ROOM 29

They stepped aside as he approached Jerry still lying motionless on the ground. Chuka squatted to feel his pulse and thereafter, placed one of his palms on the other and then began to press both hands on Jerry’s chest, he would pause intermittently to send air through his mouth into jerry’s nostrils.

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It was cold and tranquil that particular night and every student in the dorm was fast asleep. The semester had begun only about two weeks ago so it was very traditional for everyone to be cozy and curled up on their beds in the middle of a rainy night. With every window firmly shut, the sounds from the rain didn’t pervade the room disturbingly, but the chilling temperature was strong enough to keep them all in slumber.

The room was typical of the average Nigerian university dorm. It was lined with nine double bunk beds on each side, leaving in between a narrow path with a cement covering that had eroded a great deal. The dorm accommodated a combination of male students in their teens and early twenties, studying different courses in varying levels.

Suddenly, the stillness of the night was ambushed by a noisy choking cough for a few times. Soon enough, it came trembling again as though the person was about to spill out his intestines.

Etoka, a 300 level student of Theatre arts, lying on a lower bunk gradually became awake. He hadn’t just heard the sound piercing through his sleep but had also felt a vibration. As he lay on the bed, his eyelids flickered gently since he still had one foot in reality and the other in dreamland. He was finally going to yield to the enticing caresses of the cold night when the cough erupted again forcefully. He was startled this time by the quaking of his bunk, he then figured if he was able to feel the impact that much, then it had to be his bunk mate, lying on the bed on top of him.

He hadn’t finished trying to consider when the sound came again in a continuous manner this time, so he stepped down groggily to confirm. Really, it was his bunk mate. Jerry and Etoka had been bunkies since their first year and they had grown to become close buddies. Jerry was a lot more reserved while Etoka was boisterous, but they both matched themselves in outstanding academic performances.

“Guy! Guy! What’s the matter? It’s like cold entered your body?” Etoka now standing with a lantern in his hand asked, peering at a dedicated coughing Jerry, who made no attempts at all to respond. “Let me get water bro.” He said and hurried off.

As Jerry went on with his incessant and worsening cough, the boys were alerted one by one. Indistinct murmurs began to stem from the room as the boys started heading towards Jerry, some bringing along their lamps.

“Ah! who be that even? This cough really mean oh” the voice came dragging in the air. It was Kola, the oldest roommate, hence he was nicknamed Don.

Everyone in the room met him there as he had been in school for about seven years, though not because his course duration was that long; he was actually studying political science, a four years course. His excess years in school were the consequence of several outstanding courses. Nonetheless, he walked with high shoulders and talked lousily, he wouldn’t even give a kernel of opportunity to anyone to gloat over him.

Etoka returned and tried to feed Jerry some water in futility as Jerry continued to choke, stretching his arm as though to reach out for some help from wherever. Etoka beckoned on a student standing close by to assist in bringing Jerry down to his own bed. Apparently not comfortable on the bed, Jerry decided to let himself down gradually with some help to the floor, where he sat weakly trying to catch some breath.

“Aha! I think he has run into some recess and I only hope it’s not ephemeral… My paranoia for nocturnal disasters can only get worse now. Goodness!” said the student they called “The-law”.

Almost nobody knew his real name. He was an assuming and overbearing Law student who came into the room in his second year, inundated with the ambition of becoming a SAN someday. At first meeting, he would harness every minute to convince one of how overly pivotal he was to restoring the judicial sanity of Nigeria.

“How useful is this statement right now?” Toju, who hated the mere sight of The-law enquired disgustedly.

Toju was an English student whose intonation of words was as smooth and fine as his chocolate face. He felt The-law was too arrogant to even exist and he could not stand how he blatantly shoved his yet to be secured profession down their throats. He constantly reminded The-law that several students didn’t excel Law school and he had to wait till he did.

What drove Toju mad the most was how some of the boys would be having an argument, sometimes about matters like religion or politics, and then one of them would pause and say, “Oya wait, wait, let’s settle this argument now, where’s The-law?” and the others would reply almost always “Ehen! Call The-law! Yes!” As The-law would walk in high shoulders to “pass his judgment,” while adjusting his spectacles egoistically every second, Toju would chew hard on his chin and have the craving to rip him apart.

“A recess means a period of rest young man.” Replied The-law.

“Recess? Who’s asking about what a rec–”

“Hey!” The-law intercepted Toju. “You can look up the other words and thank me later alright?” Then he turned away with some serious attitude as usual.

“Your brain needs a hard reset man! You should be the one choking to death!” Toju replied furiously and Jerry erupted into another section of resounding coughs.

“Una two no just work. Please shift from here with your palava. This is not the time for stupid arguments!” said Etoka. The-law gave Toju a smirk, while Toju tapped the right side of his own head with his index finger and then threw it to the air, implying The-law had lost his brains.

“Give Jerry palm oil, the cough go clear. Him food no digest, that why the cough.” said Bosco, who was Don’s right hand man and partner in crime.

No one paid him any attention. They knew him and Don to be clowns most of the time, making crude jokes and taunting everyone with their bullying remarks. Toju had repeatedly told him he was sure to end up as Don, and it seemed to be just in view because in his penultimate year, he had piled up almost half-a-dozen outstanding courses.

“That’s true though. Palm oil has proven over years of empirical analysis to be a viable poison neutralizer” Amos, a final year Microbiology student said assuredly.

“Poison kwa? Be like bomb dey your head oh” Etoka fired quickly.

“Whoever said Jerry was poisoned now?” asked another student and there was an eruption of disagreements.

“Easy people! Easy! When we scientists say poison, we don’t mean a concussion from your village. A poison is anything that revokes against your body system. An expired drug or unwashed fruits can be poison alright?” Osas, a Biochemistry student added and the fuss began to quiet down.

“Thank you bro.” Amos felt rescued. He and Osas often teamed up to enhance the importance of the Faculty of Science. Sometimes, Amos would frantically scream out a long big name when any of the students forgot to rinse a spoon before scooping garri or milk with it. Then when asked what the word meant, he would reply that it was the name of a deadly microorganism, expounding on the year it was discovered and how experiments had shown that it was abundant in unwashed cutleries. Then Osas would commence a boring session about the pathology of diseases the microorganism could cause.

“Oya now, let’s give him the palmi” Don said.

Etoka rushed to his cupboard and brought out a bottle of palm oil. He quickly poured some into a small cup and tried feeding it into Jerry’s mouth. Jerry spewed it repeatedly and started coughing yet the more.

At this time all the eighteen boys in the dorm which was labeled “Room 29” with a black paint were standing around Jerry, no seventeen of them actually, because the one named Chuka remained on his bed, lying on his back with eyes wide open, gazing into nothing.

Chuka was the quintessence of mystery. Since he came into the room in his third year and at that time in his finals, he hadn’t had one conversation with anyone, neither had he any friend in the entire school; an absolute loaner. He spent his day either studying or practicing his Engineering drawings, or lying quietly at other times. Chuka had a huge semblance to an albino, only that his complexion was more red than yellow, and he had stable pupils. He also had this firmly built body and serious demeanor when he moved that commanded both awe and avoidance. The boys made sure not to step on his toes.

They secretly called him “Reddy” but never to his hearing. The day Don called him that, Chuka pounced on him and left his face contorted for some two days. No one ever dared him afterwards; they only gossiped and scoffed behind him.

“Onions! Onions! It works like mad, my mama used to use it steady” said the youngest of them all, a sixteen years old fresh intake.

“Onions keh? Its garlic I know. Once he chews it and drinks water, everything will clear” said another student.

“Hmm… the one I know of is bitter kola and tom-tom or even bitter leaf water with pepper mint inside” added another.

“Early morning urine! Let J-man piss now now and drink it. It’s the best cleanser” added Shola.

As they stood suggesting what each person thought or heard to be an antidote for such persistent cough, there came a resounding thunder strike that got most of the boys shuddering while others made an attempt as if to disappear, then the rain intensified and poured even more.

“My, my che-chest” Jerry intoned softly as Etoka placed his ears close to his mouth while the others watched them in anxiety.

“What did he say?” asked Toju.

“His chest… he said his chest” replied Etoka in panic.

Jerry began to grunt, holding his chest as he drew shortened breaths. All the boys at this point became petrified.

“But Jerry no dey tramp any dolls now, and he no dey code inside Lacasera. I for say na wetin dey do am” Don said and Etoka hissed out loud at him, others gave him a weary look. Everyone knew Jerry never abused Tramadol or Codeine.

Bassey quickly recalled that he was given some medication a few days ago at the clinic when he had body pains.

“Let’s see it, bring it quickly” Osas commanded with so much confidence. In no time Bassey returned with a sachet of some drug. Toju received it and took a look.

“Loma-gi-nine, hmm what does this do?” Toju asked, observing the drug.

“What are its constituent chemicals?” Osas replied. Toju rolled his eyes and handed it to him.

“Diclofenac-potassium and Ibuprofen. These are two powerful agents” Osas added, as Amos joined him to take look at the drug too.

“It’s half-life and in fact pharmacokinetics takes some time, therefore absorption and distribution may be slow. I’d say he needs an immediate therapeutic effect given the urgency of this situation.” Osas continued.

“It doesn’t quite matter, the muscular contraction and relaxation being carried out as his chest aches right now, can send him into an anaphylactic shock if left like this” said Amos.

Everyone but the duo was confused about what they were saying, but for some reason they kept mute and waited for these “scientists” to reach a common solution.

“Then we should hope there aren’t any toxins that could resist the enzymes from catalyzing the metabolic pathway of the drugs” said Osas.

“Abeg abeg abeg! Haba! Somebody dey die and una stand dey listen to these two wannabe doctors, boys wey Medicine department reject!” ranted Don.

For the first time, he made sense to everyone and his retort was like the apple that opened the eye.

“Hey listen carefully! The jail time for man-slaughter is equivalent to the number of years you’ll be needing to father twelve children. I’m talking to both of you” The-law said as he removed his glasses from his slim face, and pointed it to Amos and Osas. “And man-slaughter, because I’m sure you have no clue, is when you give Jerry that drug and he…” The-law completed the statement with a shrug and widened eyes.

Everyone knew exactly what he meant and began to dissociate themselves from any medication. Amos and Osas must have had a serious rethink as they kept still.

“Let’s take him to the clinic nah” said one of the boys.

“Huh? Do you know how sequestered that clinic is from this place? And aren’t you cognizant of the heavy downpour? I would not be a party to that, please” The-law quickly countered.

“You’re so full of the smartest objections! Why can’t you be helpful? Like suggest something that would salvage this situation?” Toju said brashly.

“At least I’m preventing more havoc young fella, and what have you been doing exactly? It would take me a day to come up with something, anything at all.”

“If we can’t take him to the clinic, how about we go get the paramedic to come here?”

“Paramedic?” The-law snorted, “How clever you must feel using that term.”

Toju imagined pouncing on The-law and doing many things to him right then but his rage was pacified with the next words that escaped Etoka.

“This is the best idea so far Toju. Someone can go and tell the clinic person that we need urgent attention please.” Others concurred. Immediately, The-law locked eyes with Toju who was actually just standing and made no moves, yet The-law alone could see Toju jump and scream out his loins, making a caricature of him. They both knew when any of them felt conquered.

“Jesus! J-man! Jerry! Jerry!” Etoka called out, smacking Jerry who was now lying motionless on the floor. Everyone seemed not to exist for a second. Dead silence.

“Is, is he breathing?” someone whispered. No one answered. They just kept peering at themselves and back at Jerry.

Amos rushed to Jerry and felt his throat. “He’s sti-still breathing” he said panting.

“I’m going to the clinic” one of the students said trembling and dashed out of the room.

“Hurry! Run! Tell them someone is dying here!” Etoka said at the top of his voice while the boy sped away.

“Oh Lord come down and let your enemies be scattered…” Andrew drew out the battle song with forceful vibrations of his head, throwing his arms in the air. Two other boys who were his best friends joined the singing, with the same fierce momentum. Three of them were fondly called “Hebrew boys “and were distinct from the others in every way. They preached to the students, reproved them of using vulgar, curse terms or any inappropriate behavior. At the middle of the night they would go to the field to pray and sing at the top of their voices.

Three of them, though overbearing with their constant church talk were respected, particularly after a time when there were complaints of strange beings pressing students at night and leaving scars on them. The Hebrew boys held long hours of prayer in their room, and that was the only place that never recorded such occurrence. At a point, several students would come to put up with their friends as the room had become a safe haven.

“Amen! Amen!” the students responded whenever the Hebrew boys finished from declaring a powerful line of prayer, commanding the demons holding Jerry to let him free.

“Move!” the command came thunderously. The Hebrew boys kept praying while others stopped to see who it was dishing out the instruction so sternly.

“I said move! Give him some air!” all the prayers ceased and everyone was now eyes glued on Chuka, who was standing gallantly on boxers and white polo. His complexion was red-hot, forehead furrowed into ridges, eyes widened and blazing through the dull lights, not a trace of clemency in his face.

They stepped aside as he approached Jerry still lying motionless on the ground. Chuka squatted to feel his pulse and thereafter, placed one of his palms on the other and then began to press both hands on Jerry’s chest, he would pause intermittently to send air through his mouth into jerry’s nostrils. The Hebrew boys were still muttering prayers quietly while others paced around the room or stood peering at Jerry every now and then.

“See! He moved!” Etoka exclaimed. Chuka stopped and they all focused on Jerry who belched and opened his eyes hazily. Everyone burst into screams and began hugging each other.

“This is the real doctor!” Don said pointing to Chuka. They all started hailing Chuka but he wasn’t interested at all. He helped Jerry seat up, though he was still weak and could barely move or speak.

“Water” Jerry intoned softly. “Water” he repeated.

“Don’t give him oh! na die be that!” said one called Lekan, and several others agreed, saying that giving him water was sending him to his grave.

“Bro please just endure. If you drink water now you may die.” Etoka said to Jerry with some serious concern.

Chuka stood up from beside Jerry and headed for his bedside. In no time he was back with a cup of water. Etoka wanted to make a move but Chuka gave him a kind of look that ceased his feet from moving. Chuka had this presence and composure that spelt assurance and wealth of experience carefully juxtaposed.

He fed Jerry with a little water and withdrew the cup, and then he did again for a few times and patted Jerry’s back slowly.

“Rest” he said firmly looking at Jerry who nodded slowly. Chuka stood up and left like an enigma.

The boys watched Jerry carefully. A lot of creepy thoughts went through their minds on whether Jerry would drop down and finally die for real this time. Jerry stretched his hand to Etoka who helped him to the bed.

Soon the student returned with the clinic personnel and Jerry was taken for proper medical care. Everyone returned back to bed to find some sleep even though it was almost dawn. The room was still as everyone lay on their beds, and the electric supply was still out even though the rain had ceased.

“Now today would be reckoned with as a remarkable night, indeed a compendium of a plethora of rocking and breath-taking fiascos!” everyone knew only who would say such a line.

Toju gave out a loud laughter from his bunk that echoed on and on. “What a bruising tautology, compendium and plethora indeed” Toju remarked scornfully and then gave out a loud piercing laughter again.

Responses

  1. Poca
    This is so funny and unexpected .thank u so much.i usually read when I am sad and wanna rejuvenate and the first thing I read was yours. Thank u so much for cracking me up. You really got me at that “the time it will take to father 12 children “
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  2. Uchenna Ephraim
    Now I am laughing because you laughed! Plus I even feel like going over the story again like I never wrote it! This is huge encouragement for me.
    Thank you Ucheya.
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