"Yeh! Who dey for room B3 o? Fire dey burn o!"
It was Kemi screaming, her eyes wide with despair. She couldn't contain the horror, as she jumped and threw her hands up in the air. We rushed down to her side to see what her object of alarm was. It was a raging inferno, blazing thick yellow, its dark smoke blurring our vision.
"Dele, no be your room be this? See as he tanda dey look. Where key make we open door na?" Segun nudged me in the ribs, jolting me out of my bewilderment. I searched my pockets frantically but couldn't find the key. Keys are mysterious companions; they vanish when you need them the most. It may have fallen when I was rushing down.
"Ah, I no find am o," I lamented. My hands had begun to shake, and my legs seemed like they would give way under my weight anytime soon.
"We go break the door be that. This fire mad. E fit catch wire and spread to all rooms," Segun noted. He stepped back to gather speed, accelerated towards the door and kicked it with the sole of his foot. The door merely creaked, as if mocking his assault on it. Other male occupants of St. Michaels soon joined Segun to force the door open. Some used their butts, others their feet. I stood back, too dazed to make any physical efforts.
I imagined what was happening behind the door. How many of my personal belongings had caught fire? What was happening to the newly bought black suit I was yet to wear? Had my certificates and credentials begun to bow to the whims of the cheerful blaze, smouldering bit by bit, never to be seen again? These questions made me shiver, just like the probable answers filled me with terror.
At last, the door gave way. The room was glowing like a live coal. I rushed in to see and probably save what was left of my properties. The hot and suffocating air that welcomed me threw me back, hurling me into violent cough fits. I bent over to aid my breathing.
"Omo! Omo! Soap!"
People shouted as they ran helter-skelter, seeking things they could quench the fire with. There were clangs of metal buckets. Soapy water whizzed through the air like missiles, splashing, sizzling. In thirty minutes' time, the fire had been brought under control, even though the smoke still saturated the room.
I went in to see the remains of my belongings. My new suit was gone; all that was left of it was a mass of sooty rag. My bed had been halved too, as though the fire was displeased that I should enjoy such comfort alone. My books had been reduced to ashes, flaky reminders of erstwhile embodiments of knowledge. Flames had licked the tip of my best shoe, transforming it into an eyesore, leaving other parts of it intact but useless.
I wanted to weep, to wail and throw myself on the ground, but even that required energy- one that had deserted me. So, I buried my head in my palm and thought of the cruelty of life. My parents had just paid through their nose the exorbitant sum of money that was the school fees of a medical student in EKSU, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of naira. Was I to go back to them that I had yet another unplanned expense for them?
"How e take happen sef?" Segun asked, facing Ade, my roommate.
"Me sef no know o. E still dey do me like dream," Ade replied.
I felt like walking up to Ade and dealing him a resounding slap. How would he say he did not know? Was he not the one who bought candles, despite my protests, and insisted that they would be his source of light for night studies?
That unfortunate night, I had left the room in the early evening for Pastor Gabriel's apartment. He and I had some issues to thrash out on whether or not Christianity could claim exclusivity to God. It had been so much an absorbing debate that it extended into the late hours of the night. If not for Kemi's alarm, we might as well have continued into the early hours of the morning.
Therefore, Ade was the only one who could have done something to start the fire in the room. After thorough interrogation, Ade admitted he had lit a candle to read that night. Because the candle was long and well-positioned, he hadn't seen any reason to put it off while leaving to get a loaf of bread down the street. But the table was plastic, and a part of my big mattress (a flammable material) was directly under it. Combining the stated factors, one could easily deduce the cause of the fire by common logic.
Now, apart from the damage done to our personal belongings, the room also suffered a major disaster. The PVC ceilings had shrunk, and the wall paintings had lost their lustre. We would need to refurbish the whole room- ceiling, painting and all. Our caretaker was never going to take the matter lightly, and we would consider ourselves lucky if he didn't send us packing even after renovations had been made.
Coursemates, church members and friends came to sympathise with Ade and me. They consoled us that 'afflictions would not rise up the second time'; that it was the will of God that such should happen, and that we should be thankful that it didn't get any worse. It didn't matter that none of them thought to help us with some cash, nor did they seem to reckon that we now had no clothes to wear to class the next day. Yet, we appreciated them for those kind words, words that could have borne greater potency had they been supported with kind acts.
Of course, we could not use our room that night because the smoke still hung around like a looming shadow, daring us to sleep over and risk asphyxiation. As I woke up with cramped muscles the next day, having spent the night on a small bed shared with a not-so-slim Segun, I saw the dark silhouette of a lady walking leisurely into my burnt room. I jumped up from bed, ran out of Segun's room and waited for the lady at my door.
She came out holding the sooty rag of my newly bought suit away from her body, as if it was a bag of shit.
"What do you want to do with that?" I asked, eyeing what she held, trying hard to calm my nerves.
"Oh, this rag? Em, I want to be using it to mop ni jare. I doubt you still have any use for it," she said, almost with contempt.
I swallowed hard and stepped aside, holding my peace.
By Dele Davids.