The phrase, Up NEPA, is one that no 90’s child will ever forget.
Every single Nigerian is or has been, in one way or another, affected by the poor state of power supply in the country. The excitement from hearing “Up NEPA” was enough to turn any child’s frown upside down. If you saw a group of children playing outside and you wanted to disperse them, the fastest way to do it was to yell that phrase.
Of course, as we grew up, we got smarter. We wouldn’t scatter immediately when we heard it, we would first pause and look around for a bulb — the one in front of that house on the street that’s never switched off — to confirm if it was true. And if we saw it was true, no second thought was needed. We’d run home as fast as our legs could carry us so we could be the first to grab the remote control of the TV and, by that sole action, gain control over what everyone watched until they seized power again.
Even as a teenager at university. In the evening, after lectures, before the sun sets, our laptop batteries would be dead, so we’d have nothing to do. Each group of friends would gather in someone’s room in the hall and we’d gist about sports or girls or, on rare occasions, something else. When power is restored, there’s always someone who’d run around the yard shouting “THEY’VE BROUGHT LIGHT!” We were big boys, so we didn’t run, but the walk back to our own rooms was always brisk, to make sure people hadn’t taken up all the good socket spots.
Of course, there are some select places where power supply isn’t a major issue, but I don’t live in any of those places.
I graduated from the university a few months ago and the next step for any Nigerian graduate is to partake in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) before going into the world of work. I was posted to serve in Ogun state to spend my service year and I’ve been here for four months now. After my two-week stint in the NYSC camp, I was assigned to teach in a remote part of the state where electricity is scarce. Normally, I don’t mind but today my yearning for electricity is at a new high. Not because of the heat, no, I’m used to that. It’s my phone. The battery’s dead and I really need it not to be because I just did what could either be the dumbest or smartest thing I’ve done in my whole life. Her name is Lola.
We met during our first weekly Community Development Service (CDS) group meeting. We’re both in the community sanitation group which does exactly what it sounds like. Apparently, we’d been in camp together, but I’d never met her before, somehow. After talking to her for the first time, I instantly regretted not meeting her sooner.
Seeing her bright wide eyes, her perfect dentition when she smiles, her plumb cheeks with just one dimple on the left, and her tiny nose never fails to make me smile every time I see her during our CDS meetings. I consider myself a very funny person so it’s rare to meet someone I think is funnier than me, but she makes me laugh like nobody I’ve met. Spending time with her feels like the most natural thing I’ve ever done.
It’s been three months and we’ve talked every day since we met, and it’s just become a natural part of our day. At first, I thought this is what love must feel like. I tried to fight it at first and give myself all the reasons why it isn’t, but I think I’m convinced now. I’ve been convinced for a month, but that’s how long it took me to gather the courage to tell her how I feel. I woke up this morning with that courage and the inclination to just do it, so I took a deep breath, and I did it.
I should confess, I have a bad habit. I never check the battery level of my phone, so it usually has to die for me to remember that I need to charge it. You would think living in a place with poor power supply would’ve taught me my lesson by now but nope. It wasn’t long after I typed out my feelings and hit send that she came online, and those two ticks turned blue. She started typing and the rate of my heartbeat doubled. Two seconds after I saw the typing signal under her name, that big SAMSUNG insignia showed up and the phone went blank.
No, no, no. What did she type?
The agony is heart-wrenching. I keep checking my phone. I’m not sure what I expect to happen, but I keep checking. I went to sleep in the afternoon when I couldn’t take it anymore, but I plugged my phone before I slept, just in case. After what seemed like a short sleep, I woke up to the darkness of late evening and a still-dead battery.
WHAT DID SHE TYPE?!
The heat made the frustration of not knowing worse. Sitting there, sweating, with all the possible scenarios running through my head, it was too much. So, I took my phone, wrapped the charger around my neck like a scarf and left the apartment. I didn’t have a destination, I just started walking. Maybe fresh air would clear my head. Or maybe I’ll find a place I can charge my phone.
I couldn’t stop thinking of all the ways she could’ve responded. What if it’s negative? Good thing I’ve had a lot of experience in that area. If she’s like any of the girls before, she could’ve sent a “Lmaoooooooo bro no,” or, “Awww, bro. Thank you,” or, my personal favourite, “Bro, abeg calm down”. I’m not sure what it is about me that makes girls call me ‘bro’. Hopefully, she’s different, I thought.
Then my heart started thumping. What if she is different? What if she felt the same way? The thought scared me even more. It would be uncharted waters.
WHAT DID SHE TYPEEEEEEE?!
I decided that praying for electricity would be a better use of my time and I have to say, someone up there must really love me because I hadn’t uttered two words in prayer when I heard that beautiful phrase. “UP NEPA!”
I didn’t know where the scream came from, and I didn’t care. My eyes went wide, and I started searching for the nearest bulb to confirm. I saw one and it was on. No second thought. I took off, as fast as my legs could carry me. I could see the joy spread through the neighbourhood as the houses lit up one by one, lighting my path home. I rushed into my apartment, leaving a trail of open doors in my wake, and flew at the wall, charger head in my hand, aiming for the socket. I missed. The pain of the crash meant nothing to me. I picked myself up and plugged the phone in.
Come on. Come on. Come on. My heart was in my throat. My palms were sweaty, so sweaty that the phone kept slipping. I calmed myself as best I could, long enough to press the power button.
After what I can only describe as the slowest bootup process ever, I opened WhatsApp and, finally, I got my answer.