He wasn’t even ugly which was ironic.
From the way some people described him and the aftermath of his visits, I was expecting to see a grotesque, malformed creature; a cross between Oji-Onu and Quasimodo.
He was neither.
He was just an ordinary looking fellow with ordinary looking features.
No deformity, no ‘malformity’, nothing.
So, when he brought with him darkness, soullessness and utter nothingness, I wasn’t prepared.
I met him at a time when I felt like ‘all my lines had fallen to me in pleasant places.’ I was doing well in my business – an online stop-gap store; a sort of middle-man type thing where people who wanted unusual gifts or items could place their orders and I’ll source it for them. When I acquire the item and sent them proof of it, they paid. If I couldn’t get it, I would try to find an alternative. If they weren’t happy with the results and didn’t want the substitute, then they didn’t have to pay a penny. That rarely happened though but in the event that it did, I would advertise it on my site as a ‘buy-now’ purchase. It never failed to find a buyer.
So yeah…I was doing quite well on that front and if business ever got too slow, I just dusted my agency registration card and took a few temp office jobs to tide over any dry spells.
But…one thing I didn’t do; perhaps I thought there was no need to, was acknowledge that there was a small hole in my centre and within that hole, some kind of light-deflecting mist, swirling in slow, lazy arcs. Had I know that that was the point of contact, the opening of the portal, for his visit, I would have done something about it; what, I didn’t know but something.
It was a glorious autumn day, with a slight nip in the air but not enough to send diners into the warm confines of cafés. Sitting outside on a table of two, I clutched, in one hand, a steaming, mug of hot chocolate dusted with cinnamon and an amaretti biscuit in the other. I wasn’t really thinking about anything, just soaking up the relatively warm sunshine before the much colder months set in.
Next thing, I felt, rather than saw a shadow in front of me; it blocked the sunshine momentarily, and then it sat facing me.
“Mind if I join you”? The shadow asked.
I shook my head, a bemused eyebrow raised. I couldn’t possibly say no when it had sat down already, could I? In any case, it was a café, open to anyone who wanted to sample its fares.
“Is the coffee any good”? He inquired.
“It’s hot chocolate actually and it is the best”, I couldn’t hold back the smile, “To me, anyway.”
“Then maybe I’ll have one and a couple of those delicious-looking biscuits”, he smiled back or rather arranged his features in what was trying to look like a smile.
At this point, I should have downed my drink at the risk of burning the back of my throat and excused myself sharpish but what was being British if you weren’t polite regardless of the warning sirens blaring your head. So, I carried on sipping my ambrosia slowly and before I knew it, I had told him all about my business and how fulfilled I was and how everything was pretty much…well, peachy. As soon as I mentioned the word ‘fulfilled’, he smiled; this time, a real smile but a smile of swirling cold mists and scorching, acrid smoke.
“Fulfilled, then why did you summon me?”
“Summon you?” I stared at him stupefied, “Man, I don’t even know you!”
“You don’t? Then why do you have something that belongs to me?” He pointed at my midriff.
I rose up quickly from the aluminium chair, dropped some bills on the table and stumbled away; almost tripping over the cobblestones in an effort to put as much distance as I could between me and the man that introduced himself to me as Mr D. Preshon.
In the weeks that followed that fateful meeting, I managed to keep things ticking over quite nicely but when I wasn’t online, I was under my bed covers watching mindless television. I didn’t, wouldn’t go out; I didn’t, wouldn’t have people come over; I did nothing but stare into the darkness that threatened to overwhelm me.
I plastered smiles on my face when I had to deal with people face-to-face.
I inserted the cheeriest tone in my voice when I had to answer the phone.
No one saw the darkness. No one seemed to understand.
“I’ve met Mr D. Preshon,” Moji told me. A faint ray of light flickered in the darkness; I waited expectantly for her to reveal how she dealt with the aftermath of his visit so I could do the same.
“He’s a harmless guy that likes to sit and chat with people at outdoor cafés,” she carried on cheerily, “He’s no harm at all, no harm.”
Bailey and Gina said pretty much the same thing; although Gina did mention that she felt a bit down after she had spoken to him, “but only for a few days, mind… I just shook it off.”
Well, I couldn’t shake it off!
Three months went by, then six, then nine and by then, the darkness was complete.
It deafened me.
It blinded me.
It caused me to see only despair, desperation and defeat.
Even though I had only met Mr D Preshon once, I recognised that ‘harmless’ voice, drawing me into that vortex of swirling mists and scorching acrid smoke. I had nothing left to fight it; I rose up in a trance to follow that voice, to walk into that portal to the other side…I had no more reserves left…nothing that could stop me from losing myself in the maelstrom.
At that very moment, the moment I reached the opening of the portal, I heard a barely discernible knocking at my front door. Persistent like the buzzing of a stubborn mosquito, it slowed my steps and altered the form of the mist. If I didn’t stop that knocking, I wouldn’t be able to get into that mist and it was calling me now frantically; urgently. So, I went to the door to send the ‘knocker’ away with a flea in their ear.
It was Jehlani.