I fell out out of the long leather chair into the Persian rug that covered two third of our living room. Burnt air had filled my lungs in my sleep, I woke up on the rug with a tightness around my neck. The acrid smoke filled my throat. It was misty and dark in the room, the three blades of the ceiling fan that blew so hard half an hour ago and had lured me into sleep were now apart, each covered with a thick film of dirt. For the half a minute or so that I lay on the floor, I was lost in time. A swirling feeling went round and round in my head. It was the third “knock knock” that jolted me into the present. As I ran to open the door, I suddenly stopped halfway in my steps like a masquerade who just saw a fresh spirit. I made a sharp turnaround clutching with both arms, my breasts that flapped against my chest as I ran and hurried into the kitchen panting like the village market women that ran after crowded night buses, my teeth grinding against each other in regret as I turned off the blazing blue flame of my gas cooker. My ill timed slumber as my husband would call it has scored yet another goal. I had burnt our dinner again.
His face was covered in darkness when he came inside. I could only make out the now roughened edges of his starched white shirt. His Giorgio Armani red tie we had bought at his mother’s friend boutique just to please his mother two Saturdays ago was dangling from his neck like my father’s large Pendulum clock that was ten years my senior, with his jacket flown over his right shoulders. I didn’t see his face nor his trousers, they were all covered in the thin evening darkness that crept into the room from the louvres that were slightly ajar. I would have seen him better if he had kept the door open, but he closed it once he came inside, cementing the darkness that stood between us.
“Welcome Honey ” I blurted out rather impulsively for I knew not what else to say. There was stiff silence, a silence that was thicker than the darkness of the fresh evening, thicker than the smoke that came from the kitchen and danced in between us with the smell of burnt rice. It was the type of silence that made thought impossible, the type accompanied by menacing looks. For a moment I was grateful for the darkness. I was happy I couldn’t see his face, for I could imagine his eyes in the silence, fixed firmly in their sockets, a blistering redness that would sear my soul in shreds. It would tell a story I knew too well. I would see in it the saturday Manchester United football club had won the champions league, and I had burnt beans porridge, the bean seeds and cubes of yam blackened beyond recognition. He had been too happy to be angry. He just made me wear the club jersey and we ate out. I would see all the times I had said sorry. All the times I promised never to sleep off while cooking. I would see all the times he had scrubbed burnt pots till his hands went sore, all the time he made up excuses for my slumber.
“You are stressed”
“You couldn’t help but sleep right? ”
“It taste better burnt! Believe me”
I would see the portable alarm clock we had bought at the supermarket that was few blocks from our house, and would wonder why I didn’t use it. I would see my guilt, a great despair that will hunt me for days afterwards. I was happy I didn’t see those eyes.
I just stood there, fumbling with my fingernails drawing silly patterns on my palm patiently waiting for him to scream and rain curses, I waited for him to remind me how expensive foodstuffs were, how many times they had slashed his salary this year alone, how many Nigerians went hungry night after night, and here I was roasting meal after meal. But he said nothing. He just walked straight into the bedroom, leaving me to my thoughts in a sea of the evening darkness and the charred smell of burnt food. That night we both went to bed hungry and angry.
The next morning, it was his firm kiss on my forehead that woke me up from sleep. He had woken earlier than usual, and brought me a breakfast of scrambled egg and tea just after our morning prayers while I was still under the huge white sheets that covered our king size bed. As we ate, he apologised for the silent treatment he had melted out the night before. Then, he told me he loved me and hoped my ill timed slumber was a phase I would soon exit. I sincerely hoped it was.
Few days later, I woke up to find them all smeared with saliva, wet patches here and there, the black and white prints on the once crisp sheets of paper were all smudged at the areas were saliva had drawn wet maps. I held the papers gingerly else they are shred in pieces. I had slept off again.
Another slumber relapse right in the middle of editing my husband’s draft for his weekly column. He had printed the six page document and I had offered to help him edit for grammatical errors. It was barely ten minutes I started and here I was sleeping off again, Copious spittle drizzling unconsciously on the papers.
“I guess you are tired” my husband voice roared over the tiny voice of the radio presenter that anchored the afternoon live show on Brizza FM. I didn’t reply, my gaze still fixed on the wet papers. He walked towards me and took them under his armpit.
“I told you not to worry, just go and sleep dear”.
“I had messed up your work” I said my face all sullen and cheerless. He came closer and took me under his arms. My head firmly plastered on his chest, he assured me of his love, he reminded me he had the files on his laptop, he would simply print more copies. This time he blamed my ill timed slumber on insufficient rest, he carried me on his arms, his biceps tying knots under my weight as he tucked me safely under the huge white sheets for a compulsory siesta. As he kissed my cheeks, he reminded me his hopes that this was a phase I would soon exit. I sincerely hope it was.
The flooding bright lights had gone out already, the flicker of green light was growing almost twenty rows of well cushioned leather seats in front of us. The promoters had called it the most hilarious romantic comedy of the year considering that we were already in the middle of November. The advert had been run over and over for weeks at the start, middle and end of our favorite family drama series on television. It was in the week of our one year marriage anniversary that he bought the tickets for the movie, glistening white strips that shone when tilted towards light. I kissed him severally afterwards and when he bought me a sequined beautiful pink coloured flowery gown with shining stones hemmed at the edges for the event, I told him that he was the best man in the world. He just smiled and replied that I was biased.
The movie had barely started when I slept off again. We were sandwiched In between couples who looked just like us. My honey gave me a gentle nudge on my shoulder which knocked my slumber off its perch.
“What happened to the mother? I asked softly.
“She is dead” my husband replied, then he added that if I try to watch the movie without falling asleep again, I would catch up. I did manage to doze off a few times throughout the length the movie, but that was beside the point. My ill timed slumber moments were becoming increasingly embarrassing, I would doze off at church, in between my classes where I taught English language to secondary school children, I would sleep even during our usual evening gist.
“We need to do something ” my husband remarked as we drove home from the cinema and I could hardly agree more.
Doctor Canary was kind and affectionate as medical doctors could come. He was a short, but well built man. His eyes shone when he talked and seemed to bulge into the small rim of reading glasses that hung snugly on his large nose that was plastered widely on his oval face. He was cream coloured in complexion, that skin colour type that stood on its own. Not fair, like the beautiful actress from Abia state, neither dark like the millonaire businessman from kano state.
He took to us almost immediately. He had asked us how long we were married, how many kids we planned on having and other personal questions that sought to establish a kingship, as if we all belonged to the “married last year” club, for his golden wedding ring was still shining brightly in his finger.
He listened carefully to my complaints. We told him about all my ill timed slumber moment and my husband asked if they were signs of pregnancy.
Dr Canary said they had happened too long to be signs of any pregnancy, he made me talk about all the time I had always dozed off during afternoon classes while I was still in the university, years before I got married, all the time my mother would complain I slept too much and too easily, at least a decade before I met my honey. He asked some more questions, tried to get me to admit other relatives had sleeping problems and then told us it’s looking like a sleeping disorder.
The good doctor put off his glasses, when we reconvened half an hour later. He had ran some basic blood tests including a pregnancy test which came out negative. As he rubbed the back of his Palm against his left eye, he spoke. “Madam, you seemed to be suffering from a condition called “narcolepsy”.
The words didn’t sink in, for I haven’t heard that word before. It was such a mouthful, “Nar-co-lep-sy ” turning the his mouth inwards out as he pronounced it. There was some silence, the type that follows the medical jargons that sometime were usually big for nothing. “Will it kill me? ” I asked nonchalantly. I had not intended to provoke the scary look my husband shot me or the roar of laughter that reverberated from the doctor.
Doctor Canary assured me it wasn’t a terminal disease, it was not infectious neither was it a disability. He explained that the cause was unknown, that many people had suggested genetics as well as the environment as contributing factors, he told us it was just one of many sleep disorders that affects thousands of persons worldwide. He told us about cataplexy, another form of sleep disorder that may be mistaken for seizures. He told us there was no cure for narcolepsy. He gave various suggestions on how improve my ability to stay awake. He wrote the name and phone number of a neurologist and suggested we visit him for specialist attention.
As we went home that hot thursday afternoon, holding hands in the terraces of the ground floor of the hospital, it was in the comfort of new knowledge that my ill timed slumber had a new name: Narcolepsy.