My phone beeped, and I anxiously picked it up to check it, hissing when I saw that it was a message from Airtel. These people sef, sending stupid messages everytime, I hissed and continued reading my novel. There was nothing as annoying as expecting a credit alert and then having numerous messages sent to your phone, making that annoying beep, beep sound. And the messages increased in number on such days as today. I had already received about eight messages, and none of them had been the one that I expected.
I had received a message from Fidelity Bank, and when I had opened it in expectation, it had been a debit alert. There was nothing in the account, yet they wanted to wipe it clear with their numerous dues. It was almost 3:30pm and the banks were soon going to close. If I didn’t get a credit alert before 4pm, that would mean that I had to wait till tomorrow. That’s what happens when you have an overcautious father.
After facing problems with a bank transfer which he had done through his phone, he had refused to use the app again. He preferred to go to the bank himself or send one of his boys to deposit it in the bank. When you complained, he would tell you to be patient that you were not the person earning the money so you had no right to complain.
And so, I watched helplessly as it clocked 4pm. I stood up from my bed with a resigned sigh. I went to the kitchen and frowned at the plates on the sink. I ignored it. I thought of my roommate with her half bags of rice and beans, with dried fish and meat laying on a tray. I wondered if she would notice that there was one meat less, but then shook my head. No matter how desperate I was, I would not take something of hers. I could still remember the day she had quarreled with me over a plate of rice.
I had come back from lectures, very hungry and my roommate had been preparing jollof rice. The aroma filled the whole room and my stomach had tightened in response. My foodstuffs had finished, and I was still managing the few provisions I had left.
After she finished cooking, she had fetched a plate and started eating without inviting me as was usual among students. I was used to it, but not today. I was very hungry, and the sounds she made as she ate the food made me even more hungry.
“Tochi, can you help me with small food? I don’t have anything to eat,” I asked as politely as I could. She pretended as though she didn’t hear me and continued eating, pressing her phone as she chewed.
“Tochi, abeg. Just today,” I pleaded.
She looked up at me, “I didn’t come to school to feed anybody o.”
“I don’t have anything to cook, please. They’ve not sent any money for me.” It felt stupid, begging your roommate like this. During the times that I had visited my friend’s room, I had watched as she and her roommate took food from each other’s pot without much ceremony, and here was I begging my roommate for just a plate of rice.
“Oya go and collect small. Don’t touch the meat, just carry only rice,” she said.
I didn’t care for the meat, I just wanted food, “Thank you.” I went to the kitchen. The medium sized pot on the gas cooker was filled to the brim with orange rice. I filled up one of my small bowls with rice, reducing it when I felt that it was too much. I had started eating it before I even closed the pot and went to the room. She could cook, I thought. Despite her stinginess, her cooking was good, annoyingly too good. This was the first time I was tasting her food since we started living together for a little over a year.
“You are a good cook,” I said, drawing her attention to the plate in my hand.
“Jesus!” she had exclaimed. And I looked at her with shock and surprise. “You went and fetched all my food, because I allowed you to open my pot.”
I looked from the plate in my hand to Tochi, my spoon paused midway to my mouth. I thought of the remaining rice in the pot, compared to the rice that didn’t even go half of the small bowl in my hand.
“To—” I started, but she cut me off, kept her plate on the bed and came closer to examine the plate of rice.
“I said you should fetch small, and you went to carry the whole pot abi? Did you pay me for the food? Even one maggi you did not contribute, now see how you are packing my rice,” her words were so unreasonable, and I wished I had another option, because what I would have done was to pour the remaining rice into her pot and buy N50 maggi to replace the rice that had entered my stomach. But I was hungry, and so I put up with all her insults until she was satisfied, vowing never to allow anyone to go to her pot again. I also made a vow never to ask her for even salt.
That experience had caused a bridge between us. “Roommate that you cannot eat her food, God forbid,” my friend Ola always said whenever we spoke about my roommate.
I opened my cupboard, praying that some sort of miracle would happen and I would find a packet of indomie inside. Even though I was expecting it, I still felt disappointed at the sight of the empty cupboard with empty milo tins and a half-filled container of salt. I smiled at myself in mockery, what use would salt have if there were no other foodstuffs. I closed the cupboard and returned to my bed, so that I could continue wallowing in hunger. “Tomorrow,” I told my poor stomach, “Just tomorrow.”
To take my mind off the hunger gnawing at my stomach, I tore off a sheet of paper and began to write a list of the things I would buy. I chuckled when the total amounted to N16,000.
The next morning, the first thing I did was to check my phone for any messages even though it wasn’t 8am yet. I called my friend and told her that I wasn’t coming for lectures. Not today, I thought. I took my bath and dressed up, after which I went back to my bed to continue waiting for the alert. I used one of the last two N50 notes that I had to buy okpa, forcing myself to drink the unhealthy tap water to wash it down my throat.
It was at 10am that the phone finally beeped. I was happy to see the heading ‘CREDIT ALERT’ and opened the message with joy. The smile on my face instantly dried up when I saw the amount—N5,000. I looked from the message to my list, and then scrolled up the messages to see if I had missed any other alert. Just N5,000 I thought with annoyance, and then called my father. When he picked the call, I told him to call me back and then cut the call.
He called back immediately, “Have you seen the money?” he asked after replying to my half-hearted ‘good morning.’
“Eh, N5,000?” I asked hoping that he would exclaim and say that the person he sent deposited only quarter of the money.
“Good,” that word broke my heart, “You better manage it, because that is the only money you will be getting from me this semester.”
“Daddy, but—” I tried to say.
“Don’t say anything, you don’t know how we are suffering to make money. The economy is very hard…” I kept quiet as he went on about how bad business was getting. I wasn’t listening, rather I was thinking about Henry, the guy who had given me a lift to school the other day. I fished for his card in my bag and smiled when I found it. I called him as soon as my father hung up.
This life eh, I cannot come and kill myself, I thought as I agreed to go out with him in the evening.