I shove people aside with my elbows like one possessed till I’m beside her limp body. I crouch to feel her pulse. She’s not dead.
Everyone looks at me puzzled. I scream at Bilikis to carry her two legs while I lift her by her arms. Two other people take a cue and join us as we haul her out of the hostel. We head straight for the sick bay, the crowd follows us with questioning stares and muffled whispers. I’m really too pissed to care.
‘How can people be so daft? They saw that she had passed out, yet they just stood there and watched her. What do people use to reason these days? Their butts?’ My soliloquy is a little too loud as we sit outside the sickbay after dropping Charity inside with the nurse.
‘I wonder what happened to her. I just hope she’s going to be okay.’ One of the girls who helped in carrying her says. I recognize her as an SS2 girl, but I can’t even think of respect at this point. I’ve given too much respect to last a lifetime.
‘Of course, you do.’ I snap, rolling my eyes.
She seems taken aback and opens her mouth to say something, but decides against it. Minutes later, the nurse comes out to see us.
‘What happened to her?’
Everyone but me begins to talk at once.
‘One after the other, please.’ The middle-aged nurse says. Her voice is lazy, as though she has just been awoken from a good sleep and is now keeping a grudge.
The last girl, also in SS2 starts saying something about how she returned from the dining hall and heard a loud scream from the box room of Room 6. She had peeped through the connecting door in Room 5, and had found a J-girl shouting ‘Jesus! Jesus!’
My mind is doing a playback to the moments before I parted with Charity this morning. I remember her carrying water to the toilet when I approached her about the favor I needed her to help me with. I recall how she whispered when she said she saw Sinemile cutting herself on the face, and Sinemile was still asleep at the time. I recall also, that she walked away swiftly after promising to see me at break time. That was the last time I saw her.
What could have happened between then and now? Why didn’t she come to class?
‘So I told them to wait for the house captain to come because we didn’t know what to do, but when she came, the crowd was too loud and will not listen to her.’ Senior SS2 continues.
‘You should have brought her here immediately.’ The nurse says with a frown on her forehead. ‘Now we don’t know when she’s going to wake up.’
‘What is wrong with her ma?’ I ask, still shaken.
‘We don’t know yet.’
‘How won’t you…’ At this point, my veins are straining, my teeth are clenching and my blood is boiling. Bilikis signals to me to keep quiet.
‘So what happens now?’ Bilikis speaks this time.
‘We will take her to the state hospital.’
‘Better!’ I quip, turn around and start walking away, very aware of the eyes staring at my back.
I slap a twig sticking out from a plant on my way, it falls to the ground. I think I might be developing anger issues.
Writing of statements is the order this morning. All occupants of Rooms 5 and 6 have been asked to give reports as to what they saw before and after they returned from class. Last night, I refused to sleep in Room 6. I refused to fetch Sinemile’s bathing water. I refused to talk to anyone, except that one time when Tanya asked if Charity was dead and I said no. I slept on the corridor.
Sinemile’s act is starting to fall apart. She keeps barking this morning, calling me names for not getting her water and washing her clothes in the laundry basket. I manage to stay far away from her till the house mistress comes for our statement. I hurry to class afterwards, after managing to ‘rub-and-shine’ with two bowls of water.
During break, we meet at the SBHM’s office once again. Sinemile is already there, with her head bowed to conceal a scowl. The atmosphere of the office is palpably heated. SBHM grunts in response to our greeting, and manages a ‘Bawo ni’ to Bilikis’.
‘Emily has come clean.’ She announces. I cannot believe my ears. My friends and I exchange perplexed glances.
‘She said she got the wound on her face from a fall.’
‘It’s a big lie ma.’ I cannot stomach it anymore. I don’t know where I get the courage, perhaps it’s from the latent anger I have stored inside me all this time or from the mosquito bites that tattoo my body from last night’s sleep, but as soon as I begin to speak up, I cannot stop myself.
‘She is a bloody liar. And maybe a murdered too.’
‘Ma, I’m sure you heard about Charity. We were supposed to come together yesterday to your office, but when we went to her class to look for her, we were told she hadn’t even come to class at all. We didn’t understand, and for a moment I thought she was a traitor, because, you see ma, Charity saw Sinemile inflicting that wound on her face that evening. She saw the blade she used, and she was ready to come and testify in my defense…’
Sinemile is staring at me agape, I’m tempted to toss a fly into her open mouth. At this point, all eyes are on me with undivided attention.
‘When I got to the hostel and found Charity unconscious, I began to put two and two together. What was Charity trying to hide when she had offered her testimony on her own accord? There was no way she was going to back out unless someone had made her do it, and who else would have anything at stake other than this idiot here…?
‘Shut up!!’ Sinemile bellows, probably finding it unbelievable that I’d call her that.
‘No. You shut up!’ I retort. ‘What were you doing during break that made you lose track of time?’
‘Ebube, are you ma…?!’
‘Just answer the damn question!’ I am shouting too at this point.
‘Keep quiet both of you!’ a masculine voice overpowers mine and restores graveyard-like quietness to the room. ‘Where do you think you are? Your hostel? Or a market place?’
Bilikis and Tanya stare on at me in horror. Who would have thought Ebube Alisiobi could be this fiery?
For a few seconds, no one says a thing. SBHM seems to be weighing my words in her mind and I catch Sinemile’s palms twitching in a familiar manner. I dare her in my mind to lay one dirty finger on me.
‘Ok. I have heard you, even though I don’t get what you are insinuating. But I’ll give Emily a chance to redeem herself.’ SBHM finally says, breaking the silence. ‘Emily, where were you during break yesterday?’
‘Haaa! Ma! You believe…’
‘Answer me Akano!’
‘In class ma. I was in class.’ she feigns a teary voice.
Knock it off, bitch!
‘Do you have any witnesses?’
‘Are you deaf?’
‘N..no ma.’ She stammers. Her palms are vibrating vigorously now, but it is only I that notices.
‘So answer my question, will you?’
In a space of seconds, I suddenly feel light-headed as something like a thunder slap descends on my head. I lose my balance and fall to the ground. Movements in the room are rapid and fuzzy, and I can see silhouettes running towards me as I slip into unconsciousness.