Judy impulsively made the sign of the cross and walked slowly towards her father who seated on a plastic chair with sales books opened before him.
As much as she knew how he hated distractions, she did not have the luxury of time to wait. “Daddy”, she called as he grunted but kept his eyes on the calculator in his hand.
She tugged at the hem of her long-sleeved blouse and waited for few seconds to pass before speaking up again. “It’s almost 6:00 pm”, her voice was low and as he punched the buttons of the calculator in reply, she wondered if her voice had been too low.
He looked up at her through his glasses. “And what’s happening at 6:00 pm”, his tone was unfriendly and Judith was convinced he was annoyed at the distraction.
“B-b-bible study”, she stuttered and felt stupid immediately.
He studied her and smiled proudly; he had wondered why she had worn a long-sleeved blouse and a loose knee-length skirt. With the head tie on her head and the Bible in her right hand, he was pleased that she was finally finding her spirituality.
“And why do you suddenly want to go for bible study?” he cross-examined her with a penetrating stare.
She smiled and knew she had to play her cards right. Don’t be too enthusiastic so he won’t offer to drive you to church and don’t be too nonchalant so that he will not think you’re lying.
“I don’t know. I woke up this morning and felt I wanted to attend this one”, she shrugged but never took her eyes off him for a second.
His features loosened and he dropped the calculator on the stool before him; for a second she thought he wanted to offer to drive her.
“That was the Holy spirit, Judith”, he placed his right hand gently on his chest and smiled warmly at her. “It’s a good thing you chose to listen to him”.
She quickly plastered a fake smile on her face and blushed, “I’m happy as well”.
“Run along now, so that you won’t be late”, he advised and she turned to leave but he stopped her.
Oh shit! Had she turned too quickly? Had he noticed her eagerness to leave?
She turned back and watched him take off his glasses, “You don’t have your pen and notebook?”
“I’ll get it. I just wanted to let you know”, she replied quickly as he nodded and picked up his calculator.
Grateful that she had succeeded, she ran into the stationery section and took a tiny jotter and pen; it could even prove useful in copying out whatever information they would get from the principal’s office.
She already had one foot out of the door when Mr Ani called her name. For a second, she wanted to ignore him and bolt out but that would only get him suspicious. “Yes daddy”, she tried not to frown.
“Don’t bother coming back to the shop, go home from there”, he did not even look up from his calculator.
“Okay”, she replied and ran out before he would call again.
The taxi stopped behind the school building and Judy alighted right after paying him. Then she trotted in the direction of the back gate where she saw Pamela and Daniel waiting. Her expression was a mixture of confusion and surprise.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t come?” she asked as she approached them but they stood still with their eyes on her completely stupefied. “What’s wrong?” she opened her palms in bemusement as Dan recollected himself and smiled at her.
“What in God’s name are you wearing, Judith?” she shook her head as though trying to erase the image that stood before her.
Judy hissed and waved her bible in the air. “Be thankful for these things I’m wearing. This was the only way I could run away from the supermarket”, she explained holding up the hem of her blouse.
That did not stop the ogling from the duo and she was definitely getting irritated. “Seriously? I have only two hours for bible study so I suggest we use our time wisely”.
Pam’s features loosened and with a sigh, she explained. “Lucky you, I have only forty-five minutes. I’m supposed to be in the church right now attending evening mass”.
“Okay, but why did you change your mind?” her eyes were on Dan as she spoke.
“I begged him to”, Pam answered flatly and turned to him. “Please, lead the way”, she clicked her fingers in front of Dan’s face; he was still ogling at Judy’s clothes.
“Sure”, he muttered and shook his head making Judy glare at him.
“Wait a minute, what about Eche?” Judith asked without moving.
Pam turned to her with a sigh, “He called earlier and said he wouldn’t be able to make it. His mother’s illness got worse”.
Judy glanced at Dan who stared at Pam and from his stare; she could tell he was thinking Pam had used him as Eche’s replacement. She turned back to Pam with furrowed brows, “His mother is sick?”
Pam waved her off, “We can talk about that later, Judy. Let’s go in first”.
Judy sighed in resignation and turned to Dan; he had already stopped staring at Pamela. “Shall we?” she said to him as he nodded and led them around the building to an area where the fence was broken. It did not look as though it required much energy to cross.
“Wow, how come I have never seen this?” Pam whispered with wide eyes.
“You’re kidding, right?” Dan turned to her to be sure she was actually joking.
“No, I’m not”, she turned to Judy. “Did you know about this?”
Judy shook her head immediately with pursed lips.
“Wow, this used to be Jane’s spot. That girl scaled this fence like there was no tomorrow”, he laughed lightly and straightened his face the moment he noticed Pam’s arched brow.
“That’s enough”, she sounded serious and folded her arms looking around. She suddenly felt goose bumps break out over her skin; that was Jane’s spot; she was about to scale a fence that Jane fondly scaled, and she was going to join Jane soon; the strange feeling that engulfed her was daunting.
Her confidant and companion obviously reading her mind held onto her and offered her the most consoling smile she had ever received. Pam did not know why, but she suddenly felt safe; she always felt safe with Judy. If she survived the holiday killer, it would take fire and brimstone to end her friendship with Judith Ani.
“I hate to ruin the moment, but it’s already 6:27 pm”, Dan announced as they both turned to him.
“We need to hurry”, Pam’s voice sounded confident and Judy could not hide a smile.
Dan went over the fence first; he did it with so much ease that Judy swallowed hard and wondered how she would succeed with her skirt.
“Your turn”, she heard her friend say by her side.
She frowned and stood with arms akimbo, “I am not going to be a source of comedy to you”. She was referring to her dress and Pam knew it; she only chuckled lightly before walking closer to the fence. She carefully pulled her jean skirt up to her waist exposing the shorts she wore underneath, then she placed both palms on the short fence and propped herself up. She sent one foot over and then the next before vanishing from Judy’s view.
Judy looked around as though she wanted to be sure there was nobody looking, then she unzipped the loose skirt and let it fall from her waist to expose the knee length jean shorts she was wearing. She then took out nylon she had carefully folded and placed within the leaves of her bible and with a swift move of her hands; she stashed the hideous looking skirt in it.
She then threw it over and heard Dan cry out. “Hey”.
She cupped her hands over her mouth, “Sorry”. She then held the top of the fence with both hands and when she had raised herself to a safe distance above the ground, she sent her right leg over the fence and when quite balanced on the fence, she sent the left one over. In a split second, she landed on the dusty ground.
She spun around to see Daniel’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened in absolute amazement. “Wow”, was all he said with his eyes still fixed on her.
“Good girl gone bad”, Pam smiled and pretended to take a shot with her phone. “Let me save this for Mr Ani”, she said with a straight face but gave herself away by chuckling.
“I’m not the one who’s supposed to return to the workshop in less than thirty minutes”, she reminded her and turned to Dan who was still studying her. “That’s enough Daniel”, she queried with a straight face though she felt flattered.
Daniel finally turned away from her and led them quietly towards the front of the school. There were two buildings in the school; Daniel led them to the administrative/junior secondary building on the right. The school was deserted and it looked almost strange to them; indeed what made that building a school was the presence of the noisy students with their diverse behaviours and personalities.
They mounted the flight of stairs and headed for the principal’s office on the first floor. The huge door thankfully did not use a padlock so all Dan did was pick the lock and within two minutes, they heard the click in the keyhole.
“Looks can be really deceptive”, Judy muttered with her eyes on Dan and a smile on her lips. “You’re actually cool; and when I say cool, I mean that in all ramifications”, her right palm flailed as she spoke quietly.
Dan tried hard not to blush and he cast one quick glance at Pam who gave him a thumb up. All three teenagers filed in and closed the door with Pam latching it. The office was not large but moderate enough to accommodate the big man; the table and swivel chair looked worn out and in need of dire replacement.
“Okay guys”, Judith turned to face them. “Let’s be quick, I’ll go through the filing cabinet beside the table while Dan will go through the one by the door”, she explained hurriedly and turned to face Pamela directly. “You’ll go through his desk; you pay great attention to detail, so definitely, nothing will go unnoticed by you”.
She snapped her fingers and headed for the cabinet by the table; each drawer had a label of numbers whose meaning she could not decipher so she hurriedly but carefully opened the lowest. It was filled with suspension files and with a heave of a deep breath, she pulled out one and placed her jotter wherein its place. It had the heading: SS3 STUDENTS: 2014/2015 ACADEMIC SESSION.
Iyaye James had been in SS3 four years ago. With that thought, she scanned through the papers with her fingers till she found his name. She smiled and replaced her jotter with her bible. She then opened it and wrote down his details therein.
“Have you seen something?” she heard Dan ask from where he squatted with a file in his hand.
“Yes, I have. Senior James”, she replied and then looked up from her jotter. “Dan, I know we were in JSS1 then but do you know anybody he was close to?” she asked as he scratched his head.
“Senior Miebaka was always with him”, Pamela recalled in a whisper as Judith nodded with a smile and searched for his name.
“I’ve seen it, Miebaka George”, there was a smile in her voice and as she bent to scribble in her jotter, she caught sight of another name; Miebaka Tamuno. “Uh oh, does anyone happen to know his surname?” she turned to Pamela who shook her head slowly.
“Just write the both of them”, Dan suggested and turned back to what he was doing.
He went through the list of SS2 students of 2016/2017 Academic session for the second time hoping Judith would not distract again. He found her name on the fourth page: Martha Attah, the short yet beautiful Ogoni girl. The sweet talker; the manipulator; teachers and students could testify to how good she was at getting away with whatever she wanted.
He swiftly placed the opened file on the drawer and took a clear picture of it with his phone. After that, he brought his brows together and thought deeply. She had a clique of girls then but he could not seem to remember their names.
“Hey”, he whispered and watched the duo turn to him. “Do any of you remember the names of Martha’s girls?” he asked as Pam held her cheeks and looked at the ceiling lost in thought.
“I think there was one named Sola”, she stretched her words feeling quite unsure of herself and then in a split second, she nodded assertively. “Her name was Sola, I’m sure”.
“Okay”, he turned back to the file and searched for her name then smiled when he saw it. “Sola Adekunle”, he said to the hearing of everyone and took another shot.
He replaced it in the drawer and turned back to Judy who was no longer squatting but standing to check the first drawer. “How’s it going over there, Judith?”
“Aunty Stella is the worst secretary ever”, she confessed with slight annoyance and turned to face him. “I was thinking a drawer would be for a particular session but that’s not it. She just put the files randomly, who does that?” she asked rhetorically and turned back to the file she had in her hand. “Anyway”, she added in a calmer voice. “I’m with Paul’s class file”.
“You mean that of SS1 students when we were in JSS2?”
“Yes, 2015/2016 session”, she emphasized and smiled. “Got you”, she grinned as she noted his details in her tiny jotter. When she was done, she raised her head and said to no one in particular, “Did that jerk even have a friend?”
“Judith”, Pamela called with scolding eyes. “Do not speak of the dead in that manner”, she corrected as Judy waved her off and turned to Dan.
“Those mischievous twins were his cronies then”, he replied and bit his lips still thinking. “Okay, now I remember; Victor and Victory Nwafor”.
“The Nwafors”, Pam smiled and shook her head as she recalled the two Afobiri truants who had been expelled a year after Paul’s death. They had drugged a girl in JSS3 by putting a large dose of tramadol in her Coca Cola drink and forcing her to gulp it down. That had been the last straw and Mr Belema, the principal had sent for their guardians since they were orphans.
“Wow”, Judith pulled her head back to be sure of what she was seeing. “Mr Belema is mean, their names are written in red”, she sniggered and wrote down their names and addresses.
“Did you hear that?” Daniel’s eyes were alert and that made the hair behind Pam’s head to stand still.
What had he heard? Had the killer come for her? Did he know that they were unto him?
“What is it?” Judith whispered and struggled to listen in the silence.
That was when they both heard it; footsteps.
Dan tactfully placed the file back in the drawer and closed it noiselessly while Pam scanned the table with her eyes to be sure everything was back in order. She practically heard her own heavy breathing and heartbeats.
Judith did as Dan had done but the metal drawers were rusted and gave a shrill cry when she had initially opened them, so she left it open and stood still with her heart rate pulsating higher than normal.
The thudding footsteps that came up the stairs apparently belonged to a heavy man. The three teens stood with great trepidation as the shadow of the intruder became evident beneath the door.
Then the metal doorknob was turned.