by Èdésiri Raruté Onogè

I remember the sound of those nights: the pitter-patter on the zinc roof when it rained; the tiny screeches of crickets otherwise; and then the occasional bark or bay of a dog bearing witness to the clandestine movement of ghosts. I remember the smell of kerosene in the room, and then the smell of slow cooked tomatoes that clung to the walls like paint (slow-boiling tomatoes to paste helped them keep longer, especially as electricity was a luxury even to those who could afford electronic things).

Whenever we were without electricity, the hurricane lantern was always with us, in fact and in spirit, on the wooden kitchen table, at the center, towering over everything like the Space Needle—middle finger to the darkness. The light that would escape from this lantern typically lost some of its brilliance—as though it had traveled a long way to reach us, losing its splendor to the murky pastel reality that its glass globe—tinted by dust and soot—permitted. Above this solitary source of light, the blackness of smoke would rise, in dark wistful wisps, aspiring to color the ceiling a la Michelangelo, but in gray-scale. And the art of smoke and shadow would move as the flame flickered. Sometimes art would come alive, as we employed our fingers and palms to obscure light, creating living creatures of shadow; and the walls and the ceiling would fill with vigor—a veritable jungle of marionette silhouettes.

In those times, and before the diesel or petrol generators from neighboring houses grumbled to life, there were often moments of silence, moments when it seemed as though one could hear for miles, moments when it seemed that if God were to whisper, we would hear it as though a peal of thunder. Nevertheless, sometimes, and like punctuation to the sentence of silence, there would be a cough, or a sniffle, or a sneeze. On occasion there would be the distinct sounds of contemplative people breathing—scratching their bodies in places under the aegis of shadow.

Periodically, when there were new AA batteries, (or old AA batteries resurrected by gently biting at their center in places), a shortwave radio would come alive, then the sound of radio static in flux as the radio was tuned, then a saturated voice announcing with shortwave muffled glee: "This is the BBC World Service . . . " sometimes, "You are listening to the Voice of America . . . " Then the interval signals: beeps, or Yankee Doodle Went to Town or some other.

There, in the near darkness, in the near quiet, in one of many forgotten pockets on the planet, and despite evidence to the contrary, we were alive. We were connected to the world.

Èdésiri Raruté Onogè is a Naija born person that lives online and lives on land near the Ohio River. He also has work forthcoming at the Kalahari Review Journal.