Judy looked back at the paper in her hand to be sure that they were standing before the right house. It was a three storey building situated by the side of the busy street; she had never been to Aggrey Road on her own and visiting a stranger on her first outing was definitely not what she had foreseen herself doing.
She briefly turned to Dan who had not said a word to her since they left Pam’s house. She sighed at how sulky he was and nudged him on the shoulder; despite the fact he really liked Pamela Lawson, she felt he was supposed to be smart enough to keep his feelings in check and know when he was never leaving the friend zone.
“Lighten up, Dan. Remember we are meeting someone for the first time; trust me I wouldn’t want to stop to talk to you with that face you’re wearing”.
He turned to her and rolled his eyes at her. “Can you just leave me alone? Let’s just get this over with so that I can go home”, he said dryly and turned away from her to the house.
“Alright”, she sounded hurt but he did not care. He had better things to think about; he needed to hurry home and brood about how Pamela was never going to be his.
Judith walked ahead of him towards the large metal door at the centre of the house. It was unlocked and that seemed to be the main entrance so she peered in before pushing it open. There were three doors on the right and three others on the left. She pouted her lips and began to scan the doors. The three on the left had padlocks on them while the second one on the right was the only one that was locked.
She could hear the loud music coming from behind the first door so she took in a deep breath and knocked as loudly and sanely as she could on the first one. There was no reply so she knocked once more and added “Hello”, but there was still no reply.
She was about to turn away and go towards the other door when Dan spoke up. “Let’s check the last door that’s open”, he suggested and that only made her knock harder on the door.
She was determined to ignore Dan’s presence for the rest of the day. Dan noticed what she did and frowned at how childish she was acting. He began to head in the direction of that door when the door finally swung open and a dark-skinned tall boy in boxers stood before them.
He was sweating profusely and did not smile at them; it was obvious the stubborn Judith Ani had interrupted whatever was going on. “How may I help you?” he asked curtly in a loud voice since the music was still playing from within. He studied the duo wondering what they were doing at his doorstep.
“Please, we’re looking for”, she stopped and facepalmed with a sigh. “I’m sorry, good morning”, she quickly apologized as he waved his right hand and kept his eyes on her. “Please, we are looking for Miebaka George”, she finally said with a small smile as he peered down at her.
“Is that why you want to break down my door?” he sounded annoyed and with the way he still had the door half closed, Judy feared he would slam the door in her face.
“I’m sorry sir. I thought the music was-”
“Hello”, he waved his right palm in the air and shook his head. “That’s the reason the music was that loud”, Judy simply nodded obediently and clasped her palms before her face.
“I’m really sorry sir”, she apologized once more as he sighed and leaned on the door post.
“Who did you say you are looking for?”
“Miebaka George”, she replied quickly; too quickly. He sensed the urgency in her voice because he raised his brows instantly.
“I hope there’s no problem?” he made it sound like a question but Judy simply twitched her left eye and shook her head.
“We just want to see her”, his brows came together at that point and a suspicious stare was all he offered the girl before him.
He looked over at the tall slim boy behind her; he had funny ears like an elf but the serious countenance on his face did not give him a chance to chuckle, so he simply smiled and cleared his throat as an excuse and turned back to the girl.
“You want to see her?” he asked nodding his head as Judy nodded with a smile. She did not fail to notice the smile tugging at the side of his lips.
“Yes, we do. If you can just tell us exactly where we can find her, then-”
“Is she your friend?” he crossed his arms across his chest as Dan frowned at him.
He was getting too nosy. “Look, if you want to help us out, you help us. If you don’t, then tell us so that we can ask someone else”, Dan looked irritated and the young man had to pull his head back to be sure he was the one being spoken to.
“Excuse me?” he cocked his head to the side and stared at Dan as Judy turned to him with a glower and turned back to the house owner with a fake smile plastered across her lips.
“Please sir, I’m really-”
“Out”, that was all he said and then the door slammed shut in their face.
Judy’s fists balled as she bit her lower lip and turned to Dan who simply hissed and walked towards the other door that was unlocked. She watched him with the angry stare as he put up his hand to knock. Almost immediately, the door opened and someone walked out dressed in a black polo and blue jean trousers.
He studied Dan briefly before turning back to his door. “Who are you?” he asked closing the door.
“Good afternoon, I’m Daniel”, he said in a friendly tone though his straight face remained. “I was just wondering if you could show me where Miebaka George lives”, he said immediately as the man locked his door with the padlock he had been holding in his hand and turned quickly to him; he looked as though he was in a hurry.
“You just passed his door”, he bent down to dust his sandals as Dan duly noted the word his. He had always thought Miebaka was a girl.
“Erm, I said Miebaka-”, the man rose to his feet and put the key in his pocket.
He tried not to glare at the teenager wasting his time; he was really in a hurry. “The person playing music as though he’s the owner of the compound is the one you’re looking for”, he said nodding his head impatiently towards the first door and walked past them and out the main entrance before Dan could even mutter a word of appreciation.
He swallowed hard and prepared himself for whatever insult Judy had in store for him. He turned slowly and walked towards her; she was still standing in front of his door.
He pointed towards it and looked at her; she simply stood with her hands folded beneath her breasts and her head tilted to the right with her lips folded into a thin line. “Miebaka is a boy-I mean the man”, he corrected and scratched his heads as she opened her eyes in mock surprise.
“You don’t say”, she acted shocked as though she had not heard from the horse’s mouth already.
He bit his lips before turning to the door and back to her. “He is the person we’re looking for”, he finally said in a low voice as she smiled mockingly. She then moved aside and bowed her head before motioning for him to knock on the door.
He did not utter a word of protest as he stood before the door and exhaled loudly. At least she did not say a word to him; that would have been worse. He raised his hand to knock but it stopped inches away from the wooden door and he quickly turned to Judy who had her eyes everywhere except the spot on which he was standing.
He knew she would not give him face, but he felt more stupid knocking on that door. “What do I tell him, Judy?”
She completely ignored him and began singing the song playing from within. “No be Dangote or Adeleke, but we go dey okay”, she moved her head to the beat of the song completely oblivious of his presence.
He frowned and knocked as loudly as she had done the first time. Just when he was about to knock again, the door opened and Miebaka stared at them with an exasperated sigh escaping him.
“Senior, we are so sorry”, Dan clasped his palms and stared at Miebaka.
“What do you mean by we? Did I do anything?” he heard Judy query from behind and felt the strong urge to strangle her.
Oh God, what is wrong with this girl? He queried mentally but kept his pleading eyes on Miebaka who simply ogled him and shook his head with his lips pursed.
With the way Dan called him “senior”, he could tell they were from Afobiri Secondary School. “That is how they now teach you all to talk to people in that school now?” he made it sound like a question and as much as the duo facing him knew it was a rhetorical question, Judy could not stand being accused of what she did not do.
“I didn’t talk to you disrespectfully, he did”, she pointed at Dan who resisted the urge to turn around and order her to keep her big mouth shut.
Miebaka simply smiled and with a shake of his head, he opened the door for them to enter. The house was bigger than it looked on the outside and from the look of things, he was packing.
“Are you travelling?” Judy found herself asking and was quite surprised when he replied to her.
“Yes, I’m still packing though. My parents will kill me if I don’t get there before 5:00 pm”, he explained and walked over to his phone to reduce the volume of the song booming from the Bluetooth music box.
When he was sure it was low enough to have everyone talking normally and not stressing their vocal cords, he turned back to the duo that was still standing. “Have a seat”, he motioned towards the sofas behind them and they smiled and nodded before obeying him.
When they had taken their places on the respective sofas, Miebaka walked into the house and came back minutes later wearing a faded blue polo shirt that was two times bigger than him. “What brings you here?” he finally asked and sat down at their opposite so he would be able to study them efficiently.
He watched them and earnestly tried to place their faces but he could not.
Judy seemed to notice how hard he tried to print a recognition form in his head and decided to save him the stress. “We were just in JSS1 when you were in SSS3”, she told him as he finally nodded and his mouth formed an “oh” shape. “My name is Judith Ani”, she introduced placing her right palm on her chest and when she was sure Daniel was about to speak, she continued.
“I just have a few questions to ask you”, she could see Daniel glare at her from the corner of her eye. She did not care; he had started it.
Miebaka noticed it too but ignored whatever drama was going on between the two and focused on the spokesperson. Having junior students in his home was not something he had foreseen. “Okay?” he pressed on and clasped his palms together as though ready to take in what they had to say.
She took in a deep breath before finally looking him in the eye. They still were not sure if he was the Miebaka they wanted to speak to. “It’s about your classmate, James Iyaye”, she swallowed at the mention of his name and watched Miebaka’s features tighten.
He gritted his teeth as he studied them and after a loud sigh, he nodded slowly. “What about him?” he looked as though he was going to ask them to leave soon.
“Were you two really close?” Judy crossed her legs and Miebaka watched the teenage detective keen eyes. She looked as if she was playing a role on set; it was cute watching her. Yet he felt uncomfortable having to talk about the death of his friend.
“You could put it that way”, he shrugged as she nodded slowly and took a mental note. He was the Miebaka they wanted to speak to; not Miebaka Tamuno.
He leaned out in his seat and placed his hands on his laps before looking from one person to the other. “Why exactly are you both here?” his suspicious eyes focused on the duo who briefly exchanged glances before turning back to him. He was sure nobody was crazy enough to wake up one morning and go around asking about a dead person.
Judy sighed loudly and leaned forward just as the young man opposite had done seconds ago. “We just want to know if-if-if he”, her hands flailed in the air as she tried to convince herself that she was not going to sound stupid. She was beginning to feel silly for even knocking on the door in the first place.
Dan quickly came to her aid. “We just want to know if he was acting weirdly before his death”.
Miebaka stared at Dan for a long time; first looking perplexed as to why they would want such information and then finally exhaled loudly and looked down at his big feet on the brown carpeted floor. “He acted normally”, he shrugged and looked up at them with suspicion written all over his face. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re here”.
Judy shook her head even though she knew that was not the answer he needed. “We just wanted to know”.
“Don’t give me that”, he snapped as she jumped in her seat. He did not mean for her to react that way. “After four years, two kids suddenly show up at my door and want to know what happened to my best friend”, the duo exchange glances when he refers to them as kids. “Who are you kidding? Look, if that’s what brought you here, you might as well leave” he was clearly annoyed.
The last thing they planned to do was to upset him. “We’re sorry”, she apologized as soon as he was quiet. When he said nothing in reply, she guessed he was waiting for a proper and honest explanation.
“We just want to understand the circumstances surrounding his death”, her voice was low; as though she dreaded leaving there without useful information. “After his accident”, she paused and Miebaka arched a brow at the manner in which she mentioned the last word. “Three more students have died during the Christmas holidays and the deaths have all been ruled as accidents”.
He shrugged and opened his palms with his features tightened in apparent bemusement. “So you’re here to hear me say James was murdered?” he took the words right out of her mouth and Judy could not believe that she found herself nodding eagerly. The scrunching of his face and the cocking of his head to the side instantly stopped her from nodding.
“Oh please”, he scoffed and waved her off. “You sound just like Angela”, he looked up at their questioning stares. “His girlfriend”, he dryly replied to them and rubbed his forehead.
“Angela thinks James was murdered?” It was Dan who asked and Miebaka had to pout his lips before nodding in reply. He looked as though he hated to admit the fact.
“She believed it was no ordinary hit-and-run”, he stared into space as he spoke and flexed his right knuckles.
“Did she go to the police? Or try to talk to James’ parents?” Judy asked as he scoffed once more and twitched his left eye.
“Everyone thought Angela had gone crazy; we all did”, he still was not looking at either of them; his eyes stared beyond them.
The living room remained weirdly quiet and when nobody said a word, Dan broke the silence. He had observed the way Miebaka had turned his gaze to the wall and completely away from them, he was definitely hiding something. “Did you?” his voice was low and for a moment Miebaka did not act as though he had been spoken to.
He was about to ask again when Miebaka turned to him sharply as though someone had just poked him with a needle. “Did I what?”
“Did you also think Angela was crazy?” he watched for a change in Miebaka’s features but the guy sat like a statue moulded in place. His deep stare penetrated Dan’s eyes in a way that made it seem he was seeking for the reply in Dan’s eyes.
After what seemed like forever, he finally bit his lower lip and chuckled nervously. “Did I think Angie was crazy?” he asked more to himself than his interviewers. He slowly shook his head and studied them; as though contemplating whether to trust them with what he knew. The eagerness in Judy’s eyes was so apparent that he was forced to finally give in. “I wanted to think she was crazy”, he confessed biting his lower lip and turned to Daniel.
“She showed me two notes that James had received during the holidays”, he swallowed and put his right hand in his eye as though he wanted to remove something from it; he was obviously holding back tears. “I was so mad at her for not telling me earlier; I was so mad at the bastard for taking it lightly; I was so angry I-” his voice finally broke and he had to raise his head and stare at the ceiling in order to keep his eyes clear but with each passing second, they got blurrier.
“What did these notes say, Miebaka?” Judy asked in a low voice half expecting a reply from him.
He simply sniffed and looked at her before shaking his head. “I don’t-I don’t really remember but all I know is the whole thing was written in blood and”, he paused to swallow and catch his breath. “It seemed like they were wishing him something like happy Christmas, I don’t really remember what it was”, he had his eyes half closed as he tried to remember the words but failed miserably.
“Hold on”, Dan sat on the edge of the sofa and put out his hands for Miebaka to stop. Two pairs of eyes were on him as he slowly said, “You said they were wishing him. What did you mean by that? Did you know who?”
Judy turned sharply to Miebaka; she had been too absorbed in the story to take note of his words. Miebaka, on the other hand, seemed like he was having a hard time retrieving his thoughts because his head was bowed and he said nothing to them.
Judy tried to call his name. “Mieba-”
“I’m not sure, okay”, his voice rose and he had to take a series of deep breaths to get his tone back in order. “Some cultists or something, I mean, this is PH city for Christ’s sake. Anything is possible”, there was an air of uncertainty about him as he spoke.
“Did you go to the police with the notes?” Dan asked and hoped he would give a positive reply but Miebaka simply pursed his lips and hissed with his palm still gently rubbing his forehead.
“They accused James of being a cultist and closed the case; they just”, he closed his eyes and bit his lips. “I tarnished my friend’s image after his death, just because-” his voice broke once more and his eyes were back on the ceiling.
The duo just stared at him; scared he might reach his breaking point and send them out of the house. He looked back at them and rubbed both palms on his face before speaking again. “Times were getting bad and I had warned James not to be too strict with junior students, but he never listened”, he shook his head sadly and with the way his features twisted in pain, they could tell he was reliving the past.
He closed his eyes tightly trying to shut out the light argument they had before they had gone home for the holidays that term. How stubbornly he had reacted; how macho he had claimed to be.
Judy swallowed hard and knew she had to keep pressing for him to give them something valuable. It would hurt him, but maybe it would save the life of one more student. “Are you saying a student did this?” she asked with her head cocked to the side and her fingers tugging at the hem of her loose skirt; she had never narrowed down the suspect to the school.
He countered immediately. “I’m not saying anything, but then, even boys as young as twelve are being initiated into cults and of course they are promised protection from anyone who tries to hurt them”, he paused and pointed at them. “Everyone from JSS1 to SSS2 thought James was being unnecessarily strict and wicked in quote”, he grimaced at the factuality of the statement. “Some students had jokingly threatened him in school once but of course, nobody took them seriously. So, I guess he saw the notes as nothing too”, he paused and shut his eyes while biting his lower lip for the umpteenth time. “I guess I would have seen the notes as nothing too”, he shrugged with a sad face before sniffing.
He peered at the boy and girl before him; he had never imagined himself talking about his best friend’s demise. He and Angie had promised themselves that it was in the past and that was exactly where it would remain. “Tell me why exactly you are here”, his keen brown eyes never left them.
Judy swallowed hard and bowed her head before she had the courage to speak up. “My friend has been receiving notes since the holidays began”, Miebaka said nothing and did nothing; he simply kept his gaze fixed on her. “The words are also being written in blood and-”
“Have you tried talking to someone older?” that was supposed to be the only possible way out; the only way James had not tried out. James had not even tried at all.
“I went to the police”, he nodded slowly and waited for her to finish. “They think some guy is playing a prank on her”, she explained as he bit his lips and lay back in his seat with his hand on his head; she instantly guessed he did that a lot when he was tensed just as she face-palmed whenever she was tensed or thinking deeply.
“Do you have anything to tell us? I mean how we can possibly save my friend?” there were tears in her voice as she spoke. He did not look up at her; he kept his head bowed and his hand constantly massaging it.
Dan looked up at Miebaka; his reply would sound like sweet music to his ears; he had gone through the whole phase. “Maybe, there is something you wish you would have done before”, he stopped as Miebaka looked back at them and exhaled loudly.
They were lucky; they were smart enough not to see it as a prank, yet that was not a guarantee that Judy’s friend would survive. “I don’t think you want to hear it”, he shook his head as he spoke and let his eyes rest on Judy; she reminded him of how he would actually go out of his way to save James, if only they had been that smart and if only he had known.
Dan shook his head sadly. “Trust me, we do. Just tell us what to do”, his eyes were clear unlike Judy’s.
He was silent for a while and after what seemed like forever, he looked Dan in the eyes, there was fear in them but no tears. He turned back to Judy’s noticing how wet they were getting. He could not believe he had actually succeeded in keeping himself from shedding a tear. She looked pale and helpless, yet there was only one advice he had for her.
He swallowed hard as they both simultaneously inhaled deeply and readied themselves to take in what he had to say. “Spend as much time as you can with her because she’s going to die”.
Written by M. E. N.
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