“Shhh…listen to the silence. Why is this night different from all other nights?”
The rain was just starting to fall when Andrew got home. He fumbled for his keys for a moment at the doorstep before opening the door and rushing in, hastily fleeing the windy downpour behind him. It was pitch black inside when he entered; he reached for the light switch and turned it on, illuminating the room with a bright yellow light.
He threw his bag onto the carpet and turned left into the kitchen. His stomach letting off a slight grumble, he cracked a few eggs into the frying pan and scrambled them. He poured himself a glass of juice and carried his dinner back into the sitting room where he settled on the sofa and took out his phone, checking his messages as he chowed down fork-fulls of the eggs.
The first message he saw was from Tracy. Yo! Nerd! it read. A smirk broke out on his face. Who are you calling a nerd? he replied, a boyish excitement suddenly seeping into him. An inner voice teased: Nerd, when are we asking her out? He rebuffed it instantly: I don’t date co-workers.
Tracy’s reply was prompt: What time did you leave work?
- About ten-thirty. Today was insane.
- I know! Just got back myself. Had to deal with tons of paperwork and a boss who farts in office.
Andrew briefly choked on his eggs. He cleared his throat and let out a loud laugh before replying. What!!! Katende sets them loose in office? What’s that like!
You don’t want to find out, she replied. Is it raining knives and forks over there as well?
- A bad night to be single!
So you are single! she replied, a wink at the end.
There she goes, Andrew thought friskily.
He put the phone aside, a wide grin on his face, and returned to his food. He was raising another fork-full to his mouth when the lights went off suddenly, plunging the house into an abrupt darkness. As if on cue, almost ominously, a loud, cracking peal of thunder sounded overhead.
He uttered a curse and dropped his fork onto the plate. He sat there in the darkness for a few moments and for the first time perceived the intensity of the rain. It beat down onto the iron sheets of the roof with such ferocity he felt like he was on the inside of a giant tin under the bombardment of a million pebbles.
He reluctantly got up from the sofa, taking care not to topple his food, and blindly felt his way to the bedroom, navigating through the sitting room with the eye of his mind – now that his physical sight was rendered useless. He turned to his right in the dark and entered the bedroom, immediately feeling around for his bedside table. He got hold of the torch and pressed the switch. There was a click but no light. He mumbled another curse.
I’m buying an entire box of dry cells tomorrow!, he thought bitterly. Feeling around on the table again, his hands found the small stub of a candle. He sighed with relief and felt around again for the matchbox. He lit the candle and immediately the flame flickered and swayed, as though there were a breeze inside the house. Some rain this is!, he thought to himself.
With the candle lighting his way, he returned to the sitting room and finished his meal. He then got hold of his phone and replied Tracy’s message.
You sound excited by my singleness. He grinned to himself as he hit the Send button, momentarily fending off the impulse to physically call her. Grown men like him were not supposed to get crushes. Leaving the soiled dish and glass where they were, he took the candle in one hand and the phone in the other and headed back into the bedroom. He placed the candle onto the table and stood motionless for a while, listening to the wild thrashing and howling of the wind outside, and the loud, voluminous rain that drummed on his roof.
He walked to the window, pulled back the curtain and looked out into the dark. He saw nothing for a while until a quick flash of lightning up above lit up the compound and revealed a mass of hailstones falling everywhere, covering the ground with a white, icy carpet.
“Esssh,” he whispered, in awe. As he stared into the black outside a large hailstone dashed against his window with a loud thump, startling him. He released the curtain and turned back into the room. He quickly dressed down to his boxers, blew out the candle on the bedside table and got into his bed. A vibration on the table signaled a new message coming through on his phone as he pulled the covers to his neck.
You sound excited by my excitement, it read. Andrew smiled. The inner voice teased him again: When did we last get the mushies for a girl, Drew?
I probably am, he messaged back, continuing: It’s crazy weather outside. Ice everywhere. Who pissed off the gods!
He put the phone on top of the open suitcase next to his bed, turned towards the wall and drifted off. Almost immediately he began to dream of Tracy in a pleasant, semi-conscious, sleepy mingle of fantasies and actual memories.
In the dream, she had been working with him in the records department at Plasticorp for about two weeks at the time. It was lunch time and they were the only two people left in the office. There was always a sort of subdued elation in him whenever she was in his proximity, and her being in here alone with him made him fidgety, periodically stealing nervous glances at her. She had turned him into a clumsy, shy child from the very beginning.
As he contemplated on how to break the edgy silence between them, she suddenly smacked her table hard with the palm of her hand and hissed at her computer. She turned to him, a desperate look on her bespectacled face.
“How the hell do I unsend an email?” she asked, almost angrily.
“Recall an email, you mean?”
“Unsend, recall, whatever. Can you please help me? I just sent Katende an email meant for someone else.”
He got up and walked over to her seat. He stood behind her chair and gestured to the screen. “Open the email,” he said, his tone professor-like. She clicked the mouse twice and Andrew grimaced as he perused the email.
“You’re applying to Hanna Plastics? You know they are Plasticorp’s main competitor! I guess it’s been nice knowing you,” he teased. She turned in her seat and looked at him, her eyes looking unimpressed from behind the spectacles, a mock scowl on her face.
“Do something before he reads it!” she pleaded.
“Here, let me show you,” Andrew said. He stooped over her and, in a brief, exhilarating moment, his hand met hers as he moved to take control of the mouse. He had expected her to withdraw her hand swiftly but nonchalantly, as happens when there is an awkward moment of body contact between two people, but instead she left it there a while, letting his touch linger.
His eyes flung open suddenly, his dream cut short. He had heard something. Had he perhaps felt it? He stared into the blackness of the bedroom, listening, trying to make out any strange sounds above the din of the relentless rain that even now raged on outside.
Something’s not right, he thought to himself. I heard something. I felt something. He listened on for a while but heard nothing except the wanton, swooshing wind outside and the occasional grumble of thunder. He gave up and began to drift back into his slumber but before he could shut his eyes completely he felt it again, this time with chilling certainty. He sat up in his bed, alarmed.
It was a tremor; brief and jarring, as though two gigantic arms had grabbed the sides of the house and given it a firm shake. Now seated upright in his bed, Andrew felt a deep uneasiness: something about the state of events outside his small house was amiss.
This isn’t normal weather, he thought, this isn’t normal rain. He felt another tremor and moved nervously in his bed, spooked by the rattling of the window next to him. When the third jolt swept through the house he realised that the shakes were not minute earthquakes or caused by any movement within the earth, but rather felt more like thuds – like the massive, pounding footfalls of a behemoth, or the sudden, heavy collapse of nearby establishments.
Neither of those possibilities was comforting to Andrew and it was all he could do not to panic. Calm down, Andrew, he said to himself, I’m sure it’s nothing as crazy as what you’re picturing. This is just a very strong storm, that’s all it is. Calm down and go back to…
A loud, crashing noise came suddenly from one of the other two rooms and Andrew, now wholly terrified, let out a startled gasp, his whole body going numb with fright. It was the unmistakable sound of one of the windows being smashed inwards; so loud it was clearly heard above the noise of the storm.
What the hell was that, he thought with alarm. He threw off the covers and, slowly, placed one trembling foot onto the cold floor and then the other. He felt for the matchbox and lit what was left of the candle, this time physically feeling the blow of the breeze that perturbed the flame. It was blowing in from the sitting room.
He shielded the flame with one hand and moved towards the bedroom door, cautiously pausing at the entrance to the sitting room. The flame of the candle revealed nothing out of place, and next to the sofa the soiled dish and glass remained as he had left them.
The breeze blew around the room again, nearly extinguishing the candle’s flame this time, and Andrew noticed that it was coming in from the kitchen. The kitchen window!, he thought with a sudden realisation, Something’s crashed into the kitchen!
His heart fluttering nervously within his bosom, he crept slowly towards the kitchen, and as the candle’s flame shook unsteadily in his hand he realised that he was shivering, partly because of the chill of the breeze and partly because he was afraid. He stopped at the entrance and extended the candle into the cold dark of the kitchen, staring in disbelief at the sight before him.
All over the floor of the kitchen – as far as his candle could illuminate – was a layer of shattered glass. The shards were everywhere. With astonishment he saw, sticking horizontally through the cracked window, the arm of a tree branch, sturdy and rigid, with a few dripping, leaved-twigs swaying lightly in the wind that rushed in through the shattered pane.
“Mukama,” Andrew whispered incredulously. He stood at the entrance, taking everything in. Gosh, he thought, what kind of storm is this? He stared at length at the shards of glass on the floor and the astounding sight of the wet branch sticking out like an arm into his kitchen, dripping, leaves quivering in the breeze, and he suddenly felt the disquieting feeling of danger. He withdrew from the kitchen’s entrance and shut the door, bolting it. He turned and made his way back into the bedroom, shutting and bolting the bedroom door behind him.
He placed the candle back onto the table and sat on his bed. What on earth is happening out there? he wondered. And then, like a ray of hope in a dark pit, he remembered his phone. He picked it up and dialled Tracy’s number. He heard the beeping sound that signaled a lack of network access, looked at the screen of the phone and cursed again.
The inner voice spoke up: You reckon the world is ending tonight?
Nonsense, he countered, it’s just a major storm. Besides, didn’t God vow never to destroy the world with a flood again?
He paused a moment, considering, and then, as the doubt crept into his mind, he reached his hand into the suitcase and felt among the fabric for the cold but reassuring beads of his rosary.
Really?, the inner voice mocked, I thought you weren’t superstitious.
This isn’t superstition, this is…just take a hike will you! he nearly shouted the last words out loud. He breathed deep and thumbed the beads. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” he began, uttering the words in a shaky whisper. Occasionally a clap of thunder startled him, making him pause for a while, catching his pulse, before he resumed mumbling the prayers with a renewed fervour. When he was finished he sat on the bed, pulling his knees to his chin, and waited nervously for the arrival of morning. Beside him, on the table, the small candle slowly burnt out.
It was almost dawn when he finally succumbed to sleep, the fatigue of his body overwhelming the fear and adrenaline that had taken root in him. He began to dream again, this time not of love but of something darker:
In the dream he was transported to what looked like the site of an earthquake aftermath. There was debris everywhere, bricks and concrete lying in piles on the ground and, among these piles, covered in mud, was the stomach-turning sight of human corpses, mangled and scattered all over the ground.
He turned to his right and suddenly noticed a man standing next to him. The man’s clothes were torn and caked in mud, and Andrew figured he was a survivor of whatever had befallen this place. The man was standing quietly next to him, looking despairingly at the ruin before them.
“What happened here?” Andrew asked the man.
The man shook his head with a slow sullenness and replied, his tone hushed and sad, “The storm hit us hardest. The entire apartment complex, all seven floors, came tumbling down. It felt like…like a huge fist. Knocked us flat onto the ground. Pow!” he said the last word with a punch to the air. He turned away from Andrew and continued to shake his head at the carnage.
Across the ruins, directly opposite where he stood, about a hundred meters away, Andrew saw a large stone wall, like the wall of a dam, from the middle of which protruded the mouth of a large drain pipe, pouring gallons of muddy water onto the ground below. His attention was attracted to something that was caught in the mouth of the drain pipe, swaying from side to side in the current of brown water.
He made his way across the debris, towards the stone wall, skipping over one body and then another and then ten, maybe twenty more. Many were lying face down in the mud; some were facing the dark, cloudy sky, their dead eyes gazing questioningly towards heaven. Still a few others were rendered in angles so twisted and awkward that Andrew turned away in revulsion. He kept his eyes ahead of him and eventually made it to the wall and stood below the miniature waterfall of brown water.
The object that had attracted his attention from the distance turned out to be a woman’s body caught in the muddy current, hanging downwards with her back to him and her face buried in the rushing drainage. Her body from the waist down was lost in the other side of the pipe, and her torso hang limply under the pull of gravity, her arms swaying from side to side in the running water. It was as though she had been flushed from the other end of the wall and had got stuck halfway through the pipe.
As Andrew was still staring at this disturbing sight, the man appeared again by his side, still shaking his head with the same despairing look on his face. “Turn her over,” he said.
“What?” Andrew inquired.
“Turn her over!” the man repeated firmly.
Andrew, turning back to the woman in the pipe, moved his hand uncertainly towards her head. He placed his quivering fingers into her muddy hair, gripped it firmly and turned her head so that he could see her face. He took one look at her, doubled over to his side and retched.
He was awakened by the harrowing sound of a woman’s scream. It was coming from the compound outside. Andrew tugged at the curtain next to him, squinting drowsily at the blinding sunlight behind the window. Morning! he thought triumphantly. The rain, mercifully, had ceased but his feeling of relief was short lived as the woman’s scream broke through the morning silence again.
He got up hurriedly, threw on a pair of jeans and a loose-fitting t-shirt, and left the bedroom. He rushed through the sitting room, unbolted the front door and stood on his veranda – on which puddles of rain water had settled – taking in his surroundings.
The compound was submerged in a shallow, brown lake, with all forms of debris floating everywhere. At the other end of the compound, his neighbour Rosa was standing in front of her house, ankle-deep in the stagnant water, her arms crossed in despair above her head; she was screaming hysterically, bobbing dramatically up and down, cursing wildly in Luganda. Andrew saw with dismay that a tree had fallen on top of her house during the night, making a large dent in her roof.
Andrew went back into the house and returned to the veranda a minute later with shoes on his feet. He stepped into the lagoon in the compound, his shoes disappearing beneath the brown murk. He turned and looked at his house:
It had suffered the same fate as Rosa’s. The branch that had crashed through his kitchen window belonged to an old jackfruit tree that had once stood in the compound on the other side of the fence. The tree had fallen across the fence between Andrew’s house and the neighbourhood on the other side, its trunk denting his roof and its massive head of leaves and branches and tiny budding fruits spilling over onto the veranda.
There were two other small houses in Andrew’s neighbourhood and their residents had started to emerge one by one, drawn outside by Rosa’s screams. They stood on their water-logged verandas and looked around in disbelief.
“What is this!” one gentleman exclaimed.
“The devil has visited us!” another lady cried out.
Andrew walked passed them without greeting, opened the gate to the compound and stepped out. Outside, the murram path that led up to the main road was flanked on both sides by loud, rushing run-off sweeping everything in its path downhill. Further up the slope, in the gutter to his left, a dead dog floated downwards, carried by the run-off to wherever small streams culminated.
Andrew hugged himself against the morning chill, trying not to shiver as he plodded his way through the soggy ground up to the road. It was slippery business walking uphill, and already his shoes had gathered a good weight of mud on them.
He paused for breath when he finally got to the road and stood there looking about him. There wasn’t a vehicle in sight. All around, the sound of rushing water in the roadside gutters was all that could be heard. There wasn’t a single bark of a dog or the chirp of a bird. Just the gushing water in the gullies. He turned to his left and walked towards the taxi stage, keeping himself on the wet, leaf-littered tarmac.
Eeeh, he thought, the gods didn’t really destroy the place, but they certainly tried! A few feet ahead of him something lay on the tarmac: two dead crows, lying stiff on their backs, their talons curled in rigor mortis. He skipped over them and walked on. No species, it seemed, had gone unscathed.
Most of the buildings on the sides of the road were intact, but occasionally he passed by some that had suffered some kind of damage: broken windows, caved-in walls and even a few that had collapsed flat onto the ground. One of these latter ones was a small shop that belonged to a man called Abwooli, who now was standing – completely gobsmacked – in front of the ruins. Andrew walked over and stood next to him, staring dismally at where the shop had stood just the day before. Mixed in with the fallen bricks and concrete was a variety of merchandise: plastic cans of Blue Band and tomato sauce, books, sweets, buns and torn bags of sugar and flour that had spilled their contents everywhere.
“Look at this,” Abwooli said, almost tearfully, “Look at this Andrew. Everything’s gone. I have nothing. God have mercy, I have nothing left!”
Andrew remained silent. He too was still getting to grips with the carnage around him, and he found himself unable to think of anything appropriate to say. Instead, he gave Abwooli’s shoulder a polite squeeze and continued on his way. Just ahead of Abwooli’s fallen shop he found a homeless man scavenging for valuables in the mess of another felled building. At least there’s a bright side for some people, he thought.
As he neared the taxi stage he found his path hindered by a large crowd. The multitude of people was standing around the open shell of a house that had been bulldozed by the storm. Andrew saw with horror that the entire roof had been blown off to one side of the house, leaving a gaping hole at the top. Down at the entrance of the house a group of men were carrying an unconscious woman out of the wreckage.
“She’s clearly dead,” a fat, dark man next to him said, “No one can come out of that alive. The world is ending, my friend.”
Andrew made his way through the sea of horrified spectators and got to the taxi stage. He looked around and saw that most of the matatus were abandoned, with the exception of one that was inexplicably still in business. There were about six people inside, and the conductor was too preoccupied with the sight of the de-roofed house to care about calling for passengers.
Andrew got in and sat next to two women, both likely in their fifties, who were speaking gloomily about the state of events.
“It is a punishment from God, I tell you,” one said.
“My neighbour’s house is right next to the latrine,” the other said, “You don’t want to know what they woke up to all over the floor of their sitting room this morning!”
The first woman clapped her hands in shock and shook her head. Andrew turned away from them and took out his phone. He quickly realized that the battery had long died so he irritably pocketed it again. As he stared out the window of the taxi he suddenly recalled the dream he had been having before he was awakened by Rosa’s hysteria. The memory of the dream stirred an uneasy feeling in him, and he felt the foreboding sense of premonition. All those dead people, he thought, and that woman in the drain pipe…Another shiver ran through him and he pushed the dream to the back of his mind, tuning back into the conversation between the women on his side. “Thank God I’m born again,” the first woman was telling the second.
At least an hour had elapsed by the time the taxi finally left the stage, but it wasn’t long before they came to a standstill after only a few metres on the main road. There was a melee of cars stuck in a sea of traffic, hooting and revving.
“What’s going on?” the conductor called to the driver in front.
“There’s a tree across the road. Must have fallen in the night,” the driver called back. “Get the passengers out.”
They alit from the matatu and Andrew immediately summoned a boda boda man that was weaving his motorcycle nearby through the dense traffic.
“Wa ssebo?,” the boda man inquired.
“Ku Plasticorp. It’s just a kilometre up ahead,” Andrew said to him.
They manoeuvred round the side of the road, around the large eucalyptus tree that had fallen across the tarmac. On the other side of the tree a group of men were hooking its trunk up to a large lorry in an attempt to haul it off the road. “I haven’t witnessed anything like this since my birth,” the boda man said in Luganda, “Two of my neighbours nearly drowned inside their houses last night!” Andrew remained silent; the haunting images in his dream had crept back into his mind.
They arrived at the front gate of Plasticorp’s offices in a few minutes. After the motorcycle sped off, Andrew turned and saw that the offices too had suffered the fury of the storm. Part of the neon signage that hung above the entrance had been sheared off, with the new broken signage reading just “Plasti”, and the “corp” lying on the ground a further ten or so metres away.
He expected to find the place deserted but instead found it buzzing with activity. All over people were huddled in multiple small groups, talking in hushed but excited tones. A palpable fear hung over the entire place.
“I’m telling you,” one young man was saying to his colleagues, “it’s global warming. It has finally caught up with us!”
In another corner of the office a young woman was gesturing wildly with her hands to her small group, “It was this big I swear!” she was saying, “All ice, like a massive hailstone. It crashed right through the ceiling!” Her colleagues were raptly listening, a few mouths agape. In yet another corner the office secretary, a girl called Belinda, was seated on a chair weeping distraughtly, a few of her friends standing around her, soothing and consoling.
It was Katende who noticed him first and approached. “Hey man,” Katende began, “The gods threw a tantrum last night eh? How is this mess treating you?”
“Same as everyone, I guess,” Andrew replied.
“Hey, by the way, I’m really sorry, I heard.”
“You mean you don’t know yet?” Katende’s face had a worried look on it and a slight uneasiness entered Andrew.
“Know what? What’s wrong?”
“The City View Apartment Complex…” Katende began, but his voice trailed off as the memory of the dreadful dream returned to Andrew and, like the premonition he had feared it would be, it unfolded completely before his eyes:
He was back at the felled apartment complex, standing beneath the waterfall of muddy water, staring at the dead woman whose arms swayed limply from side to side in the current. The man – the mud-covered survivor – was standing next to him, sadly shaking his head.
“Turn her over,” he said.
Andrew grabbed the woman’s hair and turned her face towards him, and now his heart sank as the dead, empty eyes stared back at him. It was Tracy.
“…collapsed and there were no survivors,” Katende was saying when Andrew came to. “I’m sorry man…”
Don’t say it, Andrew thought desperately.
“…but Tracy was among them. It’s unbelievable…”
Andrew, his legs suddenly wobbly and unable to support his weight, slowly sank to the ground and sat cross-legged on the cold floor. His head was pounding and his sight was hazy. “Andrew, are you okay?” Katende was asking worriedly above him.
She can’t be, he tried to rally in his mind.
“Have you checked with your family? You better call them,” Katende was saying, his voice low and distant.
Up above Plasticorp dark, heavy clouds rolled in, covering the sky with a grey, smoky blanket and, announced by a sinister-sounding grumble of thunder, almost like a chuckle, the rain began to fall again.
Bio: John Barigye is a 27-year-old Ugandan, he has been published in Omenana Magazine (The Man Who Stole Monday) and Lawino Magazine (Temptations) as well as having written a few scripts for radio plays in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi.