African StoriesCrime and Intrigue StoriesNaija Stories

Zahrah

“What the hell are you saying?” Hasan slammed his hands on the desk and leaned towards me threateningly.
Frightened, I shrank back quickly in my chair. My lawyer had told me thirty minutes before that he was on his way to the station but I didn’t see any good that would do because I was sure Hasan would have flung my ass through the window before he came to save it. He had already smashed a nearby chair against the wall and was now prowling the room, his fingers hysterically raking his hair.

His restlessness was resonating with my trembling and racing thoughts.
His daughter. They are telling me that I killed Zahrah. They are telling me that Zahrah is dead.

There was a click on the door; it was Rashidi, the other detective entering the interrogation room with a document file in his hand. I have met him before—since I was the babysitter of his partner’s daughter; we have crossed paths many times when I came to drop Zahrah at the station. His lingering stares had told me it won’t be long before he made an attempt to know me more. But there were no such looks now. He noted the pieces of chair on the ground and then cast a worried glance at Hasan.

“You should not be here,” he finally said to him. “You are in no state of mind to investigate this case.”

Hasan was on him and had his fingers round his neck in a flash. “That’s my daughter you are talking about. I won’t take this shit. My daughter is—”

Rashidi was younger and fitter, and so he was able to drag him off. “Zahrah is my god-daughter and I saw her only yesterday evening. You hurt me by thinking you are the only one feeling rage.”

Hasan turned away, knowing he was right and then shouted in despair, tears streaming down his eyes. Before Rashidi could comfort his friend and partner, two deputies suddenly opened the door and strode in.

Hasan before leaving gave me a hard look and then turned to Rashidi and said quietly, “I want the bastard who did this to my daughter to rot in jail.”

Rashidi looked him in the eye. “You have my word, Hasan. Danladi is to join me on this case.”

Hasan nodded, and with the deputies left the dimly lit room.

The silence thereafter was deafening.
Right from the moment that I had entered this room that was sparsely furnished and held no warmth. My nerves had been screaming” get me out of here.” Quickly, my agitation had become aggravated by the ridiculous accusations that was flung at me.

Rashidi ignored the other chair that was still intact and walked round the desk to meet me where I was. He wasn’t displaying any violent behavior like Hasan but for some reason eluding me, I felt more afraid of him.

“I… I want my lawyer here first,” I stammered once he got near me.
He sat down on the desk, his leg nearly brushing my thigh. He folded his hands and focused on my face

“Is that what you are going to say? Zahrah—”

That was when I snapped. I stood up from my chair so suddenly that it hit the ground with a clank. My body became pumped with adrenaline.

“I don’t get what is happening. I have explained to Hasan over and over again that I don’t understand,” I said angrily “They are saying Zahrah is dead… that I killed her”

“You don’t think so?” Rashidi asked calmly.

“Think so? I don’t believe you guys would think such. I played with that child—”

“Before you killed her?”

My eyes narrowed. “You think I would do anything to hurt Zahrah?”

He didn’t reply. He stretched his arm to the far end of the table to draw closer the file he had brought into the office. He retrieved some photos out of it and displayed them on the table.
My right hand went to my mouth in a bid to fight my last meal that was rushing to find their way out. I was suddenly drenched in sweat and my head felt as if it was packed with cotton wool.

“My God!” I whispered.

The photos were horror replicates. There was Zahrah’s body floating on the lake where we had gone to play. Her short black gown was torn and a butcher knife buried in her chest. The water surrounding her was no longer clear; it had been tainted with the blood gushing from the chest wound.
Who had done this evil?

“What do you have to say?”

I looked up at hearing his voice. Rashidi was clenching and unclenching his fingers in a bid to restrain himself from losing it himself.

I felt so cold. Who did this? Who could have been so devilish to have stolen this sunlight from us? And God, how could they think it was me?

“Aisha?”

I still couldn’t find my voice. I suddenly wished I had not stopped smoking years back. Right now, I wanted nothing but the brief break from reality that cigarettes could offer me. I slowly straightened the chair, sat down and wrapped my arms around me. It wasn’t until I felt my soaked blouse that I realized that I had been crying.

“How could you think I–I–I…?” Speaking felt too much of a burden. “Oh God, Oh Zahrah.”

Rashidi was impervious to my reactions. He probably had seen too many killers weep like babies to avoid conviction to be fazed by me.

He continued, “When Zahrah’s mother handed her to you so she can go for her hospital shift, what did both of you do?”

“Cakes.”

Rashidi inclined his head to hear better. “Pardon?”

“Zahrah wanted us to make cakes. Since we were given permission to do whatever she wanted as long as she liked it, I agreed.”

“It figures. Dr. Danjuma said during his autopsy report that her stomach content included pastries.”

I rubbed my hands with the back of my hands. I felt so tired. “True.”

“But that was not the last thing she ate.”

“No. She then had the urge for ice cream. At first, I didn’t want to.”

“So you both brought ice cream?”

“Yes.”

“From whom?”

“Mallam Gowon at the end of the street.”

Rashidi made a mental note to send people to talk to the ice-cream seller.

“You said you didn’t want to initially.”

“You know Zahrah. She is used to having her way. It was even there and then she remembered she had not gone to the lake behind the street since the school term began.”

“The lake.”

I sighed. “What was I supposed to do? Should I have ignored her and risked her pouting for the rest of the evening? Since I was a good swimmer, I decided to oblige her desire to go play in the lake. If only I knew…”

Rashidi seemed to be a bit distracted by the last part of the statement but he then urged me to continue.

“But to be honest, I also wanted to go. It has been long since I felt the soft caress of open water on my skin. Not since—”

“Not since you lost the baby in your belly when your ex-husband threw a stool at you?” Rashidi cut in

I turned sharply to face him as my mouth dropped open. As memories of the past flashed before my eyes, the room seemed to shrink and then sway. I struggled to return back to sanity.

“Woah.” My laughter had no single drop of humor. “That didn’t take long, did it?”

“Digging out the shit of your past? No, it didn’t. When you ask the right people, it’s kind of easy.”

I turned away. “An irony, isn’t it? Especially when one thinks about how long and hard I have tried to run from those demons. You are good at what you do, Rashidi,” I said wearily.

Rashidi kept quiet for some time before he said, “Let’s go back to the lake.”

“We were playing and having fun. We were enjoying the sight before us; the evening sun, the pawpaw trees nearby, the water shrubs tickling our skins, the ducks who were our companions. Zahrah can be snotty—something common to those that are only children—but one can’t help but to like her. She is funny and smart.” I shook my head. How could I be so foolish? How could I have believed that if I tried really hard, I could become happy again?

Rashidi folded his hands. “And then?”

“Everywhere became dark.” I looked up to his dark face that betrayed no emotion. “I… I don’t know. One second, I was chuckling at something silly Zahrah said, the next thing was… nothing. I think I passed out, right there on the water. I woke up when I felt handcuffs on my wrists and a policeman roughly leading me to a van that dropped me here.”

“These black outs, when did they start?”

“Ever since I lost my…” My voice trailed off. I still couldn’t bring myself to say it.

Rashidi appeared to understand because he didn’t say anything either “So it has been going on for five years?”

I wanted anyone to do anything, even hit me hard with a log of wood so that I would wake up from this nightmare. “Yes.”

Rashidi straightened and then walked to the other side of the wide desk. My heart beat thudded erratically. He watched me squirm for some time before saying quietly. “First step in trying to avoid eating prison food for the rest of your life. You lie better than this crap you are giving me. You are screwed, Aisha. Your fingerprints were crawling all over the knife used in stabbing Zahrah.”

He inhaled deeply before continuing, “We will talk again when your lawyer gets here.” He then strode to the door.

This could not be happening. This could not really be happening.

“What if someone is trying to punish me?” I managed to say. “What if some one did this?”

Rashidi turned back to look at me briefly. “Unless.”

Then he walked out.

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