If I had been told, I would have simply disregarded it. Another Nupe delusion, I would have said. I was no believer of superstition, and I made sure to put that clear to anyone I associated with. My friends said my attitude towards things that were in fact, true, even as they sounded improbable, would mislead me someday. I only laughed, reminding them I wasn’t changing my views either way.
I’m not sure if that reply still holds today. What I’ve seen with my own eyes has weakened it. And now, I am left to decide whether to believe or not all superstitions I hear. The world we live in is an open, yet strange world. But one cannot easily disparage what the eyes have seen, what the mouth has spoken, and what the skin has felt. I never told my superstitious friends about it, but I knew from that very day I saw him, I was changing my stance to a superstition.
I was riding through the streets of Sokoto that very day. The sun was as usual, fierce. Nothing compared to the one I left in Minna few years back. As unpredictable as Sokoto’s weather was, dark clouds suddenly started forming. Before I knew, it started to rain. First like a shower, but before I could get to the mini-market close to the roundabout up ahead, it turned into a downpour. If I wanted to avoid being drenched to my underwear, I had no other choice than to take refuge in one of the shops few meters before the market. Getting off the motorcycle, I hurriedly dragged it into the first empty space I could find. I had borrowed it from a friend, and wouldn’t want anything to go wrong with it. I didn’t know what time it was then. My wristwatch was inoperative, a characteristic shared with most wristwatches worn by youngsters. The time settings on my phone was also inaccurate. But knowing I had left my lodging early in the morning, I guessed it should have been anywhere around ten.
I stood there, breathing in the sweet air from the rain. I loved rains, especially rains that came without winds; the ones that just fell and saturated the atmosphere. I had once written a poem on such rains. Standing there, I thought of my morning appointment with Zahra. We had arranged to meet the night before. It was to be our first meeting. And although the rain was jeopardizing the possibility of the meeting, I was surprisingly happy about it. The colder the weather, the cozier we would both could be, I had reasoned. I knew she would object to coming out after the rain, though. Her mother would not let her, she would probably say. But I knew I wasn’t going to accept that. I would simply cajole her to sneak out. Moreover, if the internet love she had shown me was anything true, she would happily oblige. Everything was moving fine in my mind. The day would be epic, I had beamed.
As I stood there, I was intruded by another person. From the way he looked, I could not see any reason for him running away from the rain – he was already drenched, and water was dripping from his almost tattered buba. He turned after squeezing out some water from the lower part of his garment.
“Salaam,” he greeted.
I raised my head to respond, and froze almost immediately. Was who I was looking at really who I thought it was? I had wondered. Maybe the man of around fifty noticed my confusion.
“Anything the matter?” he asked.
“No—nothing, I stammered. “Wa-alaika-salaam.”
“Sorry if I startled you,” he said in Hausa.
“No, it’s nothing Baba.”
“Okay then,” he finalized.
We stood there quietly. Secretly, however, I was scared to the bone. Didn’t he know who I was? Or was he simply feigning ignorance?
I had witnessed this man’s funeral proceedings. Was I not in fact, one of those that dug his grave? How could I have forgotten that day, when I and others had together shed tears with my friend, his first son? He was devastated by his father’s death. I spent a long time trying to quieten him, even as I cried. I knew the pain of losing a parent. I had also lost my father a few years before then. And even though I hadn’t known my friend for as long as a year, we considered each other the best of friends, and one person’s agony was equally the other’s.
We had met in boarding school about a year back before then. I had met the man when his son introduced me as a close friend once during visitations. I would have gotten to meet him again if he had decided to visit on subsequent visiting days. But he didn’t. The one and only day I would have gotten to see him again, was the day we went to his funeral in his hometown.
How was I then looking at the same man I shed tears for? Maybe I was hallucinating. Maybe I had been dreaming all along. I was unsure of the state I was in. I was so engrossed in my confusion that I didn’t realize the rain had turned to a slight drizzle.
“Ah, Alhamdulillah,” the man’s voice jerked me back to life. “The rain has subsided.”
I raised my head and gave him a faint smile. I thought he noticed I was shivering.
“You are shivering,” he laughed. “And you are not even soaked.”
I forced another smile. If only he knew why I shivered. Or perhaps he knew, but enjoyed messing with me. He chatted on as we waited for the drizzling to stop. We could see the sun forcing its way through the clouds. I was not saying much, but it didn’t appear he cared. By the time the rain stopped, I was feeling a little bit at ease. Not with the fact that I was talking to a ghost, but that I was to a harmless one.
The sun finally conquered the clouds. Except for the waterlogged holes, the culverts that still contained running water, and of course, the man that still looked slightly drenched, everywhere appeared dry. That was one of the wonders of The Seat of the Caliphate – Sokoto. We both stepped out of our sanctuary. The man bade me farewell. As he turned to go, I had a sudden inclination.
“I’m sorry, Baba,” I called. “If you wouldn’t mind, I will love to give you a lift back home.”
“Really?” he asked, pleased. “Thank you, my son.”
“It’s nothing, Baba.”
Forgetting that I needed to give Zahra a call and explain things to her, I carefully lowered the motorcycle for the man to hop on. I rode slowly as he directed me to his house. We arrived at a mud house in Arkillan Mallam shortly after.
“Wait for me here,” the man announced as he got off. “I will just change my clothes and be with you shortly.”
“Baba tsaya dan Allah,” I said in Hausa. “Hold on, please.”
“Yadai? he asked. What is it?”
“Do you know me?” I inquired.
I shuddered at his reply. So, he knew all along. But just before I could say anything, he added: “You are the boy I met moments ago while it was raining.”
We both laughed.
“No, seriously,” I pushed. “You don’t recognize me?”
“Gaskiya, truly, I don’t.”
I scratched my head, thinking of how best to continue.
“I am Aliyu,” I announced. “Aliyu, Ndana’s school friend.”
The man scratched his head in turn.
“Ndana?” He was puzzled.
“I mean, your son Ndana.”
Then I saw the man’s jaws fall. His eyes reddened immediately. And before I knew, tears flowed freely down. Why was he crying? Was he remorseful over faking his own death? But could he have fooled his own wife and children? I asked him politely and carefully, all I needed answers to.
As I rode back home that morning, I turned the man’s words in my head. True enough, he was a Fara – a wandering ghost. I had heard accounts of people dying but later being rumored to be seen in other places. Superstitions, I would angrily say, a dead person can never be seen anywhere. But even as I disregarded the superstitious belief, the theories behind it were quite well explained, only that to me, they were fallacies. It had been claimed that the supposed dead persons whose ghosts were seen in other places had in fact, not naturally died. The deaths were simply orchestrated by witchcraft.
The corpses everyone would see were tree stumps made to look like the deceased. The deceased were however, teleported to faraway places to wander; either in the forest, if the witch or wizard responsible for their deaths was cruel, or in a settlement to start a new life, if the witch or wizard was considerate. If by rare chance, any of such persons were to be found and brought back home, the witch or wizard responsible for their death would instantly, on seeing the person, fall and confess their sins. After which they would die a miserable death. The returned Fara would themselves not last more than two years before dying a real, natural death.
I started to believe some of those theories then. For what the man related to me, coupled with the little I had previously overheard, were in accordance with them. I had arranged with him to inform his relatives. He had agreed to the arrangement. On reaching home, I had phoned my friend, Ndana. I chose my words carefully. Broaching such news to a close relative wasn’t going to be an easy task. I was pleased by the way Ndana reacted. He was ecstatic. He wanted to speak to his late father almost immediately. I asked him to be patient, that I was going back to his father’s place later in the day. He thanked me. I was happy for him.
At around five-thirty in the evening that same day, I rode down to Arkillan Mallam. I didn’t have any trouble locating the house. It was unlike me to get the right directions to a place I had only been to once. But I guess, by the virtue of the task I had embarked on, everything was going smoothly for me. Before I came down there, Ndana had put his mother on the phone. The woman had remarried, but was anxious to hear the voice of her former husband. She had requested I went there immediately, when in fact, I intended to go close to the time of the dusk prayer.
I came down from the bike, and made a loud Salam at the door. My Salam was answered by an unusual voice. The man that came out was not who I was expecting. I greeted him anyway. I then asked to see my friend’s father.
“I’ve not seen him since he went out in the morning,” the man replied.
Maybe he wasn’t back from his business yet, I thought. So, I asked: “Please, when will he be back?”
“He should have been back long ago, I’ve lived in this house with him for two years now, and he has never stayed out this late before.”
I was now confused. What was this man saying? My friend’s father told me in the morning that he sold fried fish in town, and usually came back by seven in the evening. Why was this man now saying he had never stayed out late, when it was just some minutes to six? “But he told me he always comes back by seven,” I tried explaining.
” He did? Well, I don’t recall ever seeing him outside by that time, except if he goes out to that mosque over there to pray.”
I started to shiver again. The man noticed and asked what was wrong. I narrated everything to him. We both sat and pondered. And then it was only after I left the place that it dawned on me the other theories associated with wandering ghosts. It had been said that only a few people had successfully brought them home. And those few people were Ndache’s – hunters highly skilled in magic. For it was with no doubt that if wandering ghosts realized they would be taken back home, the magic acting on their being would immediately and unconsciously, compel them to leave that place they were spotted. They would then move to other places far away, to begin life afresh.
I called Ndana and explained things to him and his mother. We all cried.
That night, I laid on my bed with a mind full of thoughts. The world we live in was an open, yet strange world, I had concluded. I knew then that not all superstitions were superstitions. And that that superstition, if ever it were one, was one I had to regard. For how could I deny that which I have been a part of? I laid there turning all that happened that day in my mind. And then suddenly, I wondered whether my own father died a natural death. I found myself hoping he didn’t, hoping he wasn’t living a new life in another place. But if it happened that he was, I hoped someday, I would set my eyes on him again, even if it were to be as brief as it was with Ndana’s father, and call him Daddy once more. For I have missed him so much. For a moment, I craved for a superstition a delusion.
As I drank in my fantasies, I could feel my tears streaming down freely. And then, my phone rang. I picked it up. Zahra! I dropped the phone absent-mindedly and turned on the bed. If I talked to her in this state, my voice would betray me.
AMINU SALIHU is a graduate of Microbiology from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. He lives in Minna, Niger State with his mother and siblings. He has been published on Praxis and Kalahari Review. He is all in for everything African, and believes Africa is the most blessed place on earth. He tweets @As_tukunji.