Fri. Feb 9th, 2024

ABOUT THE BOOK

.

The loss of Victoria Brown’s father places

her at the mercy of her stepfamily who

are bent on making her life miserable.

Turning her into a pitiful maid, they force

her to live a modern day reenactment of

Cinderella. But they don’t know that

where there’s a Cinderella, there’s a Fairy

Godmother and a Prince Charming who

would do anything to bandage the

damage in her life.

.

When an arrogant new student shows up

in class, Victoria hates him at first sight.

She seeks to avoid him, but finds herself

partnering with him in solving a mystery

revolving around a ghost. And against her

will, sparks fly.

.

Life takes a turn that rips her off her

innocence and places her stepmother as

her footstool. Once, she’d wanted a

chance for love, but all she wants now is

revenge. And not even her Prince

Charming can stand in her way.

.

Will she follow her heart and let love win,

or will she follow her head and be a slave

of vengeance?

.

Episode one

Sick

.

“Do you not care at all about your life,

Victoria?”

***

Somewhere close, a bell jingled. The

richness of this sound filled my ears and

wrapped me in a tingling cloak. To

everyone else, the bell only served to

usher in eight hours of sitting down,

watching men and woman flaunt their

expertise. But to me, the ringing bell

meant much more. It officially announced

eight hours of undisturbed freedom.

For the next few hours, I would enjoy

relative bliss, breathing in unadulterated

air. But, in a while, my time would be up.

I would hear the closing bell. The same

sound that brought me comfort would

snatch it from my grasp without any

qualms, and against my will I would stuff

my books into my backpack and drag

myself back home, into the rusty old

arms of slavery.

Slipping through the school gate, I started

toward the two-story building standing

tall and prestigious in my line of sight.

The building’s red bricks gave off a

western setting I admired. Since its

founding, Western High had won several

awards for its unique ambience and

physical environment, organization, staff

quality, and exceptional student

performance. To top it all, they delivered

this package at a price affordable for the

exclusively rich who could spend millions

on one child’s educational concern and

yet, their pockets would not groan.

A disquieting silence embraced me as I

made for the stairs. I squinted at the

pitch-black leather wristwatch Amarachi

had bought me last session. 9:37am and

ticking without mercy. I shook my head at

the person I’d been forced to become.

Who would believe I woke up by 4:30am

every day?

I would do anything to stop being late for

school. But each day, I ran in long after

the corridors had emptied its occupants

into classes. Victoria Brown, the award

winning latecomer in all of Western High.

Not cool.

People would always talk. The facts

never mattered to anyone. They only

wanted someone to be the object of their

derision. And at Western High, I fit the

bill in ways more than one.

Gripping the ornate wrought iron handrail,

I mounted the stairs leading to my class.

My lower back felt like a rock had been

placed on it. After the arduous chores I

had been forced to battle with for four

hours, and the glaring distance I walked

to school, maintaining a proper posture

posed a challenge I didn’t know how to

tackle.

The damp fabric of my white long-sleeve

clung to my torso. I couldn’t be happier

our uniform had a navy blue waist coat to

hide my hopeless perspiration. How would

I survive the day when I had already died

from the start?

A throbbing pain in my head caused me

to halt. My headache had awakened. For

the past few days it had become an

unwanted best friend, coming and going

as it saw fit. It would persist, hammering

as hard as it dared. Sometimes, I feared I

would never escape its clutches.

“Heeey, easy!” a deep and unfamiliar

voice said from behind me.

I didn’t need to turn to know my abrupt

halt had almost caused ‘him’ to crash

into me. Apologizing for the

inconvenience would be in order, but his

next words stopped me cold.

“What are you? Sleepwalker or zombie?”

Anger welled through me, swelled like a

bubble and threatened to burst. Everyone

knew me as the greatest latecomer ever,

but the terms ‘sleepwalker’ and ‘zombie’

had never been heard. Had those become

my new tags?

Amidst my wounded pride, his voice

swirled around in my head. From his

accent, I could tell he was no Nigerian.

With its syrupy r’s and e’s, it was

probably American.

A familiar throbbing in my head jolted me

out of my thoughts. Gripping the straps

of my backpack, I whirled around to

descend the stairs, but found myself

staring at an emerald-eyed boy I had

never seen before. His skin, a flawless

olive shade, held a glow to die for. Silky,

raven hair, styled in a spiked faux hawk

pulled me in, bringing to mind those

celebrities on TV. For a moment, I gaped.

He probably believed I gawked at him

because I’d never come face-to-face with

a foreigner, but then he would be a fool

to think that, because we had over a

dozen of them in our school.

A sudden wave of self-consciousness

swept me over as my gaze fell on his

finely sculpted nose as opposed to my

average Nigerian nose. How did he

breathe with nostrils barely as wide as

buttons?

My gaze traveled along the length of his

slender build. Although he stood one step

below, I noted he lingered on the tall side,

probably three inches taller than my

hopeless 5’4. My gaze lingering on his

face, I mentally shook my head at the

generous spray of stubbles framing his

high cheek bones. I looked forward to the

look on his face when our principal asked

him to get rid of his facial hair.

A familiar pinching sensation in my nose

overwhelmed me, severing my thoughts.

A sneeze forced its way out, jerking my

head forward and almost knocking it into

‘Mr. White’. I hadn’t seen that coming, at

least not until the final moment. Gross.

If I hadn’t been fast enough to pinch my

nose while I sneezed, all hell would have

broken loose. And in his face. It would

have been a really snotty moment. Double

gross.

An apology would be in order, but I didn’t

give myself a chance. Tugging at my

collar, I descended the stairs, taking two

at a time. I could feel Mr. White’s gaze

bore a hole through me. Other than being

a zombie and a sleepwalker, I had also

ended up becoming a clown for his

entertainment. How awkward could our

encounter get? Sneezing didn’t make a

crime, but doing it in someone’s face did.

Musing over the mess I had just made of

myself caused me to fall sick all over

again. I needed the sickbay. Class could

wait. I needed something to quell the

throbbing pain inside my head. And apart

from that, I needed to stay away from

Mr. White. Amarachi would laugh so hard

when she heard of my recent blunders.

Two in a row. Just perfect.

I walked as fast as my back ache

permitted. As luck had it, no teachers

were in sight so I didn’t have to answer

to anyone for loitering during school

hours. We had Literature—a subject I

could easily understand—for first period,

so missing this class would not affect my

performance. Or so I hoped.

A wave of calmness stole me over as the

sickbay hit my line of sight. I traipsed

into the room, an uncertain smile flitting

across my face to match the nurse’s

welcoming smile. Clad in a smart white

gown, she sat behind the counter, reading

an Awake! magazine.

“Good morning,” I said.

Advancing toward the counter compared

to walking down an aisle. A pathway

stretched between the counter and the

door. On each side of the room stood

three petite beds, dressed with blue

covers and matching pillows.

“Good morning,” the nurse said, her smile

accentuated by dimpled cheeks. “You

really don’t look well. What’s wrong?”

I resisted an urge to roll my eyes. Of

course I didn’t look well, else I wouldn’t

even be here. Something on my face

must have alerted her. She dropped the

magazine on the counter and walked

around it to meet me.

“It’s nothing much,” I said. Before I could

utter another word, the back of her palm

greeted my forehead.

“There’s no fever.” Heaving a sigh of

relief, she touched my neck to double-

check.

“It’s just a headache,” I said, sneezing

into a checkered handkerchief I had just

pulled out of my backpack. “And catarrh.”

“Aww. Poor thing. You’ll be fine in no

time. Paracetamol should do the trick.”

It amazed me how she never failed to

obey the laws of phonetics. She would

definitely fit as an English teacher. Had it

never occurred to her?

“You speak just like an English teacher,” I

said.

“What?” she asked. “Nurses don’t get to

speak good English?”

Definitely not the response I expected.

What did I expect? Thank you? Mentally, I

kicked myself. I definitely should have

stayed silent. Sue me.

“No, sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I

was just saying you, uhm…” I trailed off,

gesticulating frantically as though it

would help complete my statement and

save the awkward moment.

She waved off my incoherent comment

with a strained laugh. “Don’t kill yourself

there. Yeah, I get that a lot.”

Easing myself onto a bed, I watched her

return to the counter. She plucked a card

of Paracetamol out of its carton and cut

out two tablets with a pair of scissors

lying idly on the counter.

“And then you’ll need this for that catarrh

of yours.” She placed another drug beside

the Paracetamol. Turning to the C-Way

dispenser behind her, she grabbed a

disposable cup. But then she turned to

face me, a quizzical look on her face. “I

take it you had breakfast, yes?”

My stomach rumbled in response to her

question. I had nothing for breakfast.

Breakfast only came after chores. And

today, like every other day, chores took

up all my time, making breakfast a no-no.

With a subtle shake of my head, I

supplied the answer to her question and

waited for an outburst.

“What?” Her voice rang out. Although I’d

seen that coming, my headache flared in

response. I slammed my eyes shut,

allowing the throbbing in my head slide

back into my zone of tolerance.

“You want to take drugs on an empty

stomach?” she asked. “Do you know how

harmful this practice is? Do you know it’s

just as harmful as this headache, and

other sicknesses we run from?”

With half-closed eyes, I watched her go

on and on. It couldn’t be that bad. Why

did she react like I’d tried to commit

suicide?

“Don’t just sit there gawking at me. I

don’t administer drugs to people who

haven’t eaten. Go find something to eat

first, and then come take your medicine.

They will be on this counter waiting for

you.” Her voice had a tone of finality. She

obviously thought this to be for my good.

What then did she think of the raging war,

a Clash of the Titans reenactment inside

my head?

She sank back into her chair and picked

up the seemingly fascinating magazine.

Seconds stretched into minutes and she

seemed oblivious of my presence. My

stomach rumbled again, reminding me of

my task to fill it.

“Can I just use the bed?” I asked, hating

the sudden dryness of my mouth. The

nurse raised her eyes to look at me. She

cocked her head, a wordless statement

that she hadn’t quite heard me.

“I mean, the cafeteria won’t attend to

students until recess,” I said. “And I really

can’t go to class in this state. My head is

pounding so hard I won’t grab anything

they’re teaching. Please, I’d just like to

use the bed for a while. Surely the

headache will subside. It comes and goes

everyday anyway.” I snuffled, gluing my

handkerchief to my nose. Curse my runny

nose.

The nurse raised her neatly trimmed

eyebrows at me. “It comes and goes

every day?”

“Yes?” I said. Why did she seem

surprised?

“How long?”

“Two weeks,” I roughly estimated. I

wanted out of this question and answer

session. I needed a pill to quell this

headache. And since I couldn’t have that,

I could use a moment of undisturbed rest.

Settling for less had become my thing

anyway.

The nurse seemed genuinely scared.

“And you don’t attend to it? Do you not

care at all about your life, Victoria?”

My lips parted to let out an answer, but I

sealed them shut. I would not tell my life

story to a stranger. I’d visited the sickbay

a number of times, and the nurse had

been a staff for as long as I could

remember, but I still considered her a

stranger. And even if I managed to tell

her my story, she would probably doubt

its genuineness. And if she did believe

every word, it wouldn’t change anything

because she had no power to do

anything. She could only sympathize with

me. And I didn’t want that.

I pushed aside her inadvertently hurtful

question and lay prone in bed. Sleep

would find me and steal me away from

the unbearable headache. Even though it

would only last a moment, it would

definitely be worth it.

Heavy eyelids glided over my eyes. The

room and everything it held disappeared

around me as I slipped out of

consciousness.

“Victoria!” an indistinct voice called. A

gentle tap on my shoulder followed

almost immediately.

The unrelenting pounding in my head and

an emptiness in my stomach greeted me

as I slid halfway into consciousness. My

eyes lazied open and I saw the nurse

standing beside me, an A4 sheet in her

hand. How long had I been asleep? An

hour? Two?

Handing the paper to me, she said, “The

cafeteria will let you eat once you show

them this permit.”

I bolted upright in bed and grabbed the

paper, too eager to read its content.

To the cafeteria:

I know it is against the school rules to

attend to students during this hour. But

our students’ health is our priority.

Please, kindly attend to Victoria Brown so

she takes the drugs I have administered.

Stella Adewale

School nurse

Decorated with white and navy-blue

stripes, just like my four in hand necktie

and flare skirt, our school logo stood

proud beneath the complementary close.

“Earth to Victoria?” Fingers snapped

between my eyes, flaunting purple polish

on artificial nails.

“Thank you,” I said, grinning.

***

My walk to the cafeteria went

undisturbed, save for the sun’s ruthless

intensity and my sneezing and snuffling. I

felt like a walking tank of boiling water.

Actually, saying I walked would paint a

wrong picture of the situation. I didn’t

walk. I tottered.

It stunned me how my health had

deteriorated in the blink of an eye. Hadn’t

I walked to school this morning in near-

perfect health, with fatigue and headache

being the only exception? Why then did I

feel so sick all of a sudden, unable to

take one step without faltering?

As though my sudden sickness couldn’t

ruin my day on its own, Sir Aaron’s voice

pierced my eardrums, bringing my

struggle of a walk to an abrupt

intermission. “Hey, you!”

My insides churned at the menace in his

high-pitched voice. The very same voice

policemen reserved for catching thieves

red-handed. Why did it have to be Sir

Aaron of all people? This man had a face

of stone and a heart of rock. To top it all,

he had a voice that could melt iron.

Holding my hands behind my back, I

turned to face my least favorite teacher.

“Good morning, Sir.”

“It’s barely even eleven and you’re

already loitering,” he said. “Is this the

example you’re setting for your juniors?”

With every word he spat out, my stomach

tightened. I craved to be away from him

so I could finally breathe fresh air. I could

feel my blood getting hotter by the

second. No, I don’t mean it as an

idiomatic expression. Literally, I could feel

the hotness of my blood, a sickening

feeling that had only arrived a moment or

two ago. I blamed the orb of fury burning

intensely above me.

Too sick to speak to the man before me,

I presented the nurse’s permit in his face,

silencing him. Hopefully, for good. His

quietude stretched over a few moments.

And in this little time, my headache

seemed to aggravate.

Plucking the note out of my grasp, Sir

Aaron drew it close to his rather wrinkled

eyes. After a moment too long, he said,

“Hmm. Sorry about your ill health.”

Learning is an everyday process. And in

my final year in Western High, I

discovered Sir Aaron, the most feared

teacher, had a fraction of a heart. Wide

eyed, I stared at him, noting how the look

on his face transformed from irritation to

sympathy. And for the most part, he

wasn’t faking it.

I let out a mental sigh. I should be in the

cafeteria already. But here I stood, stuck

with my least favorite teacher, and at the

mercy of the ferocious sun.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “How

bad is it?” Had his voice softened in

reality, or had it only softened in my

head?

I opened my mouth to tell him about my

headache, but then I reconsidered. The

man standing before me had a heart of

stone. He could consider headache and

catarrh too trivial for a nurse’s permit,

and that would implicate the kind nurse.

While I still conflicted about how to

answer him, the back of his palm rested

on my sweaty forehead. Genuine fear

washed him over. “You’re burning. You’ve

got a fever.”

“Whatfever?” The words flew out of my

mouth without warning. I had a fever?

The nurse had checked my temperature

an hour or two ago and found nothing. So

where did it come from?

“Quick, go attend to your illness.” He

returned the note like he would burning

coal. I turned to leave when he spoke

again. “And Victoria—”

What? He knew my name? Impossible. He

had never called me by name, but always

barked out a ‘you there!’ or a ‘yes?’

“Be sure to get well soon,” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

He walked away, leaving me to continue

my floundering walk. I had a fever. I

touched my neck to be certain.

Underneath the back of my palm, my skin

burned with the power of a thousand

suns. That explained why I felt like a tank

of boiling water. How wrong I had been to

blame it on the sun. Poor sun.

Two realizations dawned on me. Number

one, I had malaria. I didn’t need a test to

know it. The symptoms were all there.

First, the persistent headache. Then a

runny nose. And now fever, accompanied

with a cold I’d never paid attention to

until now. These symptoms had become

a part of me. For the past four years,

they would come up every now and then,

but I’d never had a chance to treat them.

My stepmother never saw me as worthy

of medical care.

After persisting for a week or two, the

symptoms would walk out of my life, and

I would be good as new. I hoped this

time would be no different. But for how

long would this go on? This sickness had

been gnawing at me for far too long,

accumulating day after day. It likened to

a pile of books being topped with more

books with each passing day. One day,

that pile would not be able to take in any

more books, and it would collapse. If I

didn’t get treatment sometime soon, I

would break down just like that pile of

books. Each time my good health slid

from my grasp, I always looked forward

to the inescapable breakdown, but it

hadn’t struck yet. It stood around the

corner, calculating, waiting for the right

time to knock me off my feet.

My second realization concerned Sir

Aaron. We had all been wrong to paint

him as a monster. A fraction of him knew

humanity.

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