He picked the call absently as he could not take his eyes off the camera. It looked like a coiled snake...deadly, menacing, ready to strike... " -on mid-term break, so I'm bringing them over to your place for them to stay. I'll pick them after work." The voice of his sister came over the phone. "Wait! No! Don't bring them today! I'm sick! I've gone out! I'm busy today!" She had already ended the call. This was ill news indeed. He didn't want the boys to be at his place, not with that...thing here. What if, God forbid they should fall under its curse too? This was no place for kids at the moment. There was no doubt about it, the camera was totally evil. It didn't just predict a bad event that was going to happen, NO, he was sure the camera MADE them happen. All you had to do was take a picture with it. A laugh escaped him...He, AJ the sceptic, believing in the superstitious...but hadn't he witnessed it's work first hand? He had front row seats to the damn thing even. The camera needed to be hidden. But where? Time was running out and his room wasn't exactly a stadium. Space was at a premium...there had to be somewhere he could hide it for a while until he figured out a way to get rid of it permanently. He hurriedly put the camera in a small bag and pushed it under his bed. It was time to bathe and get ready. They would be arriving any minute now. He had just stepped out of the shower when he heard a loud knock at his door. The kids were here. That was usually how his sister knocked. Loudly. Opening the door, he was greeted with a chorus of "Uncle AJ! Good morning!" as his nephews turned themselves to mini-missiles, launching themselves at him. Laughing gaily, he caught them and tousled their hair, his problems temporarily forgotten. Taking his sister aside, he told her quietly of the death of the Ice cream vendor, carefully omitting the details and the role (supposedly) played by the camera.
Since their mid-term holiday was for 3 days, they were going to be with him (during the day) for the duration. Big sis had to work.
"Who wants to learn how to play chess?" Four small hands shot up simultaneously. His sister, seeing a great chance to slip out unnoticed, exited his room smoothly.
AJ brought out his battered and dusty chess board. He hadn't played in a while and for the next hour or so, busied himself, teaching the boys how to play the game. They soon got bored of it and he let them use the chess pieces to play their own game.
There was no danger here, the camera was safely under the bed...the boys were busy playing so he took the time to go outside to wash a few clothes.
It was mid-afternoon before they got tired of playing and looked up wistfully at him. He knew that look and what it signified. "Uncle AJ we want ice cream please." It was Sam that spoke. He was always the one suggesting things. Though younger than Simon, he was the bolder of the two and often set the tone of whatever they did. He thought quickly. There was another ice cream stand a few streets away. Their ice cream wasn't as good as the one the kids usually had, but it was passably close to it in quality. If he hurried, he could be there and back in a few minutes. Yes, he'd do that. The boys couldn't know that their friend was no more. "Boys, i'll be back just now, play your game a bit and i'll be here with the ice cream in no time at all." Taking care to lock the door behind him, AJ went out.
"Thank you uncle" Simon said, after finishing his treat. Sam's face was almost in his own cup. He mumbled something that sounded like 'thank you' and regretfully put the empty cup down. The rest of the day passed without any incident of note and soon the loud knock was heard again. "I hope you boys were good little men and didn't bother your Uncle too much?" Sam, jumping up and down said "yes mummy, we was very good!" He skipped around her and went towards her car. "Were" she called after him. "The word is 'were' and not 'was'" but he was already out of earshot. "They were well behaved dear sister and I loved having them here." AJ waved them goodbye at the car, after promising them even more ice cream treats for the next day. It was still early evening, he had been home all day and was feeling cooped up so AJ decided to take a little walk. Mama Azeez was outside, frying akara. God, did the woman not own a decent blouse? This one was threadbare and had suspicious looking stains all over it. He imagined the organisms that would be thriving there and shuddered. He joined some dirty children using an orange as a ball and played a few minutes with them before he continued his walk. He had meant to be out for about 30 minutes but ended up staying longer than he planned. It was already getting dark when AJ started back for home. He hadn't walked up to 5 minutes before a loud car horn behind him made him turn. It was his sister. Simon was in the front seat, his head bent. "What is the matter? I hope no problem?" His sister (Sharon) prodded Simon and said "go on, talk to your uncle" but the poor lad remained silent. Sharon took matters into her own hands. "Don't mind him o! I saw the kids playing with something at home and when I asked them what it was they kept quiet. I moved over to where they were playing and saw Simon hiding this behind him." She reached over to the back seat and pulled out...Oh sweet Mary and Jesus...no, it couldn't be...she brought out THE camera and handed it over to him. His legs felt like rubber and he almost collapsed on the street. "Why did you take it? When? How? Why? WHY?" He didn't realise he was shaking Simon through the window until his sister spoke. "Andrew Junior! Stop that! It's just a camera and in any case, it isn't broken. They're just kids, I'm sure the boy is sorry." AJ hurriedly apologised and rubbed Simon's head gently. His nephew looked up with his innocent face and big, beautiful eyes, smiling. "I'm sorry Uncle AJ, we won't play with your camera again...don't be angry with us, I only took a few pictures of Sam with it..." AJ yanked open the back door with a ferocity that shocked his sister. "Quick! To your house this instant! Where is Sam?" Sharon looked at him as if he were mad. "What's come over you? What is this? Please stop it! You're scaring the boy." AJ's insistent pleas for them to go back home made her turn the car around, back to her home. "Sister, please i'll explain later, but right now, just trust me and let's get to your place first."
They were less than 5 minutes away from home when her phone started ringing. She ignored the call as she was driving, but then her other phone began to ring. Only her husband and AJ had that number. It had to be Jim, her husband. She parked by the roadside and took the call. It lasted only a few seconds, but her face was ashen when the call ended. "What is it?" AJ asked fearfully. He already knew, though he prayed he was wrong. "Oh my baby, oh my baby" she sobbed. "That was Jim on the phone. He found Sam lying still on the floor not breathing..."
To be continued
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