Rejoice wrestled open the door of the room she shared with three other absent roommates and took in the morning of 31st December. There wasn’t much to take in though. Everywhere from just a few metres away from her door was blanketed in the thick harmattan fog and if she stretched out her hand to touch it, she had a feeling it would completely envelope her, transporting her like Alice, into one of those strange, silent fantasy worlds that she half-hoped she could get lost in. But she was a realist, mostly, and she knew better than to expose herself for much longer to the biting cold of the harmattan fog. She slammed her door back shut, looked around at the empty room and wondered for the gazillionth time, why she had thought staying back on campus during the Christmas holidays was a good idea.
She was in the first semester of her first year at one of the top universities in the country and she was preparing hard for her first finals as a University student in January of the next year. So when she had called back home to convince her mother that it was better to stay on campus for the short break than to journey the five hours back home, her upcoming exams, the competitive nature of her scholarship and the exorbitant travel fares, combined to make a winning argument to a very reluctant judge. If Rejoice were true to herself though, she’d also admit to herself that she wasn’t ready to undergo the transition she would have to make when she went back home.
Rejoice and her mother lived in a one-room apartment back home. Apartment was a very rich term, Rejoice huffed. Rejoice and her mother lived in room. Period. They had always lived in that room. If Rejoice closed her eyes, she would be back in the room once again. She couldn’t remember the color of the walls. Were the walls even painted? Books, bags, pots, clothes and all the other odds and ends that one inevitably gathered when one stayed in the same place for nineteen-odd years, lined the walls. The window, the only source of ventilation for the room was covered by a checkered curtain which felt the softness of lather maybe once in two years because its accessibility was blocked by a table packed with bags. During the dry season, when the heat was highest, the curtain proved redundant and it was usually discarded to allow for the free flow of the intermittent gusts of cool air that came in through the window. At those times, her mother usually deserted the heat and comfort of the mattress for the cold hardness of the bare floor.
As Rejoice had grown older and bigger, she had come to cherish those moments alone on the bed, despite the heat. For even though she had grown, there had been no corresponding change in the size of the mattress; so that which had barely been big enough for a young woman and her young child was now cramped for two adult women. Rejoice liked her room on campus better. Even for four people, it had more space than she had at home and for the first time in her life, she had her own bed. She sometimes listened in awe as her roommates complained about the small space that restricted maneuverability, while they regaled her with tales of their big beds and bigger rooms. When they all decided they were going back home for the holidays, Rejoice opted to stay back. She wanted to experience the sensation of having a room to oneself even for a few days.
So far it hadn’t been the profusion of wonderment she had expected. She had wanted to be alone; she hadn’t counted on the attendant loneliness. There was too much space but nothing to do. She could only sleep on one bed at a time, not four. She trod the same paths between her locker and her bed as she did when her roommates were around and there had been no sensation of freedom; just one of being caged. She missed the roughness of the cold hard floor of her mother’s home. She wished she were back in the stifling heat of the room she had called home all her life and if she just closed her eyes and breathed deeply, she could smell – maybe even taste – her mother’s cooking. That was the last straw. She picked up her smartphone – one of many products of her mother’s, to ensure her transition into the University would be as smooth as possible – and speed dialed her mother’s number.
When she heard the click that signaled her call had been received, she burst into tears; unable to string together the words she needed to tell her mother how much she had missed her and how much she had missed home. She didn’t need too however. Her mother understood. She told her to come home.