The first period started 20 minutes ago but I can’t hear anything the teacher is saying because I have my full attention on Ella. Her eyes are shrunken. Two empty holes. There are awful-looking dark circles where there should be plumpness of youth, as if she hasn’t slept for days. She’s looking frail and shriveled as if vitality is slowly being sucked from her body.
I’ve been watching Ella for a while. The cheerful, carefree, bright-eyed girl who joined my class 6 months ago has been replaced with an aloof and a brooding shadow of herself. All the girls that used to hang with her now keep their distance. This further confirms my stance that people are an unstable lot. When everything is all rainbows and sunshine, they flock around you like vultures around a carcass. But when things turn sour, these same people evaporate like morning dew after the sun comes out.
In the middle of the lesson, Ella stands up abruptly and leaves the class. I glance at the teacher, wondering why she isn’t stopping Ella. But it’s as if no one noticed, except me. Ella strides out of the classroom like there is somewhere she needs to be. It is almost as if the old Ella is back. That piques my curiosity. Where is she going to? I go to the teacher to ask for permission to use the restroom. But she seems not to notice that I am standing in front of her. I scan the classroom and everyone is carrying on as usual. I store the weird incident at the back of my mind, I’ll ponder it later. But now, I need to know where Ella is headed.
I follow her stealthily until we get to the roof of our school building which is 6 stories high. I watch Ella as she shuffles towards the ledge. Then it dawns on me what she is about to do. “Ella?” I keep my voice even because I am afraid I might startle her if I speak too loud. She is standing too close to the edge. I move closer, a step at a time. “Ella, you shouldn’t be going so close to the edge.” I keep inching closer to her. But Ella leans out and starts falling. Without thinking, I run towards her and try to grab her.
I don’t understand what happens next because the exact moment I try to take hold of Ella I feel somebody grab me and pull me away from the edge of the building. “What do you think you are doing?” It is the Janitor. “Ella, she jumped and I was trying to save her.” “You were trying to save who? There is nobody else here young woman. Thank God I came around when I did. I don’t know what the story would be by now. Follow me to the principal.” He holds my hand and leads me to the principal. He keeps shaking his head and muttering unintelligible things under his breath.
“Jessy, are you sure about this Ella?” The principal asks for the umpteenth time as he checks and rechecks the school record. He can’t find anybody named Ella. Even the names of some of Ella’s friends that I mentioned are not in the register. I try to speak but I can’t seem to find my voice. Nothing makes sense anymore. So I tell the principal that I need to go to the restroom. When I get there, I splash some water on my face. But when I lift my head I see Ella’s face staring back at me from the restroom mirror. I cover my mouth to stifle the scream in my throat. I back away from the mirror, looking around but Ella isn’t there anymore. I don’t know what is happening anymore. I don’t know if it’s all been in my head, if I am going crazy. I scramble out of the school building and start to run home as fast as my legs can take me.
On my way home, I see a crowd gathered just ahead. I try to cross to the other side of the road and continue on my way but I feel drawn to the crowd, like I’m supposed to be there.. I ask someone what is going on and he points up. I look up and I see a girl standing at the edge of the 6 story building, like she’s about to jump. This scene looks familiar.
“Do you live here sir?” I ask one of the shirtless men standing around. I am wondering why nobody is up there trying to save her.
“Show me how to get up there, please.”
“What?” He says, looking at me like I am crazy. The man is reluctant to take me to her so I lie that the girl is my sister. I act distressed to make my lie a little convincing.
Finally, he takes me to up.
“Hello?” I say to the girl.
“Don’t waste your time trying to stop me. Just go away.” She replies.
“I’m not trying to stop you.” I say.
That gets her attention because she turns to look at me. But she loses her balance in the process. Panicked, I rush to her and grab her. I need help to get her away from the edge but the man who brought me is standing there, staring like an electrocuted cat.
“I need a hand here!” I yell at him. He runs to my aid and together we pull the girl away from the danger spot.
In American movies, someone would have called 911. But this is Nigeria, this girl would have jumped and the only thing people would have done is take pictures and videos. And before you know it, social media would be flooded with news of a young girl who jumped from a building and committed suicide.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“June,” the girl whispers.
“How old are you, June?”
“June, what about your parents?”
“I don’t have parents.”
“Who do you have? We need to get you home.”
Fear springs up in her eyes. “No, please, I don’t want to go home.” She starts to sob.
“Okay, okay. Can you come home with me? My mum is a nurse. You don’t look too good. She’ll be able help you, okay? You are safe with her.”
My mum doesn’t ask any question when I take June home and explain to her what happened. She tells me to get June some clean clothes while she prepares some food for her. June takes a shower, changes into the clothes and I set the food before her. June pounces on the food like a ravenous orphan. When she is done eating, my Mum tells her to have some rest. June doesn’t wake up until several hours later.
“June, can you tell me what happened?” My mum asks when June finally wakes up.
June explains that her mother abandoned them a long time ago and her dad died 2 years ago, leaving her and her younger sister to the care of their father’s sister. But their aunt started maltreating them soon after their dad’s death. She would let them starve and work like slaves, even into the night. After some time, their aunt started complaining that she didn’t have the money to take care of them, that they had to use what they have to put food on the table. So she started bringing different men to the house everyday. These men took advantage of June and her sister. Then the men would pay their aunt when they finished.
“Where is you sister?” My mum asks.
“She died. 6 months ago. After she died, I felt like I’d failed my sister as her protector. I got tired of it all so I just wanted it to end.” Tears are streaming down her face as she speaks.
“What’s your sister’s name?” My mum asks.
“Ella,” June says. She produces a worn out picture from her pocket.
“Ella?” I ask. June nods. I look at the picture and I see it’s the same Ella.
“Oh my God, your sister, she saved your life!” I say. The puzzle starts to fall in place.
“What do you mean?” June asks, sniffing.
I explain to her how I’ve been seeing Ella in my class since exactly the time that June said she died, never realizing that Ella wasn’t really there. I explain how I tried to save Ella from jumping off my school building earlier today. But now I realize Ella was only trying to communicate to me. My eyes are wide with amazement when everything starts to come together.
My mum makes some calls and gets in touch with the necessary people. She tells June that her aunt would be taken care by the authorities, that June is safe from her now.
I still have questions though, but I am glad the most of important part of the puzzle has been solved. But I push these questions to the back of my mind. I’ll probably get the answers later when I get to know June better. But now, all that matters is that through me Ella saved her sister from jumping to her death, giving her another chance at a better life. A chance Ella herself would never have.
Lene Juliana is a Health Education graduate of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State. She is naturally quiet person so writing is a regular hobby to release her emotions. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.