Chisom staggers out of her house, almost falls and then grips the railing on her verandah.
Her head is swirling, thoughts jostling each other in her head, full of red stains and broken flesh and the vivid images throw a hook down into her stomach and try to pull up bile. She retches and clamps a hand over her mouth, careful not to look back at the door she has left open behind her, frantic to find something to anchor her to the moment.
A couple walks past, holding the hands of a child between them. They are her neighbours and she braces herself for the wave coming her way. The woman has a curious look on her face but simply walks on after Chisom returns their greeting.
She watches them go, wondering how she looks through their eyes. Do they see the same confident, attractive young woman she saw when she looked into the mirror of her dresser this morning? Or do they see a tall woman tottering in heels, bowed over by the horror her mind is struggling to deal with, barely hanging on to consciousness? She watches them walk on like normal people do and wonders what thoughts are going through the woman’s head. If they had seen the moment of nausea, the woman might at that moment be wondering out aloud to her husband if pregnancy was the cause. There seemed to be an unwritten rule, underlined by the antics of Nollywood, that nausea was evidence of conception. Chisom fights a giggle as the couple turn around and look at her again. She plasters a reassuring smile on her face.
The last thing she wants is for them to come over to her house.
How would she explain the dead girl lying on her kitchen floor?
She had recognized the girl the moment she nudged the body over. It was the maid from the apartment next to hers, the one who always wore skimpy dresses. She had not known the young girl very well, but pegged her to be no older than twenty years. The only other thing she had known about the girl was her name – Sylvia. And the fact that the girl was sleeping with the male half of the couple who were her employers.
Chisom had been unfortunate to look out her kitchen window one night about a month ago, and be greeted by the sight of the maid being fondled by her neighbour in the shade provided by the man’s parked jeep. After her shock had come disgust, then pity for the girl. The man had been squeezing her mammaries and copious behind like she was a not-very-juicy orange he was determined to wring something worth his money out of. The maid had seemed compliant, so Chisom figured she must be getting some benefit from the man. Whatever it was, it definitely was not good sex. Before sliding into bed that night, she had debated with herself for all of ten seconds on the need to tell the girl’s madam what she had seen. The decision had been immediate. It was not her business.
Madam had a loud mouth and, if she was to be believed, was already a victim at the hands of her maid, who she passionately accused of stealing from her on a bi-weekly basis. Chisom figured if the woman was foolish enough to keep a thief in her house, she should not be surprised that her husband’s affections would also become another thing worth stealing.
The woman’s claims had made her extra careful to make sure her doors and windows were carefully locked before she left for work every day. Unlike madam, she was not willing to create opportunity for the suspected thief.
Which makes her discovery even more disturbing.
How did the girl, and whoever killed her, enter the securely locked house?
Chisom digs out her phone from the pocket of her jeans and punches out a phone number from memory, fingers trembling.
The doctor picks it on the first ring.
She wastes no time with pleasantries. “Dr. Banji, it’s Chisom. Where is my sister?”
There is a long pause in which she can sense the man trying to read the emotion in her voice. Irritation surges in her chest. She holds on to the feeling, glad it is helping to push down her nausea.
“She’s fine.” The reply comes as she opens her mouth to ask again.
A small boy walks past, hefting a black and yellow polythene bag bulging with ripe plantains. He greets her, then stares curiously at the open door behind her. She is suddenly struck with the thought that the maid in her kitchen was not really dead, but is standing in the doorway behind her, body and head re-united, eyes accusing. The small hairs on the back of Chrisom’s neck stir.
She whirls around, but the doorway is empty.
“I asked where she was, not how she was.” She hisses into the phone.
“I heard you clearly, Miss Benson.” The doctor responds, voice full of confidence that makes her want to scratch his eyes out. “By ‘fine’ I meant she is still under our care and accounted for…”
“Impossible.” Chisom cuts in, staring into her living room. She can see a line of blood moving around the edge of the wall that ends at the kitchen. “She is out. She has to be.”
This time the pause is longer. “What happened, Miss Benson?”
The line of blood is moving along the wall, creeping in the direction of the front door. She imagines an invisible hooded figure, crouched against the wall with its finger dipped in the blood, leading it towards her.
Her blood cries out for justice from the earth, something titters in her head.
Chisom takes a step back, heart hammering. “She’s killing again, doctor. She just killed number eight.”