In Mercy hostel, our room was on the ground floor; the last room before the back gate, which was almost always locked. We lived in a self contain apartment, with a bathroom wide enough to contain just one person per time and the kitchen was attached to a small corner of the room, right beside the entrance, making it impossible to prepare a meal without your neighbors having a whiff of it.
Being that orange was my best color, the walls of our room were painted orange and grey, with a black rug, spotted with tiny dots of orange to match. I had insisted on getting a black plastic reading table and a white chair but it seemed impossible to find a black plastic table in Awka, so we settled for a blue one.
The room lacked an inbuilt wardrobe, so we mounted two wooden hangers, each to the extreme ends of the room, and neatly arranged our boxes on both sides. Our mattress laid on the floor, in between the boxes and the reading table was arranged to the wall, directly opposite the mattress and right in between the entrance door and the bathroom door. Once a guest comes in, he is welcomed by the mattress. It a far cry from my home in Lagos but decent room for ‘jambites’ or anyone who did not have a lot of boxes like Ada and I did.
Florence’s moving in meant that our almost choked-up room had to accommodate yet another box and human. If I had my way, I would not have allowed Florence in, but by now, I am sure you know how strong willed my darling, Ada can be.
We placed her box with the other boxes, in front of the entrance door and now, our room was completely choked up and all the fanciness we had initially created, useless. It was either Ada didn’t notice this or she simply just chose to ignore it to avoid any altercation between us.
Now Florence’s weirdness moved past Ada’s story, to her spending over two hours taking her bath, remaining naked after her shower for another hour, all in the name of creaming her delicate skin and waking up at midnight, every night, just to comb her weaves. When I asked her what the deal was with combing her hair at such awkward hour, she said she was an insomniac and always did that to keep herself busy.
The girl was weird and I could not wait for her to get herself together and leave our lives.
Every time I bring up conversations about her with Ada, she will say that I am paying her too much attention, that I should let the girl be. So finally, I resorted to ignoring her existence in my space. That was the only way I could stay without feeling creeped out.
The first trouble happened one faithful day, when Florence traveled to Enugu to see her parents:
It was a Friday morning and our annoying Elements of Banking lecturer decided that his lecture be scheduled for 7am that morning. He said he needed the extra hour to cover the curriculum. We were always late for morning lectures but after the embarrassment we faced the previous week, we knew never to go late for his lectures again. The man literally insulted every breath in us. He called us disgusting, ugly and fake because we grew up in Lagos and could not speak Igbo. He continually compared us to a class mate of ours – a lady rumored to be his girlfriend –. It was one messy experience we clearly did not want to relive.
As I hurriedly made up, I heard Florence say,
“I have a strange feeling; I can’t really explain it but I think I need to go home.”
I knew Ada was in the bathroom, so she clearly was talking to me, but I totally ignored her. I was not in the mood for her small talks this morning. In fact, I was not in the mood for anybody’s small talks. All I wanted to do, was make-up and get to school.
“Ahn ahn, Nkechi, you make it very hard to be friends with you.” Florence said again.
“What am I supposed to say? Do not go home? It is not my business if you want to go home or not, so I do not see why you need my permission to do that.” I replied sarcastically.
She shook her head and continued with her phone. Under normal circumstance, I would have felt bad about the way I responded but this day wasn’t the day to care about anything or anyone, talk less of Florence.
“Ada,” I called out, “I hope you know that I will not wait a minute for you once I am done making up.” I always said this every morning as I prepared for lecture, but always ended up waiting for her.
“I am done already, I am just waiting for my body to dry, because if I come outside like this now, you will complain about the rug getting wet.” Ada responded.
“Woh! I do not care, sha come out so we can leave here now.”
Ada walked in from the bathroom, completely naked, dripping water down her body. She hated towels, she says towels carry the most bacteria in the world and she did not want anything messing up her skin.
Thirty-five minutes later and we were on our way to school. I told Ada that Florence will be travelling to Enugu that evening and that I had scheduled an overnight reading session with my partners, Nneka and Ndidi, so she will be the only one at home. I suggested that she spent the night at Kola’s but she refused, saying,
“Kola and I are having issues jor, plus I am happy I will be alone tonight, I want to try to read something.”
“Then, you could join us at Garba Square, so we could all just read together.”
“Join you and who? Those annoying, Igbotic girls? Abeg go in peace, you will meet me at home tomorrow morning.”
5:00 AM the next morning, Ada’s call woke me up. After reading into the night, at about 3:45am, we slept off on the seats, awaiting dawn.
“Nkechi, I am finished, please come back home now, please.”
“Ahn ahn, Ada, what is it and why are you crying. You are scaring me, tell me what the matter is, please.”
“Just come home now, please, I burnt the room.” Ada replied in haste.
“WHAT! YOU DID WHAT?” I screamed.
“You see why I said you should come home now. If you can be shouting like this, then what will she do?”
Before, I could get the chance to ask her who she was referring to, she had dropped the call. I woke Ndidi up to inform her that I needed to rush home.
“Babes it is still 5 AM, it is not safe to go home by this time, everywhere is still dark and those boys can rape you o.”, she replied, trying hard to focus.
“I know, but Ada says it is an emergency.” I responded but she hissed as soon as the name left my mouth, then went back to sleep. I wished she could just put aside her beef with Ada for once and probably see me off, to the gate at least. That was clearly not happening, so I packed up and found my way home.
As I stepped foot into my hostel, I saw my lodge mates gathered in front of the lodge, heaving their shoulders up and down as they asked each other rhetorical questions,
“How could she have done that? What was she thinking? What kind of sleep was she sleeping? This is the most foolish thing I have heard in my life. Ehya.”
At this point, I knew that whatever had happened to Ada must have been serious but I still could not bring myself to believing that she actually burnt our room. I mean, how could there have been a burning room in the compound and everyone carelessly stood here talking nonsense.
I ran straight to the room and knocked hard on the metallic door, too worried to be bothered about my hand hurting.
“Who is that?” Ada asked clearly in fear.
“Nkechi, open up, what is the matter?”
“Oh thank God.” I heard her say in relief as she opened the door.
The foul smell of fire burn oozed out of the room as I stepped in.
Our room was burnt, the rug, the chair, the table, the mirror, the boxes.
“What happened here, Ada.” I asked in fear.
“I burnt the room Nkechi, but what is more important is that it was Florence’s box that was majorly affected.” Ada said.