“It’ll be fun, Maria”, I hoped the tone of my voice was convincing enough.
Maria was fun to be with, she was social and outgoing but not in the typical bad girl way. I was the bad girl; the one who went to clubs, night parties, pool parties; anything associated with the dark, you name it and I was there; in my skimpy dresses and block heels; whatever colour to suit the occasion. My fashion sense was second to none.
Maria was just as her name implied. She always had the typical “Virgin Mary” attribute that immediately made one think she would be a holier than thou judgmental brute, but she was nice. She was beautiful as well; she had the looks and I had the body. There was something pure about her that drove unserious men away. There was an allure about her that was enchanting and intimidating as well.
Thankfully, I was not the jealous type so our friendship was as healthy as any relationship. I had no issues with her reserved and religious, no, spiritual lifestyle. She always reminded me of the difference between being religious and spiritual. We were done with our final exams and she had her future planned out. She would get a job as a freelance writer and apply for menial jobs during her service year and after serving her fatherland, she would get married and get a well paying job to ensure a secure future.
Yes, that was Maria, the planner. She always had everything planned out; left no room for chance. Me? Oh I was all about going with the flow. I did not create a timeline for myself like she did. I still had three references in school; you know how it is when some lecturers decide to think with what is between their legs instead of their brains. I took whatever life threw at me and looked for a way to be happy despite all.
Maria had never been to a night event and I was determined to make sure she did that before leaving the four walls of the university. She was unmoving; her defenses were unbreakable. Then it was the week of my birthday and that was the only shot I had. It was an afterthought and it seemed like a really smart thought then, I remember how broadly I had grinned at my brilliance and the luck to have my birthday fall within that period. Now as I think back, I really wish I had not been so brilliant. I wish I had not been so determined to take her out. Maybe, it was being in the wrong place at the wrong time; maybe, it was just fate; maybe, it was a coincidence; too many maybes. The point is, I regret every single moment now and wish somehow I had not emotionally blackmailed her into bringing down the fences she had built around her for more than four years. Maybe things would still be normal, just maybe.
“You’re seriously not going to celebrate my birthday with me for the last time, Maria?” that guilt-tripping tone was in my voice and that was all it took to get her to go with me.
It was not a club in school, I wanted her experience to be one in a million, unforgettable; and that was what it had turned out to be, but not in the way I had planned.
I was a good dancer, she was not. So she chose to sit and I perfunctorily joined her glancing occasionally at the happy people on the dance floor. She was drinking from a bottle of malt and I was sipping my Smirnoff seductively hoping it would get the attention of one of the men at the bar. I had had my eyes on him since we stepped in. His features were not clear but his clothes said he definitely had style.
“Is this really what it’s like?” Maria asked me with a look of disappointment she made no effort to hide.
That look sent a wave of shame over me. It made me seem like a stupid teenager who claimed and felt she was having all the fun in the world but to grownups, it was anything but fun; just a waste of time.
“No, it’s this way because of you. You really want to celebrate my birthday with me; you drop that malt in your hand, get a bottle of alcohol and move your body as if you just don’t care”, I struggled hard not to yell but she only giggled and put up her hands in the air.
“I’m positive you’ll get yourself drunk before we leave here. One of us has to be clear in the head”, she advised in that mummy tone she was fond of using when she felt I was overreacting.
I knew she was right but I was not happy with the way the night was going, I glanced back at the stylish man at the bar. Could he not see the green light I had been giving him since I walked in? Why on earth was he being such a baby?
As though reading my mind, he took his drink in his hand and began walking towards our table.
“You can stop staring now”, I heard Maria say embarrassed. I had no idea I had been staring at him the whole time.
I immediately cleared my throat and sipped from my empty bottle; that made Maria explode into an irresistible laughter. I almost joined her, but Stylish guy was already an inch away from us and I had to get my act together.
“Hello ladies”, he began just as I had expected. It was an official way of starting a conversation in a club.
I smiled at him and he gave me a cursory glance before turning to Maria whose eyes were on him as well.
“Would you like to dance or chat with me? I couldn’t help but notice you from where I sat at the bar”.
At that moment, all I wanted to do was smash my empty Smirnoff bottle on his head. Maria was not even interested in the club itself.
“You know, for someone with your looks and your carriage, I’m quite disappointed. You don’t just walk up to two ladies having a good time and try to whisk one away like she’s been sitting and waiting for you to come”.
The last part of her sentence did not go well with me even though I knew she was not directly referring to me.
“Oh” was all he said to her and then he turned to the forgotten friend: me. “Can I just have a minute with you?”
Go ahead and judge me, I said “yes”.
I did not bother looking at Maria to see the glare I was sure she was giving me. “Just a minute, Maria”, I said without turning to her.
Mr. Stylish guy turned out to be Jack Duru, a businessman who just wanted a night of fun. We kept on conversing and then I remembered I had promised Maria only a minute and looking at my watch, I had been with him for five minutes.
I begged to leave but he smiled and said he wanted us to keep talking. I should have known better, but I did not. I listened to him and stayed five more minutes till I could take it no longer.
“It would be so ungentlemanly of me not to accompany you to your seat,” he said with a charming smile that I had come to like.
As we walked back inside the club, I heard Maria scream my name. Wondering what she was doing outside, Duru and I hurried towards her. Her eyes looked angry and alert.
“I thought…you sent someone to call me because…” she paused and stared at my escort confused. “Did you send anyone to call me?”
I was about to reply when Duru put his right hand around my waist and I felt a sharp pain at my side, I immediately looked down to see a knife in his hand. All reasoning left me as I started to scream but the knife in his hand threatened to find its way into my skin. Maria’s eyes finally followed mine and she gasped in horror. She opened her mouth to scream but a hand covered her mouth immediately; that was when I knew we were in trouble.
“This won’t take long, sweetheart”, Duru said as he led us into a car by the side of the bar alongside his partner who held Maria hostage with a gun.
It was for the fear of her life that I had not run away. Now when I think of it, I should have run; given the bouncers at the entrance a signal to help us, but I was scared. Don’t tell me you would not be scared if you saw someone point a pistol at your best friend? I felt her life was in my hands.
The drive was not long. Both our mouths were gagged in the car. I had no idea where we were but as they led us into a bush, the fact that we were in trouble was confirmed; how wrong I was, we were as good as dead. There were two men waiting for us.
It was a moonlit night and as I turned to Maria, her head was down. She was totally avoiding eye contact with me. I knew exactly what was going through her mind, I had led her; Maria was supposed to be on her bed sleeping, but because of my stupidity, her life was at risk.
“We need just one,” one of the men said.
“The more the better, right?” Duru laughed lightly, but when the two men still had serious looks on their faces, he stopped. “Missy here”, he said shaking me. “Just had to be a spoilsport”
The two men immediately reached for me but he stopped them. “Let’s use the rude one”, he suggested and for the first time, I saw Maria look up.
I did not see anger, I saw dread. She had a pleading in her eyes as the man holding her hostage pushed her towards the two men.
“What are you planning to do to her?”I asked in fear as Duru smiled.
“You my dear, are one lucky bitch”, he said and ordered me to run as if my life depended on it; and it did.
I looked from him to Maria and then to the two men wielding knives and a clay pot. They really expected me to run for my life and leave my friend in their claws.
As though reading my mind, he said, “so be it…carry on”
With what? I thought as I heard Maria yelp.
She was lying flat on the ground and as soon as they untied her mouth, it quivered and began pleading. “Please, don’t do this. It would kill my parents; I’m the only hope of my family. We have nothing or even no-” a resounding slap from one of the two men stopped her short.
She spat out blood and looked up at me, no Duru.
I immediately knelt down and began to beg, I lost count of how many times I asked them to use me instead, but Duru ignored me and when the two men each took Maria’s hands and held them as though ready for a crucifixion, I did not need a soothsayer to tell me what would happen next.
Duru immediately ordered the man who had been holding her to hold me and he walked towards Maria and unzipped his trousers. A scream escaped my friend as the bastard got on his knees and ripped her trouser open.
I turned away immediately, I could not watch. For the umpteenth time, I regretted getting Maria out of her hostel and wished I was the one on the ground instead of her. Her screams pierced my ears and I immediately felt hot tears sting my eyes as they made their way down my cheek.
I had no idea how long it had been when I finally looked up; Maria was silent but her eyes were focused on the sky; possibly praying for a miracle to happen. I could see the pain she tried to bear with every movement from…it was not Duru, it was one of the other two. That was when I noticed Duru holding one of her hands and the other had his zip open showing he had already had his turn with her. In another five minutes, my captor swapped with the man on top of her and had what he would later term the fun of his life.
When they were all done, I prepared myself for my turn.
Her eyes were still facing the sky and Duru slapped her thrice before she looked at him. “I promise you, your suffering and tears will not go to waste, I’ll use the money wisely”
That was when it hit me; it was not a raping spree or a night of machoness. They were ritualists and my friend was the sacrifice.
Duru kissed her on the forehead and signaled the two men to go ahead.
For the first time, my friend looked at me. Her eyes were as red as they could ever be. I could see a wave of emotions running through them as well. I wished hate was one of them, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t even see anger in her eyes.
One of the men held up her head and bent it to the left while the other put the clay pot beneath her neck. I did not want to watch but I could not look away from her. Fresh tears stained her cheeks and mine as well; it was the end. In the twinkle of an eye, the knife went across her neck and slit her throat sending a line of blood into the pot.
“Maria!” I screamed till my lungs hurt.
Duru walked towards me and I immediately broke free from my captor and slapped him hard across the cheek. You guessed right, I wanted him to kill me.
He smiled at me and I immediately felt a sharp pain in my stomach; it had to be the knife. I was happy. I was going to join Maria, my dear friend. We would be together again. I saw a bleary image of Duru and his colleagues before falling to the ground…dead, I hoped.
They must have disappeared into thin air because my father paid every officer he could recruit to find the murderers, but the search was fruitless.
I looked up at the therapist seated before me. She was the twenty ninth one my father had hired since the incident two years ago. The others failed terribly and the one seated before me was going to be no different. They all had one goal: to stop me from taking my life.
What nobody knew was that I had died alongside Maria that night, and from the moment I came to, I tried to end it physically, but it seemed the heavens had chosen my punishment: to live every day of my pathetic life re-living that horrible night; the night I wish had never happened.