Mr. Ochuko’s decision to buy a new generator was taken with the help of his wife seven months ago. They lived in one of those suburbs that NEPA seemed to have forgotten about. The electric company’s staff always hustled around the transformer just beside the junction to their street, light came up for about five hours and then was gone for another three weeks. Then the NEPA staff came again. “Junior, wait. Let me enter the house first,” Mr. Ochuko said. His seven year old son was tugging at his trousers. Never the patient man, Mr. Ochuko almost dropped the small carton on the boy’s head but was stopped by the stern look on his wife’s face when she walked into the parlour from the kitchen. The madam of the house allowed her stress-lined face to break into a smile, then a grin, and then a loud whoop. She ululated and swung the giggling baby in her hands high in the air, caught her, and threw her up again. Mr. Ochuko was surprised. The last time he had tried throwing little Agnes up in the air his wife had called a family meeting in which she alleged that her husband was conspiring to kill her children. “Daddy drop it on the ground, now. Open the carton,” Junior said. Mr. Ochuko looked at him. Daddy is going to kick you if you don’t shut it, he thought. He shifted Junior’s mattress and put the carton on the linoleum floor. There was no centre-table to shift for the space. The single bedroom house with detached kitchen and detached bathroom was sparsely furnished. The curtains were old bed sheets Mr. Ochuko had begged from relatives, his and- with shame- his wife’s. The linoleum, scrapped to a dull gray by endless steps across its middle had come with the flat. His wife sat on the only chair in the parlour, a settee that had followed the same route as the curtains. She said, “Seven months. We finally bought it. I told you we could save for it. I told you we wouldn’t enjoy this year’s holidays in darkness. Did you test it at the market?” “Yes,” Mr. Ochuko replied. “Shebi, Michael the electrician has finished with his work?” Michael had finished. Mr. Ochuko knew this already. Before he opened the door, balancing the small Indomie Noodle-sized carton on his left thigh as he turned the key, he had seen Michael’s handiwork. The 15 AMP socket was nailed into the wall beside the NEPA fuses. There was no meter; the NEPA men sent down estimated bills each month. Hanging from the window’s metal rod protector was the wire and plug that he was to connect to the generator whenever he planned to use it. “Daddy, open the carton.” “Darling, open it.” The generator glistened in the light leaking through the holes in the ‘curtains’. I-Pass-My- Neighbour they called the brand. It was the height of a gallon of fuel. Shiny and new, not a stain of grease or engine oil on it. “The change, nko. How much is the change?” his wife asked. “About nine hundred.” “That will be okay for the party. Junior, collect the money from your father. Go to Mama Sikirat’s. Collect native gin and schnapps. Make sure the witch doesn’t cheat you o.” “Hold that baby,” Mr. Ochuko said when he saw that Agnes had crawled to the generator and was fingering it. “Stop her before she spoils it.” “Haba, Ochuko. What can a small child do?”
The party was a small success. The people of Warren Street started strolling in around four in the afternoon. There was no electricity so Mr. Ochuko had put on the generator. The small carton the generator had come in now served as the TV stand. They watched television. They gisted and played music, actually listened to the radio DJ play music, on their small transistor. The neighbours oohed and aahed and patted the couple’s shoulders. But Mr. Ochuko was not fooled by Tejere from next door. He and his neighbour hated each other. Tejere walked up to him around seven p. m. when the party was ending. “Congrats, neighbour.” “Thank you, neighbour.” Mr. Ochuko stared at Tejere’s shiny head, his ugly face that looked like the devil had taken a shit in his mouth. He watched that mouth talking, “Please, when you put on the generator could you place it on the other side of the house? It is very loud. You know my wife has hypertension and that I am asthmatic. It is already worrying me.” Mr. Ochuko pinched his wife a second too late. She had already hissed. He hoped the ‘kpsshew!’ had been drowned by the throbbing of the generator. He wanted to say to Tejere, Noise? But you’ re standing over the generator and I can hear you. Asthmatic? YOU”RE STANDING OVER THE GENERATOR. Instead he said, “No problem, neighbour. I’ll see what we can do.” The guests left at eight pm when NEPA brought light and Mr. Ochuko switched the generator off. When the last of them had left Mrs. Ochuko said, to no one in particular, “Jealous idiot. Asthmatic ni, asthmatic ko. He should go and choke on a shovel.”
NEPA disappointed the Ochukos. For three days they did not take the light! Mr. Ochuko stopped watching TV because he had had his fill of it. When he came back from the steel mill every evening he sat on the settee beside his wife and, while his family watched the latest Mexican soap, he stared at the shiny generator. When would he put it on? When would he show his neighbours that he had passed them? Tejere must be gloating in his jealousy. What use was a generator if NEPA was going to behave itself? On the third evening Mr. Ochuko was almost loosing his mind when his son said, “NEPA has tried o. They haven’t taken the light for three days. Three whole days. They tried o!” He wanted to kiss the boy. Before he bought the I-Pass-My-Neighbour he would have beaten the idiot till he bled. You did not praise NEPA. Once you said, NEPA has tried, they took the electricity. But he wanted to kiss the boy. NEPA would take the light today, he knew. NEPA took the light at ten that night. The wife and children were already asleep and when Mr. Ochuko carried Junior to the bedroom to take his place beside Mrs. Ochuko neither the child nor the wife stirred. At first he took the machine outside. He pulled out the plug from the NEPA socket and put it in the generator socket. He paused as he bent to pull the starter cord and laughed to himself, “Thief people. Devil is a liar. They want me to start the generator outside so that they can come later at night and unplug it. Never!” He took the generator inside, started it, looped the connector wire through the opened window and shut the windows to protect against mosquitoes. He sat down and watched the late night movie. Lovely film. Tough film. How could someone dodge so many bullets. He looked bug-eyed at the cars and dreamt. He dreamt of his own car. It was coming. It was coming. He felt famished and when he stood, lurched precariously. Haba, am I that hungry. At the intermission, Mr. Ochuko stumbled to kitchen; there was some kpo-kpo garri in the cupboard and he made himself a late night snack. He sat back down and watched as the tough guy hero cried over the death of his family. Mr. Ochuko smiled at himself and thought about what he would do to any bastard who hurt any member of his family. Even Junior who always carried last in class. He glanced from the TV to the I-Pass-My-Neighbour. The generator was chugging along quietly. Very nice machine, he thought, not one wisp of smoke. Not like that jealous idiot Tejere’s old jalopy of a Peugeot. Mr. Ochuko pulled his legs over the side of the settee and stretched them; they felt heavy and clammy. The bloody foreigners who had bought the steel mill worked them like slaves. He made- he tried to make- a mental note to complain to his supervisor that he couldn’t enjoy his generator because he was so tired from work. He watched the film sideways. The last thing he heard before he fell into limbo was the rattatat of the TV hero’s machine gun and the oddly muted sound of the kpo-kpo garri crashing to the ground from his fingers.
Tejere was annoyed. He had had it. He begged that idiot three days ago to make allowances to move the generator to another part of his compound. The noise and the smoke disturbed him. Yes, the wall separating their compounds was ten feet tall. He knew that. But sounds jumped around walls, didn’t they? And the smoke. Yesterday he couldn’t sleep. His wife couldn’t sleep. He swung open Mr. Ochuko’s gate. He was going to tell him his mind. Tejere jumped a couple of puddles, evidence of last night’s deluge that had caused the blackout. He felt guilty when he got to his neighbour’s veranda. The generator was still on but Mr. Ochuko had moved it. It wasn’t near their wall again. But why had he, Tejere, been sure about the fumes; about the noise? He was already here and instead of turning around to go back he would say good morning. He knocked on the door. Once. Twice. Thrice. No answer. He saw the hole in his neighbour’s ugly curtains. He peered through and saw Mr. Ochuko sleeping peacefully on the settee. Lazy bastard. He lay on his side facing the TV which was still on though not showing anything except the white and grey snow of an absent TV station. And if it is to report me to supervisor, he won’t hesitate. And then Tejere saw it. The generator. Standing in the middle of the parlour, lit by the light form the window and the snow from the TV, chugging along quietly.
The tabloids carried the news: Family of four dead in mysterious circumstances. How could this happen? An entire family? Mysterious. And a day to Christmas, no less. The family was buried in a series of wood-marked graves in the city’s cemetery two days later. Then the accusations began. Mr. Ochuko’s family said that Mrs. Ochuko’s people had killed their son. Mama Junior’s people said that their son-in-law’s family was always jealous of their daughter and that they conspired to have them poisoned with kpo-kpo garri. The police arrested Tejere, saying he must have poisoned the family with the kpo-kpo garri. Nobody remembers what happened to the generator; to the I-Pass-My-neighbour.