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I moved into room 49, Olu Ola Resort two years into my schooling in the University of Benin.
The room was a simple student’s apartment; a small sitting room, a smaller bedroom, a well lit kitchen and a neat toilet.
Above all, what I liked most about room 49 was how clean it was. I enjoyed the fact that the kitchen had well designed silver cupboards, with a silver rack above the sink for towels.
Tiles, well painted walls, two big windows at either end of the room meant ventilation was no issue, I was in love.
I had heard all the rumours about the compound, about the inhabitants of it, but I waved them off; whispers would always abound about all that is good, I thought.
It was a sunny afternoon when I moved in, a clear day with clear skies. I imagine birds singing by one of my windows as I dragged my big leather box into the room. The room was empty, the wardrobe open and vacant, the springs of the bed shiny.
I was excited.
The room had the smell of dank wood, and of dust, and I inhaled every bit of it, greedily.
My new life.
I had earlier invited friends over to clean, so my only task was to sweep off the dust which must have come in through the windows overnight, or from wherever it is that dust comes from.
The rest of that day remains a blur; I brought in the rest of my stuff, I smoked a cigarette, I made calls to my course mates and we dickered over the prices of materials, then I fell into a deep sleep over a bottle of Jelzine.
The next day, which was a non school day, I woke up to the irksome sound of loud music coming from my neighbours. Terry G, if I recall correctly, reminding me again exactly why I despised his music so much, his throaty uninspiring voice explaining to listeners how much he wished to, “knack am.”
Unamused, I thought to myself; why not visit the neighbours, get a lay of the land?
So I pulled myself off the ground, grabbed a toothbrush and a bar of soap from the side pockets of my Luis Vuitton box, then I entered the bathroom.
A few minutes later, I was done. I grabbed a white Polo shirt from my wardrobe, wearing it over blue wrangler jeans.
I took a peek at the mirror before I left; my pimpled face had not changed overnight, my nose remained bulbous and my forehead, unapologetically wide. One or two strands of hair had sprouted on my chin, and I pinched them, wishing within me that a mane would soon develop.
For me though, I remained mildly handsome, my deep set eyes my best feature.
I capered out my room, pulling the door behind me. Next door, not three feet away, was where the painful music was coming from.
The door to his apartment was open the first time I saw him.
He sat on a leather cushion, facing a small plasma TV, one of his legs resting on a small wooden table, the other on the ground. An ash coloured blanket was draped from his waist down to the sole of his feet.
He sat vulpine, a video game controller in his grasp, a cigar hanging loosely from his lips, his exposed chest broad and swollen, heaving gently.
A girl, fair as sunlight, lay across his laps, dressed scantily. I could see beads glistening around her waist, and her hair was done in thick cornrows. She had a small frame, but a shapely figure, it seemed.
He never looked up to register my presence, yet he spoke to my like he knew who I was, like he knew I was going to come.
“Why you standing there? Come in!” He said, in a voice that was wonderfully frail.
“What,” I yelled, straining so that he could hear me over the blare of his speakers.
Taking a remote from his side, he turned the volume down, and then he looked at me.
It is always the eyes that give you a first glimpse into somebody’s soul. They tell you the person’s history, who this person is or isn’t, and who this person is trying to be.
His room was poorly lit, so I couldn’t tell. But he talked with a slur, inebriated I guessed, so his eyes were probably dull and red.
“COME IN!” He said, with a smile.
I stepped in, and made to close the door behind me.
“Guy no”, the lady in his lap said, “Don’t close it. It’s hot.”
It was morning, but the only light in the room came from the T.V set which I now sat in front of. A closer look at his face confirmed my earlier suspicions about the colour of his eyes and empty bottles of McDowell’s littered about proved it.
The only cushion in the room, he shared with the girl who was probably his girlfriend so I had to make do with the ground.
I noticed at once how dirty the place was; empty packets of biscuit here and there, crumbs being feasted upon by ants, electronics lined with dust so thick I almost thought they were originally brown and not black.
There was also a very stale stink in the room, retch inducing, foul and acrid like the smell of rotten eggs mixed with night soil, mixed with sulphur.
But the people behind me didn’t seem to notice.
“Guy you sabi play Fifa?” He asked, offering me a controller.
The first webs of what grew into a closely knit coterie were spun that day, in the poorly lit room 50.
A week later, we were playing a game of cards when we first exchanged names.
“Guy”, he asked in his paper thin voice, “which name should I record your score under?”
“Doni,” I replied.
Prior to then, he had only referred to me as, “My Guy.”
In turn, I pulled the scoreboard close to take a look at his name.
Jock. Nice, I recall thinking, Jock rhymes with sock.
Onyinye, was the name of the girl I had earlier seen.
She was short and pretty like a doll, but her eye lashes were as thin as those of a desert dweller, and her legs were not straight.
I was always quite sceptical about Onyinye.
Because you see, that day when Jock got up to pee, I noticed that one of his legs dangled about, uselessly.
He badly required his crutches to move about which Onyinye picked up off one corner of the room and presented to him.
He was tall, and well built, his jaw hemmed by a thick bush of beards, his skin as black as soot.
But that useless left leg would always hinder his greatness is what I remember thinking.
I wondered what a beautiful girl like Onyinye would ever need with a guy like Jock. Every possible explanation continued to befuddle me and only one made any sense; that he probably was very rich or had very rich sponsors.
Then there was Mbang, tall and svelte, with ever a sway to her walk.
She was the talkative in our little group.
Jock’s room had become a hub of sorts and at the end of every day, we would all gather there to retell our daily adventures and misdemeanours.
Mbang’s speech was a funny thing to listen to. It seemed like she always attempted to speak faster than her tongue could convey whatever it was she was trying to say.
“Ehm hem Doni,” She would say, “Did you see that video about two girls and one cup? Very disgusting. I don’t…”
And she would go on and on, whether I showed an interest in her tale or not.
I was always the most reticent member of the group, the most observant.
I looked awkward whenever I tried to dance along when they danced. So I usually sat apart during dances, snickering every time Mbang tried to twerk her shrivelled bum.
But the camaraderie between all four of us was palpable, almost magic. There was laughter, plenty of it, and days lost in wisps of cigar smoke.
Jock was a funny guy, with ever a smile, ever a witty joke to tell. And he was happier whenever Onyinye was around, his dances done with more vigour, his jokes laced with more passion. It was obvious that everything he did, he did to impress her.
To be contnued…