“Snake! Daddy, snake!” I screamed and jumped back, staying clear of the ambit of its thick sweeping tail as it sought for what to grab unto, what to roll its whole body around and tighten. My whole body shivered, engulfed by the morbid fear of this huge thing that had found its way into our one story home, and the glaring reality that it was either I ended up the predator or I became the prey. Somehow — I wouldn’t want to use the word ‘miraculously’— amidst the frenzy, a machete appeared in my hand and, the next second, I was swinging it in a powerful arc.
One clear blow and I split the creature in two; then my world went black. Daddy woke me up again, shouting “Chu! Chu! It’s not yet dead!” and I heard some banging and then crashing, he was fighting it and it was fighting back. When I rushed out of my room back into the lobby, he had its head pinned down on the cemented floor with the leg of a back chair, while its body squirmed violently, throwing blood on the acrylic-yellow painted wall, making a graffiti of some sort. Soon it began to tire out, its scaly black and brown patterned skin wriggling, wriggling, then it stopped. Finally dead, my world slipped back into open blackness again.
I scrambled up from the bed, sweating and panting hard. A mosquito buzzed across my ear and I swatted at it in the pitch darkness; missed. Stupid ungrateful things, haven’t they had enough of my blood? I cursed.
I had dreamed. A deep, unsettling, experience happening on a Wednesday morning, when the heat hung low and the neighbourhood electricity had failed again. Usually, I rarely would dream and whenever I managed to have one, it never manifests into reality. So, it’s safe to say my actual dreams are useless.
By the break of day, I was sceptic, hung in-between telling someone else or the entire family about it, or just forgetting it and acting as though nothing happened. I paced about on the rugged floor of my bedroom, weighing the burden, the entire bulk of it in my head. It was just a dream anyway, I don’t even remember dreams—usually don’t bother to—but this was different. The images kept flashing back and taking form before my eyes: the machete rising high above my head, Daddy screaming my name, a huge muscular contracting thing separating into two spurting bleeders. It hung like a leech on the skin of my mind and it deeply bothered me, even when I’d successfully furthered it.
Eventually, I told Daddy. He gathered the few members of the family who were around into the parlour and said to me, “Chu, Chu, repeat what you have just told me.” In our home, just like in many other Igbo families, it is tradition that one gives a detailed account of a dream to another person or a group of persons. It has been an age-long belief even before my Great Grandfather was born that narrating a dream either raises the odds of its manifestation in real life if it’s a good one, or waters it down (even prevent it completely from happening) if it’s a bad dream.
As I recounted the experience, Mommy clasped her hands and buried them in her thighs. She shook her crossed feet, and exclaimed hei!!! when I started talking about Daddy holding down the head of the snake. Daddy quietened her. He was more composed and listened with rapt attention as though he had not heard the story before. I felt shy with all the attention and, at a point, became unnerved. I wondered why they attached such magnitude of importance to something that happened in an artificial world. I wanted to tell them to stop the theatrics, it was just what it was: a fucking, useless dream! But once I was done, Mommy called her Pastor, he fired prayers into the phone which was put on loudspeaker, and, while their heads bowed and murmured follow-up prayers and verses from the bible, I looked at them from the corner of my eye. A dream had turned my family into a prayer group. How was I ever going to tell them to stop? How would I tell them that I don’t believe these pastors—that, in fact, since the beginning of last year, not that I doubt the existence of a God but I’ve become more realistic and started using a practical approach towards things that bothered on faith. How was I going to tell them they do not need to worry, that I’ve already furthered this dream?
The pastor kept firing prayers and soon Mommy broke into another realm and began to speak in tongues.
I started exploring the limits of my dreams when I was twelve. Before then, I believed dreams were absolute, short revelations of future events. Although I didn’t dream much, I always ran to Daddy to tell him all about any dream I had. Once when I was seven, I dreamed the big African star apple tree in our compound at the village fell down and killed one of my Grandmother’s goats. When I told Daddy, he said he was going to think about it. He thought about it, said it was a bad dream, I watched them pray against it and then Mommy suggested the tree should go. The next week it was mowed down into logs of timber. My Grandmother was devastated because that was just prior to the season when the star apples ripened and were ready for market. Daddy told her it was all for the best, what if the dream came to pass and, in reality, the goat was going to be a human being? He ended up paying her in cash, the equivalent of what that year’s harvest would have brought forth.
After that period, I began undreaming. I didn’t tell anybody because they were going to call me crazy. Mommy would drag me to the pastor’s altar and tell him I’ve been possessed by an evil spirit. He would sprinkle holy water on my body, do so many abracadabra prayers and I didn’t want all that. So I kept my mouth shut.
Undreaming a dream, or changing the course of a dream, or furthering a dream to the end required a whole lot of energy. It required concentration, detail, and quiet time. At first it was difficult, but with time I honed this manipulative ability such that once I closed my eyes after a dream, my body became an inanimate thing; water molecules, or wisps of smoke, diffusing back into my subconscious.
The first dream I undreamed, I was standing in the middle of a sea and a friend Kosi stood at a farther distance, calling my name. She was drowning and I swam through the water to rescue her. The waves became more intense the more I approached; they pushed me backwards and I stretched forth my hands and screamed. In that dream, my scream worked the magic because the world upturned and Kosi fell out of the water, which had almost eaten her up, but into a clouded sky. My parents shook me up, I was sweating and had wet my shorts. Mommy, visibly frightened, held my face in her palms. They demanded the details on the spot and prayed with me afterwards. When I crept back to my space on the bed, I shut my eyes and seeped back into the scene of my dream. I walked to Kosi, grabbed her out of the water, and carried her on my shoulders to the shores of an island. I did a chest manoeuvre and she coughed up jets of water, and then we appeared in front of their home, not quiet far from ours. The world did not spin around, I did not scream.
The next day, Kosi saw me in school and shared her biscuits with me. I wanted to tell her how I’d saved her life in my second dream. How I don’t think it was the prayers or anything but me undoing it. But I stopped myself. There are things you don’t talk about in primary school, lest you get labelled a water boy possessed by marine spirits and dreaded by your classmates.
The next time I saw Kosi in my dream, I went beyond the limits of the counterfeit madness and created an end. We were supposed to kiss behind the Orchard tree in their compound. We were sixteen. I held the curvature of her hips and dragged her warm body close until we made skin contact. Her soft breasts pushed through her silky blouse against my bare chest and she ran her fingers through my dreads and confessed how she loved them. The moment she was about to plant her lips on mine, my world went black. I woke up vexing. I climbed out of my bed and looked myself in the mirror and there were no dreads, just a mishmash of uncombed blackness. Back to bed, I slipped back into my dream and conjured her face and we kissed, then we hurriedly peeled off our clothes even though we heard the voices of her parents ringing out from inside the house. We fucked. A wild, passionate fuck. Our bodies simmered with pleasure in the bristling afternoon heat and I woke up with an erection and a trickle of pre-ejaculation wetting my shorts.
Then I undreamed my Grandmother dying, I undreamed WAEC seizing my result, I undreamed PHCN cutting off our power supply, I undreamed my parents separating. I undreamed Mommy inviting a pastor to our house for deliverance.
Early last year when my Grandmother eventually died, Mommy dreamed and in her dream she saw a black lioness in our sitting room; it stood staring at her, unmoved, unblinking with whiskers coloured like rainbows. It had been an afternoon dream and she could swear she had seen the vestige of the lioness leaving the moment she opened her eyes. Daddy interpreted the dream, said when a lion was seen in the dream of anyone from the house of a son of the soil, it meant an elderly person was about to go home—we come from a kindred called Umuagu meaning ‘children of lions.’ Daddy says our ancestors send an emissary in the form of a lion or lioness to guide the spirit of the elderly person back to them when the time came. That evening we prayed, Mommy even fasted through the next day, but Granny died a month later. She went away after a brief illness, and I wished I was the one who dreamed the dream for I would have chased the lioness back to the world of our ancestors with a broom or any other object. My Grandmother wouldn’t have died.
Till this day, Daddy does not know about the several successes I have had with undreaming my bad dreams. Before engaging all the theatrics involved with exorcising a bad dream from reality—which oftentimes I see no need doing—I stay back in bed and undo the great calamity, like the morning we killed the big snake in our lobby.
That day, I did not un-dream. Rather, I’d furthered the dream into a scene of triumph. In my new dream, I carried half the body of the snake down the stairs. Daddy brought down the other half. He’d always had the heart of a lion and, in my new dream, I gave him the face of one. Our neighbours came down exclaiming, hey God! Jehovah! Chineke!!! They clapped their hands together in awe and held their heads and snapped fingers and soon they started firing prayers. I’d knowingly put the prayer scene into the new dream because I wanted it to be more relatable, more real. Before we burnt the snake, I took pictures of it and put them up on Twitter, got a few retweets. Then I woke up satisfied.
Some days, I have thought of the communities in Igbo land known to hold snakes as sacred things. I have heard that in these areas to kill a snake, especially the python species, is an abomination and if by chance it happened the individual will bury the snake like a king. I have heard of pythons visiting barren women, after which they conceived and put to bed; and I’m left to wonder that if they dream my kind of dream where they see a snake, won’t they say it’s a good fortune? Won’t someone like me, if born into such kinship further the dream and see to it that the snake is unharmed? Having these thoughts, I would say that dreams do not really end up manifesting in our real worlds. Rather it is our beliefs that are diverse, and even when we meet them in dreams, they tend to conform to reality—the dream we see as bad may thus be seen as good in the eyes of another. This is the only thing I can say I believe to be true about having dreams.
My parents still believe so much in dreams being fundamental in defining our futures. They wrap so much cloak of superstition around dreams that sometimes I get so vexed I want to come out open and tell them how I un-dream, how easily my mind slips back into a dreamscape and I do anything I want. But I always end up not talking because Mommy says the circumstances surrounding my conception and birth came like a divine encounter, like Jesus. She says she saw Virgin Mary appear in the sky of her dream, gave her a rosary even. She’s always very excited to tell this story again, and again, and most times I’ve reasoned that it isn’t best to destroy a twenty six-year-old belief with a few demeaning words.
Ebuka Prince Okoroafor
Ebuka Prince Okoroafor is a Nigerian Medical Student. His work has appeared on Litro USA, Bangalore Review, Afreada, Eunoia Review, African Writer and elsewhere. Follow him on IG @show_fantastic
This entry appeared in The Limits Issue