Coal drove in silence.
The woman — Efya, she learned — had gotten the tears of Oya for them after delivering multiple threats to Coal’s person if anything were to happen to Star. But at least, they had it. Star held the vial filled with glowing blue liquid in her hands now and then she put it in the brown sack Doreen gave them.
She looked at Coal. “What’s next on the list?”
He grunted in response. His wounds healed surprisingly fast and the tattoos on his hand glowed dimly as he stopped bleeding gradually. So, it was less physical hurt than more of his own pride that was wounded.
“What’s next?” She repeated.
This time, Coal answered, “The Crown of Hwanjile,”
Star cocked her head, “How’re we going to get that?”
Coal looked at her now, “We’re going to break into a museum.”
“Yes!” Star whooped. “Finally.” She stopped when she saw Coal looking at her, shaking his head.
He turned his head back to the road. “You’re… a strange one.”
She slid back into the seat, smiling. “I know.”
The National museum of Nigeria stood strong in the night with its dusty boarded up windows and a small number of entrances. It was built over fifty years ago and said to house artefacts that would make any archaeologist’s mouth water.
Coal and Star looked at it now through the windshield of the car as they tried to count the number of security guards.
“One,” said Star.
Coal cocked his head, “There could be more.”
“But it’s been an hour,” she groaned, “and we don’t have much time.”
The lone security guard in question picked up a bottle of Gulder next to a pile of empty bottles and started drinking. In some moments, he was stumbling around, looking for where he kept his chair (it was behind him), and in another, he fell flat with his face on the ground.
Star looked at Coal who sighed and undid his seat belt. “Fine,” he said, “but you stay in the car.” With that, he took a small black bag and left the car.
He stopped walking as he heard other loud unsubtle footsteps behind him. He stopped, turned and sighed again.
“What?” Star said. “It’s boring in the car.”
“You also can’t get killed. In the car.” Coal pointed out.
“But it’s just a museum,” Star said. “What’s the worst that could happen? Getting attacked by a cobweb?”
Coal thought on this for a moment.
“Fine,” he said. “But stay behind me.” He glared at her. “I mean it.”
Star nodded as she followed him past the gate and the sleeping guard and into the museum where darkness met them.
They got to the museum entrance and Star looked up at the large wooden doors with wooden Ifa heads craved into them. They were doors carved with intricate tools and singular intent. They were doors built to serve aesthetics and security. But most importantly, they were doors that were locked.
“How do we get it open?” Star asked as she looked around for something, maybe to knock the door with. Meanwhile, Coal simply walked up to the door and placed is hand on it as he whispered a word, the tattoos on his arm glowed a dark purple and Star heard the click a door makes when the lock has been magically picked. It creaked open and Coal walked in, not bothering to look behind him.
“Show-off,” she breathed as she bumbled in.
It was dark inside and Star couldn’t see a step-in front of her. Worse, she couldn’t see Coal, or even hear him. Instinctively, she reached for her neck and found it empty.
There was something she was missing, something important. But every single time her mind tried to grab it; it would flitter away into the dark recesses of her mind.
She wasn’t scared of the dark, no, that was for little kids, and she was almost thirteen. She was apprehensive of the dark, she was cautious of it. Yes, that was what it was: a reasonable and rational caution of the dark.
“Boo,” a voice said beside her and Star screamed and tripped on her own legs to the sound of Coal laughing.
Star glared at him, hoping he would somehow feel her hate simmer.
“I hate you,” she said as she got up and dusted her trousers. “I really do.”
“Sure, you do,” Coal said, and she could hear a glimmer of a smile in his voice.
“How are we going to move in the dark?” Star said. “Don’t you have some magical lighty powers to show us the way?”
“Yes,” he said, “I do,” and a flash came on, blinding Star. “It’s called the flashlight app.” And with that, he kept on walking and Star glared holes into the back of his head.
“If you’re glaring at me,” Coal said, “just know that I can’t see you and, really, that takes the point away from a good glare.”
Star stopped for a while and felt stupid, but then again, that was what Coal would want and so she resumed her glaring.
The museum smelt old. Not just normal old, but old old, like it had been around for centuries, which it hadn’t. Coal’s phone light casted dark jagged shadows across the floor as they walked through the glassed artefacts.
Their footsteps reverberated through the room as they walked — actually, no, Star’s footsteps reverberated through the room as they walked; Coal didn’t make a sound as they moved through the museum. It was almost like he was following some internal radar and knew instinctively where they were going. He kept muttering as they walked through the exhibitions, not looking at them but more of feeling them Like he was sorting through them trying to find the one that —
He stopped abruptly at a glass case and cast the flashlight on it.
“It’s empty,” Star whispered.
Coal looked at her as if for the first time. “Why are you whispering?”
Star looked around. “We’re breaking into a museum. We’re supposed to whisper.”
Coal looked at her. “Why?”
“So, nobody hears us. Obviously.”
“Yes,” Coal said. “But who is going to hear us? The guard is knocked out and we are the only ones here.”
Star was going to retort but realised she couldn’t. “Shut up,” she said.
Coal nodded and went back to looking at the glass case.
“It’s empty,” Star said, walking closer to it.
“It looks empty,” Coal replied, bending to take a closer look at the case.
“You’re saying it’s not empty?” Star asked.
Coal didn’t reply. He just put his phone between his teeth and went to lift the case. He put the glass case carefully on the ground and took his phone from his mouth as he just stood and stared at the space where something was supposed to be.
“Strange,” he muttered as he suddenly looked around.
“What’s strange?” Star asked. “Can you just answer one of my questions for god’s sake?”
“Star,” Coal said, urgency gripping in his voice. “Stay behind me.”
Star looked at him, her eyebrows crossed.
“Now!” Coal roared and Star did as she was told.
“You can come out now,” Coal called out. “I’ve been feeling you for a while now. I can almost hear you.”
Star was about to ask what he could hear when she heard it — the soft tapping of stiletto heels on hardwood floors as the sound got louder and louder. Mist formed in the museum as it collected and swirled and suddenly it wasn’t mist anymore; it was a ghastly woman with dripping red makeup and a flowing white dress. Her fingernails were long and dripping with something Star hoped was red paint. But all those things were unimportant; what was important was what Coal was staring at as it hung precariously on the woman’s head.
“Hello,” the woman said as she cocked her head to the side, her eyes wide open, unblinking, the crown of Hwalijie on her head. “It has been very long since I had guests. Would you like to play?”
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