The man on the Third

The man on the Third

I have to ask you to read the following with an open mind.

The first time I saw him, I must admit I was drunk. Being drunk for me was not a crate of Star lager beer; it was more a couple of cups of Amarula.

Six months ago, there was a small get-together to send off a colleague who was moving on to greater things. The “party” started at one of the posh clubs on the Island and I was about to call it quits when the clock was bent on pointing at midnight. But contrary to my better judgment, I went with the rest of the team to a popular club at the big mall just off the Island heading towards the Lekki area.
I usually don’t drink, but my undoing is usually the sweet liquor called Amarula or the much more well-known Irish Cream. I can’t resist the haphazard watering nor the natural climate control (according to the advert) that gives birth to the bottled taste of heaven called Amarula. A half glass on the rocks and I am “flowing” with the best of them. I suddenly looked at my wrist watch and noticed two was looking right back at me. Bidding my colleagues goodnight amidst lots of attempts to make me stay on, I headed out to the parking lot and got into my car.

The only thought in my mind was that I had to get home in one piece. Thus, gripping the steering wheel like I was holding it in place by sheer physical force, I squinted out into the glare of the head lights and kept my speed just short of a hundred.

In order not to drift off and find myself hugging the side railings or worse down in the murky depths of the Atlantic, I turned the radio to a station playing loud fast-tempo tracks. I remember thinking I was lucky not to be in a developed country with the likelihood that some officer of the law would be administering a breathalyzer test to me or asking me to tell him the number of fingers he was holding up on his right hand. Suddenly, the music degraded into some static gibberish and I thought it may be due to signal quality on the bridge. Following immediately, the AC became so chilly, my teeth were practically chattering. I turned the knob off, but the AC did not switch off, it was still going full blast and it was colder than my deep freezer at home. Looking quickly into the rearview mirror and my side mirror, with no car obvious in the vicinity, I took my eye off the road partially and tried to see what the matter was with the AC.

That was when I first heard the sound. At first I wondered how a car could have caught up with me so quickly out of nowhere. Looking into my rearview mirror again, there was indeed the one headlight shining in the dark. I couldn’t make out the car, and for a second I thought it might have been a motorcycle. I strained harder and though the light was obviously gaining on me, I still couldn’t make out the car. The sound continued. It was weird.

Soon, the car pulled out from behind me and drew level with me on the passenger side. I glanced briefly at it and went back to looking straight ahead. Then I did a double take. Sitting behind the wheel was obviously a man with a pair of glasses on. The strange thing was that despite the brief glance, I knew I could see through him because at that very moment, one of the lights on the bridge had illuminated the inside of the car. I looked again and there he was sitting looking straight ahead. With my heart racing wildly, I had forgotten I was driving and almost lost control of the car. That was when the figure turned in my direction, and gave me the thumbs up sign. He stayed level with me for what seems like a millennia but which in reality was about a minute. Then he pulled ahead and I could better see the car. It was floating on air as there were no tires in the wheel wells!  I didn’t realize it at the time nor did I associate the two, but once the car was out of my sight, the AC went off (and something I realized much later, the digital time on the dash had stopped at 2:59AM)

I had unconsciously reduced my speed to about fifty and though shaken, I was able to make it all the way across the bridge and to my house. I laid on my bed, unable to sleep and convinced I wasn’t drunk enough to have been hallucinating. Tossing and turning for several hours, I finally fell into a fitful sleep early in the morning dreaming of racing against several cars being driven by talking animals. I woke up with a slight hangover and feeling as if I hadn’t had any sleep at all. For some reason I still can’t explain, I did not leave the house throughout that weekend. Fortunately, there was food in the house. I still can’t explain what I did either. I didn’t sleep especially long, and I didn’t read nor watch the TV. The main thing I could remember was trying not to remember and ironing my shirt on Sunday night in preparation for going to work the following day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That was the first time I saw the man. It wasn’t knowledge I could share with friends or colleagues. Even though I knew I wasn’t “that drunk”, I still found myself doubting what I knew I saw on the bridge. It was the sort of story that may cause people to doubt your mental stability and I didn’t need that sort of attention with corporate annual job reviews just around the corner.

I was told later that I became even more withdrawn than usual. I guess my mind was pretty occupied despite all my attempts to the contrary.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As my workload increased due to a change of roles, I was able to forget the matter for most of the day, but it was a constant partner during my free time and when once ever so frequently, I lie awake in the dark unable to sleep due to a combination of the heat and lack of power supply from the grid.

I tried not to think of it as an obsession. After all, I haven’t actively done anything else and I couldn’t very well stop the thoughts from popping into my head. Are ghosts real? Dusting off the thin layer of dust on my Christian Bible, I tried to hunt down all the stories involving contacts with dead people. Most seems to point to the fact that ghosts are manifestations conjured up by practitioners of black magic and not necessarily representation of people who have actually passed on to the great beyond.

As time passed, I started to doubt my recollection of the event. Maybe I was drunker than I had thought.  And after a while, I was more or less able to convince myself of this issue and was able to largely forget the whole matter.

Fast forward to four months after my initial encounter. A client had an issue and I had to assist in resolving it. This took the whole day and the very early part of the next day. I found myself driving home when all reasonable folks where safely ensconced behind locked doors. As usual, I had my radio on and blaring loud music from a CD I recently bought in the holdup going to the Island. The artiste was “up and coming”, and his lyrics were catchy, so I found myself singing along to some of the tracks on the CD.

Suddenly, the sound from the player became practically inaudible. I was berating myself for buying a substandard product from a hawker on the road, when the AC started working overtime. I turned the knob almost all the way down, but that didn’t appear to have any effect on the temperature. I was fiddling with the knob and wondering how I would make it to the mechanic’s shop to have it looked at, when the eerie sound started up. That was when I remembered and I knew as I looked into the rearview mirror what I would see. There in the dark, starting to get brighter was the single headlight.

With my teeth chattering, I followed the light in the rearview mirror and then switched my attention to the right-side window, and surely, the car was alongside me. I looked forward and backwards, and no other vehicle was in site. I kept my eye on the road but could not help glancing right every couple of seconds. The car must have been going at the same speed I was. I could see the man at the steering wheel, or I should say I could see through the man at the steering wheel. All I had had all day was a bottle of Coca Cola. I wasn’t drunk – I was hungry! A couple of minutes later, he gave the thumbs up sign and pulled ahead. There were no wheels on the car. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but I was going quite slowly. The AC was now almost off and the music from the CD had resumed. I made it home and went straight to bed despite the fact that I was hungry. I locked the door to the room, blocked it with the big dresser and got into bed fully clothed except for taking off my shoes. Thankfully, there was power from the mains, so I put on the air-conditioning full blast, left the lights on, and got under the duvet. Yet, I couldn’t sleep. My mind was occupied by what I had seen on the bridge. I must have drifted off at some point because the next moment, I was waking up to the sound of my mobile phone ringing insistently. I glanced blearily at the clock on the wall and it said 9:00am. I answered the phone with my boss on the other end asking for a status report on the issue with the client. I was able to tell him briefly that it had been resolved and I would be in the office the following day since I didn’t get away from the client’s office till early in the morning. Thankfully, I was able to drift back to sleep.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I do not understand how something so frightening can cause one to be so inquisitive. I haven’t been able to get the apparition out of my mind since that night, yet the very thought of it makes me break out in sweat and shiver.

I have heard tales about the kitted up riders on the Third. Dressed like Robocop: I have heard they have license to kill. I don’t doubt it much as each one has a pistol and a submachine gun and I suspect is sporting a bulletproof vest under the heavy duty rider protection gear. I wonder how they do it in this tropical weather with the temperature easily in the 30s during the day?

After much hesitation, I approached one of them on a day when the weather was relatively cool and the traffic was light by all accounts. I guessed they should be in a more relaxed mood and be more tolerant of having their secure space invaded.

After pulling over, I sat in my car for several minutes and watched him with some apprehension. Then the thought hit me, that staying put for too long in itself might be misconstrued. I had packed a couple of car lengths away. I put on my hazard light, moving slowly intentionally, I alighted from the vehicle, closed the door and raised my right hand in what I hoped looked like a friendly gesture and with a strained broad smile on my face, greeted him and asked if I could come over.

He looked at me for a few seconds, then gestured for me to come over. I walked slowly towards him, ensuring my hands were at all times visible. I greeted him again, thanked him for keeping Lagos safe and expressed appreciation for the effort it took to do so. I then jumped in head-long into my question. I told him something happened to me on the bridge some days ago and wondered if he had heard or seen anything. He asked what it was and sounded a little irritated and gruff.

I narrated my contact with the car on the bridge to which he listened attentively. I was expecting him to dismiss me forthwith as a lunatic and ask me to step back and into my car and drive away. Instead, he looked contemplatively for a minute or so, and told me that if I repeated what he was about to tell me to anyone and it comes back to him, he would completely deny it. I agreed immediately to which he told me the following.

Several months back, while he was on night duty, he had got a radio call asking him to proceed to the bridge on the double. As he approached the popular juncture at which a side road forked off the bridge, he could immediately see signs of trouble ahead. Bits and pieces of a car and some smoke. He approached carefully to find a wrecked car which had obviously collided with the side of the bridge. Around about the same time, the ambulance stationed on the bridge arrived and the paramedics attempted to attend to the single occupant of the vehicle. As they pulled him out, it was obvious he was in a bad way. A quick look and he could see the man’s chances of making it were slim. As the medics laid him on the stretcher, he kept repeating the same thing. At the time, he had assumed he was delirious possibly from blood loss or concussion. He kept making reference to some man he saw who had given him a thumbs up and then a thumbs down. How the man wasn’t there. But it was obvious by talking to the paramedics later that they had met no vehicle coming their way, so there was obviously no other car involved in the accident.

I thought he was done because he hesitated for a while – checking out the traffic streaming over the bridge into the Island. Then he said, “I have seen him too you know. I was riding home after one of my shifts early in the morning when I saw him. He followed me for a while and I was becoming irritated and was about to pull to the side and ask him what his problem was. Then he pulled level with me, and for a minute I thought it was my visor that was playing tricks on me or maybe I was too tired and wasn’t seeing properly. Then he slowly gave the thumbs up sign and almost immediately he was gone into the distance. After that, I reduced my speed and when I got the other end of the bridge, I found one of my colleagues who was not in a hurry to go anywhere was still there. I tried as much as possible to appear nonchalant as I asked him if he had seen a car go by in the last 20 minutes or so. Of course, it was such an odd question but he guessed I was the first person he had come in contact with or seen in about 45 minutes. I couldn’t press him too much without arousing suspicion and in my line of work, any issue that may cause your mental state to be in doubt is grounds for dismissal. After all, you can see we all spot enough ammo to cause some major damage to the public.

Since then I have tried to avoid the early morning shift as much as possible, or alternatively, I just stay at my post until daylight and then make for my house. I have only seen him that one time and I hope never to do so again. But I can’t put what the man in the accident said out of my mind – what did he do to get a thumbs up and thumbs down signal? Some would probably call it some evil he had done in the past. But I think it unwise to risk meeting the man again.

There was an uneasy silence between us after that. Fortunately, the traffic picked up and I thanked him for his time and made my way back to my car. He gave no response, and neither did he look away from the bridge.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For some reason, knowing I wasn’t mad, drunk or losing my mind gave me a reprieve. The issue took a backseat in my daily affairs and I had practically forgotten about it – or I should say I had come to terms with it. All that changed again several months later when I gave a colleague a lift home. We had worked late on a proposal for a client that was due the next day. Finally, at about 2:30AM, we mailed the completed document to our unit boss and headed home. I do not need to repeat what happened on the bridge at 2:59AM.

He has been avoiding me since that day and we have never discussed it.

Obsession is a bad thing. I can’t remember exactly when it was I became obsessed with the man on the bridge – I had resolved not to think of him as a ghost. I was losing sleep; I started checking the FRSC site for any accidents on the bridge daily; listening to several radio stations for news about accidents; maintaining an Excel sheet on accidents and causalities; carrying out various searches on the Internet and surreptitiously asking colleagues at work about anything they saw on the bridge.

I did find out one thing. That there was an accident on the bridge shortly after it was declared open by the then Military head of state. No one was sure what happened. By the very few eye witness account at the time, a car with a sole occupant who was thought to have been a man went over the side and into the waters below. The section of the railings affected was quickly repaired and due to the political situation of the country at the time, the matter was hushed up and no attempts were made to recover the vehicle. There was some hint of foul play. The only semi-official reference I found was on the back page of a faded soft-sell magazine of the time which has long since gone out of print.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I tried as much as possible to appear normal, but it was hard for me to pay attention at work. My boss called me in one day and said I should take a week leave off. I protested profusely, but he put his foot down and said it’s either that or I start looking for a new job. He said my work has been shoddy for a while, and he has had to ask a junior colleague to redo several of the assignments I had turned in in the previous couple of months. That the only reason I hadn’t been given a query was because of my stellar track record in the office until then. He asked if there was anything I needed to talk about and apologized for not having asked long ago. I was tempted briefly to tell him all about the man, but then I had second thoughts. If he didn’t believe me, I was definitely out of a job, as who wants to work with a crazy subordinate. I needed the money – I had rents to pay and several other responsibilities.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Things are much better now. That one week off did wonders. I got out of Lagos and drove inlands. Stopped at a random hotel that looked OK and did nothing for the whole week except eat, sleep and watch the satellite stations. The amount of calamities befalling people around the world somehow made me put my “problem” in the proper perspective. I returned to Lagos rejuvenated. The only decision I had made was that nothing on this side of eternity would make me cross that bridge again once it was after midnight. Nowadays, I do not stay out after midnight. And if my official engagement holds me till after 12, I stay there till morning or sleep in my car. I haven’t seen the man on the Third for about a year now, except in my dreams and in the dark on depressing nights.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

I am neither the writer nor owner of this journal. The owner is no more. It seems that like Job in the Bible, what he dreaded most happened to him.

I was the first on the scene. How he had survived till early in the morning still stumps me because after reading his journal I was sure I knew when the accident had happened.

I guess the human will is indeed powerful enough to preserve life (mind over matter) even if only for a short while when to the observer, it shouldn’t have been possible.

With his dying breath, he made me promise to look in his bag for his journal and make sure the public learns of what happened to him. That he had to cross the bridge. That the matter was urgent. I was still calling 911 when he died.

As he had made me promise, I looked inside his bag which I found in the car’s wreckage and found the journal. I had to squirrel it away immediately because it would have been difficult to explain his request to the police. I was a little bothered about leaving him there, but it was obvious there was nothing more I could do for him. I thought it better to honour his request than watch over his lifeless body. Besides, the early morning traffic would start to build up and the proper agencies would soon be around to attend to him.

I am making this last entry so that people know what really happened according to the man. I have anonymously sent this journal to a widely read newspaper house. If you are reading this, and feel the need to verify the details above, the newspaper can supply you with the man’s details. I have asked that it not be included in the article out of deference to the man’s memory and the privacy of his family.

 

I do not believe in ghosts and you would not in general find me out and about late at night unless it is absolutely necessary. But these days, I make it a point not to be on that bridge any time after midnight.

I am not taking any chances of meeting the man on the Third.

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