Mina is naïve, likeable and lively. And she cannot ignore that Akua does not like her.
Akua drifts between the room and the next one. No one knows her beyond the fact that she does not like Mina. Neither does Akua like her room, and maybe, her roomates.
Dora is sticky, loud and saucy. She is plain indifferent about Naa but flows well with Mina.
Akua and Dora still wonder how Naa got a bed on campus.
Naa is intelligent and sophisticated, tends to be vain and carefree. Naa dresses to kill, chills, and only God knows how she still manages to get her grades. She had a fit of some illness twice or thrice last semester. This mystery added to the bad-girl air around her.
Benedicta cannot be bothered. She does not stay in the room. She is only two things while the twenty-four hours she has in each day lasted: a krife and a science student. Anyone who comes looking for her is first directed to the residential hall chapel or the sports-cum-prayer field; the library or a lab-cum-lecture room in her department. And that is, if anyone comes looking for her at all.
* * *
Mina was warning Naa to stop eating it just before Akua entered the room. Akua never forgot what Naa told Mina:
‘I will not, cannot stop eating. Not until I find something that goes down well. Like it. Something sweeter, more slimy and insatiable than that.’
Before the next day, Akua and Dora were convinced that Naa was really a ‘big time’ girl who aborted a foetus each time she so much as sat on a toilet bowl. Akua also told Dora that she suspected Mina was going after her (Akua’s) boyfriend. Although she liked Mina, Dora was yet to fully accept her as a roommate. But until Akua mentioned this, Dora did not know why Akua hated Mina with too much intent and vehemence. At the same time, Dora was as surprised as she was not surprised: the thought of a percher snatching the boyfriend of a bed–owner! But since the one with whom Mina perched was more than rotten and more than a friend (to Mina), perhaps, there was no reason to be surprised. Mina must be a synonym of Naa because Mina and Naa are cousins who shared the same bed. And the two shared one half of a locker, with Akua’s being the other half.
Dora pretended she knew nothing. Nothing in the room changed.
Two days later, Naa’s illness came. Again. She ground her bed and teeth with writhing and gnashing. Dora was dressing up for an early morning lecture. Naa moaned. Mina chided her, ‘As if you didn’t know the consequences. Didn’t I tell you to stop eating it? What you love is what kills you.’
Immediately, a phone rang with the lone chorus of a song, ‘Behold, I come to judge the quick and the dead. And each one shall be rewarded according to…’ Benedicta quaked out of sleep to answer her phone. Everyone was surprised to know she was in the room.
‘That is our ghost roommate for you!’ Dora sang, stretching her neck to have a proper look at Benedicta lying on the top bed.
‘It’s rather the room mouse. No, the church-mouse-turned-room mouse. Rather,’ Mina teased.
Even Benedicta had to laugh at herself. Naa was too occupied to be amused. Mina got up and went to the balcony. The water she was boiling for Naa was still not hot enough. Naa moaned again. Benedicta was just about to ask her what the matter was when Dora started cat-walking to where Mina stood.
‘How do I look, girl’, she chirruped, flaunting the rounded stubby figure of a girl.
‘Like an organized monkey, girl’, Mina said, with a mock expressionless face.
Dora feigned anger and strutted back to her locker.
Again, Naa moaned. Akua entered the room. Without greeting, she scrambled up the bed above the one Naa and Mina shared. Naa called Mina in a low whisper. Mina came and sat beside her on the bed. Naa said something to Mina in a lower whisper. The next second, Mina asked, ‘Roommates, please can I get a spare sanitary pad from anyone?’ Benedicta said a sad ‘No’ and went out. Dora spun herself towards Mina.
‘On one condition’, Dora hissed.
‘What?’ Mina frowned.
‘How do I look. Now. In the *abortion belt?
‘A-what belt?’ asked Mina, with sincere innocence.
‘Oh, better girl. In fact you loo-’
Akua hastily joined in, feigning innocence, ‘Ei. You, Dora. Is it called title belt or aB-O-R-R-tion belt?’
‘Abortion belt. Title belt. Whatever. But it is not a boxer or a fighter of any kind I want to look like. Anyway, I’m already late for my lecture. B-y-e-e’.
Before Mina could take the sanitary pad from her, Dora dangled herself out of the room. Akua, strangely, very amused with herself, quickly got down and followed Dora out of the room. Mina left to the next room to look for sanitary pad to borrow. She did not return soon.
Naa dragged herself off the bed. Clutching her abdomen and holding on to everything and air, she trudged her way to the locker. Naa found four sanitary towels in Akua’s section of the locker. She made another long and painful journey to the bath house. Benedicta met her there. She helped Naa back to the room. She also helped Naa with the hot water massage on the abdomen. Then, Benedicta gave Naa some Paracetamol tablets and left the room.
Dora had returned from her morning lecture. She was in the room when Naa went to the bath house to use a second or third sanitary towel. Dora did not even need to pretend she had not seen Naa because there was a perfect excuse for ignoring her: Dora was busily cooking for the whole world. An earpiece shut her out of this same world. Soon, Naa had to also endure the crude smell of dawadawa, the tear-inducing spray of cut onion, the grating sound of a blender at work and a room so easily turned into the heat chamber of an oven.
It was long before Mina entered the room, crooning about how nice the movies she had been watching in the next room were. Dora was eagerly listening to Mina narrate the first movie when Naa came toddling into the room…
* * *
While she was dressing for an evening lecture, Akua saw a pad wrapper in Naa and Mina’s part of the locker. She remembered she too had a similar packet. But not expecting anyone, especially Mina, to take anything of hers – not to even talk of Mina taking it without asking – Akua convinced herself that that particular opened packet of sanitary towels could not be hers. Besides, the last time she saw the pack, her pack, there were four pads – not one – left inside it. Also, and howbeit vaguely, Akua remembered she had hidden something else inside the pack.
* * *
The next morning, another person in the room had her menses.
Akua looked very angry while she desperately searched for something in her side of the locker. Twice or thrice, she momentarily paused from her frantic search to furiously, suspiciously glance at two or three things. Akua looked inside her part of the locker – where her pack of sanitary towels should have been – and the empty pad packet on the floor, in front the locker unit.
As many times as Dora asked her what she was looking for, Akua said ‘Nothing’. And once in a while, Dora saw Akua cast a devilish glare at Mina. Mina never saw Akua make any of those faces, she had her head down, undoing her own braids. Akua shook her head several times and chuckled a foreboding ‘Hm’ each time she glared at Mina. Then a hideous smile bloomed and blanched off Akua’s face as quickly as it had formed. For once, Dora thought Akua was a cat. The thought of Akua being a cat or having the queerer natures of a cat sent Dora restless, inwardly and for a rather awkward, shifty reason.
So Dora was too afraid to refuse Akua a pad when she asked her for one.
Mina waited for Dora to snuggle into her bed before she reminded Dora that it was her turn to sweep the room. Per the room’s occupants’ agreed-upon rota. With an exaggerated chuckle, Dora asked Mina whether that was her new way of saying ‘Good morning’. Mina was still laughing when Dora finished sweeping the room.
All Dora did was to hurriedly sweep every speck and scrap and what-not on the room’s floor onto the floor’s verandah. Dora had hardly shoved the room under a bed, and climbed back into her bed when, Prince Maame, the hall cleaner assigned to the floor, knocked the door.
Prince Maame wanted to find out who just (recently) swept the rubbish onto the veranda she had just mobbed. Maybe the cleaner was not polite enough with the asking. Maybe Dora had already had enough for one morning. But it happened that Dora lashed out all the scare and annoyance she had had in the room that morning on the poor woman. To put it simply but as it was, Dora told Prince Maame that whatever bad thing she had done was the very reason Prince Maame was able to feed herself and that kwashiorkor scarecrow she had for a prince.
Poor Prince Maame did not cry for long. While cleaning the new mess, something she found made her think that Dora’s insult could be the truth after all. Something which fell out of a pack among the pile of rubbish which Dora had swept from the room onto the veranda.
As unusual as it was, Akua stayed in the room that whole day.As long as Akua was in the room, no one talked much. No one could even cough with comfort.
It was only when Benedicta entered the room that the heaviness that seemed to hang in the room shifted, receded, and even so, only slightly. Shortly after Benedicta had left the room, that heaviness returned, and this time with a grimmer edge which was as bone cold and ancient as it was intimidating, yet all too familiar, with humans, especially.
The heaviness left with Akua, when she finally went out a little before dusk…
(TO BE CONTINUED.)
An earlier version of this story, titled Life on the Wrong Side of Okro, was first published in two installments (Friday 20th & 27th July, 2012) in Citi 97.3 FM‘s The Weekend Globe, a lifestyle news magazine.
* abortion belt is one of the popular names for a type of belt which ladies wear on top of shirts, blouses or even dresses.It is particularly thick in width and may cover from just below the bust and as far as the entire waist. Its technical (as in fashion) name is likely to be ‘wide belt’ and it may have a waist-clinching effect on both outfit and body figure of wearer.
Feature image: Credit.