She walked down the long and quiet corridor that evening. She could hear her footsteps loudly, it made her uncomfortable, maybe because it felt like the footsteps weren’t hers, even with the knowledge that the area has been deserted. She had to look for someone to be with, being alone was a fool’s act. It was one of those times that missing dinner was an offence which attracts punishment from the authorities, it made the place empty of students but she wouldn’t risk washing piles of plates when she didn’t eat from any.
Rukky’s tiny feet tapped towards madam fruit’s shop, a smallish woman who looked like she was in her early 40s . She could see from afar that her fruits were on display, it was usual as students bought stuffs while awaiting dinner. Rukky couldn’t wait to get there, the silence around her was deafening as it loudly ministered fear, her knowledge that there’s a grown up at the end of the corridor didn’t act as eraser on the fears.
She turned at every sound heard, she’s been told many stories of boarding house, bush babies, snakes, cats, the girl who puts her head on her thighs and plaited it, she didn’t think she’d like to have such experiences. She contemplated running, but told herself her imaginations were playing a huge trick on her, the wicked runs when no one pursues, “but the innocent runs when an invisible witch pursues” an inner voice countered. Picking her pace was the most she could do.
She heard the tap tap of her little slippers, and the “tap” of another, she stretched her ear drums to hear again but it didn’t come. She was too scared to turn around. “Its all in my head” she reassured herself. She was getting closer to madam fruit’s shop but the place held no life. She scanned the shop area, there was nobody. She couldn’t be the only one outside dining hall in the whole school, the thought killed her last confidence. She kept walking hoping to see madam fruit somewhere around, she thought she heard a sound behind her, turning around she saw two ruggedly tiny hands coming towards her head. With heart frozen she bent down or maybe someone pulled her down, dodging the hands was a mystery to her. Laughter bursted into her ears. She looked up and saw madam fruit laughing hysterically. It took her a few seconds to get her heart unfrozen, though it still pounded from the event. She watched madam fruit as the petite woman walked to the table filled with fruits.
“You get luck” she heard madam fruit say.
Eyes stayed fixed on madam fruit as she wondered who she could be referring to? What did she mean? Was that act a joke or was she really lucky to have bent down. Confusion broke out on her forehead, Madam fruit saw it. For the first time she wasn’t comfortable around her grown up friend, same woman she enjoyed selling for, same woman who gave her mangoes without cost, the woman who she could call “mummy” because their default language was Urhobo. She paid rapt attention to the woman, watching her every move, she made attempt to look at her eyes, had no idea what she hoped to see in them, but when their eyes met, her heart pounded once so hard that she felt madam fruit heard it. That wasnt her friend. “That isn’t madam fruit” she thought. Staying calm was the best option. It’s not advisable to let a predator know you are suspicious, but what if she was just joking, by now the woman should have known the joke is too expensive for an 11years old girl.
It was getting dark, she thought of leaving the sight, but every other place in the school is as scary as this place, classrooms were like graveyard, though she wasn’t sure which was wiser, staying with a friend turned stranger or going to a “grave-like” classroom.
“If only I had gone for dinner.” she muttered to herself. We all pay the price for disobeying even the simplest of instructions. She longed for less scary people around, they should eat faster and fill the area before she disappears from the earth.
Classrooms started getting filled. It was time to walk. She needed to find a way to go without seemingly running away. The woman has been busy clearing her shop and that made her come close to Rukky several times, an act that made Rukky’s heart stop several times. She sighted Peace, that was her escape.
“Peace” she called out.
Peace looked at her direction and started walking towards her. That’s not the plan. She needed to leave this place. She could feel madam fruits burning eyes on her head.
“Have you gone to see senior Fegor” she said loud enough for Peace to hear, Peace obviously didn’t understand why she should be meeting senior Fegor. While she talked, she walked towards Peace.
Her name was ice on her flesh. She halted and turned her head backwards, telling her friend she has no plans of coming back to the shop she’s grown fond of over some weeks.
“I’m coming to your hostel tonight, one person from each room is mine, you are one”
Fear slapped her, in fact it was punching her to the ground, she felt the pain. She thought she was turning red, maybe pink, or rather purple since she was dark in complexion, she hated the feeling. Even though she couldn’t really make out what those words really meant, she knew it didn’t sound good.
She caught up with Peace, she couldn’t say a word. She just needed to be out of the woman’s sight. She was sure that wasn’t madam fruit, at least not the one she knew, this one poured out a flawless English, the one she knew could barely complete a sentence and had a thick urhobo accent. How did she become close to whatever this woman is? Peace was talking to her, but she felt someone had placed hot yam in her mouth. She wanted to tell someone, she wanted to tell Peace, but she wasn’t sure if Madam fruit won’t hear her from wherever she stood and come after her earlier than planned.
During the evening prayers, she stood not sure what to say. She felt she needed to pray and bind this and every other witch but her thoughts kept interfering. She didn’t know if there is really a God who can hear her. The stories about God were just what they were, stories.
“Mummy” Rukky called out to a more reliable caretaker, her mum exists, people say mothers always get the instinct that their children need them no matter the distance.
“I’m in trouble, please help me” She looked around, hoping no one heard her spooky request. Her heart was failing her, she wondered if it still pumped blood, she needed to sit down but these prefects will punish her for sitting during prayers. She was tired of thinking, she wished everything away.
Prep went by slowly, it was useless to her. She had a book lying before her which seemed to be mocking her by reading itself throughout. Every thought threatened her existence, she was probably gonna die tonight. Why didn’t madam fruit just kill her back then, why wait until tonight, the suspense was more deadly, it magnified the problem. Was it really her last night? She wished it was foul play. She dreaded the night, she dreaded her hostel, especially her room, the thought of sleeping in another room flashed but she was still going to take a life from every room, by the way “a witch seem to have eyes everywhere” she thought.
Sleep wasn’t in her night’s agenda, it didn’t seem like it existed. The first bunk from the door was hers, “easy access.” Entering her room, she knew the hour was nigh if it hasn’t come already. She sat down still on her house check, tears were being pumped, she tried keeping it in, the trial made the tears rush faster.
She was startled, kafayat was standing beside her bunk.
“Why are you crying?”
The question called the names of her roommates unintentionally. Little girls are curious, or probably caring. They gathered around, some sat on her bed, some on the bed beside hers. She wasn’t sure how to tell it or if she should even tell it. She narrated the whole story, dishing out fear and serving her roommates to just taste of it. Some wished they weren’t in the know, they wished they had minded their business, but they realised it would have gotten to them anyways, JSS1 girls from other rooms came visiting their friends, heard the stories and like ravens they travelled with it. Since Rukky was automatically one of the victims, her roommates were silently gratefully. Did it make them feel awful, yes, maybe, but there’s a but.
The hostel was in an uproar, some were crying already, they all wished they could go home. It threatened the peace of their prefects. Senior Bukola as they all called her assembled everyone on the corridor and declared a prayer session. The Muslims prayed alongside the Christians, the catholics weren’t segregated from the Protestants, fear knows no religion. The hostel was in a noisy state, everyone spoke, everyone shouted, everyone opened their eyes, shutting them will be foolishness.
Rukky was too scared to really open her mouth. Maybe the situation was more real to her than it was to any other person standing right there on that corridor. Every movement drew her attention. She believed the witch can walk into their midst in any form. She watched, she needed to be sensitive, could she really outrun the witch, if she saw her? she wondered.
Her eyes strolled to Joy Bassey. The girl wasn’t as troubled as the others. She saw her resting on the wall with her mouth moving steadily. Something wasn’t right about her actions. She probably was mumbling something. Suddenly she saw Joy jerk. Rukky’s heart reacted. Within seconds Joy was running towards Rukky. Rukky froze, she didn’t know how to react, her tiny legs refused to run, she saw her whole life flash before her eyes like it was the end. Every attention turned to Joy, the loud prayers had dropped as the distraction was presented at their faces. Joy stopped halfway across the corridor’s dry gutter, bent forward and spat. It was blood. Joy put her head up and looked straight at Rukky. Rukky shook and withdrew backwards, she could hear persons saying “Joy vomited blood.” As she withdrew, the hostel gate opened aggressively giving a loud bang on the wall, little girls screamed as they fled from the hostel’s gate to the other extreme of the corridor,
Rukky wished she could disappear. She made sure she stayed deep in the midst of the other children, also making sure she was far from Joy, something told her that wasn’t really Joy, same way madam fruits didn’t seem to be herself. Was something possessing these persons? The prayers had turned to loud screams from frightened children.
“I can see her” Rukky heard loudly in their midst. She searched for the speaker.
Room J’s door creaked.
“She just entered room J” the same voice said.
Rukky was beginning to guess who could be speaking, Busayo Okunola. She didn’t like how she felt, but it was better than being dead, well she wouldn’t really know as she’s never been dead. Everyone pushed at everyone, no one wanted to be seen but hidden. The fear in every heart was beginning to pray again. Rukky looked at her wristwatch, it was 12:24a.m, nobody seem to be sleepy. She felt all these were too much trauma for her age. Everyone looked towards the hostel’s gate and room J, the room was just beside the gate. They didn’t know what to expect. They all watched while muttering prayers to save their lives. Some had painted images at the gate area, Busayo still said she could see her. The fear was so thick it made them shiver. Faint footsteps dropped on their ear drums from outside the gate. Rukky felt like she was fainting.
“There she is” Rukky muttered. A shadowy figure walked through the hostel gate. Tiny screams from frightened children shot at the “whoever.” The figure shuddered, halted, looked behind, saw nothing, then fired down towards the children like angry bird. It was Aunty Casey, Rukky’s house mistress, She had been woken up by the continuous screams from the hostel.
“What is the meaning of all these” she shouted. Anybody could hear the anger speaking.
“I cannot sleep because I have children in the hostel?”
Senior Bukola approached her and explained all that was happening. It added fuel to her anger.
“Get out of this corridor and into your rooms”
It echoed. Children wanted to obey, the knew they needed to obey, but as they dispersed, everyone facing their rooms, Aunty Casey could see that the population was not reducing from the corridor, it had only scattered. They stood at their doors, painted an image of madam fruit in their rooms waiting for them, nobody desired to be taken by being the first to get inside.
“Will you all get inside” Aunty Casey screamed facing Rukky’s roommates. They all pushed at each other until someone was forced in while others followed behind.
Rukky stood at the centre of the room. She was tired, her body couldn’t take the stress anymore, she felt sick. She watched her roommates push their bunks together with the aim of sleeping in groups. Her fears had not given way, she asked if she could join in and the little girls rejected the offer. They didn’t want to be mistaken for Rukky in their sleep. She understood, she had to face her friend alone, after all no one sent her to make friends with witches, she was obviously paying for all the free mangoes. She had to pick up courage that all was just an imagination. “I can see her” echoed in her head, could Busayo really see her? She got on her bed, with the house check still on, she had to be ready for the worst.
She missed the comfort of her bed, It felt good to be on it, but she didn’t want to feel too relaxed. She heard her roommates whispering to one another, she longed for a new day. If she survives this one, a million things will change. She tried closing her eyes, but she painted images of madam fruit standing beside her and her eyes would open widely, hoping to catch someone. It couldn’t continue for long, no one cheats nature.
Rukky woke up the sound from a metal bucket, it was morning. The memories of the night was like a dream, she felt life had given her another chance, it wasn’t her last night. Matron sent for her, she found herself in the hospital outside school. It was announced she had high fever. She wasn’t sure what they meant by that. So all wasn’t real? Was she really seeing things the previous day? Joy Bassey said she bit her tongue hard while chewing gum, spitting blood was the result. She said nothing, who was she to counter anybody, especially what a grown up doctor has said.
Monday came along and her mates still had the stories in their heads and tongues. A small group of JSS1 girls had a plan to confront madam fruit. They walked with their tiny legs towards her shop with bibles in hand but she wasn’t there. The next day she wasn’t either, the whole week went by and madam fruit didn’t show up. Never again did they set eyes on the tiny woman. Never again.