close to the table. Joke walked over and sank down on its hard surface with a deep sigh bursting from her lips.
The nurse brought out the sphgnanometer and quickly began to take Joke’s blood pressure readings. When she was done, she put it away. The look on her face became serious. Joke immediately became alarmed.
“Why are you looking so serious? Is something wrong? My blood pressure isn’t high is it?”
“Oh noo! Its quite normal. I was just thinking about how I was going to get you in to see the doctor.”
“Isn’t she in yet?”
“Yes she is, but she is doing her rounds.”
“Can’t I just wait?” Joke asked glancing round the near empty waiting room.
“You could__ but I want you to see her as soon as possible and get back home to rest.”
A smile widened Joke’s lips.
“It’s alright Susan, I will be fine. I am not an invalid.”
Susan smiled and gave her a wink but said nothing. There was a moment of silence before the thump of footsteps walking down the staircase behind them reached their ears.
They turned as a pretty woman in her late thirties stepped into the waiting room. She was dressed in a body hugging black dress, which reached her knees. She wore a sparkling white lab coat over the dress with black suede loafers on her feet. Behind her came a bevy of trainee nurses who wore tight blue uniforms.
Her eyes flitted around the wide waiting area eventually coming to rest on Joke. A weary smile lifted the corners of her lips a she strode forward. Joke rose to her feet as the woman stopped two feet in front of her. Smiling self-consciously Joke extended her right hand. The woman’s smile grew broader as she took Joke’s hand and shook it warmly.
“Good morning Mrs. Olorunsogo, very nice to see you. You look very well.”
“Thank you doctor.”
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No not long. I have only been here long enough to have my blood pressure taken.”
“ok__ and what was her blood pressure?” The doctor asked turning to face nurse Susan.
The doctor nodded looking pleased. “Seems you are doing good ma. Now if you would follow me, we can get the physical exam done.”
Joke nodded and followed her as she headed to her office.
Alaba sighed as he watched the students walking towards his desk to drop their notebooks. He had given them an assignment yesterday and today was the day they were due to turn it in.
From the troubled looks on some of their faces, it was obvious that some had not done theirs. That realization brought great displeasure and frustration. He could not help thinking that the same group of people who were fond of not turning their work in on time that would be guilty.
His hard gaze settled on a plump chubby cheeked youth who stood in front of him. The fearful look on his face and the way he seemed almost reluctant to drop his notebook told Alaba that he had not done his assignment.
Caleb was indeed a great puzzle. He seemed like a bright student, but was always so absent minded and disorganized. In addition, the sadness lurking deep within his eyes was impossible to ignore. Something told Alaba that his home life was circumspect.
“You didn’t do your assignment again did you Caleb?”
The boy froze looking as if he wanted the ground to open and swallow him whole. His face fell and he shook his head slowly. The hard look on Alaba’s face grew even harder. That was it! He had had it.
“Anyone who hasn’t done their assignment will be punished. I think I have been patient enough. So before I check your notes, if you know you haven’t done your assignment come to this side.” He growled pointing to his left.
Nobody moved for a few moments and then more than half of the class moved to the left. Alaba’s face fell. It was even worse than he thought. His hard gaze returned. There was nothing else for it then.
He glanced to his right. A stack of bone white canes lay on the floor, tied in a thick bunch. Leaning down he picked one up. He had never flogged a student before; well today was going to be his first time.
“Hold out your hands__” He barked striding towards them.
7 hours later
Wole stood in front of the school gate waiting for Tunrayo and Chike to turn up. Students poured out of the school compound in droves circling around him. If any of them wondered why he was standing in the middle of the road staring into space, their faces gave no indication of it.
He rubbed his palms absentmindedly. They still smarted slightly from the thrashing he had received from Mr. Olorunsogo earlier. His back too was tender. Another teacher had taken a cane to them because they were making too much noise in his class. He had to be careful not to move his backpack too much, so it would not rub against his welts too badly.
Mr. Adepeko his math’s teacher enjoyed beating the students, so being flogged by him came as no surprise. Mr. Olorunsogo’s beating shocked him. The guy had never laid a finger on any student before, so what had changed?”
“Daydreaming are we?” Tunrayo said in a droll tone.
He turned facing her smiling slightly. “What kept you? I was beginning to think you guys wanted to spend the night at school.”
“E beans?” Tunrayo shot back with a laugh speaking in Pidgin English.
“Staying in school from 8am-2pm is more than enough for me thank you very much.”
“What is more than enough for you?” Chike asked suddenly appearing beside them. Tunrayo and Wole gave him long exasperated looked before sighing and walking away.
“Hey wait__ what is more than enough?” Chike cried hurrying after them.
“Never mind Chike. Let us just get home.” Tunrayo snapped not turning around.
He sighed, the look on his face growing hard. He was on the verge of giving Tunrayo a stinging retort when he spotted the hard look on Wole’s face. Taking a deep breath, he continued walking with a glum look on his face.
His face brightened considerably when he spotted Eze the mad man crouched beneath the large tree a few feet away. He appeared frozen in time. He was in the same position he had been in when they walked by in the morning.
Smiling Chike edged towards him. He had barely taken two steps when his shoulder was seized in a viselike grip. Tunrayo furious gaze moved closer stopping just five inches away from his face.
“Don’t even think about it.” She spat out through clenched teeth.
“And why not?” Chike growled refusing to be intimidated.
“BECAUSE WE WILL SLAP YOU SO HARD YOUR HEAD WILL FALL OFF.” Wole snapped bearing down on him, looking even more furious than Tunrayo did.
He was taken back by the fury he saw on both of their faces. He regularly butted heads with Tunrayo so he wasn’t surprised by her reaction. Wole on the other hand was another matter. He usually stayed out of it when he and Tunrayo had their little squabbles. To have him support Tunrayo now came as a great surprise.
“We are serious Chike__” She growled still looking furious. “__this your fascination with Eze must stop. If you keep making fun of him the way you have been doing and he is going to attack you, mark my words.”
“Oh really__” Chike began breaking towards his right in a fast sprint heading towards Eze.
Wole and Tunrayo tore after him pulling to a halt when he stopped two feet away from Eze.
“Chike stop it!” Tunrayo yelled thoroughly incensed now.
“Oh really? And what if I decide not to stop it? You go beat me?”
Having no answer to that she simply glared at him; she couldn’t say what vexed her the most. The fact that he was stubbornly refusing to stop taunting Eze or that he was speaking in Pidgin English. The look in her eyes grew so frosty that a shiver ran down Chike’s spine.
“Stop fooling around Chike. Your obsession with Eze is getting scary.”
The look on Wole’s face was just as hard as Tunrayo’s own. Chike met their hard gazes with a defiant one of his own for a total of thirty seconds before he sighed and walked away from Eze. He turned after three steps and stuck his tongue out at him. As before, Eze’s eyes and body remained motionless. His eyes and body were fixed, focused on what he alone could see and feel.
Tunrayo sighed in relief and started after Chike. Wole gave Eze one last look and hurried after his friends. He glanced back after ten steps and was shocked to discover that Eze’s cold dead eyes were following them. His cold gaze made his heart skip a couple of beats. Steeling himself he turned and hurried after his friends with Eze’s eyes fixed on his back until he disappeared from view.
45 minutes later
Wole walked down the long narrow street leading to his house. He was alone now. Tunrayo and Chike had left him at the point where the bush path joined the main road. He sighed as he remembered the cold silence that had engulfed their ranks as they made the forty-five minute trek back home.
Tunrayo was furious with Chike. He could not say he blamed her. Chike could sometimes be as stubborn as a goat. She had barely glanced his way as they walked. The few times she did, her eyes blazed with rage. Chike returned her angry looks with defiant ones, as was his way.
He sighed again as he considered this. He had known Chike long enough to realize that he was very stubborn. If he came back to the world again, Wole was very sure he would come back as a goat.
It was the things you insisted he did not do that he loved doing. If you did not want him to do something, it was better you told him to do it. Then chances were he would not do it. He had never met anyone quite like Chike before.
The strange thing was, as annoying as he could be Wole could not help liking him. He suspected that Tunrayo also felt the same way. A smile lifted the corners of his lips as he thought this. Tunrayo was furious with Chike now, but he knew she would not be for long. Their fights hardly ever lasted more than a day or so, so he was not worried.
“You appear deep in thought. What worries you my dear boy?” A warm very pleasant voice asked rousing him from his deep thoughts.
He turned slowly, his eyes coming to rest on the wizen old man seated on a wooden bench on his right. The bench was backed against the concrete walls of the sunflower bakery, which was the only bakery Oraromi had. The old man wore long baggy trousers made out of faded Ashoke* material (expensive Yoruba ceremonial cloth). His wrinkled torso was covered by a dirty white singlet, his jaw line almost hidden by scraggy looking facial hair. The shock of white hair on his head was growing afro style.
Scattered around him were more than two dozen shoes, all in various states of repair. Directly behind him was a wooden box like container, which held needles, razors, pins, threads, bits of leather, shoe polish, and half a dozen other things, which he needed for his trade. After all a cobbler was nothing without his tools.
“Good afternoon Baba Adora.” Wole said bowing low; his bow was a sign of respect for the old and elderly in Yoruba culture.
“Good afternoon Woleayo.” Baba Adora replied looking pleased by his bow.
Wole sighed. He could not understand why Baba Adora insisted on calling him by his full name. He shrugged with a disinterested look on his face. It was probably something old people enjoyed doing.
“You look well young Woleayo. How was school today?”
“It was fine sir.”
“Hope you learned well?”
“I did my best sir.”
“Diplomatic answer__” Baba Adora said chuckling. “I like that. You are well on the way to becoming a great man.”
“Thank you sir!” Wole exclaimed looking very pleased. His smile disappeared a few moments later at Baba Adora’s next words.
“Don’t let praise get to your head. That is the first thing you have to learn. Be meek and humble. Add hard work to the mix and you will discover that the journey to success is already half done. Praise has been known to have brought the downfall of many great men so beware.”
For some strange reason, the way Baba Adora said it made dread steal into his heart. He could not dwell more deeply on the ramification of that feeling because Baba Adora was speaking again.
“You go home and rest young man. A glorious future awaits you.”
Looking a little puzzled, Wole walked away, heading towards home. Baba Adora watched him until he disappeared from view. When he could no longer see him, he turned his attention back to the shoe in his hand, which he had been stitching with a long needle and shiny black thread.
As he bent down to continue his task, he paused glancing at the small cluster of blue-black clouds gathering on the horizon. A sad somewhat fearful look stole into his eyes.
“The blue-back clouds gather once again__” He murmured, seemingly unaware that he had spoken out loud.
He continued working choking back a deep sigh. He could not allow himself to think of such things. Not now, at any rate; he considered that thought once again. NOT EVER! Thinking only brought the bad things closer. Maybe this time, the bad things would not come.
Collins and Judith
He was furious. Yeah that was really the understatement of the year. He was enraged. How could Judith do this to him? He took several deep breaths to calm himself. If he continued in this state, he could well strangle her when he saw her.
He had to reason with her and try to talk her down. To succeed he knew he had to be logical and not emotional. She clearly was not thinking straight. Their entire conversation flashed through his mind as he thought this.
“Hi baby__what’s up? Wasn’t expecting your call.”
“A lot is up Collins. I know you are not going to like what I have to say so I will just go ahead and say it. Collins I AM PREGNANT!!”
His eyes hardened as the words I AM PREGNANT flashed through his head. Maybe she was kidding and this was her idea of a sick joke. Who knew? With women there were no certainties.
As much as he enjoyed sleeping with them, he had not quite figured out how their brains worked. He could not figure out how they reasoned or if they even reasoned. In his opinion, the average woman’s mind was a control hub filled with bad wiring.
It seemed almost a travesty that the sweetest piece of equipment to pleasure a man had to be found on a woman. In many ways, he found them unworthy of such a gift. The good God sure had a weird sense of humor. On the other hand, maybe he simply got a kick out of watching women screw up men’s lives.
It took every ounce of self-control he possessed not to slap himself in the head. This sort of philosophical thinking was not solving his immediate problem. His eyes became even harder when he spotted her house at the other end of the street.
“Let me off here.” He told the okada* rider (motor cycle rider).
He quickly removed fifty naira from his pocket and paid the man before climbing off the motor cycle. He strode to her house with long purposeful strides. His jaw jutted out and hard with his displeasure.
The door to her house opened as he approached and Judith stepped out. Even as furious as he was, he could not help pausing to admire her beauty. She was the prettiest screw he had ever had. With his record with the women, that was really saying something.
She had on a blue body hugging dress, which showed off her assets. Her flawless hazel eyes were red and swollen from crying. His face that had been softening since she came out instantly hardened. He took a deep breath and continued walking.
Her face did not light up the way it usually did when she saw him. Instead, it grew even more glum and sullen. That was not a good sign. Taking a deep breath, he drew level with her.
“Hello__” He said trying to make his tone sound neutral.
“Hi.” She replied. She sounded sad but strangely determined. His heart skipped a couple of beats. Licking his dry and parched lips, he took a step closer and spoke.
“When did you find out?”
“This afternoon. My periods are never late. When I didn’t see anything for two weeks I went to check.”
“What do you mean and? There is no and. I am pregnant.”
“How far gone are you?”
“About a month and half.”
A long silence stretched on after her response. A silence Collins eventually broke.
“What do you want to do?” Collins asked after taking a deep breath.
“What do you mean what do I want to do? You are talking as if it’s my problem alone. It’s our problem Collins. Not MINE! OURS!” She spat at him.
He took another deep breath and counted to ten in his head.
“I didn’t say it was your problem alone__” He began slowly.
“But you sure as hell implied it.” Judith shot back her eyes blazing with rage.
A muscle twitched in his jaw as he struggled to control his temper. However, of course she was not done, not by a long shot.
“Awon Okunrin sha! Won ma fe doo obinrin. Ti oyun bay o, won fe sa! O le sa fun mi lai lai*
“Men! They want to sleep with women. When pregnancy ensures they will want to run. You cannot run from me__ never!!”
“Calm down Judith.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down. Admit it; you just want to run away don’t you?”
“The thought hadn’t occurred to me till a few moments ago. Now would you calm down and let us discuss this like adults?”
His voice was cold and dangerously low. There must have been something in his eyes because she immediately became silent and he could see fear steal into her eyes.
“Now that we are both CALM__” He began, stressing the calm. “What do you want to do about this?”
When she did not respond he pressed on. “You know there is only one obvious choice here?”
“Which is?” She asked looking suspicious. He took another deep breath and counted to ten before he spoke.
“You are going to have to abort the pregnancy.”
“I will DO WHAT??” She screeched bearing down on him menacingly. His eyes grew as hard as pebbles. He had had enough.
“SHUT UP YOU SILLY COW!” He roared. She jumped startled taking several steps backward. She looked at him with eyes filled with fear. The frightened look in her eyes filled him great satisfaction. Yes let her be afraid. If he frightened her well enough maybe she would get rid of the damn pregnancy and leave him free to continue with his life.
“Let me explain some things to you in case you are too stupid to figure it out on your own. I am not ready to have a child at the moment__” He ignored the pained and shocked look on her face as he continued.
“__and if you want to really honest with yourself you’d realize you are not ready to have a child either. Let us face it Judith, we are both still in school. Where are going to find the money to look after a child? What will your parents say? How will your father react? You know as well as I do how strict he is__” He paused letting his voice drift off to give her time to consider all he had said.
The tears brimming in her eyes spilt down her cheeks in long streaks. “I thought you said you loved me.” She asked. Her voice was teary and broken.
He had to fight the urge to snort. “Love? Was she for real? Girls were so dumb. A guy had stripped you down to nature’s bear essentials and just as he went for the kill; aiming to slide into you, you go and ask him whether he loves you. What in the world do you think he is going to say?
Of course he will tell you he loves you. He might even tell you that he will kill his mother for you. He would say anything to make sure you keep your legs wide open long enough for him to slake his thirst with your body. However, he did not say any of this aloud.
“Of course I love you, but we have to be realistic. We cannot afford to have you pregnant now. You have to remove it.”
A heavy silence ensured after he was done speaking. There was no more to be said.
Sighs burst from Collins lips as he walked away from Judith’s house. That had been a close one. He vowed to use protection from here on out. Dallying with a woman carelessly had its consequences. The most annoying part was the silly creatures never had the good sense to insist that their lovers use protection.
In fact, most of them preferred the skin on skin contact. He sighed again. Well he had sure learnt his lesson. No more risk taking for him anymore. A small voice in his subconscious reminded him of the numerous times he had said the same thing. He had made the same vow more times than he could count and still he found himself doing the same thing.
Ignoring the recriminating voice, his thoughts drifted back to Judith. A sense of relief threatened to overwhelm him. He could not get over his good fortune that he had been able to convince her to get rid of the pregnancy.
They had an appointment with Doctor Desmond by six pm tomorrow. His eyes narrowed as soon as he thought of Desmond. The man was a slimy character. Most of Oraromi’s residents were not that generous in their estimation of him. Quack, danger to society and a real sordid man were just some of the unsavory adjectives used to describe him.
If he were in a better place financially, he would have taken Judith to a better doctor. He had no choice now since he was desperate. A dog he hated did not deserve to be neutered by doctor Desmond. Being strapped for cash always put you in an uncomfortable situation. He knew he would have to borrow money from his mates to pay the bill.
He could not help thanking God for two things. One the good doc was cheap and two he had mates who were willing to lend a hand. He could not wait for tomorrow.
Alaba stirred the cocoa in his cup watching the milk, sugar and cocoa turn into a creamy brown liquid. His mouth watered as the sweet scent of cocoa wafted into his nostrils. Joke sat on the bed a few feet away with a wan look on her face. Her eyes kept fluttering. He knew it would not be long before she fell asleep.
“Don’t sleep yet sweetie. Drink this__” He said handing her the steaming mug of cocoa.
Her eyes fluttered and then widened as her gaze slowly focused. She took the mug from him and sat up slowly.
“I am so tired__” She murmured lifting the mug to her lips. The hot drink sliding down her throat made her a trifle less sleepy. Her dull sleepy look instantly became alert.
“Feel better?” He asked casting a worried gaze on her face.
“A little__” She began slowly. “But the pain in my sides and lower back hasn’t lessened.”
His face grew pensive as he searched his wife’s face. Then a speculative look entered his eyes.
“Do you want me to rub Aboniki* on it?” *Menthol heat balm.
“That would be nice__” She began raising a hand to stop him as he started for the wooden chest where the heat balm was kept. “__but not right now. You can give me a backrub as soon as I finish drinking my cocoa.”
He sighed sinking down onto the white plastic chair beside the mattress which was the only piece of furniture their one room self-contained apartment had. The minutes ticked by as she sipped on the creamy chocolate flavored liquid in her cup.
He watched her trying hard not to bristle with impatience, especially when he saw the pained looks of discomfort flitting across her face. The damn woman could be so stubborn. His face grew thunderous. He was so consumed by his worry and displeasure that it took him several seconds to realize she was smiling at him.
“Nothing__” She replied effecting a disinterested shrug. “I read the message your body is sending loud and clear; even if your mouth will not speak of it.”
“Really? And what message o great and mighty sage Joke is my body trying to pass across?” He asked failing to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“Never mind.” She said with a loud chuckle as she leaned her head back and poured what remained of the cocoa down her throat. Placing the cup on the linoleum-covered floor, she carefully lay on her side with her back facing him.
“I am ready.”
He practically leaped out of the chair, retrieved the aboniki from the chest at the corner of the room, and strode back to the bed where he knelt down beside his wife.
Taking a bit of the strong smelling cream on his palm he gently rubbed it on her lower back and sides. In a couple of seconds, the whole room was reeking with acerbic scent of aboniki.
“Feel any better?” He asked giving her a worried look. His heart skipped a couple of beats when she did not respond. Leaning forward, he peered at her face over her right shoulder. The worried look on his face quickly turned to one of love and affection when he realized she was fast asleep her chest rising and falling evenly.
Sighing, he took the aboniki back to the chest and returned to his wife, stretching out beside her on the large mattress.
“Sweet dreams.” He murmured his eyes beginning to flutter as he stared at the asbestos ceiling; within minutes he too was fast asleep, their even breathing the only sounds in the quiet room.
Wole sat up abruptly, barely managing to keep the squeal of terror behind his lips. His body was still, frozen as he struggled to calm his racing heart. It was the same dream. It was always the same dream. Flying and then plummeting to the earth at breakneck speeds.
This dream however was somewhat worse than the others were. It felt so real. With the others, he had always been able to tell that he was dreaming. It was not the case with this one. However, that was not all, with the others he always woke before he hit the ground. With this one, he felt the hard slam as he hit the ground.
The sharp pain that came with impact was only just fading from his chest. He rubbed his chest experimentally. It stung for a few minutes and the pain disappeared completely.
Sweat dribbled from his forehead. He rubbed it off as a frown hardened his normally pleasant features. The dreams were getting worse. It was probably time to tell someone. His mind scanned through half a dozen names, but he could not think of anyone of them he was even remotely interested in telling.
His mum would probably listen, but she was likely to insist he went to see the church pastor, and that was something he was not keen on. The man made him uneasy.
He thought of Tunrayo and Chike, Tunrayo would listen, but would be frightened by the new development. That he was most certain of. Chike would dismiss it and probably suggest that he was having flights of fancy. That was something he knew he could most certainly do without.
Then there was Alaba his geography teacher. Wole could not understand why he even thought of the man. It was not as if they were that close. Something on his insides just told him that the man would listen if he told him.
The faint glimmer of light trickling in from his open window caught his attention. It was time to get ready for school. As if in agreement, he heard his mother’s loud footsteps in the kitchen. Stifling a sigh with the palm of his left hand, he rose to his feet.
Tee-junction en-route to school
Chike and Tunrayo were already waiting for him. His eyes widened when he saw Chike. This was a first. Chike here before him, two days in a row? Who would have thought that was even possible?
Tunrayo’s soft smile and Chike’s broad grin greeted him as he stopped two feet away from them.
“Why the grins?” He asked, even though he already knew what their answers would be.
“You are surprised Chike is here before you aren’t you?” Tunrayo asked still smiling.
“How did you know?” The grin on Wole’s face was just as broad as the one on Chike’s own.
They shared amused glances for a total of ten seconds before bursting into laughter. They laughed for a long while before their mirth faded away slowly.
“We best be on our way__” Wole began still chuckling. Tunrayo nodded but did not speak. Her eyes were dancing with her amusement. They all turned heading down the long dusty road, which led to the school. Chike as usual brought up the rear.
The walk to the school felt quick for some reason. As if it took almost no time at all, the reason for this was quite clear. Chike was entertaining them with his jokes and tall tales. Tunrayo was not doing that bad herself. She pitched in every now and then with her own quips.
Wole for the most part was very silent. He gave the usual perfunctory response when it was needed but was otherwise silent. If they noticed he seemed withdrawn they gave no indication of it. Tunrayo did give him some pointed looks at some points. That was usually when Chike came up with another joke and instead of laughing she caught him staring into space. Each time the looks came however, a broad smile from him disarmed her and quickly put her at ease.
The big teak tree to their left came into view. Eze was crouched in front of it as usual. Chike’s eyes brightened instantly when he saw Eze. Before either Tunrayo or Wole could stop him, he was racing towards the tree.
“CHIKE STOP IT THIS INSTANT!!!” Tunrayo yelled in fury. Chike being his usual self paid her no mind.
Wole was on the verge of tearing towards Chike to give him a smack on his face, but for some strange reason he could not get his limbs to move. There was something about the way Eze was crouched today that did not seem quite right.
It was as if he had a dark evil sort of force hanging over him. Tunrayo seemed to sense it too. He could see that from the way her eyes widened, shinning with fear and unease, not to mention the way her nostrils flared. She also did not attempt to move closer to either Eze or chike.
Eze gave no indication that he saw Chike or even noticed him standing there. Emboldened chike took another step closer.
“Mad fool! You do stink don’t you? I am sure even your own parents will be unable to look at you now.”
Caught in the flow of his own diatribe, he did not notice Eze’s eyes suddenly focus.
“Yeah I am talking to you, you mad sick freak.” Chike spat at him coming closer still.
What happened next shocked all three children, chike most of all. The violence of it made a high-pitched scream burst from Tunrayo’s lips.
Eze leaped forward driving hard blows into Chike’s face. The blows flung Chike to the floor like a stone with terrified screams bursting from his wide-open mouth. Hitting the ground hard, he spun around raising tiny clouds of dust into the air as he struggled to crawl away.
Before he could however, Eze lunged at him grabbing him by his shoulders and pinning him to the ground with his much heavier body. This brought Wole out of the stupefied horror that gripped him, He started towards the pair not really sure what he was going to do to help chike.
He pulled to a halt after a couple of steps when Eze ripped off Chike’s uniform exposing his right shoulder. Before their horrified eyes, he sunk his teeth into Chike’s shoulder easily breaking his skin. Chike’s piercing scream was like a knife digging into both of their hearts.
Where the dark things are
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