Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Chance For Love Episode 8

Episode eight
Sleuthing

"The sooner we find out whoever tried to kill her, the better."
***
Our driver pulled up in the parking lot, where barely a dozen cars had taken their parking spots. Once Cynthia and I stepped out of the car, he swung back in reverse and zoomed out of sight. While Cynthia headed for class, I lingered in the lot, distracting myself with a glossy-black power bike I had never seen before. I wanted her ahead of me, breathing in fresh air that didn't have my breath contaminating it. She mounted the stairs, out of my line of sight. I followed at a snail's pace.
Two pairs of eyes looked up at me as I stood in the doorway of my classroom. Confidence and Adamu — the last people I wanted to see at the moment. Sat together, Confidence scribbled in her note while Adamu punched the keys on his calculator. They seemed to be solving a math problem. But with a slut like her and a jerk like him, nothing good could come out. I turned to leave when I heard Adamu snort.
"Hey, come put us through..." I walked away, letting Confidence's voice trail off. I wouldn't want to start my day in their company. Not unless I planned to ruin it before it even began.
The corridor seemed good enough for some quality me-time. Perching my feet beside the classroom's exterior wall, I rested my hands on the parapet, breathing in the cool morning breeze. Cars and students streaked in through the gate. Once in ten minutes, the shuffling of feet would steal away my attention. I'd turn around, hoping to find Amarachi or Flora, but would find some random jerk I didn't want to waste my voice on in the name of 'good morning.' So I'd just nod at them and look away.
My thoughts settled on Doreen and her Bloody Miri tale. Everything about it just seemed surreal. Impossible. I shook my head. No way in hell would I believe this. For twenty-one whole years, this game had been going on. What did Miriam's so-called ghost see in 2017 that forced her out of hiding, answering the call she'd ignored all these years?
What if Doreen had fabricated that story in an attempt to cover up for her attacker because exposing her came with a price? Either that, or she'd tried to kill herself. Or maybe that had been one episode of a madness to come, and many would come where that came from. But Bloody Miri? Bloody hell.
Doreen didn't strike me as a crazy one though. Without a second thought, I ruled out the third possibility, leaving me with just two. I thought back to the second. Suicide.
She didn't strike me as one who would try to kill herself. Like every other kid in our school, she came from an affluent family, so she had close to everything she could ever need.
Why then would she try to kill herself? Suicide attempts mostly stemmed from depression and a very chronic loathing of one's self. For an adult, the triggers include unemployment, divorce, inability to find a mate, and a number of other factors. But for a teenage girl, I could only think of a few.
Perhaps she'd been bullied and decided to end it all? Although bullying ended a few years back, thanks to Sir Amadi's drastic measures, it wouldn't be wise to rule out the possibility just yet.
I moved on to the next possible trigger. Perhaps she did not receive much attention from her family and thought it best to escape to a better place?
A more troubling question took dwelling in my mind. What if she had a boyfriend and he had expressed an unchanging desire to leave her, perhaps for another? In that case, wouldn't she take out her aggression on the boy himself, or perhaps on the other girl? What if it happened the other way around, with Doreen as the other girl, and the ex-girlfriend of the boy in question had taken out her aggression on her?
Either way, we had a murderer amongst us, or at least one capable of it, and until we unmasked her, we stood the risk of being attacked. Each and every one of us.
"Do you believe the Bloody Mary poo?" Raheem asked from behind me. I jumped at the sound of his voice and hit against the hardness of his chest.
"I'm sorry.” I bit my lips, hating that I'd just apologized to him. Even more, I hated that I'd put myself in a position where I had to apologize to him.
"You won't tell me this is what I get from sneaking up on you like that?" he asked, leaning against the parapet with his back and elbows.
I shuddered at our close proximity and took one thoughtless step to the left, only to crash into the wall whose presence I had forgotten.
I would shuffle to the other side of the parapet, but it would only make obvious my need to get away from Raheem. He chuckled. A light, musical sound I never thought I'd hear firsthand.
Our meeting in the sickbay seemed to have changed him somehow. The Raheem I knew would never try to engage me in a conversation. Somehow, he had cast his old self in the shadows. For a reason I dared not identify, this brought a smile to my lips.
"Many students are scared of the restroom now," he said. "It's crazy how they all believe the place is actually haunted."
"Indeed."
"Do you believe this Bloody Mary poo?” he asked, lifting himself to sit on the parapet. My breath caught in my throat as an image of him tumbling over and falling many feet below flitted across my mind. Curse my fear of height. I could never sit on the parapet. And anyone who knew me knew better than to perform this stunt in front of me.
Ordering my mind away from Raheem's fear-triggering seat, I returned his question. "Do you?"
"I thought when I added poo to Bloody Mary, my stand was already clear." Silence crept in between us, punctuating his not-so-friendly response.
I could see the old Raheem crawl into the picture. In no time, he would take dominance. It seemed I wasn't the only living with double personalities. Raheem shared this similarity.
"Doreen herself seemed pretty convinced that she'd been attacked by Bloody Miri," I said.
"Mary," Raheem corrected, disgusted by my apparent inability to correctly pronounce 'Mary'. How pathetic could his arrogance get?
‘The problem with people is they believe they know it all when in reality they know nothing.’ I loved these words, not only because of the meaning they held, but because they had come out of dad's mouth, woven in the richness of his deep voice. Now, though, watching these same words apply to Raheem made my appreciation soar even higher.
"It's Miri,” I said. “Short for Miriam."
The look of confusion on his face told me I had to explain. "Twenty-one years ago, we lost a student."
Raheem nodded. "The nurse's sister."
My lips parted to ask how he knew of Miriam's relationship with Stella. But the question never made it past my lips. I only managed to breathe out an "Oh."
"I read wide," he said, answering my unasked question. "So let's see...A certain Miriam dies, and students come up with a game taken after the popular Bloody Mary and name it Bloody Miri? How cliché."
The bell for first period rang, freeing me from his company. I turned to leave, but his next words gripped me, making me stop dead in my tracks.
"We will be meeting with Doreen during break. The sooner we find out whoever tried to kill her, the better."
"Huh?" I asked. He had involved me in his plans without giving me an opportunity to accede or do otherwise? What gave him the impression I wanted to sleuth around with him in the first place?
"I don't see myself doing this with anyone but you," he said.
Anyone but you. Those words sank deep in my heart. I didn't want to, but I found myself locking them away in a place safe enough for retrieval sometime in the future.
"Take Cynthia," I offered. "She'll be thrilled to—"
"Don't even mention her," he said. "It disgusts me how she thinks she can win me over. And sadly, many other girls think like that. Is that how little they think of me? A dog that can be bought with an emaciated bone?"
Rue-cheerless and a mix of disgust stole him over. For the next few moments, he stayed quiet, clenching and unclenching his sculptured jaw. Maybe I could lighten up the mood?
"Well, there's Mary,” I said.
"Of course," he said. "There's good ol' Mary. But was it Mary and I who stayed by Doreen's side while we waited for the nurse to show up?"
Once again, silence ensued, splitting my eardrums with its deafening shriek.
Raheem broke the silence. "Look, I don't know about you, but I'm keeping this in the dark from anyone else. At least till we see ourselves making progress. So, are we meeting during break? The sooner this takes off, the better."
"I'll…uh...think about it," I said.
Raheem clicked his tongue. "This isn't a date, Toria."
Toria? As much as I loved the sound of my new nickname, I didn't want to get used to it.
"Don't call me that,” I said.
In an attempt to elicit a similar response from him, I designed the prefect nick for him. "Rah."
Raheem grimaced. "Don't."
Mission accomplished. "That settles it then."
"Of course, Miss Brown." With his words came a short-lived fluttery sensation in my stomach. No one had ever called me Miss Brown.
The smile on his face told me he knew of my emotional turmoil, and that he'd seen it coming. "Shall we seal the deal?"
Outstretching his right hand for a shake, two things sped into my focus. His well-trimmed nails. And the second, a memory of his hands ducking into his pockets when Cynthia had invited him for a handshake. It wouldn't hurt to give him a taste of his own medicine, would it?
I looked away from his outstretched hand and folded my hands. Fist clenched, he withdrew his hand. "Some other time then, Miss Brown."
Smirking, he headed for the classroom. Four girls waved at him. Standing outside the class, they'd been holding a meeting about God-knows-what. Looking straight ahead as though they didn't exist, Raheem swaggered off into the class.
The girls turned to glare at me, apparently wondering what I'd done to make Raheem talk to me while he didn't even know they existed. If they pushed aside their egos and approached me for help, I would give them the simple tip: help him revive an unconscious girl and he'll love you forever.
With Raheem's departure came a sudden realization. His presence had triggered no symptoms of my fragrance sensitivity. This only meant he had used a different cologne; one I actually found pleasing to my sense of smell. Had he realized my reaction to the other one? Had he come close to me only to test my reaction to his new spray?
Morning classes seemed to last for eons, building my anticipation for what recess would hold. Although, like Raheem said, this was not a date, I still couldn't get past the fact that I would spend my recess with him, Raheem of all people, when I should be with my friends. What would Amarachi and Flora think of this?
Spotting Raheem's figure just before he stepped into Doreen's classroom, I trailed behind him. More than half of the class had gone for lunch, but the person we needed to see remained.
A girl sat beside her, engaging her in a conversation. Wrapping it up, the girl rose to her feet and sauntered out of the classroom, stopping only for a minute to trade hellos with Raheem and I.
Doreen stared out of the window, her eyes holding the same distant look she wore yesterday. She no doubt reminisced over her encounter with whoever had tried to kill her.
"Let me do most of the talking," Raheem said.
I let him walk one step ahead of me. Moments passed, and Doreen didn't acknowledge our presence. Her eyes misted over and she swiped at them with her fingers.
She gasped at the sight of us, as though she'd seen the so-called ghost a second time. I held my breath, praying she didn't pass out and make this even harder.
Regaining composure, she greeted, "Hello."
"Hello," Raheem said back.
"How are you doing today?" I asked.
Again, Doreen stared out through the window. "I'm alright." While her lips said one thing, her eyes said another.
I played along. "That's a blessing.”
"You didn't just come here to ask after my health, did you?" Doreen asked without turning to look at us.
"We’re here to ask a few questions," Raheem said. "Tell us about the game. Bloody Mary."
"Mary?" Doreen turned to look at him, her eyes holding a mix of horror and disappointment. "No. It's Miri."
I doubted Raheem had forgotten I corrected him barely four hours ago. Obviously he'd made the same mistake on purpose to gain Doreen's attention. And so far, it worked. His face contorted with confusion. If I didn't know better I'd fall for it.
"Miri?" he asked.
"You don't know?" Doreen's gaze darted between Raheem and I. When none of us spoke, she explained, "In memory of Miriam Adewale, a student who passed away, and then students came up with a game called Bloody Miri."
"How's it played?" Raheem asked. "Like Bloody Mary?"
Doreen nodded. "Standing in front of a mirror, you are to chant 'Bloody Miri' for as long as is needed."
"And then?" Raheem asked.
"And then the attack," Doreen said.
"How exactly did she attack you?" I asked.
"She just appeared behind me. She was dressed in our uniform, which is no surprise, because that was the cloth she died in. Her face...it hid behind a curtain of hair. Before I could react to her presence, she dashed to my side and covered my head with a dusty black bag. And then she forced my head into the water-filled sink."
"The sink was already filled with water?" Raheem asked.
"Yes," Doreen said. "One variant of Bloody Mary holds that the sound of water dripping from a tap was the last sound Mary heard. And so we incorporated it into our own game. One of the sinks was already half-filled with water when I arrived there, so I could tell the last person who Bloody Miried had also used the water approach. I moved on to the other sink, secured the drain and turned on the tap. I'd resolved to only stop when the sink was full. The other sinks had water as well. But I didn't notice until I saw myself being dragged sink after sink."
"Was that the only way she attacked you?” I asked. “Making you swallow water?"
"She wrung my neck. And I tried to fight back, but she kept slamming my head against the sink. That's all I remember about the ghostly encounter. Next thing I know is me waking up on the sickbay floor."
My mind conjured an image of Doreen's head slamming hard against the ceramic sink. I blinked, willing this bloodcurdling image out of my mind.
"It's weird how you knew the dangers involved in this game and yet you played it anyway," Raheem said.
Doreen's eyes dulled as she extended her lower lip. "I've never been one for that game."
"So why did you do it?" Raheem stole my unasked question.
"All day, our classmates were discussing about Miriam’s death and the game. I went to use the toilet, and I found a girl from class there, Bloody Miring, but it didn't work. And she seemed disappointed. Shaking her head, she said it was all crap, and then she left."
"So you tried it," I wrapped up the story.
Doreen looked away. No doubt, she had started to regret her decision to play the game. But game or no game, someone wanted her dead.
"So, about this classmate of yours who was Bloody Miring," Raheem said, "I take it she was the last person to see you before the incident?"
Doreen’s stern look sent a warning bell going off in my head. If we didn't slow down, we'd end up scaring her and she wouldn't want us around her anymore. But Raheem didn't seem to understand this. So much for letting him do the talking.
"Yes?" Raheem pressed on.
Doreen cleared her throat. "Yes."
"What is her name?"
She narrowed her eyes at us. "Why are you asking me these questions? Do you think someone tried to kill me?"
"Yes,” Raheem said. “Someone tried to kill you." I shot him a warning look. I hadn't expected him to be dead-honest. This could ruin everything.
"Not a human," Doreen said, her voice rising to a near-scream. "A faceless ghost. A freaking ghost."
Shivering, she hugged herself and swept frantic eyes around the classroom. "She could be anywhere. Miriam's ghost came to hurt me because I disturbed it. And here you are trying to point fingers at some girl just because she happened to be at the restroom during that period."
"Please calm down," Raheem said. "We're not pointing fingers at anyone or anything."
"Then do you believe my story?" Doreen asked. She searched my eyes and Raheem's for an answer, but she found no indication of us believing her story. "You think it's all a lie, don't you? You actually believe I'd make up something like this? What do I stand to gain, painting myself as the crazy one? That ghost is freaking real! You can go find out for yourselves if you don't believe me. Seriously.”
Just for the benefit of doubt, I could actually pay the crime scene a visit. Who knows what I could find.
"It's not that we don't believe you," Raheem said. His face, just like mine, showed no conviction. I prayed Doreen didn't think much of this. "Why, of course we do.”
"Then why are you so interested in finding out the last person who saw me before the incident?" Doreen asked.
"We have some questions for her," Raheem said. I cursed under my breath. The more honest answers he gave, the more untrusting Doreen would be. Didn't he know this?
One moment, Doreen's eyes widened, and the next, she narrowed them to slits. "Why? You think she tried to kill me?"
"Far from it," Raheem said. "Since she was, as you said, Bloody Miring, we want to have a word with her to know if she had any encounter whatsoever with the said ghost."
"That won't be necessary. I already told you hers was unsuccessful." She relaxed her tensed muscles.
Leaning in to her, Raheem stared into her third eye. "There could be other things, Miss Chukwu, tiny details she didn't tell you. But she'll be willing to share with us. And perhaps we can stop this game and all its silliness. Everyone is scared. The whole school is shaken. We just want to end this game before anyone else gets hurt."
Doreen thought about it for a moment. "Annabel Lambert."
Raheem smiled. He leaned away from her. "Thank you. You've been much help."
We turned to leave, but then he whirled around to ask a seemingly urgent question. "You wouldn't happen to own a perfume called Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford, would you?"
I cocked an eye at him. What did a perfume have to do with our crime solving?
"No, I don't,” she said. “I use Wild Urchid by Tom Ford and White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor. Why did you ask?"
Disappointment flitted across Raheem's face but he tried to conceal it. "Nothing really. I just thought maybe you could refer me a place to purchase it."
"No, sorry. You could place an order on Jumia or Konga. I'm sure they'll have it."
Raheem raked his fingers through his hair. He didn't seem satisfied. "So, you don't know anyone who uses this perfume? It opens with rather strong tobacco notes that fade to more vanilla, a hint of spice, and less tobacco. The tobacco note doesn't quite fade. It's still around, lingering somewhere in the middle."
"Isn't that a male perfume?" I wondered aloud.
"I know someone," a girl said from behind us. We turned around to find the girl who'd been in a conversation with Doreen. Walking past us, she placed shortbread and coke on Doreen's desk.
"Thanks," Doreen said. "But really, you didn't have to get me anything. I'm not even hungry."
"Oh, shush." The girl waved off Doreen's comment with a backward flip of her hand. Catching Raheem staring at her, she beamed at him.
"Hi," Raheem said, reaching out for a handshake. "I'm Raheem."
"Nengi." Her eyes flashed with sheer excitement as their hands met. Typical. Girls—except me—would always be girls. "We already said our hellos."
"Oh, yeah," Raheem said. "So where were we? You really know someone who can direct me to a shop where I can find this particular perfume?"
"Yeah. Tobacco notes, right?" When Raheem nodded, she went on, "There's one girl in our class who's crazy over it. I guess she's the only one using it, so you can always ask her. It's weird though. Considering that it's all masculine and stuff with the tobacco notes and all, and the market is littered with varieties of softer, fruitier perfumes that appeal to us females."
"What is her name?" Raheem asked.
"Annabel Lambert."
Raheem and I glanced at each other. Annabel's being the last person to see Doreen before the incident made her our number one lead. But what did a perfume have to do with anything?
"Dory dear," Nengi said. "You're forgetting Sir Amadi asked you to come over once the bell rung for break."
"Ugh!" Doreen groaned.
"Just go see what he wants."
"I know he only wants to question me about yesterday's event. How many times am I going to tell them I was attacked by a ghost! The school is haunted. But the adults don't seem to believe me. They think I've lost my mind. But you believe me, don't you, Nengi? I mean, even if the whole world doesn't, you'll always believe me, won't you?"
Nengi placed a hand on Doreen's shoulder, but she didn't express her support in words. Once again, Raheem and I exchanged knowing stares. Nengi had a hard time believing her friend's story.
Perhaps we could have a word with her. Since she probably didn't believe the ghost story, interrogating her would be more rewarding that the session we'd conducted with Doreen. We could ask her some questions we could never be able to ask Doreen based on her stand on the matter.
"Maxwell also has faith in your story," Nengi said with a smile.
Doreen grimaced at the mention of Maxwell's name. "Will you come with me?"
“I have to stay back and complete your Biology note," Nengi said. “Break is almost over, and you know Madam Pamela will mark notes today.”
"Oh, right." Securing her biscuit and coke in her locker, she said, "I won't take long."
"Okay."
Doreen turned to leave, but then she grimaced at Nengi. "Where's one of your earrings?"
Nengi's hand flew to her left ear. She felt around for her earring and found it. Slowly, she moved her hand to her other ear. Finding nothing, she gasped.
"Just take off the other one and find yourself new earrings," Doreen suggested. Without waiting for Nengi's response, she walked out of the class.
Raheem engaged Nengi in a conversation. "It must be really hard for her."
"Pardon?" Her face looked like someone had just died.
Why would someone grieve over a missing earring? Probably, it must have cost a lot. But whatever. She needed to get over her loss, find herself some new earrings and move on. How hard could that be?
"I mean, after yesterday's incident, the whole school must feel really creepy," Raheem explained. "But she's managed to pull herself together and be around all the same."
Nengi sighed. "Yeah. I'm creeped out too. It was all so unexpected. Once the bell rang for break, she went to have lunch, and a few minutes later, news reached me. We're bestfriends, we're always together. And just this once we weren't, look what happened. I should have gone with her, but I had to remain in class to do my technical drawing assignment. Perhaps if I were there with her, none of this would have happened. I feel so guilty right now."
"I understand how you feel, but don't blame yourself so much. There's nothing you can do about it now. It's happened, and no amount of pity-party can change that. You do well to keep that in mind. Besides, I doubt you'd have been able to fight the ghost if you'd been there."
"Faceless ghost?" Nengi scoffed. She looked around, and although everyone else had vacated the class, she dropped her voice to a whisper, "Just between us, I don't believe in the so-called ghost. I mean, Miriam's been dead for what, twenty-one years, and this game has been played ever since, but not even once has she hurt anyone or even been seen. So why should now be any different?"
"Valid question," Raheem said, perching on the desk. "So you think someone attacked her? Someone from our school?"
"That's the only logical explanation, isn't it?" Nengi held a stiff smile.
"I believe so," Raheem said.
"But who would want to do this? Dory is a very innocent soul. She never offends anyone. She stays away from fights and every trace of trouble. I don't see her having an enemy. Why would anyone want to kill her?"
“That's why we need your help,” I said. “You're her best friend. You should know one or two things that could point us in the right direction."
Nengi nodded, seeming to understand my point.
"Has anyone made any threats to harm her?" Raheem asked.
"None that I know of," Nengi said.
Searching her eyes, Raheem willed her to think deeply about his question. "Are you sure?"
Perhaps I could make this easier. "You mentioned Maxwell. Were you referring to the guy in my class?"
Nengi looked from Raheem to me. "That's the one."
"Is he in a relationship with her?" I asked.
It took a moment for an answer to come. "No. Dory's single, at least for the most part."
"Care to clarify your last words?" Raheem asked. "Single for the most part? What does that imply?"
"Maxwell's been showing some kind of interest in her. I don't know what it is, but they're getting pretty close. The texts, small talks and all. If he didn't have a girlfriend I'd say he's got a thing for my friend."
"This girlfriend of his, who is she?" Although I'd seen Max with a certain junior on more than one occasion, I had to ask. I didn't want to reach my own conclusion.
"Annabel Lambert," she said. Once the words left her lips, she gasped. She clapped her hands over her lips and gulped as though to swallow back her words. "Oh my God! Do you mean Annabel has a hand in whatever happened to Dory?"
"Please calm down," Raheem said. "We haven't reached any conclusions yet. We are just trying to connect the dots and see where it leads us."
"Will you find the culprit?" she asked.
"Of course." The look in Raheem's eyes told me we were done questioning Nengi. But then, another question popped up in his head. "Uhm, Nengi?"
"Yeah?"
"Did you ever visit the restroom yesterday?"
"No," she said. "I told you I stayed back in class to do my technical drawing assignment. And even if I had plans to visit it later, what happened to Dory ruined it all."

To be continued

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