Each time someone said they liked watching the television or that they liked movies, Kene, who everyone called Ken would always ask one question: Have you ever seen a whole movie with the volume off? Understandably, the answer was always no, and each time that answer came, Ken had to resist the enormous urge to punch the air in excitement. Gotcha, he'd think. Ken liked movies above all things, and he would rather see them muted than not see them at all. With some practice, he realised that he comprehended those movies as well as the next guy that saw the movie with the volume on and this precluded seeing the movie again. Of course, just like the other story where Eki preferred to eat sour soup, it was not Ken's original intention to be seeing movies without the volume on.
In case you haven't heard the story of Eki and her longing for sour egusi soup, this is the correct version of what happened to her. She lived with her wicked aunt, Stella. Aunt Stella considered herself a disciplinarian. So each time Eki finished cooking egusi soup, which was a melon soup that many people favoured in West Africa, she would forget to open the pot of soup a crack so that the steam would escape. Keeping the soup without a freezer, with the weather was usually about thirty-five degrees Celsius. The result was the soup pot storing in heat that would enable the soup to ferment and get sour. Aunt Stella did not like that one bit, but since it was Eki's fault, Aunt Stella insisted that Eki ate the soup alone until it was finished. After a while, an adaptation set in and Eki did not like the normal version of the soup anymore. Of course, Aunt Stella was none the wiser about that development.
Ken's situation was a bit but not entirely different. Power supply from the utility was available for three or four hours on lucky days. Other days, the supply was less or non-existent. Those who knew had aptly described the nature of electric power supply from the utility as epileptic. That was another thing that Ken had to contend and deal with. Ken lived with his older cousin, Kuti who worked as an insurance underwriter. As a result, Ken was usually home alone after school until his cousin Peter was sent to the same state for his one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Peter could not afford to rent an apartment based on his little NYSC allowance. Luckily for him, his cousin Kuti could and agreed to accommodate him.
Ken and Kuti lived in a two-bedroom apartment. So when Ken heard that Kuti had agreed to take in Peter, he had a warning that it was not going to end in praise, as his Christian friend Ayo often told him. Ayo was the most optimistic person Ken knew. When faced with difficulties, no matter how impossible they seemed, Ayo would intone, "It will end in praise," and Ken supposed it often did because Ayo always went to church every Friday evening for Praise and Worship no matter how bad things got. But Ken was more of a mathematical turn of mind and having experienced sharing his room with three other corps members before Peter; he knew there was no way it was going to end well.
First, there was Uba. Uba was the first corps member that Kuti took in. Uba was not related to Kuti, not really. But he was one of those guys that became whatever they needed to be to gain whatever advantage they wanted. The first thing anyone noticed about Uba was just how healthy he was. He was tall, dark and handsome with those pink lips that announced that he was a non-smoker. Initially, when people met Uba, they could not imagine there could be anything wrong with him. Then you begin a conversation with him and, if you paid any attention at all, you would notice that his entire interest in you was on how you could be of any use to him. He was so blatant about it that Ken was often embarrassed on his behalf. He reminded Ken about a saying where he came from, When a madman goes naked, it is his relatives that get embarrassed. There was an in-house joke that if you left Uba to feed a little child, he would eat the food and smear the child's mouth with the food. Ken did not think it was a joke; he believed it.
After Uba, there was Sammy, a lanky tired-looking bloke whose relationship with Kuti was not clear either. Sammy was a cool guy. Ken liked him instantly, and Ken did not like people easily. However, their bromance did not last very long. After sharing a room with him, Ken began to notice many things that were unbearable about the guy. He appeared cool because he was incredibly slow. He often agreed with you because the time it would take him to come up with a constructive response would be too long and you probably would not have the patience to wait for a response. The result was that he would agree with what you had said, then turn around to do the exact opposite. One of those things he agreed on and reversed in action was the speed at which to operate the ceiling fan. Granted, the weather in Northern Nigeria those days was scorching. There were jokes about the place being very close to hellfire. Ken got sick when the fan blew on him for long hours, so he often did not use the fan at all. However, since his new roommate could not do without it, he negotiated with him for them to have the fan operating at medium speed. , but as soon as Ken slept, he increased it to the highest speed. Ken would often wake up with his sinuses blocked but he decided to bear it out until the year elapsed. One day, Sammy returned home from the school where he was supposed to teach pupils as part of his service year. They had asked him to teach the poor children math. He returned home with their math text and set it down on the table in the sitting room. He soon sat to review the text. After a while, he called Ken and asked, "What is this?"
Ken was almost shocked, but he instructed himself to remain calm and be sure of what he was being asked. He bent and looked at what Sammy was pointing. "Ehhmm, you mean the division sign?" he asked looking at Sammy's face to determine if he was serious. He was.
"Oh, yeah, that's the division sign," Ken told him, wondering how someone who did not know what a division sign was could teach math. He soon found out as he had to point out the multiplication sign and others while explaining the operations. Ken was in secondary school, and he kept wondering how Sammy graduated from a University. Granted, the man studied sociology, but elementary math was not studied in the University most times. Ken spent the next year tutoring a teacher, and the teacher made it as difficult as possible.
After Sammy, John came along, and it seemed that his life mission was to turn Ken into a born-again Christian by every mean necessary. He would have had more success, Ken thought, if he did not keep drinking his coke without replacement.
Ken had three experiences sharing a room with corps members so when he heard that Peter was coming, he could not help but brace himself. Not only was he going to be sharing his room, but he was also going to sharing his life, food, kitchen and not to mentioned TV, with someone he had never met in his life. Ken did not mind sharing everything else but the TV. He lived for when he would be home from school and done with chores, then Peter came. Peter liked slow, old music, especially music by Anita Baker. He would often return home before Ken; then he would put on his old music and lie on the floor shirtless, listening to it.
"Oh, Anita Baker!" he would scream, almost moan, ecstatically. Ken could not decide what annoyed him more. Was it the fact that Peter was playing old songs or that he was so excited about it, or was it the fact that the guy laid his black hairy body shirtless on the rug, or perhaps maybe because he was using up the little time that the utility decided to grant them power for the above? Perhaps it was the combination of the whole thing because Ken was often beside himself in anger and frustration. But Ken was not one to leave problems unsolved. It took him a while, but he found a solution to the problem. One day, when there was a power cut, he removed the fuse at the consumer unit and taped it with masking tape and plugged it back in. The idea was to ensure that Peter would never arrive home and use the electronics before him since there would be nothing to power them. Whenever Ken returned, he untaped the fuse and suddenly, power was restored. Peter did not figure it out immediately. But one day, he realised that his neighbours had power, but their flat had did not. So he called a technician who uncovered the problem. Once again, by the time Ken returned from school, Peter was lying shirtless on the rug shouting "Anita Baker". That was how Ken's TV watching was relegated to night time when everyone else slept.
Kuti's apartment was a small one, and it was easy to hear the TV from either room. Kuti worked long hours, and it would be inhuman to wake him with noise from the TV. Ken did not consider himself an insensitive person, so he watched his rented films with the volume muted. Luckily for him, the utility company improved in the number of hours they supplied power. Sometimes, Ken would be in the middle of a movie he rented for a day, and the lights would go off. He would wait for the power to be restored and he would often sleep in the sitting room while waiting. Sometimes, he would pray for power to be restored for just a minute so that he could retrieve the cassette from the player. The video player was VHS back in those days.
It was perhaps because Ken spent most nights in the sitting room that Peter came up with the idea of bringing his girlfriend home for a sleepover. At first, no one, including Ken knew about it even though he prided himself of being aware of everything that happened in that flat. He, however, noticed that Peter's girlfriend, Livia was always there in the morning when they woke.
One Friday evening, Ken returned home after playing in the school football tournament. He needed to prepare a meal, so he quickly went to the local market to purchase the condiments. After cooking, he was frail so he went to sleep in his room on the bed he shared with Peter. The bed measured four four-and-half feet by six feet and was just enough for him and Peter when Ken was not kicking. Ken had slept for about two hours when he heard the door to the room creaked against the tiled floor. Ken was a heavy sleeper, so he was unable to decide whether the experience was real or dream.
It was the end of October, and the rains were giving way to the northeasterly wind of Harmattan that characterises the end of the year in most West African countries. But the Harmattan had not quite caught on, so the weather was hot from the sun and complete lack of rain for the one month before then. Ken was very tired, and he needed the sleep, so a little noise was not enough to rouse him. He continued to snore, but the whirring sound of some mosquitoes intervened. He would have slept through that if not for the sudden depression he felt in the bed just beside where he laid.
"Are you sure we won't wake him?" asked a female voice in a bit of a drawl.
"Sure," he heard Peter respond. "He sleeps like a log. He would not know we were here."
The mosquito kept whirring in Ken's ear. He slowly stretched and used his hand to cover his ear while his new bedmates argued whether or not to use prophylactics. After a while, the arguments stopped, and the bed soon began to bounce gently. Ken was struggling to maintain his normal position and feign ignorance of the activities going on in the room because the mosquitoes seemed to have changed their mind about just whirring. Ken felt one of the mosquitoes perch on his face, but he could not swat it because that would reveal that he was awake and he could not do that. Suddenly there was another mosquito on his arm, and he could no longer take it. He stood up in a very controlled, casual manner and walked out of the room without looking back. That was the last time he shared a room with Peter or anyone else. The things that happened in that room that night has never been spoken of; not by Ken or Peter.
Authored by: @churchboy
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