Under Pressure 

Photo courtesy Volkswagen USA

I have never been more afraid than I was today; my two year old was trapped in the car with the car key locked inside, I stood outside the car in shock and panic and I thought of a hundred ways to break the glass without hurting my child. 

My Monday mornings are typically very busy, I work full time and take my pre-schooler to school first before driving to work. His school is not far from my office, but we live about an hour away, so we usually leave the house at about 6 am to beat Lagos traffic. My son Joshua is pretty much use to the routine, at first it was a hassle getting him up early, but these days he is up before I am.

The past couple of weeks have been particularly tiring for both of us, we wake up too late to sit down and have breakfast like a normal family. I decided it would be better to have breakfast in the car at Josh’s school car park- that way we beat the traffic and still have some quality time together before Josh goes in to school. Josh loves eating in the car anyway, so this little change in our routine was great. 

On this day we were having French toast. I usually move to the back seat to seat next to Josh who is in his car seat eating to reduce potential spills. I could easily let one of his teachers feed him instead, but Josh would somehow end up not eating his breakfast. It was drizzling that morning so it was a bit chilly, the car windows were up and the air conditioner was off. Josh had just finished his first toast and was half way through his hot chocolate. I could see he was sweating; the car was getting a bit hot. I could easily have shuffled myself back to the driver’s seat if I had on trousers however I didn’t want to risk tearing my skirt, so I got out of the car to turn on the air conditioner which would only come on if the car was on. The moment I got out, I realised I had made a mistake. I heard the car lock behind me. I tried to open the door but it was locked. My head went blank and I pulled at the door handle repeatedly expecting a different result each time. I stopped and looked into the now misty glass. Josh was looking back at me with no expression. I could feel the tears coming, I was hardly breathing and felt faint. I wanted to call for help but the car park was empty, the security man was somewhere outside the compound, far from the scene. I weighed my options, I scanned the car park in search of a stone, big enough to break the car glass, I looked at Josh again he had come out of his car seat and was attempting to open the door. It wasn’t opening. I started panicking, my car was only 6 months old and I was still trying to understand how the lock system worked. I had left the smart key in the ignition in the hope of turning it on with my foot on the pedal from the driver’s seat. However, by getting out of the car, it had automatically locked itself.

 I scanned the car park again, nothing had changed; we were alone. I didn’t want to leave my son in the car while I went for help. So I told him, “Josh, Mummy needs you to get the key to open the car, come grab the stirring wheel.” I pointed to the driver’s seat. He quickly shuffled forward and sat on the driver’s seat, “I need you to pull out the key” I said to him slowly, loud enough for him to hear me. He looked at the key and looked  back at me, I nodded “Yes, pull it out” He put his little hand around the key and pulled. It didn’t respond. He kept trying to pull out the key repeatedly with both hands, the key wasn’t budging. Josh’s school uniform was soaked in his own sweat, I worried that he might suffocate if I didn’t break the glass. Just then, I saw the security guard and another parent standing a few meters away. At that point I didn’t know whether I could trust my son or let someone break the window and possibly hurt my son in the process. The security guard was already standing next to me, I couldn’t  hear what he was saying, I told he and the parent not to worry. They obviously did not believe me because the parent ran into the school to get help. I decided that I had to ignore them and trust my little boy could do this. 

“Josh you can do this, pull it harder” I said repeatedly to him. After trying for about 2 long minutes the key suddenly came out and Josh pulled the door handle to give me the key- the car was still locked. 

He looked at me with fear in his eyes, “You’ve been such a good boy, stay calm.” I said to him trying not to cry. “On the key I need you to press the last button to open the door.”  Josh whose attention was wearing off pressed the first button and the boot opened. I shook my head, “Baby, the third one.” I kept saying desperate for the car to open. 

The Car suddenly unlocked, I pulled the door handle immediately, yanking it wide open, picked up my son and gave him the tightest hug and filled his face with kisses. 

We stood outside in the rain as I cried and thanked God that my son had miraculously saved the day. 

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Grandma

‘I just can not believe he would do such a thing! I’m so angry…’ her voice trailed off. I had been eavesdropping for three minutes and I still did not know what made mum so mad. I knew it had something to do with Dad, it always did. She was talking with Grandma but I could only hear her voice. Grandma was soft spoken, even in regular conversations you had to read her lips to understand what she was saying. From where I was standing, on the landing I could only see Mum, the living room door was barely open. 

The phone rang suddenly.

‘Hello. Yes. Speaking. I would be right there’ Mum hung up. ‘That was the Police’ she said frantically. I could see mum pacing around the room likely looking for her hand bag. ‘Take care of Elsa for me.’ She said hurriedly, the front door shut loudly behind her.

I tip-toed back upstairs, but Grandma was already at the living room door trying to make sense of why I was walking funny. ‘What are you doing up at this time?’ She whispered.

‘I-I just wanted some water, good night Grandma.’ I started for the stairs again, running through them in twos.

‘Elsa darling, since you are up you might as well have some tea with your favourite Granny’ She said looking up at me.

I knew what ’tea’ meant and I did not want to be a part of this.

‘Err I don’t want tea.. you were right I should be asleep’

‘Nonsense my child, come come back down Elsa’ she motioned with her hands  ‘ I’m going to put the kettle on’.

Grandma seemed so small looking down at her from the top of the stairs. Something in her eyes made me scared of disobeying her quiet order.

I began the descent one step at a time. Grandma watched me patiently with a weird smile. She held her left hand toward me. When I reached the final step, I took her out stretched hand and looked into her eyes and that was the last thing I remembered.

 

I could hear the toads croaking and see the birds flying indistinctly from tree to tree. I could barely see, I was lying on dirt in my pyjamas under a tree. The sun was not out yet but the forest was awake. I searched around for Grandma, she was not with me. ‘Grandma’ I got on my feet, my head was spinning, it was difficult to focus. ‘Grandma’ I shouted this time. I looked up at the tree I was under and realised that I knew it, it was not far from the house. Getting my skewed bearing in check, I began walking in the general direction of the house. I could not understand what was I doing here, how did I get here? I soon noticed that the ground became really wet, and uncomfortable, I looked down and realised I was walking in mud. I panicked and I tried to run back to the tree but I could not see it. So I stopped. I considered the possibility that I was dreaming. I slapped myself and pinched my nose and closed my eyes, nothing seemed to wake me up. Suddenly, I saw the torch light. ‘Grand Ma?’ I whispered walking toward the light.  

‘Elsa, Elsa’ I could hear her old raspy voice. She pointed her torch at me. It felt like she was holding two torchlights. I used my elbows to block out the light. ‘Oh my goodness Elsa I thought I had lost you’ Grandma picked me up and gave me the tightest hug. Just then, I realised Mum was standing next to her, ‘Elsa you cannot just run away like that’ Mum yelled, she seemed upset and not as pleased to see me, something was wrong. ‘I did not run away Mum, Grandma… she brought me here, and, and…’ the more I explained the more I felt stupid, I could feel Mum’s burning stare on me. ‘What Elsa is trying to say is that she is sorry and would not behave like that again, would you Elsa?’ Grandma cut in. I looked back at Grandma. I could not understand what was happening, why was she lying like she was not the one who brought me to the forest, how did she get back to the house so quickly, how many minutes had I been knocked out?

‘Grandma why did you bring me here?’ I raised my voice at her and she just stared at me like I was crazy. ‘Let’s get you home Elsa, we would talk about this in the morning’ Mum said holding my arm tightly and pulling me away from Grandma.

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I decided to try my hands on thriller. I have come to appreciate that it is hard to gauge fear. There are just too many questions a Writer has to ask, the most important I think is, ‘how lost do you want your reader to be?’ I usually enjoy leaving the end of my stories as open as possible- incase I want a sequel, or to elicit various interpretations from the reader. With ‘Grandma’ I am still undecided, I’ll leave it to you, would you want a sequel, were you confused? I’ll really appreciate your comments.

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She knew she’d have to run alone, she always knew.

She did not know how sad it would be actually doing it.

It’s been several years coming, her income was low, and drugs were high.

 

What sort of mother abandons her daughter? She thought. The fight was internal, one she knew she would not win.

They soon arrived at the orphanage; she nudged the little girl to the door.

 

A day had passed but she could still hear her calling, ‘mum’, ‘mum’, ‘mum’

She kept telling herself this was the best decision, and soon she believed it.

 

This was my attempt at a 100-word story. Did you figure out what was going on?Let’s know your take on this. #SometimesLessisMore.

Stalking

It was 6am. She did not need  to check her phone’s clock. Andrea could hear the shuffle from next door, and knew that her brother was about to make his way downstairs through his bedroom window. A ritual he seemed to do each morning for over a month. She heard his window open, followed by his perfect landing. Each morning, he left home and returned twenty minutes later in the same way. No one seemed to notice Peter’s absence, except her. Today she decided to find out what he was up to. 

Andrea was not sure why her older brother left the house each morning at the same time, but she felt it had something to do with the bullies at school, since it began about the same time. Peter was 16 and one of the tallest in his year- it crushed Andrea watching her big brother getting punched by the boys in his year. She knew she should have done something about it but she couldn’t- it all happened too quickly. Since then Andrea had hated herself for not standing up for her big brother and so felt personally responsible for his welfare.

Like the past mornings she watched Peter pick up his back pack and run through the driveway carefully concealing himself under the shadows of the building.

Andrea knew the only way she could help her brother was to follow him. She had tried a week ago to talk about it, but he grew more distant and upset. She did not want to tell Mum because she wanted to be sure she knew what she was talking about. As if rationalising why she had to follow Peter, Andrea spent the next minute convincing herself as she pushed her window up, she was afraid of heights and only realised then how high the duplex was, so shut the window. She made her way downstairs as quietly as possible through the back door. She ran to the front of the house facing the street. She could not find Peter ‘I wasn’t fast enough’ she thought. She walked a hundred yards up the street and instinctively took the lane on the right as if heading towards the city. That was when she spotted the green jumper and the black bag pack. She ran after Peter who was walking at a much faster pace. As she closed the distance between them she noticed that Peter had not once turned around- they were only two metres apart, and she was sure she had made enough noise for her brother to know he was being followed. 

Peter had made so many turns already that Andrea knew it would be a bad idea to go back home alone without getting lost. Andrea observed Peter’s demeanour and she realised something was not right. She was convinced it was her brother- this was his jumper and his back pack, however his gait was weird. He seemed to be slowing down and staggering. Something was not right. She  summoned up the courage and finally called at him, ‘Peter, where are you going?’

He stopped walking, as she attempted to touch him, he began walking even faster now, not once turning. Andrea felt for her phone to call her mum, but there was no network service. So she ran after him. 

‘Peter. Stop!’ Andrea reached for his arm like a little girl trying to get her father’s attention.

Peter stopped walking, but did not turn to look at Andrea.

‘Listen, whatever is happening to you I can help you’ Andrea still had her hand on his arm, and tried to get a better look at Peter. 

His eyes were unblinking and stoned. He refused to look at her.

‘Peter, let’s go home’ she said, trying to get him to look at her. ‘Home is that way’ She pointed in the opposite direction.

He suddenly pushed her aside and kept walking, not looking at her.

Andrea watched as Peter walked away, but she was not sure if she should still keep going.

Andrea and her family had just moved into the neighbourhood, she had no idea where she was, and for some reason her phone was not working. 

She ran after Peter as he made his way into a dirt path now. There were no buildings at this part of town just bare land, and make-shift homes. Andrea tried to remain calm, and maintained a hundred yards from her brother. He stopped at one of the shanty structures and took out a parcel from his back pack and turned in her direction, as if heading back.

She watched Peter’s expression, there was nothing to see, he looked trance-like, almost as if he was sleep walking. He strolled past her, not once acknowledging her existence and walked on the same path he had come from. Andrea followed her brother home. She watched him climb up into his window.

The kitchen light came on just as Andrea made for the backdoor.

‘Who is out there?’ Andrea heard the fear in her mother’s voice. ‘My word, what happened to you? Where are you coming from?’ 

Trying to calm herself down, Andrea uttered the first expression in her mouth, ‘It’s Peter, I think he sleep walks every morning’.

 

 

Daily Prompt: Use it or lose it

The engine went dead, and so did my heart. The car rolled down the hill faster than I anticipated. I tried to restart the engine but it didn’t budge. I hit the break hoping for a miracle; the car slowed down only a little, but not for long, the hill was too steep.

My rear mirror showed more trouble; two cars were racing up the hill, oblivious of my situation. I horned repeatedly but they kept coming toward me.  I turned the steering wheel attempting to get the car to steer into the other lane; thankfully it worked. I tried to slow the car a little more, tapping on the breaks gently.

It was only a few seconds before traffic streamed into my lane; the motorists  horned furiously at me in unison. With every second I kept searching for a way to crash the car into a pavement, but it was moving too fast. I also thought of ditching the car and jumping out like James Bond would.

I had reached the bottom of the hill; People could finally see what was happening. I suddenly could hear screams as the car headed toward the busy intersection.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!”

“Lola. Lola. Wake up.”

I was sweating all over. My eyes were wet from tears. It was so hard to believe I imagined it all; as I trembled on my bed.

“You will be fine honey, these are the temporary side effects of…”

I couldn’t care less what the nurse was saying. All I really wanted  was to stop shaking. I knew it was only a dream, but I wasn’t certain it was. What if this was a memory?

I shivered some more finding it extra difficult to stay calm.

“Would you like some more pain killers for your arm?”

I looked down at my arm , then looked back at her trying to decide once again whether I had just imagined the car incident.

“What happened to my arm? Did I really do it?”

She held up some tablets and a glass of water, “oh, my dear I thought we’d never come back from that one.” She watched me carefully and continued, “Just drink up, you’ll feel better I promise.”

I did as she asked, without a protest.

“Don’t push yourself Lola, your memories would come back to you”

A Quest for freedom

He got his things and left. He left all the pain behind. His home which was nothing more than a house filled with memories of sadness and grief. Kona was convinced he had done the right thing. He raced down the street trying to remind himself repeatedly that he was the victim. Kona clutched his bag a little tighter than necessary trying to control the energy and adrenaline that forged through his body. He looked back one last time just in case he was being followed. Seeing the highway just ahead he relaxed a little. He remembered the night when his whole world came crashing down.

“Don’t worry Kona, everything will be just fine, things will be just the way they were.” Aunty Carol had whispered into his ears.

“Thank you Aunty.” said Kona, dismounting the dining stool where his feet had hung loosely while seated.

“Kona, I don’t want you to call me Aunty again, call me ‘Mum’ and call Uncle George ‘Dad’ instead, understand?”

He was overwhelmed by her words and searched her eyes to understand exactly what she meant.

“I-I am sorry, I can’t.” the eight year old said, as he ran upstairs, banging the door loudly behind him.

It was the first time he wept since their funeral. It was the first time it dawned on him that they were never coming back. That he was all alone.

Kona cried himself to sleep that night. It was just 2am but he found himself suddenly startled by the creak from his bedroom door. It was dark and the power was out. He searched frantically for his torch but he couldn’t find it.  He could see a silhouette at the door, but could not make out what it was.

 “Who is it?,” he called out.

The shadow advanced toward him, it was a man, a very well built man of average height. He knew who it was now, it was Uncle George.

“Uncle, is that you? What’s the matter?”

Before he could ask a third question, he felt a sharp pain forge through his shoulders as he fell on the floor.

“You are an ungrateful child, we took you in as ours. Is this how you repay us? You cursed child!”

“No, no, no Uncle George, please, please”, Kona wailed as he ran around the room to evade the determined strikes of Uncle George’s old belt. “Please Uncle, please, please”, Kona gasped as he passed out .

The boy lay unconscious, as the man walked out of the door.

“Get off the road you fool, if you don’t know how to cross ask for assistance.” An angry motorist yelled at the teenager who was lost in thoughts. Startled Kona jumped off the road. He had walked for five minutes already and had not realised he had arrived at the busy highway; a kilometre away from the house. Looking at his wristwatch, he knew he had to move faster. “Angela should be at the bus station by now,” he muttered to himself, scanning the traffic for a commercial motorbike.

The last eight years of his life had been nothing but misery and injustice after his parents had died in a fatal car accident. He watched his Uncle and Aunt live like kings and queens while he worked like a mere peasant. Dying intestate, his father had placed his brother as the next of kin. There was little the law could do about it; except for his uncle to take care of him.

As the okada moved faster perspiration that had stuck like glue to his shirt slowly dried off and he felt less tensed. His thoughts trailed off again as he recalled how he had gone to the police after a week of repeated beating from both Uncle George and his wife, Aunt Carol.

“Young man we understand, and we promise you they will not hurt you again. Right now you have to go home, you cannot stay here.” the policeman had said as he gently shoved Kona toward the door.

“You don’t understand, they beat me every night at 2am, I cannot sleep, I am afraid. Please help me Sir.” The little boy  pleaded with tears in his eyes.

“I know your Uncle very well. We will call him to order, just go home; we will go to the office to see him.”

It was a lie. Kona knew nothing would be done. The entire village was corrupt with Uncle George’s lies and political ambitions. Everyone cowered at his presence. His father’s death had made it all too easy for Uncle George to attain the fame he and his wife hungered for. The villagers all thought Kona was insane, they believed anything they were told. School was torture for Kona; his classmates despised him because their parents had fed them with the same lies. The only person who ever talked to him was Angela, a little girl about his age who used to come on holiday from the city twice every year. She was his next door neighbour, she heard him cry every night for help. Kona remembered vividly the first time they met. She was different. She was not anything like the other girls in the village. Her hair was braided differently in tiny spirals of corn rolls all meandering into eachother, her smile was so beautiful and welcoming.

“Hi.”

“Hello.” He smiled sheepishly

“Do you need any help?”

“No I-I am fine” he said, trying to balance a crate of drinks on his head with one hand while struggling with a bag full of groceries in the other.

“I insist.” She seized the bag away from him.

“Thank you, you really don’t have to.”

“It’s really not such a big deal, I mean we are neighbours and we are heading in the same direction”

She was twelve like him but she was a shoulder taller than he was.

As they approached the house Kona got worried that he might get in more trouble, he wasn’t supposed to have any friends.

“Please don’t come in” he said, as he took the bag from her. “Thank you.”

“I know. If you ever want to talk you can come over.” She whispered.

That was the start of a friendship that manoeuvred Kona’s already disordered world.

The beatings continued as both his uncle and his wife, Carol took turns to whip him, in a quest to change the insane boy. But, he grew used to it. He feigned unconcious whenever he wanted them to stop, they didn’t know whether he was pretending or not. They never bothered to check, when they saw him motionless they knew he had been cured for the day. Meeting Angela gave Kona the strength he needed to live again. She was the only reason he kept fighting to live.

The okada man meandered his way through tiny streets escaping traffic that had began to take its form on the busy streets. Amidst the noisy sound from the okada, he felt a vibration in his pocket.

“Where are you?” Angela yelled in desperation

“I am almost at the station, sorry I am not there yet, I encountered some difficulties I will explain further when I get there.”

“Kona, this is not the plan, you were supposed to be here by 1.30pm, I have no idea why you had to go back into the house…” she trailed off.

He had forgotten how meticulously organised she was. She never understood that plans were always subject to change. As she continued speaking, Kona’s mind was once again lost in the events that had made him late.

It was 12noon, no one was at home, Aunt Carol had travelled, Uncle George was at work, Kona was supposed to be at school. He waited for his Uncle to drive out and then broke into the house. He had been planning this escape for years, thanks to Angela, the plan was flawless. He had his own key to the house unknown to them and he knew where his documents where. The birth certificate and the adoption papers were lying in Aunt Carol’s neatly arranged stack of books. He quickly grabbed his documents and stuffed a few clothes from his room into his bag and headed for the stairs. As he locked the front door, he heard the sound of a car engine revving in the compound. His uncle was back.

“What are you doing here young man? You ought to be in school?”  Uncle George looked at him in shock.

“I forgot something, I had to come back to get it.

“How did you get in?”

Closing the gap between them, the 220 pound man moved briskly toward Kona and noticed the bag in his hands, it wasn’t his school bag.

“Let’s go inside.” Uncle George said.

He pushed Kona through the door, sending the skinny teenager lying face down on the floor. The force was not anticipated. He got back on his feet and looked his Uncle in the eye. He could sense fear in the man’s eyes.

“Don’t you ever lay your hands on me again I am tired of this, it has to stop now Uncle.” He had not addressed him as ‘Uncle’ in eight years. His courage earned him three slaps and a dozen kicks.

“Get up! You want to be a man?” He said, talking between breaths. “You want to run away? Don’t you? You are ill Kona, you cannot survive out there without us you stupid boy…”

Kona looked around for an object big enough to knock down his Uncle. He noticed the glass vase twelve inches away. His body ached all over from the kicks. He struggled to get on his feet, then took few steps back feigning tears as he apologised for his actions.

“You should be sorry. I can’t wait to tell Carol, this is utterly preposterous.” He got out his phone to call his wife.

This was Kona’s cue. He lifted the glass vase with all the strength he had and threw it at his Uncle. The hefty man fell on the floor with a thunderous sound, as pieces from the broken glass dissipated all over the wooden floor. Kona looked at his Uncle in shock. He was not sure whether he was dead or not. He did not want to know. He pulled his Uncle into one of the rooms downstairs and swept the mess on the floor as quickly as he could, that was when he noticed his Uncle’s phone. He picked it up and discovered his Uncle had not successfully called his wife. He took the phone with him, picked his bag and left.

“Hello. Hello. Hello…” Angela yelled, then hung up. He forgot she was still on the phone.

He was already at the bus station now. It was packed with so many people; from travellers to traders. He began searching for Angela. She should have bought their tickets by now. “He was the only loose end of this plan.” He thought.

He called her, her phone was off. He dialled the phone number more carefully this time, and he received the same message. Beads of sweat lined Kona’s forehead as he struggled to remain calm. He broke into a half run, as he walked and ran at the same time, searching more frantically for Angela. She was not in the bus station. She had not come to the bus station.

He had no ticket. No money. He sat on the floor in frustration and cried. He cried because he had nothing to live for. He began to second guess himself and for the first time ever,  he believed what his Uncle had said. He couldn’t survive without them. He was ill.

 

 

THE END.

about writing

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I know I said I’ll never write about writing, but  I have to bend my rules a little. I have spent close to a month bickering about not writing my best, and suddenly it just hit me. I spend longer  thinking up a plot to write a perfect story (which never comes out right) forgetting they are more things to write about than fiction. There are just too many things to talk about than ideas and imaginations; hence, I think I have wasted my time not documenting my thoughts about things around me.

On the issue of non-fiction versus fiction which is better, I really don’t know. I think the writer of the genre will decide for himself/herself which they prefer. For me, I used to think I was very good at making up stories and just telling them from raw imagination. But what good is making up a story that takes twice as long to create? Writing is all about passion. If you can’t find passion in writing, then your write ups would suck!  Passion is a weird feeling. It is waking up at 4am and writing in this stream of consciousness all that is in your heart. It is knowing you have the best plot on your first draft. It is smiling in your heart when your story is criticised by others. It is writing a story that makes you feel more confident.

It has been a while I have done passionate writing. These days I feel I write out of compulsion. Compulsive writing is simple because it is easier to settle for whatever story (regardless of the errors) just to get that guilty feeling off your chest. But what good is writing when you know it is below your standard.

From the little experience I have, I think writing takes time and commitment. It doesn’t happen in one day. It is more of an acquired skill that over time gets better through practise. The more you write-no matter how lame the topic- the better you express yourself on paper. So for me, I think I’ll do some non-fiction for a while and see how that goes.