T’was the night before Christmas and the streets were completely deserted. The major supermarkets and pharmacies in the community had all closed at exactly six, which was unnecessary because customers had stopped making any last minute purchases from them since 5pm, at least. Even the big filling station just opposite the round-about that served as the centre of the community’s commercial hub, and was frequented by cars from the other neighbouring communities, had been shut permanently for the night, to reopen sometime on the morning of the twenty-sixth. One or two people still roamed the streets, walking to their different destinations with such alarming speed that any casual observer would have been tempted to slow them down and inquire about the reason for the haste. However, there were no casual observers about. In fact, every living thing in the community – which, shockingly, included the stray dogs, cats and other animals – had since retired for the night, and although a police Hilux truck was scheduled to patrol the streets all night long, there would be no one outside to confirm if this duty had indeed been discharged. The people of the community had learned the important lesson of the curfew many Christmases ago, and they would surely be reminded again in less than six hours when morning came.
Nobody knew when it first began as nobody had paid any real attention back then. In a country and city where death was a common occurrence, even the strangest of deaths could pass under the microscope for a long time as just routine demises, particularly in a small urban community such as this. These routine deaths, however, did have a particular style and craft to them, a style which would seem impossible not to notice considering that the bodies found each holiday season were usually branded with it. The victim was always missing a body part; usually the tongue, heart or eyeballs. One or two of them had even been found without all three. Added to this was a medium-sized ‘G’ carved on his or her neck just below the jugular, obviously imprinted posthumously and by what appeared to be a scalpel or other very sharp, precise blade.
The bodies piled up with the passing years, the modus of death deviating in neither style nor timing. The people of the community would wake up to the bodies on the street on Christmas morning, or they would be found later that day by some indeliberate, swaggering, usually drunk genius. The news of a similar death in one of the houses which had been so ‘well secured’ the previous night would also spread during the day as families settled down to partake in the Christmas feast, and so the pattern continued until it became intertwined with and a part of the regular celebrations. The community police force had grown weary of the ‘Christmas killings’ and their largely impotent efforts at ending the terror and death which the holiday season was sure to bring. Although the curfew had not been initially proposed by them, they had nevertheless gone along with the arrangement, an arrangement which over the years had not once stopped the inevitable.
Truth is they were terrified. Everyone was, but the members of the police were especially rattled by the killings which had also reached their doorsteps, as even their Oga had been found dead in his bathroom, with the infamous ‘G’ carved into his neck just last Christmas. The sign had come to be associated with pure animal fear, which miraculously always seemed to exist side-by-side with the general gaiety of the festivities. They joked that it meant ‘Grinch’ and this had become a running gag over the years. ‘Don’t let the Grinch get you before the New Year’ workers would joke with one another. ‘Better get inside before the Grinch comes knocking’ they would tease as they hurried away to hide behind their doors and wait out another Christmas eve. And the fear bubbled under all the festivities. Under the coloured lights, carol singing, and fried chicken devouring; the fear bubbled and brewed, and destroyed them all from within.
On this particular night, the only figure to be seen still roaming the streets was Odunsi, the community madman. Odunsi always presented the image of a reverse, poor man’s Santa Claus with his protruding belly which the assortment of rags he was clothed in did nothing to hide, his grizzly, dirty white beard that covered much of his unkempt face, the drooping and torn red hat on his fat head, and the filthy sack slung over his shoulder which contained all his worldly possessions. He trudged along, sipping from the bottle in his hand which was filled with a dubious pink liquid and singing at the top of his baritone voice, completely oblivious to the immense fear that clung to the environment.
“Gooddd tidingss we brin’… bring… bring to you o fat kingg” his voice slurred as he belted out his own version of the popular yuletide tune. “Gooood…tidins’ for chrixmas and a happier… happy… happy new yearrr.”
His voice added to the horror of the night in some twisted manner, breaking out across the silence as it did, then retiring only to start up again minutes later. Decades ago, Dr Odunsi Garba had been one of the brightest young surgeons in the city, and had lived in the community with his wife and two years old daughter, occupying the house down the main road which was now rented out by ‘Babatunde & Babatunde, Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court and Notaries Public’. His promising and happy career had come to an abrupt end all those years ago when his wife had been raped and killed, along with his baby girl during the religious riots which, coincidentally, had climaxed on this very same night. He had roamed the streets ever since with his rags and the jolly sack completely freed, it seemed, from the burdens of reason. Odunsi always came alive during Christmas, with his night-time singing and other activities doubling during this period. His general appearance and manner, combined with his apparent love for the festive season contributed to the Father Christmas like esteem in which the people held him. Odunsi the madman came and went as he pleased, and he was regarded with as much interest as one would give a singing buffoon.
Toje continued to navigate the uneven sidewalk with as much speed and dexterity as his very tired legs would allow him. He had been walking for a long time since his car broke down on the highway, and the few vehicles that had come his way paid no mind to the plea of his downward pointing thumb. Despite the full glare of the streetlights arranged every hundred or so yards in front of him, his mind remained uncertain and trepidation guided his every step. The distance between him and his intended destination – his brother’s house – had lessened considerably, and in less than an hour, with any luck, he would be safely tucked away behind closed doors, participating in the rituals of Christmas Eve with his brother’s family. Ahead of him, he could hear parts of Odunsi’s slurred singing as the wind carried the madman’s words over. He put more effort into his spirited walking, knowing that the curfew was now almost four hours behind him. As things stood, he was wading in very dangerous territory, and he pondered to himself whether the Grinch was already up and about and hunting. The engineering student and the community madman/former doctor/Father Christmas were bound to cross each other on the sidewalk as they both continued toward their respective destinations in opposite directions. Toje pondered again that for the length of time he had been walking, he had yet to encounter the police Hilux truck which was supposedly patrolling the area. “Incompetent bastards,” he thought to himself. They were probably hidden away somewhere, unwilling to put their lives at risk for the safety of the community.
Odunsi finally came into full view some hundred meters in front of him, illuminated by the street light under which he slowly passed. His drunk, tuneless singing continued to start, stop, and start again as he earnestly unleashed the Christmas jingles without a care in the world.
“Felixi naviya, pam pa ram pa, felixi naviya, pam pa ram pa, feli… felixi… goat stole awayan, felixi ya.”
Toje thought to himself with a smile that he had never heard such atrocious singing in his life. Strangely enough, the madman’s voice provided a foreign comfort to him on the deserted streets with the enveloping darkness broken once in a while by the local government funded streetlights.
“I wantu wishy ya a merry chrixmas, I wantu… I wantu wishy-wishy ya a merry chrixma… wish ya a merry… merry…”
The broken, drunk singing went on. They were almost beside each other now and would be meeting directly beneath the shadows of the last streetlight which separated them. Toje instinctively began to widen his steps in order to give the madman as much room to pass as possible. He hoped Odunsi would simply pass and continue on his merry way, and not give him more than a second’s thought if he even was capable of such mental process. And if he did attempt to address him, Toje planned to simply smile and ignore him, in the manner in which one would ignore a harmless infant.
Finally, they were within striking distance of each other, although Toje had veered a little off the path, intending to allow the madman stagger on past him and into the night. Despite his haste, he did not fail to notice Odunsi’s sack, which was still slung across one shoulder, and the bottle in his other hand with its suspicious pink liquid content gradually reducing. His hopes
of simply gliding past him and continuing on his way was shot to hell when the jolly madman suddenly came to a halt and turned to face him, his face spread out in a huge smile.
“Merry Christmas my son” he called out to Toje, his voice loud and piercing through the small space which separated the two of them.
Toje had not expected that at all. Out of natural politeness, he slowed and turned slightly to his left in order to quickly smile at the madman.
“Merry Christmas to you too…” and out of habit, he added “…sir, and a happy new year.”
“A happy new year indeed.”
If Toje had noticed that the drunken slur had vanished, that the earlier smile had now been replaced with a sinister grin or that the madman was now much closer than he had initially intended him to be, he did not show it. Instead, he made to continue with his walk, already mentally prepping to restart his hurried pace. And then Odunsi continued.
“Too bad you are never going to see it.” He said in the direction of Toje’s turned back.
The young man stopped dead in his tracks. It would prove to be a fatal mistake. With speed and agility that seemed alien to his being, the madman flung the bottle he was holding at Toje, just as the young man was starting to turn back around. As it crashed against his skull, the madman followed up by taking the ends of his shoulder sac and swinging it with all his might toward Toje who was already fast falling to the ground. The sound it made when it connected with his head showed that the sac was more likely filled with bricks than with rags and any other harmless assortment of junk as everyone in the community thought.
Toje’s body hit the ground like a bag of garri and the madman pounced on him immediately, dragging him and his sack along the sandy sidewalk and into the tall shrubbery beside the road, just beyond the glare of the streetlights. The whole episode was over in seconds. He dragged and dragged until he and his victim were now unable to be seen from the sidewalk by any lurking passer-by, an event which had zero likelihood of happening given the curfew. He sat astride the young man and reached into some hidden pocket on his person and pulled out the sharp, slender blade.
The young man stirred slowly despite the intense pain he was in and was able to feel that something had pinned down his midsection. Groggy and with blood pouring from the cuts on his head, Toje struggled to open his eyes for the very last time and was confronted by the image of Odunsi sitting on him, the blade in his right hand gleaming in the shy moonlight. He looked from the blade to the smiling, deranged face of the friendly neighbour madman, back to the blade, back to the face, to the blade and again to the face. And then finally, he mustered his last remaining energy and screamed. A scream that went no further than the killer sitting on him,
who plunged his blade once, furiously, into the side of his neck and began to chuckle softly to himself as the blood gushed out in spurts and soaked the soft grass underneath his head.
The Christmas song continued to rise and fall, sung in that drunk, broken fashion as he staggered along the sidewalk, his sac back to its position on his shoulder, but without the bottle
containing the pink liquid which had shattered and been left behind.
“Jingle-belllls jingle-bells… jingle all the…all the way, o what fun it is to… it is to… o what fun it is to rize ina one-horse… one… one horse… open sleighyyy.”
The Grinch stepped to the macabre tune of his singing, tiny dots of blood dropping from his swinging sac as he went on his merry way. In a medium-sized, coffee coloured apartment a mile behind him, the clock struck 12. It was Christmas morning. Oghenevo and his wife Oluchi decided to finally put their eight-year-old twins to bed and continue to wait up for Toje, his brother, by themselves as they talked about what news of death the daylight would bring.