“Idiots,” Oguche grumbled, shaking his head.
It was a few minutes past ten and he was already in bed, counting sheep and waiting for sleep to show mercy and come. Falling asleep for him was a multi-stage process, none of which can be rushed or skipped.
Unlike most people, Oguche cannot just close his eyes and switch off to slumberland regardless how tired he was. No, that’s not how it works. First, he takes a cold shower, then climbs naked into bed and lies flat on his back directly in the path of the blast from his standing fan. The hardest part is always getting hold of his wandering mind and convincing it to come home and rest for a few hours before sun up. Sometimes it cooperated without much ado, but at other times it gleefully dodged around for hours playing hide and seek before reluctantly succumbing, usually well past the midnight hour. Gazing at the ceiling helped the process of recall, which is why Oguche never slept without the lights on.
Still grumbling, he rolled off the narrow wooden bed. His anger was not so much at NEPA for failing as expected, but at himself for forgetting to put on the inverter before retiring. It was something he normally did every night without fail, and the automatic changeover would have saved him the stress of getting up, just when he thought he had sleep cornered. Now, he was going to have to start the sheep-counting process all over again.
“Idiot,” he mumbled again as he yanked open his bedroom door and walked into the darkness of his living room, towards the corner beside the bookshelf where the inverter cabinet was positioned. He was almost there when he remembered all his curtains were up, and that he was naked. Leaving the curtains up was to aid cross ventilation, but he was naked, and who knew if his neighbour, Ms. Matanmi, was up, fiddling with her blasted laptop and peeping out of her bedroom window.
The old woman gave him the creeps. She lived alone with her two cats, had no family and had never received any visitors as far as he knew since she moved in eight months ago. She was always on that computer typing goodness knows what. That and her habit of peeping out of the window any time she detected movement outside regardless of what time of the day it was unnerved him.
He used to leave his curtains up late while watching movies and many times he’d happened upon her unnaturally bright eyes gazing directly into his residence at ungodly hours. Her bedroom window faced one of those in his living room, and he’d had to get heavy drapes specifically designed to keep her prying eyes out or maybe to keep him from seeing her spying on him.
Moving quickly from one window to the other, he dropped all the curtains, and only then did he return to the cabinet. His finger was a few centimeters from making contact with the activation button when power was restored.
Ms. Matanmi stood there, a few centimeters from the plastic cabinet, cradling one of her cats in her arms, with an owlish grin on her wrinkled face.
“Jesus!” Oguche exclaimed, almost jumping out of his skin in terror. That seemed to trigger NEPA, because the lights went off again, returning the room to darkness.
His hand shook as it sought the ‘On’ button which he frantically pressed a couple of times before getting it right.
The room was empty.
With his heart thudding in his chest, he approached the window and cautiously raised the curtain to peep in the direction of Ms. Matanmi’s bedroom, fully expecting to see her staring
malevolently at him from within.
Her window was pitch black and empty.
Goosebumps broke out all over his skin and his mind whirled as he let the curtain drop.
Had he really seen what he thought he saw or had it been a trick of the light? It must be, he thought. How else could he explain that he’d seen her standing right there?
He rushed to check the exit door.
It was firmly locked, just like it was supposed to be, because he clearly remembered locking it earlier in the evening when he finished dinner.
Again he looked at the spot where he thought he’d seen the figure. “Could it be….?”
“Stop, Oguche,” he said to himself in a low voice. “You’re seeing things. Haba, when you’re not drunk.”
Chiding himself aloud was supposed to calm him down, but it failed. His heart was still racing, with each beat reverberating like the boom of cannon fire in his ears. Finally, he walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of cold water which he gulped down halfway.
“Urrrrrgh.” he belched, before slamming the door shut. “That’s better.”
He checked the door one more time to be sure it was indeed locked, and also peeped again at Ms. Matanmi’s window to reconfirm that it was still dark.
The poor old woman was probably in dreamland.
“Your mind, Oguche, don’t lose your mind.”
In another fifteen minutes, Oguche was back on his bed, flat on his back and gazing up at the ceiling again, willing for sleep to come and claim him. The blades of the standing fan whirred as it blasted cool air in his direction.
Suddenly the shrill alarm of his inverter shattered the tranquillity of the night. He couldn’t believe his ears. Low battery? The damned thing had been charging all day and had been working for less than thirty minutes.
Then the light went off, and silence returned.
A confused Oguche rolled off the bed in the direction of his wardrobe. He needed to put on at least his shorts before going outside to start his generator.
His hand just about closed on the metal handle when his ears picked up a sound coming from underneath his bed. At first, he couldn’t interpret what it was, and then it came again, quite clearly this time.
*** ~~~ ***