You are eagerly awaiting the bus to roll down your street. Bag over shoulder, all smiles, it promises to be a great year in school for you. It is unthinkable that you will not be walking miles to get to school. Now you can afford a luxury that not many kids in your estate enjoy.
The bus comes into view, crunches to a stop and you alight. You find a seat at the middle, next to a fine-looking boy. Even though the school uniform looks baggy and oversized on you, it looks custom-made for this boy with whom you are sharing butt space.
Sadly, you don’t muster even a word to this boy. All you can do is secretly smell his expensive cologne wafting to your side. He must be moneyed. You obviously can’t be friends, you think, feeling depressed that your economic status will be a quick turn-off.
The bus finally pulls up at your school and you step out. Your eyes trace the boy’s path as he joins his other friends. They are definitely a classy bunch.
Your daydream is cut off as you feel a pair of hands wrap around your neck in a warm embrace. It’s your best friend, Chrissy, in all her splendor. She’s not the hardest to miss in a crowd. She likes hiking up her skirt, wearing her hair longer than the rest and always holds her backpack like a Chanel clutch bag.
It’s hard to think you two are besties with your glaring differences. She automatically senses that you have a crush. And she knows it’s the “new boy”.
A warm and stinging feeling across your right cheek makes you stir. You open your eyes hesitantly and realize that you are in a semi-dark room, smelly and dank. You can’t move your hands or legs, so you squirm helplessly like a trapped fly on a web.
“She’s up! Finally.”
The voice sounds familiar, but you can’t seem to place it. Or anything at all. Your head is aching, a thousand church bells are tolling from within. There is no faint recollection of whatever led you to be in such a state.
A light goes on and illuminates the room. You squint and try to lift your head, get a better perspective of where you are. Or at least where you found yourself.
You figure out that if you are bound, you must be trapped in this place. As the veil of confusion lifts from your head, you hear footsteps from behind you. They get closer and then stop.
You try to turn your head and then a rugged arm comes crashing on your cheek. The slap jars you from your animated state and you feel almost incensed that it is happening to you without any consent.
“K…K…what a stupid name for such an intelligent young lady, don’t you think?” The voice taunts you, as the person bearing the voice remains rooted behind your still body. “I’ve always admired intelligence. The fact that mental battles are stronger than physical ones…”
A pause. The hands move down to your throat and stay there. You glance down and see that the hands are gnarly and wrinkly. Old hands.
You jerk your shoulders and shake your hand violently, trying to wrench his hands from your neck. But the old man isn’t fazed.
He tightens the grip like a vice.
“Don’t try anything stupid, K. I know you don’t like stupidity, and so do I. So perhaps it would be safe for you if you relaxed,” he says, letting out a guttural laugh.
You have totally undermined Luke. From the very first time you saw him, you didn’t have an inkling that he was so maniacal. So evil and vile.
The fingers dig deeper into your neck.
“OWW! You’re hurting me!”
“Relax. There’s no need to fuss aro -”
“You are hurting me! Leave me alone!” You battle to get his hands off but he still has them on you. Slowly, you start to feel dizzy.
To your right, you hear another groan. And more from your left. It seems you are not alone in this ramshackle. You have company.
The hands retreat and you see Luke waddling to the person to your left, lying prostrate on the metal bench like you. Luke walks around and gets another syringe, digs it into the person’s arm and drives a wrinkly palm across their face.
The groan stops.
“You are a sick person, Luke! Very sick!” You turn to your right and see that Luke has started to sedate the person. You squint and suddenly feel so incensed and happy at the same time to see it is your best friend, Chrissy.
“Leave her alone! Get your hands off her!” You let out a scream, and then hear more groans erupt from the room. You realize you might not be the only person trapped by this maniac.
“Shut up! Now! You’re waking them up!”
“No, I don’t like him, Chrissy! Don’t say that!”
“Well, I saw the way you were looking at him. And seeing is believing, so I believe you absolutely like him!”
Chrissy doesn’t let you breathe. She shoves down the idea that you like the “new guy” when you don’t even know his name. You definitely like him, anyway. But you don’t admit it or Chrissy might just tell everyone else.
Over lunch break, you decide to meet up with Chrissy and just talk randomly. You have at least three months before you finish your high-school studies and random talks with Chrissy don’t seem like the most academic thing to do.
But you simply have to. She’s your close buddy.
You step out to the volleyball courts (your usual rendezvous point) and you don’t believe your eyes. Chrissy is deep in conversation with the new guy!
A mixture of surprise and anger fills up in your chest. Not long after, she spots you and waves hysterically at you, skimping to you with so much energy.
“K! You won’t believe this!”
“I doubt it!”
“Let me introduce you to Paul. He’s new here,” she says, letting Paul rise from the bench and greet you. “This is my best friend, K. The one I have been telling you about.”
She has been telling HIM about YOU! You obviously instantly hate Chrissy, but you hold your breath since the “love of your life” is standing an inch or two away from you.
“Nice to meet you, K. I’ve been told good things about you,” he says in a suave Cuban kind of way. He has this lopsided smile with a natural left dimple that almost makes your feet grow weak.
You freeze. Out of all the options you have, your body chooses to shut down. There is no way Paul is talking to you right now. You might as well be in a dream.
“Who are they? Why are you holding us captive?” Your interrogative side takes over, despite the fact that you are still writhing in pain from the second sedative Luke stabs in you.
Luke stays silent, his frail frame on his wheelchair some few paces away from you. You notice that there are more metal beds behind him, stretching to the wall where a bulb is glowing. The fact that you are still not nauseated and are conscious gives you the motivation to keep on grilling Luke.
Your best efforts to get him to talk yield to nothing. He obviously has your phone, so any chances of getting help are null and void.
In the dark room, you can’t help but think about your mother and Tumo, back in the village. They are probably thinking of how eager you are to start lessons on Monday. How excited you must feel to be reunited with Chrissy after a long break. How fun it must feel to start a new life away from Paul.
Then your mind wanders to your father. After seven barren years without seeing him, it is a big blow to your emotions that he should call you a few days ago. He is like a blur in your life. The earliest memory you have of him is when he used to work for a wealthy businessman in the country-side.
He would shower you with gifts in the form of sweets whenever he was paid. But after that, you barely know where he has spent seven years – or why he ever did it.
Your head shifts to the right. To Chrissy. Her body is wriggling from whatever dosage of sedatives Luke has given her.
“Chrissy! It’s me! K! WAKE UP!”
“I told you to shut up!” Luke chortles in anger, wheeling his chair close to your bed.
“Don’t you dare lay your filthy hands on her!”
The curt command comes from a man. Behind you. Behind the dozen metal beds with sedated ladies on them. You quickly remember that Sheila told you about Luke’s behavior. And now she lies next to you, knocked out and mute.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?” Luke looks beyond my bed to the man standing behind me.
You brace your shoulders against the cold lattice of the metal bed and feel shivers run down your legs. Someone is definitely ruining Luke’s plans. And you like it!
The man’s shadow looms over you and Luke glances at the man angrily.
Chrissy shifts onto her left and squints at the man. Her eyes widen. She gasps. “K! It’s Paul!”