Lviv at this time of the year smells like roses, with a touch of ‘wood’ essence, gloriously amplifying the antiquity of the city and the perfectly interlocked streets.
‘Summer vacation’ was something Agnes got to understand from those ‘all white cast’ movies with summer camps, a sprinkle of horror garnished with bad consequences for every good and bad decision made. It’s either she was over thinking or the universe was really giving her negative vibes, but it was too late.
Arriving at the hotel as the Cab driver stood and watched Agnes unload her suitcase from the car, she felt a wave of relieve for she almost missed her train that morning.
‘My lateness would one day get me in trouble.’ Agnes’s mind wandered as she walked into the hotel. ‘Sometimes, I wonder if I would be late for my own funeral (that’s if I could).’
Her friends: Naomi, Feyi, Bethany and Seun got to the hotel earlier that day. Agnes was sure Feyi was already popping one bottle of red wine after the other except she was too exhausted and fell straight in bed when they arrived.
Agnes rolled her purple suitcase down the lobby. The giant statue of a gold peacock stared straight at her face with pink and yellow feathers.
‘Is it beautiful?’ Agnes wondered ‘What is so appealing about this? sculptures, statues, art?’
She likes to assume she is one of those that can’t see the beauty in art, or perhaps a childhood nightmare she had repeatedly could be the precipitant.
It always began with three children fighting over a lolipop, then her attention is diverted to the bear statues behind them. The black bear statues were about 9ft tall, arranged around the room like chess pieces on a chess board.
The other children and Agnes smiled at such magnificence until more lights came on, red and blue lights which seemed to trigger the bears to come alive. The bears devoured one child after the other. The screams, the blood, the crunchy sound of bone with fear holding her heart gruesomely until she woke up dismayed .
No one helped Agnes with her suitcase: the disadvantage of a 5-star hotel? She would like to think this had nothing to do with her skin color but did it?
She had always disliked this feeling, walking into a place and all eyes glaring at you; not in an admirable way but an inquisitive one, similar to walking into a museum but this time she’s the artifact.
She checked in, collected her key and took the elevator to the 6th floor. Luckily, she had no company in the elevator, moments alone in elevators are meditating moments for her. She focused on her breathing: in, out, in, out, in…. until the elevator ‘ding’ welcomed her back to this universe. She unlocked the door to room 699.
‘Hello ladies!!’ Agnes screamed excitingly as she closed the door behind her. Naomi jumped at her causing her to lose balance and they both landed on the cream faux-fur rug.
‘Agnes you’ve got to eat better, Naomi shouldn’t be able to knock you off your feet.’ Feyi said as she helped Naomi and Agnes get on their feet.
When they say ‘show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are.’
Agnes could barely find any similarities between the girls and herself, each person had their own standards, do’s and don’ts. They care immensely about one another but don’t mistake that for them being the same.
Agnes didn’t get a chance to undress before the ladies started talking about all the plans they had for the night. Feyi claimed she had an invitation to a gay club but the rest of the girls were not interested. Rather, they were looking forward to dinner and the photo session in-between.
Bethany and Seun had stepped out to rent a car. Agnes didn’t think it was a great idea but if only she arrived earlier, her opinion might have had an impact.
###FEW HOURS LATER###
The ladies were dressed and ready for an amazing night.
Agnes wore her signature magenta lipstick that accentuated her toffee skin tone with a knee length bodycon royal blue dress, graced with a long sleeve and a plunging V neckline paired with a gold court shoe.
Naomi wore a green sleeveless jumpsuit which complemented her caramel skin with a black high heeled sandal.
Bethany and Seun could be mistaken for sisters, they both wore a short sleeved knee length bodycon mustard dress. Seun with a V-neck and Bethany with a round neck, both with a black high heeled sandal. Their dark skin glowed as though they bathe in baby oil, which they probably did.
Feyi couldn’t figure out what to do with her hair but Bethany saved the day and helped her to style her hair, while the rest took one Snapchat video after another with their faces snatched for the gods. Feyi was wearing a white blazer dress with a white court shoe.
Bethany and Seun argued about who was going to drive while the ladies were in the elevator heading down to the lobby. Finally, Bethany succumbed to Seun and agreed to let her drive.
‘Oh my gosh! You ladies rented the 2018 Chevrolet Suburban in Satin stainless steel, damn we riding this baby to hell today.’ Feyi said as she jumped excitingly, making sure to capture the moments for her Insta story and Snapchat.
Seun was a careful driver and the beauty of Lviv was mesmerising. The girls went to “Baczewski restaurant” and parked on the Shevskaya street.
The antique touch of the restaurant fueled the old souls in the girls. They took over 300 photos as they waited very patiently for their food.
Once everyone’s food arrived, they took photos of the meal, as though if they didn’t the gods wouldn’t let it digest. They put their phones aside as they ate and conferred.
Bethany told the girls about how she and her psychology teacher had a dispute. The teacher insisted that there was nothing like ghosts or witches. Bethany who seemed to have a lot of experience with the metaphysical world didn’t let it slide.
Seun dislikes discussing the metaphysical, mainly because she believes if you do, you are offering the spirits an invitation letter into your life. Seun excused herself and went to the washroom.
Agnes, Naomi and Feyi seemed to be interested in the topic and listened with great attention.
Naomi talked about mysterious things that had happened to her, including her experience in her childhood home when she was about 6 years old.
She woke up in the middle of the night to pee. As she got up from the bed she saw a woman standing right beside her dresser. She had a white cloth wrapped around her body and over her head, her face was powdered in white and she wore a ruby lipstick. The woman signaled her to come closer but she didn’t and rather went back to sleep.
‘Weren’t you scared?’ Agnes asked.
‘That’s actually the funny thing, I wasn’t, but I knew not to go any closer to the ghost.’ Naomi replied.
‘Why does that sound like a Nollywood ghost?” Bethany asked as the rest of the girls burst into laughter including Naomi.
They finished dining and requested for the cheque. They split the bills and contemplated if to go to the Gay club Feyi claimed she was invited to or go to a different club entirely.
They decided to go to the ‘Anonymous club’.
At arrival, Seun parked at the car park. Although, Seun had to go back to check if she locked the car, even after all the girls confirmed she did.
They walked into the club, they paid an entrance fee of 200 hyruvna each. They also paid 10,000 hyruvna for a table at the second floor. The table came with 1 bottle of Moet Chandon,1 bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Only four of the ladies could drink since Seun was the chauffeur for the night.
Agnes ordered for a glass of Mohito Strawberry without alcohol while Seun ordered for a can of Coca Cola.
‘The sugar in that thing will kill you.’ Bethany said in an affirmative tone.
‘That’s if I don’t die before it kills me. We all die at the end, don’t we?’ Seun asked.
‘Stop saying nonsense like that.’ Naomi rebuked.
Bethany, Naomi and Feyi drank glass after glass. Bethany and Feyi always boasted about how they had high tolerance for alcohol. Naomi is the exact opposite, after a couple of glasses, she falls asleep and wouldn’t wake up for hours. Yet, she wouldn’t let anyone interfere between her and her liquor.
The club was dome shaped with multiple lights to accentuate the structure and architecture.
The disco balls flashed around as exotic dancers with different costumes came out one after the other.
The girls couldn’t spot anyone of the same color. They danced to one house music after the other, the girls prayed for a bit of pop or anything other than house music and the gods answered their prayers.
Cardi B’s ‘I like it’ came on, Bethany and Seun ran downstairs to the dance floor while the other girls danced upstairs.
Feyi and Agnes could spot Bethany and Seun dancing with each other, one song after the other.
Bethany never saw anything that beautiful: the green, blue and red lights bouncing off different surfaces, the people, the smiles, the laughs, the music, she was certain this was an undefined type of orgasmic moment.
Bethany and Seun were interrupted for the second time by a guy who wanted to dance with Seun, he was tall, about 6 ft with a chiseled jaw, muscular arms and eyes that are only described in romantic novels. Seun turned him down again but he soon returned with a friend of his, one much older but similar looking. This time, the girls agreed to dance with them.
‘Agnes, Naomi come and see what’s happening.’ Feyi said enthusiastically. Naomi was already sleepy but she managed to get up to see what was happening.
‘Oh my, what did Seun drink, I want one of those.’ Naomi screamed!
‘She had only Cola but whatever she’s on, that guy is definitely on double.’ Agnes added.
‘I didn’t know Seun could dance like that.’ Feyi said.
‘That ain’t no dancing, those ones are about to start getting down on the dance floor!!’ Agnes said with her best impression of Tiffany Haddish.
‘She just slapped him!!’ Feyi screamed in shock.
‘What the hell is happening?’ Agnes wondered as they both were confused about what to do, Naomi already started sleeping on the couch.
Agnes rushed downstairs to meet Bethany and Seun but they met halfway.
‘Please get the girls and let us go.’ Seun said to Agnes as fear flashed across her face.
‘Are you okay?’ Agnes asked as she prepared to go get Naomi and Feyi.
Seun nodded and Agnes rushed upstairs. Agnes and Feyi helped sleepy Naomi to the car.
Agnes decided to drive since it was obvious Seun was pretty shaken by whatever just happened.
Bethany held Seun at the back seat of the car with Naomi beside them taking trip after trip to the dream world.
‘Bethany can you tell us what happened?’ Feyi asked as she turned backwards from the front seat to listen to what she had to say.
‘The guy came to us a couple of times, asking if we spoke Russian and asked if he could dance with Seun. Seun kept sayin “No, нет” but after some consideration, Seun said it wouldn’t hurt and I was going to dance solo but he came back again with someone else..’ Bethany explained as Seun interrupted,
‘You know we had a connection, a dancing chemistry. We were dancing and flirting, then he said ‘Let’s go to hotel.’
I asked him why and he said ‘to sex’.
I was shocked and I tried be polite and told him I wasn’t interested and goodbye. I wanted to walk away but he pulled me back and pleaded I finished the song with him, I agreed and the next thing I knew he pulled me close, grabbed my bum and tried to slide his hands up my dress, I pulled as hard as I could but it was unsuccessful and that’s why I laced him with a slap.’
‘Seun that’s crazy! but girls I think we might have a bigger problem, we are being followed.’ Agnes said as she looked at the rear view mirror repeatedly.
‘If you are right, it’s definitely the guy from the club.’ Seun said looking very certain.
‘Why would you think that, did he say something to you?’ Bethany asked.
‘Yes, he said “я найду тебя и я соберу что я должен, ты сука.’ I only understood he called me bitch at the end.’
‘I will find you and collect what I’m owed, you bitch.’ Agnes translated as her head went spinning for a second, she knew this summer vacation was a bad idea. The universe tried to warn her but she wouldn’t listen.
‘Okay, everyone calm down.’ Bethany said trying to calm herself down.
‘Bethany is right, we’ve got to relax.’ Feyi said as she tried to tap Naomi to wake up but she didn’t respond.
‘Agnes take the next right, left ,another left then right. That should take us to the city center but it’s not a straight forward road but halfway we would know if we are really being followed or not.’
‘Oh guys, I can’t stay calm. Have you ever being taken by the mafia? First, they would cut off our tongues, then pluck out our eyeballs and make us eat them before they turn us into sex slaves. Oh God please I promise if you get me out of this, I would never buy clothes from stores, wear them and return them back.’ Bethany said shamefully.
‘Ha, olè (thief), you are one of those people, that’s a very shameful act, I’m ashamed of you.’ Seun reprimanded.
Agnes tried to imagine she was in a movie and she could see and hear what the other people in the black SUV were saying, what if they brought out guns? She increased the pressure on the throttle. She was about to make the last turn and the SUV was still on their tail.
‘Guys, now we are being followed. It’s almost 2:30am. Seun you need to google the police number and call them.’ Feyi said as she directed Agnes towards another street.
The streets were silent, some lights were brighter than the others.
The interlocked roads almost let the SUV catch up with them.
Getting to another street, they took another left. Finally, they lost the SUV.
‘Praise the lord, guys we lost them!’ Feyi declared as she tried adjusting the GPS to find their way back to the hotel.
About 20m away from them, a white SUV crossed the road in front of them.
Agnes aggressively placed her feet on the break causing a sudden halt. Agnes looked at the rear view mirror and realised the black SUV was about 90m behind them. Agnes remembered she saw an alley on the right about 20m to the south. She changed the gear into reverse, she reversed with the utmost speed and made the right turn as fast as possible. The SUVs followed and simultaneously Seun got through to the police.
‘Agnes this road has no exit, oh my!! you just gave us a first class ride to hell and handed us right in the devil’s hands.’ Bethany panicked.
Agnes stopped the car only a few km right before the brick wall.
‘Should I go through the wall? According to the GPS it should lead back to the street.’ Agnes contemplated loudly.
‘It’s a rental!!!’ Bethany screamed.
‘Rental or die?’ Feyi screamed back at her.
‘It’s actually him!’ Bethany said as she looked back and saw the guy from the club with a couple other guys with guns.
‘Don’t make us come drag you out!!’ One of the guys screamed as he walked towards the girl’s car.
‘What is the address?’ Seun requested, making it obvious the police wouldn’t reach them before they get taken away or worse, barely leaving Agnes with any other choice.
Agnes prepared to go through the wall. She placed her feet on the accelerator, humming and humming. She reversed and as she changed the gear to drive and as she placed her feet on the throttle, the car’s engine died.
‘Agnes!!!! What are you doing?’ Bethany screamed.
‘I swear I did nothing, the car won’t start.’ Agnes said as she started to panic .
The guys started to laugh and waited right behind the car.
‘Let’s just go down and surrender.’ Bethany begged.
‘What sort of useless idea is that? We go down fighting, are there any sharp objects in the car?’ Feyi asked.
‘I don’t know o, Ori iya mi o.’ Seun lamented.
Bethany opened the door and jumped down, Seun tried to grab her but it was too late.
Everything went into slow motion as the first bullet went though Bethany’s glabella, the second: her left eye, the third: her upper chest ,fourth and fifth: her upper abdomen. There was a loud silence which accompanied all the bullets and blood splatter.
Seun screamed as tears flowed down her eyes. Feyi was mute from the shock. Naomi’s eyes opened to witness the murder of Bethany.
Four muscular looking bald men started walking towards the girl’s car.
Fear was certainly an understatement.
One of the guys opened the left back door as the girls wailed and prayed. They dragged them out of the car and put a white cloth over their nostrils thereby causing them to lose consciousness.
< strong>### 10 HOURS LATER ###/strong>
Seun opened her eyes, her ears were ringing, she attempted to put her hands over her ears but she couldn’t. She realized her legs and hands were restrained and her mouth was gagged.
The room was dark-grey, with a white and grey pvc and a bath tub sitting at the north-right corner of the room. The room smelled of liquor and a stench of garlic. She looked around trying to find Naomi, Feyi and Agnes.
The three of them were tied to a poll at the south-left corner of the room while Seun was strapped to a wooden cross-back classic chair.
Seun tried to call them but nothing except incoherent speech came out. Agnes, Feyi and Naomi were still unconscious.
Seun tried to imagine she was in a movie and she would get lucky and be able to free herself and her friends and they would live happily ever after.
About an hour went by before Seun gave up the fruitless effort to untie her hands. She finally figured out something else to do about the present conundrum.
She decided to try breaking the chair by falling backwards with the chair as hard as she could. She knew it was risky but she had to try. Simultaneously, as Seun fell backwards, Agnes and Feyi woke up. Seun’s chair breaking mission failed, she was hurt and she couldn’t get the chair back up.
Few minutes later, the guy from the club came in with 2 other guys.
‘Seun Seun you need not try to kill yourself. Only I get to do that, even god would not dare.’ He said mockingly with his Russian accent as he raised her chair.
‘My name is Dmitryi, remember me?’ Dmitryi continued.
Seun shook her head in denial as one of Dmitryi’s guys removed the gag in her mouth.
‘All because I refused to go to your hotel, you f***ing murderer!’ Seun said furiously.
‘You really don’t remember me? You remember the SATIC deal?’ Dmitryi asked after laughing in a very sarcastic manner.
Fear struck Seun’s heart but she did like to think it was one of those secrets you take to your grave.
‘No, what’s that?’ Seun asked affirmably.
‘давай!’ Dmytri said as the two other guys moved the chair towards the bath tub.
‘What’s going on, what are you going to do? Please stop!’ Seun inquired fearfully.
The guys lifted Seun’s chair and tumbled it into the bath tub.
All Seun felt was motion, air, water with a mixture fear and regret. She held her breathe intensely. How long can she go? She doesn’t even know how to swim. Water battling with her nostrils as she heard the whispers of death.
The cold, the struggle, every time she tried raising her head, a hand pushed back and kept it firmly underwater. She wondered if that was how she was going to die, should she have told the truth?
Divinely, they pulled her back up. Life delivered back to her on a silver platter. To tell the truth or not?
Agnes, Feyi and Naomi were awake. There was a mixture of emotions flying across the room. One of the men untied Naomi and dragged her by her hair.
He placed her on her knees in front of Seun. He tied her hands together behind her back.
Dmytri pulled a gun out and pointed it at the occipital region of Naomi’s head.
‘Are you ready to start talking about the SATIC deal?’ Dmytri questioned as he pulled off the gun’s safety.
Agnes and Feyi trembled in fear. Naomi shivered as she mumbled something no one understood, drop by drop Naomi lost control of her bladder as urine burst out of her.
‘I don’t know…’ The gunshot and blood spatter interrupted Seun as she blinked over and over as she tried to apprehend what just happened.
‘Please please don’t shoot anyone else, I’ll talk.’ Seun pleaded and cried.
‘Of course you will.’ Dmytri affirmed.
‘It was Bethany, the girl you killed on the street. She introduced me to the scamming business about a year ago, I swear I was going to stop, the SATIC deal was suppose to be my last. We ran the job together. I’m so sorry.’ Seun pleaded.
Agnes and Feyi glared in horror, for what they heard Seun say was inconceivable. Seun was the Miss morals this and that. Besides, they both got money from home. Why do that? To realize their friends were involved in such preposterous act was alarming and deplorable.
‘I don’t care, where is my money now?’ Dmytri asked as he waved the gun around Seun’s head.
‘We lost it, I’m so sorry, please please don’t kill me.’ Seun apologized.
‘You lost $50,000?’ Dmytri asked sarcastically.
‘Bethany lost it, she was betrayed by the guy that helps us to receive our transactions, I swear that was what she told me.’ Seun confessed and pleaded. ‘Please I’m telling you the truth, I can get the money for you.’
‘How? By scamming someone else? Suka!!’ Dmytri cursed and stimultaneously he pulled the trigger, thereby taking that which he can’t give and sending Seun straight to her ancestors.
Agnes and Feyi wailed, it was hard to tell if they feared for their lives or mourned their friends.
‘You know what to do.’ Dmytri said to the two guys while he walked out of the room.
Are Agnes and Feyi going to suffer the reverberation of Bethany and Seun’s actions?
One of the guys put a bag over their heads as the girls silently awaited their faith.
A prick of needle inclined them towards meeting their maker. A peaceful death or a peaceful sleep?
### 10 HOURS LATER ###
Agnes awoke to the beep beep sound of the Heart Monitor. She saw a man standing right above her in a lilac scrub.
‘Can you hear me?’ The doctor asked. ‘Agnes, nod if you can.’
Agnes nodded for she seemed to have lost her voice.
Few minutes later Feyi walked into the room in a Burgundy robe.
Relieve flooded through Agnes’s soul.
They were five who left home and only two who returned. Agnes and Feyi would never know why the guys left them in front of the emergency centre instead of killing them. They would never be able to comprehend how their friends were scammers and they had no idea.
The men were never apprehended and the bodies of Naomi, Bethany and Seun were never found. Agnes and Feyi are still living with their ghosts and no one knows if they will ever be able to find home again.
WHO IS TO BLAME?
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WRITTEN BY: MARIAM ALAYANDE
PHOTO BY: Unknown