Chike opened his eyes, and remained in bed until the rest of his body woke up. He looked at his window; the gap between his curtains told him the sun was gonna be out in full force soon.
He must have overslept. Again. And he was supposed to go to the laundry this morning before going to church. He just hoped he would be done in time.
Exhaling, Chike tossed aside the wrapper he’d slept with, and swung his legs off his bed, sitting up. His laptop was still playing, as usual. Breaking Benjamin was now on-Ben Burnley was singing about loss and despair in Dear Agony. He paused it, closed his eyes and said a short prayer, then turned the music on again. He turned the volume up in a bid to let the heavy guitar strings and the hauntingly painful sound of Ben Burnley’s voice clear the rest of the cobwebs in his head. He looked at his table; nothing but a clutter of books and papers, even on the top of his printer.
When am I ever going to get around to arranging this mess? Chike asked himself.
Taking his eyes off it, Chike stood and turned to go to the bathroom, and his eyes fell on his laundry-filled duffel and jute bags. He shook his head at the sheer amount of clothes to be washed. Normally, he would have done his laundry by himself in his bathroom, but this was just too much. Over the course of the past month, he’d had no time, what with the exams and his numerous coursework deadlines. Chike shook his head again in resignation and shuffled into his slippers, then shuffled into his bathroom.
The sound of the opening bathroom boor echoed in the small, cold enclosure. The combined effect of the lack of shower curtain and the sound of the overhead fan that served the dual purpose of circulating clean air and sucking out the bad odours made Chike feel like he was moving house. The bathroom felt…empty. Shrugging, Chike eased himself the n washed his hands, his teeth, and then his face.
Haaa…. Yes, he felt better.
By now Dear Agony had changed from Anthem of the Angels, and then to Without You, all by Breaking Benjamin.
Chike wiped his hands and then his face on his towel, then took it off the rack and folded it. It was also going to the laundry with the others.
Chike opened his wardrobe and selected a change of clothes, not forgetting his long johns. He checked the temperature on his system. 8 degrees. Not as cold as yesterday, but he had to check. He opened his curtains fully and looked outside. The weather, which had been promising to be a bit sunny, was now cloudy. And it looked like it was a bit windy too. That was gonna increase the chill factor. He went back to his wardrobe, scrunched his mouth, thinking, then took the only remaining T-shirt, and selected his warmest jacket. Satisfied, Chike paused the music playing on his laptop, and then cracked his window open, then closed his curtains. Slung on his duffel bag, backpack style, took his wallet, card-holder and keys, then took up the novel he was still reading-The Anthology of Ghost Stories edited by Richard Dalby. He put it in the jute bag with the clothes. Picked up his two phones, selected a playlist on one of them, put on his earplugs, turned the music on, and then turned off the lights. Turned off his heater, and then stepped out. He looked back in just before he locked the door, and his laptop sat on his bedside drawer, a solitary eye in the gloom. Chike locked his door, picked up his bag, and stepped out onto the stairwell.
Behind him, the flat slept on.
Outside, the sky was still overcast, and the wind was even worse than he’d thought. Chike had no doubt that if he were any smaller than his six-foot, slightly muscular frame, he would have struggled a bit, what with the bags he was carrying. In his earphones, Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds To Mars wailed that he was Closer To The Edge.
Chike saw no one in sight as he made his way past the other blocks of flats that housed students of Kingston University, Kingston Hill Campus. Turned right, past the damaged refrigerators that stood sentinel in front of the Utility Room, past the Hannafords Student Union Bar on the left–a structure that always reminded him of a drum lying on its side and buried halfway into the ground–and the other hostels on the right. The road led straight down to the road, past the other four and five-storey hostels, one of which housed the Halls Reception. Chike turned left after the SU bar and walked across the car park, past the Education Building on his left and the Postgraduate Building on his right, down the steps, turned right, straight ahead, past the Muslim Prayer Room on his left, the Postgraduate building stretching all the way down on his right, down another set of steps, and then he turned right and faced the cafeteria, which also housed the laundry.
It was a one-story building which looked like it had weathered a storm or two. The ground floor was for Undergraduates –bunch of noisy people in his opinion – and upstairs was for the Postgraduate students and the Lecturers, but although he was a Postgraduate student studying for an MSc in Financial Business Management, he almost never used the cafeteria for serious food, except he had no choice. All he usually bought here was either water or juice.
Their food? No, thank you. He preferred his own to stuff he couldn’t name.
The entire outward-facing side of the building that Chike was facing, was made primarily of clear, see-through glass set in frames. That way, the sun could shine in, and anybody could look outside if they wanted.
But what was there to see but construction work?
A new building was going up in front of the cafeteria, and although it had been barely five months or so since he’d arrived, Chike was surprised at the rate with which the project was progressing, given the size of the project.
Talk about efficiency…
Chike eyed the doors. They were closed. Through the glass, he could see that the TVs in the Undergraduate section were on. Good. He walked forward, grasped the door handle, and pulled the door handle towards him. The double doors opened slowly.
Chike stepped in. He looked in through the half-glass, half-wooden double doors on his left into the cafeteria. He saw about two workers in there. The doors slammed shut behind him, startling him. He glanced behind him for a moment. The wind was still acting up. He just hoped it didn’t rain, at least not now. He faced forward. The corridor led straight down, and at then end were two double-doors, one set on the right and the other on the left. The doors on the right were for a room he knew nothing about, but the doors on the left led to the stairs and then up to the Postgraduate cafeteria. But his business for now was with the room that was on his right, through a little corridor on the right, a few feet in front of him.
Chike stepped in. While the rest of the building seemed asleep, this room was awake. He could hear the machines humming. Five washing machines and four large dryers, all for him. This was the best time to come here, when it was empty.
Chike walked past the dryers on his left and three of the washing machines on his right, making a bee line for the washing machines at the end, beside the dryers, at the end of the room. He dropped the jute bag on the floor in front of the machine by the wall, then unslung his duffel bag and dropped it too. Opened the doors of the machines, unzipped his bag, and started separating his clothes, putting them into the machines. Took his detergent, stood up and opened the soap compartment of the first machine and started to pour some in.
The laughter made him drop the detergent as he jumped, and he spilled some. He turned sharply, and his hand flew to his neck as the whiplash hit him. Massaging his neck furiously, he looked, not really believing his eyes. Was this why his heart was doing the Bolt thing?
It was a little girl in a white dress. A little white girl with blonde hair. She didn’t look more than four or five. She huddled in the corner beside the washing machines, on the bench that ran along the wall. She looked like she was playing hide and seek. Her eyes glinted playfully. Willing his heart to slow down, Chike noticed that she was not wearing any shoes. He looked back at her face, then at the camera on the ceiling in the corner, then at the door, expecting her mother to come in, looking for her. This felt strange to Chike. He’d never heard of any mother, British or otherwise, who would leave her daughter to run around in a place like this. Children were naturally inquisitive, and if she crawled into one of these machines, that would be all she wrote. He turned to her. She was smiling. Somehow the smile made his skin crawl. The room felt cold, like a window was open. He placed the detergent on top of the washing machine, and then turned to ask her a question.
As he opened his mouth to speak, the little girl raised a finger to her lips, and Chike was taken aback. Then she bolted off the bench and out of the laundry room, giggling all the way, her white dress billowing around her and her hair bouncing on her shoulders. Chike stared after her, a bit shaken.
Shaking his head, Chike turned back to the machines. Then one question made him frown.
How in God’s name had he missed seeing her the first time when he entered, no matter how small she was?