The Walkers

by Ayibu Makolo

 

It is an especially humid day.

The air is stifling and rivulets of sweat run down my back and stain my white shirt.

‘Ma, why don’t we open the window? This heat is killing.’

My mother is lying very still on the floor, quite lethargic. She is sweating but she does not answer me.

‘You know we can’t open the window, son,’ says my father.

He is sitting on the floor beside mother, his back against the wall. ‘Why do you keep asking what you know the answer to?’ He fixes his eyes on me and I notice how gaunt he’s become. His eyes seem lost in their bony socket.

I shrug my good shoulder and move towards the window.

One good kick should send this thing crashing down, I think.

‘No good son, no good.’ My father moves towards me. ‘I tried all of that when we first got here. It’s no use.’

I return to my bed, a narrow and uncomfortable contraption that my family and I have no choice than to use. The bedcover is now a dull brown, far from its original white.

The wood is slowly being eaten up by ants and the iron support is falling apart.

The government, those uncaring people, that’s all they’d provided us.

I jump out of it immediately; the nylon cover is sticking uncomfortably to my flesh.

My mother starts to cry, she sounds like she’s got a dry morsel in her throat. Her voice is no longer what it used to be since she broke her neck.

‘They are coming,’ she mumbles. ‘The walkers are coming.’

She’s sweating a lot, there’s a wet stain like the map of Lesotho over her chest.

Her sense of hearing is very keen.

Father says it’s the only positive from the accident.

In no time we begin to hear it ourselves.

First it is faint and distant, and gets louder until it is directly overhead.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

‘This one’s in a mighty hurry,’ dad says, looking up.

‘And of medium built.’ I add, my hand feeling the wall.

‘More weight than height,’ argues father. ‘See how the vibrations are travelling really low.’ He places his hand over mine and slides my palm towards the bottom of the wall.

‘Think she’s a woman?’ I ask.

‘Not sure, but whoever they are, they’ve got to work on their temper as well. See how deep their instep goes.’

We stand side by side, feeling the vibrations bounce off the wall and become faint as the footsteps fade away.

In no time, the room begins to shake like a leaf in autumn’s wind.

‘My, something must be happening in town today,’ says father as we hear the sounds of many footsteps approaching.

Mother begins her long panicky wail and father goes over and strokes her hair, or what’s left of it.

She calms down eventually.

‘It’s a hard day for your mother,’ he says.

‘I know,’ I answer, but not with my mouth.

‘It’s a pity she does not enjoy our little game. That’s

the only way to pass time around here.’

‘Yes,’ I reply silently.

Father nods. He hears me better when I talk with my head than with my mouth.

‘This one’s a family,’ continues father, as the vibrations that set mother off intensify.

‘The man is in front; his wife is on his left, approximately two steps behind. She is holding onto two little children.’

‘Prob’ly two boys,’ I counteract, feeling the wall with practised familiarity. ‘The one on the right of the woman may be a girl and probably just walks like a boy.’

My father places his hands on the wall and measures its vibrations.

‘Y’know, I think you’re right. You are really good at this.’

Another group of people walk through.

The ‘spat, spat, spat’ of their footsteps are slow, like they are not in a hurry to reach their destination.

It is difficult to feel properly for who they are because of a rain that’s falling now. Rain messes with the travel of sound down here.

Mother is crying again.

Footsteps of any kind upset her but the worst are the unhurried, dragging of feet across a pavement. The type that causes shoe heels to lose their edges really quickly.

‘She could never abide slowness in people,’ says father, reading my thoughts.

‘Then why does she cry even when people walk fast?’

‘She cries because she can’t move anymore while they can. Not being able to move is killing her.’

‘Don’t you mean it the other way dad? Her moving too fast killed her, and us, in the crash. That’s why we’re here.’

‘Yes but…, we aren’t really dead, are we?’, says father, ‘Not dead as in D-E-A-D.’

‘All we’ve done is change location and appearances. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to hear them, these walkers, who walk so carelessly around our grave.’

‘Well we can’t really blame them. You said ours might be an unmarked grave, dad. Perhaps that’s why they don’t notice it.’

‘Maybe. But that’s no excuse. It’s just the way humans are. They walk one way when they think the world is watching and walk another way when they think no one is.’

‘But they’re wrong dad, aren’t they?’ I say, sliding over to rest my skull on my dad’s chest. ‘We are watching.’

‘Of course we are son, but they don’t know that, do they?’

 

Ayibo Makolo

The Walkers first appeared in Issue 2 of Bare Fiction Magazine in April 2014.