Father Chrysostom Okeze woke up every morning at exactly 4:30 a.m. He was the spiritual director of the Good Shepherd’s home. He has been for the last seven years. The small community where The Good Shepherd’s chapel was located loved him, the few workers in the home loved him, the children loved him, everyone loved Fr. Chrys. That was what they all called him—Fr. Chrys—and it especially tickled the fanciful young minds of the teenagers because his ‘Chrys’ was spelt with a y.
This morning he got up two minutes even before his alarm went off. He made the sign of the cross and muttering the Morning Offering, he swiftly took of his night clothes of sky-blue striped pyjamas and walked into the small-sized bathroom attached to his room.
In less than five minutes, he was out and in another five minutes, he was dressed in a pair of charcoal-grey trousers and an off-white short-sleeved shirt. He marched to the old dark walnut desk, picked up his Breviary, his royal-blue chain Rosary and his Bible and hastened out of the room and straight into the small chapel just down the hall from his bedroom. Twenty minutes of verbal prayers and Bible reading and he was out again and marching through the semi-lit sitting room and through the already opened porch door, mumbling the repetitive prayers of the Virgin Mary’s Angelic Psalter.
He knew that the door would be opened. Ebuka, the cook, always woke up a few minutes before he did and he always kept the porch door open, knowing that in a matter of minutes, the very habitual priest would be passing through that door on his prayer-walk time.
He walked down the marble-tiled veranda, through the lawn and towards the garden which was at the south-end of the churchyard. The small church building was at the opposite end and he would be ending his prayers there and then he would lead the parishioners in a fifteen minutes Benediction and then get ready for Mass. That was his daily routine and this morning he didn’t think it would be any different.
But as he mumbled his prayers and edged closer to the garden, he absentmindedly noted that the grounds were wet, no doubt because it had drizzled during the night. He raised his head to look at the narrow open entrance and something caught his eye.
Almost instantly his feet stopped moving, he adjusted his plastic-framed glasses with slightly shaky hands. A crumpled figure was lying just a few steps over the open entrance with crawling plants and flowers trailing over the edges. The figure had on a whitish dress-like cloth on and the tips of some kind of dark coloured tights were showing.
Though his heart was now thudding like it was being pounded by the Salvation Army band, Fr. Chrys managed to move his feet and advance towards the figure. He slipped his hand into the left pocket of his trousers and drew out his Nokia phone, clicking the star button, he directed the flashlight at the figure and now he could finally see it clearly.
The whitish dress-like cloth was actually a pink cotton night dress over dark coloured tights that were actually a pair of black leggings, and the crumpled figure lying face down on the wet grass was Dana… Dana Bala.
Fr. Chrys hastily made the sign of the cross, more out of fear than faith. He didn’t need to turn over the face to know it was Dana. The dark-brownish mop of hair told him she was the one. The other two girls wore low-cut hairstyles and besides she was the only one who dared to defy Sister Clara’s no-trousers-shorts-or-leggings rule for the girls.
He felt a sharp twinge of fear; the body looked so still and lifeless. But it could be that she was in a sort of coma and not dead.
He repeated the sign of the cross—this time in prayer—and ambled closer until he was squatting beside the body. He took a deep breath to calm his jumping nerves and lifted up her left hand, with his thumb on her wrist, he checked her pulse. There was no beat. He quickly pushed his hand into the crook of her neck, it was oddly cold. God alone knew how long she’d been lying there.
Not hesitating he made a sign of the cross over the body and began to mutter a different set of prayers.
▪ ♦ ▪
DETECTIVE Charles Kanayo came out of the girl’s bedroom and marched down the hall that led into the sitting room.
“Wrap this up, Sergeant, we are hitting the road soon.” He instructed the uniformed Police Officer coming in through a back door.
“Yes, sir.” The Sergeant jerked back his shoulders in respect.
He strode into the sitting room and the pitiful sight that greeted him made him sigh regretfully, death was never a good sight.
The two girls he’d first questioned were huddled now on one of the sofas with Sister Clara’s arms around both of them. One of them—Veronica, he was sure—was still crying profusely. The other was just making sniffing sounds. As for the boys, the three of them were sitting on the divan sofa against the wall and though they were not crying, they looked depressingly grim.
He made his way across the room towards Fr. Chrys who was sitting head bent, rosary in hand, by the library door. He’d known Chrysostom Okeze from their days way back in secondary school. They’ve even gotten admission into the University of Nigeria Nsukka together, but that was before Chrys had decided that he had the calling and had left the university to join the major seminary.
“Father.” He called in a low voice, stopping by his side. He’d started calling him Father after his ordination nine years ago.
Fr. Chrys jerked up his head. “Charles, what’s the verdict?” He asked quickly looking at his friend of nearly twenty years with worried eyes.
He’d called Charles not only because he was one of his best friends but because he was a Chief Superintendent Police Officer and the head of the homicide division of the Imo state Police Command—not that he thought this was homicide.
“One thing is certain here, Dana…” Charles arched his brows in a questioning manner.
Fr. Chrys nodded his head impatiently.
“Well, she is dead.” Charles finished, tone matter of fact.
“Holy Mother of God!” Father exclaimed in a shocked voice. Deep down he’d known she was dead, not in a coma or something, yet it was still a shock hearing it.
“Yes, I’m very sorry.” Charles shook his head. He knew how much Fr. Chrys cared for the children under his care.
Fr. Chrys touched his hand to his forehead, it felt a little sweaty. “But what could have happened to her?” He blinked his eyes rapidly, trying to push back the tears that threatened. “What was she even doing out there so early?”
“That is the million dollar question we’ll probably never find the answer to.” Charles responded, pushing his hands into the pockets of black chinos trousers. “But as to what could have happened to her… well, we are going to try to find that out the best we can through a thorough autopsy. As thorough as our limited facilities here will allow.” He added with a grimace.
“You think someone has something to do with… err, with her death?”
Charles shrugged. “She has a bump on the back of her skull, a cut on her right hand and she was lying face down outside in the field instead of asleep on her bed…” He blew out a breath. “It could have been anything or even nothing. We’ll just have to let our forensics team take a look and decide.”
Fr. Chrys nodded. “Right. But how long do you think this… autopsy would take? She is… was just a sixteen year old girl and should be laid to rest as soon as possible and with minimum fuss.”
“I know, Father.” Charles agreed with a sigh. “Heck, I know you and this home. Frankly, if it’s all up to me, I would report this as death by natural causes and just let go of the bad publicity and hassle of an autopsy. But this is the standard procedure these days, it can’t be overlooked. Besides, if there’s been some kind of foul play, we owe it to that girl to find out who might have done this to her.”
Fr. Chrys bit his lower lip hard and then released it with a shake of his head. “I guess you are right. It’s just that it is still all a big shock and I just can’t imagine anyone here… being a murderer for heaven’s sake. They are mostly just kids here, Charles.”
Charles looked at the baffled eyes and inclined his head. “Yeah, five teenage kids and four adults, I know.”
Fr. Chrys noted the emphasis on adults. “We are all suspects?” He sounded astonished.
“Not yet, Father.” Charles shook his head. “Frankly, not at all in my opinion, this is a godly home for Christ’s sakes.” He tapped his left foot. “We are just going with procedure here and making sure there’s no need for you or anyone here to worry about any possible danger.” He raised the red-back cover booklet he had in hand. “I found this in her room; it’s a dairy.”
“She kept a diary?”
Charles gave a mild snort. “She was a girl and a teenager, of course she kept a diary. Jeez! Most of us did when we were younger.”
Fr. Chrys nodded, he supposed they did. He hadn’t though. He’d never believed in storing up the past. It made it harder to forgive and forget, in his opinion.
“Well, I’ll be looking through this, see if it gives us any leads or ideas.” Charles gave the people huddled in their different corners another look and sighed. “We’ll be clearing out now, give you people the privacy to mourn.”
Fr. Chrys took the hand he extended. “Thank you for coming.”
Charles gave a quick nod. “Just doing my job.”
He turned and walked through the open porch door, giving his men their moving order. They all headed for their cars, got in and with Dana’s body in the Peugeot Wagon behind the Hilux van Charles had gotten into, they all drove out of the Good Shepherd’s churchyard.
The minute they were out, Dominic walked up to Fr. Chrys. “What did he say happened to her, Father?”
Fr. Chrys turned to the young boy. His eyes were red-rimmed and fearful, which was understandable. He probably was worried about the safety of their home.
“They don’t know yet, Dom. But they are going to find out. Though Detective Charles believes this could all just be an unfortunate incident, no foul play at all.” He gave him a pat on the back. “Meanwhile, please go to the Catechist and tell him we will be having evening Mass—Mass for the dead. We have to pray for the repose of Dana’s soul.”
Dominic nodded and dashed through the door, though not quite sure what a Mass and prayers would do for the soul of that devilish girl, shouldn’t she be in hell now?
Father Chrys shifted his gaze and they rested on Cyprian. He was the only one still sitting on the divan and he was staring through the door with sorrow-laden eyes. When he turned and their eyes met, he quickly got to his feet and turned in the direction that led to their rooms, his left hand tugging the collar of his slightly worn red Polo-shirt.
He felt pity for the poor boy.