When Jacab looked up from his phone, his first thought was of Yuluuf, and he looked around for the old golden retriever, and called out, “Uuf! Uufy?”
There was no sign of the old girl, and he sat up fully and looked over his shoulder, over the back of the long couch, and there she was, nosing in Dunkop’s toybox. The old dog pulled her head out and nosed among the scattered blocks, lego, twisted action men and the bits and tumbles of a child’s busy mess.
Jacab smiled and said, “What are you doing Yuly? Hey girl? Whatcha got there? Hmm? Hey? What is that? Huh?”
The large retriever wagged her tail harder and turned her head to grin at Jacab, an oversized purple crayon clenched between her yellowed teeth. Jacab laughed, and he babbled happily at her again, which made her wag her tail even harder, and she turned and ambled along the wall, her head down, like a tired horse, the thick crayon bobbing in her drooling jaws.
Jacab frowned. “Don’t eat that Yuly! Hey! Where you going? Hoi! Yuly! Here girl!”
He whistled, ululating in a call that never failed to bring the faithful dog running. She disappeared into the other room, the large dining room that Jacab’s wife treated like a shrine to her obsession of feeding others and making people happy and comfortable. Yuluuf never went in there, never would dare, not when Umbra was home, but she wasn’t and it seemed to Jacab that Yuluuf had been acting disobedient like this to him lately, the past few weeks, whenever Umbra was away, pulling double-shifts at the cafe.
Jacab stood up, turned the TV off and tossed the remote onto the table. He snatched up his empty tea cup, walked past the kitchen and into the dining room, a crinkle in his brow, frowning. He remembered that his wife had just vacuumed yesterday, and Yuluuf had been outside this morning, and likely was dropping bits of nature’s crap all over the rug and chairs.
The dog wasn’t in the dining room. She wasn’t in the family room either. He stood staring at the drawn curtains.
She couldn’t have walked past him. Could she? Jacab’s frown increased and he retraced his steps, calling out, “Yuluuf! Here girl!”, and he heard a sound up the stairs, not a bark, but maybe a voice, but no one else was home.
Jacab called for the old dog again, concerned now. Maybe she had swallowed that crayon and was choking? Up the stairs two by two, at the top, “Yuly? Where are you girl?” He walked into the master bedroom and turned his head towards the bed, and stopped dead in his tracks and gave a yelp.
Yuluuf was standing on the bed, facing the wall, crayon still in her mouth, a bit crookedly now, her head up and smiling, her soft brown eye turned towards Jacab, excitement and love in the look.
Written on the wall, in very shaky purple letters, was, “hELLo JAcAB”.
Jacab’s hand went to his cover his open mouth, eyes wide, flicking between the wall and his wife’s 19 year old golden retriever bitch. His dog could talk! He grinned and gaped at the impossible.
Yuluuf barked once, high-pitched and happy, the gooby purple crayon fell to the bed, got stepped on and crunched when the old girl bounded around the bed and then dropped down in front of Jacab. The old dog sat happily in front of him, mouth open, tongue out, tail wagging furiously, as if waiting for Jacab to play like they used to, when things were different, when there was more time.
She barked once again, and then ambled out of the bedroom. He could hear her long toenails clacking down the stairs and he goggled for a minute, stared at the wall for a few more seconds, and then hustled out of the bedroom, his mind racing at the possibilities. The money. He could quit working for that shithead Magurk and find a real job, something he was good at. Something he liked!
He entered the lounge, Yuluuf was nosing in the scattered bits of Dunkop’s toybox. He crossed the room quickly and grabbed a cigarette. The act calmed him slightly. He looked up. Yuluuf had another crayon. A green one this time. She shifted it to the side of her jaw as he watched, like a man with a cigar would do when he had something to say. Then she howled like the end of days. A ragged, heart-rending banshee’s wail. Jacab butted the smoke, concern clouding his face, and he was going to go and comfort her, not understanding, when the dog barked twice and turned to the wall and began moving her head, scratching messy green lines on the wall over and over, thickening them, exactly like a child would do, or a bored vandal on a city bus.
The cigarette forgotten, Jacab watched, entranced, considering and rejecting every impossible explanation for what he was seeing. He was afraid to move. Chills raked his skin and he watched Yuluuf slowly write on the cinnamon wallpaper, any fury from his wife in the future was not even considered, and as the old girl finished her first word and was shifting the crayon in her jaw again, moving down the wall to find a fresh space, He saw that Yuluuf had written, “IKA”.
Umbra’s grandmother, Ebuno, was of the Yoruba. Her people came from Akurẹ, and she spoke the ancient and beautiful language mixed with English whenever she visited, which was often. Jacab had heard this word many times. He had an ear for languages, and even though it was worlds away from his native Polish, he had picked up a great deal. It meant being dead. Yuluuf was still writing.
Jacab’s mouth was dry. He fumbled for another cigarette, he didn’t want one, but he needed something to do. When he looked up, Yuluuf was gone again. The green crayon was laying sticky against the baseboard near the table lamp. A long string of words on the wall stopped Jacab cold.
“KU TI WA NI WIWO I GBỌDỌ TỌJU” Death Is Watching I Must Hide
Below this, in shaky haste, “IYA” Grandmother
Fear punched him in the gut. He saw that the balance of power had shifted in his universe, and he wasn’t at the top anymore. There was no sign of Yuluuf, but he could hear her happily crunching away at her food bowl in the kitchen.
He rubbed the goosebumps down his arms and spun away from the message. His eyes darted to the wall clock, 4:45, little over an hour before Umbra came home. He grabbed his cigarettes from the coffee table and hitched his coat from the chair and hustled outside into the waning autumn day.
The cold slapped him awake and he puffed nervously and paced in the driveway, ignoring the stares of passersby on the busy lane, and muttered to himself, self-arguing into acceptance of the situation, but stymied as to how he was going to explain any of it to his poor, rational wife.
Just as he pitched his cigarette butt into the hedges, Umbra’s silver sportscar suddenly appeared in the street, an hour early, and turned into the driveway too fast, her brakes squealed as she saw Jacab stock still in the middle and the car gently bucked to a stop.
She grabbed her purse, got out and saw his face. “What has happened? Where is Dunkop?
Jacab’s face twisted? “What do you mean? He’s with you!”
She grabbed his arm, her beautiful African features now clouded with a mother’s wrath. “I left him with you this morning! Where is he?!”
Jacab just goggled at her, unable to comprehend, and she shoved him aside, and stormed past, calling out her son’s name.
She disappeared inside the house, calling Dunkop’s name again, more urgent this time, and Jacab just stood and stared, blinking rapidly and shaking his head. His mind raced. Where was Dunkop? He was with her today! He remembered this morning with clarity! Breakfast and talk. Umbra said she would take the boy to his swimming lessons and then drop him off at school before heading to her shift at Impressario’s, a shitty cafe with a worse name. When she kissed Jacab goodbye, leading Dunkop by the hand, the boy had turned and waved at him. “Bye Daddy” and he smiled that smile that made Jacab’s heart melt. His boy.
He heard Umbra call out again. Insistent, now.
They left together, this morning. He remembered! What was happening?
Where was his son??
He headed for the front door, his heart starting to pound.
He called out, “DUNKOP?”
Inside the house, he slammed the front door and as he was about to shout his son’s name again, he heard Dunkop’s laugh from the lounge room. Jacab cocked his head in puzzlement and walked towards the sound, seeing Umbra holding his son in his arms and the boy was laughing as she tickled him.
What the hell? His mind raced.
Umbra looked up. “You a damn fool, or I don’t know what. What’s wrong with you? He was in his room, taking a nap, and he said he hadn’t eaten all day! Jacab! Are you listening to me??!”
Jacab was not. He was staring over her shoulder at the wall by the toybox, where Yuluuf had written the strange message, but it was not there anymore. Instead, in rainbow colors, was his son’s writing, DADDY, with a stickman and a flower. One of the middle D’s was backwards and the Y was more like a W, but that was his son’s graffiti, no doubt in his mind. His mind skipped and time stretched.
Umbra was in his face, her mouth was moving like an angry machine, but he heard no words. He could feel her anger, but he couldn’t understand what had happened to him today. He thought about his morning, before the breakfast he could remember so clearly. It was a normal day. After his wife and son left, he watched tv for awhile. He hated his days off, but his work days were even worse. He had lunch. Ham and cheese sandwich and some chili chips. Glass of iced tea. A chocolate biscuit for dessert. He took a piss. Went to check the weather and got distracted, played Pharaoh for over an hour, tinkering with the huge Egyptian city he had been fiddling with for over a year now. He remembered getting lost in the supply problems of his virtual world, and for a time he was nowhere else but in that world, so he could have lost track of time but not all day.
After that he didn’t quite remember. He may have read a book, or maybe checked his email? He didn’t know. His next memory was smoking on the couch, checking his phone for messages and realizing he hadn’t seen Yuluuf for a while, and then discovering… a shudder rippled through his body, and he took a deep breath. Realized Umbra was gone. The room was quiet.
He looked around, confused again. Looked at the wall. DADDY and the portrait and bouquet was still there. Same rainbow gaudiness.
He called out, “Umbra?” and waited.
He called out again, and started to walk toward the stairs up to the 2nd floor.
He heard his son’s bedroom door close and his wife appeared at the top of the stairs. Her face was wet.
She was frowning. When she looked up and saw Jacab, her face changed into something ugly.
You. Bastard.” is all she would say, and pushed past him hard, when he tried to block her way, to say something that would make sense.
He followed her into the kitchen, trying to find out some way to explain his confusion, but it all came out sounding lame and made-up, like he was covering for some other screw-up and she tore into him, telling him that he was sounding like a teenager caught sneaking in at night, and this was “our Goddamn son, Jacab! He said you left him in his room all day! When he tried to come down for lunch, the door was locked!”
Jacab said, “I didn’t know he was home, I swear it. I told you, I remember you two leaving this morning! I didn’t know he was here!”
She turned away from him, braced herself on the counter.
Umbra, honey, listen to me. I swear to you I had no idea he was here. I didn’t hear him yelling or pounding on his door! I didn’t hear anything! I was just bumming around the house. That’s it. I was here all day! My lunch dishes are right there. Look!”
She didn’t say anything. She just let him ramble. Let the white boy hang himself with his words.
After a while, Umbra tuned out. She slowly walked from the kitchen into the lounge and her eyes fell upon the graffiti on the wall. She turned, furious. “What the hell is THIS?! You let him scribble on the wallpaper? You remember how expensive that was? What the hell is wrong with you, Jacab?? What is going on??!”
He scrunched his brow. The logical mind processed. Spit out the anomaly in under a second. “Wait. What? I thought he was locked in his room all day?!”
She pulled back as if she were slapped. “You admitting it now you bastard?!”
Jacab’s eyes darted to her. “What? No! You said he was locked up all day. Then how did he do this? He pointed at the childish graffiti. “Your crazy logic, not mine!”
Umbra frowned. Dunkop said he woke up and hadn’t left his room all day. Peed his pants and everything cause he couldn’t get to the toilet. Said he cried afterwards. He couldn’t unlock the door and he hadn’t eaten all day. She suddenly walked to the sink. Looked at the lunch dishes. Dunkop’s bowl and plate and spoon were there with Jacab’s usual plate and cup. She frowned again and cocked her head, trying to process the possibility that her son had lied to her.
Jacab had fallen silent. He was watching from the doorway. He was staring at her, concerned.
This man had taken good care of them. She had never known him to lie before. Umbra looked up. Her eyes were wet. She opened her arms and stepped towards him. As she folded into him, she said, “His dishes are there. And when I got home his door was unlocked, now that I think about it. I don’t understand. I’m sorry.”
Jacab patted his wife’s back and said, resolved, “Come with me. I have to show you something. Don’t be mad, but just come look.”
She started to question, but instead just let her self be led by the hand upstairs to the master bedroom. Jacab stopped outside the door and then opened the door from the side, so that she could enter first, pushing it open a little too hard, and it banged off the wall, making him wince at the scolding to come.
None came and he looked up. His wife was blocking the doorway. She was making a keening noise like some crazy tea kettle at full boil. Her arms were stiffly pointed towards the floor and she was up on her toes.
Jacab said, “Umbra?” and touched her on the arm.
She screamed, turned and grabbed him, crying and he looked over her shoulder.
Yuluuf was sprawled on the large quilt on the big king-sized bed. She looked comfortably asleep, the way she had looked a million times before. The beloved old dog was not allowed on the bed, but this was no ordinary day.
Yuluuf was not breathing, that was obvious in the immediate. Jacab’s stomach knotted, and his eyes leapt up to the wall above the bed where the old girl had scribbled her first message. The hello jacab was not there. In its place, in orange crayon, bYE bYE UMbrA JAcAB LOVE IYA EbUNo
Jacab’s phone rang. He stared at it, dumbfounded.
He shook his head, to clear it, and thumbed the answer key. “Hello?”
“I’m sorry, this is Inspector Ikeolu, is this the husband of Umbra Kozik?”
Jacab swallowed. Umbra soaked his shoulder.
“Hello? Yes. This is Jacab Kozik. Who is this?”
“I’m sorry, this is Inspector Ikeolu, sir. I’m calling to, and I’m sorry to have to tell you this, sir, but I’m calling to tell you that your wife’s grandmother was found today. I mean her body was found. I’m very sorry. It was in the Didiershap Mall, someone found her on a bench, It must have been her heart. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, sir. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Jacab listened to the words, not understanding, while his wife was weeping for her lost Ebuno, sweet and wise mother of her mother, and Jacab listened to the words and wondered when he was going to wake up.