The first five stories of the On the Ceiling series are here. And without further ado, the hyperlink for #6: Kuukua and the Difficult Doors. (Note: When this was first posted, the attached PDF didn’t have italics where italics were designed to be. This has since been corrected and the document has been re-uploaded.)
Kuukua and the Difficult Doors
There were invisible threads on the ceiling now. My roommate Nana Konamah and I had gotten fed up. The architects of this hostel must have had some sort of sense impairment when they were designing, because this nonsense of the light switch being on one side of the room and the fan switch being on the opposite wall had been making our lives unnecessarily difficult. If the room was too hot or too cold during the night, NK would have to walk all the way to my side to regulate the fan speed. If she fell asleep with the light on, I would have to walk all the way to her side to turn it off. I’d never liked sitting down and doing nothing about problems that could so easily be solved with thread, so now our room had a very small-scale version of the complex thread system I had built in my room back home. It proved immensely helpful in instances just like this one…
“Felicia is coming!” NK whispered urgently. The next second, I pulled a string from my bed and the light went off. NK hadn’t even had to sit up.
“Don’t say anything,” I warned Princess, who was beside me in the dark now.
It was way past lights-out, and I was exhausted, but I’d promised Princess I’d help her with her physics homework when I had time. It turned out 11 p.m. was the earliest I’d been free enough to help anyone on a Monday night, and Princess wasn’t even the first person I was helping tonight. I was not, however, ready to get in trouble for it with Felicia, my hostel prefect. I already did enough weeding and gardening throughout the normal week; I wasn’t about to add gutter scrubbing to my schedule just because I’d decided to be a nice, helpful classmate.
I heard Felicia’s footsteps as she did a brief walk-through, passing in front of all the rooms in the building. If she didn’t see lights or hear voices, she just moved past each door after a few seconds. I listened keenly, made sure she was way out of sight and hearing before I pulled another string and the lights switched back on.
“Ahahn, so which question were we on?” I asked Princess, suppressing a yawn. But Princess’ mind was far from Newton’s laws of motion at that moment.
“How did you do that, with the light?” she asked with a mixture of curiosity and fear.
“Magic, anaa?” I replied, bored, irritable, and tired.
“Kuukua, be serious.”
“I thought everyone knew I’m a witch by now. See eh, let’s continue with the distin. It’s due tomorrow morning, and frankly, m’abrɛ.”
“So you won’t explain?”
“Ei, Princess. Do you want to finish this homework or not?”
Her facial expression reflected the struggle she was going through, trying to rationalize what had just happened, but then she gave up, clearly also weary and looking forward to sleeping. “Fine. Let’s continue.”
“Great. So, we know that force is equal to mass times acceleration….”
I could have explained – at least about the spider-silk thread – but that would have led to even more questions. How did I know how to build this switch-flipping system? Why was the thread invisible? Where did one acquire spider-silk thread? Why did I have my very own pet spider?
I wasn’t ashamed of the strangeness that came with being the future Ananse, but truthful explanations were long. Claiming the rumor my cousin had started – that I was a witch – was much easier. So was evasion.
I turned the lights off again when Princess went back to her room. I hoped she wouldn’t get caught breaking curfew.
I thought NK was already asleep, so I was surprised when I heard her say, “Wo dwen sɛ wo yɛ Kwaku Ananse.”
When I heard that, I sat up briskly, my heart hammering loudly in my chest.
“What did you just say?”
“You think you’re Kwaku Ananse. It’s something my mother says a lot to me and my siblings whenever we try to get away with messing with someone. Because, you know, Kwaku Ananse was a trickster.”
“Interesting.” I let the silence breathe and tried to process.
“You remind me of him, though. Kwaku Ananse. Except you’re cleverer. From the stories Mummy told me, the way Kwaku is always getting outsmarted, he doesn’t seem particularly intelligent to me.”
“That’s what Ntikuma wants you to think,” I muttered, repeating my father’s words after the last time he’d told me an Ananse story.
NK didn’t know about me being the future Ananse – but she knew almost as much about my quirks as my grandpa, my father and my boyfriend. I’d only known her for about three months, but it was a consequence of living together. My room was the only place I could do some of the weirder assignments my father set for me.
The previous week, for example, I’d spent hours on end at my desk trying to master the process of extracting only the sticky kind of silk from my orb weaver spider, Charlotte, and turning it into spider glue. My grandfather, who used to be a chemist, would videocall me sometimes to teach me how to make varying kinds of spider glue, from mildly sticky to stuff stronger than wood glue. After she’d witnessed everything I’d messed around with at my desk, keeping the Ananse definition and its relation to my family from my roommate felt incredibly stupid.
NK had helped me construct the web. It would have been a struggle otherwise, because I didn’t have access to ladders, and the only movable furniture in the room were our desk chairs, and they simply weren’t tall enough. But I’d had to get on the ceiling somehow. As I’d struggled to think of how to manage it, NK had looked at me and said, “Kuukua, don’t you ever think of the body as a tool?”
“The body as a tool?” I’d repeated.
“Yeah. Same as a ladder or a hammer or something.”
“I use my hands and fingers a lot.”
“You use them to manipulate things you consider tools. But you’re always looking for things. Machines. Sometimes, the thing you need the most is a functional human body.”
“Sista, why are you speaking in parables?”
She’d laughed, then extracted her chair from under her desk. She’d knelt down in front of it, and at first, I was on edge because I thought she was bowing down to me or something, but then she instructed, “Get on my shoulders.”
I did. Then she got on the chair and stood upright, and when I raised my hands, I could reach the ceiling with ease.
Installation had taken more time than it would have if I’d had a ladder, because Nana Konamah needed to take breaks from holding me up. It was altogether a precarious situation, but I was used to precariousness. Yaw would have said, “A week that passes where Kuukua doesn’t put herself in danger of breaking her neck at least once, is that one too a week?”
And for the rest of the story, download via the link at the top of the post. Happy reading!