He was waiting for midnight.
The harmattan air was bitter and when they inhaled, it felt like pepper in the nose. They shared a pillow, and looking at his lips, she thought they looked like he had just eaten akara. He had on the bottom of his pyjamas and she, its oversize top. He depressed a button on the phone and the white light illumined their faces.
“Eleven forty-two,” he said as he got out of the bed.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Don’t pee on the fence. They will fine you.”
“I can’t use that toilet this night, it’s too dark.”
“Take the torch.”
He took it and flashed the dim light on the wooden wardrobe fastened to the wall. The door was weighed down by an assortment of male and female apparels hanging from nails stuck in the board. He took off his slippers and killed two cockroaches. “God punish you,” he muttered as he gathered the corpses.
He left the room, shutting the door unsuccessfully behind him. Someone outside was pulling the starter of a generator but its motor would run for a short while then sputter. She listened. The operator was bent on his task. He pulled and pulled for a while longer, then hissed and went inside.
Her skin was dry and itchy. She reached for the plastic rack that held her woman things and applied oil to her skin.
He returned and lay on his back, breathing loudly through his nose. Then a short while later he reached for the phone.
“Eleven fifty- five.”
She pulled the blanket over their bodies. “Why do you keep checking the time? Put on a shirt, are you not cold?”
“I saw Isiagu today,” he said as if that was the answer to her questions.
“Where? How is he?”
“He looks worse every year than the one before.”
“Where did you see him?”
“I was inside a keke when he flagged us down but we weren’t going his way.”
“Did he see you?”
“No. I wish he did.”
“To show him that I am still alive and breathing.”
“He wasn’t looking well?” she said and let out a sigh. “Maybe because of his shop that burnt down.”
“A pity …” he began then sprang to his feet.
“Where are you going to again?”
“Wait I didn’t shut that door well.”
After much pushing and poking at the hinges, the door pretended to be closed.
“It’s open again,” she said and he got up and redoubled his efforts.
Power was suddenly restored and the ceiling fan began spinning with a clanging sound. He reached for the switch and turned off the light.
“Why?” she asked. “I haven’t seen light for 2 days.”
“You know I don’t like sleeping with the lights on. .”
The sound from the fan changed.
“The power’s out,” she said and sighed.
“Why did they bother with it in the first place?”
‘It will come on again.’
“How do you know? Do you have a boyfriend at NEPA?”
She chuckled, “I used to know someone who worked there, Isiagu’s neighbor.”
“The one that rides a Vespa?”
“No. Remember the tall one with the 80s afro?”
“Okay… the one that was always scratching. Why won’t I remember him? I can’t forget anyone that lived around us then or who had anything to do with that rogue. I just wish I was smart enough to have stolen my salary from that crook without waiting till infinity for him to pay up.”
She patted his chest. “Not stealing from him was a noble choice. Honesty always pays.”
“Look where nobility has us.” He took her palm and traced his stubble. “ Look where nobility has you, saddled with a broke man.” He turned to catch her eyes in the dark but she turned away. “You don’t like looking at me when we talk.”
“You make me shy,” she said, her voice muffled by the pillow.
“Look at me.” he said, pulling her from the waist. “My shy little kitten with a backside that makes me want to kill a goat every time I see it.”
“Indeed! How many times have I eaten goat-meat since I married you?”
“A patient dog….”
The fan began clanging faster.
“Your battery must be low; I think you should charge your phone.”
“I am using it to check the time. I don’t want to keep walking across the room to find out what time it is.”
Rats scurried outside, knocking over the refuse bin.
“Did you buy the rat poison?” he asked.
“No. Landlady said no one should buy rat poison before her dog eats it and dies.” And right
on cue, the dog began barking outside. He hissed. “One day, I will kill that Landlady’s dog.”
“Leave the dog alone,” she said leaning closer into him, urging him on.
He reached for his phone as he pulled her closer.
‘It is twelve o’ clock, my love. I wanted to be the first to say happy birthday.”