The rain did not prevent her from leaving her house to drop the foodstuff and clothes for the children that depend solely on her. It was her usual practice every last Saturday of the month except November and December. She was always out of the country to spend Christmas with her parents in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was her neighbour for eight years; I knew almost all her routine if not all. The late night light in her room between 9:45 pm and 10:00pm every night which signalled she was ready to study and the use of flash light around 2 am for midnight study. I knew her schedule like the back of my hand. I never saw her study on her bed or well-arranged desk which bore all sorts of hard cover textbooks. It always baffled me how she used to act all jumpy while reading and still aced her results. She graduated with a first class in Law. I was excited for her.
After a long hectic day of celebration, I got home tired and met another party organised by my family. The joy that I finished with the ‘expected first class’ filled my home. The excitement was palpable even though all my siblings, except for the baby of the house who was just 12 years old, graduated with a first class degree.
“It runs in my blood”, my father’s usual line whenever any of us aced any exam. Mother noticed I was too tired for the after-party. She gathered the family, said some prayers and handed me the key to my new car. I was excited but I wanted to just get into my room to watch her…to celebrate her result with her from a distance. I just wanted to see her smile and giggle with her younger sister. I said thank you and prostrated to show my appreciation to my parents after which I rushed upstairs.
She was plugged.’ Not today again…’ I twisted my lips. I wanted to see her jump, throw her books from her study desk and just not act out her usual self. See her celebrate being free from books after years of hard work. I did not move from my window until my brother turned on the light. I did not know when I shouted at him. He looked at me with a hurt what-did-I-do-wrong face. I smiled at him to let go of the hurt. He climbed my bed and said he wanted to sleep in my room.
He was surprised at my sharp and cold response but I let him anyway on the condition that the light was switched off. He slept almost immediately. I assumed my position. She was typing again. I tried to figure out what she could be typing but I let my curiosity slide. A fence separated us. We were two hearts apart. I did not feel so bad not seeing her in her jumpy mood, looking at her and knowing she was okay was enough for me.
The downpour was too heavy and she still did not turn back to her house. I left my balcony, got my car and drove out of my compound before she walked out of the street. She had an umbrella but with the stuff she was carrying, it was difficult for her to walk without stopping to adjust. I decided to make use of the opportunity to talk to her by offering her a ride to wherever it is she wanted to go. Getting anything I want was not a task, same with getting the attention of people but I guess Cecilia was not one of those people. She was the type of lady every good man would want to have. She was the brightest side of life though she barely laughed or smiled. She was beautiful, smart and incomparable. She was the youngest but the most independent of all. Her family could be considered as the silent wealthy ones though I am sure they have their little struggles like every other family.
I continuously honked to get her attention but she ignored me. This lady sure is rigid. Even the rain and chills that came with it did not make her change her mind. I stepped out of the car despite the heavy rain. I had no umbrella with me. I called her by name, but the wind did not let her hear me. I walked up to her, stood in front of her, made to speak and then, nothing. I could not say anything. I was blank. The weather made her look more beautiful. She wore a sleeveless short gown with a black jacket that did not hang well on her shoulder revealing where the sleeve of the gown ended. She was cold. She knew me as her neighbour but we had never been an inch close to each other before. I smiled at her and she smiled back as her eyes brightened up and waited for me to find my tongue. I swallowed, hard.
“Can I drop you off? It’s cold you know.”
Those words came out without any conscious thought. Being so close to her felt like an out-of-body experience. She smiled at me and shook her head. I asked why. She smiled again.
“A friend is on his way to come pick me”, she said.
I did not want to leave so I stayed in the rain with her as she waited for her friend. She asked me to share the umbrella with her but I said no. She had enough items in hand to occupy the space. Deep down, I was really cold. I had never been out in the rain that long but it did not matter. Her presence and frequent ‘thank yous’ made me not think much about how I was going to catch a fever days after. Five minutes later, her friend came. She said her final thank you and I watched them leave.
I was soaked.
I drove the car back into the compound. It was cold. My body got pinched all over with my wet clothes. I rushed in to get into something dry and tried to sleep but I could not. I played the whole scene again in my head and smiled. She was more beautiful than I had thought.
She did not return until 10pm. I was worried. Her friend dropped her. The reflection of the car that passed made me see his face and then it all turned dark. The security light of her house was off but I could see her reflection because of the lights from my house. She banged her gate but no response. Her sister was probably out. Her shadow revealed how she struggled to get the key to her gate. I watched closely. She bent to pick something from the ground. I saw her raise her head up but this time, it was not only her shadow, it turned out to be three. I smiled. Her sister was back and probably with her friend too. I left the balcony and went into my room.
I took my position and waited for hours. Still, no light came from her room. I checked her compound again, it was dark. I turned on my light to check if there was power. It came on. I could not fathom why there was no light in her compound. I slept off till around 2am to the sound of blaring sirens.
She had been murdered.
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Written by Makanjuola Olayinka