Stella stared, frowning, at the shadow moving towards her. She wondered who was approaching and thought briefly of ducking out of sight. She didn’t want company. That was why she had chosen this secluded area. Out of sight of her raucous classmates, though sadly not out of hearing. She could still hear their noisy play going strong. Shouts of ‘ten-ten’ accompanied by periodic clapping.She bent her head back to the book she was reading, hoping the person would walk by and not stop to chat. But almost against her will, her eyes were drawn to the still approaching shadow. It was heading straight in her direction.
A slight chill feathered down her back. Like her grandma used to say “A ghost walked over my grave” or something along that line. Her grandma’s voice echoed in her memory; grandma had been raised by white priests in the seminary and had learnt from them proverbs to raise a child by. Of course, grandma was not Stella’s real grandma but in the orphanage she grew up, grandma was called grandma by all.
Stella always remembered grandma’s proverbs in her head exactly as if grandma was speaking herself but never correctly. Stella had never been good with quotes. Very odd, considering how much she loved words. Today, grandma’s voice was ringing even more in her head but this time, it brought no comfort. The allusion to grave raised goose pimples on her arms.
“This is ridiculous” she thought to herself. “I don’t want company but that is no reason to fear”. “Challenge your fears” she muttered to herself. Another of her grandma’s sayings, no doubt misquoted by her again. She smiled and decided to do just that.
She closed the book with a decisive snap and raised her head, prepared to be polite but firm. No, she doesn’t want to talk or play.
There was no one there.
She lowered her head again and still coming towards her was the shadow.
Heart suddenly pounding, she scrambled to her feet. The book on her lap slipped unnoticed to the warm sand…
She could feel the goose pimples breaking out all over her body now and it felt as if every hair was standing on end. Her heart was beating so hard, she was having trouble breathing.
She could not take her eyes away from the shadow. Despite her fear, there was a morbid fascination in her. She couldn’t look away.
“Curiosity kills the cat” her grandma’s voice filtered into her head again. But this was more than curiosity. It was almost as if a force was holding her transfixed. It seemed her very will was held by the sight before her. Yet in a deeper part of her, she knew she could break free if she wanted.
Did she want to?
The shadow stopped in front her. She could see only the dark outline of its shape but she knew it was looking at her. It gazed for a long moment at her. A searching piercing gaze and then turned its head. It seemed to focus on her shadow and before her gaping eyes, her own shadow dissolved into itself and faded away.
Sorrow. An almost physical sorrow pierced through her. Like the time grandma died. Only worse. Much worse. This sorrow was laced with cold terror. A terrifying fear she had never experienced before.
The shadow moved into place, occupying where her own shadow had been. As its feet touched hers, she suddenly realised she should have run when she had the opportunity. When her will could still have saved her. Now it was too late.
A numbing coldness swept with lightning swiftness through her body. Reaching deep into her soul. Overriding her fear was despair so heavy, she swayed on her feet.
She knew beyond a doubt she was lost. Worse than grandma, who had only died. Grandma was in a better place now, if Reverend Father Akpan was to be believed. But for Stella, there was no better place. Not even a place at all. Only a dark, empty vacuum from which there was no out.
Slowly, she felt herself draining out. Down through her feet. As she flowed out, she could feel the coldness of the shadow as it flowed beside her, going up into her body. And then she was all out. Flat on the still warm sand.
Life flared up in her as she looked up into what had been her body. She watched her hand, her former hand, reach up and touch her hair then skim lightly over her face, down, over her body, her former body.
“Wait for me!” Her voice called out to her classmates and as Stella’s body jumped high in the air, laughter spilled out. A laughter of giddy freedom. A laughter tinged with something indefinable.
Cold empty eyes swept over the forlorn broken shadow on the ground. Then the new Stella stepped over it and walked away.
Instantly the flare of life ebbed out. Sight dimmed, shutting out every sound, every taste, and every touch. Everything human. Darkness swamped over Stella, still lying in the same spot where she had been left behind.
The blackness was so thick, so enveloping, and so final. The only thing that could penetrate was the awareness in Stella that there was no escape.
She was lost.