My heart threatened to escape my chest as it pounded out a rapid rhythm. I stood in front of the bright red door to Miss Sylvia’s apartment as I fiddled with the white envelope in my hands. Two knocks later, I was inside the colorful room which was filled with rays of sunshine streaming in from the open windows. Her design scheme perfectly matched her personality.
“You really should keep your curtains closed.” I winced as the sun rays assaulted my eyes.
“And you really need to get a bit of sunshine in your life.” She tossed a playful look at me over her shoulder.
“Yeah well, this is enough to last me a life time.”
“Have a seat.”
I grabbed one of the soft throw pillows as I did so and settled unto the sofa for our session. Very soon they would be over and deep down I wasn’t sure I was ready for them to come to an end even though Sylvia said I didn’t need them any longer. She had been my therapist for a year now and we’d had a very rough start but now we tolerate each other better. I daresay we’ve become sort of friends.
“Is that it?” She tilted her head towards the envelope in my hands.
“Yeah it is.” I nodded slowly and handed it over to her.
“Congratulations,” She smiled. “This is great news.”
“I guess so.” I shrugged.
“Come on, Precious. Gaining admission into the university is what every teenager your age wants to accomplish at this stage of life. Don’t waste this opportunity. Be grateful.”
“I am,” I sighed. “I just don’t know if I’m ready yet.”
“You can’t hold on to the past forever, you need to move on. You’ve waited for a long time to pull yourself back together. You’re a smart, young girl who deserves a chance to live the life you’ve always dreamed of. This is just the first step. You don’t need to be scared.”
“I already told my parents I’ve accepted the offer. They are happy.”
“But you’re not?”
I was silent for a few moments as I pondered this.
“I’ll learn to be.”
“That’s good enough. Remember, if you need anything just call.”
For a few seconds, she stared at me with a slight smile.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing, it’s just that you’ve changed a lot in the past year. You still don’t talk much but you’ve grown more confident in yourself. Don’t let anything change that, okay?”
I knew I couldn’t promise anything, not right then, so all I did was smile.
A Month Later
My mother and I sang along in harmony to the playlist we had created for the journey from Lagos to Osun state where I would spend the next few years of my life in the university studying for a BSc in Microbiology. Meanwhile, my dad navigated the dusty roads as he asked me for directions every few minutes. A map of the university and its environment was sent along with my admission letter but I didn’t exactly have a lot of confidence in my navigation skills which is why I eventually turned to Google Maps. We set out at noon instead of first thing in the morning like we’d planned because things just loved to go wrong at the last minute. From missing items that suddenly reappeared at the last minute to a flat tire that was in need of repair.
“Turn right at the next junction.” I said from the backseat.
“You’re sure? I barely see a road.”
“The bushes are in the way of everything.” My mom sighed. “The worst thing would be to get lost now.”
“Oh look, there is a road there.” Dad mumbled.
True enough an untarred road emerged out of the forest of tall trees and shrubs. The end of it disappeared round a cluster of trees and dad maneuvered the Honda around the bend.
“What the-” Dad gasped, frantically jerking the steering wheel to the left.
“Watch out!” Mom yelled a second too late.
A dark figure darted out in front of the car in a mad haste. Luckily, dad’s quick reflex prevented us from running over the person but the car grazed the side of their body pretty hard, knocking the figure to the ground. Dad immediately stopped the car and glanced back at me.
“Stay in the car.” He said, before he got out and walked towards the figure. “I’m so sorry, are you alright?”
Mom was close behind him while I peered out from the backseat, straining to see what was going on. My gaze shifted to the edge of the trees where I saw some shadows shift back slowly. I looked back at the injured figure to find that their face was obscured by a large black hoodie. Dad tried to help the person up but got shoved away. The shove had less of an effect than intended and one hand cradled his side as droplets of red leaked from between his fingers, down to his wrists.
“We need to get you help,” Mom frowned, stepping closer. “You’re bleeding.”
The figure scrambled away from her and weakly limped towards a narrow foot-trodden path. We watched in confusion, not knowing what else to do. This person who had just nearly been run over by our car refused our help.
“That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.” Mom said as she brushed some tangled hair out of her face.
“It looked like he was scared of something.” Dad leaned against the car door and surveyed the trees surrounding us.
I thought of telling them what I think I saw but I didn’t want us to spend another minute there. Knowing my dad, he might choose to investigate the area.
“We need to leave. Obviously, something’s not right.” I said instead.
Dad looked around once more before sighing and getting into the car with mom. “We’re wasting daylight and I don’t want us to be on the road at night in an unfamiliar place.”
We continued the drive without any other incident but my gaze kept darting around for anything strange. What was supposed to be a three-hour ride had lasted much longer but we finally arrived just as the sun was starting to set. There was no way I could begin the registration process by that time of the day so we decided to stay in a hotel for the night.
“Can we get an en suite?” Dad said to the receptionist.
She smacked her bubble gum loudly and lazily blinked her heavily mascaraed eyes at us, looking clueless.
“Have you got any room at all?” My mom asked.
He eyes drifted over to my mom before she turned to face my dad as if mom hadn’t spoken at all.
“Oga, we get room, but I no know ensweet.” Her accent was heavy with a hint of a dialect I suspected must be familiar with the locals.
I rolled my eyes and looked around. What were we expecting from a hotel called Arensole whose sign board had two missing letters, e and n, and became very misleading. The air smelt heavily of rose-scented air freshener and something else which I couldn’t identify. Somehow, I was sure I wouldn’t want to find out. Just then, the door opened and a heavily built man walked in wearing white agbada with two girls, one on each arm. I blinked twice in surprise; the girls didn’t look much older than I. The receptionist’s face brightened significantly as she ignored us to greet the man who I guessed was a regular.
“Chief! Welcome oh, your room is ready just as you like it.”
“I know you won’t disappoint,” The man said, taking the keys from her. “See me later.” He whispered as he walked away with his companions. He didn’t spare us a glance.
My mother had a pinched look on her face as she turned to face the lady.
“Can you attend to us now, or are we not considered customers too?” I spoke the words however, before my mom did.
The lady threw me a look but attended to us.
“There’s only one room. It’s ₦5000 per night.”
“We’ll take it.” Dad said. The irritation was obvious in his voice but so was exhaustion. He counted a few Naira notes out of his wallet and quickly set them down on the counter.
The lady recounted them before calling an attendant to show us to our room. He was a young, lanky guy whose face was a map of zits and the lower region of his face boasted a very struggling beard. He wore sagging jeans and the official T-shirt hung on his bony frame. He inserted the keys into the door and held it open for us to go in. When I walked past him, I’m pretty sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me when he winked at me. I nearly gagged.
“Enjoy your stay.” He said, leaving the key with my dad.
When he was gone, my dad turned to us and sighed.
“It’s just one night. First thing tomorrow morning we’re heading to your campus and after that,” He put an arm around mom. “Darling, we’re out of here.”
I shook my head and walked away from them. Sure, leave me in the strange land why don’t you?
We sorted out the sleeping arrangements first before taking turns to freshen up in the bathroom. Luckily, there were two beds piled atop each other in the bed frame so I took out the lower one and set it on the floor along with my duvet from my box. I lay awake long after my parents had slept and stared at nothing in particular, it wasn’t long before I drifted off too, and the last thing to flash in my mind was the memory of a dark, hooded figure limping away into the forest.
I woke up to the sound of dance-hall music, a result of party goers nearby. I glanced at my parents to find them unaffected by the noise. Groaning in annoyance, I checked the time and saw that it was just a little after dawn. I knew sleep was out of the question, so I silently left the room. The hallway was silent and the only sound was that of my footsteps, until quiet laughter broke the silence.
“I really have to go now.” A girl’s voice was followed by a rustling sound.
I froze in my steps and took off my slippers to avoid attention. I just hoped that I wouldn’t step in anything disgusting. As I approached a corner, something soft squished under my foot and I shut my eyes tightly, trying to hold in my disgust. It was impossible to hold unto it when I beheld the sight that lay round the corner. The very familiar shirt of the receptionist lay discarded on the ground and strange sounds came from behind her desk. A startled gasp escaped my throat before I could do anything about it.
“What was that?”
I darted back behind the wall. Oh dear Lord, don’t let them find me and I won’t creep about in strange hotel hallways at dawn anymore.
“Clear this stuff away quickly.” The male voice sounded desperate.
Something clattered to the ground as they scrambled away and it wasn’t until long after they were gone that I ventured out of my hiding place. I had an internal debate as to whether or not I should just disappear back into the room or investigate. My curiosity won me over. I walked over to the abandoned desk and looked around. Papers and pens were scattered across the desk but something glinted on the floor and I bent to check it out. It was a used jackknife and even worse, it was stained with blood. I didn’t need anyone to tell me something twisted was going on and I just wanted to be out of there. Immediately, I high-tailed it back to the room and remained there till it was time to leave.
To be continued…