Long Days of Solitude
By Samuel Oladele
Since Michael graduated from university, each day had been like an episode of a TV series he had already watched. He woke up thinking of sunset, and at sunset, wishing he could sleep until the day he would leave for NYSC. If only his dad had allowed him, he would have learnt a trade or tailoring. Perhaps haircut. “Never”, his dad had said. “With your first class you will work for your uncle’s advertising company, after your NYSC. I talked to him already. And he said yes. What else do you want? I give you allowance so what? Your mum just died, don’t stress me. Just rest.”
But how could he rest? Even in his dreams, he always found himself sitting in a revolving chair, in a spacious, air-conditioned office, balancing accounts, sipping coffee from a mug. Perhaps he had this dream because accounting was the only thing he was good at. Or because it was all he ever thought of.
On a November morning, his eyes blinked open to the folded shirts piled neatly on the small sofa facing his bed. Though he had ironed them three days ago, he had ironed them again the night before to escape boredom, to silence his suicidal thoughts: his dad’s pistol to his head, a quick death; the rat poison in the storeroom—drink and see heaven.
His eyes away from the folded clothes now, he sat up on the bed, back to the wall, and said a short prayer. Afterwards, he plugged in his headphones and got out of bed.
Outside the house, he fetched a bucket of water and a rag to clean his dad’s BMW, even though his dad always said, “leave the car for the gateman”.
“Small Oga,” the gateman said, struggling to collect the rag and bucket from Michael. “Do you want big Oga to fire me?”
Michael nudged him. The gateman staggered backward, darted him a sad look, and turned toward his small house by the gate, dragging his feet as he went in.
Holding the wet rag, Michael stood admiring the clean BMW, pleased with himself, and more pleased with himself as his dad and his younger sister, Temi, came out of the house, both of them ready to leave, his dad in a black leather suit and carrying a briefcase, his sister in a knee-length, lemon-green skirt and a loose-fitting, green-and-white check shirt.
“Good morning, Michael,” Temi said, walking toward the front passenger seat.
“Temi, You are early today for school. Morning Dad.”
“Morning Mick.” His dad opened the car door and tossed the briefcase to the back seat. “You washed the car again!”
Opening the gate, the gateman said, “Oga, I tell am ooh!”
Michael’s dad said nothing. He climbed into his car and drove off.
Michael shuffled into the house, barefoot, his left hand pulling his unbelted jeans. In the kitchen, he grabbed a broom and started sweeping, singing the song booming on his headphones. The music and the tone of his voice uplifted him, pulled him out of the sadness that had fogged his mind for months. Nodding, foot-tapping, he lifted the sofas in the sitting room, swept underneath, just as he had always done, even though the spaces were always clean. After sweeping, he plopped down into his mum’s favourite sofa. He lay down, ankles crossed, same way his mum used to lie down whenever she got home from her cybercafé. If she were alive, Michael wondered, he would be working at her cybercafé now.
He remembered the jokes, the laughter, how they used to sit in the sitting room, on most nights, and watch a movie, he and Temi free to say whatever, like how his dad looked like a fifty-something-years-old version of Van Vicker, or how gorgeous his mum would look in a native doctor costume. During sex scenes, every mouth would seal. A hand would drum on a knee or scratch a face. Michael’s eye would dart from one person to another, and then he would notice his mum’s eyes on him. What was she thinking? He would think. Perhaps she thought that he and Temi had had sex. Fingering his sideburns, he would keep his cool, until his dad would fast-forward the scene.
Since his mum died, three months ago, the only laughter heard in the house had come from the TV and the gateman. And they no longer watched movies together. Temi spent most of her after-school time in her bedroom. She came out of her bedroom whenever she wanted to go out or to cook and eat. Michael’s dad spent more time at the office. When he arrived home, always at past nine, he barely said more than one sentence to either Michael or Temi.
Michael was dressed up now: high-tops, black jeans, a polo, and sun glasses. He had to get out of this house. This house and its poisonous silence.
As Michael walked down the road, hands in his pockets, his eyes shot at the magnificent gates, at the ixoras and the red acalyphas in front of high fences, at the fancy cars parked outside houses. How beautiful the world looked. If only beauty could channel peace into the mind, he wouldn’t be so unhappy in this world.
Far from his house, Michael stopped in front of a barber shop, where a dreadlocked barber was trimming the hair of a fair-skinned boy, who was gazing into a big mirror.
How lucky the barber was, he thought, to have something, something to unburden him from the weight of idleness. He sighed and kept walking, the Nigerian sun hot on his back.
Six buildings after the barber shop stood a game shop, the same shop that had been his mum’s cybercafé. Michael went close to the sliding door and peered inside. Teenagers, about nine of them, held PS3 controllers, one of them shouting, “Ronaldo put the ball in the nest!” Michael snorted. Death – his mum’s death – had turned a paradise into a dump. Still fresh in his mind was how the shop had been: a signboard that said STELLA CYBERCAFE stood near the gutter, about twelve Dell computers sat on computer tables, and some dead monitors and CPUs piled at an angle near the door. Michael remembered how some tweens would come with their laptops to connect to the cybercafé’s Wi-Fi, how most people would hunt and hit alphabet keys on keyboards, how some girls who didn’t know much about computers would feel too big to ask for help. Michael stepped away from the door, overwhelmed by a fresh sadness. With his right hand, he cleaned his wet eyes.
No, he would not cry before this stupid shop. He would go back home and watch Game of thrones.
Samuel Oladele is a student studying Applied Chemistry at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. He loves to write and read.