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Red Teddy by Victor Oladejo

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1.

Mary curled up like a millipede setting up a defense against a predator on the bed. Her eyes were red and heavy with tears and her heart was pounding heavily against the thin flesh that covered it, threatening to pop out if she continued to wail.

Her friend, Modupe was seated on a stool close by, her face was drained of life too. She had tried to console Mary, but it was impossible to bring her out of the grief that consumed her. All she could do now was punctuate every surge of wail with “ Pele”, “ Small small dear”, “ it’s okay”.

They received the news of Dele’s death earlier today. Mary was cooking their breakfast in the kitchen, and her music turned high as usual, filling the room and making the whole house vibrate. She had left her phone with Modupe who was playing Candy Crush on it. When the phone began to beep, she paused the game and went to the kitchen to give Mary the phone. After a while, Mary started screaming and she had not stopped since then. Modupe later got a call from Lawrence who told her the bad news.

Mary stood from the bed and rushed out of the room. Modupe followed her. Mary could be up to some crazy ideas, she was unpredictable now. Dele was her childhood friend for christ’s sake, his death had overturned things in her head. Grief could make you mad!

Mary rushed down the hallway to the Bathroom and slammed the door. When Modupe got to the door it was locked. Behind the locked door was the fragile girl leaning over the bathroom zinc, vomiting. Her eyes, a blurry screen, were darting about, magnifying things as they went in that endless circle.

2.

I couldn’t believe the news when my mother told me over the phone this morning. I was writing the last part of an email when the phone icon popped on the left side of my phone’s screen. I pressed it quickly and regretted it the second after.

“ Dele is dead ooo, mama Dele is at our house o, joor mabo nile”

I collapsed against the table, the upper part of my body went limp and my leg treacherously became heavy, dragging me down as though someone was pulling me by my heels. This state was not strange to me, this was my body trying to react to the news. It happened for the first time when I received the news of my uncle’s death three years ago while driving and I had struggled to pack my car by the roadside and allow my body to return to its normal form.

I wheeled on my buttocks to the only cabinet in the office and pushed my back against it. Now, a skull-splitting pain started to form at the back of my head. By luck, my secretary came in with a file she wanted to submit and it was she who helped me back to my chair and began to fan me till I could call Mary.

3.

Mary was propped against a pillow in her bedroom after they returned the next day after Dele’s Burial according to Islamic rites. Her hair was scattered from constant scratching and pulling and an eerie silence enveloped her. Lawrence, Andrew, and Modupe were in the living room, they were silent too, and still like statues. It seemed that every one of them was in their minds, pondering over Dele’s demise.

When someone close to you died, you mourned them because they are dead. Gone. But when they died a horrific death, you mourned their loss and an alien pain arising from pity settled on you as an additional burden. That was Mary’s state now, and her head was clogged with thoughts.

The scene of Dele’s death, like a video on replay, kept flashing through her mind: Dele on his bed with a hole in his chest and a knife stuck in it, Dele’s face still and cold as though he were in a hangover induced sleep and a stupid fly clinging to the eyelid of his left eye.

She regretted saving the pictures Lawrence sent to her Whatsapp, she would have to deal with it for the next few days before it would fade away.

4.

When the police searched Dele’s room, they couldn’t find any trace of the killer, it was a smooth job. But they found something, a Teddy. It was nothing, believe me, it could be one of Dele’s girlfriends who dropped it there. But the police insisted that I ask around.

Telling Mary about Teddy now would be quite insensitive and would pique an unnecessary curiosity which would further hurt her.

Dele, Andrew, and I met at the University. We were studying the same course and we happened to be from the same town. It was a week before our graduation when Mary, who shared facetime with Dele every week, visited for Dele’s Graduation.

It was pure Bliss after we met that day.

5.

Mary was sleeping when Modupe arrived from the market. It was three weeks already and they decided to have a good meal for a change after endless watery meals Mary fed them.

She opened her eyes when her friend shook her, jarring her from sleep.

“ How you dey?”, She asked and set the nylon she was holding on the ground.

“ Fine, you are back already?”

“ Yes,” Modupe replied and walked to her section of their wardrobe and dropped an item in it.

“ So what are we cooking?” Mary said and rubbed her eyes.

“ Okro soup and eba”, Modupe replied and held her friend in her gaze, her lips pulled taut in a wild wan.

“Ha, that one na bad combo, I won’t eat that one with you o” Mary replied and feigned irritation.

Modupe stood still trying to maintain a straight face, then she let out her infectious laughter and Mary couldn’t help but join in. They were still laughing when they heard a Knock on the door.

Mary ran to the door and opened it.

It was Andrew and her fiance: Lawrence.

6.

Andrew was cold when he saw Modupe. His face was still for a while, then his gaze was fixed on the ground as though he were trying to hide his face. Believe me, I felt this way too nine months ago when I met Modupe at Mary’s. I had the feeling that I had met her somewhere. What was strange was the cloud of fear that settled on me and the strange chill that surged through me.

Mary told me they were friends and she was at her place on holiday. So I had to dismiss the idea. And you see, Modupe is a nice person and we got along quickly.

I knew I needed to do something before Andrew ruined the day, so I clapped and laughed like a fool.

“ Shy shy Bobo, dey pretend holy holy, you don see fine girl”

Everyone laughed and the strange air hanging in the room folded and settled on Andrews’s face for the rest of our stay at Mary’s. I could read his mood from the unnecessary laughter to Mary’s boring jokes and his toes tapping the tiles.

I asked him why he acted the way he did at Mary’s house and he said something that scared me :

“ I have met her somewhere, but I can’t remember. ”

The drive home was quiet. No jokes, no gist, just silence.

7.

Modupe was trying on a red gown and Mary was seated beside her, folding the cloth she had tried on earlier. They were preparing for Andrew’s birthday which would be held the next day.

“ I like this gown, but it’s too big”, Modupe said and turned to her side, her head over her shoulder and her eyes staring at the mirror trying to see if the cloth looked good on her.

“ That cloth is good na, just pull it up a bit, it’s kind of folded at the elm at the back. There, there”

“ Where? where? ”

“ By the elm, tip, tip! Olodo!”

Modupe cackled and pulled at the helm and a section of the dress which was folded, rolled down from behind the dress.

“ So what are you buying for Andrew as a gift?” Mary asked.

“ Anything joor. When we get home, I will try and look things up on Jumia. Come and help pull the zip”

8.

They arrived when the Dj and his crew were arranging their instruments in the hall. Mary was wearing a blue gown and Modupe had a red gown on.

Honestly, Modupe killed that dress and Andrew couldn’t help but stare when he came into the hall to greet them.

The party started almost immediately, everyone was having fun, then Mary left the hall to ease herself.

Then minutes later the sound came. It was loud and animal-like. I turned my head to see who it was.

Sade the celebrant’s sister was screaming, red wine had somehow spilt on her dress. I ran to her and tried to get her together. Now most of the guests, panic-stricken, had formed a half circle around us. I touched the screaming Sade’s dress again. The red wine was sticky, I brought my fingers to my nose.

It was blood.

9.

Mary’s eyes were heavy with tears, and her lips were trembling. Her dress was wet with water and torn by the shoulder. Modupe was crying silently, her fingers locked.

Mary’s heart was pounding faster. She leaned her head on Modupe’s shoulder and tried to replay the horrific scene at the birthday but she couldn’t, her mind couldn’t form the image.

Her phone beeped and she took it, her palm trembling. The call was from Lawrence. She was about to pick it up when it stopped ringing. She dialled his number again but he didn’t pick it.

10.

My head was filled with voices, the screams at the party had somehow become an earworm.

The doctor had pronounced Andrew dead and my world was crumbling piece by piece as the minutes went by.

I couldn’t help but return to Andrew’s bedroom where his lifeless body lay on the bed and a knife was in a gash dripping with blood in his neck. Dele was murdered with a knife too.

Then it dawned on me that I had lost two friends in the space of three months.

And…

Mary lost Dele and now one of his best friends was gone. Why was Mary related to all the scenes? She left three hours before Dele’s death. Andrew died minutes after she went to the toilet to ease herself.

My Love for her was the reason I couldn’t notice the signs. Perhaps she had always been dramatic after those events so nobody would suspect her?

And to crown it all, we found a red teddy at his place as we did at Dele’s house.

I dialled her number, then on second thought I switched off the phone.

11.

( Two weeks later)

It was the 14th of February, Valentine. Mary was arranging the package she would present to Lawrence. Modupe was in the parlour watching a show on Dstv.

Lawrence told her that the party would be grand and her mind was filled with colourful pictures of what it would be like.

She was trying to knot the red ribbon over the package when Modupe screamed. Mary dropped the package and ran to the alley. A hulk of a man blocked her way.

And with the speed of lightning, he sent a blow that connected with her jaw and she was enveloped with darkness instantly.

12.

When I got the news of Mary’s death and Modupe’s abduction, I knew I wasn’t safe anymore.

I was the next.

I was sure of something, the person who was behind all the killings was the same. Oh, the teddy?

We found it at her place too. As for the scene? I couldn’t bring myself to remember it anytime I tried. It was a harbinger of tears and pain.

My life had crumbled completely. I was alone in my grief. And worse still, I was accused of abducting Modupe.

It was only a cold evening, weeks after Mary’s death when I received the greatest shock of my life.

Modupe reached me through a Whatsapp video call. At first, it was pitch black and I waited for the screen to get lit up on the other side. While I waited, my head was filled with thoughts: why would the kidnappers reach me via video call? Did they hurt her and wanted to show me proof?

“Hello Lawrance! ”, Modupe said from the other side, a faint wan was on her face.

“ Modupe!”

“ Hey, don’t scream like that. Am not a ghost. ”

“ How? how did you do it?You were abducted!”

Modupe shook her head and laughed.

“ Abducted? When did that happen?”

Modupe cackled and pulled at her hair.

I pinched myself just to be sure I was awake.

“ Oh, so you didn’t suspect a thing despite the signs? The teddies? Ok let me refresh your memory”

Modupe pushed a picture against the screen. In the picture three men: Dele, Andrew and I were having what looked like an orgy with a lady. “

Then it dawned on me, Modupe was the lady we raped five years ago on the eve of our matriculation. She was the prostitute we brought to our room. We had promised to be gentle but we had other motives. Our wild fantasies drove us to the extreme.

We took her body to a dump site after the evil deed was done and dropped her body close to the road with her things: A wallet and a small teddy with a key holder fastened to it. Nobody knew she would survive.

“ So why did you kill Mary, at least she is innocent”

“ Mary, awwn, poor girl. I wanted to kill the three of you and disappear, but on

second thought I decided to spare you and kill everyone you loved instead “.

The WhatsApp video ended and the last piece of my life crumbled with it.

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