In the dark, light shone on Dinma’s face, revealing droopy eyes. She yawned, logged out of Facebook, and set an alarm for 6 am. She was about to lock the phone when it beeped. It was a message from her Facebook Messenger. She ignored the message and slid the phone under her pillow. Soon, light snores began their escape from her lips.
After what seemed to her like an hour, the sound of Frank Edwards Oghene Doh speared right through her pillows to her ears, pulling her out of her slumber. She groaned reluctantly, reaching under her pillow to silence the offending gadget. Just five more minutes, she thought.
Five minutes later, the phone under her pillow vibrated again with the beginning strings of a piano. She kicked her legs under the light wrapper with annoyance. She had snoozed it. She didn’t bother to silence the phone this time, rather she remained still, listening to the voice of the musician, repeating the familiar words of the songs in her heart. This was her cup of coffee, with the right amount of sugar and milk that she used to start her day.
When the phone stopped singing, she got up from the bed making the sign of the cross. She went through her familiar morning routine with agility, humming as she went through all the tasks: making her bed, sweeping her room with the broom that hid behind her door, laid out her school uniform then went into the toilet to take her bath and prepare for school. It wasn’t long before she went downstairs, dressed in her uniforms and sandals. From the pulp of Shea-butter on her palm, she oiled her cornrows.
The house was silent and empty, and even though it was warm, she could feel a lingering coolness on the cream walls. The sound of Nneka, the housemaid, singing in the backyard combined with the harsh brush of the broom she wielded against the cemented floor sent a warm feeling through her heart. The house was not empty, she corrected. She was not alone.
She and Nneka were often the only ones in the large building that she could hardly call a home. Her business parents were more on business journeys than they were at home. She suspected that it was the main reason why she didn’t have a brother or a sister. She was bitter about it and if there was any other thing for which she hated her parents other than their constant absence in her life, it was this.
A plate of pancakes sat on the gas-cooker in the kitchen. Yay! She was beginning to think that she had to tell Nneka what to prepare, when she’d rather prefer the young woman surprise her with new strange recipes that she had gotten online. Beside the cooker was a mug containing milk and milo that had been mixed together, two cubes of sugar sat on top of the mix. She filled up the electric kettle with water and plugged it into the socket. The kitchen door leading to the backyard was opened slightly. Dinma peeked through it and watched as Nneka swept the ground shaking her body to the rhythm of the song she was singing.
“Aunty Nneka, good morning,” she called out.
Nneka paused in her sweeping and straightened up. “Good morning o. You’ve woken up?”
“Yes. This one you decided to make pancakes today, what entered your head?” she teased.
Nneka spread out her hands still holding the broom. “You said you liked it when I made it the other day. I saw online that you can use honey to eat it. There is still honey in the shelf, if you want you can drizzle it on top.”
“New word eh?” Dinma laughed. “Can you prepare rice and beans this afternoon? Is there still meat in the fridge?”
“There is but it is the one that remained on Sunday.”
“It will be enough for the both of us, right?” The kettle whistled loudly. “Just use it to cook. I will withdraw money on my way back so that you can go to the market in the evening.” Without waiting to hear her reply, Dinma rushed to the whistling kettle and unplugged it from the socket. With precision, she poured the water into her cup, stirring and stopping at interval to taste it before adding again. When she was satisfied with the chocolatey mixture, she sighed with approval. She carried her breakfast to the dining room, setting it on the table before she pulled out a chair and sat down.
She blew at the tea as she munched on the pancakes. Reaching for her phone, she switched on her mobile data. The device vibrated in her hand as messages from different apps displayed on the screen. Briefly recalling the message she had gotten in the night, she opened her Messenger app. It was a picture. She forked a piece of pancake into her mouth, chewing as the picture loaded.
The pancake in her mouth suddenly felt like a stone as she stared at the picture on her screen. No, not one, three pictures. She swiped left, then right, her heartbeat increasing as she recognized the picture. The first picture was her in the arms of a boy, their lips locked in a kiss that was far from innocent. In the second picture, her mouth was opened in laughter as she sat on the boy’s legs, her arms interlaced around his neck. And the third picture… The tea she just drank rose to her mouth in defiant protest. She rushed to the sink at the corner of the dinning and threw up everything she had just swallowed. Her body shook as she rinsed her mouth. Sudden tiredness overcame her. Shakily, she walked back to the table and picked up her phone and her school bag, sliding the phone into the pocket of her blazer. Without a word to Nneka, she went out of the house.
She walked briskly, ignoring the greetings of the children in red and white that walked passed her. If it was on any other day, she would have smiled at them and warmly respond to their greetings, asking after their parents. Not today she thought. The familiar high blue gates filled her with trepidation. For once, she wished her school was a little further from the house. The pictures kept running through her mind. She had sent a reply to the person who had sent them.
–Who are you? What do you want?–
She had accepted the request of the sender a few days ago, and no matter how hard she scrolled through the empty timeline of the account, she found no useful information about who the sender was; no picture, no tags, no profile picture, just an empty account that she suspected had been created just to torment her. Stories on the news about girls who had had pictures that caught them in their most indecent state posted on the internet kept running through her mind. They once a similar occurrence in the school. The girl had left the school few days after the pictures were posted online. Her hands tightened around her phone with fear. She could not become the next story.
As she neared the school gate, filled with students lingering around, coming down from okada bikes and keke napeps, her feet slowed, her breathing became heavier. What was waiting for her behind those gates? She was tempted to turn back and run home. Her body turned slightly to act on the impulse. But the sight of three students walking in her direction stopped her. With a resigned sigh, she squared her shoulders and marched majestically towards the gate like the Senior Prefect that she was.