24 Jun The Trophy – Episode 1
One Year Ago
The day had been very hectic with a rigorous training and Ehimi walked slowly, tiredly, to his house. It was just a day to the Lagos Champions Cup final and the clocks read 6:45pm.
Ehimi’s team, the Fiery Hawks, were about to face their greatest and most-dreaded rival, Tornadoes, in the upcoming final match and they’d done everything they could to ensure an inevitable victory this time around. Otherwise, this would be the fifth final they’d lose in a row.
Ehimi was very good. A very famous skillful striker, playing the number 9, he was a great threat to the other teams in the tournament—especially to their greatest rival now, the Tornadoes. Hawks had paid a huge sum of money to buy him into their club. It was one of the major steps taken to ensure their victory against Tornadoes this time around. After all the hostility between both teams was so intense and real.
Getting to the final of the State Champions Cup was in every way a gigantic privilege again, (thanks to Ehimi’s unparalleled skill from the onset of the tournament) and they were fully poised to grab the cup this year. So having an efficient though rigorous training to fully equip the boys before the final wasn’t really something they could escape from now. It was much needed.
Ehimi got to his house, tired and hungry, but with a brisk and optimistic mind about the next day. No one was at home. His parents had travelled and younger siblings were at boarding school so he was the only one left to take care of the house and himself. Though it was very serene, he felt happy and very safe in any case and was ready to enjoy it. Quickly, he undressed the training kits and dashed into the shower for an oh-so-needed bath.
As Ehimi got out of the bathroom, he soon felt an unexplainably uneasiness. He could tell. The serene aura in the house sort of became weird, even creepy. Apart from the oscillating pendulum clock at the lounge, there seemed not to be any other noise in the house. It didn’t seem nice again. Ding Dong! The clock chimed loudly, shock-stirringly though, for a moment. It was seven already, he could hear it from his room. The day already was getting very dark. Night was lurking and had to be endured in any case. Ehimi was never a lover of nights.
Just then, Ehimi heard a door squeak tersely but gently. Most likely their front door, he could tell, due to where the sound came from. It was disturbing, really disturbing, because Ehimi was sure he had shut it and locked it behind him when he returned into the house quite some moment ago from training. Troubled, he decided to go check the door, to ensure it was locked and firmly locked but at the next breath, he heard footsteps, eerie horrifying gentle footsteps, moving into the house in the lounge. A loud thud quaked his heart immediately and he gasped frightened.
Who could that be? And how come? Since his parents had travelled two days ago, he hadn’t had any visitor—and wasn’t expecting any! His parents were to return in at least five days’ time. He couldn’t explain now what he thought was happening. Who exactly could be entering his house and how was the person able to—since he had locked the front door? It seemed so unbelievable. Rapidly, the footsteps approached Ehimi’s room—where he was. He was very certain about it. In fact, he could even hear the heavy breathing of the person. Ehimi was confused. Should he have called out to whoever the person was or should he have remained quiet. He wasn’t really sure so he decided to remain quiet and try to sneak out of his room through an inner door to peek at the person.
Ehimi quietly ran out of his room into a passage that flanked and had a little opening looking into the lounge and it also led to the staircase. Ehimi looked through the opening. He saw the person, but just had a silhouetted view. The person appeared to be wearing sweatshirt with hood however and had dark gloves on his palms—most certainly—and he walked briskly towards Ehimi’s room. Ehimi couldn’t see his face, neither could he recognize his physique. But he could swear the person didn’t appear friendly. He could perceive danger instead. A terrible stench of danger. Ehimi’s heart pounded heavier now. He was extremely frightened. What exactly is happening?!
The intrude, most certainly a villain, was after Ehimi. Not wanting to waste any second but rather to hide himself quickly and call for help from whoever the intruder was, Ehimi swiftly reached for his cell phone, dashed up the stairs and ran into another room on the first floor to hide with just towel tied firmly round his waists. Quickly, he shut the door behind him. It made sound. Ehimi heard the footsteps of the intruder pacing into his room, stopped for a moment, continued into the passage then up the stairs. Now he was really afraid. He could apparently feel his body quivering for fear.
The room Ehimi ran into was a store, quite disarranged, but with lots of household items including a wardrobe in it and enough nooks to hide in. Ehimi switched on his cell phone quickly. It took a moment to load and the battery was low. Obviously he didn’t have the chance to recharge it since morning.
9 – 1 – 1. Ehimi pressed the numbers on his phone and then dialed once the phone finished loading. This seemed to be the only chance he had to escape as he was terribly confused now and stricken with fear. He moved over to the wardrobe, opened the doors and slipped inside. There were lots of clothes in it with other loads too so he arranged them in a way to cover while he moved deeper into the wardrobe and squatted.
The intruder continued to pace and moved into the different rooms on the first floor, searching frantically for Ehimi, one after the other. His footsteps sounded more gently yet creepily. He obviously wasn’t in a rush. Thick sweat brewed on Ehimi’s forehead still in the dusty wardrobe.
“Hello, my name’s Ehimi,” he whimpered with a shrilling voice as his call went through now. “There’s an intruder in my house and he’s walking towards my room now . . . I’m so afraid!” He cried.
“Calm down sir,” the receiver on the other end of the emergency line advised. “Tell me where your house is quickly.”
“I live at—” but his phone beeped twice immediately. Battery Low. And it shut down automatically.
Noooooo!!! Ehimi cried, literally biting his fingers. Not now. Not at that most urgent moment. Not at the brink of life or death! It was too painful to be true. Funnily enough, this seemed like a perfect nightmare. And Ehimi wished so dearly that it was so.
Just then, the door into the store opened. Ehimi heard it. Very well. His fears came alive now. His heart pounded louder. And his body shuddered so much with sharp goose bumps. The intruder paced inside and breathed heavily. As much as he could, Ehimi tried remaining very quiet, even covering his mouth with his palms. He was sweating so profusely and tears were gushing terribly now.
The intruder rummaged all the items in the store, searching frantically for Ehimi but didn’t find him. At the next breath, he moved over to the wardrobe and forced it open. Now hot urine was nearly trickling down Ehimi’s leg and shock sucked in his skin. The intruder searched again but didn’t see Ehimi. The clothes and loads really helped conceal him. Frustrated, the intruder grunted and left the room instantly.
A heavy sigh of relief sprouted from Ehimi’s mouth swiftly. At last. His pounding heart decelerated. He was quite glad the intruder didn’t find him. Soon he could hear his footsteps moving down the stairs. He certainly was going out back. “Thank God,” Ehimi sighed again. He came out of wardrobe quickly and tried switching on the phone back to finish his call.
There was a piece of metal on the floor of the cramped store. As Ehimi got out of the wardrobe, his leg struck the metal on the floor hardly, unplanned though. The metal hit the door ahead immediately, making a sharp sound. It was audible enough. The intruder heard it. Ehimi’s presence was announced. Straightaway, the outraged intruder made a quick turn and retraced his steps back to the stairs. There was no time to waste. He hopped the steps.
Ehimi heard it and he felt his heart skipping some beats. He tried rushing back into the wardrobe to hide but he could unfortunately hear the running steps of intruder very close to the door now. His confusion multiplied. He couldn’t make it back into the wardrobe, he knew. Out of reflex, he grabbed the piece of metal on the floor and held it firmly with both hands. Immediately, the intruder pushed the door open and entered. Pounding blood rushed into Ehimi’s head.
He looked up straight at the face of the intruder who totaled six feet two. He was breathing hatred, anger, disgust. His red eyes confirmed it. Ehimi tried swinging the metal to hit the intruder. Impossible. The intruder grabbed Ehimi’s arm swiftly and grasped the metal from his hand. “Fool!” He grunted and struck Ehimi on the head. Dancing stars blanked Ehimi’s sight and an excruciating pain surged in his head.
“Hel-” he tried calling for help but it was too late. The intruder covered his nose and mouth firmly with his palm and gagged his neck with the other hand. “Say goodbye to the world,” he sneered as Ehimi remained in his grip and struggling while he kept on increasing the force of his grip on him.
Some moment passed and Ehimi immediately felt all the life in him drain out. He wept and his vision immediately dimmed. Very certain he was lifeless now, the intruder left him alone while the body crumpled to the floor. Mission accomplished. The intruder stepped out of the room instantly, hopped down the stairs and headed out of the house immediately that evening.
A young man of just nineteen, donned in just a towel, was left murdered in his house.
“It’s a b-e-a-utiful summer this year, jubilation’s in the atmosphere, I can tell ya, and a big, big, welcome to Russia for the FIFA World Cup or as we say over here, dabro pazhalovat!
“The whole world has assembled here, set for the biggest contest in the universe. It’s more than just a cup—It’s the FIFA World Football Competition with it’s grand Trophy and you don’t want to lose out, trust me! Colours light up this part of the world from this year. Right from when your plane wheels down, wherever, lots of delight await you.
“Luxury’s greeting you in every town, wherever you lodge, and even the streets say welcome. Don’t hesitate to always sample the metro, best rapid transit buses, and pay a visit to the places of wonder, the Kremlin—our popular and beautiful historical fortress near the Red Square, Saint Basil’s cathedral—the iconic red towers with ornate flame-shaped domes and then the Baikonur Cosmodrome too, oh boy, the rocket is ready to launch. Russia’s all yours this summer and beyond, so Live It Up!”
Apparently, the atmosphere, round the world, bubbled with excitement and jubilation. You needn’t travel out of your country or even leave your home before you experience the liveliness and the thrill that fills the air during a World Cup tournament. Your little phone’s good enough to bring you the reality. Femi Aina knew this practically as he watched the downloaded welcoming documentary on his phone right on his bed.
There was an ongoing match over there too and he had to check the live score updates. Femi was a footballer. Everything about him breathed football. Good football though. And he was the only one in their team who could really replace Ehimi since he was murdered a year ago—even though he wasn’t really as good as Ehimi. Ehimi’s death was still a mystery and none knew why exactly he had been murdered and by whom in fact (the Cops said they were still investigating his case). Sadly, the Hawks suffered a terrible defeat yet in that final again even despite the fact that it was postponed by three weeks due to the death of Ehimi.
But the team was back on its feet this year. Past things should remain behind. They were set to grab the much-coveted trophy this time around for sure. Femi was the one leading them now. Thanks to the young chap of just 18, he had helped them qualify for the round of finals with seven goals and were about to play their quarter-final against another team, Yaba’s St. Thomas FC.
Strangely enough, the previous night, Femi had had a dream—nightmare—of the intruder chasing him also and killing him in his bedroom. He had awakened with a terrible dread but felt very grateful afterwards it had all been a dream. It was like a déjà vu. He had taken up Ehimi’s role and a year after, the same feeling was coming upon him. He felt his life was at risk. But he really desired to continue with the Hawks. Dreams were dreams and could occur anyhow. It wasn’t good to let nightmares disturb your main vision, he thought.
The Hawks were based in Maryland. They were tenants in a mini stadium over there, close to the famous G. Cappa Estate where Femi lived at with his family—with only his younger sister, Itunu, rather. His dad was late already: died as a heroic firefighter while trying to rescue just a little girl from a burning ten-storey building four years ago. And his mum on the other hand wasn’t dead yet—but on the verge of dying. Stricken with a deadly cancer, she needed to undergo a crucial palliative surgery and needed 200,000 Naira for it urgently, otherwise, she had just a month to live. But the little humble family didn’t have such amount, and so Femi who was left all alone to cater for himself, his sick mom and Itunu, his younger sister of just 15, couldn’t do anything. This is why he even had to remain with a football club that paid him, no matter how little, consistently.
He was in University already however, studying Geosciences. The meager salary he was paid helped take care of education and feeding to an extent. Itunu and himself attended Government schools after all. So there weren’t much expenses. He was very focused however: meticulous, serious, dedicated and perseverant. Right from cradle, he had always been chosen and preferred as a leader of any group—even in church too. People saw him as a Bible-Joseph kinda guy you know. Hardworking and sincere. And he had the looks too—charming face and charismatic physique. Reaching five feet nine, he was also tan with a goatee, trim side burns, and a full curly hair.
Femi jogged to their pitch just outside G. Cappa Estate. A training session was scheduled for 1:00pm, Hawks were to battle St. Thomas FC the next day. Only the big boys were left in this finals round now: you guessed it, Tornadoes, the most-dreaded and deadliest guys, were number one, Desperados Athletic, Avalanche FC, Timber Tigers, Apapa’s Golden Stars, Pepsi FC, Vipers, St. Thomas FC, and a handful of other versatile teams including Hawks. But now Hawks really needed this Trophy. Losing five finals in a row is one of the worst thing that can ever happen to you! The players really needed to be compesated. And Femi desperately needed to win the Trophy and even become the highest goal scorer—because words were out that 200,000 Naira would be awarded to such player this time around. This was an exact answer to his prayer for his mum’s surgery money. Where else could he raise 200K?
Fellow teammates were already training by the time Femi reached the pitch. Mr. Chuks also, the new coach, was drilling the guys.
” Faster! Run, run!
“Higher! You can head for it . . .
“C’mon! Shoot more precisely!
“Is that the best you can do? Y’all need so more enema?
“My Grannie could do better than that, for heaven’s sake . .
“Show me the fire you’ve got! That Cup is yours this year . . .”
“Let ’em know we’re the champs!”
Mr. Chuks was a man with funny and lively character with an intriguing husky voice, and he was very exuberant and brilliant in tactics and strategy, capable of giving the team the ginger they desperately needed whenever they needed one—with twelve years of experience as a coach. They enjoyed training sessions now with him. He was chubby, with a fair complexion and always donned black tracksuits. Sausage rolls seemed to be his best friends. He ate and ate and always ate them.
Femi joined the team in training quickly. A few handshakes and a couple of knuckling here and there, they welcomed him too. Proficient number niners are scarcer, you know. And beloved Femi played that striker’s position.
Peter wore number 10. Agile in supporting with good technical speed, Peter nicknamed ‘Pete’, was Femi best friend and they lived like brothers. Peter was very funny person.
Christian played number 7. You’d have really liked him too. He mastered Ronaldo’s styles and tactics. Of course he was dubbed ‘CR 7’ too—although he was very dark. Sort of a N’golo Kante-ish dark. Black, rather.
Ugo on the other hand played 11. He had a very fine singing voice too and girls even saw him as Michael Jackson. A bit.
Number 8 was Timi. Thin Timi.
Moshood held and coordinated the defense perfectly; he was a Centre-back—number 5.
The goalie was Uzor. Not up to nineteen years though!
And Sejiro, the newest guy on the team, was the standing number 4—the best any team may ever have, probably even in Europe. Don’t you wish he gets to that level? Although he needed to improve on his speed and proactivity—he also knew.
The team was firm, good and complete. They were brothers-in-arms. And Coach Chuks was fatherly enough. He had to be brought to the team to turn the tables around. No, the former coach wasn’t needed anymore. No one would ever listen to your explanation of losing five final matches—even though the last one was more or less as a result of Ehimi’s death. The players remembered it now and talked about it. They still missed him. It still seemed strange for a young person to be found murdered in his house . . . for no concrete reasons—according to what the investigators reported. His poor parents only returned from their trip to find him dead and their home broken into. His line had been switched off for a long time when they’d tried reaching before. The cops were called immediately but of course, it was practically late already. The Hawks personally were still on the case though. They were unraveling the mysteries behind his death even despite the difficulty and confusion in it.
After the training was over, Femi and Pete moved over to the locker room to change. This was almost 4pm.
“Bushed!” Pete cried as he walked in practically exhausted.
“And hungry,” Femi added wiping his sweaty face.
“I’m confident of tomorrow’s match though,” Pete smiled removing his boots.
“You bet,” Femi nodded. “Need to visit the hospital now.”
“To see your mum, right?”
“We’ll go together in that case.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get the 200k,” Pete assured him. He was aware of the situation too.
“I’ve got a big work to do, you know? Highest goal scorer shit.” A saddened Femi said as he pulled off the jersey reminiscing the amount for his mum’s surgery.
“It doesn’t have to be your hardwork. The money could come in anyway, believe me.”
Femi hummed. He felt he was under an intense pressure from both his team and his family. A very serious dilemma he was facing. Wasn’t God aware of what was going on? He felt like the person with the biggest catastrophes ever on earth. Dad had died. Mum was dying. How would he and Itunu cope? He was desperately seeking a miracle. He was frustrated, heartbroken and confused. Thanks to Pete’s family that supported him once a while.
The duo got to the General hospital where Femi’s mum was admitted. Femi had bought some provisions again and so he gave her. This was how he could take care of her. He really prayed for her healing too. “God is good. We just need to believe he is and that he loves us,” he told Pete. How his heart bled. Seemed like they had just less than a month to be together. Unless he won the 200,000 Naira. The duo spent more time with Mrs. Aina. And of course, it gave her warm joy. She felt so lucky to have Femi as her son. But the hospital didn’t welcome any visitors after six anymore. And so they had to return to their houses, wishing they could take Mrs. Aina along. But they returned alone, to visit her the next day, hopefully.
Their houses were very closes, not in same street though but Pete escorted Femi to his house.
“I’ve always preferred your street to mine, you know,” Pete told him.
Femi grimaced. “And why’s that? I’m just hearing you say that.”
“Well, well,” he wagged his head shyly. “Cool stuffs, you know, more serene, and stuffs . . .”
“Stuffs!” Femi scoffed. “That not it.”
“You’re right in any case. Well, It’s actually because of your new neighbour,” Pete chuckled.
“My new neighbour . . . my neighbour . . . which one of them?” Femi tried deliberating.
“The most beautiful one. Felicia,” Pete answered with a big grin on his face.
“Are you serious?!” Femi was surprised.
“Sure, Femi,” Pete nodded. “I think I’m beginning to like her so much. I really do. I must admit.”
Femi breathed heavily, feeling in ambivalence. He didn’t really know what to tell Pete. “I don’t know what to say, Pete.”
“It’s alright. But I like her so much, Femi, and I guess I . . . planning of asking her out.”
“Pete and girls sha.” Femi gave a smirk.
“Don’t blame me, man,” Pete retorted.
“No one is blaming you. But seems like you’re always falling in love with every girl you see. Be calm and just focus,” Femi advised.
Pete shrugged, trying to swallow his Adam’s apple. “Que Sera Sera. Wha’eva will, will be!”
“Well, it’s your call, brother. But always remember my advice. And remember your first love. You weren’t really like this before, you know.”
“First love whatever. It’s alright, Femi. I’ve heard you. But my mind is made up and . . . I can choose to be whatever I want now so . . .” He didn’t like it.
Femi gave a sigh and looked straight ahead as they continued to walk to his house. He was feeling quite disappointed at Pete—not because he was in love with Felicia but because of his somewhat lack of focus and subtle moral decline. Pete had once been a quite serious person. But as he grew older, he began to succumb to the peer pressure around. Bookish Pete no longer made time to study and he even stabbed lectures. He began to neglect assignments and no longer attended the meetings at church. All that preoccupied his mind now was love and girls unfortunately. It isn’t good enough. Femi longed for his return.
True to it, Felicia, the new girl who lived next door to Femi with her dad, was beautiful. Very beautiful. And she was attractive too with bright eyes, cute dimples, flashing smile and alluring pouting lips that stole the breath of guys. Of course she maintained a good poise and grace—her curves, crisp tan skin and long frizzy hair all attested—but she was always too quick to shun others. It was all about ego. Herself and her dad maintained a good wealthy lifestyle. They had the money. And Femi had seriously considered informing them about the case of his mother for help. There really was no one else he could turn to. But he cringed at it whenever he thought of it. They really weren’t close neighbours even though they lived next door.
The duo reached Femi’s house soon after and sure enough, Felicia was around too—just in front of her flat lounging. Pete couldn’t contain his joy. He hurried over to her stylishly—who didn’t really know much about him but found his face familiar. His literally heart melted in him as he beheld her. After some chat—with frowns too—she was compelled to give him her contact and Pete left immediately after saying goodnight to Femi.
Femi said hi to her before entering his flat that evening. He’d bought some food for himself and Itunu. And so they ate dinner retiring for the night afterwards immediately. All alone.
* * *
Femi was awakened with a sound of a door squeaking open. He switched on his torch and checked the time quickly. It was 10:35pm. He heard the door squeak again and he jumped up quickly from his bed. What was happening now and who could that be?
Immediately, he could hear footsteps walking inside their flat—In the sitting room most certainly. His own heart began pounding heavily and he panted profusely. This wasn’t a nightmare this time around—he was sure. He could vividly remember the nightmare he’d had the previous night. It was becoming real now. What could he do now?
He quietly moved over to Itunu’s room that was next to his own and awakened her quietly. Their lives were in danger obviously. They were terribly frightened. What was the matter indeed with the Hawks? Had he known, he would have left the team before getting into this competition in fact. He felt so stupid. Who exactly was this murdering intruder?
The intruder’s footsteps continued sounding and soon it was rapidly approaching where they were. It sounded very loudly and they were sure. A million thoughts dashed across Femi’s mind. Not the least of which was how to escape quickly from the intruder as they remained in the room.
The room door’s handle turned gently. And the door opened immediately. A terrible shock petrified Femi and Itunu instantly as they stood aghast helplessly now. Their lives literally would be determined in seconds.
Episode Two coming up next week.
What exactly would happen to Femi and Itunu? And who exactly is the intruder? Why is he stalking the teammates in the Hawks?
Don’t miss next episode!