“When the roll is called up yonder…” he hummed along to Bimpe’s favorite hymn as they all got ready to leave the house. He buttoned up his jacket and watched Juli help TimTim with his shoelaces. As she tied the laces into an ‘eight’ shape, he froze. It was happening again.
He could taste it at the back of his tongue; the sourness of something sinister coming. He tried to place it, to remember how it happened the last time. The current scene- three year old Juli squatted over her twin brother’s shoes, Bimpe spraying expensive cologne he knew she could not afford- it had happened before. The feeling was unshakeable. Something terrible was coming. He tried to remember what happened next. Maybe, just maybe, he could avert it. His attempt to razzle his memory proved abortive. He couldn’t place a finger on this thing that had happened in the past and seemed to be reoccurring. He shook it off. It was just deja vu. He resumed humming.
“… bla bla bla la la and time shall be no more.
… bla bla bla la la, gather over on the other shore”
The day went normally enough and he forgot the dejavu. He had also forgotten how convenient it was that today when Bimpe wore expensive cologne, she was stuck in a ‘teachers meeting’ and couldn’t go pick up the twins from daycare. She had called him and asked that he pick them up. There was that echo- like she was in a bathroom, and that hushed tone. Was the early morning hymn an attempt to ease a guilt? Tosin had no answers. He packed up his stuff from his desk and hurried along towards the daycare to pick up his babies.
After ten minutes, the daycare was across the road and he could already see TimTim and Juli on the first floor, looking out the window, noses pressed against the glass. Adorable little blessings.
TimTim started waving at him, ecstatic. He waved back and started to cross when he heard a horn blast and brakes screeching.
He was hit. As he crashed to the ground, time seemed to freeze. He thought he saw TimTim’s and Juli’s faces pressed to the truck’s windscreen, smiling. ‘When the roll is called up yonder’ played quietly in the background. He hit the floor.
He watched people gather around him as blood seeped from his head. He watch them shudder and scream without doing anything to help. Were these people crazy?
“Rush me to a hospital” he hollered but the onlookers didn’t seem to hear him. “Help me… somebody do something. Anything.”
He stretched his hand to cover his split cranium but he was too far away- high up, looking down on them all. Then the darkness came.
At first, it felt heavy. He could almost feel it sweep the hair on his arms. The darkness felt that tangible.
“Helpppp…” He screamed. His voice echoed lightly in his head. Like the echo when Bimpe had called him earlier- light, with a lace of fear. Bimpe never used the school’s toilet. She said the cockroaches in the cracks on the wall creeped her out. She couldn’t deal. Now where did she make that call from? Whose toilets owned that echo?
“Is anybody out there?” He shouted again, but there was no response save the sound of his feet dragging along. He screamed into the darkness, reliving the last time he saw a trace of light and the darkness answered him back in the echo of his own voice. Slowly, he accepted that this was death.
“Hell. Was this it? If he walked a few eternities would he find heaven? Was this what awaited those who only sang hymns because they sounded lovely? Was this nothingness his afterlife?” Questions flooded his mind but the answers remained at the other side of the darkness.
He wasn’t sure how long he walked but it felt like eternity. The hymns changed. ‘Silent night’, replaced ‘roll called up yonder’. Timtim’s and Juli’s faces blurred. The memory of their voices faded. He still remembered Bimbo’s new fragrance. Chanel. And scent leaves. But her face was gone with the darkness. Forever.
Soft winds continuously caressed his feet as he walked on. The memory of adorable kids and wife crept out through the back of his mind. Life was over, his memories and all became blank again; an empty mind, stripped and devoid of any past experiences. A few scars here and there but what were scars when the stories behind them were no more?
When the light came, Tosin didn’t recognize it for what it was. He saw the strange brightness afar off and wasn’t that the first light he ever saw? He waded towards it or did the lights just pull him in? He reached the light and was sucked up, into the light, through a hollow shaft.
At the other side, he felt new emotions for the first time (or so he thought). Happy voices of nurses and a midwife filled the air, blinding light that forced his eyes shut for a long time, pain that hit his body in buttock-slaps from the midwife, and the searing sound of his own cry.
Years later he’s with the family having breakfast before heading for school. Soft music from the speaker filled the air. His father sang along as he munched on his toast bread.
“…Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” His father rich baritone rang.
“Stop” he screamed, and all his seven brothers did, abruptly. His father’s mouth was open, about to take a chunk out of a piece, but he paused also.
“Whattttt??” They all asked in unison after the initial shock of the sudden outburst wore off.
“This has happened before. Something bad is about to happen” he said, turning towards his father.
His brothers burst out laughing telling him it was just deja vu. He felt it strongly but couldn’t place the feeling. If only the names Timtim, Juli, Bimpe still remained in his memory. If only humans could carry over the experiences of past lives and not just the bits and pieces that linger on.
As they stepped out of the house, he heard his mother mention to his father that she’d close late. His father would have to pick him and his brothers from school and take them all to the mall for lunch. He hugged his mother goodbye and could almost swear he had perceived a familiar cologne.
Written By Joe Aito.