It was one of those evenings when the compound was tranquil and the night was hot. Yusuf lay nude on the floor with his wife, Jaleela, their only covering a worn-out wrapper draped on their bodies while their daughter, Nadia, lay on the bed.
“I am thankful no one is playing loud music that can damage someone’s ear,” Jaleela said, fanning herself.
“I am shocked. Maybe it is because of the heat,” Yusuf responded.
“I can sleep well tonight. Thank God I got the mosquito coils on my way back from work.”
“I understand. Don’t worry; soon, we will leave this house, this neighborhood, this life-”
“Not tonight, Yusuf!” Jaleela warned, too tired and irritated to indulge his fantasy.
He continued anyway, gesturing with his hands and staring at the roof. “I can see us in our own home, living the good life. I promise you-”
“Stop making promises you can’t keep!” she yelled at him. Yusuf seemed shocked but continued anyway.
“Trust me, Jaleela, when I say this, you will have everything. You and Nadia will have a good life-”
“Look, Yusuf, I am not in the mood to share in your outlandish daydream tonight! I had an extremely stressful day; my body hurts, and I would love you to keep your fantasy where it is - your head! I need to sleep.”
“I’m sorry if I irritated you, but remember, this is not just my dream. It is ours-”
Jaleela laughed sarcastically, her wrapper exposing her breasts as she sat up from the mat, “look around you,” she gesticulated with her finger, “What do you see?”
“I see a beautiful master bedroom, a comfortable bed-” He replied, but she interrupted.
“That is what you see abi - Now, let me tell you what I see! We are in a one-bedroom apartment the size of three toilets combined in the building where I work!” Yusuf tried to talk, but she hushed him.
“Ehn Ehn! I am not done! It is in this excuse of a room we call home that we cook, dress, and sleep in! We are sleeping on the floor because of the heat. If you haven’t noticed Nadia’s body, I have. See heat rashes on her neck and back! We share a bathroom and toilet with over twenty people, and when the toilets are occupied, we use a bowl, and we do it inside this house, right here! Where we are currently sleeping. As if that is not enough, see holes in the roof, and the rainy season is upon us, and we haven’t fixed the roof yet.” she pointed at two large holes in the corner of the roof and two small ones. “So Yusuf, forgive me if I can’t share in your yeye fantasy tonight!” Jaleela hissed.
Yusuf was quiet for a long while. The buzzing sound of a mosquito broke his thoughts. He reached for the torchlight he kept under his pillow in the dark. Finding it, he hit it twice for it to come on, then flashed it in Nadia’s direction to ensure no mosquitoes around her. She was a deep sleeper. He was glad his conversation with Jaleela didn’t wake her. He stood up to check that the mosquito net in which Nadia slept was covered correctly. When he was confident that she was fine, he said to his wife, “I know you-”
“What do you know ehn Yusuf! Don’t touch me!” she shrieked when he tried to touch her.” You have been dreaming for a while now. But, honestly, I am sick and tired of hearing it - your dream, your vision! I need action. Dreams won’t fix the roof over our head, put food on the table, cloth Nadia, you and I! Look at my hands, she showed him her hands that bore the marks of labor. See my body and my child - our child, Yusuf! Promises are just empty words when they are not backed with actions. She cried.
The room was silent for a while, then she spoke, “Please, I need to sleep so I can function well tomorrow. I awake by 4 am.”
Yusuf was shocked. He knew she was unhappy about their current situation, and he felt sad that she was disgruntled. Propping himself on his shoulder softly, he spoke, “Jaleela, my love, my queen… I know I have made several promises to you and to our child. I know my promises seem empty right now, but-”
“I need you to have faith in me, to trust me. So please do not give up on me.”
“I need to rest, Yusuf. So allow me to rest!”
“Please listen, I promise-”
“Ehn ehn! I don’t want to hear another promise from your mouth!”
“Yusuf, I will go and sleep outside. Is that what you want?” She warned.
“Ah! No o, please, stay.” He held her hand to stop her from leaving. She wasn’t ready to hear the good news he wanted to share. He would tell her tomorrow.
Jaleela stretched on the mat and turned her bare back to him.
After about a minute of silence, she heard Yusuf fart.
“Kai! this man! The heat is not enough; you had to pollute the air!” Jaleela exclaimed.