The young lady alone in the dead of the night shuddered in fright. Someone was following her. Or was it just her imagination? She took a few steps, exerting more pressure on the interlocking tiles to convince herself she wasn’t creating a delusion. A couple of footsteps nearby in a similar rhythm to hers made her wonder if all she was hearing were mere echoes. A bat whisked over her head and she ducked in fear. Then she heard another step and she was convinced she was being followed.
She took to her heels and raced into her street from the main access route. Her heavy steps and laborious breathing left a trail too easy for her stalker to follow but she didn’t care. So far she got home before he caught up with her. Or was it a she? It couldn’t be a she, she decided still running.
Three blocks from her building, she dug into her handbag and fetched her keys. Seconds later, she was fiddling with her door handle as she struggled to insert her key into lock. She turned the key in a rotary motion twice and the lock snapped. Quickly, she entered her apartment; the Boys’ Quarters in an illustrious compound in the suburbs of Surulere. Her door slammed shut and she gasped with the noise that strew across the still night. She bolted the door and peeped through the blinds to see if she could sight her pursuer.
She saw no one and retreated into her bedroom. The clock chimed two as she took off her nurse vesture. She had a cold shower and collapsed on her mid-sized bed. She laid on her bed thinking about the incident and slept in two minutes after the exhaustion she suffered from working extra shifts at the hospital. She had not been asleep for five minutes when she heard a knock. She woke and snatched at a flashlight on a bedside cupboard. She switched it on and scanned her room for intruders. She heard another knock and sighed. Her heart raced as she exited her bedroom and advanced on the main door.
As she approached the door, she noticed the light from the flash light waggle as she struggled to keep herself from shivering. A few feet from the door, an envelope slipped under the door panel and she heard footsteps retreat from her door. She fought the urge to open the door to see the letter carrier and picked up the envelope instead. Her mind played out different scenarios for her current plight and she chuckled when she imagined it being a letter bomb.
She laughed it away and sat in a nearby settee. She tore open the envelope and an object fell from it. She picked it up and saw it was a necklace with a locket. In the locket was the picture of a young lady and a little girl; most likely the lady’s daughter. She laid the necklace aside and unfolded the letter. A quick glance told her she didn’t know the sender as the handwriting was unfamiliar. Straining to sound calm, she read it:
She paused and wondered how the sender knew her name. If he was someone she knew, why did he go through much stress to hide his identity. She shrugged off the thoughts and continued:
It’s great to see you, child. It’s been ages since I did. I hope you’re faring better than I am. I do miss you and I’ve always been around even if it didn’t seem like it. I hope you’ll forgive me abandoning you. I was young and naïve.
Still, I’m proud of you. And dare I say I’ve seen you work. I’ve seen your work and I’m deeply impressed. You’re the true child of your mother. I’ll get in touch with you soon.
So it was a She, she thought; her mother to be precise. This was splendid. Now she had a stalker who was also a blackmailer. She tossed the letter away and some scribbles on the rear of the paper caught her attention. She picked the paper and put her hand to her mouth as she read the note.
If you don’t believe it’s from me, go back to the orphanage and ask for the pictures I left them.
She ran her fingers through her hair in stupefaction. Only her mother knew about the pictures. The same pictures she had retrieved from the orphanage some months back. She went into her room and came back with a brown envelope. In it were the pictures the letter talked about. She never opened them since she collected them. She feared for the worst as she tore open the envelope. The contents fell to the floor as her hands were shaking in fear. She picked up the first picture in the stack on the floor and left her mouth aghast as she saw a magnified image of the one in the locket.
Fear gripped her at first. This was either a really detailed blackmailer or her mum. Her dead mum. At least that was what the tombstone at Atan cemetery said. She continued thinking before sleep caught up and she dozed off on the settee.
The next morning came sooner than she expected and she gasped when she saw the wall clock. It was some minutes to nine and her shift began at nine thirty. She jumped out of the chair and dashed into her bedroom coming out later with a cream towel wrapped around her torso before zooming into the bathroom almost tripping in her haste.
At ten sharp, she burst into the reception lobby of the Eko hospital along Bank Anthony way, Ikeja and spent a while catching her breath. Some kids stopped their chatting when they sighted her and a young man probably in his late twenties lowered the Vanguard newspaper he was engrossed in to look at her.
“See you. See the time wey you dey come work.” Her colleague said across the reception table that also served as a countertop.
Mary whispered her apologies at her and headed for their changing room. In record time, she came out clad in her white uniform adorned with the official cap. Her dress was somewhat tight at the hips and it turned a few heads on a regular. Other nurses claimed she amended it on purpose and she argued with them until she was worn out. Now, she just nodded her head when they mentioned it. If only they knew it was the trip to the Ghana with Bruce to relax that resulted in her bulged hips and not some amateur tailor’s handiwork. But she rather they didn’t. That information would just sprout another series of unnecessary attention. They would never shut up she figured. They won’t leave him alone. Him. Bruce.
She missed him.
He hadn’t called since he travelled to Abuja for a business meeting some days back. It wasn’t like him not to call but then, he could be busy. But she wanted him around. At least, she’ll have someone to confide in about the proceedings earlier today.
Her pursuer.The Letter.The Pictures.
She decided to put all of it at the back of her mind and focus on work.
“Ehen Kate. How far? Oga don show?” She asked her colleague.
“At all. I never see am today. Shade talk say hin leave here late yesterday.” Kate replied.
She heaved a sigh of relief and took to sorting out the files on the countertop. She scanned the reception from the corner of her eye as she placed the files in a metal cabinet. The young man with the paper wasn’t there anymore. He probably left when she was changing she thought.
“You see the flower?” Kate asked.
“The flower wey one guy drop for you. It dey inside our changing room. You suppose see the guy when you enter. Hin carry newspaper like this.”
Mary wondered if it was the same man she saw but shrugged the thought of it. If he was the one and he intended to see her, he would have walked up to her when she entered or at least called her. She fetched the bouquet of flowers and marvelled at its sheer beauty. The scent sent shivers down her spine and she silently hoped it was from Bruce. She removed the note gently placed among the petals and opened it to read.
I’m sorry if I made you frightened last night. That’s wasn’t my plan. I just wanted to deliver the letter to you.
Like I said last night, I do miss you and I’m always around. I’ve been watching you all this while. Making sure you make the right decisions, take the right steps, meet the right people. That’s why I know where you work. That’s a lovely job you have there. You’ll get to meet me again soon. Very soon.
We’ll be one happy family again.
Happy Family Indeed.
Mary sighed. She shifted in her chair and held the paper at an arm’s length like it was an abominable object. Something didn’t feel right. She read the letter again and nodded her head conclusively. Something was definitely wrong.
Mary stepped out of the hospital clothed in the red dress she had on earlier before she changed into her uniform. She walked onto the pathway laced with interlocking tiles on Bank Anthony way and looked at her watch. It was a few minutes after one. She had to be back before two. Her matron had ordered. She wondered if the old lady bought her excuse. Her younger brother had suddenly taken ill and had been admitted in a clinic in Yaba. She wouldn’t have believed that herself.
She crossed the dual carriage road to the other side and flagged down a commercial bus. The popular ones with the yellow color and black stripes.
Yaba? The conductor asked.
He proceeded to bang the top of the bus and the driver expertly parked along the road. She got in and settled for the last seat beside and old woman who reeked of garlic. She snorted and turned to face the space between the conductor and the door. The poor state of Ikorodu road didn’t help her case either as the conductor kept sticking his body in her face. Twice she pushed him away. Both times, he grunted and hissed.
In the cemetery, Mary located the tombstone with ease. Not like she could forget where the first enemy she ever made was laid. She remembered the first day she came here. She was eleven and was already scarred from her time at the orphanage. Her hand was firmly held that day by Uncle Kunle; her enemy’s younger brother. She remembered crying. Tears of sorrow for a woman that abandoned her in an orphanage.A woman that has decided to hunt her again.
She approached the tombstone and read the inscription;
Miss Rachael Gbadebo
“Absent from the body, Present with the Lord”
She dug out the letter from her handbag and read it again…
The first ray of sunlight crept through the slit in her curtain drape and hit her face gently. She yawned and rubbed her eyes lazily. She sat up and propped her back against the headboard. Her room laid bare before her. Empty and neat. The wall had turned a dull cream and patches of footprints lay just above the skirting. She wondered if they did it on purpose. The last occupants of the Boys’ Quarters where she currently resided. It rendered the wall unappealing and Bruce had gawked when he saw it.
“Your room needs repainting.” He had said the first and only time she let him in her apartment. It had taken him countless dates and pleas before she agreed and she could see the delight in his eyes when she said yes. He probably thought it validated his stance in her eyes and she finally saw him as her boyfriend. Her Boo like he liked to put it.
She recalled their first meeting. He brought his mum for a checkup and had bawled at the ‘terrible’ service he was receiving at the hospital. He had lashed at Kate. Made the poor girl cry out in the loo. She laughed when she remembered the sight of Kate’s crying face. She liked him immediately. Liked his temper, liked the thickness of his body.His arms around her. His wet kisses on her neck. She felt the warmth between her legs, put her hand under her night gown and stopped as her fingers felt her wetness. She hadn’t touched herself in ages. It gave her memories of the orphanage. She let down her gown as the wall clock in the living room chimed. She glanced at her wristwatch laying an open book on the bedside table.
Seven A.M. She had time to kill.