By Sarah Eno Obongha
On Saturday, the sky had dimmed its light, and the weather had become cooler than earlier. The loud, offensive, and uneven sounds from the butcher rooms had reduced, but the locker room came alive because those for both the afternoon shift and night shift were conversing about the absence of light, which lasted for about 7 hours the previous day, and how it affected the storage of their company’s meat. Anthony joined in the conversation a little. He said he closed quite late before the power returned, and the bodies of the ram in the ram's room were beginning to smell. He added that a wall was leaking in the goat's room, and he suspects that a freezer had gone bad upstairs, and the meat in it had defrosted. Anthony told Joshua, his closest friend at work, that he came in earlier than usual because he wanted to leave early back home to attend his nephew’s birthday.
“Your nephew is about nine years old. Why would his birthday be celebrated at night?” Joshua asked, “It's the weekend, and it’s our family's tradition to have a celebration with everyone around; you know we still stay together in our grandfather’s house,” Anthony responded. “That’s true, meaning say, if you marry, you, your wife, and children go stay there too?” “Yes, that’s before we start having children. I wouldn’t want to be there with my entire family, as long as there are enough rooms for us and our family. I think I have stayed there long enough.”
“I envy the fact that you don’t pay rent.”
“And I envy the fact that you have your privacy.”
Both laugh as they bid goodbye to their other colleagues who were leaving.
Anthony and Joshua have been friends since their diploma days in school. After their diploma, they couldn’t afford to further their education and decided to get a job to fend for themselves and their family. Luckily for them, a meat slaughterhouse was advertised, and they applied and were employed. The slaughterhouse is a two-storey building with rooms dedicated to specific animals--goat, cow, ram, sheep, or pig. There is a large animal farm at the back of the building with workers who run shifts. Joshua chose the afternoon shift and Anthony the night shift because, during weekdays, he drops off and picks up his nephew and niece from school because their parents, his sister and brother-in-law, work at a marketing firm. They resume at 9 a.m. and return at 6 p.m.
Anthony leaves the house at 6:30 p.m. to resume work at 7 p.m. The slaughterhouse “Meaty Meaty” is a 45-minute walk from Anthony’s house and a 20-minute car drive. Anthony has been working at Meaty-Meaty for almost two years and has never gotten to the second floor of the building. There are designated workers who have a key pass to work on the second floor, and Anthony has never been curious enough to get there. Even when he discusses with some of his colleagues about the second-floor restrictions, he is always of the opinion that they should all mind their business. He felt the second floor should be for only senior staff or those in the administrative and marketing departments, considering the fact that people who have the key pass are always corporately and fashionably dressed.
Anthony had begged Joshua to exchange his shift with him to be able to meet up with Okoi’s birthday slated for 8 p.m., but Joshua also had an engagement, so Anthony decided to resume at 2 p.m. to close at 9 p.m. because it is better, he arrives at the birthday late than not to arrive at all. Anthony spoke to his department manager about his decision, and she didn’t object. Arit told him she would cover up for him because she had some reports she hadn’t completed and would be working two shifts that day. After the conversation in the locker room, Joshua decided to see Arit in her office while Anthony returned to the ram slaughter department. He had cut most of the meat and placed them in various tags ranging from three thousand Naira to ten thousand Naira and above. He moved over to place them according to their kilograms and heard a loud cry from the top floor. This wasn’t the first time Anthony had heard such a noise. He closes at 2 a.m. every day, and he always wonders what happens on the second floor that attracts loud human voices of both males and females. It was already 8 p.m., and Anthony had an hour to close. His sister called to remind him about Okoi’s birthday and that it had begun. Anthony promised to join in the celebration before 10 p.m. Anthony left the ram room to the cow room, and he did the same, placing and storing the meat in the freezer for sale.
At 9 p.m., Anthony left the cow room and headed to the locker room to freshen up and sign off for the day when he heard another loud cry. “Help, help, please.” He was curious to know what was happening but decided to ignore it and leave for the bathroom. After his shower, he heard people crying above him and decided to look at the first floor. He passed through Arit’s slightly open office and saw Joshua thrusting hard on Arit on her table. They were having sex and moaning as if they owned the building. Anthony didn’t believe Arit and Joshua were lovers because they were always on each other’s necks every day. Joshua spanked her butt while thrusting her from the back, and Anthony heard someone crying again. As he kept moving, the stench from the goat room was so overwhelming that it choked Anthony. He tried to cough but couldn’t take his hand away from his mouth and nose. He saw someone’s shadow at the end of the corridor and called out, “Hey, are you hearing the voices too?” and the person didn’t stop, he followed the shadow and continued talking, he felt the presence of someone walking behind him, and he looked backward and saw no one.
Anthony was a bit scared. A part of him told him to head back to the locker room, get his things, and leave; he saw the shadow again. “Hey, wait up, man, do you hear the voices?” no one responded. Anthony got to the stairs of the second floor and saw the written note by the staircase walls: “For permitted staff only.” He stood at the first stair and looked at the closed iron door. As he was about to climb the stairs, his phone rang, and his sister called again. He ended the call and was about to return to the locker room when the iron door opened. He looked behind his back and thought for a second, and then there was a loud cry for help coming from behind the door. He ran towards the door, and the door shut itself after he went in. He tried to open the door but to no avail. The lights on the floor started flickering and suddenly went off. “Jesus Christ, what really goes on here?” He took his phone from his pocket and put on the flashlight.
The doors on the second floor were closed apart from one, but there was a little open space with a net over the doors. Anthony looked through the nets and saw a bunch of babies and others, just body parts placed upside down like the animals on the ground floor and was stunned. He quickly took pictures and videos of them from door to door. “I always knew Badmus was onto something evil but couldn’t quite place it.” Anthony entered the room with the open door. He opened it properly and went through it. He saw men and women placed upside down, too, and he was scared because he saw some of his missing colleagues hung for butchering. He took pictures and videos of them, too, and he felt the presence of someone and used his flashlight to find the shadow, which kept moving back and forth. “Who are you? show yourself, what exactly is this place?” The shadow laughed hysterically and dashed out through the door. It shut the door as it left the room. Anthony decided to call Joshua to come to his rescue, but just then, his sister called him. As he tried to answer the call, he slipped and fell into a pit.
Anthony was still for a moment. Then he struggled to get his balance away from the stone he hit his head on. He got up with a little stagger and located his phone because the flashlight was still on. He picked it up and saw a crack on his screen. “God damn it!”. He looked at the time, and it was midnight. "Already. How long have I been down here”? He climbed back to the room using the stone ladder on the wall. When he got to the corridor, the bright lights were back on. He looked at the doors with babies and adult human meat and saw a few people butchering and storing them in the refrigerator. People dressed in a suit came in through the iron door with their key passes, and Anthony hid as they passed without seeing him. He recognized his employer and Arit and ran through the iron door before it closed. Anthony tried to call Joshua, but his phone was not responding. He rushed downstairs, and Arit’s office was shut. He didn't know Arit had a key pass to the second floor. He was all shades of confusion over what he had experienced in the last couple of hours as he went to the locker room, got his bag, and left the building.
Anthony waited for a bus at the bus stop, but no bus stopped for him. He didn’t know why. He tried to talk to some of the bike men at the junction to take him home, but to no avail, so he decided to run to the house. Anthony ran so fast and got to the house in 20 minutes. He was surprised he arrived so fast without being tired or taking a break for a while. The birthday was over when he entered the house because the cake had finished apart from the crumbs littered on the table. His parents were watching a football match with his younger brother Chris in the sitting room. His niece and Okoi had already retired to the room. He met his sister in the kitchen, and she passed him without saying a word. He followed her to the sitting room, where she handed three bottles of beer to their parents and Chris and went back to the kitchen to clear the dishes. “Hey Awu, I’m so sorry, I got caught up with work and…” Awu looked in his direction and said nothing. “Hey! Hey! Awu, can’t you hear me?”
Anthony yelled. Awu replied, “Anthony, Anthony, Anthony, he had to put his work first before family just because of an argument we had yesterday. It’s all good.” “No, that’s not true, I…” Then Awu’s youngest child, Nenka, walks into the kitchen. “Oh! Uncle Anthony! You made it.” “Yes, I did.” As she was running to hug him, Awu held her. “Your uncle is still at work. He hasn’t returned yet. Go to sleep." “But mum, he is right beside you.” Awu looked around the kitchen and took Nenka away. Anthony became more confused. He waved at Nenka, and she waved back, and at this point, he felt Awu was purposely avoiding him.
Anthony dropped his bag in the dining and went to the sitting room. He tried to talk to his parents and Chris but to no avail. He went to Okoi’s room and watched him while he slept beside his father, Dodeye. Anthony and Dodeye never get along. Anthony dropped the gift he got for him on his way to work and left Okoi's room. As he passed Nenka’s room, he overheard Nenka insisting that he was in the kitchen with her mother, and Awu screamed at her to stop fooling around and sleep because, as far as she didn’t see Anthony, he wasn’t there. Anthony took his cracked screen phone and tried to call Joshua again, but his phone was still not responding. He dropped the phone in the dining as he heard Chris laughing and even got choked by the beer. He rushed to the sitting room. “Anthony will be so upset if I tell him that my football club won his tonight. Too bad he isn’t here to witness my victory.” His parents joined in the laughter.
“It’s almost midnight, and I don’t know why he hasn’t returned yet. He promised he would be here before 10 p.m. I hope he’s fine.” His mother said. “He’s good. He just wants to make an extra income as usual,” his father replied. “I’m right here, guys. What’s going on? When did I become invisible?” Anthony said, “Sometimes Anthony just becomes invisible; he’s here, and you can’t see him. I really wish he got a better job,” His mother said again. “Stop worrying, my love. He’ll come home safe and sound. He just missed a birthday, not a destiny. "Exactly, Dad. Mum and Awu worry so much; maybe he's still angry with Dodeye after the issue they had yesterday, with Awu supporting her husband and not him,” said Chris. "I've never known my son to be petty. If he were still angry, he wouldn’t have washed Dodeye's car this morning," his father replied, and all concentrated on the TV until Chris's team scored again, and Chris sprung up from the chair and danced. Anthony knew something was not right. He had the urge to go back to the office. He walked away from the sitting room, took his bag, and left the house. He ran to the office, and this time, he made it in 15 minutes.
“What’s going on? How did I become this fast?” Anthony ran to the second floor, pushed the iron door, and it opened. He saw the shadow again, this time more clearly. Priscilla, Oh my God! Is this for real? We have been looking for you for almost three months.” The shadow didn’t say a word; it turned around and started walking, and Anthony followed. “C’mon Lia, is it you who has been following me all night? I need to know what’s happening to me?” The shadow stopped in front of a wall, tapped on it three times with the left palm and once with the right palm, and a door opened. Anthony stood before the door, looking at the room and Priscilla. “What’s this, Lia?” “Just move in already, Anthony.” Priscilla walked into the room. Anthony followed, and the door shut behind them.
Meanwhile, after Awu had put Nenka to sleep, she checked on Okoi and saw a wrapped present beside his bed. She squinted her eyes and walked towards the bed. Firstly, she covered Okoi’s duvet properly and told her husband to return to their room before unwrapping the gift. She opened the gift and saw football boots. “Who will beat Anthony to this? He has been saving for this for almost three months.” She took the gift to the dining room and called Anthony’s phone again. Awu heard Anthony’s phone ringing in the dining room. “Antho, you cannot be trusted. So you couldn’t keep to a simple promise as…” Awu got to the dining room and didn’t see Anthony but saw his phone on the dining table ringing. She ended the call and took his phone to the sitting room.
“Where’s Anthony, and who gifted Okoi football boots? Anthony was saving for it.” “He isn’t back yet, and no one gifted Okoi a football boot. Where did you find it?” Chris asked. “I found it beside Okoi’s bed, and sincerely, guys, I’m done being upset. Where is Antho hiding?” “Seriously, Awu, he isn’t back. Stop disturbing us, and don’t wake Mum. You know she’s hypertensive.” Her father replied harshly while massaging his wife's leg as she was sleeping on the couch. Awu ignored her father and Chris, and she went into all the rooms looking for Anthony and calling his name. She returned to the sitting room. “Guys, let’s stop this joke. If Anthony isn’t back, his phone wouldn’t be on the dining table." "What?” Chris sprung up. “Yes, while coming to the sitting room, I called his phone and heard it ringing in the dining room. It was right there on the table.” She handed over the phone to Chris. This made Chris and their dad dumbfounded, and all of a sudden, both lost interest in the football game shown on television. “Chris, call Joshua right now.” Their dad said this and dropped Mum’s leg on the couch. He went into his room and got his car keys.
Chris went off the phone with Joshua and informed his family that Joshua was sure Anthony had left the company before 10 p.m. “Nenka told me she saw Anthony in the kitchen before going to bed.” “What are you people saying?” her mum asked as she woke up to find her husband and children panicking over Anthony, and she joined in. Joshua warned Chris to stay away from the company and wait till morning, but his father insisted that they go to the company that night since that was the last place Anthony was seen. Their mother wept bitterly and revealed that she had just had a dream where Anthony was watching her husband, Chris, and herself watching football, and he was talking, but they couldn’t hear him, and she felt something terrible had happened to Anthony, but no one should leave the house till dawn because it was almost 2 am. Chris tried to fiddle with Anthony’s phone but couldn’t access it because of the password. The only person who knew the password to Anthony’s phone was Okoi, and he was fast asleep. Anthony's mum told Awu to wake Okoi to put in the password.
As Awu and her mum left for Okoi’s room, Chris and his father left the house and drove off to Anthony’s workplace, but their car stopped suddenly on the road. They locked the car and decided to walk back to the house. All attempts to wake Okoi were unsuccessful. He was talking in his sleep and couldn’t understand what he needed to do. Awu and her mum were worried, so they left Okoi to sleep and headed to the sitting room. When they got there, they couldn’t find Chris and her dad. Awu called Joshua and begged him to get to his workplace to get Chris and her dad out, but Joshua refused and apologized for being unable to help. Awu and her mum locked the doors and went to the sitting room to pray for Anthony, her dad, and Chris. Her mum called her dad several times, but he didn't leave with his phone. They called Chris, and his line was busy because he was trying to reach Joshua and Arit.
When Anthony and Priscilla entered the room, it looked like a library in a library. The shelves were made with Bamboo, and the walls were made with woven cotton. Anthony felt he was in a trance. The room had everything needed for over five people for a year: food, clothes, drinks, water, toiletries, provisions, gas, and so on. “Priscilla, what’s going on? Where have you been?” “I died, and just like you, I was working and waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up, and I ended up here. “What do you mean you died, and we never saw your body?” “Anthony, it will take you a while to understand. I don’t know why and how people are conjured to this floor, but I know that Badmus, our employer, has his hands dirty. He is a harvester and distributor of human parts for ritualists. Just as we package the meat of animals downstairs, workers here package the parts of human beings for sale. In fact, the farm is a façade, and this is the room where he finds peace.”
“I know about the human parts. I took pictures earlier. Let me show you.” Anthony checked his pockets and couldn’t find his phone. “Oh my God! My phone is in my house, on the dining table.” “What! You’ve been home already, with evidence of the company in your phone?” “Yes, I rushed home when I woke up. I had to be home, but no one could hear me apart from Nenka…” Priscilla chuckled and made Anthony understand that he was dead and wasn’t meant to get close to his family, and for that, his entire family might be killed, and his phone would be retrieved to clear any evidence or thoughts that would lead back to the company. “He can’t kill my family, Lia.” “The only way your family can live is when your phone is retrieved and evidence deleted." "I can’t do that. Badmus must be exposed."
Priscilla sighed. "Anthony, you cannot get hold of Badmus when you are dead. However, you have a chance to get back to your body before it’s butchered.” “Join me. Let’s go to my house first.” “I can’t leave this floor, Anthony; my spirit is somehow caged here, but you can because your body hasn’t been retrieved from the skeleton hole where you fell.” “Why can’t I get into my body now?” “That’s because you can only go in when a living being is already inside. Ghosts can’t enter in on their own." "I’ll distract the workers who oversee that room till 6 a.m. for you to return and get in your body. If you exposed the evidence before dawn, you could get Badmus arrested.” “I’ll do my best,” Anthony said with confidence.
Anthony’s father and brother returned home and decided to wait till dawn to go to Meaty-Meaty. Everyone was worried. Awu and her husband, Dodeye, argued over their misunderstanding with Anthony the previous day. Anthony’s mother was crying and praying to the Crucifix and Virgin Mary’s statue in the sitting room while her husband was nagging and pacing behind her. Chris took Anthony’s phone to Okoi’s room. He woke Okoi up, and this time, Okoi woke up properly. He handed the phone to Okoi to open it, and he did. Okoi unlocked the phone and ran downstairs, calling out to Anthony. Chris skimmed through the phone and saw the pictures Anthony took at his workplace and screamed.
The entire family ran upstairs to see the images and videos of children's and adults’ bodies and parts hanging from the ceiling. Just then, Nenka met them. “Mummy, Daddy, Uncle Antho says he’s sorry for coming late and is in a fix.” Everyone looked at her, and she looked at her side. “Mummy, he’s beside me. He says you can’t see him because something happened at work, and there are pictures and videos on his phone that should be sent as evidence to the police so that he can return to us.” She pauses, and Anthony’s mother cuts in, “Is my son a ghost or what?” She is shocked and unconsciously squeezes her husband’s hands. “Uncle says we have to take his phone to the police station, and if there’s any delay, we should post the pictures and videos he took of his company on social media before dawn.” No one seemed to understand Nenka because everything felt like a tale.
The workers on shift were unable to open the skeleton hole room because Priscilla stood there with her arms on the door frame. She couldn’t hold on for too long and prayed for Anthony to return to the company before the workers touched his body because he could only enter the room when the workers entered. Chris copied the evidence into his system and flash as he left for the police station with his father in a cab. Anthony hurried to Meaty-Meaty and arrived immediately. Priscilla gave up holding on to the door. As he was about to rush in, Priscilla said, “One more thing, Anthony…” “I need to hurry. A worker is about to check the skeleton hole trap,” Anthony said as he looked inside the room. “A life for a life Antho. As soon as you wake up, kill the first person you see.” She handed him a knife from her boots. “What?” “Yes, a body has to be found. Now hurry.” Anthony rushed into the pit and entered his body. Anthony woke up and startled the people who were about to wrap him up to be taken for slaughter. Someone was about to strike him, but he struck first. The others told him to wear the uniform of the person he struck to avoid trouble from Badmus. Anthony was scared over how they attended to him without any fight. They told him they always brace themselves for this because it happens often. He wore the dead man’s uniform as they wrapped his body and took it back up for slaughter. He joined two other staff towards the iron gate to empty the body trash bin. He saw Priscilla, who winked at him and turned into dust. Immediately, they emptied the parts into a drum, the drum was taken into a truck, and the truck drove to the animal farm, and the parts were given to the pigs.
Anthony got to the locker room and had a shower; then he sat on the chair, holding his bag and weeping. He heard a siren sound from afar, and it drew closer. The company’s gate opened, and there were over 30 police officers who were armed in the compound. They took all the workers in the building, broke down the iron door, and saw the mess Badmus made of human beings and babies themselves. They had all the evidence but Badmus. They searched everywhere and tortured Arit, but to no avail. The police force has been on Meaty-Meaty’s case for years but had no evidence of the information they got from some workers.
Anthony reunited with his family and found it difficult to sleep at night after what he had experienced. His father paid a psychologist to help him, but to no avail. Anthony felt like a living corpse because he thought he cheated death that day. He felt bad for taking another man’s life and took it upon himself to find Badmus and deliver him to the police. Anthony leaves the house every night to Meaty-Meaty. He sits on the second floor, waiting for Badmus. Meaty-Meaty became a crime scene, and people were prohibited from going there, but Anthony had a strong urge to be there.
One day, while he was there and dozed off, he saw Priscilla in his dream. Priscilla told him she died because she couldn’t quickly strike the first person she saw. She got struck, and her parts were used. She urged Anthony to find peace with himself and enjoy his family’s love and then added, “Don’t forget the first room I took you to when you died.” Anthony sprung up and saw his father and Joshua approaching him with a torchlight. “I have told you both to leave me alone.” His father held him by his collar. “Antho, do you want to die? Do you know the pain you put your mother through when she sees you this restless? Do you want to kill my wife?” Joshua released Anthony’s dad’s hand from Anthony’s collar. “Daddy, please take it easy. Thank God we’ve found him here again.”
Joshua talked to Anthony to join him on a trip to South Africa. He said he wanted to spend time with his mother, and a change of environment will do them some good. “What was your relationship with Arit like?” “We’re co-workers in the morning and just sex buddies at night.” “And her relationship with Badmus?” “I really don’t know, but they are close.” “I think Arit knows something, and she’s scared of saying it because of what Badmus might do to her.” “Anthony, just forget about it, and let’s travel.”
Anthony approached the wall where Priscilla revealed herself and tried opening it but couldn’t. “Antho, let’s leave before someone sees us and reports us to the police.” “Dad, just trust me.” “Anthony, that’s a wall you’re forcing open,” his father said again, “No, it’s a door. Joshua, please help me out.” Just then, the police officer in charge of the case passed the building, and he saw a truck parked outside the building and flashlights from across the second floor. He dimmed his car light and parked beside the truck. He alerted a few colleagues, took his gun and light, and moved into the building.
Anthony recalled how Priscilla opened the door. He tapped the door with his left hand thrice and once with his right hand, and the door opened, revealing Badmus and Arit sitting on the chair and watching a movie. As soon as Badmus saw Anthony, Badmus shot at the door, and Anthony’s dad screamed and fell across the door, stopping the door from closing. Blood spread across his chest, and Badmus said, pointing the gun to Anthony and stopping him from moving, “Look, man, I’ll give you two choices. The first one is to take the old man to the hospital before he bleeds out or alert the police about me, and he dies here.” “Why are you doing this, sir?” Anthony asked. “That wasn’t an answer to a question. Let’s do this again.” Joshua couldn’t move. He didn’t understand why Arit took all that torture from the police even when she knew Badmus’s hideout. “I’m sorry, Joshua. I wouldn’t let anything happen to my brother-in-law,” Arit said without looking at Joshua’s face.
“Drop all weapons on the floor, and everyone lay down on the floor,” The police officer said, pointing his gun at Badmus. Badmus dropped his gun, and they all lay on the floor. “Sir, I need to take my father to the hospital. He was shot,” Anthony said while Arit was crying. The policeman called an ambulance and was checking Anthony’s father’s pulse when Badmus rushed at his gun to shoot the cop, but the cop shot at him first, and he died instantly. It was a relief for Meaty-Meaty workers to know that Badmus was dead, but Anthony didn’t have it easy after losing his father. His siblings and mother blamed him for his death, so he decided to join Joshua in South Africa.
Sarah Eno Obongha is a Writer, an Artist, a Public Relations Manager, and a native of Mkpani in Yakurr Local Government Area, Cross River State, Nigeria. She holds a Master’s in Arts History from the Department of Fine Arts and Design, University of Port-Harcourt, Choba, Rivers State, Nigeria. Writing has been a form of expressing her feelings, thoughts, dreams, and imagination, believing that one day, her body of work will be celebrated globally.