“ Please just help me balance everything” Miriam begged. Ifeoma shrugged and punched few keys on the keyboard.
“ Miriam, this is not the second time, it’s not the third, and am certain this is not the last time we are doing this. If Oga…”
“ Just for three hours, just three ooo, lfy babe, just three” she pleaded.
“ If Oga comes back, what do you want me to say. the last time you went, we both got queries. And you know how rare this job is. An..and by the way, what is this important thing you are going out for?” she said, with her lips in a funny angle.
Miriam frowned at this. Though she had done this in the past. Ify
Was crossing her line. Being work pals doesn’t mean everyone should know your business. she wanted to tell lfy that it was no business of hers, but she kept quiet.
“ l just want to see someone,” Miriam said calmly. Fighting with lfy won’t solve anything and moreover who would take her desk work willingly for three hours if not Ifeoma?
“ Thank you , Aunty lfy, don’t worry my brother will marry you”
Ifeoma laughed and continued with her work. She knew lfy would do the job, but she was also careful that she won’t become a topic of gossip in the firm.
She packed her things from the desk into her handbag and walked to the toilet. She turned the tap on and splashed water on her face. She opened her bag and took her handkerchief which she used to wipe her face clean. Her phone beeped again. Ralph won’t even allow me to makeup, she said to herself. She dropped the handkerchief on the flat board and reached for her phone in the bag. Her makeup stuffs knocked against other things she kept in the bag as she searched for the device.
The phone beeped again and the device’s torch flashed. She picked the phone out of the dark bag. It was a message from Ralph.
?????? ??? ??? ??????? ?? ??? ??????, ℎ??? ???? ????????.
She smiled. Ralph and his surprises, the last one he did was the iPhone he bought for her. Miriam wondered what he had in store this time.
She decided not to make up again. She dropped the phone into the bag and hurried out of the toilet.
“ Bye, lfy” she said and walked quickly to the exit.
“ Oh, you’ve not left,” lfeoma said.
When she got out of the firm’s gate, she took a cab to Raphael’s house.
* * *
Raphael dropped the camera carefully on the wooden shoe rack, which was an arm’s length to the bed. He clicked record and the small globe on the top of the kodak camera turned green. He walked to the bed and sat on it. He waved his hand in the air, duffed, and grinned like a mad man. Satisfied, he stood and picked the camera. He pressed play and watched the scene he just acted. The video was clear. He nodded and pressed record.
His heart was beating faster and his skin was hot. He was scared of what he was about to do and his conscience, like a little god was judging his intentions. He stroked his full beard and breathed inward.
The cab driver was playing Kenny Roger’s song — the gambler when she boarded the cab. She sang along for a while before her mind drifted to her relationship with Ralph. They had started as friends which she vowed would remain as such, but it turned out that she had to bend her standards. She knew it would come to this. A relationship without seeking God’s consent is bad, the one done secretly is worse.
The cab jolted and made a fast bend to the left side of the road. The car screeched, its sound piercing her ear. The driver said something she didn’t hear, but she guessed it was about bad roads. The cab stopped few metres to a bungalow with a guava tree at the front.
Miriam paid the cab driver and walked across the asphalt road to Ralphs’s bungalow. She knocked.
“ Am coming!”
He opened the door and smiled.
“ Oh, l thought you won’t come again,” Ralph said, feigning dejection.
“ You know l won’t do that. So what is the surprise” she said.
“ Okay. hmm, wait. Wh… Why don’t you come in and have a drink before l show…”
“ Ralph, you know we don’t do indoors. Our spot under that tree is good. “
“ l know…w… It’s sunny and l think inside would be fine. “
Miriam shrugged and walked in slowly.
“ Show me the surprise now, abi. this suspense is too much. I can’t wait. Is it the job?”
Ralph giggled and closed the door.
“ Don’t spoil it” he said. “Let me close your eyes and lead you to it.”
“ You and this your play- play, Oga l no get time, l have just three hours o”
“ Okay,” He said and smiled. He walked to her back and covered her eyes with his palm. He gazed at the door of his room at the other end of the passage. It was opened. He smiled and cleared his throat.
“ We are going straight,” he said.” one step “ she took a step.
“ straight abi?”
“ Yes straight”
When they got to his room. he took his hands away.
“ Your room?” she said and stared at him quizzically. Suspicion crept into her mind and her heart began to beat faster. “ where is it?” she asked.
He frowned, licked his lips, and grabbed her. He tore her blouse into shreds and pushed her to the bed…
Phillips dialed lfeoma’s number. She was the last person on his mind after he had called a couple of Miriam’s friends. No one had seen her.
The phone rang for some minutes before the receiver picked the call.
“ Hello, is this lfy?” He said.
“Please who am l speaking to? this is a private number, you can take the firm’s customer line. The number is…”
“ Am not a customer, am Miriam’s brother “
“ Oh, brother Phillip. I didn’t save your name when l took the number. How can l help you, sir?”
“ ls Miriam still in the office ?”
“ Er..no sir, we are closed for the day. Am at home. Miriam left work to see someone four hours ago.”
“ Aha, thank you. “
He cut the call and ran to the garage for his Car.
Phillip drove out of the compound into the dirt road. He came out of the car with his keys and locked the gate. He went back to the car and found his phone ringing. He checked the caller’s name, it was Miriam.
His heart lurched.
“ Hello brother,” the voice said at the other end. The voice was dry.
“ Anything wrong, l have been calling you for…r…r almost fifteen times, where did you put your phone?”.
“Brother come and pick me up at Ayedatewa street. “
“ wherein Ayedatewa ?”
There was no response. What is wrong with Miriam? He closed the car’s door and sped to Ayedatiwa street.
* * *
Miriam poured the ice cracks and cubes into a transparent nylon. She closed the fridge and held the nylon to her swollen face and fidgeted.
The scared spot on the swollen face was burning, the ice made it intense. She didn’t want to use it, but her brother insisted.
She walked slowly to the bathroom room taking steps slowly like a toddler taking his first steps. The soreness at the meeting of her hips made her walking difficult. She opened the door and went inside. She pulled off her clothes and looked at her reflection in the mirror.
She looked like a mask carved by a sad sculptor. Her eyes were red.
There were scratches on her face and shoulder. Her eyebrow was swollen as if she was stung by a wasp.
Tears dripped down from her eyes. She cleaned it and stepped into the shower to wash the sticky sweat from her skin and tend to her hurting body.
Phillip poured himself a mug of ????. He took birdly sips and dropped the mug on the table. He was burning with anger and he tried to focus his mind on how his sister would get out of the ditch. Getting the digger would come later. All he had to do now, was to comfort the girl. Since they had flushed the unwanted seeds from her, the fear of pregnancy was out of it.
He sighed and scratched his head.
Why did she keep it to herself? Phillip wondered. Why leave it a secret?
He stood from the chair and went to Miriam’s room. When he got to the room, he met her sobbing. He walked to the bed, sat beside her, and made her nestle her head on his chest.
“ Sorry, don’t cry again. It would soon be over. By the grace of God, we would nail him.”
“ Am sca..r…ed brother. He recorded it, he said he would upload it to the Internet if we press charges”
Phillip’s heart lurched. The monster was a step ahead of them. He had heard wild stories about rapist taking video records of the act and take it as a threat against their victims. He never believed such stories, now he did.
“ But how did it happen? Why didn’t you tell me about him” He asked.
“ l sorry brother, am sorry “ she said admits sobs. After a while she drifted into a sleep full of ugly memories “.
After a couple of weeks, the incident still filled the house like an heavy mist. Miriam didn’t resume at her office. She sent a message to her boss, stating that she was sick and under treatment.
Phillip was torn between saving her sister’s image and sending the fool to jail. He had been gathering information on the man. He wanted to contact the police, but at a second thought, he didn’t. The monster might carry out his threat and boom, his sister would be everywhere on the internet.
Philip knew the fool won’t transfer the video to his phone, it would be easy to hack the phone. The only open route to the video was Ralph himself. His undercover had briefed him on Ralph’s schedule. He was always occupied throughout the week. He was free only on Saturdays. The undercover also told him, Ralph had a girl with him.
On a cool afternoon, when the sun was not too intense and the breeze was like a gentle caress on the skin, Miriam was reading Danielle steel’s novel, Malice, when she received a message from Ralph.
???? ????????. ? ?? ??? ??? ??? ????? ??? ?? ??. ? ?ℎ??? ??? ????? ℎ????? ??? ??? ?????? ?? ????????. ?ℎ?? ????? ??? ???? ??? ????. ? ???? ?????.
Miriam sighed. After all, he did to me. She dialed her brother’s number and informed him. Phillip advised she should not reply to the message till he tells her to do so.
Phillip wasn’t surprise at Ralph’s threat, the emotion that took his mind was nothing but Rage. A fiery Rage. He had plans of taking the man slowly, but being careful won’t help matters. He closed his laptop and made a quick call to Janet, Ralph’s new girlfriend. He had paid her to help him with the video after many promises of security and fortune.
After he had called, he drove to Ralph’s Bungalow.
He parked close to the guava tree and loaded his pistol. Janet told him she left him sleeping when she left, few minutes to the call.
Hope he’s not awake now, Phillip thought as he pulled the knob of the door of the house.
Phillip tiptoed through the hallway to the room at the end. He could hear someone snoring heavily. He aimed and walked into the room. He saw dripping with beads of sweat, he kicked him and Ralph jarred from his sleep. He glared at the man with the pistol. His heart was racing.
“ Ralph, Ralph,” He said and grinned.
“ Who are you? Please don’t shoot”
“ That’s if you cooperate. I have no intention of killing you, don’t make me” he swallowed hard. “ where is the video recorder?”
“ Oh, She sent you. Are yo…u… her bro…”
“ Where is it!” He shouted and came closer with the muzzle of the pistol on his forehead.
“ lt’s in the wardrobe”
“ Get it for me”
“ Okay…please take the pistol away,” Ralph said. Philip stood aside, for Ralph to pass. He followed each of his steps with the pistol aimed at him.
Ralph walked slowly to the white wardrobe and pulled out some clothes. He dug inside into a pile and reached for the carton where he kept the kodak recorder.
“ Here, take” He gave the carton to Phillip. Almost immediately, Ralph dug his hand into the pile of cloth and pulled out a pistol.
Phillip saw the pistol by the tail of his eye and dived to the left,rolled to a safe position, aimed, and fired. The bullets penetrated Ralph’s left arm and his rib region. He fell backwards on his bed.
Phillip stood up and walked to the bed. He checked Ralph’s pulse. He was still alive. He called an ambulance and the police.
Phillip knew his path was dark and he was sure that after some investigations, the case would be cleared and he would be vindicated. And Miriam? She would heal and maybe, just maybe, the darkest place of her heart would be forgotten.
Oladejo Victor Olayemi is a budding artist and a secondary school
graduate. He lives in Ore, Odigbo, Ondo state and wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org