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.
The buxom Joanna opened the door. She stood with her improbable bust shooting out at them. Seyi felt sorry for her. It was impossible to take a woman like this seriously because she looked like a caricature drawn by a pubescent boy. Her breasts were a kind of visual vortex sucking attention away from every other feature. She wore glasses and she was dark, he noticed that. He also noticed thin legs dangling out of her short-shorts. She wore a tight red tank top with a V neck that accented the depth of her cleavage by being almost horizontal. She held a teddy bear, perhaps deliberately incongruous with her overt sexuality. Or maybe the contrast added to it. Who knew?
‘Bawo ni?’ she said. She smiled at Oye who moved in for a hug. She gave one of those incomplete hugs that some girls give, holding her lower body away by bending forward at the waist. In Joanna’s case it just pressed her chest against Oye, which was probably what he wanted.
‘Baby! How now?’ said Oye.
‘Come in. Who are you with?’ She peered at Seyi who forced himself to maintain eye contact.
‘Hi,’ said Seyi.
‘This is my friend, Seyi Afolabi,’ said Oye.
The room was rectangular like every standard university room, but they had done it up. There was a rug on the floor, for one thing. Standard issue rooms came with this foul linoleum which every student got rid of as soon as possible. The walls were also different from the standard white. It was a soothing beige. There were four beds against two of the walls arranged head to head, with two desks side by side in the middle of the room. Joanna’s bed was to the left of the door and she went to sit on her bed. Oye sat beside her and pulled out a chair from one of the desks for Seyi to sit on.
There were two other women in the room. To the right of the door an extremely fair-skinned and plump girl was on her bed reading a magazine. It was her natural skin tone, not the Yellow Fever bleached colour that some desperate girls had. She had a beautiful round face with rosy cheeks and a red lower lip. Seyi could tell it wasn’t make up. She looked Igbo. The other beds were empty, but on the second desk a darker girl studied. She used a reading lamp as the illumination in the room was muted. She leaned on her elbow resulting in her hand covering her face.
‘My roomies, Chineye and Tomi.’
Chineye, the fair one, smiled and Seyi said, ‘How now?’
Tomi, the darker, studious girl just nodded at him, and he waved back.
‘Oye, I’m not even talking to you,’ said Joanna.
‘Haba! Wetin I do?’ Oye feigned offence.
‘Sebi you said you were going to fix my tape? How many years has it been now?’
‘Oya, sorry now. Bring the tape. I’ll do it right here, right now.’
Joanna dropped the damaged cassette into Oye’s lap and rooted about to find scissors and Sellotape. When Oye started aligning the broken ends Seyi turned to Chineye. There were drawings taped to the wall above her bed. Amateur stuff, but good. The proportions were off and the perspective left much to be desired, but they had energy and the artist had talent. Three portraits, one nude, a few landscapes. There was one drawing of their room showing the three girls in various poses.
‘Did you draw these?’ asked Seyi.
‘Yes,’ said Chineye.
‘They’re very good. Are you an art student?’
‘Yeah. First year.’
‘I think you’ll do well.’
Chineye smiled. Her teeth were even and white. ‘What do you do?’
‘Accountancy and Computer Science,’ said Seyi.
‘Together?’ asked Chineye.
‘Do the thing,’ said Oye. He didn’t look up from his repairs.
‘What thing?’ said Joanna.
‘Nothing,’ said Seyi.
‘He has this numbers thing. It’s spooky. Do it, Seyi. Stop doing guy.’
‘What thing?’ asked Chineye.
Seyi sighed. ‘Do you have a calculator?’
‘I do,’ said Joanna and found one.
‘I’ll start,’ said Oye. ‘325 times 925.’
‘Three, zero, zero, six, two, five,’ said Seyi.
‘It’s right,’ squealed Joanna. ‘Did you memorise it?’
‘My boy can do weird mental calculations,’ said Oye. ‘It’s scary. It’s magic, psychedelic shit, baby.’
‘Let me try,’ said Chineye. She sat up. ‘263 times 584.’
‘One, five, three, five…nine two,’ said Seyi.
‘Try four digits,’ said Oye.
‘4215 times 5566,’ said Joanna, punching in the numbers as she spoke.
Seyi thought for about two seconds. ‘Two, three, four…six, zero, six…nine…four. No! Nine, zero.’
They tried a few more, after which Joanna got up to get soft drinks. Seyi noticed that Tomi had stopped reading, and was staring at him over the top of her book. It was hard to read her expression, but she had large eyes with long, heavy lashes. He was about to say something, but suddenly felt itching in his groin. The chloroquine! He could not scratch in the present company so he flexed and relaxed his thigh muscles. His armpits, his sides and the soles of his feet also began itching. It felt like tiny insects were under his skin burrowing and biting.
‘It’s fixed,’ said Oye, holding up the tape. ‘Do I get a kiss?’
Joanna positioned a cassette player on the free desk and put the tape in one of the two slots. She pressed play and after a few moments Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ rang out in clear tones.
‘I don’t want to hear that,’ said Chineye.
‘Why not? It’s cool. I went to this party last month and as soon as the song came on the dance floor filled,’ said Oye.
‘S.U.,’ said Joanna. She sucked her teeth.
‘I’m not in the Scripture Union!’ said Chineye.
‘You know what I mean,’ said Joanna.
‘Forgive me if I don’t want to fill my ears with a middle aged drug addict singing about sexual intercourse with younger women as healing. I get the melody and his silky voice. I understand that—‘
Oye giggled. ‘She “understands” Marvin Gaye.’
‘—But I find the lyrics puerile. Juvenile, even.’
‘The song didn’t say anything about sex with younger women, Chineye. For all you know, he could be talking about sex between your grandparents,’ said Joanna.
‘Noooo…I don’t want to hear this!’ yelled Oye. ‘I don’t want to imagine grannies doing it.’
‘It is sex between your grandparents that the song is describing,’ said Chineye. She threw a pencil at Joanna who promptly threw it back.
Nobody moved to stop the song, however, and Oye tried to convince Joanna to dance with him without success. The soft drink upset Seyi’s stomach and in addition to the itching he struggled to stay upright. There was sweat in his armpits, but his shirt did not show the telltale maps just yet. He would have to leave soon.
‘Are you all right?’ asked Tomi. She was looking directly at him now. He noticed her skin was very smooth, like the unbroken surface of a lake. She had something around her neck, like a leather necklace. It dipped down into her t-shirt so he couldn’t see the pendant.
‘I’m fine,’ said Seyi, but even he noticed that his voice sounded frail. The pounding in his head became worse with the music. The insects under his skin went wild; he scratched his chest and rose to leave.
Then he vomited all over Chineye.
It came out of him in three powerful streams that rocked his head with the sheer force. He saw each glob hit her, but could not stop himself.
The smell of bile filled the room. Nobody spoke for a second and the music seemed out of place.
‘I am so sorry,’ croaked Seyi. He staggered towards the door. ‘I have to go.’
‘Oh, no, Ore, stay right where you are,’ said Oye.
Chineye looked like she might either cry or fall down dead. Tomi and Joanna got some towels and led her out. Oye made Seyi sit down and wiped most of the vomit away.
‘So…what’s wrong with you? Are you pregnant?’ asked Oye.
‘Funny,’ said Seyi. ‘We have to go before they get back.’
‘No we don’t. It’ll be rude.’
‘I think you’ll find it’s ruder to throw up over your host.’
In spite of everything Seyi felt marginally better after emptying his stomach. He did not think his social life would recover, though. They both cleaned the room with care and speed, hoping to finish before the girls returned.
‘Looks like I’m not going to get what I want from Joanna,’ said Oye. He threw the soiled tissue in the bin.
‘It’s not that bad. I’ll leave. You can stay; it’s not a problem.’
‘Nah. This avenue is dead.’ Oye raised his head. ‘Does it still stink?’
Oye started going through suitcases and cupboards.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ asked Seyi.
Oye ignored him and came up with a small purple bottle of perfume. He nodded, undid the cover and sprayed it in random patterns around the room, dancing to the music as at the same time.
‘What’s that?’ asked Seyi.
‘Passion, by Elizabeth Taylor. Probably expensive. Let’s go before they come back.’
Seyi never returned to room 214, even though he visited Slessor a number of times afterwards. The malaria lasted two days before the chloroquine got it under control. He passed all his exams.
He and Oye drifted apart after that night, but they bumped into each other once a month on the main corridor of Mbadiwe Hall. They made promises to catch up and visit each other and share a drink.
They never did.