A Moment in Time

Joseph Okai

Joseph Okai

30 minutes: That's how long Janet had been staring in the mirror with her tear-filled eyes.

“This isn’t happening to me”; she caught herself thinking out loud.

Janet, as long as she could remember, was a very sweet and sensitive person; inclined to put herself in the shoes of others and see the best in people; even those she didn’t like.

But, in that poorly lit motel room, she realized that she was no longer the same. In that mirror, she saw a version of herself that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Only two days before this fateful night, Janet had traveled with colleagues from the advertising firm she worked in as a client service manager for their annual manager’s retreat. Her role as a client service manager was to match the company’s expertise in the advertising industry with the expectations of the high-value clients of the 2nd best advertising company in her country. That position had been theirs for the second straight year,  surpassed only by their main competitor, Kane Advertising.

It was on this very trip that she was expected to be named regional manager of the country’s capital city branch of Mic Advertising; a little bird had whispered into her ear.

Even more exciting to Janet was the joy of spending the weekend with her boyfriend and soon to be husband, who had joined her for the weekend at the Swiss Peas resort.

This would be her third promotion in her 5-year career with the company. This was a testament to her excellent work ethic and her confident yet admirable social interaction with her colleagues and clients.

All that came crumbling down in the space of just 24 hours. She had moved from a soon to be named Branch Manager to a fugitive.

It’s 7pm on Sunday, the 8th of February, the last day of the retreat. But the day held an even more significant meaning for Janet and her boyfriend. It’s been two years since her unexpected bump into Frederick, the love of her life, at the airport, which led to their life of romance together.

Tonight was supposed to mark their second anniversary. A romantic candlelight dinner was in the offing. Instead, Janet was on her way to meet Mark, a Private Investigator she had hired to find out if Frederick was cheating on her: a suspicion she had held for the past month. Frederick canceling their dinner date at the very last minute gave her further cause for concern.

This wasn’t the first time Frederick had rescheduled a meeting with her at the very last minute. The previous two came immediately after he had received strange calls from an unknown number. And that's when her suspicions began.

Since their marriage plans were well underway, she thought it wise to hire a PI to allay her fears before she committed to their marriage.

So when Frederick canceled their dinner, she decided to meet up with Mark who had called earlier to inform her of an intriguing development in her case.

Janet arrived at the coffee shop by 9:15 pm to meet a virtually empty shop. Aside from, Mark who was sitting at the corner to the right, there were only two other customers. When she sat down, she refused Mark’s offer to have a cup of coffee and went straight to business. “So what do you have for me?” she inquired of Mark.

Mark handed her an envelope, containing several pictures of Frederick and another woman just about her age, at different times and places. Most of those places were secluded, she observed. Her heart sunk at that moment, and her eyes became teary.

“But wait,” Mark interrupted her just as she was about to digest all the questions that had flooded her mind in the space of barely 5 seconds.

“It’s not what you think,” Mark continued. “Your boyfriend has indeed been meeting up with this woman, but it’s not for the reasons you think. Your husband is being blackmailed.”

“Blackmailed?” she asked, surprising.

Mark went on to explain that upon his investigation, he found out that the mysterious woman was trying to blackmail Frederick. This woman knew of a murder committed by Frederick.

“Murder?!” exclaimed Janet.

“And it’s closer to home” Mark continued.

“Frederick murdered your sister, Janet, and this woman was a witness.”

Janet’s sister, Annie had been found murdered a few blocks from her house the year before. But no one was charged with the crime since there were no witnesses. But now it appeared there was a witness. The case had been rendered a cold case since there wasn’t much to go by. The police chalked it off as a mugging gone wrong.

Janet had heard enough for one night. Gathering all the pictures and her personal effects, she took off without even saying goodbye and headed straight for their hotel and waited in the lobby till Frederick returned.

Still fuming from the news she had just heard, she asked if they could go somewhere quiet and talk. They both exited the hotel and settled on a deserted alley a few blocks from the hotel.

“This is the perfect place,” Janet thought to herself. Without a moment’s hesitation, she pulled out a gun from her purse and shot Frederick three times in the chest and quickly ran away.

To the best of her knowledge, no one saw her leaving that alley and there weren't any visible cameras, and she had avenged the death of her sister.

Or so she thought.

As she was about to open her car door, her phone rang. It was a call from Mark.

“We got it all wrong,” Mark said. “Well, at least some parts,” he continued.

“It wasn’t Frederick. It was his twin brother. Did you know he had a twin brother?”

Mark then explained to Janet that the eye witness to her sister’s murder had indeed tried to blackmail Frederick several times when she chanced on him about a month ago in a grocery store. She, the mysterious woman, had realized a striking resemblance between Frederick and the man she saw that fateful day. But he insisted on being innocent and never gave in to her demands. Now she finally understood why he maintained his innocence when they met again that night at the same time Mark met with Janet.

The woman had just called Mark to inform him that Frederick was able to identify his twin brother in the picture she showed him just a few hours ago; pictures of him committing the crime.

It was during this meeting that Frederick realized that the man in the photo was his brother. He saw the distinct birthmark on the side of his head (which Frederick did not have) and that’s how he was able to convince this woman of his innocence.

“I felt you needed the full story. That’s why I called,” Mark concluded.

Janet dropped the phone and immediately turned numb.

“What have I done?” she thought.

Of course, Frederick had a twin brother; she now remembered. They had never met before, but she had seen pictures of him and Frederick when they were young. She remembered noticing the mark in the picture as well. However, he and Frederick were not close anymore.

Unlike Frederick, his brother fell into the wrong crowd growing up. That was all she knew about him. And now she had just found out that he was her sister’s killer.

There was no time to think about how things had gone wrong for her. She checked herself into a motel. The hotel was too risky at this point; especially if the police were looking for her. She could pay cash at the motel and avoid producing an ID.

Now as she stared at herself in the mirror, she wondered how she had transformed into a cold-blooded killer. She had become the very thing she detested.

She concluded that she had two options. One was to turn herself in and face the full brunt of the law or the other: become a fugitive for the rest of her life.

Either way, she concluded that life as she knew it would never be the same for her.

 

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Winner of a Merit Prize in the Postgraduate Category of the 15th English Short Story Writing Competition
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