Fiction

No Thoroughfare: A Short Story by Bunmi Oyinsan

Last night I dreamt but it was really a nightmare. I found my children, my husband and I stranded on our old street. The street is actually a crescent but somehow whoever named it had managed to overlook that fact.

I was courted on the street. I had a friend whose uncle lived there. On the day I met my husband, I had gone with my friend to visit her uncle when the man I married who was then a young upwardly mobile accountant spotted me as he drove past. I guess the setting, I mean the street had something to do with the way our romance blossomed. It was the kind of street where people could not help but fall in love in. It was dotted left and right with quaint three bedroom bungalows, all the same design. It is one of those settlements that were built in the sixties soon after independence by government and sold to members of the emerging middle class.

When we met there, my lover and I, most of the houses were pastel colored like candy. I have memories of soft pink, sky blue and pale yellow exteriors fenced in by nothing else but hedges of hibiscus, pitanga, and sometimes croutons. There were also trees; lots and lots of trees: breadfruit trees, pear trees, Indian Almond, mangoes. Name it, some one had planted it on our street!

When we started courting, we decided to make it our street even though neither of us lived there or thought we might one day do so. We used to go strolling down that quaint little street hand in hand on moonlit nights. They must have been moonlit nights, otherwise it would have been too dark to stroll in even for us, as there were no streetlights. Although I do not now remember seeing the moon: the world was in my lover’s eyes.

By one of those rare and amazing turns of event, my friend’s uncle’s house came up for rent around the very same period when we decide to get married. It was a sure sign from God that our union was blessed. So as it turned out, we were married into the very street on which we met! It was perfect – those first few years in our ideal little home. We did the inside up in floral patterns, using shades of green, yellow and beige. The house was lucky for us: my lover; my husband’s practice thrived so well I did not need to work after I graduated from Medical school. On the home front, I rewarded the house by re-designing the garden. I planted imported ferns; all the shades of Pride of Barbados, various Lilies and tried my hands out at on one or two orchids. I also planted vegetables at the back.

Then our neighbor to the right went and got himself shot. We went to commiserate with the widow but her sorrowful eyes made us guilty for being without sorrow. As we mouthed our words of commiseration, I could not even remember what her husband looked like except that he was old. About forty. Funny how when you are in your twenties everyone over thirty appears ancient.

From what I managed to pick up, the man had got himself killed during one of the political riots in Ondo State. Some of the mourners talked about him as if he was some kind of hero. He was from Ondo State and had insisted on going to see how his old mother was faring during the political unrest. I remember feeling a little peeved at the idea of his corpse being brought back not just to Lagos but to our Street! What was he doing in Ondo State during the riots anyway? Why had he waited in Lagos where it was safe like anyone with even half a brain should have till the riots were over? What had he proved by unnecessarily placing his life at risk and dragging this gloom to our street?

As if that was not bad enough, a few months later, robbers seemed to suddenly discover our street. We had started considering buying the house, when two houses to our left, the master of the house also went and got himself sliced into shreds. It was as if his assailants meant to make *suya out of him. Right there on our street!

So we checked out. We needed to breathe and we had serious plans to breed. We upped and packed and moved out of that neighborhood into a safer one on the Island. Although the move was a move up (and not just because we moved into deluxe flat on the first floor of a high-rise) the break was not easy because of our love for the street and the work we had put into our little house. I softened the desertion by saying goodbye to every room, indeed every wall of our old bungalow.

There were very few trees in our new neighborhood. There were gardens too but you had to gain access into the fenced enclaves before you could enjoy them. But what it lacked by way of trees and gardens it made up for with the sea and the beach.

Wide expanse of white sand stretching into infinity, we imagined as my husband and I strolled hand in hand along the beach at nights. The gentle lapping sounds of the wave provided the perfect backdrop as we re-avowed our undying love.

” I only want to grow old knowing you would always be there for me.”

“I want to give you the very best of everything money can buy.”

“I want to have children with you.”

“And grand children too.”

We pledged, intoxicated by the ambience of our unfathomable ally – the sea.

Unfortunately high-rises grow a lot faster than trees. Suddenly like an exotic fruit, banks were in season. Fiam! Bang! Phew! They sprang up everywhere you looked. Mortgage banks in concrete skyscrapers, Merchant banks housed in steel skyscrapers, commercial banks in glass skyscrapers. Name it – they sprang by the magic of the new banks on our Island. Soon the island could no longer contain them. So they started growing on our beach.

The sea was not amused. Soon she took to visiting us in our houses.

In my nightmare, I dreamt my husband, children and I were caught on a petrol queue at a station on the express way which runs perpendicular to our old street. Just why that neighborhood? I do not know because I have not been back to our old street since we moved. I hear it’s not the kind of place to go socializing in anymore.

Anyway, in my nightmare there was yet another fuel shortage. And like fuel shortages in real life, nobody knew why it had come, and nobody cared why. We all just got in our cars and made for the petrol stations, bent on squeezing the very last drop of the black gold into our car even if the whole country grinds to a halt.

I guess dreams are weird because in real life we have no business going to queue for petrol. We have two drivers who save us such hassles. Everywhere you looked, there were cars. So I turned right and noticed we were at a point on the queue where our old street joined the express. Turning to my husband, I whispered to him because I did not want the other drivers in the cars milling around us to hear. I whispered: “look dear, do you remember there’s a petrol station on the street behind our old street?”

“Yes, but…” He started to reply.

“I don’t think any of these people know about it,” I explained.

I managed to convince him. So he went begging, threatening and berating the other drivers who were blocking us till eventually we earned the space to detour into our old street.

We could hardly recognize our old street as we swung our *Tokunboh BMW (7 series, army green, complete with bulletproof windows for Lagos streets), into it at full speed. We were ever so fearful the others on the queue might suddenly notice we had found a way out. As we swung into the street, we hit a huge pothole. Actually it was more of a gully, not just a pothole, right in between the church and the mosque on our old street. My husband swore under his breath as he maneuvered the car out of the ditch.

“I don’t remember the Church looking so big.” I wondered aloud.

“That’s because it wasn’t” he replied “It’s been rebuilt.”

Of course. The church was now huge and tall with an imposing cross stretching into the heavens farther than the eyes could see. It seemed almost entirely covered in stained glass windows with appropriate icons of Christianity designed on them.

“And the mosque too. It’s been renovated.” I turned right taking in the magnificence of the marble exterior. Its domed roof was painted in gold as well as the crescent standing on it.

“What’s that?” My son pointed and my eyes followed his finger and rested on an indecipherable structure.

“I don’t know. But I think it used to be a school,” I explained.

“Still is,” said my older daughter, “I can see some students wearing uniforms hanging on that mango tree.”

She was right. The structure stood slanting to one side and had cracks that were visible as we approached it. The little paint that was still left on it was peeling and from that distance seemed wet like tears streaming down the face of the structure. The roof had a few new corrugated iron sheets that gleamed in stack contrast to the rusty ones, giving the building the appearance of a bald headed drunk. We were all certainly repelled by this school and were too anxious about getting petrol to find its drunk appearance amusing.

Then we noticed that there were no other houses on the street or so it looked at first. The whole street looked like one long stretch of fence topped with barbed wire which was interspersed with sheets of iron.

“Where are the gardens and pastel colored houses?” I wondered silently.

“They must be hidden by the fences.” My husband said almost as if he had suddenly regained the ability to read my mind again. Something we had not been able to do since we both became so busy contending with keeping heads afloat in our new neighborhood.

We heard a bell peal excitedly. We maintained a leisurely speed. Just as we approached the school gate, it spilled throngs of students in tattered green and various shades of white uniforms like vomit. They must have been pressing on the gate from behind. The noise was deafening and as they ran, chased by their mates in play (or war, who knows?) my husband slammed on his brakes narrowly missing one of the running boys.

Like one body, the crowd of students turned and advanced on us.

“Quickly. Roll up your windows!” I had the presence of mind to instruct the children as we had been forced to turn the air conditioning off when our Tokunboh car started overheating on the petrol queue. My toddler started screaming as the crowd surrounded us, totally blocking out the daylight. They hummed like bees, banging on the doors, windows, bonnet and roof of the car. Some were smiling, genuinely admiring the car, others had sinister smiles on their faces as they ran their hands over the windows, while others leered at us. One of them pressed her lips against the windows on my side of the car making lewd patterns.

“What do you want?” my husband and I screamed simultaneously. When they did not answer, he started to honk his horn. When that did not work, he revved the engine. That did the trick as these creatures started falling off our car. Seeing the effect the raised engine had on them, I begged my husband to move the car.

“You’re right. It’s either us or them,” he said as the car jerked forward throwing off the few students who still clung to it. The others who had already dropped off were forced to the sides of the road and they formed a kind of cortege as we sped through them aiming to make an exit at the other end of the crescent.

“Thank God!” I said, looking back to see if they were giving chase. But they were all smiling sheepishly as they started to stroll leisurely after our car.

“They might have killed us! God, I thank you oh!” I jubilated as my husband turned the corner of the crescent at full speed only to slam on his brake just in time to avoid smashing into a brick wall that sealed off the other end of the road. I gasped as the children let out heart-rending screams.

The wall was un-plastered. It was tall, with jagged pieces of broken glass lining the top. Worst of all some sadist had written in a rather uneven scrawl. NO THOROUGHFARE in a red substance that dripped as it was still wet.

My husband rammed the gear into reverse meaning to run right through the length of the street in reverse but hard as he tried the car would not budge because the creatures had somehow gained on us. They formed a human chain around the car and they held it tightly down.

I woke up screaming and sweating. I got out of bed, knelt down and thanked God it was only a dream. I was surprised and amazed at myself because I continued to shiver. I sternly reassured myself that my dreams rarely come true. Or do they?

*Barbecued meat
*Colloquial name for imported second hand luxury goods from Europe

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