Behind Her Smile – Chapter Three

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CHAPTER THREE

*****

Two weeks had passed and I was gradually learning to adjust to my new environment. I rarely left the room though except for lectures and church service. I steered clear of most of my peers because I just wasn’t ready to fully interact with anyone if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

“You guys, it is official!” Anna ran into the room as she waved a flyer in the air.

I looked up from where I was studying some notes from my CHM101 class.

“What’s official?” Nafisa asked, sitting cross-legged on her bed as she painted her nails a deep purple colour, a gossip magazine lay open before her.

“The Fresher’s party and it’s happening on the 2nd, that’s on Friday night.” She grinned. “Just when I thought this campus was getting too boring for my liking.”

“Let me see that.” Nafisa suddenly sat up and gingerly collected the flyer from Anna, trying not to smear her nail polish.

I recalled several meetings were held for the party planning but I never attended any. I did hear however, that a nasty fight broke out between the guys but I didn’t know what caused it. Rumour had it that cultists were to blame while some others said that it was simply the guys’ ego that got in the way. Anyway, I wasn’t up for it.

“Isa, please can I borrow your-”

“No.” Nafisa’s sharp response cut Anna off.

“Fine. Ada, how about your-”

“No.”

Anna rolled her eyes then turned to me and smiled innocently.

“Presh, do you mind if I borrow a skirt and maybe some perfume?”

“Err…” I blinked. I was not aware that I had acquired such a nickname. Secondly, judging from the history these two had with Anna’s persistent borrowing habits, I certainly didn’t want to get involved.

“I’m sorry but I can’t lend you my stuff.” I shrugged.

“Ugh, you girls are the worst!” Anna hissed and stormed out of the room.

“Ignore her, she’ll come around eventually. Better that your stuff’s safe and in good condition.” Nafisa said.

“You’ve got a bit of backbone after all, saying no. I thought you were going to cave in on her wishes.” Ada remarked.

I smiled slightly to myself, but little did I know that I was going to need to grow a lot more backbone for what was headed my way.

***

There was youth chapel service on campus, the Friday morning before the Fresher’s night. I found it kind of ironical that the preaching was coming just before the students go wild in roughly, the next 10 hours. Several faces were absent, probably in preparation for the big night. The chaplain’s message was about keeping focus on our goals but at the end of service, his announcement swerved in a different direction from his message so far.

“Some of you may be aware of the shocking activities going on in this town but it should not frighten you, it should only make you more cautious and observant about your surroundings. A group of youth popularly known as Orion are reported to be infiltrating campuses in the western part of the country. The university management pleads with you all to report any suspicious behaviour or activity you notice because it can go a great way to help. Thank you for your attention, you may now proceed to your lectures.”

The announcement left me a bit shaken. I always thought private universities were much safer than federal. It was one of the reasons I’d applied for admission here.

“Don’t look so scared, Precious.” Nafisa smiled reassuringly.

“Did you hear anything about this earlier?” I asked her as we made our way out of chapel.

“Just a few rumours here and there, it’s still recent so news hasn’t really spread. I did hear that they raided a female hostel nearby. No one was hurt but it caused quite a scare. Listen, don’t panic, and just daily activities as normal. Probably more concerned with turning up later that night. I sighed and shook my head. I was so not feeling any party vibes.

By the time I returned to the hostel, I was pretty sure that I witnessed first-hand, the literal meaning of girls gone wild. There they were; every shape and size running about like they were in the middle of a war. Some were clad in their underwear and some did not even bother with the formalities.

“Where’s my bloody mascara!” A girl I vaguely recognised breezed past me in a mad dash.

“Safety pin! I need a safety pin!” I neatly swerved out of the way when Shola, a petite girl from my department ran from one room to another, clutching frantically at her falling skirt.

I held in the burst of laughter that was threatening to erupt from my mouth but I couldn’t take it anymore when I stepped into the room and found Anna contorting her face into what she thought were seductive looks in the mirror.

“Wow, this is the first time you’ve laughed since you got here.” She looked shocked as she turned to face me.

I suddenly became self-conscious. “Really?” I frowned.

“Um, yeah.” She said, pointedly. “And trust me, I would notice. It’s nothing to be shy about. I think it’s cool that you’re finally loosening up.” She smiled. “Anyway, are you coming to the Fresher’s party?”

“Nope.” I shrugged.

“Why not?”

The voice wasn’t Anna’s. I looked behind me to find Ada and Nafisa fully dressed and made up as they stepped into the room.

“Who did your makeup?” Anna asked suddenly.

“Cynthia.” They both answered.

“Looks good.” She said, impressed.

“Anyway, why aren’t you coming?” Ada asked again.

“I’m kind of occupied tonight.”

“How can you not attend your own Fresher’s night?” Anna threw her hands up.

“Leave her alone, okay. Come on girls, let’s go.” Nafisa said as she grabbed her purse and keys.

“What, haven’t you heard of being fashionably late?” Anna raised an eyebrow.

“With nearly all the 100 level students in attendance, I don’t really think anyone’s going to notice our absence, let alone our arrival.” Ada smirked.

“Whatever.” Anna hissed and grabbed her stuff, ready to leave too.

“Have fun.” I waved as they left.

Nafisa blew me a kiss and Ada winked slyly as the door closed behind them.

The hostel was nearly empty too as most girls had left for the party, all levels were invited, not just the freshers. I sighed and looked around me before a smile grew across my face. Finally, there was some peace and quiet- oh shoot! Everything went black. I groped around in the dark for a torch, thanks to our beloved PHCN. I found one but the battery power was out. It flickered weakly before going off completely. I hissed in annoyance, all I wanted to do was stay indoors and watch a nice movie to pass the time. Yeah, I admit that’s all my plan consisted of. From the electricity pattern I’d studied since coming here, it probably won’t be restored till the next two hours or so. I put on my phone’s flashlight and made my way out of the hostel. I needed to buy a packet of candles.

The walk to the nearest store was only 10 minutes away so there was no hurry. I strolled leisurely along the way, sometimes catching a glimpse of late partygoers tethering in high heels and short skirts. Girls giggled to themselves, making me curious about what they were discussing. Others fiddled with their gowns and skirts, pulling the hem lower or…higher as the case may be. The air was filled with excitement and I got a whiff of it, but I was… scared to partake in it.

My memory flashed back to two years ago at a party similar to the one happening just a short distance away. Back then when I wasn’t always so guarded and withdrawn but now I couldn’t help it. The carefree, fun-loving girl was gone and in her place was an empty shell, void of emotions just trying to live life once again.

I stopped walking when a crash came from my left. My hand slowly reached toward my back pocket for my phone. The security lights were out along with the electricity and everywhere was dark except for the dim glow of moonlight.

“Well, hello there.” The voice sent shivers running down my bare arms and they were not the pleasant type.

I fumbled, trying to pull my phone out but it slipped and went crashing to the ground. I bit my lip, holding in my cry of frustration. My heart was pumping a fast rhythm that nearly sent it flying out of my chest. I lowered myself carefully to the ground. Judging by the direction of the voice, he wasn’t within grabbing range. If I could just get my phone, I could sprint out of there at least I was good at moving quick on my feet.

“Don’t move.”

I froze mid-bend in an awkward position that had me trying not to fall face-forward.

“Get up slowly.”

I did as I was told. I wondered if anyone would rush to my aid if I screamed.

“Don’t make a sound.”

Shoot! Whoever this guy is, he’s always a step ahead. Footsteps came closer and I counted them silently. One, two, three- I grabbed my phone and ran.

“Damn it!” He growled. His steps quickened as he chased after me but I wasn’t going to give up easily.

The thought of him putting his hands anywhere near me, spurred me to move faster. I’d never been so glad that I have androphobia as at that moment. I darted behind a corner and caught my breath. That was when I heard the screams. My mind flashed back to the announcement this morning and all I could think was that it was too late, we were being raided.

***

I don’t know how long I stayed hidden but by the time I came out of hiding, my joints hurt and my limbs had lost feeling from contorting my body and trying to make myself as small as possible so as not to get noticed. I stretched out and looked about cautiously. It was safe to come out. I moved swiftly in the direction of my hostel when I saw something that made me catch my breath. A sob built in the back of my throat and before I knew it, tears were running down my face.

“Help me…please.”

A girl laid half-conscious on the ground. Her dress was ripped in shreds like a brutal animal attacked her. Bruises bloomed across her face and when she tried to roll to her side, she gasped in pain as her body folded into itself. I saw how she gripped her lower abdomen, the way her face twisted in pain and I knew. It was no animal that did this. It was a man. I had to get her medical attention but the health center was at the other end of the campus. I needed help but no one else was around, they must have all fled for safety. I leaned down to help her up, there’s no way I was going to leave her there.

The sound of gunshots ricocheted off nearby buildings and I knew we were still in danger.

“Come on, I need you to please cooperate with me.” I whispered as we made slow progress towards the hostel. It was the safest place I could think of. We could wait there until they leave and then I’ll take her to the medical center.

Few metres away from the gates, she collapsed.

“No, no, no, please don’t. Not now.” I whispered urgently as I struggled to keep her vertical.

Footsteps came running in our direction and I tensed. What should I do? Should I run and leave her? No, I couldn’t do that. If I’d been abandoned too two years ago, I wouldn’t be alive today. I sighed in relief when I recognised the figure headed towards us. It was Adaeze.

“Quick, get up we need to get to safety.” She dragged me up and that was when I noticed there was a guy trailing behind her. The situation was too dire to fully comprehend the fact that a guy was going into our hostel with us. But when the door was shut behind us and the danger had passed, I turned to face him, his direction anyway, since I could barely see his face. The power was still out.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled. I realised the unconscious girl was nearly half-naked so I groped around for my blanket and threw it over her before I turned my attention to him again.

“Precious, calm down. This is my boyfriend Zachary; he isn’t going to harm you. In fact, his presence here will do the opposite.” The glow from Ada’s phone screen was enough for me to see her face and that of the guy standing beside her. She rummaged around for a moment before lighting a candle.

Well, would you look at that, there were candles in the room after all? I felt like smacking myself.

“How come you guys aren’t at the party?” I asked eyeing him warily. He was a tall, dark guy with dreadlocks that were neatly tied with a red bandana. He ignored my suspicious scrutiny.

“Well,” Ada looked away shyly. I blinked in surprise. It was the first time she looked shy of anything. “We planned to head to the party eventually after we, well, um.” He gave her a mischievous look I didn’t understand and she cleared her throat. “Anyway, we were spending some time together when we heard the raid so Zach decided to bring me back here.”

I sighed and nodded. He couldn’t have just left her at the gate anyway. Besides out there was dangerous and in here was safe. A scream resonated through the hostel. I held my breath as everything went still. I glanced at the faces of my companions to see if they were thinking in the same direction as I was. Ada’s eyes grew wide but she seemed calm in a way. Zach seemed to care less as his body stance was relaxed. The girl was still unconscious on the bed.

“Guys, I think they got in.” I whispered.

Suddenly, I heard doors being kicked open and shouts of men followed by laughter. Was that female laughter I heard?

“Stay behind me and don’t say a word.” It was the first thing Zach said in the short while since I met him. Ada complied and grabbed my hand to pull me behind him too when I didn’t move.

The door burst open and a group of three people walked in with their faces partially covered with masks. Two of them carried arms but the third didn’t look like he needed it. He was built like a rock.

“What do you say, should we rough ‘em up a bit?” The first guy spoke in a deep voice that had a strong Yoruba accent. He sounded like a typical agbero. He took a few steps closer, eyeing Ada hungrily. In that moment, I was glad that I didn’t have such a killer figure as she did.

Zach stepped up to the challenge when he saw the way the guy was eyeing his girl. I was honestly curious as to what he planned to do when he was outnumbered; three to one. He dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out an object. I tried to catch a glimpse of it but my gaze became preoccupied when I noticed the girl among them point a machete toward us. She was slim and of average height but that didn’t make her look any less imposing.

He raised his hands slowly so as not to trigger any negative response from the group and tossed the item to the one who was built like a rock. He caught it easily and examined it. When he raised his head, his whole demeanour changed.

“Let’s go.”

“What?” The second guy protested.

“Now. This is not our territory.”

The other two frowned but slowly retreated. The door shut behind them and minutes later, the hostel became still again as the rest of the gang left. I was too stunned to react and just stood there with my mouth hanging open, questions pending.

“What just happened?” I finally regained my ability to speak.

“I just let them know that they were on another’s territory.” Zach said.

I looked to Ada to see if she was following but she didn’t seem bothered. She wrapped her arms round his torso and he pulled her close. They were acting like nothing just happened and we weren’t almost butchered within an inch of our lives.

“What does that mean?”

“You ask too many questions.” He sighed and turned to Ada, dismissing me. “Baby, I’ve got to run. See you tomorrow.”

“Bye hun.” She smiled and hugged him tightly before he walked away.

“Hold it.” She held up her palm and I shut my mouth which had already opened wide to release a barrage of questions. “She needs medical attention as soon as possible. It’ll be safe to leave the hostel in a few minutes once word gets around. Get ready so we can get out of here.”

I glanced at the girl to see that sweat beads had formed on her forehead. She really was out of it. Moments later, Ada and I balanced her weight between ourselves and made our way out of the room to seek medical help.

*****

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