Seyi Jacobs waited.
Water and soap dripped from his frame and he felt a sting in his right eye. He blinked, but did not move any other part of his body.
Come on, you little shit.
A breeze wafted in and triggered goose flesh on his arm. A guy in one of the other stalls was singing ‘Boogie Nights’ off-key.
A flicker, a brown filament, a movement.
The antennae of the cockroach emerged first and explored the rim of the drain, then the head came out. Seyi waited until half the body came into view, then stamped down harder than necessary, squashing the bug.
Every time he had a shower the water activated the cockroaches that lived in the drain and they always came out to see what was going on. The first time Seyi had a bath as a freshman one had crawled up his back and flown around in that heavy, clumsy way they had about them.
He put the bucket down and scooped water with a bowl-there was no running water. He rinsed himself off, killing two more cockroaches with a strategic tap dance.
He took his towel off the hook, wrapped it around himself, picked up his bucket and soap and left the shower stall. It was dark and the floor was wet so he made no haste. The water sucked on his rubber thongs making a slapping noise when he walked.
The bathroom was at one end of the corridor on the first floor of Mbadiwe Hall. Seyi’s room was in the middle. Inside, his two roommates were out and he took time to dry himself. There was a blister pack of chloroquine tablets on the table. He took four of them with orange juice, noting the time so that he could take two more six hours later. A number of textbooks were on desk next to the antimalarials. Exams were ten days away and he had planned a study blitz, but earlier in the day he felt the telltale signs of malaria. For him it was a bad taste in his mouth, slight dizziness and muscle aches all over his body. He’d bought the chloroquine from one of the chemists lining the campus gate. He hated the inevitable itching, but it was the fastest way to get better.
He sat, staring at a poster of Isaac Hayes. His brain always slowed a bit when he had malaria so he was still seated when Oye burst into the room.
‘Hello, hello, hello! Let the games begin!’ said Oye. He always seemed to travel with a cloud of excitement.
‘How, now?’ said Seyi. ‘Ki lo nsele?’
‘Omo, nothing much, nothing much. What are you doing?’ Oye plopped down on the seat opposite.
‘I was about to start studying.’ Seyi pointed to the books. The hint of a headache had started and Oye’s loud voice was aggravating it.
‘Forget that for now. There’s plenty of time. Let’s go up to Slessor.’
‘Mary Slessor Hall. Women. Babes.’
‘Boobs! We’ll go see Joanna in Slessor. She has gigantic headlights, man.’
‘Yes, but she’s flat behind. She lacks balance. I always feel she’s about to keel over with the weight of her bust.’
‘As long as she’s keeling over into my arms, I don’t care. Come. Get dressed!’
‘The exams will still be there when we get back.’
‘You’re kind of making my own point for me, Oye.’
Seyi wasn’t sure about what kind of success Oye did or did not have with women but the boy certainly put in the most effort. They met on the evening of matriculation rehearsals. In freshman year everyone was confused in the first few weeks, but Oye was single-minded in his pursuit of the fairer sex. He talked to any female he saw regardless of beauty or apparent status.
‘Even if they won’t sleep with you,’ Oye would say, ‘Knowing them is strategic. They might have friends and friends of friends. Chatting up babes is never a waste of time.’
Perhaps. But Seyi had never seen Oye actually close the deal. He expended his energy in a number of directions, but had no girlfriend. They were in year two now, but Oye was still unserious. He was good-looking enough, tall, fair-skinned on account of his mother, athletic on account of daily push ups and sit ups, well dressed. He wore his hair short and always had it treated with a hint of Sportin’ Waves which left it really dark and shiny, but drier and less messy than a Jheri Curl. As a result he always had a small navy blue comb which he ran through his hair every hour or so.
He made Seyi feel drab.
It wasn’t that that Seyi could not look…interesting when he wanted to. He could. He just didn’t spend a lot of time on his appearance except when he had cause, like a party.
‘Listen, dunderhead,’ said Seyi, ‘you have exams too. Forget Slessor. Let’s study.’
Oye shook his head. ‘We’re going up to Slessor.’
On the ground floor of Mbadiwe Hall Seyi and Oye walked out past the reception office. Before they could leave the double doors someone called out.
‘Seyi! You have a phone message.’ The receptionist waved a small sheet of paper at him. Seyi thanked him and read it.
‘Who’s it from?’ asked Oye.
‘My sister. Lola.’
‘She’s so fine! When am I coming to your house?’
‘All right, all right. What does it say?’
‘Nothing. Just that I should call back as soon as I get this message.’ Seyi turned to go to reception from where students could make phone calls for a small fee.
Oye stopped him. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘I have to phone home.’
‘Yes, but not now. Joanna and her ample chest await. It can’t be too urgent. If anyone were dead she would have said so. Phone first thing tomorrow morning.’
Outside, on the pathetic lawn to the left of the building, Mike Aluko did repetitions on weights he had made by pouring cement into paint cans connected by a steel rod. They waved a greeting which Mike acknowledged by nodding since his hands were occupied. ‘Osteoarthritis in his future for sure,’ said Oye as they walked by.
A fleet of motorcycles haunted the frontage of the hall, waiting for passengers. Slessor was walking distance, but it would take a while to get there and there would be sweat and dust, all of which meant a less than perfect appearance and fragrance on arrival. There were also taxis, mainly Fiats and Peugeot 504s, but nobody ever used them except freshmen and visitors.
Oye strode up to the closest. ‘I would like two of your finest chariots to take us to Mary Slessor Hall, please.’
‘What?’ asked the motorcyclist.
‘Never mind.’ Oye got on the passenger seat and gestured for Seyi to get on another bike.
The ride up was fast, windy and probably dangerous since Seyi felt weak and found it difficult to hold on. There were no helmets for the passengers, of course. By the time the drivers deposited them in front of Slessor all his muscles were quivering and the headache was worse.
‘I think I should go back,’ he said. ‘I’m not feeling too good.’
‘Nonsense.’ Oye paid both cyclists, then steered Seyi with a hand in the middle of the back. ‘Come.’
Mary Slessor Hall was built like every other hall of residence on campus with the exception of four satellite structures which were outside the university gates and became necessary with the student population explosion which followed the ‘Alli Must Go’ riots of 1978. There was a reception atrium and two wings to the left and right. Each wing had four floors, with twenty rooms per floor and the restrooms to the rear. It was a few minutes after eight p.m.and the female halls opened to visitors an hour earlier. The official protocol was for male visitors to report to the two ancient women who manned the desk, giving the name and room number of their host, but nobody did that. Besides, the women spent their time selling various snacks like akara, ground nuts and biscuits.
Seyi and Oye went up the stairs of the north wing along with several other young men. On the second floor two fierce women in traditional Igbo dress stopped them.
‘Make way! Make way for the lolo!’ they said in unison. ‘Turn to the wall!’
Seyi didn’t know what it meant, but every male in sight turned around so he did too. Oye plastered his cheek against the wall facing Seyi. He winked. Behind them someone walked by, several footfalls indicating an entourage. The two angry women informed them that they could now resume their visits.
‘What was that?’ Seyi looked behind them, but there was nothing to see. ‘What’s a lolo?’
‘It means “respected woman” and it’s an Igbo tradition. I certainly support it,’ said Oye. ‘We’re here, by the way.’
He knocked on room 214.
‘Hold on,’ said a voice from within.
There was a welcome mat and Oye made an exaggerated gesture of wiping his feet. The door opened and they went in.