Living with a roommate – any roommate – is something several people cannot handle. They have lived all their lives alone in a room hence cannot adjust to the gregarious lifestyle with roommates.
For me, it has always been the other way round. Wherever I went, there have always been roommates. In my family, we number five as children, which looks like a lot but then, we have 2 rooms that house the boys and the girls. The room housing the boys is called the “boy’s room” and the girls, “girls’ room”.
Each person has a bed for himself, but there is always someone to talk with in the room, someone to chat with, someone to share your escapades with, seek advice from, and to show love to when necessary.
Not long afterwards school took us far away from each other. In the early stages of our lives, I thought I was always going to wake up to my brothers; that there was always going to be a “boys’ room” and “girls’ room”, but that dream didn’t survive the test of time.
My elder brother was first to go. He was admitted into a boarding house of a Government Secondary School. He had to be a boarder living on campus. He was alone, but never lived alone. My younger brother and I were now left in the boys’ room. After a year, I left for the boarding house too. There, we lived in dormitories and seniors had ‘corners’. If you were a nobody (didn’t have a school father), you lived as a nobody (nobody knew where you slept and your bed space in the dormitory could be taken from you anytime). For my first two years in secondary school, I was somebody and so, I lived in a corner with my school father. After my second year, my school father graduated, hence I became a nobody. We lived in hiding, even though we were all legally admitted into the same school and same hostel. We were constantly on the run; life at that time was rough, tough and also fun. Before long, I was a major senior student, not just a nobody as a senior (those who were not prefects in the system). I was a Prefect; an official share holder. As such, I had a corner to myself and had full rights to change my corner when I deemed it fit. Life made sense and we lived large but that didn’t last either.
After secondary school, home was the final order; then there was adjusting again, from the dormitory domineering lifestyle of a senior student to a follower’s lifestyle of a boy living with his parents who want their every word obeyed. That lifestyle didn’t last long either and voila, I was in the university, living in a hostel where everyone struggled, bribed and paid heavily to get in. It was hellish. We lived six persons in a room meant for two, Shared two wardrobes, used a general bathroom that was always unkempt. But then the room was just for the night time: it was empty during the day and full at night. The fun was on the campus premises; the room was just a place to lay one’s tired head, eat (rarely), and meet with friends (rarely too, save for the girls who were constantly disturbed by the boys hunting for their delicacies)….
Although we lived six in a small room, there was harmony in the room. When one of us cooked, it was for everybody to eat. Life made some sense; reading was fun as we read together, laughed together, joked together and solved issues together. I remember when one room mate, who at that time was in first year had some problems with his wardrobe mate, who was in the final year. Their relationship almost went sour; we had to use some diplomacy to exchange wardrobe mates such that everybody was happy. The room was always full; we led a real gregarious lifestyle. Problem solving was my specialty since I am a natural born leader. Decisions were made consulting me and it was fun affecting and dictating the way things were run in the room, ensuring order was maintained.
Before long, I was gone. I had to leave the University Of Nigeria Nsukka for Moscow Russia. It was a huge change. They (my former roommates) missed me a lot. They kept calling me asking me to return to the life in the hostel, but the ball was already rolling. There was no going back.
Landing in Russia really did a lot of work on my mindset. My new friends and I lived as a group for a while; we were three in a room. Each one did his own thing. Every one cleaned his own corner, cooked his own food, and made his own bed. It was a new experience…a change from the general bed spread style in my former university. Yet we lived in peace and everybody was happy. Once in a while we had misunderstandings but then, each one stood boldly for his brother. A person’s fight was everyone’s fight. One’s birthday was everybody’s birthday. We had fun together which ended after a year. We had to leave our town for other towns. Some left for Petersburg, others for Volgograd; I left for Moscow.
When I got to Moscow, while moving from the train station to the hostel, I was given options of people that could be my roommate. It was a hard decision to make; I finally asked them to make the choice for me because they knew who had what character. In the end, I was living with a guy who, although from the same continent as me, spoke a different language from the English I spoke. We had to do most of our communication in Russian. Sometimes, it was difficult to understand what one wanted to pass across and at such; there was a breach in communication. Apart from the fact that we spoke different languages, he wasn’t as talkative as I am. I was an out-going person, he was an Introvert; I always, courtesy of my mother, hated to use head phones, he loved to use them and hated when there was the slightest noise around; I was a night-worker, he was an early quiet sleeper. One day, while I was working at about 4 am, typesetting some documents, he woke up and asked if I mind that he slept. Touched with the fact that I was starving someone of sleep, I decided to pack up; but then I felt my right to do what I wanted in a liberal university set-up was being infringed upon; I felt I needed to act fast. It was a big decision for me to make.
His corner was always neat. I was a hand-worker and as such had several documents, papers, and tools lying fallow on my table after tedious work. These things deepened the rift between us. In the early stages, we could at least, before eating, invite the other to come join us; these days, such practices were bygones. The life we shared was a ‘good morning’ lifestyle. After the ‘good morning’ was said, that was all for the day. Even if we met on the way, an outsider would never know that we were roommates. It was that bad. We tried to make it work. Sometimes, either of us would strike up a conversation, but the next time, it was a different ball game. We lived a ‘don’t touch’ lifestyle. I never touched or used his stuff; if at all, it was with his permission. I was never in my room. I was either in a friend’s room chatting away my time or in the reading room trying to do some studying. My visitors had to call several times to make sure I was around so that we could meet.
When the visitors came around, all they could do is sit on the bed and have a place to rest their legs, more than that was trouble. The room was small; there was a wardrobe (his wardrobe) placed in the middle of the room that technically divided the room into ‘his corner’ and ‘my corner’, hence there was no space in the room. I arranged and rearranged my room every two weeks to make sure there was space; but no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t work out. I had to live with that. When I tried to get used to it, my friends just couldn’t. They advised that I changed rooms; I had to work seriously on changing rooms. I liaised with one of my friends and he joined me in the search for an empty room. Before long, we found a room. The guy who was living there was a person anyone could live with. I was going to put my eggs in that basket. When I approached him, he said it had been his dream to live with another guy. I had to go to all three people that were going to be involved in the change to make sure they were ready to move. After the first set of talks, they all took it with a pinch of salt. I was left alone. I had to fight my battles.
The exams were over which afforded me time to think the whole thing over. During that period, I had a friend who was visiting; my friend advised me to repent. I was like ‘what am I going to repent of’. He noticed that I handled my roommate with extreme caution, and that I was virtually scared of him. He said that that was not the way to handle things, adding that I had to take it as a man and handle it maturely. I thought over what he told me and it gave me sleepless nights. Here I was trying to run away from trouble and here was someone saying that “he that fights and runs away will surely live to fight another day”. I was confused. My friends from far and wide , who had either visited , or heard of the issue, kept asking if I had succeeded in my plan of moving. I kept saying that the plan was in the cooking.
I had used the summer to make friends. I had made wonderful friends; the only way I could keep them was to keep them happy, but how could I keep them happy if I could not talk to them. We came online at different times owing to the time difference. Some came when it was past bed time and you just couldn’t, but talk to them. At such times, I had to strike a key at a time, just to make sure I didn’t wake my dear roommate from his sleep. It was tough.
Out of frustration, I left my room for a friend’s just to breathe some air. When I narrated my story to that same guy with whom I wanted to live, he assured me that everything would soon be fine, saying there was no need to worry. I thought he was joking but before long, he called a meeting with all the people involved in the movement. After an Ad-hoc meeting that lasted two hours, we reached a conclusion that the movement was feasible. A date was also fixed for the movement. We were to move in three days time. The guy I consulted was going to move up to his friend’s room, while his friend’s roommate and I will move into his former room as he lived alone. It was perfect until….
I was so excited I was moving; I had already started telling my friends that I was moving and they were all happy and excited with me. I decided I was going to clean-up. I tidied my room, brought out all the belongings that I was not going to use, and took them all out – to be trashed. I actually created a scene in the hostel that day. My time in this room was over; it was time to turn a new leaf. The joy of moving kept me cleaning and cleaning, but that was when the problem came….
….after cleaning and cleaning, and packing and re-arranging, I decided to go take a nap in my friend’s room. During my beautiful sleep, I heard voices, it was like a dream; knowing that if I woke up, the dream was going to fade away, I decided to keep my eyes closed. No matter how I tried, the noise kept getting louder and louder. I had no choice but to stand up and check what the problem was. It was my roommate with the cleaners: those who emptied the general waste bin. They were arguing over who filled the waste basket with stuff. I had never seen him in that fashion before. He was shouting, they were also shouting; they were saying that the dirt came from his room; he was saying that he was not the one that put it there; they asked him to divulge the name of the person who put it there, but he would not budge. It baffled me; there I was staring at them, I couldn’t utter a word, he had done all the talking, he had defended me. I thanked him but he said I shouldn’t mention.
The next day he went shopping the way I had never seen him do; bought a lot of things and dropped a basket of chickens on my reading table. It was obvious that it was him as he was also working on his own set of chickens. It was as though it was a trap. Like the hungry Esau with the smart Jacob. There was no way I was going to turn my back on those chickens. I ate them voraciously and everyone was happy. He called me into his corner, for he was well ahead of me in age, and virtually told me his life story – all in Russian. It was a turning point for me.
I was confused. I was set to leave the room tomorrow, but there I was, at a crossroads, I didn’t know what to do. My friends would crucify me if I didn’t move. The guys, who were willing to change rooms because of me, were going to be disappointed; if I left I will have my conscience to fight all of my days in that hostel. I had to make a decision – a quick one at that. My world was dim; I was blank and didn’t know what to do. Do I move to a new room and forget all my sorrows? Or do I remain in the room, with the hope that things have changed for the better?
In the morning, my phones kept ringing; the movers were calling: calling to ask how far. But then my mind was made up. I was staying. I stayed.
*The writer actually moved and the chicken episode was just fiction.