Click here to read the previous chapter; Behind Her Smile – Chapter One, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Two, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Three, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Four, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Five, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Six, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Seven, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Eight, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Nine
The first semester exams were fast approaching and half the population of students were a nervous wreck. It was then that a level of seriousness could be seen that was unlike anything during the semester. The time I spent hiding away in the library was converted into time for studying and I didn’t research as much on Orion as I wanted to. I figured there wasn’t much Leo could do to me that he hadn’t already done. From what I’d seen a few days ago, he was doing pretty well with himself in the aspect of the female company and Lord knows I didn’t want his eyes or hands anywhere near me. He might make my life a living hell but as long as he wasn’t interested in me romantically, I didn’t care what he did with his life. There was still some tension between Nafisa and Ada but I decided not to get into that. Anna was practically glowing these days and her smiles were as infectious as ever since the news that her test results were negative for HIV.
“That’s it, I’m giving up.” Dinah threw her notebook across the table, startling the rest of us. I’d agreed to join a study group organised by some of my course mates.
It was our third day of tutorials and I’d made some progress, even found some new friends among them.
“It’s not rocket science Dinah, just binomial distribution.” Kolade sighed. He’d joined us in the MTH101 tutorials and I was glad he did because he was a math whiz. We’d be lost without him.
“At this rate, rocket science would be much easier.” She grumbled.
He tossed her an irritated look but underneath, there was something I couldn’t quite define. Maybe it was affection. I smiled secretly to myself, thinking this was why he’d told me earlier not to worry about any unwanted attention from him.
“Let’s just start over again.” Maya, the chubby girl from MTH101 that always made googly eyes at Mr Essien spoke up.
When we finally called it a day, I was about to head to the library when I got a call from Anna.
“What’s up?” I asked as I gathered my books into my bag and swung it over my shoulder.
“Are you busy right now?”
“No, I just finished tutorials.”
“Could you do me a favor, please?”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“I’m stuck running some errands and I need to pick up my cousin who’s visiting today. Please, could you help me sign him in?”
“Um, when are you expecting him?”
“In about thirty minutes, he’s already on his way.”
“Okay sure.” She described him to me and said she’ll send a picture too just in case. I had some minutes to spare so I took my time in getting to the university gate where most visitors usually stayed in the reception. I was about 10 minutes early so I put in my earphones and listened to some music. My phone beeped with a WhatsApp message from Anna and my mouth fell open in surprise when I saw the image and his name. I looked up from my phone screen to find him standing before me.
“Isaac?” His name slipped out of my mouth.
“Precious?” He said with a grin.
I quickly stood and walked towards him.
“You’re Anna’s cousin?” I asked. I’d thought I’d most likely never see him again after the incident that happened during the field trip.
“Yes, and you’re the friend she asked to pick me up.” He said as we shook hands. I glanced down and nodded towards his leg, almost forgetting that my hand was still in his.
“Does your leg still hurt?” I asked.
“You remember that?”
“It’s much better now and I hope you haven’t been running into any deadly reptiles lately.”
“Not recently, no.” I laughed. “Thanks again for saving my life that day.”
“Don’t mention it.” He shrugged it off. As I looked at him, something about him suggested that he was rough around the edges and that gave me a hint that he’d dealt with creatures that were more deadly.
“So..” I was interrupted when my phone beeped with another message from Anna.
He should be here by now.
“It’s Anna,” I said. I sent a reply that I’d seen him.
Great, thanks! I’ll meet you guys in front of the cafeteria in about 10 minutes.
“Let me sign you in,” I said. We headed over to the guard at the reception desk and signed in. Afterwards, I led him towards the cafeteria. “Sorry, Anna is running late but she’ll meet us in about 10 minutes.”
“I don’t mind my current company.” I looked away when his eyes lingered for a moment longer than I could handle. Something about him gave me warning signs but still drew me to him.
“So, did you know we were on that field trip the day we first met?” I asked.
“Anna told me you guys were in the area but I didn’t actually plan to bump into any of you.”
I wondered how close they were and why she had never mentioned him before.
“You look like you’ve got a lot of questions for me.”
“I’m just curious.”
“About what exactly?”
“Why Anna hasn’t mentioned you until today.”
“My cousin and I don’t always see eye to eye on certain matters.” He shrugged. Just then, I saw Anna headed towards us and for some reason, I felt like there was more to this visit than she let on. Her eyes were serious despite the smile she had on her face and when she greeted him, her smile still didn’t reach her eyes.
“Sorry for bothering you.” She said to me.
“Oh, it was no big deal.” I brushed off her apology. “Um, I’ll see you guys later.”
I turned and tried to slip away.
“Precious,” Isaac said before I could take a step.
“Thanks for your help.”
“I’ll… see you later.”
For some reason, he made it sound like a promise and I tried to ignore the effect it had on me. My steps felt like hot coals were under my feet and I didn’t slow down my pace until I was out of sight. I leaned against a wall and tried to calm down. It had been ages since I’d felt anything other than irritation, bitterness, fear and suspicion towards a member of the opposite gender and I tried to convince myself that I felt nothing different for him.
I went to the first place I could think of which was the library and picked up the journal about Orion to continue from where I left off. As I turned a page, I noticed a few words at the bottom of the page that looked like scrawled handwriting. Someone had definitely written those words there. I squinted at it for a closer look and saw a name and date.
M. Capon June 6th, 2017.
I brought out my phone and took a picture of it since I couldn’t make any sense of it. My phone beeped with a message from Anna.
We’re going to get some food, are you interested?
I thought about it for a while. Despite my grumbling stomach, I didn’t trust myself to be around Isaac. Something about him triggered feelings I had no business with, not after what I’d been through.
Don’t worry about me, you guys should go ahead.
Are you sure?
As I set my phone aside, I tried hard to ignore the little voice in my head that told me I was a coward for running away from him.
“What’re you up to?” I jumped at the sound of the voice behind me and spun around to find Kolade watching me.
“When did you get here?”
“A few minutes ago, why?”
“Don’t tell me you think I would waste a few precious moments of my life staring at you fiddling with your phone.”
I rolled my eyes at him as he sat down beside me.
“Where did you get that?” His eyes narrowed at the book that was open before me. I realised too late that I hadn’t thought to keep it out of sight when he came.
“It’s just a book I found in one of the History sections.” He inspected it for a few seconds and frowned.
“You do realise this book is mostly about cults right?”
I didn’t say anything.
“Precious, what’re you searching for?”
“What do you mean?” I shrugged.
“Why aren’t you reading a novel or maybe a textbook. Why this?” He held the book up in front of me to drive home his point.
“I was just curious, okay?”
“You know what they say about curiosity.”
“Well,” I snatched the book from him. “It’s a good thing I’m not a cat.”
I got up to leave but then I realised I would have to leave the book behind because it couldn’t be checked out of the library.
“Just sit down and hear me out.” I sighed as I did so. I figured it couldn’t hurt to hear what he had to say.
“You need to be careful, especially when it comes to matters like this.”
“I’m just reading a book at the library.”
“A book that contains information about a cult as deadly as Orion. I don’t know if you’ve heard but things are kind of tense around campus and don’t say you heard this from me, but there are rumours that the former leader of Orion is back on the surface after disappearing for so long. Imagine what changes that could bring about.” He looked around the nearly empty library before he continued. “Sometimes, playing ignorant is better than acting smart. You don’t know who’s watching.”
His words still rang in my head long after he left and as I walked back to the hostel, I wondered what would happen to those of us who had unwillingly gotten entangled with members of Orion.
“What’s up?” Anna asked when I entered the room. “You look moody.”
“It’s nothing.” I shook my head. “Um, where’s Isaac?”
“Oh, he left already. He asked after you but you didn’t show up.”
I felt a bit of relief mixed with disappointment knowing that he was gone.
“But you’ll probably see more of him when he visits again. He used to be a student here but left due to some complicated reasons. Anyway, enough about my annoying cousin, what’s wrong with you and don’t lie to me.” She kept a firm face and waited with her arms folded across her chest.
“Okay,” I threw my bag on my bed and sat down beside her. “I’m just freaked out about this Orion thing.”
“You’ve got nothing to worry about, just stay out of their way and you’ll be fine.”
I didn’t know how to tell her that I was already involved with their current leader who had made it a mission to frustrate me at every given opportunity.
“Or is there something you want to tell me?” She raised an eyebrow.
I figured it was now or never. I had to tell someone about Leo otherwise it might eat me up inside and I didn’t know how much longer I had before that would happen.
“Actually, there is.”
“I’m listening.” She sat up and waited for me to continue.
“Years ago, I met Leo in secondary school and it was a bittersweet experience for me.”
Her eyebrows shot up at this.
“I remember Nafisa asked you about him before. We noticed you always act weird when he’s around, but you said there was nothing wrong. So you lied?”
“I just wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.”
“Okay, go on. What happened between you guys?”
“He… um, he…”
“He did what?”
“We got close, first as friends but then we kind of became something more.”
“As in, a couple?”
“Not really but there were definitely some feelings involved but now that I think of it, maybe any true feelings were only on my side. Anyway, one day we met at a restaurant to celebrate his admission into the university and I had no idea that I’d walked right into a trap. He organised the whole thing, the empty restaurant, the drugged food and drinks. I passed out and when I woke up, he and his friends were there. I was gang-raped and mercilessly beaten. He let me go but sometimes, I wish he’d left me to die or did the job himself because the shame and embarrassment were just too much to bear. It was so bad that I had to see a therapist for a year after the incident. I chose to become home-schooled because I didn’t know how to be around people anymore, especially guys and I despised them, every single one of them.”
“That’s terrible, I’m so sorry.” Anna shook her head. “Now I see why you used to get upset whenever I used to force you to talk to guys, I really had no idea, I’m so sorry.”
“You couldn’t have known.” I shrugged.
“Do you still, I mean do you still fear them?”
I sighed and massaged my forehead to relieve some tension.
“It’s called androphobia. I can’t help it at times. I just want to be far away from men.”
“But what if the guy doesn’t mean any harm?”
“It’s not as bad as it used to be, I can interact with them now but back then was when I was at my lowest point. I used to have panic attacks and that’s something I haven’t had in years until Leo showed up. I guess the shock of seeing him again triggered it.”
“Shouldn’t you report him to the authorities? He can’t go scot-free.”
I chose my next words carefully before I spoke.
“I can’t report him for the same reason you can’t seem to bring yourself to speak about Mr Essien to the school authorities. We’re both afraid.”
“This is different.” Anna took in a sharp breath and I saw tears form in her eyes but she blinked and brushed them away.
“How is it different?”
“He could fail me in my course or… or find a way to make the rest of my stay in this university a living hell, there are consequences but if I keep quiet, I can avoid them.”
“That’s the thing, Anna, we’re already suffering from some sort of consequence. You know what you felt like when you got those test results from the hospital for your HIV test. I was mentally and emotionally unstable for nearly a year and I attempted suicide at some point in time.”
Anna froze at my words. “You did what?”
“I know exactly how it feels to want to end it all. I tried it too but I couldn’t go through with it, there was no way I could watch you try to kill yourself the same way I tried to years ago.”
“You know what?” She said.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m glad you didn’t go ahead with it, otherwise, I would never have met you.”
“I’m glad I didn’t too.” I smiled.
At that moment, I was truly glad that God had given me a second chance. There was still more to life for me that what I’d been through. I knew I had to let go of the stigma of the past and although it was difficult, I had a reassurance that things could only get better… but of course they had to get worse first because three days later, we got an emergency phone call from the hospital informing us that Ada was involved in an accident along with Zach and a few other friends of theirs.
“It has to be related to these stupid cultists.” Nafisa hissed as she paced the room. “I’ve warned Ada several times that Zach is no good for her, that guy is poison!”
“Lower your voice, okay?” Anna snapped at her. “Shouting isn’t going to solve anything.”
“Maybe if you guys had let me shout at her enough, she wouldn’t be fighting for her life in the hospital right now. I heard the school authorities informed her parents, if they get to know the truth, she might be transferred to another university.”
“This is so messed up,” I whispered. “Can we go and see her?”
“Not yet, only her family is allowed to see her now,” Anna said. “All we can do is pray because her life might literally depend on it.”
Reality set in and that was when I realized that whether we liked it or not, the battle between the cults had already started and the longer it lasted, the more people would get hurt.
To Be Continued…