The passage connecting the rooms on the first floor was one of the widest Valerie had ever seen. It could contain five people, standing in a horizontal single line, at once.
Lined at the right side of the passage were toys, a child’s table, rubber football, and some little shoes. Valerie smiled. It was possible there was a male child in the house. And she looked forward to meeting him.
Making her way, slowly, down the passage, she stretched and yawned. Not for the first time. Her night had been cut short by nightmares. Nightmares she could never really understand. The entire scenario was something of the 1950s. A marriage reception ceremony was ongoing. Although she couldn’t make out the face of the groom, she could see the bride, clearly – a lovely woman who commanded grace and respect.
The men present adored her, not caring that she had been married to another. The groom looked like a sailor. Valerie was sure of it because of the uniform. But who knows, it could just be a uniform for something else. Or a style used by grooms in the 50s.
The wedding reception party was going on well, until a witch, although very beautiful, suddenly appeared, cursed the groom and then made him mad enough to kill his bride.
The bloody bride was a sore sight to behold. The people screamed and ran for safety. But Valerie stood. Her fears however, increased, when the cursed groom, whose face she still couldn’t make out, looked up from the dead bride and rested his gaze on her.
“You’re dead!” He yelled, getting to his feet and charging towards her, as his form transformed into that of a beast, “you’re dead!” He snarled, almost upon her. Valerie jerked out of sleep, panting and sweating.
The room was cool though. Soft breeze blew in from the open window. It was morning. Birds chirped on nearby trees and she could hear faint sounds of activities somewhere in the mansion.
Valerie had forced herself out of bed, put aside the ugly dream and stepped out of her room. If Mrs. Grace was going to like her, and if Mr. Okeys was going to not regret hiring her, then she knew she had to be up and about, as early as she could.
So there she was, in the passage she hadn’t really taken notice of the day before, due to fatigue, and anxiety, of what the outcome of her discussion with Okeys would be.
Valerie was almost at the other end of the passage, when a door, two rooms away from hers, opened. A young lady, slightly older than Valerie was, stepped out of the room. She was indeed a raving Beauty – tall, light complexioned, a little plump, and round in specific corners.
Her hair, natural, was packed into a ball at the top of her head, although there were some loose strands. She could pass for a celebrity.
She yawned, stretched and started down the passage, rubbing her sleepy eyes. It wasn’t until she was done cleaning her eyes, that she saw Valerie staring at her, from the other end of the passage.
“Oh. Hi”, she greeted, moving to stand in front of her, “you must be the new girl”.
“Yes, I am. Good morning”.
“Good morning to you too. Welcome to the mansion. Ms. Grace complained bitterly about a new arrival yesterday. I’m sure she was referring to you”.
“Definitely”, Valerie admitted, “She hates Me, just as much as she hates a certain Omo. I remember she complained bitterly about the person bearing that name yesterday”.
“Just ignore her”, the girl laughed. “Ms. Grace will always be Ms Grace. A grumpy old woman, who doesn’t like any young person in her space. So what’s your name?”
“Valerie. What’s yours?”
“Omo”, she stretched her hand for a shake.
“Oh, I see”, Valerie shook her hand, “you’re the famous Omo”.
“Yes. At Your Service”, She bowed, laughing. Valerie laughed too. “Would you like me to show you around house?” Omo asked.
“The kitchen for a start, will do”, Valerie smiled her thanks, “then I’ll like to see the places I have to clean first”.
“Oh. True. I heard Ms. Grace say something about you having to manage the house with her”, Omo said, leading the way to the kitchen.
“Yes I am”, Valerie replied.
“Let me warn you”, her companion said, briefly stopping to face her, “Ms. Grace doesn’t like sharing her kitchen or house maintenance, with anyone”.
“You don’t have to tell me”, Valerie chuckled, “she made it abundantly clear last evening, she doesn’t think she can put up with my rude attitude”.
“Oh, she has started to extend the rude stuff to you too”, Omo giggled like a baby, turning to continue to the kitchen. Valerie followed, “here we are!” She announced happily, hands in the air, “so what are you going to cook?”
“Cook?” Valerie’s brows shot up.
“Oh, you didn’t know. Home maintenance includes cooking. And although Ms. Grace doesn’t trust anyone with the food, she’s not in now”.
“Where did she go?”
“She went to the village, very early this morning. She even disturbed my sleep, temporarily though. I guess today is their market day. She only goes when she needs to buy something important. Andrew goes when he needs to get someone over to the mansion to do some repairs”.
“Who’s Andrew?” Her brows joined together, as she assessed the large and tastefully furnished kitchen.
“The guy who secures the house. He mostly guards the gate”.
“Oh. The gatekeeper”, Valerie swallowed, “he promised to snap my neck”,
“He did?” Omo chuckled, “wow! They didn’t even let you enter the house before displaying their hatred”.
Valerie smiled, “not everyone likes company. But I’m happy to have you in the house. You’re a relief”.
“Hmmmm” Omo patted Valerie on the right arm, smiling, “I do hope we get along very well.”
“I hope so too”.
“I have to leave you now. Ansa will wonder where I am. And if Mr. Okis gets to his room before me, another query will follow”,
Omo gave a short laugh, “not answer. Ansa. A N S A. He is Mr. Okis’ son and only child”.
“Oh. Mr. Okeys has a son”, Valerie’s heart skipped a beat.
“Okis. Not Okeys”.
“Whatever. So he must have a wife then?” She was too curious. And she did not know why.
“Nope! No wife. She died during their third marriage anniversary”.
“Yes. It is. And you don’t want to know how she died”.
“I’m curious. An accident? During child-birth, robbery gone wrong? Illness?”
“You have a very active imagination”, Omo looked impressed, “see all the possible causes you thought about in what… less than a minute”.
Valerie grinned, “I’m just curious”.
“Curiosity they say, kills the cat. But well, don’t let anyone know I told you anything. In fact, pretend like you don’t know anything.”
“Ok. I will”.
“Mr. Okis killed his wife. Isn’t that terrible?”
“Well, did you hear me?” Omo asked, and when Valerie still did not respond, she snapped her fingers in her face, “hey!” She barked.
Valerie blinked, then let out a shriek, like she had just seen the devil, “get away from me!”, she yelled at Omo, and then grabbed a knife from the rack in which cutleries were kept. She raised it up to Omo, threatening to stab and inflict injuries.
“Are you crazy? How can you pull a knife on me?” Omo frowned, pissed. She grabbed a jug of water from the table and poured its entire content on Valerie’s face, “there”.
Valerie paused, regaining herself. She took a deep breath. Subsequently, she dropped the knife to the tiled kitchen floor. Her expression was that of fear and regret.
“Oh my God. Omo I’m so sorry. I.. I just got really shocked. I’m sorry. Hope I didn’t hurt you?”
“You almost did. I don’t blame you though, everyone in this house experiences this kind of crazy when anything about the master and his wife is said”,
“Anything at all?” Valerie swallowed, still recovering from the weirdness she just experienced.
“Yes. Anything at all. For me, I almost run mad. There are things that are said sometimes that still affects me that way”.
“Wow”, Valerie sighed. For some reasons, Mr. Okis’ words from the night before came flooding back, “As long as you stay in this house, the secrets locked within these walls will reveal themselves to you”, he had said. If a brief story about him and his wife could send her into a trance full of weirdness, then she wondered what would happen if she heard more. “What exactly causes it? This kind of reaction, I mean?” Valerie asked at last. She needed to know.
“The madness?” Omo sighed, “I would have loved to tell you. But I shouldn’t say anymore, before you die this time around”, Omo teased, but her smile did not reach her eyes. Valerie noticed. The poor girl was probably scared of her right now. How great. The only friend she had made was now pulling back from her.
“I need to go check on Ansa, bath him and prepare him for the day”, Omo announced again, making for the door. She stopped briefly and looked back at Valerie, “Make sure breakfast is delicious. Else Ms. Grace will have your head”, she winked, then walked off.
Valerie didn’t know if to feel relieved, or sad about her companion leaving her. But she had to reflect on what she had experienced. It was weird, the trance she got into. Omo had only said Mr. Okis killed his wife, but upon hearing that, she found herself transported back to the nightmare she had early that morning.
Why would she find herself back in a dream she woke up from? She couldn’t tell. But in this trance, the man’s face was clearer than it had been in the dream. He was handsome, gentle and full of smiles. But no, it wasn’t a wedding reception going on. It was an anniversary.
Omo had said Okis’ wife died during their third marriage anniversary. No, she didn’t just die. He killed her. The man in her dream, and then trance, killed his wife, after being cursed by a wicked witch.
He had looked up from his bloody wife, and settled his gaze on her. He repeated the same words he said in her dream. “You’re dead”, he started towards her in rage, but thank goodness, someone snapped her out of it. Unfortunately, another weird episode followed. That someone didn’t look like Omo to her. It was the same wicked witch she had seen in her dream, and the trance. Hence she grabbed a knife. She’d rather kill the witch or kill herself, than be cursed too, just as the man was cursed.
Thank God for the water poured on her face. How would she have known she was about to fight Omo, the only girl she was sure would become her friend in this big mysterious mansion? And what if she had killed the poor girl? A second murder would hang on her neck?
“What’s the meaning of all these?” She asked, out loud. Before she came to the mansion, she knew it looked weird. And now that she was in it, weird was an understatement.
Valerie sighed, shaking the thought off. No doubt, her experience called for concern. But hey, didn’t Omo just say she runs mad when certain parts of Mr. Okis’ story is told? At least, she only found herself in a trance.
“How much longer before breakfast will be ready?” A now familiar baritone asked from the open door way, snapping her out of her thoughts.
She turned to see him leaning against the door frame. Robe off. Just bare chest with rising moulds and four packs, on shorts. His body was gorgeous. He was handsome. And his lips, seductive.
Valerie swallowed. How could her body system suddenly sweep away the events that just played out, less than 10 minutes back, only to be fully attracted to this strange man before her? A man who is said to have killed his wife. A man, she was almost sure, was not different from the one in her dream. And the trance.
“You seem to be dumbfounded every time you set eyes on me”, Mr. Okis said.
“Errr, that’s not true”, she denied, finding her tongue. His brows shot up.
“At the river, when you were stealing my boat, you checked me out. But you were dumbfounded for a while. At the library last evening, same thing. This morning, same. Are you attracted to me, Miss Valerie?”
Attracted? What did he think he was? Valerie refused giving in to the increase of her heart beat. She’d die before being attracted to a man who killed his wife. What if the man in her dream wasn’t really him? She had heard enough about domestic violence. And certainly, this man was abusive.
“I am not attracted to you, sir”, she spoke. Chin up. Defiant.
“Ok. Then stop looking at me like you want to devour me with hot sex, and tell me when breakfast will be ready”.
She felt embarrassed by his words, and looked away. Was she really looking at him like she wanted sex? Hadn’t she had enough of men in one lifetime?
“I’m sorry I only just got to the kitchen,” she spoke, “Ms. Grace left no instructions and being new here, I’m still trying to find my way around how things are done here”, she finished.
“Have you ever cooked meals before?” He asked, stepping further into the kitchen to get a bottle of water from the fridge.
“Yes”, Valerie replied, following him with her eyes.
“Good”, he opened the bottle, turned the content in a glass and drank, gently. Done, he kept the glass in the sink, before turning to her, “in this house, we eat the normal food you can find anywhere. It is the same process in preparing them. The earlier you start cooking, the better. Or do you want me to stay here and remind you how to cook?”
He was insulting her. No. Teasing her. She wasn’t really sure. His tone was cold and sarcastic, but when she looked in his eyes, they held something different. It looked like guilt. Then regret. Then sorrow. She didn’t know which it really was. But whatever the case, she could see he was suffering emotionally. She wasn’t sure though, if it had anything to do with his wife’s death. Was the death even a recent one?
“You wouldn’t need to, sir. I can cook. I’ll try to ensure breakfast is ready and served within the next hour, thirty minutes. Hope that wouldn’t be too late?”
“No. It is fine. I’ll leave you to cook”, he made for the door, but stopped briefly. “I have sent for a tailor. He will be here later in the afternoon. Please make yourself available at my study, so he can take your measurement”.
“Thank you, sir. I will be there”. He left. And she sighed.
“So much for a first day at work, Valerie”, she pulled herself together, quickly, “think about everything that has happened later. Cook first. So people can eat”,
Looking around the kitchen, Valerie wasn’t used to it yet. Neither did she know what type of food the occupants loved to eat. But of course, with Ms. Grace away, she had to cook. Leaving everyone hungry would be a disaster.
She roamed around the big kitchen for about 5 minutes, before her eyes settled on a list, more like a time-table, glued to the refrigerator. Looking closer, it was a food time-table, stating what was for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“Phew!” She sighed in relief. Boiled plantain, with palm oil and dried fish pepper soup, was for breakfast. “Easy to cook”, she said, taking the apron from the door top, she tied it around her waist and then she went to work.
To be continued…
©Karo Oforofuo. July 2017. All rights reserved
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