On the night of her 13th birthday, Kaina goes to bed all happy and excited about the trip next day. The lights go out, the music goes silent, and she dives into a really unnormal dream, from which she escapes, only to experience an even more unnatural encounter... of the same kind!
This short story will take you on a tour of the extreme side of dreams and then far beyond, into the less known, less understood realm of our own awareness of identity and the myriad secrets awaiting each one of us... in the land of (waking) dreams.
Turn the lights out, let's go dreaming... dark!
There were three dresses on my bed, each one of them as pretty as the other. Mum and dad, not wanting to bias each other, had each bought me a unique dress, and two days before the birthday, my long-lost aunt, Adyeri, had dropped off a package on her way to the airport as well. The purple box, weighing more than three kilograms, contained within it yet another dress - a Japanese, a-line dress in satin that was really lovely. She'd also included a photo album, a diary - my first ever, and a curiously big black stone - she claimed it was one of the special memoirs she'd brought back from her journeys to Egypt - for me! Aunt definitely knew of my fascination with all things African, and though I didn't know what to make of the enigmatic rock, I loved the hieroglyphic etchings on it, and kept it at my bedside table. For someone who hardly got gifts on my birthdays, this one was really exceptional.
I was making 13, and it kinda felt different that day than the any before; I was all glowing, and feeling elated all day! And don't even get me started on the comical cake big sis baked! But, like the case is on such gay days, night must have had much envy, as the sun retired earlier than normal, and I was still in party-mood by the time bed time arrived. I'd danced to my favorite songs all evening, with dad joining in every now and then to dance with me - we put on quite a show in the sitting room that evening, and I could tell my sisters were jealous! Anyways, Dad, not wanting to ruin my super-Friday, saw it fitting to leave his portable player with me, as I retired to bed that evening - and he'd never done that for me! Well, I just went to bed wondering what it was about turning 13 that really made life magical. In the past, my elder brother, Akiki, kept telling me about "the troubles of turning `tha-teen`", and I never was able to see, what it was he meant. Thus far, it merely seemed like a beautiful fairy-tale unfurl... I soon dozed-off, the music fading-out, as I was swallowed into a deep, black and peaceful numbness.
I must have had a couple dreams that night - yes, I did, but I can't recall many of them though. However, there's this particular dream I must really tell you about. It must have been some time towards morning, because I'd been prematurely startled from sleep, when one of the more obstinate cockerels the neighbor reared, decided to disturbingly crow way earlier than normal. It broke the silence in the night, just when I was enjoying the comforts of sleep the most; I turned about for a while, looked at where the cassette-player sat and realized one of its fluorescent blue LEDs was still on, though the little thing had turned as silent as great-grandma's grave already. Feeling pity for dad's batteries wasting for nothing - it wasn't rechargeable, I slipped out of those warm sheets, and dragging myself sluggishly, walked over to the little table, pressed the 'kill' button on the player, and it went dead as it (probably) ought be. Thereafter, I returned to bed.
I wasn't amused with myself - I kept regretting why I had allowed myself to wake up. I pulled the sheets all the way up to my head (leaving just enough space to peek into the dark room, and let some air in); and all I kept wishing for, was that sleep return soon and take me back to fantasyland! The thinking actually delayed it, but eventually, sleep did catch up, and off, into a very different kind of dream, I drowned...
I only had a few friends at school (I wasn't very fond of making new friends, unlike many of my other classmates), and of these - three, to be precise, only one was a boy. His name was Aronda. My two girlfriends were Ajok and Nandi. Now, Nandi had been my best of the three, but of late, Aronda had replaced her as my favorite, and it seemed like he was really different from all my other accomplices - not just because he was a boy, but mostly because he did things no other friend had ever done for me.
In this dream, Aronda met me walking past the school canteen, it was break-time, and I really looked miserable on an otherwise bright sunny morning. Concerned, he asked me what it was that made me sulk that way, and I could think of nothing in particular. Unsatisfied by my lack of concern to his remarks, he suggested we go get my favorite yogurt from the canteen. "Maybe that will spice things up?", so he'd asked. I could but only tell him the real truth thus; "I carried no money for breakfast, and so, I won't be joining you at the canteen." I was also starting to get annoyed with him, but he must have quickly realized this, when he responded, "No, you don't need money to come, since I carried enough for myself, and have some more I could use to get you something." I first thought he must have been making fun of me, but then, as though to reassure me, he walked straight to the canteen counter, pulled out two notes, and placed an order. All the while, I thought to myself, Aronda is from a family relatively poorer than ours, but to see that he can share his peanuts with me is really untypical. I don’t think it’s coming entirely free... But could I refuse the offer? No.
He returned to me with two cans of yogurt, handed me one, and off we went, to one of the unoccupied benches near the canteen. Without speaking much (mostly because I was too hungry), I started eating my yogurt- a vanilla flavored special from Imelda's Farm, with such passion, Aronda joked that I would probably "end up eating the can as well!" We laughed, and he kept bragging how his was magically being refilled no matter how hard he tried to empty the can - however, I refused to believe him, at first. Later though, having calmed my riotous gut, I drew closer to him, and peeked into his can, and indeed, it seemed as though his can wasn't being emptied no matter how much of the yogurt he sucked out! I didn't bother to lend it much thought though, rather, I considered it one of those peculiar jokes he loved playing on me, or that it was the effect of hunger playing nasty pranks on me. (Wish I was a lucid dreamer, I’d have done better...)
We were still engrossed in that "yogurt moment", when Nandi showed up as well. Earlier on, I'd thought it was me that must have looked the most miserable that day, but Nandi really took the game three levels ahead! She neither looked her normal self, nor pretended to walk like the Nandi we all knew so well. Surely, something wasn't right with her; she normally walked with a composed, graceful gait, but this time round, she approached us as though something agitative were propelling her from within! Soon, she'd reached where we sat, though she stopped just a few steps from the bench itself. Looking her in the face, I couldn't help but notice the sinister expression masking away the friend I'd always known. I thought she would slap me or something of the sort, however, she just stood there, the hands held behind her, never looking at Aronda even for a moment.
Still wearing that questionable face, she signaled for me to hand over the yogurt can I held so possessively. I failed to figure out, just why she'd put on such a "show"; only thing that seemed to make sense was that she was badly broken in the stomach, and needed something, anything, to eat, just like I'd felt before Aronda's yogurt restored the life in me. I mean, who, without even saying a cold "hi", would just ask for another person's almost empty can of sweet, creamy Imelda's yogurt? I wasn't that mean myself, and so, knowing the trouble she could cause in the presence of her most-hated, Aronda, I quickly handed over the can, just to make sure no bile was spilled before us.
Nandi had once remarked that yogurt wasn't such a nice thing as I always claimed it to be. Her argument went along the lines of "It's actually dead milk! Would you rather take it fresh or dead?" So we'd had a bitter argument one lunch, and I concluded by saying, "Does it really matter? After all, even the 'fresh' milk has to get boiled, just so it can be enjoyed dead! Do you ever take raw-fresh milk?" She'd walked away bitter, realizing she couldn't convince me to buy the bigger pint of “fresh” milk we could have shared for lunch, instead of the tiny can of Imelda's yogurt I was insisting on buying. Since that day, I'd not seen her try to show any interest in knowing what it is that made me like yogurt - any yogurt. But here she was, gazing incessantly into my almost empty can. For a while, I wondered whether she'd turn the straw the other way or just suck the rest of that yogurt the same way I'd already done (though, I know of no true friends that would avoid each other's saliva). But then, she didn't seem to be interested in the yogurt itself... she was tossing the straw about, not showing any signs of wanting to suck or lick anything - maybe we weren't friends anymore? Confused as to what her intentions were, I stole a quick glance at Aronda, just to see what he made of all that cold drama, on an otherwise warm, sunny day.
Aronda wasn't at all concerned. In fact, it looked as though he hadn't even noticed us! He was busy, blowing bubbles into his yogurt, instead of eating the stuff! Whatever had happened to him, he didn't seem to want to mix me and Nandi into it, maybe not at that time. Then, Nandi, saying her first word since she'd ambushed us, commanded me to "Look!" I didn't know what it was she wanted me to see (besides her). "Look!" she repeated, and this time, she gestured I look inside of the can as she stretched her hand out, so I could get hold of it without her getting any closer than she'd already come. I grabbed the can, not knowing what to expect besides the little yogurt I still had left inside. (But, my gut had already started to indicate trouble.) I turned the can upright, and carefully, inspected the remaining contents of the can I'd last held just a few seconds before. First, I acknowledged that the level of the yogurt was still the same - she'd not mysteriously emptied the last bits of joy without my knowledge, but neither had she put anything extra. So, what was it she wanted me to actually see?
I turned to look at Aronda once more - this time, not caring if Nandi saw me do it, and then looked back into the can. Alas! "What the hell!!" was all I said when I finally saw as I should have. I couldn't believe what I saw, and the clarity with which I saw it even made me more upset and shocked - how come I was only seeing it then? There, rummaging about in the can, and all through the creamy stuff, were hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny, almost indiscernible maggots! "Oh my God! Nandi, what did you just do to me?" so I cried, in utter disbelief of what I'd just beheld. Who in God's name had the power and right to do such an evil thing to another? I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to stand up and beat her, I wanted to turn and slap him... I mean, there I was, confused and in utter shock, and none of them seemed the least bit concerned about what I was going through, or, did they even know what it was that had just happened to me?
I held the same plastic straw I'd been using to savor the stuff, and then, turning it about, got to realize that the same filthy, creamy-looking monsters in the can were also all-over and inside of the straw as well! My stomach had already started to churn; I was not just feeling sick, I'd started to sense the filth in my mouth and gut as well. No, this wasn't happening to me... I stood up. I didn't know what to do next; I just stood, the can held far away from me as though it contained the plague. Nandi. Nandi, what was that expression on her face? Was she smiling at me? "Are you happy about any of this Nandi? Did you..." I'd hardly finished firing at her, when the thundering laughter from my right almost made me jump in fright! Indeed, I was caught by surprise, as the can dropped from my convulsing right hand onto the ground. I resisted looking at the mess I'd caused on my shoes and those of Aronda - still seated right there, where he'd been sitting all along. I couldn't avoid turning my attention to him however, the laughter from him indicated he was really worked-up by all this, and I wanted to know both why and how it was so. "You're laughing at me as well? This isn't funny Aronda. No! This isn't funny..." I'd started crying.
As though to mock me even more, Aronda resumed eating whatever it was he still had in his own can, and he seemed to be enjoying every moment of it! Snickering, he would occasionally look at me, the same indifference Nandi had exhibited before me showing on his face as well. Then, he pointed to my feet and the milky-yuk I'd spilt all about myself, and then got cracking once more! He laughed so hard, I could see tears form in the corners of his eyes. I looked down to my feet and the ground about me... Oh, something more bizarre had happened (or was happening); the maggots were steadily growing in size, and most of them were crawling about in the mucky stuff, towards me! I'd had enough; confused, angered, terrified, I just wanted to vanish into nothingness or merely scream!
Yes! I started to scream real loud, as though some demon had hijacked my better self - I felt my neck turn hoarse as the noise rumbled up my chest and out my throat, but lo! Nothing! I mean it, nothing did I hear no matter how hard I tried screaming. I could not produce a single, tiny squeak! Whatever it was that had gripped me, I couldn't tell, because, realizing how I couldn't even whimper, I decided to flee from the horror as fast as my panic-stricken feet would carry me, but still, not even a single toe could twitch from position! At that moment, not knowing what else to try, I cried hard, inside of me though: "I'm going to die, and Nandi and her friend Aronda are going to merely look at my dying body and laugh even the more!" I wasn't myself anymore - I was a lunatic or something utterly pathetic and hopeless. The mere thought that my misery was the single thing that had united Nandi and Aronda at last, accumulated and sustained echoes of shock in me. I felt beyond doubt, that I was merely moments away from my real death... or, was I about to die, inside of a dream?
"Abwoli, Abwoli,... you are just dreaming all of this! Wake up. Do it fast!" a voice, neither Nandi's nor Aronda's, and oddly, not originating anywhere in the dreamscape, whispered unto me alarmingly. I was still seeking its origin, when, as is typical in many other nightmares of mine, the fantastical horrors melted into nothingness, as sanity and the clarity of wakefulness started to fade in. I'd already pushed the sheets all over the bed, and was seated close to the edge of the bed, facing out into the dark room, pouring over the details of the ghastly dream I'd just escaped from. I was panting, heart throbbing so hard, as though it were being pulsated by a force preternatural.
Pellets of sweat were rolling down my face, the chest and back - I was sweating like a pig! The puffy nipples I had for emerging breasts had gone stiff, and I could sense the air touching any part of my night dress in that moment. But, it wasn't just the air I felt... I sensed something else in the room with me, though I couldn't tell what it was I felt just yet. Also, I noticed that it must have been raining heavily in the night, and that it was only starting to calm down - I could tell from the sound of water maneuvering around obstacles in the trenches behind our house, and off into the bigger trenches that lined the road and which carried all the mess from our neighborhood to the unlucky beyond. Oh what a night...
In contrast to many other homes littered all about them, theirs was a rather exuberant house; big rooms and long corridors, even though they barely had a patch of outdoors to speak of. They'd had to sacrifice much of the original compound and backyard to hungry real-estate sharks, so the mortgage for the only piece of earth they could call home, would be rendered manageable for the struggling family they were. They'd grown to care less for the outdoors though, and were content with enjoying their spacious enclosures in a neighborhood much starved on space. Their bedroom grudgingly faced the little gate leading into their territory, and Onen had argued with his wife when they'd first moved in, that for them not to use that room as bedroom, would be akin to leaving their front-door ajar when they went to bed each night. It wasn't the best of neighborhoods for a middle-class family, but then, there had never been a single incident to prove him right ever since they'd occupied that decades-old mansion.
The house had seen one major renovation since its new occupants had moved in; done in the middle of the fourth year after Onen, his wife Rosa and their one daughter, Kaina had moved in, the walls, roof and floors had all been redone to their satisfaction. However, a couple things were later found to warrant repair as well, though Rosa, seeing as they'd "wasted" much money on cosmetic changes mostly, insisted any other major renovations would have to wait till their outstanding debts had been substantially reduced. On that front, Onen wouldn't dare challenge her - they both had to earn that money after all. So, the creaky gutters outside their bedroom had never been fixed; there were some small leakages in the kitchen plumbing and occasionally (especially when it rained), Kaina kept complaining about things banging in the ceiling above her bedroom. Her dad, good with inventing peculiar answers to quirky questions, had repeatedly tried to assure her that those banging sounds she often complained about, must be their celestial clansmen, celebrating with the bakisimba drums and performing vigorous dances; so much, so that their sweat fell back to the earth below, as rain! For a while, she seemed to have accepted her dad's mythical answer, though her mother would furtively smile, when once in awhile, Kaina would resurface the concern, especially during or after those terrible rain storms. "One day", Rosa would tell her hubby when Kaina wasn't around, "you will have to find a cleverer way of explaining it to her; cooking yet another fancy story or just sacrificing your money, and fixing whatever malfunction there is up there!" He would simply laugh it off though, but maybe, not for long...
First he turned, and then drew closer to her; unlike him, she seemed to be too deeply lost in sleep, he doubted she even realized it was raining like a problem out there! He wanted to disturb her, but at the same time feared the guilt of being the one that would ruin her favorite time of night - she loved affirming how those moments just before morning were the sweetest she ever had each night. But it was too cold, and the thunder, bickering unceasingly, all outside those windows, wouldn't help him get the best of those final moments of the night. Surrendering to habit, he resolved to be content with throwing an arm around her warm waist (sort of, engulfing her), and then letting his mind take the fantasy rides he cherished much.
The wind outside, was crashed by the closed windows and unforgiving walls of their home, but still, some stealthy currents made it past the vents, and into their room. The cold, biting through the covers, teasing his skin, got him thinking, and irritation chimed in, as he regretted not having replaced the nets in those vents with better ones. Before he knew it, he was thinking about all those renovations they should have been doing already but weren't. At one point, he thought about the defective water heater, and the thought led him to ponder the need to get a solar panel or some backup battery for when those power outages hit them (power load-shedding, had since been accepted a part of culture in Uganda, and folks had to either adapt to occasional blackouts, or find means of leveraging the mostly, unnecessarily costly alternatives).
But what of the creaky gutters?, started a new train of thought...
Rosa keeps talking about them, and how it is more important to fix those. She insists, they really ruin her precious sleep?
The thought tickled him; ruin sleep?
But she's asleep like a bear, and yet the creaky things are as noisy as ever. Maybe Kaina's drumming ought be explored first?
He was only tossing these thoughts about in his mind, but then something beyond, seemed to have been startled as well...
Oh, damn! What was that..., it was his fantasies being disrupted from without; a noise (or was it a scream), from no apparent direction, had dragged his attention back into the present. Onen slightly turned his head away from his lethargic wife so he could listen more carefully to what he suspected to not have been "the drumming" as they knew it, but a disconcerting noise coming from the direction of Kaina's bedroom - down the corridor from theirs. Was he dreaming or had it been real? He waited motionlessly for a while, but there didn't seem to be a sequel. It's either me, or she could've been merely over-dreaming, so he reassured himself, lowering the head back to the pillow, but also deciding to withdraw his arm from around Rosa, and turn to face the same direction he'd been oriented towards most of the night - his back against hers.
The rain's ruined our plans for the morning..., so he lamented, quietly, in his head,
When we had nothing special for her other birthdays, all would be well, but the tickets for the tour have been paid for already, and yet the heavens just might destroy it all!
He rarely thought well of whoever it was that pulled the strings from above, and feelings of helpless submission to fate often irritated him. His eyes partially opened, the play of shadows against the wall soaking up his awareness, more streaks of resentment crossed his mind:
The gods? They definitely envy us. See? It might rain the whole day today, after all the planning and investment we've done already! With no possible refund of the money we've paid, we'll not let go so easily! No, at the very least, we'll keep inside the car for the entire trip...
What could possibly be worse than having weather on the wrong side of one's calendar?
He was getting bitter (for virtually no reason), but what more could he do? Kaina's birthday had fallen on a Friday, and so Rosa had suggested they do something more engaging (the trip) this time round, as a family, over the weekend. They'd all been super-excited about it- "very possibly attracting ill luck", as Rosa would have definitely said. "What happened to our fabled rainmakers and those adepts of Kyomya that knew how to stop the rain?" so he’d ask himself. He watched the questions come and go, no suitable answers trailing after them...
Thinking has a peculiar way of shutting out “other” noise, and so, the thoughts being churned in his mind, almost muffled the creepy sound this time, but thanks to the receding rain, he did catch echoes of it still. Coming from the same direction as before, he was certain something was not right in the house; possibilities raced about in his mind, so fast, he didn't have any reliable theories just yet.
Something's going on in her room, or could it be somewhere outside? But it's coming right from within the corridor...
Who's causing fracas around here?
He gently pushed the blanket aside, not wanting to poison Rosa's tranquility. He pulled the bedside clock closer, "05:42", so it read. "Wow, this is almost morning!", he murmured to himself. He placed one foot on the bare, cold carpet, and noticed that if he had to catch a monster before it vanished, he'd have to forget about the tormenting cold, and just trek out into the corridor as he was - only dressed in his underwear! Indeed, he denied chance to the choices, and instead jumped out of bed - forgetting that the sheets had been tightly wrapped around Rosa, so that jumping out briskly, he managed to startle her from sleep, even though, unintentionally so.
Oblivious of what was going on, Rosa turned about in bed for a while, before struggling to raise her head just in time to catch him trying to put the sheets back on her.
"Honey, what's wrong?" asked Rosa as she strived to open her eyes. She turned to face her fleeting partner.
"Oh, so sorry! No, nothing much, I just want to go check on Kaina and the corridors...", he was clearly toiling to find the right words to say.
"The corridors? Kaina? No, what's wrong dear?" Rosa prompted more, now sitting upright. All the sleep she'd had, magically sublimated into nothingness!
"I was not asleep for a while during the rain," so started explaining Onen, "and sometime a while back, something made a noise, as though it were a nightmare..."
"Was it Kaina?"
"I... I don't know. I just thought I heard someone scream, but it vanished quickly, and didn't recur, so I brushed it off and tried to sleep again."
Onen was approaching the door, not wanting to waste much time explaining to Rosa something he only had yet to confirm.
"So, you say it happened again or have you just thought about checking it out now?" Rosa asked, getting out of bed as well. She walked over to the window, to peek out from between the curtains.
"I did hear something, again. I'm sure it came from her room, though it wasn't as loud as the first instance."
That worked Rosa like an alarm, because, she quickly withdrew from the window, put on her gown, and in a rather comical manner, tip-toed to her hubby's side. She whispered into his ears, "Please, don't make noise... Let's go together." Onen wanted to laugh, considering her possibly feigned "warm drama", being added to an otherwise chilling reality. To reassure her, he gently spoke to her thus:
"Be calm. Actually, I doubt there is anything serious going on; just want to ensure she's safe and sleeping... that's basically it. I believe, it could be just one of those bad nightmares she often has."
But that didn't seem to have worked, because she instead grabbed the doorknob, turned it slowly, and signaled for him to follow behind her! Onen was smiling in the dark... he loved to see the sight of Rosa assuming heroine persona; She's watched too many movies..., a voice in his head alerted him. He had no option, but to follow her. Slowly, they trekked into the corridor, barely making a sound, as they approached Kaina's room at the very end of the corridor.
They walked past the bathrooms, passed the kitchen (it's door was partly open, and for a while, Onen paused to inspect if anything might be amiss therein, but the thought of wasting critical time, propelled him on). Rosa was the first to reach Kaina's door. She tried the lock first, found it locked, and echoed this to Onen, "It's locked from inside."
"But, she rarely locks her door."
He went on, "No, I was the last person in her room before she slept... and I didn't hear her turn the lock."
He then signaled for her to let him try it, and she moved aside just a bit. He held the cold handle, and turned it almost imperceptibly as he applied some pressure on the door itself, with his shoulder. It refused to open though. His heart started to take shorter strides... "Something's not right." This time, he said the words almost unconsciously. Rosa seemed to be more ingenious that he, as she'd resorted to using the tiny key-hole, as a means to inspect what was happening inside the room. She started: "I don't see anything dear... Her room's still dark from what I can see". She took turns peeking into the hole with either eye, but there wasn't anything but blackness to see.
"No, that's unlikely," thus he challenged her resolution. "If the door's locked from within, then possibly, the key is blocking your line of sight."
Onen was feeling pity for her, and he thought to himself, I really ruined her sleep. Not telling his intentions to her, he quietly turned away from the door, and rushed towards kitchen. But she didn’t even notice his absence...
A short while after, he returned with the trash can! By then, Rosa was already onto her next scheme - she was knocking gently on the door, calling out to Kaina to come open the door. "Abwoli, Abwoli dear, it's mommy here... Please come open the door." But to her dismay, there seemed to be not even the slightest response from beyond the door. Onen, who believed to possess a better plan, asked her to step aside, so he could repurpose the stained-steel can. Inverting it, and then standing atop its tiny bottom, he had to further stand on his toes, just to be able to peek into the tiny vent holes above the door. For him, this was the only means to easily demystify the enigma before them.
"Can you see anything dear?" Rosa asked shakingly, not trusting that he would see anything worthwhile.
"Yes, I can see inside the room. I can see her bed and the windows too... they seem closed and the curtains are still drawn."
Rosa took a deep breath before asking what he'd already anticipated...
"No, I can't see her yet. She's definitely not in bed."
Though he was avoiding repeatedly inhaling dust off the vents, he was sure as a rock, when he said it. Fear rippled down his body at the realization of what he'd just affirmed. Where is she?
"Please look closer... she has a chair near her bed, maybe she's sleeping there?"
Rosa was now pacing to and fro, occasionally walking towards the lock, turning it, then trying again to peek through the same key-hole she'd already failed to look through - she couldn't avoid being panicky.
"The chair? Kaina's chair was taken out to the sitting room during the party yesterday, remember?"
This made him recall the merry moments they'd shared the evening before; jolly music, photo albums dusted and gleefully viewed, the food and the many gifts she'd had to unwrap - more gifts than on any of her previous birthdays. As he thought about these things, Rosa chipped in with yet another possibility,
"Maybe she suffered food poisoning? It was just too much stuff on the menu yesterday, and I fear, some of the food - the fish-cakes in particular, didn't go well with me as well.
Could it be the food?"
On a different occasion, her remarks would have gotten him cracking, but under those circumstances, he really avoided it. "I doubt it... well, I don't really think so." was all he said. He thought about it, and there was no way her suggestion made sense to him -
Would food poisoning make someone scream in their sleep? What sort of food did that anyway?
Leaving the bed? Maybe, but not the screaming... Maybe we are looking at it from the wrong perspective? What could possibly be worse?
He didn't want to think about these things more, so he instead turned his thoughts to the possibility of breaking into the room... But first, he’d have to try pleading with her:
"Kaina, Kaina sweetheart, if you can hear me, please just knock something in response. We just need to know that you're in there and that you're alright...
Please, do something dear."
The air from his mouth blowing bits of the dust as he tried to make sure his voice could make it past the vents into the grim room beyond. He went on, "Kaina dear, come open the door. Please be nice to daddy and mum..."
All of a sudden, Onen was speaking the same way he'd used to, a couple years before- when their daughter was but a pesky, little child. But unlike then, she wasn't anywhere within sight; she wasn't staring obstinately into his eyes, suppressing a smile and refusing to do his bidding. No, he was talking to the room, hoping she'd hear and respond. Rosa had tears forming in her eyes at the sound of him doing this. Then, as if finally to reward their woes, something from behind the walls made a sound as though something were being pulled on the floor with much difficulty.
They both heard it, but Rosa jumped upon it first; "Dear, I can hear you, please come open the door. It's mommy here." But what if she can't move? So she thought. "Abwoli, don't force it, if you can't move, just bang something and we'll know... We can try to break the lock." She was right, or that was what she interpreted of Onen's nod. He was still fixed there on the tin platform, his eyes never stopping to inspect the space beyond those tiny holes. There was silence - maybe another signal was about to come thru?
Rosa was looking up at her pathetic partner, wondering why he couldn't come up with a better option. She recalled when Kaina was very young, and how when she'd be very scared, she'd lock herself in the bathroom sometimes and not want to open the door until when she'd walk around to the bathroom window, and assure her otherwise. She was a natural phobic, but he didn't seem to recall any of this.
Meanwhile, Onen alighted from the can (much to her relief), but instead merely moved the thing slightly to the left, and then climbed back up! She didn't interfere, she just looked on, instead thinking of walking to the outside, to try the window. But she didn't move, fearing what might be lurking outside as well - theirs wasn't an entirely innocent neighborhood, not even as dawn approached. He was almost giving up, when he saw something move in the corner of Kaina's dressing mirror. Oh! I've seen something..., the thought flashed into the fore of his mind, but he didn't dare speak it out. He looked again harder - the lighting was getting better than when they'd just arrived, but he still couldn't clearly discern much. The trouble was, unlike theirs, the vents on her room (facing the corridor) had nets in them, which, given the dust that had accumulated there over time, made it harder to view things in the room clearly in such low light. But despite all this, he was certain he'd seen something move... and he was convinced it was their daughter or something like her.
There was silence once more, but beyond their home, the sounds of early commuters hooting and other activity was starting to break the monotony of night. But, besides this, it was just their breath, hearts throbbing, and silence in Kaina's room, hanging in the air. Rosa's ears were tightly pressed to the door - had she heard something too?
The single word shattered the silence, and with it restored hope where fear had taken hold of both their hearts. The sound definitely came from inside the room, but then, it didn't really sound like Kaina's.
"Yes dear? It's mom and dad here... please come open the door, everything's fine out here."
Rosa was sweating and freezing at the same time. But she'd started to gain some relief otherwise; just that call to her, was sufficient to change things round...
"Did you hear that? She just said one word, 'Mom'"
Onen nodded in acknowledgement, but otherwise said nothing in return. Instead, he used the index finger on his right, to tap at something in the vent-hole, and then looked through it some more. Finally, he muttered under his breath,
"No. I don't think I heard a word, but it's as though I saw her reflection move in the dressing mirror...
I'm trying to catch sight of it once more. Just hold on..."
She didn't wait though. she was frantically turning the lock once more, but that wasn't yielding anything still. Onen was onto something more tangible through; his gaze was fixed onto something beyond those holes... It wasn't like anything he'd expected at all. First, he rubbed his left eye - the one that was best positioned to see the mirror, then, he looked into the vent again - just to ensure he wasn't hallucinating;
No, it isn’t an illusion! so he thought, Kaina was standing before the mirror, yet a reflection in the mirror indicated yet "another", exact replica of herself, seated on the bed!
But when he inspected the bed, he saw nothing there! Damn me! What was happening here? Gosh no, it must be my head...
He didn't know what to say to Rosa, but he felt his legs tremble, and very possibly, Rosa sensed it; she drew closer to him, and then lightly touched him - "Honey, are you shaking?", she asked, her gaze trained on him in utter disbelief.
"This is not going to work... I was thinking, maybe we should just break the lock or go try to see via the window?"
He didn't say a thing.
"Actually, you aren't standing well, and might fall. Let's just try something else..."
It was as though he'd been hypnotized; head locked in position, eyes pressed onto the vent. Finally though, he stepped down from the can, and he whispered into her ears:
“There's two of them inside there!”
But Rosa thought he was speaking yiddish - it didn't make any sense to her! Not waiting to explain more to her, he got hold of the door lock, and pushing with much force, tried to force it to snap open - but there inertia was great, nothing moved at all. He automatically switched into threat-mode;
"Kaina, open this door please... or we'll be forced to break in. Do you here me baby? That, or I'm breaking in right now..."
Rosa wasn't yet sure what it was that had eaten into his mind while up there, but she felt he knew what he was doing, so she stepped back, palms covering her lips in hopelessness.
"What's happened to us?" was all she managed to say under those soft sobs of hers...
“Kaina please... come open the door.”
I struggled to breathe slowly and to muffle the sound of it - I had to be silent enough just to be sure. But no, I failed to do it, the fear wouldn’t let me focus, and so I wished there was some way to see with the back of my head, as I felt whatever there was, must’ve been hiding from my sight as I turned about. I was scared and guessing...
My chest hurt a bit; the pounding inside was overwhelming, but that seemed to only steadily increase with time! I tried to listen very carefully, but the pulsating throb inside of me seemed to out-maneuver any slight sounds reaching my ears. Is it just inside of me? The thought didn’t make much sense... I’d never felt that strange before!
If you don’t do something about this, you’ll soon die from fear or lack of action! Get off your butt and do something... maybe run to mum?
Sure, she was right (the voice that talks in my head), I figured I had to do something, anything! But what was I to do? I feared everything in that moment... However, I quickly realized, the darkness was probably what was causing me all the trauma, as coupled with memories of the nightmare I’d just had, it felt wrong sitting there alone in that dark room, hoping for the sun to soon restore the life in me. I could instead bring the life back, by tuning those lights back on.
Slowly, as though getting out of bed were forbidden, I creeped out of bed, towards the switch right next to the door. Actually, going for the switch immediately gave me the courage to go open that door and run! Switch on the light, don’t look back, and just run... mum and dad won’t care if you wake them up... afterall, it’s still your day! I was getting stronger with every slight step I took towards that wall...
Two steps to go, and then...
First, the bed creaked a bit, and then I heard that same breathing as before! Louder, clearer and creepier than before. My right leg froze in-place, I tried to move arms but couldn’t... All of a sudden, it felt like I’d taken a whole year to walk to where I was - I was convinced, reaching the switch or the door was never going to be possible! No, not with the nightmare that had followed me from that other nightmare!
Kaina , turn and face it off... it’s possibly still just a dream!
Was she right? Was I still just dreaming? Only one way to find out...
“Run out the door and scream!
No, that wasn’t her anymore; it wasn’t the voice in my head I was sure... the command came to me vividly, and it came from behind me! I was certain, it couldn’t get any worse than that... I was either to run or turn and die! I felt my legs go limp, as convulsions swept down my body. I could run, and I felt I should, but instead, decided there was no way I would outrun my invader just that easily. So, without much more contemplation, I just turned to face the origin of that voice, and what I saw made me...
There was no doubting what it is I saw. First, it was the narrow shoulders and small neck. Then I saw the flowers on the collars of her dress (it was a night dress), and then the way her hair looked even under that dim light, then her chest, those arms and the way she held them upon her thighs... It was hard to believe my own eyes, but beyond doubt, I was looking at myself?
I wasn’t prepared for any of it; all the scary stories friends loved to retell as we walked back home never mentioned a spectre of this kind, and I wasn’t sure dreams occurred inside of other dreams! So, it occurred to me that probably, I’d not woken from the nightmare ever! Impossible things can’t get any more impossible, and so I made a leap of faith and decided it wouldn’t help accepting fate...
One leg twitched, another took the step, and unconsciously, I reached out with my shaky arm, for where the switch should have been. I didn’t turn to see what I was touching though, I just pressed hard in anticipation of the relief illumination would bring. Does the switch turn up to turn the lights on, or does it have to turn down? I couldn't think straight. Maybe use the other hand? I didn’t bother to try any harder than that; the switch wasn’t working! What magick is this? So I consulted my clueless innerself... but there was only silence there.
“Look, you are touching the door hinge! There’s definitely no light coming...”
Christ Me! It speaks like me as well?
“Come. Come here dear... Abwoli, come... hhheeere.”
That last sound sent the nerves berserk inside of me; no, she really wasn’t speaking like me! What was this I was experiencing? Suddenly, I was conscious of the weight of my head! The perspiration I’d had moments before, was quickly turning into beads of ice. I made no attempt to move (anywhere else), but her gaze upon me made me feel an overbearing force attract me towards her... and, was she grinning? “Oh my God...”, I whimpered under my breathe, she was unbelievably freaky! And then she spoke once more...
In a tone, sweet, childlike and very reassuring. I felt she spoke like the princess in that other cartoon... For some reason, after all that drama, I wanted nothing more than to believe the possibility of some noble intentions? Maybe, maybe that was the only way to stop these torments? She seemed to have read my mind though:
“Do you think I can hurt you?”
Definitely! But no, I didn’t mention it. I didn’t want to provoke another one of her enchanting dark antics. However, I moved the tongue a bit, swallowed nothing, and cleared my throat... I had a question for her. I did it in a slow, calculative tone, my first real speech expression since she'd raided me. I asked her, “Is your name Kaina ?” She didn't immediately answer back, but eventually replied:
“You wouldn’t believe me.... but yes, my name is Kaina .”
I mulled over that response, as my inner siblings got riotous...
Don’t listen to her please! Actually, stop this madness, and call for help! But I still had more to ask:
“Have you been here all night?”
“Where did you pass then?”
“It doesn’t matter. Come closer dear... I don’t like this shouting thing.”
But were we shouting? No, and so I started to feel my regained strength evaporate. Why shouldn’t it matter? This is your room! I didn’t want to show her more of my fear though... “Always be bold and don’t allow bullies to frighten you,” so mama had said, at the end of that class meeting, during which the disciplinary teacher had cautioned those kids that had made it a habit to bully others. “When confronted by them”, she'd continued, “never show fear, or else they will bully you more.” I hadn’t believed her then, but having escaped the torments of my two conspirators, I wasn’t going to let some “Kaina ” have the better side of this nightmare! I didn’t move towards her or the bed, instead, I turned to look at the table where the radio sat, and then realized, I could easily use the broom in the corner - the one besides that table, if I had to. Afterall, there was probably nothing impossible anymore...
“No. I will stay here. What is it you want?”
But, I didn’t stay put. I took a couple steps backwards, and then made a sharp turn towards the table. I turned to look at it - the broom, just to make sure I wasn’t picking the wrong thing, and then clenching my fist about it, leaned against the wall, broom in my right. I felt well armed for whatever... She did notice my intentions, or so I thought, when she declared:
“If I’d wanted to harm you, I’d have done so already.”
I didn't believe her...
“But why should I trust you, yet I don’t even know you?”
She grinned, then laughed softly and mockingly. She didn’t seem the least bit afraid of me or the potential bat I held. She raised her left arm and then pointed at me with a gesture I couldn't decipher. She muttered some inaudible words while maintaining her gaze on me, after which episode she challenged me:
“Really? For all you can see and hear, you can’t trust me? Are you really sure you don’t know me Kaina ?”
She just called you “Kaina ”! Not only do you look like her, you have the same name as her?
I didn't know her! But, she looked and sounded all familiar! I had more to find out...
“How come you are wearing my nightdress? How come you look just like me?”
She smiled, and that made me feel uneasy. But as though she’d already anticipated my next reaction, she assuringly told me:
“You are no different from me Kaina , and you could prove this for yourself. You have no reason to fear... Come closer dear.”
“Why do you want me to come close? Why did you prevent me from reaching the door?”
I had no trust for anything she was saying, but I felt she was being too clever for me as well. I went on. ..
“I don’t believe we are the same; why don’t you want me to turn on the lights! We might seem similar, but I doubt we are the same... because, because I'm awake and I I'm sure of what I'm seeing! ”
She just smiled again, even chuckled a bit. The lack of defense on her part made me feel more vulnerable. What's really her intention for all this? That thought left me with more questions than answers. I wasn't prepared to let her go on intimidating me, and so I gathered some more strength, and started to head for the door. - I was determined to flee, regardless of what it'd cost me! This time, don’t look back! Just open the door and run! But then she interrupted me just in time...
“I didn’t stop you from doing anything. It’s just you... You don’t want to do anything!”
That didn’t make sense! And yet she went on:
“I came here for a reason; I have to show you something, but first, you must let me.”
I wasn't anymore convinced of her intentions, but I thought it was worth finding out what it is my double wished to share. Afterall, I was somewhat fond of new experiences (sometimes even taking huge risks - dad had one time confessed he liked me more for that reason alone). Against my conscience, I decided to take a gamble...
“Okay, if I may trust you, then why not let me call mum and dad to come meet you as well?”
“But they are sleeping, and I doubt you want to ruin their sleep...”
“No. Dad would want to know. He always asks me to show him all my friends, even those that would never come to visit me here at home!”
“But, I’m not just your friend! In fact, I’m no stranger to him as either.”
Wow wow! What did she mean by that claim? I was feeling confused and didn’t know what more to ask of her. She claims dad knows her? That! That’s what’s going to expose her deception!
“You mean you’ve met my Dad before?”
“Not only have we met, I could tell you what he’s doing right now!”
My naive self thought: Of course! Dad is in bed, sleeping right now!
“That’s too obvious! I mean, have you like met him before?”
She didn’t answer that. Instead, she stretched her feet out on the bed, and then yawning a bit, got off and stood right where I’d first stood when I’d gotten out of bed myself. Then, without caring for whether I’d run, scream or anything, she approached me where I was, and then stood just about a couple feet from me, then, she gestured for me to look at the dressing mirror hanging upon the wall, about 2 meters from and on the right from where we stood.
I couldn’t see much, as there was very little visibility - most of the room was still cloaked in a gloomy darkness. However, seeing as she was unwaveringly gazing at it, I tried hard as well, just to see what it was she was staring at, and then, I finally saw it too... foggy, but certain; dad and mum were awake in their room, and they seemed to be engaged in some argument? I couldn't hear what it was they were saying to each other, but in the depths of that dark and shiny mirror surface, I could see them beyond doubt! I'd never experienced anything like it! She must have noticed the awe I was experiencing; she went on to affirm...
“It’s all happening right now Kaina , and they think you might be in trouble.”
She’s a sorceress! How could she possibly know or do that with my mirror!
“Is that mum?”
“Yes, that’s she, Rosa our mum.”
Our mum? She went on...
“In a moment, they’ll probably be here.”
“And will you let them in?”
“Psssshh. If you listen carefully, you might hear what they are saying...”
This is was starting to seem like the wildest dream ever! I mean, first, was this mysterious twin, then visions in the mirror, and then I could even hear their voices, through the mirror as well? I was blown away! Curious me, I couldn't hold back how impressed I was by her apparent magic. I had to probe...
“How did you do all of this? Are you a wizard Kaina ?”
“You'd be much more amazed to discover that you are doing all of this Kaina ... you are.”
“But how? I've never done any of this before!”
“Everyone can, if they are given the right guidance and impulse, and that's what I'm here to show you.”
So she's here to teach me sorcery? Some mysterious twin of mine materialized in my room in the depths of the night, too teach me this stuff? Why?
“Maybe tell me first, who sent you?”
She paused before giving me an answer. I thought she was hesitant to tell me, but she did:
“You asked me too.”
“No way! When did I ever see or talk to you?”
“Every time you wished you had magical powers. Sometimes you even imagined you already possessed these powers as you went about your life, assuming these roles with friends of yours.”
Role playing games? Yes, I loved playing such with Aronda especially. But only rarely did we play anything even remotely akin to magic. But Aronda, he's the one who loved those things more than I, and everything I knew about sorcery and wizards, I'd learnt from his wizard storybooks - especially the ones about the Chwezi; their ability to turn invisible, disappear into rocks or lakes, or their ability to turn into animals and other people. Could this visitor of mine be one of them? Ask her!
“Kaina , are you a muchwezi?”
“Come closer. Let me show you something...”
I’d failed to resist her charms already, I didn’t feel like I could resist her other requests anymore. So, I steadily let go of the broom, and then took a step towards her carefully though. She nodded in agreement, and wore encouragement upon her face. As I took yet another step towards her, she reached out with her hand towards me.
“Come, let me show you something you'll definitely love!”
And as our fingers touched, a wave of euphoria swept across my body from the tips of those fingers touching her, unto the rest of my body. I’d never felt that good before! I don’t think I can clearly describe how it all felt! She looked me in the eyes, and signalled for me to say nothing. Meanwhile, I heard a door open in the corridor, and knew immediately that mum and dad would soon be outside our door. She steadily held my hands, and I didn’t feel the least resistance form inside of me. Without realizing it, I felt her pull me towards herself, and then she threw her arms around me in such a tight embrace, I could feel her heart beat lag behind mine. I didn’t fight it, somehow, she just made me let go. And then I didn't see, nor hear anything more...
Blackness everywhere! It’s so peaceful, so silent, I’m scared to even breathe. I can’t feel the air, nor can I touch anything about me, but I can sense that I’m standing upon something - something I’m not sure is earth or not - I can’t see anything.
I’ve tried walking a bit, the texture upon which I walk is totally unfamiliar to me, and it feels nice walking (through it). Then, at some point I got too excited, and decided to run around a bit. Fear of darkness and the unknown, where did it all go? It seems like there’s an infinity of it, all about me, but no, I’m not afraid at all! What’s this place?
I know not how I’ve gotten here - I can’t seem to remember anything beyond this place, but, neither do I know what’s about to happen next. It’s amazing...
I can float! Oh my God I can levitate! Wow gosh! Where am I? What have I become? I feel something - yes, this is not my home... I can feel how strange everything seems, but I can’t really recall how things could have been otherwise. Have I been here for all eternity?
I want to try something new... Damn! I must try something, anything! I feel like anything is possible at this moment. I must do something new!
I kept turning; rising and then falling back low - I wasn’t even sure I was really moving, but I felt I was.
I can't seem to exhaust the vastness about me!
What was that place? Heaven perhaps? I didn’t know... But I loved that place! And then, I thought I heard the sound of drums. I was moving towards them, but they kept shifting further and further as I tried harder to approach them. I slowed down, and yes, I was hearing a rhythm punctuating the dead silence. I soon realized I was dancing to it! I stopped moving and decided to just listen instead... it had stopped.
I waited for a long while, but nothing changed anywhere - same dead silence enveloped me once more. I got tired of it and started moving again. I wasn't walking, no, I just thought about it, and realized I was expanding! Not sure how, but I felt it - I was growing bigger and bigger without end!
Wow, what’s happening now....
But since I couldn't see anything, I just assumed my mind must’ve been playing tricks on me. I was enjoying it immensely though - laughing and shouting with such intense amazement. I didn't know or understand what was happening to me, but I loved it!
And then, sadness filled my heart. I wanted to see something... anything! I felt nothing make sense if I couldn’t see anything in that vast nothingness. The joy started to fade... and soon, I realized I’d stopped expanding, I was contracting, and real fast! I felt so much pain as it happened. A sharp pain tore through me, so sharp I thought I’d been torn to pieces, but no, I felt I was still whole... and then, I started to cry.
I cried. So so spontaneous, yet very very deeply. I cried from a pain and inner melancholy I couldn’t explain or understand. All the while, I was shrinking - or felt I was. And then, as the pain tore through me, I felt like I was going to die! That feeling made me real scared!
It’s all going to disappear! Oh no, I’m dying... God No! I’m dying... no!
This torment went on, for a time that felt like eternity. And then, at some point, as spontaneous as it had come, everything came to a sudden stop, and I felt I was myself again - or what I thought I ought be like. In place of the joy and pain before, something started forming deep inside of me; I felt I wanted so much to see - I wanted to see LIGHT! And, I felt beyond doubt, that I could create it. I felt I could just will it into existence or maybe...
I’m not sure how or whence I got that mantra from, but I chanted that same phrase, clear and loud, nine times! And just when I’d finished the ninth time? I saw a tiny, but blindingly brilliant light start to form before me! I was neither standing nor flying - I just felt like I was just suspended in that vast nothingness by something I couldn’t see... And the light? It was growing rapidly and expanding into a vast field of white, pure and amazing brilliance, all about me.
I can’t look at it!
Thus I felt for a while, but, I figured, I could do or be anything! And so, the fear of that light faded, and I started to float and race about in the ever expanding whiteness - there was nothing else in sight!
It’s just like the darkness before this, except this one is white! Maybe, I should add something else?
I want to see and be aware of what it is I am! Who Am I?
And then, as though those questions had awoken in me memories of lives past, I started to imagine things I felt ought to exist... the earth, big, round, floating about in that space... Then I was astonished to see that in the midst of that white brilliance, something started to form...
Oh my! That must be Earth!
I knew it, because I felt beyond doubt that it was. And then, I saw other things start to form... some very distant, and small.... And the Earth? It was growing bigger and bigger! No, I realized I was falling... I was falling fast, down, towards the Earth!
I’m going home...
I’m going home....
And as the clouds receded before me, I noticed the reddened sky... it was dawn! I was falling still, but I felt no need to resist any of it. I turned a bit, saw hills, lakes and birds... Somewhere I saw a light go off, in another place I saw lights of ochre racing about on gray lanes... and then I heard it... the sound of my mother!
“Kaina please... come open the door.”
Oh my God, I’m home... again.
I turned to see where the sound was coming from, and as the distinct outlines of that place started to materialize before me, darkness swallowed me once more. I felt weak... and probably fell back into sleep.
I can’t lie that I know what exactly happened, but when I next woke up, it was because of that disturbing and heavy banging at my door. Someone was trying to break in from the outside! I sat up, only a bit sober, but not frightened. Figments of what had just been happening were streaking through my mind... Then, I heard mum crying from outside the door. I knew dad was the one trying to get in. I wanted to stand up and go turn the key before the damage was made, but I totally felt no will in me to do so. I just sat there, the thoughts struggling to surface inside of my mind... every once in awhile, I would get glimpses of that what it is I thought had led me to be sleeping on the floor and not in bed, but all these were mere snippets of something I felt was more mysterious, yet I couldn’t conceptualize what it really was!
The lock snapped, and the handle turned. Dad came rushing in, first, towards the bed, and then realizing I wasn’t there, turned about briskly, and raced towards where I sat, curled up hopelessly. Mum was the first to reach me though, and she never stopped crying. She knelt there before me, and then just embraced me in an awkward way, asking the same thing again and again... “Kaina , why?”
Dad was more straightforward; he only begged mum to let go, so he could carry me back into bed. I felt feather-light and flimsy, floating about as he carefully delivered me back onto that messy bed where he’d left me the evening before. Holding my palm in his, and having checked both my pulse and temperature with his touch, he looked me in the eye and asked: “Baby, what happened here?”
What should I say? Where do I begin?
I didn’t have the strength to say anything back in return. I only looked back at them, mum still as worried as she’d looked when she’d first walked in.
You don’t have to say a damn thing! And maybe don’t.
I didn’t. But, I did get the a chance to peek between them, to the only mirror I had in my room. And what I saw there seemed to coalesce the fragments of memory that I was struggling so hard to piece together - some enigmatic jigsaw I had to solve, so as to finally make sense of what was happening. But, as morning had almost come, and as the lights had been turned on, my biggest clue seemed to be bound to evade me. Quick and vanishing from sight, akin to mist in the light of noon, it was disappearing right before my eyes. I could see a fleeting image of her, and in those final moments, she seemed to be saying something that I couldn’t discern anymore. And as she tried ever harder, her image grew more vapourous, until finally, she faded into nothingness. Only the reflection of that gray floor, the lemon-green, concrete wall and other mundane stuff left in her place. I felt saddened for a while, but didn’t really know why.
Without losing sight of where her image had been, I gathered more strength and will, and finally said one thing before silence engulfed us once more:
“Kaina was here.”
I wasn’t even looking at any of them when I said it. But after I’d said it, I had to make sure it had sunk-in. First I looked at dad, and then mum. But the expression they both projected in return, assured me it was better to say nothing more of it.
They will never believe or understand you.
I gave it no more thought. Instead, my focus turned to the fact that it was just the day before that I’d celebrated my 13th birthday! And only one thing dwelt on my mind then...
I pray that dad might still be convinced enough to take us for that tour he’d promised.
I don’t know for sure, but he probably heard my silent prayer? I saw a firm grin form across his face, and the inside of me knew - I’d gotten my assurance. Hopefully, the drama had finally ceased.
But, maybe not for long...