The blackness in the room was thick, heavy; it sat across your face and killed you, black as behind a dead man’s eyes – you couldn’t even see your nose in it. The room, it was a small one, a box room – tight as a child’s coffin, with this deep dead-of-the-night darkness taking up all the space in it.
Yes, the darkness was death-heavy like that, but it was not what was pressing me down on the frail mattress, no; neither was it the blue weight of my daily sadnesses. It was this unfamiliar burden of writer’s block that had been growing tumor-like on my chest for days, weighing on my mind (and hands), until it had now become so heavy that I couldn’t lift my legs off the mattress to reach the elderly typewriter which just sat there, glumly, in the corner, cold, untouched, dying, like I was, slowly – like those dusks I had watched die from my tiny, unveiled window, when the sun, and its happy yellowness, would dissolve languidly into the west, staining the rim of the sky with a liquid pink, before the black of night entered and ate up the entire earth . . . Like the passing of the twilight years of a writer, just before death’s darkness.
It was the sounds that brought me back to life – the sounds of living, of the living. Lying there, prostrate with this ‘tumor,’ dying as I was, sluggishly, there was nothing else to do but listen. With my mind and limbs weighed down by the grey load of this writer’s block, and with eyes like a blind man’s, rendered useless by the darkness, my ears became my only allies. They picked shreds of sounds from nooks and crannies and gathered them inside my head . . .
The darkness might have been thick as a book, but the walls were page-thin, and voices came through them clearly, as if you could see the words being spoken, read them. They brought me back to life, these words, and these sounds. Listening to the lives of my neighbors.
The one on the left was dead; asleep like a corpse, soundlessly – I couldn’t hear his breathing or anything, but I knew he was there; he was always there – an old man with nowhere else to go, stays locked indoors, so that death would meet him at home when it came visiting.
There was nothing to listen; I turned the page. The man on the right was shaking his woman awake, violently; a madwoman he had scraped off the street where she had been selling pieces of half-hearted love to unmarried husbands and lovelorn lovers and miserable manhoodless men . . . The man was whispering a hasty foreplay – Baby how far . . . She grunted her displeasure, turned away from him to face my wall, and slipped further into the dark dreamless depths of her sleep. I could hear her heavy slumber-breathing hit the paper-wall and quiver all over the room as snores.
I heard the man lose his cool – heard the hot steam of fury escape through his mouth in a whisper-shout – Patience! You dey mad?!
Then a string of low Ohhhhhhh that was cut off by a sharp slap which tore through the page like a shot, a man-slap, backhand-hard!
A whimper. Yaw mamaa!
The screeching, feline sound of fangs being bared and the muffle of a bite – woman-teeth through flesh.
Deep throatful thundering of god-wrath. Rainstorm of blows on soft body – denting curves and breaking china bones.
Then the ripping of wrapper from body, the fierce pounding of flesh.
Sounds of pain, of fury, of madness, mingling together, and shattering into an exclamation of single climax!
Shards of snifflings and pantings litter the page.
It was the bark of the gunshot that completed my resurrection: BLAHM! – and I was up from the grave and at the typewriter, beating out words blindly (I knew the keys on her like a man knows all the corners on his lover’s body, even in the dark.) I beat her for hours, while she spewed pages and pages and pages . . .
Behind the page-wall on my right lay silence – no words, no sounds. Only the sound of my pummeling filled the air, and the scream of the words being beaten out of the machine – the short story that just happened.
In the afternoon, the police came.
There were two corpses: the old man’s on my left, and the madwoman’s on the right. Flanked by deaths like that, the police men had no option but to take me. They couldn’t go back empty-handed.
They did not believe the short story when I wrote it as my statement.
‘Wetin be dis? You dey write story,’ the sergeant said. I recognized the voice – it did not have the ‘Baby how far’ hoarseness; it was the ‘Patience! You dey mad?!’ fierceness.
There was nothing for them to hold on to. They held me in a cell. It was my room; small and black. A child’s coffin. A place to continue my dying in.