Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Soul Drug by Ethan Regal

Chi-Chi’s boyfriend brings home a wonder drug that allows people to swap minds, but they do not appreciate its dangers; by Ethan Regal.

In a few minutes Obi would be back from work. I try not to get too comfortable watching Aurora on Telemundo as I've got a pot of rice on the stove. If Obi comes home famished only to discover a plate of burnt rice and stew, things will not go down well. Like my mother would say, a hungry man is an angry man. So I keep checking the screen of my phone for the time.

Just when I walk into the kitchen, I hear the clacking sound of the door unlock. "Honey," says Obi in a beatific tone, which sends a smile across my face. It's the tone he uses whenever he has a gift for me. A thousand thoughts run through my mind as I anticipate what he has. He ambles into the kitchen with his brown eyes flickering with excitement. Wearing a broad grin on his face as he dances his way towards me. He says to me, "I found something you'd love."

Obi bends down to plant a kiss on my forehead. He stares into my eyes long enough for me to ask, "What is it?"

Relishing the attention, he says, "Wait here." I observe as he scampers out of the kitchen. I take the opportunity to dish our meal.

When I walk out of the kitchen, I almost drop the plates at the sight of the bong in his hands. "You told me you threw that away," I snap. Setting the plates on the wooden table, I mutter, "You promised me you'd never do drugs."

"Hold on," he mumbles from the couch where he sits, flicking his index finger up in the warm still air of the room. "I found something that will blow your mind." He pats his hand on the space next to him, beckoning me to sit. "Tonight you're going to see yourself through my eyes."

Folding my arms across my chest, I narrow my eyes at him. "What are you talking about?"

As I amble closer to him, I observe as his shivering hand digs into his trousers' pocket. He produces a diminutive plastic bag with something dark inside. "Chris and I tried this drug," he says. The name Chris sends a tremor through me causing my insides to flame with anger. I roll my eyes at him. Chris is always Obi's excuse for trying out drugs. The night Obi spent thinking he was a pig, he blamed that on Chris. It was Chris who introduced him to LSD the night he kept saying he saw a genie smiling at him from the corner of our bedroom. As the plastic bag dangles in his hand, Obi says to me, "It's called the soul drug." He chuckles and translates it in Igbo, "Ha na-akpọ ya ọgwụ mkpụrụ obi."

Lowering my eyes at him, I shake my head and say, "No, thank you."

"This is the only way you can see yourself the way I see you. You don't like your reflection, you don't like your pictures, but you haven't seen yourself through my eyes," he says.

Growing up, people would ask me, "Chi-Chi, don't you eat?" They would furrow their brows with their forehead creased and say, "You're too skinny. Are you well?" Nobody believed that I ate a lot. These people saw slenderness as a sign of illness and chubbiness as opulence or good health. People would look at my thin arms, my narrow waist and conclude that I was starving. My main concern has never been my weight. My breasts are like mosquito bites and my buttocks are flat. If only I could have massive breasts and curvy buttocks like the girls back in university or the girls at work. One would mistake me for a man if I shaved the hair off my head.

Obi's attraction towards me is yet a mystery. A tall handsome man like him could get any girl. Whenever I see girls staring at him, those girls with their perky breasts and enormous hips, sadness washes over me. The day will come when a voluptuous woman will walk past Obi and he'll forget my existence.

I take the space next to him and he holds the bong in front of me. He instructs me to inhale and hold my breath for about thirty seconds. "Does it have any side effects?" I ask him.

"No, it's safe," he mumbles, wearing a barely perceptible smile. As his long fingers struggle with the lighter, he says, "Hold your breath until you feel the pins and needles."

I place my nose on the bong and take a whiff, unfortunately I can't swim so taking a deep breath and holding it is a chore. I fight myself from laughing as Obi curses quietly.

"Inhale!" clamours Obi as his thumb burns from the lighter while I am failing at it. He tries again, reminding me to take a deep breath and keep breathing. However he refuses to complain or quit. Obi lights the bong again and I take a long sniff.

"Are you feeling the pins and needles?" asks Obi, wearing a very ebullient grin on his face. His eyes are wide open and his cheeks are high up his face. He says to me, "Don't exhale. Wait for me. We'll swap breaths." He lights the bong and takes a long whiff.

Pins and needles hover all over my body, motioning everywhere within me. My belly is churning and it appears my lunch is rushing its way up my throat. Just then, Obi cups my face and we breathe into each other's mouth.

After that is total blackness.

"Have I gone blind?" I ask, groping the air around me. My voice is different. Deep like a man's voice. This drug must have sent me into some kind of dream where everything is dark.

"No, you haven't," says a feminine voice. This voice sounds familiar. As if I once heard it in a dream. This soft voice says, "NEPA has taken light."

A bright blue light shines from nowhere. Then I see a slim girl holding on to this light. She walks out of the house with this light. Suddenly, I am stuck here in the dark. The short roar of the generator comes on, then another roar, and then a loud shaky roar comes on lasting long enough for someone to change over. The fluorescent light on the ceiling shines bright and I see myself open the front door. The sound of the roaring generator outside muffles into the house until my image closes the door.

I lift my hands and I find Obi's big hands. We must have swapped bodies. "So, what do you think?" asks Obi inside my body, he speaks with my voice. My voice sounds silky, not like the squeaky sound I hear when I record my voice.

Through Obi's eyes, I survey my self. A giant wave of sadness washes over me. My oily black face is dotted with pimples. The circles around my eyes make me look older than my age. My collar bones protrude from my skin conspicuously as if I haven't eaten for days. This only makes it more complicated as to why Obi would find me attractive. He's clearly not blind. I tell him, "This makes me hate myself more."

He says, "Let's have dinner."

Watching Obi eat the rice and stew while trapped in my body, I feel tears moistening my eyes. No matter how much he eats, my body will never get big. Those breasts will stay small, those hips won't get large. The only remedy is pregnancy.

My body, Obi, looks at me. "Are you alright?" He grabs a napkin to wipe the stew from his lips.

"I just want to be in my own body," I say in a petulant manner.

"If you could swap souls with anyone, who would it be?" asks Obi.

"Nadia Buhari." That's the first image that springs to mind.

He hums and nods his head, grinning at me. Then he swallows his rice and says, "I'd swap bodies with one of these politicians, steal some money from the government and get back to my life." He laughs at himself, so hard that he throws his head back. I look disgusting laughing like that. "How about historical figures?" asks Obi. "I really want to be Jesus for a day."

"Trust me you would regret that if it were possible," I say. "If Jesus comes back to earth I think politicians and capitalists would be so threatened by him they'd have to get rid of him."

Obi juts his lips - my lips, staring at the ceiling above us. He smiles and leans closer to say, "I can only imagine how powerful he felt. Being the son of God and performing miracles. I mean, the dude had a magnificent purpose on earth."

"I don't know anyone in history that I'd like to be," I say.

Obi creases my forehead at me. My brown eyes glare at me for a few seconds. "Would you like it if I find a girl and bring her home so you could swap bodies with her?"

Automatically, I say, "No." The idea sounds great but that would just be as depressing as trying on an expensive dress at a store and hanging it back on the rack. I ask him, "Can we swap back?"

Seeing the sadness in my eyes, Obi says to me, "Seriously babe, you've got to stop comparing yourself to other women. You're your own person. I put that ring on your finger so I could spend the rest of my life with you and no one else."

A beam cuts across my face. He gets off his seat, heading to the couch, he grabs the bong. "Besides there are people who have more problems in the world other than looks, for instance the blind, the deaf, the sick, the old and weak," says Obi as he returns to the dining table.



Saturday, after spending the whole day out with Chris, Obi walks into the house yelling my name. His voice is loud and desperate, propelling me to dash out of the bedroom. My heart thuds violently in my chest. He has a broad grin on his face as he sings praises to God. Last time Obi looked this happy was when he got a promotion at the bank. "Honey, what is it?"

"I have found my purpose in life." His hands hold on to mine as he guides me towards the couch where we sit. "You won't believe what I did today." He pauses for dramatic effect, taking a whiff of the thick warm air before he says, "Today I swapped souls with a dwarf. You should have seen it. He finally knew what it was like to be tall. I fulfilled his wish."

For the first few seconds I say nothing. I scrabble in my mind for something but what exactly do you say when your husband says such?

"I finally get to be Jesus," says Obi, exuberantly.

"What if he ran away with your body?"

He chuckles. "Chris is my disciple. He followed the guy everywhere. He even stood outside the hotel room when the dwarf had sex with a girl."

"He had sex with someone with your body?" I explode. "Did he wear a condom?"

"Relax, we had everything under control," says Obi, still grinning. "This man lost his virginity today because of me, because of the soul drug."



From Monday to Friday, all Obi does is talk about the weekend. How he is going to make wishes come true. Over dinner, he tells me about swapping souls with a blind man who didn't want to swap back but luckily Chris was there to force him. On Sunday night, while I'm trying to watch a movie, Obi says, "I couldn't catch up on crutches but thank goodness Chris was there to catch the crippled man."

I wake up to find Obi buttoning up a white shirt. He says to me, "I'm off to make wishes come true." It's six o'clock on a Saturday morning. The birds are singing outside our window.

Swaddled under the blanket, I mumble, "Honey, we need to spend some time together."

His eyes narrow. "We spend time together."

"Not really. Every time we're together, you talk about this drug like it's some kind of religion."

"Do you have a problem with me making an impact in people's lives?" His tone is brusque and I am well aware that if I try to explain myself this would lead to an argument and it would end with him slamming the door as he walks out.

Every day, I see less and less of Obi. During the weekend, he is blind in the morning, deaf in the afternoon and old in the evening. Or a midget in the morning, crippled in the daytime and a cancer patient in the evening. But it stressed him out.

We've spent so much time apart that we no longer relate to each other as partners. Our favourite TV show no longer interests him. He barely remembers what happened in the previous episodes. My poor husband has been stressed out to the point that he's beginning to have short term memory loss. We'd walk out of church and he wouldn't remember where he parked the Honda Accord. An hour after having a meal he'd ask me if the food is ready.

After months of saving enough money to get him a wrist watch for our wedding anniversary, Obi stares blankly at the silver strapped watch. It's the same wrist watch he stopped to admire a few years ago, while we were strolling through Palms Shopping Mall. He asks, "Is today my birthday?"

"You're kidding, right?" I chuckle. Seeing the vacuous expression on his face, I say to him, "It's our anniversary." We've been married for two years, how could he forget our anniversary? How could he even forget his own birthday?

Every morning, Obi drags his feet into the bathroom, where he stands in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at his reflection, for minutes, sometimes hours. He doesn't even comb his hair or brush his teeth, just gazes into his own eyes in amazement. Almost like a staring contest. No blinking, no smiling, just a blank stare. His eyes don't even move to peer at my reflection standing behind him.

"Obi," I murmur but he doesn't answer. For all I know he's probably forgotten his own name.

Heavy bags hang under his eyes because he no longer sleeps. He doesn't even feel the need to eat but I force feed him. I force him to drink water to keep him hydrated. I dress him up even though he strips afterwards. Through sunrise and darkness, Obi roams around the house stark naked. He doesn't say a word to me.



For his treatment to begin right away I have to pay the doctor. To prepare myself, I sell the silver wrist watch I gave him, along with my jewellery and some clothes and shoes - those should be enough.

We trot out into the street to find a taxi. I don't even bargain when the cab driver tells me that it's two thousand five hundred naira to the hospital. I guide Obi into the backseat, following afterwards. The cab driver sneezes into a toilet paper. He says, "Harmattan wan kill me."

Throughout our ride, Obi stares out the dusty window, at the vehicle next to us in traffic, at the sweaty pedestrians on the sidewalk, the buildings. He looks at the world like a total stranger. I grip his hand and whisper Hail Mary while the cab driver peers at us repeatedly through the rear view mirror. Wiping the mucus dripping from his nostrils, the cab driver asks again, "Wetin you say wrong with am?"

And once again, I tell him, "I don't know."

A few minutes later, we arrive at the hospital, just in time for Obi's appointment.

Once we're seated in the doctor's office, I say, "We're here because my husband has been frequently using a drug - I don't know the name but my dealer calls it soul drug - and now he seems to have lost his mind."

The doctor furrows his thick black eyebrows at us. "Did you say soul drug?"

I nod. I try to say something but the doctor mumbles, "Hold on." He flicks a finger up in the air as he reaches for the telephone on his desk. With one hand he clicks some buttons while the other hand holds the phone against his ear. He releases a sigh as he waits impatiently for someone to answer, lowering his eyes at the table to avert our stare.

To the person on the other end, he says, "Could you send two nurses to my office, please. We've got a soul drug victim."

As soon as he hangs up, I ask him, "Can my husband be cured?"

The corners of his lips stretch into a spurious smile, the kind doctors give along with false hope. He murmurs to me, "I'd like to speak to you privately."

Just then, two nurses walk into the room. Although they have on the nurse attire these men look very much like club bouncers. They are tall, brawny, with a lingering stern expression on their faces. The doctor gestures at Obi and they yank him off his seat. Obi groans and struggles as they walk him out of the office.

"Madam, I don't know any nice way to say this," says the doctor as he rests his elbows on his desk, leaning closer to me. Smiling as his gaze remains fastened to my bust, he says, "Your boyfriend has been possessed by an evil spirit."

"Is this a joke?" I murmur, puckering my eyebrows at him. Since when did hospitals start practising exorcism?

The doctor replies, "I'm afraid not. This has been happening for a while now."

I murmur to myself, "I just don't get it." My instincts struggle to believe him.

"Hospitals have been receiving patients who were once addicted to the soul drug," says the doctor. "At first doctors heard the symptoms and assumed the patients would require mental help. So some of these patients were taken to an asylum or registered into therapy sessions. Suddenly the newspapers began printing articles about murdered therapists, patients and workers killed in an asylum, nurses and doctors found dead in a hospital. The security cameras and hospital records prove that the killers have all been soul drug addicts."

"If this is a joke, stop it." My heart is thudding against my chest, about to burst out. My husband is possessed by evil spirit, the man whom I planned to share my life with, raise kids with. Tears flood my eyes and I keep hoping that the doctor will burst into laughter.

His dark eyes roam around the office then lower as he pulls a drawer open. I watch carefully as he produces a pile of newspaper cut outs. He shoves them towards me and says, "See for yourself." As I look at the articles, the photos of dead bodies and crime scenes, he tells me, "Trust the media to hide some of the details. Of course, they can't tell the world that demons have been unleashed to destroy mankind. Scientists have performed a research on the soul drug and based on observation, the way the soul drug works is that the more you use it the less and less you become. Eventually your body becomes empty and soulless. You become nothing but a host for a demon."

Staring at the newspapers with wide eyes, I ask, "Can he be cured?"

He sighs wearily. "I'm afraid there's no other option but to kill him."

Immediately, I rise from my seat. Grabbing my handbag, I hurry towards the door.

The doctor says behind me, "He's been staring at his reflection, hasn't he? He doesn't remember a thing and he doesn't even eat or speak." I stop on my tracks when the doctor says, "That's because the demon is still figuring things out. It doesn't know how to function as a human yet."

That's when I hear a woman screaming outside. There are others shouting as well. I open the door to find people running helter-skelter. At the end of the hall, I see Obi. Red stains are all over the shirt and trousers I dressed him up in. He stands at there, roaring like an animal. Around him bodies lay motionless with reddish brown liquid spreading on the ground.

Just then I hear a loud bang. I turn to discover the doctor holding up a pistol aimed at Obi. The doctor mumbles, "I'm sorry." Obi roars again. This time the doctor shoots his head and I watch Obi fall along with our dreams together.

5 comments:

  1. this is first class story! if I may so, a super reboot of the Zombie genre.
    I can see a film in this!
    Great.

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. So smart and I loved the ending!

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  3. Captivating from start to finish!

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  4. Couldn't stop reading. Nicely done.

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  5. Wow, great story. Thanks for sharing!

    Maui Holcomb

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