The blue and white taxi came to a stop in front of a brown two-storey building and the two girls hopped out immediately. Pamela was wearing a blue shirt on blue jean trousers while Judy was dressed in her signature jean skirt and polo shirt. Being a member of Deeper Life Bible Church had placed boundaries in her dressing and mode of behaviour; Pamela and Jane had understood that perfectly and never made her feel left out or weird.
“God, I can still feel Jane’s presence here”, Judy confessed with her hands on her waist as soon as the taxi sped off.
Pamela ignored her and studied the big black gate and high fence that guarded the building. “The killer definitely had no way of getting in”, she confirmed in a dreamy voice as Judy turned to her and nudged her lightly.
“Hey, nothing’s going to happen to you. At least, we’re trying to make sure of that”, she smiled as Pam sighed in relief.
Judy had been a source of hope to her. “Where would I be without you, Judith Ani?” she asked rhetorically with loving eyes as Judith smiled and scoffed.
“As much as I know that is a rhetorical question, I’m still going to say you would be in your father’s workshop crying”, she replied amidst laughter as Pamela laughed loudly.
“Who is that?” they heard and exchanged glances before turning their heads to the gate.
“It’s Judith and Pamela”, Judy answered in a loud and confident voice as they heard the bolt give way and the gate gave way.
“Judy, Pamela”, Timi greeted with a smile on his face as he made way for them to pass. “It’s been long”, he confessed as they smiled perfunctorily.
“How have you been?” Judith asked still smiling as Timi opened his palms and pursed his lips.
“I’m alive, my dear”, he replied with a shrug if his slumped shoulders.
“Are they around?” Judith asked pointing at the house as Timi nodded.
“It’s just madam, sir is not around”, he replied and tilted his head to the right to observe the silent Pamela.
She had always been the quiet one among the three and he could see how uneasy she was standing beside Judith.
Completely unaware of the fact that she was being observed, she kept her eyes fixed on the window of the room that used to belong to Jane. “Is she okay?” Timi asked scratching his head as Judy glanced at her and turned back to him with a smile plastered on her face.
“She’s alright. May we go in?” she asked with that smile of hers as Timi smiled nervously and nodded.
Judy’s smile faded the moment she turned away from him towards her friend whom she pulled to the front door. She then knocked twice and waited for Ngozi, the maid, to open the door. They stood waiting and when there was no reply, Judy rapped on the door once more though calmly.
A key turned in the lock and the door opened wide to show the tall and elegant Mrs Uduka standing. She stood before them and smiled at them before a sad frown took over.
“Good morning, ma”, they greeted simultaneously as she stared at them without saying a word.
“How are you doing ma?” Judy asked as suddenly feeling uncomfortable under her steady gaze.
Mrs Uduka’s mouth came apart and a slow smile slowly formed across her lips. “I’m so sorry, Judith. Come in”, she made way for them to pass.
They walked past her nodding their heads respectfully. Pamela’s eyes were soon fixed on the two-seater sofa and she felt them get wet instantly; that sofa bore memories that she was not ready to reminisce on. On each of the four walls that formed the living room hung a picture of Jane; one of her first day in school, another in primary school; another of the cultural festival two years ago; and the largest frame of her showing off her medal as the winner of the swimming competition a month before her death.
“Take a seat”, she invited them and walked past them to sit on the rocking chair by the window.
Both girls took their seats and exchanged glances before Judy decided to speak up. “How have you been doing, ma?” she forced a smile as Jane’s mother smiled sadly.
“I’ve been holding up”, she raised her shoulders and pursed her lips. “How are you girls doing? I hope your studies are going well”, she asked swallowing at intervals to keep her voice from breaking.
Judith nodded slowly and replied in a low but audible tone. “We’ve been okay”.
“I can see that”, she turned to fix her eyes on Pamela who had not really spoken to her. “How are you doing, Pamela?”
Pam looked up at her with wide eyes and Judith could instantly tell she had her mind on something else. “Sorry, I didn’t get you ma”, she folded her palms apologetically and glanced at Judy whose frowned at her and turned to Mrs Uduka.
“Are you okay?” she was more audible as she spoke.
“You really cannot blame her ma. She’s still trying to get over everything”, Judy lied quickly with a smile and tried not to smile at how good and original her lies were beginning to sound. She also pretended not to notice from the corner of her eye, Pamela’s sharp look at her.
Mrs Uduka sat up in her chair and faced Pamela. “Pam, my dear, it’s alright to mourn those we love, but we also have to accept the fact that they are no more”, she eulogized as Pamela nodded looking melancholy. “We have to move on”, she continued but her eyes began to look beyond Pam into space. “Because no matter how hard we cry or brood or gorge our eyes out in sadness and frustration, it won’t bring our dear Jane back”, she began to let the tears she had been holding in, stream down her cheeks. “It won’t bring her back”, she began to whimper.
As much as she wanted to console Pam, she needed consolation as well. She was still unable to let go of the pain that Jane’s departure had cost her. Her husband was trying all he could to let go but she was too stubborn and on sighting the two girls at the door, images of Jane conversing and laughing with them flooded her brain like the vast river that had claimed her daughter’s life.
Both girls stared at her completely at a loss for words. All they knew to say as a word of consolation was “sorry”; and that was obviously not going to help Mrs Uduka who was already bent back in her seat and staring at swimming award picture of Jane on the wall.
“Err, ma”, Judy felt stupid as she rose to her feet and walked towards Mrs Uduka. The sensible voice in her head advised her to leave the house with Pam, but she did not heed that voice. Pam’s life was in danger and that was all that mattered to her.
Jane’s mother did not look away from the picture on the wall though Judy was sure she could hear her. “We had been working on a project before the-the incident”, she paused to be sure Mrs Uduka’s eyes did not grow sadder; it did not, her attention was on Jane. “Jane had the written document while Pam and I had the digital form”, she added slowly and walked to stand before her gloomy red eyes. “Did you find it while going through Jane’s things?” she bent to be on the same eye level with her.
She bowed her head and sighed, “I couldn’t get myself to touch her things”. She looked back at Judith added in a tearful voice, “Her room is exactly how she left it that morning to-”.
She held her mouth with both palms and began to sob uncontrollably. “I should have stopped her, Judith. I failed as a mother; I was supposed to have known instinctively that…”
Her voice trailed as Judy turned to see Pam going inside the house. Slightly tapping Mrs Uduka consolingly on her lap, she briskly followed in the direction she had seen her friend go.
She stopped in her tracks as she stared at the opened door of Jane’s room. She was not feeling as strong as she had felt minutes ago; goose bumps greased the surface of her skin as she stared at the door.
“Get your act together, Judith. You have to be strong for Pamela as well as yourself”, that voice in her head advised as she closed her eyes and exhaled flailing her fingers at her hips.
With each step she struggled to take, she felt Jane’s aura overwhelming her as it always did. She could already hear Jane’s jovial and high-pitched voice in her head.
“You better not come in here looking like a fish out of the water, Judith. It’s enough that your parents decide what you wear but you decide how you want to look in it, baby girl”.
“Easier said than done, Jane”, she would always reply when Jane sermonized.
She walked into the room and was almost startled by Pam’s figure by the bedside table; for a second, she had imagined Jane standing there.
She turned away from Pam and studied the room closely; her mother had really not touched the room since then. The cobwebs Judy had to wave off with her right palm as she walked around the room were proof of that as well. The bed was dressed in a dusty yellow jumpsuit spread on it; it was obvious Jane had planned to wear that after her swimming exercise that morning.
“Do you remember that jumpsuit I purchased from Aunty Boma?”
“The one that you said looked like that of a classy chick”, Pamela had said dryly sitting beside Jane.
“Yes, that one. That’s what I’m going to wear for his birthday party tomorrow”, that mischievous smile had been on her lips.
“Jane, who’s the boy?” she had turned startled towards Judith who offered her a penetrating stare. “Oh please, don’t give me that face. We know you so well, tell us who the victim is”.
She blushed and chuckled like a typical fifteen-year-old, “You’ll see”.
That had been it; the secretive yet manipulative Jane had escaped one more interview without batting an eyelid. Looking at that yellow dress on the bed, it was far from classy; it looked old and dusty; Jane would technically be caught dead wearing that.
“Her smell is still all over the room”, Judy heard and turned to Pamela whose hands grazed the surface of the bed gently.
Judy sighed and bit her lower lip; for a second, she had completely forgotten about her living friend. “Pamela, we have to search this room”, she reminded Pam who was obviously ready to start shedding tears.
Pam stared at her for about a minute before folding her lips tightly and bowing her head. A series of sobs followed after that and Judy soon found herself at her side patting her bent back.
“Please, try to be strong Pam. I’m here for you, but you need to have a fighting spirit”, she advised as her friend whimpered and raised up her head.
Judy was shocked at how red her eyes were; she could imagine how long she had been holding back the tears.
“Judith”, she began, though her words were muffled by the tears in her voice. She looked into Judy’s eyes before shaking her head and bowing once more, “You don’t understand, you never will”.
A long sad sigh escaped Judy as she watched her gloomy friend. With no intention of wasting more time, she patted her lightly on the back and rose to her feet; since she was going to remain despondent, Judy knew that she had to be up for the Herculean task of searching the room for a clue.
“Where do I begin?” she muttered to herself with arms akimbo and scanned the room.
Her eyes came to rest on the three drawers in the table at the right corner of the room. She cast one last look at Pam before heading for it. She pulled out the dusty seat and cleaned it carelessly with her right palm before pulling out the first drawer completely and placing in on top of the table.
As she searched through its contents and placed each studied piece of paper on the table, she remembered the fate of the notes that had been delivered to Pam. “Please Jane, I hope you didn’t throw the notes”, she begged quietly as she picked up another piece of paper and unfolded it.
There was no useful information in any of those papers; just phone numbers and market lists. She hissed and put the drawer back in its place and then opened the second drawer, but it was empty. She closed it with a frown and opened the third to see it in a similar condition.
“Shit”, she cussed with clenched fists and took notice of the five books stacked atop one another on the left side of the table.
She reached for them and drew them closer to herself; they had to contain something. She flipped through the pages, impatiently at first, and then more slowly and tactfully trying to take notice of every raised or folded page. Jane was not the smartest girl and combined with the fact that she must have not taken the notes seriously, Judy really did not expect to see any hidden messages in the books. When she was done with all five of them, she hissed at how right she had been; they were useless as well.
She licked her lips and turned to Pamela, “You really have to pull-”.
She stopped speaking as she noticed her reading a book with keen interest. “Pamela”, she called as Pamela slowly raised her head. “Um, are you okay?” she looked at her perplexed.
“I don’t understand”, she replied with innocent eyes fixed on Judith.
“How can you be reading a book when we’re supposed to be searching for a clue?” her voice was slowly rising but Pam simply shrugged and closed the book. “Okay”, Judith nodded as Pamela looked to the left and right and then at her. “I get it, I’m here killing myself for you and you-you don’t even care. You’re not bo-”
“Maybe, I’m tired Judith”, she snapped as she rose to her feet and walked slowly towards Judy.
“Maybe, I am fed up of all this drama”, she opened her palms and stopped an inch away from her. “I mean, have you ever thought of why someone would want me dead? It’s silly”, she scrunched her face as she shook her head.
“Maybe, Eche was right. Maybe, this is a prank. Maybe, Jane actually drowned by accident”, she emphasized as Judy shook her head and slapped her forehead.
“This is not a prank and you know it. Those words were written in blood, not ink”, she reminded her and stamped her right foot on the floor.
“I don’t know anything”, she yelled and held her face with both palms. “It has to be a prank”, there was a pleading note in her voice as though she really wanted it to be one.
Judy started to speak but Pam’s eyes were already wet, “If it’s not a prank”, she paused and bit her lower lip. Her voice reduced to a low whisper that was still audible to Judith, “If it isn’t a prank, then I’m as good as dead”.
Judy swallowed hard and furrowed her brows, “What happened, Pam?”
Pamela sniffed lightly and put her hand in her right pocket. She took out a white piece of paper and handed it over to Judy. “Take a look at it, I got this yesterday”, her voice was still low.
Judith stretched forth her right hand and took hold of the note. She held it and let her eyes hover over her friend; she was scared of whatever message the note held. Pam just stood with folded arms waiting patiently for her.
After what seemed like forever, she inhaled and exhaled deeply before she slowly unfolded the piece of paper, her heart beating faster with every passing second. She almost felt her heart skip a bit at the dried thick red bloodied message:
Your time is almost up.
Let’s hope you find me before I get you.
P.S. this is my last wish to you”.
Wale searched frantically for a file in his desk; the Florence Ali embezzlement case file. He was required to submit it at a court hearing in the next two hours with the signature of the DPO on it. A smile formed across his lips and sighed in relief escaped him when he finally found it in the third drawer with its file name boldly written on it.
He placed it on the table and placed both hands on the table to prop himself up when his eyes locked with the teenager seated before him. He hissed lightly and relaxed in his chair completely speechless at how he had completely forgotten she was there.
He studied her closely and with her well-buttoned polo shirt tucked into a knee-length jean skirt; her hair plaited with rubber threads; her ears un-pierced; no hint of lip gloss on her lips, he guessed she was a member of Deeper Life Bible Church.
He focused his stare on her round and somewhat beautiful face and took keen note of the urgency in her eyes. As much as he urgently needed to have the document on his desk signed, he was curious as to why she had adamantly refused to lay her complaint to one of the sergeants at the desk.
He sat out of his swivel chair and placed his elbows on the desk with his palms folded before him. “I take it there’s a reason you stubbornly wanted to see me”, he began in a voice that was deep but devoid of expression.
She sat up and looked him in the eye as though she had been eagerly waiting for him to give her the attention she so desired. “Yes, there is. It’s about my friend”, she began as Wale nodded perfunctorily and opened the first drawer.
She craned her neck to see but a look of disappointed enveloped her facial features as he took out a packet of bubble gum and tore it open.
He held it up to his mouth, “I hope you don’t mind”. She offered a fake smile and shook her head. “So”, he began in a monotonous tone. “Did this boy break your heart or did you catch him with your classmate?” the mocking note in his voice was unmistakable.
She frowned at him and bowed her head as though trying to calculate her words. “No, sir. I am not here to complain about a boy”, Wale was obviously taken aback by her simple yet calculated reply.
With interesting eyes, he asked. “What school do you attend?”
“Afobiri secondary school”, she replied and he started to speak but she did not give him the chance. “My friend’s life is in danger”, she blurted out and stared at him as though she wanted her words to have a direct effect on him.
He returned her stare and soon realized she was waiting for his reply. “Is that what you could not tell the sergeants at the counter?”
She frowned and turned to the door as though a sergeant stood there. “Sir, it’s really serious. She’s been receiving threatening notes and she’s getting really scared”, she paused and added. “We’re very scared sir”, she confessed in a low voice as Wale nodded slowly.
“So does she have the notes?” she was already unfolding two pieces of paper.
She stretched forth her right hand and he took the crumpled pieces of paper. He studied them closely and looked back at her. “So, you believe this person is dangerous?” he sounded dubious as he arched a brow at her.
“Yes, sir. We had thought it to be a prank, but-”
“That’s exactly what this is”, he raised the paper in the air for her to see. “A friend of yours or an immature kid like yourself is obviously bored this holiday and you’re certainly making it interesting for him or her”, he explained shaking his head and pushing the notes towards her.
She gave a wry smile and retrieved the papers. “I knew you would not believe me. For the past four years now, students have died accidentally every Christmas holiday”, her voice rose to Wale’s surprise.
Children of nowadays, he thought as he kept his eyes on her.
“Now, my friend is receiving notes written with blood and you’re telling me it’s a prank”, there was a querying note in her voice that almost made him laugh.
Since she wanted to act big and bossy, he tagged along. “Yes, ma”, he replied trying hard not to smile at her tight features. “Look, sweetheart, your friend might have rejected someone’s proposal or something. you know how crazy you kids are these days”, he explained and pretended not to notice her angry face. “Trust me, that’s a prank. Just tell-”, he paused and pointed his index finger at her. “What’s your name?”
She obviously did not want to give a reply, but she perfunctorily did. “My name is Judith Ani”.
He nodded. “And your friend?”
“Good, Judith. Just advise Pamela to speak nicely to every boy and to apologise to any guy she offended”, he waved his hands as though indicating that it was the end of the discussion.
She rose to her feet quicker than he had anticipated. “I knew you wouldn’t believe me”, she smiled wryly.
Then why did you bother coming?
She folded the notes and put them back in the pocket of her skirt. Then from the left pocket, she took out another piece of paper and handed it over to Wale who sighed in frustration. “It’s not the same note. It contains my name, my friend’s name, the name of my school as well as the students who died in the space of four years”.
He pursed his lips before taking the paper from her outstretched hand. “Goodbye”, he dismissed her as soon as the note was in his drawer.
She looked from him to the drawer and back at him; he chewed his gum slowly and kept his eyes fixed on her waiting for her to either obey and leave or stand there and sermonize. He had to admit, she was quite sharp and smarter than she looked.
“I pray God touches your heart”, she finally said and turned away.
He watched her open the door before replying, “Amen, sister. Bye”.
Written by M. E. N.
For more stories, visit Tales by M. E. N.
Facebook: Tales by Mimi