A Chance For Love💖
“In a remote area of Pennsylvania, Skylar Neese was stabbed fifty times with a kitchen knife.”
“Hello,” someone said from behind me. I turned to find a girl racing up the stairs to meet me.
“Hello,” I said.
“Congratulations on cracking the mystery,” she said.
“I didn’t solve the mystery,” I said. “Raheem did.”
The girl’s eyes twinkled. “Oh, the hot Arab guy, right? Even though he did all the work himself, at least you were seen with him a number of times. That’s something. I’m sorry for Nengi. But she got what she deserved.”
“I guess.” Turning away, I continued up the stairs. I counted silently, hoping she would take the cue and shut up.
“How was it?” she asked.
I heaved a sigh of relief as I neared my class room. A smile creeping to my face, I waved her goodbye. Vanishing from the meddling girl’s sight, I prayed I wouldn’t have more meddlers ruining my day.
The classroom only had one soul in it. Cynthia. As usual, I’d lingered in the parking lot after our driver dropped us off, just so I could be behind her. She hurled a chocolate bar in her mouth and glared at me with a heavy emotion I prayed would melt someday.
“Well done,” she mock-commended.
“Thank you,” I played along.
“Do you have any idea what you have just done, you idi0t?”
What had I done except enable the serving of justice? “I don’t know. Care to refresh my memory?”
I didn’t expect her to reply. But she did. “They are going to plant CCTVs all over the restroom!”
For a moment I thought she would cry. Her voice sounded like it. Why did they all fear the cameras? As long as they weren’t installed in the stalls, I didn’t see anything to worry about.
“Relax,” I said. “It’s not so bad. The Bloody Miri game just has to end is all.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “I can’t believe you did that. Hand that innocent girl over to the authorities.”
“Last time I checked, attempted murder didn’t count as innocence.”
“Friends fight, you idiot. Friends fight and it’s normal!”
“Lives were at stake,” I said. And the girl had a motive for murder. Although Raheem hadn’t given her a chance to explain it all, I had a feeling this had to do with Henry.
Sauntering to my seat, I settled in it. Time crept like a snail. Other members of the class streaked in, each one too eager to give me a piece of his mind..
“The thunder that will strike you is still doing press up,” a boy said.
“Did Nengi do something to you in the past life?” I heard another ask. “Anyone can see you have something against her.”
“Thanks to you, there will be cameras in the restroom,” a girl said. “Clap for yourself.”
Comments struck me from all angles. And although I tried hard to pay them no heed, success slithered from my grasp. Had we been too rash in analyzing Doreen’s attack?
I would exit the classroom to put an end to these comments, but going outside would expose me to the rest of the school, and I didn’t want that. In a few minutes, the bell would go off for first period. I would survive. Or so I thought.
We had English for first period and if I knew Madam Charity well enough, I knew she would spend close to half of her time discussing about yesterday’s events. Spending my morning in the sickbay didn’t sound too bad an idea.
Grabbing my backpack, I made to get up when I saw Doreen on the threshold. She stared at me with a wounded look in her eyes. With a weak smile, I ushered her in.
A smile graced her face as the advanced to me. “Hi.”
“Hey,” I said. Quiet ensued. And I didn’t want it stretching even further. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” she said, sitting beside me.
Once again, silence stole us over. We just kept gazing at the whiteboard. I knew she had come to express gratitude, but she couldn’t bring herself to start.
I turned to look at her, the dark circles around her eyes catching my attention. “Did you sleep at all?”
“How could I?” she asked. “My best friend is somewhere horrible.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said. “You shouldn’t punish yourself.”
“I know. It’s not my fault. But I can’t help it.” Touching her chest, she went on, “Somewhere in here, I’m half-pleased she was brought to justice. But thinking like this makes me feel like a monster. I’m betraying her, aren’t I?”
“You’re not,” I said. “She committed a crime. You should not feel sorry for someone who tried to kill you. She had a choice and she chose this.”
“But nothing! What if you had died?”
Her chest heaved as she swiped at a lone tear sliding down her cheek. “My best friend wanted me dead. Who can I trust now?”
“Don’t lose faith in humanity,” I said. “There are good people out there, trust me.”
Doreen shook her head with every strength she had, as though shaking off my words. “You don’t understand. She was like a sister to me. We’ve been bestfriends ever since we met in our freshman year.”
I understood. Nengi was to her what Amarachi was to me. Amarachi’s doing this to me would be a nightmare I needed to wake up from.
“You have to move on,” I said. “I know it isn’t easy but you don’t have a choice. Remember that it could have been worse, but you’re alive and well. Think of it this way. You’re free from a friendship with a potential murderer. Henry is free from a relationship with a girl who could commit murder at any point. Prison’s going to do her much good. Perhaps when she’s released sometime in future, she’ll turn a new leaf, be a better person. Who knows, her time behind bars, or wherever she finds herself, could cause her to reevaluate her life and want to be a better person, because trust me, she wouldn’t want to end up there a second time. So cheer up, please, and move on. It’s all for the best.”
Doreen forced a smile. “Easy for you to say this, eh? I guess other than being the school sleuth, you’ve become a counselor. Way to go.”
Indistinct voices filled the classroom, forcing us to acknowledge the full room. Sat with Flora in the seat directly in front of me, Amarachi waited for my discussion with Doreen to be over. Our other seatmate, the unwanted one, had not arrived yet.
“Thank you so much for your help,” Doreen said.
Uncertain of how to respond, I nodded. After a moment or two, I added, “If you need someone to talk to, I’ll be here.”
“Okay.” She rose to her feet and headed out of the classroom. Almost immediately, Amarachi occupied the recently vacated seat. The look on her face said nothing good.
“Girls are pissed off,” she said. “They think the camera’s your idea.”
“It was all Raheem’s idea,” I said. “I wasn’t even okay with it. Still am against it. But Sir Amadi saw nothing wrong with it, so here we are. Why does everyone think they can just say rubbish about me and get away with it? Hell! I’m done being quiet about this.”
Springing to my feet, my voice flared, “I am going to give these people a piece of my mind! They can think what they want afterwards.”
Amarachi pulled me back to my seat with such intensity that forced a gasp out of my mouth.
“What is wrong with you?” she whispered, trying hard not to make us the object of everyone’s attention. But we already had everyone’s attention. “Just calm down, will you?”
My eyes zeroed in on the empty space between Amarachi and I, where Raheem would sit once he arrived. It seemed he had claimed my late coming title for himself. I tried to force my thoughts away from him, but luck sailed away from my grasp.
Now that we’d completed our assignment, would we pretend we’d never been acquaintances for a day or two, put it all behind us and return to being strangers who disliked each other? Or would we become friends?
These thoughts revolved around my head as I rose to my feet, joining the others in saying good morning to Madam Charity as she strode in. Only after we were back in our seats did she let her gaze scan the class. This had become her ritual — scanning the class to spot anything out of place.
Her eyes narrowed and I knew she’d found something. I followed her eyes till my gaze fell on a classmate, John, playing third wheel on a seat other than the one assigned to him.
“Is that your seat?” she asked. She looked over to Steve, John’s lone seatmate.
“Sorry,” John said. Grabbing his sling bag, he left for his seat.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Raheem step into the class. I turned to shoot him a full stare. He caught my eye, but I didn’t look away. My flaming gaze explored every inch of his body, starting from his rockstar hairstyle to his pair of sneakers.
If it were another student having facial hair, dressed in sneakers when the school recommended formal shoes, Madam Charity would flare. But she did nothing, said nothing. Smiling at him, she seemed to admire his elegance. He strode past her and muttered his good morning.
“Good morning,” Madam Charity echoed. “You’re right on time. Class is just about to start.”
I rolled my eyes. Of course she would not say a thing about Raheem’s late coming.
“Did you get a tutor?” she asked.
“Hired one,” Raheem said. “A much better tutor than the brightest student here could ever be.”
If he expected his words to hit home, he would be disappointed by the amusement on my face. But he didn’t turn to find out.
“That settles it then.” Madam Charity watched him move to join a pair of boys on their seat. Raheem waited for them to adjust, but they didn’t.
Madam Charity smiled at him. “Are you forgetting your seat?”
“Of course not,” Raheem said. “I’m just open to new things. Besides, I have a feeling I will be more comfortable here.”
Just to drive home a point, he made a special effort to lock eyes with me for a second too long.
“We have rules here, Raheem,” Madam Charity said. Everyone could see past her facade. We all knew she had forced herself to say those words.
“Are you sure you don’t want to make an exception for me?” Raheem asked.
Had Madam Charity been ten years younger, she would melt before Raheem’s intense gaze. But even now, she did melt—if smiling like an idiot counted.
She sighed. “Rules are rules—”
“Go on,” I said.
Everyone turned to look at me. Inwardly, I sighed. When would they stop being astonished to hear my voice? They had to get used to this. This was the real me. Not the dumb, shy girl I had pretended to be all my life.
“Give him the exception you’re dying to give,” I said. “It’s as plain as day you want to.”
Amarachi and Flora gasped. But I paid them no mind. They probably thought my new found esteem would get me into trouble sometime soon. And I didn’t care. At least not now.
Now that everyone had my attention, including Raheem and Madam Charity who constituted my primary audience, I rose to my feet. Dad had taught me that if engaged in a conversation with an older one who had some level of authority over me, I best be on my feet until told otherwise.
“I don’t know what he is,” I said. “Trump’s heir or what? I don’t get why everyone aches to give him special treatment. He is allowed to drive, and I doubt he is up to legal age. He is allowed to keep facial hair and look like a rockstar, while other guys are all clean shaven. He’s allowed to wear sneakers while we are all confined to formal shoes. Look what happened with John. Poor John. You made him return to his seat. And now, Raheem has done the very same thing and you’re dying to treat him as a special child. What is wrong with everyone around here? Is he the director’s illegitimate child or what?”
Madam Charity’s lips flew apart, but Raheem held out a hand, interrupting her before she even said a word. His eyes burned into mine. They held no resentment, but interest.
“Do you have a problem with me, Miss Brown?” he asked.
“Hah!” I scoffed. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Then you best watch your tongue,” he warned. “Or you’ll get into trouble.”
“Too late,” Madam Charity said. “She got into trouble the moment she spoke.”
“So much for freedom of speech,” I muttered.
“Find yourself in the Principal’s office,” Madam Charity said. “And account for your loose tongue.”
“How about I account for your partiality too?” I asked. “Sounds fair.”
Raheem grinned. “Fair enough.”
Moments passed and Madam Charity said nothing. This had to be her way of waving off her request that I go see Sir Amadi. Winking, Raheem flashed me a wry smile I found contagious. My struggle to swallow my smile proved futile. Seemingly satisfied, Raheem turned around and occupied his new seat, with Eric and Gift as his seatmates.
I settled in my seat and plucked my notebook from my backpack, feigning oblivion of Amarachi staring like I’d grown a horn. I turned the pages till a blank page stared at me. Staring back at it, I awaited English class.
Madam Charity spoke after forever. “The school is divided now. While most are against your meddling around and handing the said student over to the authorities, only a fraction is in support of your actions.”
Although she referred to Raheem and I, she didn’t for once stare in my direction. So much for claiming my right to speak.
“And where do you stand?” Raheem asked. “With or against?”
“I’m a neutral human,” Madam Charity said. “But even at that, I’m impressed by the way you followed up the case.”
“And obviously you’re not easily impressed?” Raheem said.
“This is so wrong!” Cynthia said. “Friends fight! They fight over trivial matters. Why does someone have to be tagged a murderer for fighting with her friend? This makes no sense.”
“It was no trivial matter,” Madam Charity clarified. “Neither was it a friendly fight. It was Nengi’s attempt to keep her secret safe. While in a relationship with Doreen’s brother, I’m sure you all know him, Nengi committed two abortions. And none of those children were his. Sadly, she lost her womb in the second abortion. By accident, Doreen found out. She didn’t let Nengi know she knew her secret. Nengi on the other hand, didn’t let her know she knew she’d found out. She knew Doreen would tell Henry and it would all be over. No one would want their brother tied to such immoral girl, would they? And Nengi didn’t want that to happen. She knew if she didn’t stop Doreen, everyone would know, including her parents. Her parents, being the staunch Catholics they are, would be highly disappointed. And so she didn’t wait to find out their reaction. You know the rest.”
“And so she tried to kill her best friend,” a girl said. “It still makes no sense.”
“If she intended to kill her, how come Doreen still lives?” another asked.
“She chickened out at the last minute,” Madam Charity said. “But she was too scared to call for help. Some of her classmates even testified to seeing her disillusionment and absent mindedness during that period.”
“It’s depraved that anyone would try to kill their best friend,” Rose said.
“Depraved, yes,” Madam Charity said. “But it does happen. Have none of you heard of what happened to Skylar Neese?”
She trained her eyes on Raheem, believing he knew the details. When he didn’t respond, she continued, still searching his eyes. “On the night of July 5, 2012?”
Allowing her gaze hover above everyone, which by divine intervention included me, she hoped someone, anyone knew. But nobody said a word.
Giving up, she told the story, “In a remote area of Pennsylvania, Skylar Neese was stabbed fifty times with a kitchen knife. And guess who did it? Her two best friends! Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy! And what was their motive? They didn’t want to be friends with her anymore! It’s sick how depraved the world gets by the second. These children are psychopaths in the making. I’m just so disturbed our school sheltered one of them for so long a time.”
For a moment, she allowed thoughts overwhelm her, and then she shrugged. Picking her textbook from the desk before her, she said, “Let’s get down to business.”
“About time,” I muttered.
It took forty minutes, the going off of the bell, and the absence of Madam Charity for me to speak again. “I’m not staying for Biology.”
“Oh, you’re off to meet fairy godmother,” Amarachi teased.
“Right,” I said.
“What was that about?” Amarachi asked, her face stern. “You almost got yourself into trouble.”
“But it didn’t happen.”
“It almost did,” Flora’s seatmate, Ibim said.
“Nearly cannot kill a bird, can it?” I asked. Without awaiting a reply, I made for the sickbay.
“You’re early,” Stella said. Sat behind the counter, she emptied spoons of cereal into her mouth. “Give me a moment to finish up.”
She had all the time in the world. Wordlessly, I perched on the bed I’d been using for the past three days. Quiet took dwelling in our midst. The sound of Stella chewing on her food sought to sever the silence, but it held no such strength.
Stepping out of my shoes, I took off my jacket, and rolled my sleeves, baring my skin for what would come. I lay on my side and faced the wall opposite me. In no time, I had Stella beside me, preparing to administer the final drip.
“You won’t even ask if I had breakfast?” I asked.
Stella thought for a moment. “You would not come here on an empty stomach.”
“You forgot to ask,” I said.
Was it just me or did she not look well? I didn’t want to pry, but— “Are you…okay?”
“Yeah.” She smiled to reassure me.
I smiled back, but it lasted a second shorter than her forced smile. “Nice try. Now, seriously, what’s wrong?”
A genuine smile lit up her face as she tightened the tourniquet around my arm. “What now? You know me well enough to tell my lie from truth?”
“If you’re thinking about yesterday and the game…” I started, but she waved off my words with a backward flip of her hand.
“I’m not thinking about that,” she said.
“It’s fine if you won’t talk about it,” I said. “I won’t insist.”
“Not everyone who come into your life is here to stay,” she said. The look on my face said ‘tell me something I don’t already know.’
Stella continued, “While some are here to stay, some are not. They’re only around to teach you a vital lesson. And then they are gone. They don’t necessarily die. They just stop being a part of your life.”
I didn’t like the direction of her words. I didn’t like the rather wistful look on her face. A question revolved around my mind. “Are you leaving me too?”
Although my question almost made no sense because Stella had been serving as the school nurse for more than ten years, I had to ask.
“Are you?” I asked.
“No, dear,” she said. “I walked into your life. There is no way I’m walking out. I’m here to stay. Okay?”
I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t. “But you sound like you’re making plans to leave.”
Stella looked away for a few moments. She seemed to be debating over something. Whatever it was, I hoped she rounded up soon.
Looking back at me, she said, “My job as the school nurse ends today.”
“What?” I gasped. “Why? But you said you’d be the school nurse to save lives.”
Frantically, I searched for a possible cause of her job termination. “Is it because of Bloody Miri? Sir Amadi already agreed to install CCTVs in the restroom. The game will never be played again, I promise. Please, you don’t have to go. Please, stay.”
“It’s not about the game,” she said. “My deal was only to last for twelve years. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I made a promise to do this for Mimi for twelve years, since she wanted to be a nurse. The twelfth year is ended.”
“Do you have to go?”
“I’m getting married, Vicky. I have to travel to the Uk. That’s where the wedding will be.”
My throat tightened at the sound of this. She was getting married. On a normal day, I would be happy for her, and I wanted to be, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of emptiness crawling into my soul. I knew how selfish I sounded, but I could only think of what would become of me. I’d been close to her for barely three days, but getting used to her came naturally, as though she’d been destined to be a part of my life. Knowing her had replaced my misery with joy, my tears with smiles. Knowing her had undone my stepmother’s evil, restoring my place as the daughter of Mr. Brown.
With my fairy godmother leaving for the Uk, I would never see her again, unless she returned sometime in the future. It hurt me, deep inside. The bareness of her departure brought to mind the emptiness I had felt when my father died.
Forcing my mind away from my loss of hope, I asked, “When’s the wedding?”
“In two weeks time,” she said.
“My fairy godmother is getting married and I don’t even get to attend,” I said.
“I’ll send you pictures,” she suggested. “And videos. You won’t even feel like you missed a thing.”
“I don’t have a phone,” I said.
Ignoring my pitiful statement, she said, “Vicky dear, don’t feel like this or I’ll feel bad. I would stay if I could, but I have to go. Next week, someone’s taking over. Elizabeth Monroe from the Uk. She’s a great nurse.”
“Great. You’re going to the Uk, so they send someone from there as a replacement.”
“How cliché, right?” Stella teased. “She’s a great replacement.”
“There is no replacing you,” I said. “I will miss you, fairy godmother.”
She pulled me into a hug. “And I will miss you also, my Cinderella.”
“This is our goodbye?”
“There is no goodbye,” she said.
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