I fell out out of the long leather chair into the Persian rug that covered two- third of the floor of
our modest living room which was sandwiched with uncanny architectural wisdom between a
bedroom, a kitchen and a pavement shared with two troublesome neighbours. It is a real estate
wonder that apartments like ours exists at all, not to talk of it’s ridiculous rent prices,
extortionist estate managers and arrogant, loud, “Oga landlords”, as home owners in this small
southern town in Nigeria are called.
Burnt air had filled my lungs in my sleep. I woke up on the rug with a tightness around my neck. The acrid smoke filled my throat. It was misty and dark in the room. The three blades of the ceiling fan that blew so hard in swirling unison half an hour ago and had lured me into sleep were now quietly apart. Our country’s electric power supply
this year is still a few thousand mega watts behind schedule we are told on the news every
now and then. Each blade emblazoned with the initials A.C was now covered with a thin film
of dirt staring motionless at me. For the half a minute or so that I lay on the floor, I was lost in
time. A swirling feeling went round and round in my head. It was the third “knock knock” that
jolted me into the present.
As I ran to open the door, I suddenly stopped halfway in my steps like a village masquerade who just saw a fresh spirit. Making a sharp turnaround and clutching with both arms my breasts that flapped against my chest, I hurried into the kitchen, my teeth grinding against each other in regret as I turned off the blazing blue flame of my gas cooker.
My ill timed slumber as my husband would call it has scored yet another goal. I had burnt our dinner again! This was the umpteenth episode of this drama I thought to myself as I left the kitchen, wearing my glummest face to open to the ‘knock knock’ that woke me up.
His face was covered in darkness when he came inside. I could only make out the now roughened edges of his starched white shirt. His red coloured, Giorgio Armani slik necktie with
rigemental pattern, we had bought at his mum’s best friend boutique just to please his mother
two Saturdays ago was dangling from his neck like my father’s large Pendulum clock that was
ten years my senior. His light grey cotton jacket was flown over his right shoulders. With the
electric power gone, I didn’t see his face nor his trousers, they were all covered in the thin
evening darkness that crept into the living room from the louvres that were slightly ajar. I would
have seen him better if he had kept the door open, but he closed it once he came inside,
cementing the darkness that stood between us.
“Welcome Honey!” I blurted out rather
impulsively for I knew not what else to say. There was stiff silence, a silence thicker than the
darkness of the fresh evening, thicker than the smoke that billowed from the kitchen and
danced in between us with the smell of burnt rice. It was the type of silence that made thought
impossible, the type accompanied by menacing looks. For a moment I was grateful for the darkness. I was happy I couldn’t see his face, for I could imagine his eyes in the silence, fixed
firmly in their sockets, a blistering redness that would sear my soul in shreds. They would tell a
story I knew too well. They would tell it like my grandmother sitting under the clear moonlight with bare breasts surrounded by vilage children spurred on by recurrent sniff of tobacco powder
secured beneath her wrapper.
The story would begin on the saturday Manchester United football club had won the champions league, and I had burnt beans porridge, the bean seeds and cubes of yam blackened beyond recognition. He had been too happy to be angry. He just made me wear the club jersey and we ate out. I am grateful I didn’t see those eyes, Nothing could had prepared me for the sights they held. I would see all the times I had said sorry. All the times I swore never to sleep off while cooking. All the times he would defend me before that garrulous ‘Oga landlord’ who claimed l seek nothing other than burning down his building. I would see all the times he had scrubbed burnt pots till his hands went sore. All the time he would made up excuses for my slumber.
“You are stressed”
“You couldn’t help but sleep right? ”
“It taste better burnt! Believe me”
I would see the portable alarm clock we had to buy at the supermarket that was a few blocks
from our house. It was supposed to sound loud alarms every ten minutes and would wonder
why I didn’t use it. I would see my guilt, a great despair that will hunt me for days afterwards.
I just stood there, fumbling with my fingernails, drawing silly patterns on my palm patiently
waiting for him to scream and rain curses, I waited for him to remind me how expensive
foodstuffs were, how many times they had slashed his salary this year alone, how many
Nigerians went hungry night after night, and here I was roasting meal after meal. But he said nothing. He just walked straight into the bedroom, leaving me to my thoughts in a sea of the
evening darkness and the charred smell of burnt food. That night we both went to bed hungry
The next morning, it was his firm kiss on my forehead that woke me up from sleep. He had
woken earlier than usual, and brought me a breakfast of scrambled egg and tea just after our
morning prayers. As we ate, he apologised for the silent treatment he had melted out the night before. Then, he told me he loved me and hoped my ill timed slumber was a phase I would
soon exit. I sincerely hoped it was.
Few days later, I offered to help my husband edit his draft for his weekly column. I was on the look out for grammatical errors in the six page document spread on the reading table. It was sleep, however, that found me first.
I woke up to find the papers all smeared with saliva. The black and white prints on the once crisp sheets of paper were all smudged at the areas where saliva had drawn wet maps. I held the papers tenderly, else they would shred in pieces. Another slumber relapse! It was barely ten minutes ago that I started the editing and here I was with a mess.
“I guess you are tired,” my husband voice roared over the tiny voice of the radio presenter that
anchored the afternoon live show on Brizza FM. I didn’t reply, my gaze still fixed on the wet
papers. He walked towards me and took them under his armpit.
“Don’t worry my dear. Just go back to sleep.” “I am so sorry, honey,” I said my face all sullen and cheerless. He came closer and took me under his arms. My head firmly plastered on his chest. He assured me of his love, he reminded me he had the files on his laptop. He would simply print another set of copies. He carried me on his arms, his biceps tying knots under my weight as he tucked me safely under the huge white sheets for a compulsory siesta. As he kissed my cheeks, he reminded me again of his hopes that this was a phase I would soon exit. I sincerely hoped, again that it would be.
The flooding bright lights had gone out already, the flicker of green light was growing almost
twenty rows of well cushioned leather seats in front of us. The promoters had called it the most
hilarious romantic comedy of the year. The advert had been run over and over for weeks at the
start, middle and end of our favourite family drama series on television. It was in the week of
our one year marriage anniversary that he bought the tickets for the movie, glistening white
strips that shone when tilted towards light. I kissed him severally afterwards and when he
bought me a sequined beautiful pink coloured flowery gown with shining stones hemmed at the
edges for the event, I told him that he was the best man in the world. He just smiled and
replied that I was biased.
The movie had barely started when I slept off again. We were sandwiched In between couples
who looked just like us. My honey gave me a gentle nudge on my shoulder which knocked my
slumber off its perch.
“What happened to the mother? I asked softly.
“She is dead” my husband replied, then he added that if I try to watch the movie without falling
asleep again, I would catch up. I did manage to doze off a few times throughout the length of the
movie, but that was beside the point. My slumbering moments were becoming
increasingly embarrassing. I would doze off at church, in between my classes where I taught
English language to secondary school children. I would sleep even during our usual evening
“We need to do something,” my husband remarked as we drove home from the cinema and I could hardly agree more.
Doctor Emeka was as kind and affectionate as medical doctors could be. He was a short,
but well built man. His eyes shone when he talked and seemed to bulge into the small rim of reading glasses that hung snugly on a large nose plastered widely on his oval face.
He was cream coloured in complexion, that skin colour type that stood on its own. Not fair, like
the beautiful actress from Abia state, neither dark like the millionaire businessman from Kano
He had asked us how long we were married, how many kids we planned to have and other personal questions that sought to establish a kinship, as if we all belonged to the “married last year” club.
He listened carefully to my complaints. We told him about all my sleeping bouts and my husband asked if they were signs of pregnancy.
He said they had happened too long
to be signs of any pregnancy, and made me talk about all the time I dozed off
during afternoon classes while I was still in the university, years before I got married, all the
time my mother would complain I slept too much and too easily, at least a decade before I met
He asked some more questions, and then told us it’s looking like a sleeping
The good doctor put off his glasses, when we reconvened half an hour later. He had ran some
basic blood tests including a pregnancy test which came out negative. As he rubbed the back
of his palm against his left eye, he spoke. “Madam, you seemed to be suffering from a
condition called “narcolepsy.“
The words didn’t sink in, for I haven’t heard that word before. It was such a mouthful, “Nar-colep-sy ” turning his mouth inwards out as he pronounced it.
There was some silence, the type that follows the medical jargons that sometimes were usually big for nothing. “Will it kill me?” I asked nonchalantly. I had not intended to provoke the scary look my husband shot me or the smile that spread across the doctor’s face.
Doctor Emeka assured me it wasn’t a terminal disease, it was not infectious, neither was it a
disability. He explained that the cause was unknown, that many people had suggested
genetics as well as the environment as contributing factors. He told us it was just one of many sleep disorders that affect thousands of persons worldwide. He told us about cataplexy,
another form of sleep disorder that may be mistaken for seizures. He told us there was
currently no cure for narcolepsy. He gave various suggestions on how to improve my ability to
stay awake. He gave us the name and phone number of a neurologist and suggested we visit
him for specialist attention.
As we went home that hot Thursday afternoon, holding hands in the terraces of the ground
floor of the hospital, it was in the comfort of a new knowledge that my sleeping spells had a
new name: Narcolepsy.
Featured image credit: Farabale.