WRITER’S NOTE: We have come to the end of this crazy series. To those who have been reading this series and never commented, I challenge you to come out of your caves and say something today. I am Kingsley Okechukwu and I have lots of other short stories you might be interested. Simply check out www.kingkingsley.wordpress.com. You may like our Facebook page and follow me on Twitter @Oke4chukwu.
Okay now, let us read the very last episode of Corpers’ Lodge.
The long awaited 2015 Batch A came to camp in May. Our LGI was a platoon leader, which meant she was in the orientation camp throughout the twenty-one days. CDS meetings were taken for granted and a sizeable amount of corps members even traveled out of Osun.
The Welcome Committee for these corps members was set up; Gowon and Hameed represented our PPA, and Gowon emerged chairman. He worked hard to give the new corpers a gracious welcome but he was frustrated by two-third of the house who hadn’t paid their 500 naira fee as of the last CDS meeting before the welcome day. IBK and I, armed with Gowon’s list, went to our colleagues row by row, one by one, and taxed them. IBK charmed them, I flattered them; we urged them to pay. By the end of the meeting, only those who weren’t in town hadn’t paid. IBK called them on phone and got them promise to refund her the money if she lent them.
On the 25th of May, a handful of corpers in a team of four buses chartered from the local government went to Ede Camp, and brought our brand new corps members home. There were six corpers posted to my school; three pretty girls and three hefty guys. After the welcome luncheon of rice and Fanta, every PPA took their corps members home. We took our boys to Snake Lodge to be hosted by Gowon, Hameed and the others. The girls were lodged in Micah’s room. One of the girls took a look at the cemetery and began to cry. “I can’t stay here, I can’t,” she wept.
“Then carry her to Snake Lodge,” Agu said.
“Oh shut up,” I said.
Agu hissed and made for the graveyard to smoke. He now smoked his weed among the dead because, as the Most High corper, he believed he had to pay his due respect to the dead, and it was what he had that he would offer them – smoke!
Uncle Dayo, Agatha and Mercy consoled the crying girl. If Micah were here, one charming look and a soft touch, and her cry for help would turn into a cry for love. Uncle Dayo was no Micah; he quoted the scripture: “God sent you here for a purpose… Before you were born, He knew you… Before you wrote Jamb, He chose Cemetery Lodge…”
I suppressed a sigh as I opened IBK’s door. She was in bum-shorts. The sight of bronzed laps seized my breath.
“Don’t dare come near me,” she warned.
I shut the door and went near her.
It was still in May when the students who’d just finished their senior WAEC and came and set fire to disused tyres in front of our lodge. Agu wanted to go out and fight them, but his lodge-mates held him back. “Use your teeth to count your tongue. How many of them can you fight? Are you the Scorpion King?” Edwin asked him.
Agu sighed. “If to say I get two more guys with ginger like Corper Kings, we for wound these boys.”
I hid a grin. If to say, indeed.
In June the civil servants of Osun State embarked on strike over seven months of unpaid salaries. They had to wait for seven months!
Anyway, it was a relief for us, because the whole Batch B in our local government had marked June as the month for our terminal leave. Our vice principal said he didn’t know anything about terminal leaves for corps members. We insisted on having it; June was set for a showdown, then the strike.
On the 6th of June, as we prepared to go watch the final of the Champions League, information came to us that the village would be performing a sacrifice and no one should be seen outside after dark.
I wasn’t going to miss a cracker match because some old men wanted to sprinkle fowl blood on ancient stones. But no viewing centre in the village opened for the match. I watched the match on Twitter.
In early mid-June, the Batch A corps members returned to town from post-camp break. Edwin said he must collect something from one of the new girls. “I am the only guy in Cemetery Lodge that hasn’t enjoyed this village,” he lamented. I told him he needed Jesus.
We began clearance for our passing out amid conflicting rumours over the date. Some said we would be passing out on the 2nd, others said on the 16th of July. I didn’t care; I was having the best moments of my service. I was taking long walks in the woods with IBK; sometimes she sang Celine Dion to me, then I read her love poems while her head was rested on my chest, in bed. I wouldn’t mind being like this till the Second Coming of Christ.
IBK began to learn shoe- and bag-making from Fisayo and Fatima; she in turn taught me. She wasn’t a very good teacher, I wasn’t a keen student and I was always distracted by you-know-whats. I had no worries except that I hadn’t saved one naira from my allowances. I would be paid twice, for June and July, at the end of this month, but paying my debt (I finished my allowance and incurred debts before the end of the past months–falling in love with a fellow corps member is like a small marriage, with the guy as the minister of budget and planning) and buying one or two things for home and transporting self back home would take a lion share of this pay-off.
I refused to let this worry me. Perhaps Osun State would pay us the twelve months allowance owed us. An impossible miracle, but corpers never stop hoping.
It was around this time that Corper Lawrence’s personal CDS project of two toilets for his school was commissioned by the state coordinator herself. It was on this day that we confirmed July 2nd as our passing out parade day.
On June 21st, NCCF sent us off amid tears, hugs and snapshots. We the celebrants wore a uniform of tailored wax material. Mine was badly sewn by the very village tailor and it nearly affected my self-esteem.
On the last Monday in June, a send-off football match between the ‘Good To Go’ Corpers and the ‘Still Around’ Corpers took place in Community School pitch. I played to impress IBK. A mistake. I was out of practice and was only too glad when halftime came and I substituted myself. I won’t tell you the final score; let that be my only secret to my grave (not yet, mind you); you love gossip too much, anyway.
On the 30th of June, the entire corps members sent us off. We announced a new CLO that same night, a quiet respectful boy from Community. The next day, my church sent us off. Uncle Dayo, Micah and me, and recently IBK attended this church. I admired the educated and very accommodating pastor. I never missed Sunday services; I never forgot to carry along my phone charger either, by the way.
Agu woke us all up in Cemetery Lodge around 5am, shouting at the top of his undisciplined voice. ‘I no be corper again o, I no be corper! Anybody wey no wan make I see today, thunder fire him mama! I be ex-corper!’
I blocked my ears with the sheet.
It began to rain. It rained till ten o’clock with small pauses in between. Corpers were bursting with impatience. “Rain, rain, go away!” Tina sang. They were all dressed for Oshogbo. “Mmiri zobe, zobe!” I countered. They swore at me.
I was still not dressed when the bus Dayo chartered arrived at quarter past ten. They left without me. IBK stayed back for me, but she nagged so much, I wished she hadn’t bothered. Our bike arrived before eleven. But it wasn’t my regular bike-man.
“What of Ojo?”I asked his presumed brother.
“Ah, Ojo, e no well, e swallow medicine. E dey for hospital.”
I didn’t understand. IBK spoke Yoruba to the man, and then told me that he meant Ojo took poison.
“What! Why would he do that?”
“This world, e tire him now,” his brother said.
It ruined my day. I liked Ojo.
There was no passing out parade for us. Corpers lined up and fought and cursed in the muddy queue for their discharge certificates. There were about twenty lines, each was hopelessly unruly. Whenever each number of corpers had collected their certificates and the photo albums, they would shout, extricate themselves from the group and begin taking snapshots. I wondered why people snapped with their NYSC certificates and never with their degree certificates. Why?
The next day, Agu left for his village in Enugu. Fatima and Fisayo left for Kwara and Ekiti respectively. Edwin boarded a bus for Delta. Around four o’clock, Agu called me and screamed in my ear, “I done reach o! I dey for my village now! Kings, make you leave that evil village, comot for there o! I dey my village!”’ I smiled. Agu was now home, in his “virrage”, as he pronounced it.
The next day, Dayo left for the newly-created NCCF family house in the local government headquarter, from where he would leave for Lagos. Tina traveled to Edo. Agatha went to her corper boyfriend in Ilesha where she would spend her post NYSC honeymoon before going home. Mercy’s final destination was Lagos, but she went to Kogi today. Edwin, Dayo, Mercy, IBK and I would reside in Lagos.
Lagos, why always Lagos?
The 8th of July was IBK’s turn. Big girl that she is, she charted a car that would take her straight to her brother’s house in Ibadan. It was warm and sunny when the car arrived at Cemetery Lodge, but by the time we finished packing, the sun had lost its gaiety as a black cloud began to eat it up. We were standing by the car boot.
IBK looked up. “It looks like it will rain.”
I nodded. “The village weather is mourning the departure of their most beautiful possession.”
She slapped my chest lightly. “Lie.” Then she sighed. “How would Cemetery Lodge have fared without you?”
“Peaceful,” I said. “No mischief.”
She locked her hands around my neck, her eyes on mine. “When I first met you, I didn’t like you. Now I don’t want to leave you.”
She cut me short with a peck on the lips, and buried her face in my shoulder. We held each other tight, very tight; it felt like the last hug, and we didn’t want to let go.
“I will miss you so much.” There were tears in her voice. “When will you leave here?”
“In four days’ time.” I had stayed back to complete the novel draft I’d been struggling with for two years now. Since nothing kills my creativity like travelling in the middle of a project, I had decided not to move an inch until I was done. “I will be coming to Lagos after a few weeks in Anambra,” I added.
This didn’t stop her from crying. She had cried the day Mercy left; she cried when Dayo left.
Your tears will finish, I wanted to tease her, but I couldn’t trust my voice, and the tears in the backyard of my eyes were looking for the tiniest trigger to flood my face with salty sorrow. I remained in her arms now, dumb.
It began to drizzle. The heavens were weeping in solidarity. IBK shook. The drizzle increased in urgency.
“You have to go,” I forced myself to say.
In reply, she gave my neck a tiny bite. She placed her head on my forehead and sighed as she studied my eyes.
“Romeo and Juliet,” the driver called, “abeg e done do.”
With the greatest reluctance, we parted and began to move, arm in arm. I opened the car door. She sat down. She blew me that kiss, coated with tears. I shut the door.
“Don’t let that soup spoil,” she warned as she extended her hand. I pressed it with both of mine.
The engine shot to life. I kissed her hand. The car began to move. I let go. But I was rooted on the spot as the vehicle took my sunlight, my most prized possession away. A beautiful hand waved as the machine gathered speed. I watched, helpless, like an angel stripped of his wings, until the car was out of sight.
Slowly, I walked towards the graves and sat on the three-feet-high cemetery wall. It wasn’t just the pain of losing a woman or a lover. IBK’s departure symbolized every good thing that had happened in my service year. My service year and Cemetery Lodge weren’t perfect, but all the positives were balled up in this beautiful girl I loved passionately, positives that I had now lost forever. Never would the Christian virtues of Dayo, the Jamaican flair of Agu, the pregnant comradeship of Edwin, the loyalty of Mercy, the mixed package of Fatima, Fisayo, Agatha and Tina, the general melodrama of all be gathered under the same roof, the same time. And there would never be a Micah…
The drizzling had turned into a small rain and was fast drenching me. I knew it was time to go, my laptop missed me; sitting under the rain and mourning wouldn’t help me. I rose to my feet. So much pain and nostalgia to nurse, but the only way to survive these was to move forward, and the only way to move forward was to move forward. With the back of my hand, I wiped rain from my eyes and began to move forward.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu