The Monstrous Cough

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Onyi stared outside the  makeshift window of the lorry lost in thought. It’s been twenty years since she last saw her family. She was filled with regrets for abandoning Papa and her sisters for so long a time. Only Chukwu knew if they still lived in Omamme village, she had heard of evil things happening in that village.

Is Papa still alive? She wondered. What if she couldn’t recognize her sisters anymore? She was filled with so much fear for her family. Offering a prayer to Chukwu, she silently prayed for them.

‘Chukwu is God’ noisily rattled down the dirt road filled with potholes. The driver was trying to reach Omamme before nightfall. There were horrific tales about this particular route and it would not be funny if they were caught in it.

He looked uneasily at the rapidly vanishing daylight and looked at all the passengers behind him packed like sardines in his lorry. He had closed for the day but the people had begged with so much emotion in their voices and tears in their eyes. He had pity on them, why won’t he? That’s what his Chini tomato had taught him alongside other values. She has been to him, what cold water does to a thirsty man in Obologo desert. With fear in his heart, he prayed that he would live after today to see his beloved wife. No, he must! With renewed vigor, he increased his driving speed.

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Onyi was dragged from her wandering thoughts when the fat man sitting beside the driver coughed so loudly that he received curses from the other passengers. They were all afraid of course.

There were more scary tales of the monstrous cough. It was an ailment which was said to start with a little discomfort in the throat, then a loss of vocal ability, followed by thick bloody discharges from the mouth, then the eyes begin to turn red and swollen. As if that isn’t enough to cause a scare, the victim begins to act like an animal with a tendency to kill anything within its path.

Everyone in the lorry watched the fat man like a hawk. They watched how he guzzled a full calabash of water and how he ate a big leg of roasted meat. His neck had disappeared. Large flesh folds joined his small round head to his large body. His stubby fingers were like fat stems almost swallowed by the rings on them. As he ate the last piece of the meat, he  licked them as he rubbed his chubby hand on his face in a bid to clean them. This brought comments of disgust from the people behind. Little wonder, only the front seat beside the driver could accommodate him.

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Onyi cared less about this stumpy man everyone seemed to be concerned about. She just needed to see her Papa and sisters. She hoped they hadn’t been killed by the monstrous cough. Shivering with fear, she said a quick prayer to Chukwu obinigwe. They are alive and well, she said to herself. Nothing will happen to them. Closing her eyes, she fell into a dreamless sleep.

But something happened almost immediately. The driver’s shouts jolted Onyi from her short sleep. The passengers were shouting and crying, all jumbled up, each one trying to squeeze out and see what was before them.

The driver was like a mad bull, with his hands glued to the steering wheel, driving dangerously fast. Onyi couldn’t see what the fat man was doing. A sense of dread fell on her like the night that had clothed the day.

Then she saw…

To be continued…

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