THE CHRONICLES OF PHILLIP JOE PART 2
By Damilola Akintobi
The crowd at the gate rose from their crouching and sitting positions as his car appeared in the distance. Lack of sleep, the strange events of the previous day and his irritation with the ignorance of people who wasted the good tears Jehovah reserved for soul-cleansing over the dead made Phillip more grumpy than usual that morning.
“Mr Joe, good morning…” But he replied none of their hypocritic pleasantries knowing they only cared about the bodies in his custody. He scanned all the faces until the last of them had settled his bill, he felt reassured; no member of the Holiest of souls could exhibit such folly.
His thoughts wandered as he returned home later in the afternoon, about how Jehovah must feel. There were so many people going to hell; all those dead people, and their surviving family and friends!
“What can I do to help?” He asked fingering the once white emblem suspended from his rear view mirror, then his eyes caught the anchor scripture in tiny fonts: “Many are called, few are chosen”.
“Forgive me”, he chided himself, “heaven is for but a few”.
Phillip’s house-made of hardwood-was in a sorry condition. His front door was almost falling off, he would press the knob downward before lifting the wood with technique and shut it behind him carefully. The staircase boasted three damaged steps made so due to poor maintenance. Everyday, he would make a mental note to get the stairs and his door fixed, but the only carpenter he knew who was once Jehovah’s slave had left the faith to become another Demas. So he simply jumped across to protect his soul, comfort was a small price to pay to escape the fires of hell.
The interior of the building defined untidy. Like his emblem, the sofa, two single chairs and two throw pillows had patiently transitioned from white to near-red brown. The cover cloths on the pillows were tattered and torn leaving the pine floor littered with feathers. The high wind blew through the dilapidated windows every evening reshuffling the old newspaper pages that once belonged to his father. Used plates adorned the floor with cockroaches and rats shopping for their daily bread, but despite the horrid situation, Phillip was unperturbed. The kitchen ceiling tilted at a precarious angle threatening to collapse into the algae-laden debris on the kitchen cabinets every time there was a thunderstorm.
He walked past all the disarray into his bedroom, threw his work-cloth into the pile on the bed and settled into his reading chair to continue with his book. The dim light from his lamp illuminated the inscription on the discoloured cover, it was the seventh time Philip was reading “The Fall of Man”, the book had become his only true friend. He never visited anyone and the neighbours knew well enough to avoid him. They spoke about him in their homes, but no one ever openly discussed the strange man. Mothers warned their children: “don’t ever go near that man, or into his house” they would say. And if a child asked “which man?” His mother would contort her face in the ugliest possible way she could, point in the direction of Philip’s haunted house and finally say “that house”.
The week before the ‘spirits’-as they were later referred to in the news-attacked the restaurant, the Johnsons moved into the neighborhood. The noise of people who thronged in to welcome the newcomers and help them settle in often disturbed Philip’s reading. Everyone was amused at how different Anne and Michael, her quiet husband were from each other. Michael rarely spoke, but he had everyone reeling with laughter when he did. His plump wife however, was anything but quiet. She spoke so much everyone wondered how poor Michael could cope. Of the two teenage children, Reuben was the one who took after his mother. His sister Natasha spent the entire time trying to calm him, but the youngster clearly had a mind of his own. “Reuben, we have guests, please behave yourself” Natasha would plead, but he would make funny faces and run off to plot even more mischief.
One very bright Saturday afternoon, Reuben abandoned his new bicycle and came to his sister in the kitchen.
“I saw him Tash, I saw him lift the door with so much strength. It was weird, you know… Like a ritual: turn, jerk, push gently, lift, then jerk again.”, he paused.
“Come, come. You need to see it, it’s so unusual; but if there’s something wrong with the door, can’t he do something about it?”
“I don’t know how any of the old fag’s problem is my business; or yours Reuben”. Natasha reprimanded her little brother without looking up.
“Haven’t you heard the neighbours say that he has uncomfortable things up his head? He might be doing so just to make you laugh, you know how mean guys in the movies do things to trick kids before doing something really awful to them?” She was now looking at him sternly hoping he would forget whatever had caught his fancy with Philip Joe.
“I ain’t no kid” Reuben responded defensively, “and I don’t think he noticed me or he was doing that because he wanted to be funny. I think, the wood has a problem. But how would anyone know? No one even talks to him. Maybe I could render some help, I’ll go over and ask him if he wants my help” Reuben concluded stubbornly, heading for the door. She shouldn’t have called him kid but Natasha didn’t realize she had hit a sore nerve.
“What help could a fourteen year old bag of bones like you possibly render to that psycho, or his haggard door?” She continued.
“Please let him be Reuben. I suppose he’s comfortable enough, otherwise he wouldn’t keep doing those dramatic moves every time he wanted to open a simple door. And…” Reuben walked away not paying attention to Natasha who quickly caught up with him and dragged him back into the house.
“What’s wrong with you? Do you want to get yourself killed? That man is evil! Have you so much forgotten what the neighbours told us about him? He does not speak to anyone, do you even know if he’s a spirit or some demon from the pits of hell”, her face was red with anger.
“Hmmmm… But I am still curious about him” Reuben answered calmly not minding his sister’s contorted face.
“There’s something strange about him. If he’s truly as evil as people make him out to be, most of the residents here would have been eaten up in their sleep or what do you think?” he asked her seriously.
“What the hell!” Natasha cried and they both scampered into the house as a second high-pitched sound rented the air. Reuben looked closely through the window trying to figure out where the cry came from.
“Did you hear that?” he asked his sister in a trembling voice devoid of all his previous bravado.
“Could it be.. Could, could it be, be, Philip?” he stammered, his face showing concern.
“Mum! I think Reuben is going crazy!” Natasha screamed at the top of her voice.
Reuben cast a long look at the wooden house adjacent theirs before turning obediently to answer his mother’s call. He was terrified, but he was as curious as he was afraid.
“I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid
To take a stand, To take a stand
Come hold my hand…”
The sound of Eminem’s song from the deck in his parents’ room was all the motivation he needed. Curiosity trumped fear, and with a smile on his face as he walked towards his mother’s onslaught, Reuben made up his mind to make a voyage into the ocean of mysteries called Philip Joe.