Judith took one last look at the reflection in the full-length mirror and nodded in satisfaction; dressed in a blue jean skirt, a black polo and a face cap, she was ready. She glanced at the wall clock in her room; it was already 11:30 am and from Pamela’s explanation, the notes were supposed to be delivered between 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm.
“I’m coming for you, HK”, she whispered in a chilling voice with her eyes half closed.
She then chuckled at her lame imitation of a villain and walked out of her room turning off all electrical appliances; the last time she had left the house without doing that, her father had scolded her.
Judy and her father were not as close as she had always wished them to be; she had grown with her mother even though they all lived in the same house. He was always at the large supermarket or on a trip to purchase goods; and when he was at home, he spent it sleeping or making phone calls in search of greener pastures. She only went to him when she needed financial assistance and he only called on her when she was meant to be scolded; that was all he could provide her. Love, care and attention were basically given to her by her mother.
She was already turning off the light switch when she heard a loud rap on the door. She was expecting nobody, but she hoped with all her heart it was Echezona. She hastily made for the door and peeped through the spy hole.
“Jesus”, she exclaimed absentmindedly as she slapped her forehead; it was her father.
She stood still wondering what to do when the loud knock came again, “Who is it?”
She quickly took off her sandals and face cap. “It’s me, Judith”.
“Oh, daddy”, she opened the three buttons of her polo so that she would look as casual as possible when she opened the door but not before kicking the sandals behind.
“Why are you back so early? What happened?” she asked all at once as her father took off his glasses to take a proper look at her.
“What kind of question is that? In my own house”, he added as she twitched the left side of her lip and forced a smile.
“Sorry, I forgot”, she apologized perfunctorily and waited for him to pass but he stood there.
He looked around the dim living room and looked back at her, “Where you by any chance leaving the house?”
That was the ultimate rule: she was not meant to leave the house except she was permitted to and friends were not allowed to visit except her parents permitted that. “No”, she frowned as though that was the most absurd thing in the world.
“So why is the house looking so dim?” his dubious eyes penetrated hers as she quickly looked down at her bare feet.
He heaved a long sigh when she did not give a reply, “Did your mother send for you?”
She thought of a reply because she knew how well her father could get the truth out of someone.
“No, she didn’t”, she shook her head and looked back down.
“Okay”, he said after a long pause and walked past her.
She raised up her head and watched her father walk into the house with her mouth agape; he had never let her off the hook that easily. She was sure he had something up his sleeve yet she did not have the time; it was already 11:43 am from her watch.
She hissed angrily and picked up her sandals to run back to her room. The moment she opened the door of her room, she saw her father seated on her bed. “Where exactly are you going?”
She stood still in shock as though she had been pinned to that spot and was completely devoid of speech. She swallowed hard as her huge father rose to his feet and walked towards her.
“Has cat cut your tongue?” he bellowed as Judy shook her head quickly. “Are you going out to see a boy?”
“No”, she almost screamed with her eyes on her father; she could tell he was angry at her already. That was the only emotion he was ever good at showing and she was mostly on the receiving end.
She stood still thinking of a suitable reply to give him. She was wearing her chain wrist watch so she could not say she was going to purchase something at the kiosk nearby. She had already denied being called out by her mother and telling him she was off to Pamela’s would only infuriate him the more.
He put on his glasses once more and sighed. “Is the boy coming over?”
She tried hard not to glare at him, “No, daddy”, her tone was flat.
“Then where are you going? I am very sure you would not be so stupid to visit Pamela Lawson, now would you?”
Judith shook her head instantly; probably too quick because she saw her dad arch a brow at her. “We haven’t spoken since forever”, she lied with her eyes on his.
That was one skill she had mastered; looking someone in the eye and telling a lie. Her father had warned against her association with Pamela and Jane; he always believed they were bad influences on her. He did not even make any effort to feign sympathy when Jane had died; it only strengthened his stand.
He peered at her and when she did not flinch, he nodded and sighed satisfactorily. “You’ll follow me back to the supermarket”, he smiled at her and walked towards the door.
“Why?” she had not meant to ask the question out loud.
Her father turned back as though he wanted to be sure she had spoken to him. “It is because I said so”, he placed his hand on the door handle and thought for a while. “From today onwards, you will follow me to the supermarket”.
“But-“, he put out his hand for her to keep quiet. “I have assignments and projects that I am working on, I can’t leave them and sit in the shop all day”, she explained with a wave of her right hand even though he had not given her the permission to speak.
“Then you’ll bring them with you to the shop”, he smiled and walked out closing the door shut behind him.
Pamela pushed herself out from underneath the Honda Accord where she had been watching her father put some wires together. She sighed tiredly and wiped the perspiration off her face; the place was so hot and the sun blazed from its throne in the sky.
“Break time”, she heard her father say the moment he was out and seated beside her.
“Finally”, she sighed and struggled to get on her feet. “When did you say we would close for the holidays?” she asked dusting her cover-all and leaning on the Honda Accord.
Her father cleaned his hands with a piece of rag and looked around sweating profusely.
“Lawson”, he turned to her and smiled. “I never said we would close”, he bluntly replied and placed the rag back on the car.
“But we have to; I mean there’s no rule that prohibits mechanic workshops from closing for the holidays”.
“I know”, he began and placed his hands over her shoulders. “Let me explain, Pamela”.
With that, she knew she was in for a long lecture; that was the outcome whenever he called her Pamela.
“Look around”, he began as they walked to the shed.
She briefly turned and looked back in the direction they were heading. As much as she wanted to hear the lecture, her stomach anticipated the rice and stew in the shed.
“Everyone wants to travel for the holidays”, she nodded wondering what he was driving at. “They cannot do that without properly servicing their cars”, he explained as Pamela sighed with a light chuckle.
“So let me guess, we’re supposed to take advantage of this once in a year opportunity”, she rolled her eyes at her last words.
“Exactly”, he smiled and raised his left thumb to her. “Don’t worry”, he patted her shoulders and stopped walking causing her to stop as well. “I promise you, you’ll have the fun of your life in January”, she smiled nervously and looked down immediately.
What if I’m not alive then?
“Is everything okay?” he asked noticing how uneasy she looked.
She quickly rose up her head and smiled convincingly at her father, “I just-I just can’t wait”, she finally said still smiling as he chuckled and nudged her.
“Silly girl, go and eat. Let me check on Akan and the others”, he began walking away as she nodded quickly and rushed to the shed with her face buried in her palms.
Calm down, Pam. Eche will convince his mother soon enough and you’ll be safe.
As much as she tried, she could not believe that optimistic voice in her head. Great trepidation filled her that she dreaded being alone; for the first time, she had left the house with her father in the morning and she hoped to continue that way.
After much perusal the night before, she had come up with that decision. The SP, James Iyaye, had been returning home from football practice alone when a car had hit him. The bully, Paul Tamunowari had been pushed into a well at the backyard of their house; Martha Attah and her family lived in a rented apartment on the third floor of the popular DonPaddy’s mansion and had been pushed down the long flight of stairs. Jane had gone for her weekly swimming training at the river in Shipbuilder’s road. Each of the victims had been alone at the time of their deaths and she did not bother to wonder how the killer would make his way into her house since he had delivered the notes at her doorstep without being noticed.
As she placed the plate of rice with stew spread over it before her, she thought of Eche and instantly reached for the Tecno phone in her trouser pocket. She dialled and waited patiently till he answered on the fourth ring.
He said nothing and she immediately sensed he was still angry at her. “Hello, Eche”, she finally said after the awkward silence.
“Pamela, I’m a tad busy. You can call me later”, he sounded curt and Pam had to close her eyes shut not to let her emotions get the better of her.
“No, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb. I just wanted to know if you’ve been able to convince your mother”, she said all at once in a tone that was surprisingly low and almost shaky.
Eche was silent for a while before she heard him say, “Well”, his tone rose and she could tell he was going to say something annoying. “I am thinking of a way to sound really convincing without having to mention that someone else is receiving similar notes as I am”, he smirked with heavy sarcasm as she bit her lips and hung up.
“Ahh”, she balled her fists and breathed heavily.
She was so happy they were no longer together. With the way things were going, Judy needed a phone because she was obviously the only one who could talk sense into Eche.
Her phone vibrated in her hand and Eche’s name blared on the screen; she hissed and ignored the call. He called twice before giving up and sending a text which she hurriedly read.
It was a text from an unknown number though:
“Hi Pam, it’s Judy. Well, my father has ordered me to help out at the supermarket till the holidays are over and that means I won’t be available anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’ll sit idle and watch this bastard take your life. I need you to be strong and use your brain as I’m doing; you can do this. We can do this. Please, don’t call this number.”
As she replaced the phone in her pocket, she bowed her head and thought extensively. Though she had been able to come up with a plan to stay alive, Judith was more interested in nabbing the killer. As much as the thought scared her, she admired her friend’s guts.
With a determined look in her eyes, she pushed the plate of food aside and began to put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle.
She held her head with both hands and stared into space trying to come up with a helpful idea. She stayed in that pose for about ten minutes but was as blank as a fresh answer script in an examination hall.
It always works in the movies, she thought and almost laughed at her insanity.
With a sigh of resignation, she reached for her plate and like a strike of lightning, a thought hit her. Completely forgetting Judy’s warning in the text, she dialled the unknown number.
“Yes”, a deep voice replied as Pam flinched slightly before regaining her composure.
“Hello, please I need to speak to Judith Ani”, she tried to sound as calculated as she wanted to be; she could not let the thought in her head be contaminated by excessive chatter and pleasantries.
“She’s not around”, the voice was curt and Pam wondered how her friend had decided to use his phone.
She softened her voice and adopted a pleading tone, “Please, it’s really important. It’s a matter of life and death”. The last sentence had been an afterthought and had left her lips before she could stop it.
She sensed a slight hesitation on the other end before a long pause and like magic, Judy’s voice came on. “I take it there’s a reason you called, Lawson”, her voice was a low whisper.
“Err, are you hiding from your dad?” she asked slowly as Judy sighed.
“Have you forgotten I’m not supposed to speak to you again; you’re literally not supposed to be a part of my life anymore”, her voice was so low that Pam had to press the phone really close to her right ear.
Pam shrugged and exhaled deeply with so much tension as though she was about to pitch for a new product in the market. “I just thought of something”, she began.
She heard Judith bang her fist on the table. “Finally”, her voice was high-pitched. “I’m all ears. Be quick though”, she advised as Pam nodded even though Judy could not see her.
“Here’s the thing. I’ve been receiving notes, right?”
She concurred readily, “Uhuh”.
“So that means James, Paul, Martha and Jane had received similar notes”.
A bemused “okay” came from Judy’s end.
“If we could communicate with their close friends, we could get the proof we need”, her eyes sparkled as soon as she was done.
Judy was silent for a while before her voice came back on the line. “That’s really brilliant”, she did not sound as excited as Pam had hoped she would. “The thing is-I mean-look at us for example. Jane was our best friend yet, she told us nothing”.
That was a solid point and there was no denying that fact.
Pamela rubbed her temple and let out an exasperated sigh. “This is getting really annoying. I hate the fact that I’m so helpless”, she finally confessed and heard her friend sigh in reply. “Judy, what if I talk to my dad about this. He’ll then lay a complaint to the police and this whole thing would be sorted out”.
“You can’t do that, Pam. Nobody would believe you; not even your dad. You didn’t even believe me”, Judy’s voice had risen from the whisper.
“Well, what else do you want me to do?” Pam cried out and turned to the door of the shed to be sure nobody was listening. “I’ll try to explain to daddy, he can be quite insensible sometimes, but I think he’ll handle this reasonably”.
Judy heaved a sigh of resignation, “Fine, I wish you luck with that”.
Pam was quiet and when Judy said nothing, she decided to hang up. “Well, I’ll let you know how-”
“Wait”, Pam had never been happier with an interruption from Judy. “We should pay Jane’s parents a visit, don’t you think?” she asked as Pam’s eyes widened in realization.
“It’s been a year already”, she sounded uncertain with apparent worry in her eyes.
“Well, let’s just try. We’ll go through her things and see what we can find to show she was being threatened.
She let out a loud sigh, “Well, how do we get into the homes of the other three? We don’t know have their addresses or friends’ contact”.
“Well”, Judy dragged the word as Pam arched a brow wondering what her smart friend had in mind. “I think that information is contained in the school yearbook”.
“Really smart”, she commended with a smile and frowned almost immediately. “But only details of SS3 students are printed in the yearbook”, she reminded her.
“Oh, that’s true”, she concurred in a flat tone then her voice rose slightly. “Look, let’s just try Jane’s home first. We’ll think about the others later”.
“Okay”, she nodded as though Judy could see her. “When and where do we meet?” she asked quickly and turned to see her father approaching the shed.
“Um, that’s going to be an issue though. I’ll talk to Eche to-”
“No, I’m not going with him to Jane’s house. That’s all shades of wrong; what would I tell them?” she added as Judy chuckled.
“Well, you could start by introducing yourselves as the most complicated couple in Afobiri”, she suggested amidst laughter as Pamela frowned.
“This is not a joke, Judith Ani. My life is in danger and-”
“Fine, I’m sorry”, she apologized dryly and continued. “We’ll go there tomorrow”
“I overheard my dad talking about meeting someone tomorrow morning”, she cut in before Pam finished.
“So, will you come to the workshop?”
“Yes, yes. I have to go, daddy’s walking towards me. Bye”.
“Your food is still untouched?” she turned to see her father standing at the door of the shed.
“I-I don’t-I-it’s just”, she stuttered incoherently and sighed in resignation.
Mr Lawson stood with folded arms and smiled at her. “Well, I hope the discussion you just had on the phone has filled your stomach”, he gave a wry smile as her eyes widened and she started to speak but he continued. “Break time’s over, time to work”.
She knew he was not joking because the moment he said that, he turned his back to her and walked out of the shed. She stamped her right foot on the sandy floor and rose to her feet frowning and murmuring, “Hunger will kill me before the holiday killer does”.
Written by M. E. N.
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