Let me tell the story from the beginning.
I was finally home, I thought to myself as I opened the door. I lived alone in a duplex on the island. I had bought it 4 years ago when I was 26 for 53 million Naira. I’m a journalist, and once or never in our careers, we hit the juicy story. That exclusive every other media house would pay to get footage off. That story that just sets you for life. Few journalists ever get this break, well, I did.
In this country, few pieces of information are that valuable. We’ve had a sitting senator in a threesome scandal, and another with a 13-year-old bride. We’ve had a sitting governor allegedly receiving bribe on tape, and yet another politician pictured stark naked in the middle of a voodoo ritual.
All these people never resigned, all these people served their terms full and even sought reelection. Yes, nothing is really groundbreaking. Except, of course, juice on a religious leader. Yes, that was my ticket to stardom.
I had managed to stalk out a general overseer of a popular ministry and captured several moments of his life. Moments in the arms of a cheap escort, and pictures of questionable occultic material in his possession. To stir up a storm, our media house had written to notify him that we would publish in the next 3 days. All we needed was an official statement.
A cheque of 1 million dollars had come the day after as a “donation” to our effective journalism. It didn’t carry the overseer’s name, but we knew it was from him.
We wrote him back to tell him we weren’t blackmailing him, we just wanted his official statement as a courtesy before we published. Our first letter was on Monday, the second was on Thursday. By Friday, there was a forceful takeover of our media house. This overseer had bought it. He sent a legal representative who then told us to share the 1 million dollars between those who knew the story and kill it. That was for our troubles. Contracts of nondisclosure went round the company even for those who knew nothing of the editorial.
My bosses signed and took the pay. They distributed it fairly, and I got a large chunk of 87 million Naira. I won’t say I was forced. I won’t say I was righteous, but I knew for certain that without the backing of my agency, I was as good as dead if the story hit the news. So I took the money and continued with my life. Investment here, property there, I was living the life.
With great fortune comes great heartache, so I was never really lucky with men. My boyfriend then left me when I couldn’t explain why my agency had given me so much money. Most that liked me were extremely intimidated by what I had now and just wouldn’t stay. Others were a determined breed of gold diggers. My wealth became my curse and most nights I would come home alone and lonely.
Tonight wasn’t different as I reached for the top kitchen cabinet and pulled out a vodka. “Premium stuff”, I said to myself as I smiled. I unzipped my skirt and stepped out of them while I took a sip. I unbuckled my watch and unbuttoned my shirt. I was now standing in tights and my shirt when I walked over to the guest toilet to wash my face.
Today, like some days, I just wasn’t ready to climb the stairs to the master bedroom. I reached the toilet sink, took my shirt off so I could properly wash my face. It was a Friday, I had Saturday morning to pick up my clothes, so I wasn’t going to bother about littering tonight. As I scrubbed my face with soap I heard two gunshots. I stopped and turned off the tap. It didn’t sound too far, and neither was it too close either. It sounded like it came from the estate gate.
“It is probably the policemen at the gate asserting their presence”, I thought. Some nights, they have a weird way to scare off criminals by shooting in the air. The estate managers had warned them to desist from the act, but maybe, today they just wanted to be unruly.
I shrugged it off, turned the tap back on and finished with my face. As I patted it dry I walked to the kitchen to pour myself another glass. I was now in my favourite spandex and cups. I rolled the content of the glass just thinking about nothing in particular. I just needed my mind to drift.
I was already feeling tipsy and I knew the second glass would switch me right off. I raised the glass to my lips and in that instant, I heard an explosive crashing sound right through my house wall. My glass had fallen out of my hands in shock and I was now sober. I walk out of the kitchen to see a car that had driven right through my house. It had pushed the furniture out of the way and I could see a young lady at the driver’s side struggling to get out.
The cushion was pinning her door shut against the wall. A few seconds and I jump out of my own shock and instinctively run over to help her trying to pull the chair out of the way. The chair was lodged tight and the door won’t budge. I ran back into the kitchen and grabbed a knife and a pan. I jumped on the couch and motioned for the lady to cover her eyes. Once she did, I smashed the window with the pan and cut her seatbelt.
The block of the wall had fallen on the car, and I had to gently pull her out since I didn’t know if she was hurt or not even though she seemed fine but shaken up. Where I’m from, we dangerously try to help accident victims before we call emergency services as we dont know how long they’d take to get there. She kept crying and pleading for me to help her. I used my frying pan to smoothen the edges of the window removing any remaining pieces of glass and tried to help her climb out.
I noticed her foot was stuck underneath the steering wheel which had caved under the weight of the wall she came through. I gently tugged on the steering wheel until I heard the gunshot and the clink of the bullet as it ricochetted off the side of the car barely missing me. We both screamed as I scampered away from the car. The second shot had flown past me hitting the wall behind. Three more followed as I ran for safety. I was so engrossed in getting the lady out that I didn’t notice the car pull up outside my home. My house was one of the few modern houses without a fence. All that could stand between you and an intruder was the door which now lay beside me, thrown over by the impact of the car. I heard a loud scream and a thud. It seemed the lady in the car had been able to pry herself free from the car and had fallen out. She was surely going to be shot if I didn’t do anything. I saw the figure of a man climbing over the car. The lady was crawling on the floor trying to get away, but this man was more interested in me now. I was a loose end he had to tie up, I slowly climbed to the top of the stairs as he walked towards the kitchen.
At the top of the stairs is the electric mains. As weird as I was, I liked my house dark and had gotten so used to it that I know exactly where everything is in the darkness. I reached it just before he turned to look up and pulled the lever down, shutting off all lights. He fired two shots at me but I had gone on the floor immediately the lights went off. I hurried quickly to the second staircase at the other side of the house as I heard him run up the stairs. I ran down opening the garage door gently and running outside.
I had a choice here, to run out to the road and save myself or go back and prevent the young lady from dying. I had a split second to make up my mind.
The journalist in me wanted to find out what she knows or what she had done that was worth her life, and the human in me couldn’t stand to leave her there to die. I turned to face the house and ran back in through the hole in the wall jumping on the top of the car. I could hear the assailant’s footsteps upstairs as his heels hitting the tiles echoed through the house.
Our neighbours must have heard the gunshots, someone should have called the police by now. I scurried along the car, using it as cover. I had always been a daredevil, which was what brought me into journalism, but I had never thought I was going to get to the point where I gambled my life for someone else’s.
I paused to listen to the sound of the heels, but everywhere was quiet. Except for the anxious breathing very close to me. I didn’t know exactly where she was so I whispered, “Hello, my name is Jenny, and I can help you. I have a better place to hide till help comes. Please follow my voice and come to me we don’t have much…”
I suddenly felt a hand on my ankle and tried as much as possible not to scream. The mysterious lady had crawled under the car. I reached for her and helped her out. Her calf seemed to be badly wounded and she couldn’t stand without support. I could feel the terror in her veins as she gripped me tightly. She couldn’t climb the car out of the house how I came, so we had to go round. The only other door out of here was through the second staircase behind the house.
I was getting nervous as I had not heard the sound of our pursuer’s footsteps in a while. Had he left the house? Had he come back down? Did he find the second staircase out of the house?
“What’s your name?”, I asked the strange lady.
“Rita”, she replied.
So I instructed Rita “Put your arms around my shoulders and walk slowly with me”.
She complied and we began to walk towards the stairs. My eyes caught my fry pan which had become my makeshift swiss knife, an all-purpose weapon. I stretched to grab it while still holding on to Rita. We slowly climbed the stairs getting to the top.
My house was owned by a politician some years ago till he had built something bigger and decided to sell this one. Odd as it was, it had a panic room inside the master’s bedroom. I had laughed at the realtor when he told me ’bout it, and how useful it was.
Well, today, my life depended on it.
We reached the top of the stairs and I pull the electricity lever back on. There stood the assailant face to face with us. He had pulled off his shoes to reduce the noise he made when he walked and had obviously heard us coming up the stairs. He was trying to reload his gun preparing for a surprise attack when the lights came back on.
I lurched at him with my fry pan leaving Rita to fall. I knocked his gun out of his hands and the second hit with my pan was across his face as he scrambled away.
“Rita, go to the big bedroom by the left. Go now!” I yelled, but in my split second of distraction, our assailant had grabbed my hand, lifting me off the ground with his other hand. In a chokehold, he slammed me on the ground and picked me up again. I could feel the blood trickle from my nose. Rita was still at very same spot crying. As the attacker lifted me up the second time, I kept trying to yell at her to run to the bedroom. He slammed me against the door just at the top of the stairs, he was squeezing my neck tight and I was slowly losing consciousness.
Few people ever think of how they would like to die. Sleeping? With family? At old age? Most times we don’t care, but this one time, I saw the end of my life flash before me, and it wasn’t going to be like this. This was my house. My safe place.
I reached for the handle on the door I was being chocked against and pushed it down. It opened into the store and we both fell in. As I landed, I rolled to my side springing to my feet. I knew I had a pair of scissors but couldn’t find it, I didn’t get the advantage for long as he too was back on his feet. He pulled my hair, and as I tried to follow the force to reduce the pain on my scalp while holding on to the metal shelf, I saw the screwdriver I thought I had lost. I picked it and ran into him, sticking it in his chest. The screwdriver wasn’t very long so it didn’t do a lot of damage but his cry of pain felt good to my ears.
I pulled out the screwdriver and kept on putting holes in him repeatedly. I had gotten 10 or 11 holes when he caught my head and slammed it into the back wall. At that moment, my very existence flashed within my eyes as I blacked out.
I woke up with a pillow underneath my head. This was all a dream I said to myself as I tried to get up. There was a sharp pain on my side and a piercing headache. I heard Rita’s voice almost immediately. She had said, “Don’t try to get up, you’ll only ache worse”. It wasn’t a dream, it was very real. I sat up, clutching my sides and looking around. We were in the panic room.
I had only been here three times. I didn’t like the feel of the place. I asked Rita how we got into the panic room, and she said she dragged me on the floor as she crawled. I had also opened my eyes to tell her how to open it when she tried to wake me. I asked about the assailant, and she said he got up, staggering, and looking for something to stop the bleeding. “So he is still out there?” She just said “I guess so”, and told me how he must be more interested in staying alive than killing us as I had really hurt him. I felt good in a way and knew somehow, we were both safe here. The room was hot, even though I was scantily dressed. I had no phone close, neither did she. So we just waited.
A few minutes later. The panic room felt really hot. It was like the temperature went up the longer we stayed. There was a TV on one of the walls, that was connected to the cameras in the house. I always felt watched so I disconnected all the cameras inside the house leaving just the two outside. I gently got up to put the TV on. It was tuned by default to the video feed. That was when I saw that something odd. Rita had limped to my side and was looking at the feed too.
She asked why everywhere around the house was so bright. It looked like someone was having a bonfire close to the house. That was when it hit me. ” The house is on fire”, I yelled at Rita, frantically trying to open the door to the panic room. I beckoned her to quickly help me turn the handle as we had to get out. “What if he is still inside the house?” I told her we just had to risk it and get out. We finally got the door open and got out. I held her as we made our way out. I could hear sirens. The police were finally here. I told Rita to crawl as thick fumes were already engulfing the house. The ground floor was already in flames. So we tried to get out through the back. That was when I asked her. “Why does anyone want to kill you so badly?” What do you know? Who are you?”
She then told me she was an accountant. Just as she said something about her boss, a beam from the ceiling fell almost hitting us, so I knew we needed to get out quicker and save the chat for later.
I heard firemen shouting to know if anyone was inside. We cried for help and they told us to come into another room. It was the guest room. It wasn’t yet on fire and they had managed to take out the window so we could climb through. We got to our feet and I helped Rita as she got to the window. She got out first and I told them about her injuries. They brought her down and I came down after watching as they battled the fire trying to salvage what was left of my beautiful home. As we walked each of us in the arms of a fireman, that was when I heard the shot.
You know I recently heard that if you hear a gunshot, then it’s not meant for you. I immediately knew who it was meant for. Rita and the fireman carrying her fell to the ground. The one carrying me threw me to the ground and covered me.
Then you know the rest of the story. I said, looking at the policeman whom I was telling the story of the last 24 hours. He looked more confused than I was when the car ran into my house, and his partner seemed like he was not buying my story.
“Jenny, stop talking.” My lawyer said as he burst into the interrogation room. “My client is in no condition to answer any questions. She just lost her home, she was almost burnt alive, and you have no right, I mean no right whatsoever to question…”
My lawyer kept going on. I was really tired. I wanted to go anywhere that had a bed. Somehow I felt I had lost a friend. A friend I had known for such a little time but had become so real to me. I was grieving. There and then, just as I started to cry, I remembered the assailant was still going to come for me.