The Strange Customer

Welcome to another FlashFictionFriday!!! Last week I was unable to upload because my service provider was down, and it took two extra days to get it back up. Sorry about that. How did your week go? Amazing, I hope? Well, sit back and relax with this short piece.

Business was good but Lola couldn’t say the same for her legs. They were swollen and she could testify that her numb muscles had gotten used to the hot aboniki balm she used to massage them because it never really worked anymore.

Barely concealing the limp in her walk, she made her way across the busy platform to table number four and slapped on the plastic smile of a waitress.

“Hi. I’m Lola, what’s your order?”

Five long fingers with equally long nails rapped on the shiny cedar surface of the table in an orderly staccato.

“Order. What happened to the Order?”

Lola traced the hands to the face but it was concealed with an oversized red baseball cap with an “O’Neil” inscription. The low lighting of the ample restaurant did little to illuminate the other features of the stranger.

The music at the background sprung to life with “Fia” by Davido and a handful of patrons gave a loud whistle of approval.

“That’s my question Sir, what’s your order?”

“The order is perfect. We made it ourselves. The timing is right.” The man objected forcefully, almost spitting on her.

Lola was taken aback by the man’s behaviour. But then it suddenly clicked and she felt bad. The restaurant, though quite top notch was normally frequented by the low of the society because of the subsidized price of food and its known advantage of quantity with quality. The bricklayers of the industrial layout beside the restaurant who wanted to reload their strength with hefty wraps of ‘fufu’ and vegetable soup with orishirishi were always trooping in. Surely, he was one of the illiterate ones. She finally understood his difficult in comprehension.

“What I meant is what would you like to eat?” She rephrased softly.

“Eat? What we eat? They don’t have it.” The man mumbled, having an inner conflict within himself.

“You can go through our menu. We have assorted.”

“What’s that?”

Lola gestured to the laminated paper on the table. The man picked it up gingerly and gazed at it for a while, occasionally chuckling and growling. Unexpectedly, he slammed it back on the table and focused on Lola -though his face still remained hidden, she could feel the coldness emanating from them.

“Surprise me!” He gritted.

Lola shivered at the intensity and disappeared into the confines of the kitchen in a flash. This was not her first time of coming across strange, weird men who were very assertive and hostile but this particular one, took her off the element. Trying to push the encounter out of her mind, she focused on quickly organizing a quick ‘semo’ and ‘ukazi’ soup with lots of protein.

By the time, she was back with the order, she was met with an empty chair. What?

“Amara,” Lola called on her colleague prancing by.

“Kini?” Amara asked, arms akimbo.

“Did you see the man on table four? Did you see him go out?”

Amara looked at the table and squeezed her face in thought. “Which man?”

Lola’s heartbeat lurched into a full jazzbeat, and it took a lot to keep the tremble out of her voice. “That man na? The one with the red cap?”

“I didn’t notice. Maybe he left, probably didn’t have money to pay. At least he has common sense. See those four nincompoops sitting at table ten, this is their fourth time of buying on credit, and they keep saying ‘Bill am for salary, we don tell Oga’. When end of month come, how much would they have for family upkeep and their poor wives and children would be suffering at home. May God have mercy.” She finished and cat-walked away.

Lola still gripped the tray tightly, her mind faraway from Amara’s story and the four nincompoops who were presently singing loudly to Lil kesh’s ‘Hola at your boy’. Was that man just a figment of her imagination or did a strange man with a red baseball cap seat on table number four? Did he leave? Or did he disappear? Did anyone else see him? Or was it just her?

“Lola? Are you fine?”

Lola snapped out of her reverie to peer at her colleague, Sam.

“Yeah,” she replied halfheartedly.

“Are you sure, you’ve been standing here and staring into space. Anything the matter?”

“No, I was just wondering were customer four went to.”

“The man with the red cap?”

Lola whipped at Sam with wide eyes, “You saw him too.”

Sam look confused, “Yeah? He left in a hurry. Didn’t even wait for me to give him the complimentary ‘See you nextime’ before running off.”

“Oh.” Lola felt her heartbeat return to normally and she could finally breathe well.

“His loss,” She said to Sam with a shrug and returned to the kitchen with the untouched tray.

***

The restaurant officially closed by ten but today, it was extended to eleven pm, and Lola found herself trudging the lonely streets of Port Harcourt solo. With an earbud in her ear, she eased her mind off with the sound of Jon Bellion’s ‘Overwhelming’ while keeping the other ear free for the sounds of incoming vehicles. Having condition herself that way for a long period, both ears did their work flawlessly.

The streets were dark and extremely creepy. With the thought of this, her mind ricocheted back to the strange man that visited earlier. Lola groaned. When you find yourself in a scary situation, your mind would look for encounters to scare you more, she thought.  The man was harmless. At least it wasn’t just her that saw him, Sam did. Like he said, the man was in a hurry, that’s why he left. No big deal.

There was literally no cabs or keke napeps moving by except the occasional private vehicles, probably returning from work because of the heavy traffic downtown. She could hear the impatient honks of car horns and frustrated quarreling floating from the Eliozu Bridge behind her and she reveled in the comforting sound of human voices, clearly not anticipating the dark lonely stretch of road that lay before her, with conspicuous caravans that always hid hoodlums, ready for the next victim that crossed their part.

Crossing to the pedestrian walk at the partition of the road, she forged on, passing the uncanny slaughter market, the myriad of plazas struggling for recognition, the couple of filling stations splayed across both sides of the road and a host of other attractions, she could only long to participate in someday.

When she reached her street junction, her climaxing heartbeat slowed down and she loosened her tight clasp on the pepper spray hidden in her purse bag. The familiar sighting of the abokis’ wooden cubicle and the cluster of other shops she had grown up to love, gave her a blanket of additional warmth and security. She relaxed herself and even began humming as she made the last lap to her house, her mind jumping on different subjects matters that interested her, and an unconscious lazy smile marred her face. Then she heard it.

It wasn’t loud, but sounded stuffed. Lola paused and removed the earpiece from her ear, she needed both ears to be sure of what she was hearing. Then she heard it again. The heavy sobs and whimper of a pained soul. The sound seemed to be emanating from a dark corner of the street, in between Felicia’s Hair Salon and Aunty Fola’s tailoring shop. The strong urge to walk away and ignore rose up strongly but Lola pushed it aside. She was in her street now, not on the highway, for all she knew, it could be a lost child or a raped girl, maybe Aunty Kike’s daughter that survived a raped attempt the previous year, and the system was bad enough to release the man who still visited the street occassionally. At this thought, the sobs sounded like the girl, Tinu.

Lola’s legs began to move before she could re-think her decision and by the time she knew it, she was standing at the darkened spot, with her hand tightly gripping the pepper spray in her purse bag, just in case. Readjusting her eyes to the darkness, she picked out a faint blue glow squared up in the corner like a hunched figure. The girl was trying to call for help.

“Tinu?” Lola whispered firmly.

The sobs stopped immediately.

“Tinu, its Lola. Why are you here crying? Where is your mother?”

“Eze nwaanyi would kill me,” the voice sounded nothing like Tinu and Lola took two steps back. Her calm heart started racing again.

“Ezinne lọ́tá m oooo!!” The voice rose up in a shrill cry. The hairs on Lola’s arms stood and goosebumps racked her skin.

The blue glow straightened up and crawled out of the corner.  Lola shrieked and switched on her phone torch. What she saw made her double up and crash to the ground.

It was boy. A very strange boy with a translucent skin that emanated a blue glow. He was sweating and shaking in white jumper shorts and a blue sweater. His eyes were teary and his forehead gathered perspiration. He raised a shaky hand towards Lola, who was having a panic attack where she lay.

“Eze ahụ na ndị mmụọ ọjọọ ya abịawala. Help us!” The boy whispered with fervency.

“Enye ama ada Ezinne, eze nwaanyi would kill me!” The boy panicked.  Raising his voice heavenward, he screamed, “Ezinne lọ́tá m oooo!!!”

A flash of lightning thundered across the opaque night skies and the clouds rumbled. Lola shrieked and bolted from the ground, running into her street, her swollen feet long forgotten. Twisting the key into the lock, she ran inside her four by four self-contain and locked the door, heaving against the metal clamp.

“Eze mmuo abiala” The boy’s shrilled voice sounded faint but strong.

“Beware, he comes in the form of man. Obatosu! Enter and scatter. He is now one with man, beware!”

The tirade carried on far into the night, Lola was ripped of any form of sleep as the lost boy kept screaming about an Eze nwaanyi who was going to kill him, a missing Ezinne taking by a wicked Eze mmuo. And as dawn was birthed, and Lola fluttered her eyes in sleep, she couldn’t help but wonder if the lost boy had any connection with the strange man who visited the restaurant.

Published by Obianuju

Beezy Reading

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