The internet was a place where the good, the bad and the crazy resided. Whenever Flo tried to interact with friends and followers on the virtual world of the web, she attempted to sift away the crazy from the normal to the best of her efforts. She limited her surfing to reading entertainment news, funny memes and viewing pictures of the latest fortunes and achievements which her friends were willing to display online. She didn’t really care to read about all the other weird stuff like the one about a woman who gave birth to a goat.
Despite her efforts to avoid all the bizarre things that were posted on the internet, the viral video about a man who was caught with a woman’s severed head in his trunk kept popping up in her newsfeed. Immediately she saw the gorey picture that featured the post, she logged out. She had no interest in seeing anything like. Flo wandered why some Nigerians derived joy from sharing these disturbing, gorey, probably fake videos.
The glimpse of that featured image freaked her out more than she expected. Each time she closed her eyes, she saw the thing in a bucket. bloody, eyes popping out, torn flesh. She had glimpsed at it for less than a second, yet it had sunken into her sub-consciousness. Negative things were always so impressionistic. That was why she prefered not to even know about them. She didn’t even want to reason if it was real or fake.
In a matter of seconds, Flo heard a crash from the parlor which startled her. That post must have really put her on edge. She rushed out of the room to identify the clamour only to find her cousin, Ene with Ojone, a girl who braided hair at a Salon not far from her Uncle’s house. Her cousin stood looking exhausted. There were cuts and bruises on every part of her body. She must have been in some sort of fight because she struggled to control her breathing. At Ene’s feet was Ojone sprawled on the floor, unconscious. She was also bruised.
“What happened?” Flo asked. She and Ene had been aquainted with Ojone. The girl had a special talent of knowing everything about everything. She really could talk. Flo always went to Fyne Hair Salon where she worked (whenever she had nothing better to do) to hear gossip about this Madam and that Oga. No one ever knew Ojone’s sources but Flo enjoyed listening to her because of the vigour which she used in telling the stories. Her eyes and shoulders always moved in a particular rhythm and her tone rose and fall as if she were singing. She would emphasize with “See ehn…?” whenever she wanted to drive a point home and Flo and her cousin would just laugh at her impossible but interesting stories.
“What happened? Did you people get in a fight?” Flo asked again.
Ene finally calmed herself and then started narrating the story.
“Have you watched that video, that one where they found…”
“A head.” Flo completed the statement with a straight face. It seemed that this single viral video had to do with everything. It was like a virus. No matter how she tried to avoid it, it managed to show itself.
“Yes. That one. You know Esther?” Ene continued. “She lives behind Mahmood’s shop near the market. She is Ojone’s sister. You hardly see her around but she works at Protea hotel in town. Ojima was gisting us a while back that this rich man wanted to marry Esther. That he was building a house in Port Harcourt where Esther, Ojone and himself would move to once they got married.”
“I remember.” Flo said.
“Well, Esther travelled some days back with the man to see the house and his family and Ojone had not heard from Esther for a while. Even though Ojone did not hear from Esther she didn’t worry about it. She said her sister usually travelled and came back home safe so she didn’t think too much. That was until…” Ene’s eyes started to tear up and her voice shook.
“When I went to make my hair this morning, Emeka came to the shop with Obinna. They were arguing if that video was fake or not. Ojone then asked to watch it. She wanted to give her own verdict. Hmmn. All of a sudden, she started screaming, crying. She said that the severed head belongs to her sister. She said she recognised the man’s car, that it had dropped her sister in the house several times. I even had to hold her because Ojone started going crazy. She scattered the whole salon that she must kill herself today. The worst thing was that people were just looking. Some pulled out their phones and started filming her. I had to hold her down and I asked Pharmacist to give her anything that will make her sleep. I had to force her to swallow the drug. See my body. She beat me like this as she was struggling.” Tears were running down Ene’s face. “Apart from Esther, she doesn’t have any other family. Kai!”
Flo was dumb founded. As creepy as that video was, could it really be true? Could the casualty truly be so close to home? Flo prefered when ritual killings and stuff like that were a stuff of Myth. She didn’t want to believe that she lived in a world where such cruelty existed.
“Are you sure that is her sister? Maybe the video is fake.” That was all Flo wished. She hoped that it was false because a world like this was scarier than any ghost or ghoul or monster that lurked in any shadow. These ritual killers could be any friendly face, the terrorists were relentless, fearless. They were demons that couldn’t be exorcised. And the scariest part was that they were real. Flesh and blood and not hesitant to spill blood.
“I hope it is fake, Flo. I pray it is. If it’s really Esther that is in that video then which of us are safe?”
Flo did not know. She looked to the sleeping girl and saw the terror that she must have experienced by seeing her sister’s severed head. Her heart hurt from trying to conceive the pain.
Later that day, Max called her. “How are you Flo?” He said.
“I’m haunted. To be honest.” Since Ene had told her the story, she couldn’t get it off her mind. She had this uncanny fear of everything. She off loaded everything to Max about the video and Ojone and Esther and Max just listened patiently.
“I am so afraid Max. I’m afraid to live in such a world. I’ve been hoping that this entire episode was just one of the usual internet fake news, that what was in that video was a hoax, that Ojone didn’t see clearly. That her sister would come back home tomorrow and the world would finally feel sane again.”
“It’s true.” Max sounded solemn. “The world we live in is corrupt. Humans are capable of unfathomable evil. We might want to ignore that part of life but it exists. There are psychopaths and ritual killers and terrorists and murderers. These monsters are actually clothed in mortal flesh. There are people who strip inheritances from helpless mothers and children and people who sabotage businesses and people who terminate the appointments of others in working places. There are bullies who have caused helpless people to take their lives. And we wonder about their motive. But this is their nature and they populate the world. Even the smallest of us are capable of the greatest evil. That is why it is so essential to let your good be dominant. Let the darkness not take over.”
“You are always talking in parables. First it’s the light and now the darkness. But you are right though, that is the world we live in. We can only hope and pray that we don’t fall victims to this darkness. That no other person falls victim. But I just can’t help thinking that you’ve fallen victim to the darkness of this world before. I’m just guessing, but from the way you talk, there must be something.”
“Let’s say that I was the villain. It happened a long time ago. I prefer not talk about it so much. But in the end, I let my pride to take the better of me. I made a mistake that I could never take back and it haunts me forever.”
He was silent for a while. “I’m supposed to make you feel better, not worse. We learn from mistakes. The truth is that I did something terrible all those years ago but I got over it. The point is that, though evil surrounds us, maybe it is even within us, we don’t need to let it control us or scare us. Nothing can harm you Flo. No one can hurt you. Just be aware that you might live in a scary world but you are protected.”
“By the light?” Flo said.
“Yes. And by me. Don’t let some story scare you. If anyone wants to touch you, they will have to pass through me.”
Flo giggled. “Yeah right.”
They ended the call and Flo lay down to sleep. She realised that talking with Max removed the disturbing topic from her head. But rather than removing it entirely, her musings were replaced by what Villainy Max must have committed all those years ago. So he was not Mr. Perfect after all?
Max usually let everything flow out. He never hid anything, He said it how he saw it. He had obviously excluded the details because whatever he had done must have been so terrible. Flo’s curiosity had taken the better of her. One way or the other, she intended to find out the secret of Maximus Akpan.