The Longest Winter

Reprinted from the Swarthmore Archive circa December 1989.

 

It was a bleak and abysmal wintry afternoon in late December last year when I found myself seeking refuge from the cold in the quiet warmth of McCabe first. With the bitterness of finals now but a distant memory, I wasted little time in finding a silent and secluded spot in which to curl up for a much overdue nap. And so there I was when the library shut its doors and closed… for the winter.

 

Amaechi’s Log. Day 12:

I’ve decided to start keeping a daily journal. I’ve been surviving here alone in the library for almost two weeks now, sustaining myself on the last of those little bucket treats they leave out at night and the coffee grains that were left in the machine. There’s no power to any of the outlets anymore and the central heating is out. But I’ve learned to manage. The cold is bearable during the day and at night I burn old issues of The Phoenix to keep warm. I burn them in the day, too, sometimes, just to keep my spirits up. My cell phone still remains inexplicably missing and, without any channel to the outside world, it seems I have no choice but to weather the storm.

 

Amaechi’s Log. Day 20:

Okay, so I finally did the math today, and by my calculations I would have to ration about half a Twinkie and a glass of cold coffee water everyday to make it through to spring. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. My left foot has gone permanently numb from the chill. It’s cold and dark and lonely and I swear I’m losing my mind. Just yesterday, on the stairs leading down to the basement, I saw a set of footprints that I’m sure weren’t there the night before.

 

Amaechi’s Log. Day 24:

Believe it or not, things are actually starting to look up for me these days. The food shortage is worse than ever, but it’s become much easier to manage since I took to eating bits of lounge furniture like a rat. In my free time, I’ve started exploring the library more and more. A couple of days ago, I discovered that, as I’d always suspected, the entire modern linguistics section is just shelves and shelves of blank pages bound in leather so as to create the illusion of being books. I’ve begun learning native Ng’andu and teaching myself how to embalm a body according to the sacred burial rites of the Mayans. Oh yes, and I ate a rat I found in a bit of lounge furniture today. I regret nothing.

 

Amaechi’s Log. Day 29:

It occurred to me this morning as I was taking a bath in the men’s room sink that I may never again get an opportunity like this to see what it looks like in the women’s restroom. Then and there, I resolved to undertake this noble expedition; to bravely go where at most very few men have ever gone before. In the end, however, the results were, to put it frankly, thoroughly disappointing. At least there’s still toilet paper in there, so maybe now I can stop using modern linguistics.

 

Amaechi’s Log. Day 30:

I had a dream last night that I didn’t make it out of here, that I died in the dark of cold and hunger and joined the ghostly ranks of Swarthmore’s lesser-known departed alumni. We sat huddled together outside in the shivering cold, seated on the one park bench we got in memoriam and watching scornfully from our perch like old crows as the new Lang Arts Center was erected.

When eventually my body was discovered, my name became a byword among students. Parents told their children stories about me.

“I’m going to the library, bye, Mom!”

“Don’t stay too long little Timmy or you’ll end up like Amaechi Abuah! Hahaha.”

“Hahaha, boy he was really f*cking stupid, huh Mom? Hahaha.”

“He sure was Timmy! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahhhha-”

I woke up with a start and sat up. From somewhere downstairs, I could hear sounds like somebody shuffling around in the dark. I listened silently for a while and then I said a few Ng’andu chants, picked up my things and moved to the third floor.

 

Amaechi’s Log. Day 31:

These past three days have been extremely… eventful. It all started two days ago when I finally summoned up the courage to go investigate the noises I’d been hearing down in the basement and stumbled upon a very strange article.

Swarthmore College, one of the nation’s more notable undergraduate institutions, could not always have been described as such. Indeed, in its earliest days, the school did in fact offer several post-graduate degrees in the liberal arts. However, in response to the rising demand for more undergraduate-oriented colleges, the school would ultimately terminate its graduate programs with abrupt finality in the fall of 1916. Urban legend has it though, that of the hundreds of unfortunate graduate students left flailing in the wind after the colleges decision, there were a few who, when faced with the cold harsh reality of the humanities job market, decided to take their chances underground. These fabled few were called the Ndugu and they would go on to descend into the arcane depths of McCabe Library where they and their offspring would live for generations to come, developing a small, primitive society, making unhelpful comments on stack exchange and surviving on a diet of “spirit and fruit” as one quote, commonly attributed to an Ndugu scholar, puts it. Not much is known about the original text, except that spirit is probably a euphemism for human flesh and that fruit is probably another euphemism for human flesh–

That was as far as I got before someone clubbed me over the back of the head.

I honestly wasn’t too surprised later when I woke up in a cauldron of boiling broth.

“Aaaaarrgghh!!! Aaaaahh!! Ahhhh!!!”

A man wearing an apron and a hat and covered from head to toe in tattoos whacked me with his ladle.

“What the hell’s the matter wi’ you?”

“I don’t wanna die,” I sobbed.

“Well maybe if you ‘ad thought o’ that an’ kept quiet in the basement like the bloody noticeboard says they wouldn’t ah caught you in the first place, eh? Now come on, arms up.”

I raised both my arms obediently and the chef proceeded to rub me down with curry mixture.

“There. Now the meat just needs time to absorb.” He gave the broth a small stir and then crossed the room to sit down on a little kitchen stool in the corner. He reclined for a while and then pulled a Microsoft phone out of his apron pocket.

“Hey! That’s my phone! What are you doing with that?”

“Retweeting @seanspicer. The bloke’s bloody brilliant, he is!”

“Stop that!” I tried to reach for him but I had no footing in the broth and fell with a loud plop.

There was an apologetic knock at the door and an inoffensive little ndugu craned his head in.

“Urr, it looks like we might have to let this one go George.”

“Says who?” the chef scowled.

“Umm, the chief’s daughter George. She wants this one for the carnal fruits of forbidden pleasures and such things.”

I lifted my head out of the broth.

“Don’t see why she can’t have fruit wi’ some nice ndugu lad instead. Huh.”

“Hey!”

The chef whacked me with the ladle again.

 

Amaechi’s Log. Day ???:

I honestly don’t know long it’s been since I last logged, but at any rate, this is my final entry. My career as a sex servant came to an abrupt end one morning when an ndugu messenger stepped into our chambers holding a scroll. The ndugu tilted his head up regally as he spoke.

“Big chief says great doors now open. Unpainted man have safe passage; royal permission from Big chief to leave Ndugu.”

After a few seconds passed and I failed to move from my position. the messenger lowered his gaze.

“Oy. You got somthin’ in yer ears or what? Sod off.”

“I was under the impression that this was supposed to be a permanent arrangement.”

Several guards were soon on site and within a few minutes, I was forcibly removed from Ndugu.

I am grateful though to be back among cultured society, even if at times I feel a subtle yearning for less innocent times. My re-assimilation into civilization has been relatively hitch-free. Well…except for the fact that some of my friends give me dirty looks when I pass them in the hallways. I think the chef still has my phone.

 

With the inevitable passage of time, the tale of Amaechi Abuah’s heroic survival has passed from the realm of myth through that of urban folklore and finally into the land of legends. And so even today, many an exhausted undergraduate battling through a night of long over-delayed reading in McCabe may remember the story of his struggle and from it draw the courage to press on, even in spite of the blood-curdling screams coming from the basement…

Amaechi Abuah

 

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