It all started with a stupid, devilish dream. In that dream, I was packing shit from a busted soak-away, dressed in the full NYSC ceremonious wear—the crested vest and khaki trousers over jungle boots. I was scooping black watery shit with a spoon and dishing it into a bucket. And humming happily as I did this.
When I woke up, my body was covered with ominous sweat and my belly was full of forebodings. The first thing I decided to do was pray. Bind and cast the principalities of my nightmare away. But before I prayed, I decided to check Facebook in my phone. I had so many notifications to attend to, and soon I was lost in the web of blog links. Time flew unnoticed until my 7.45 alarm struck and I ran to the bathroom.
That was how I left for the day without praying against the evil in stock for me. And today turned out to be the ugliest day in the history of my NYSC.
My PPA is a wailing secondary school, a five-minute quick-walk from the lodge. I finished dressing up by 8.05 and was in the vice principal’s office before the 8.15 deadline to sign in. At the door of the office, I collided with Corper Agatha and she dropped the book she was holding. Agatha is a smallish, pretty girl whose ears are in perpetual earphone imprisonment. She is not my friend; she is not my enemy.
“Sorry,” I said as I picked up the book. I didn’t know that Agatha ever read books. It was John Gray’s What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You And Your Father Didn’t Know. John Gray authored Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a book I like so much, so I took interest in this book. “May I borrow the book?”
“Not now, I want to send somebody something from the book. Come in fifteen minutes time.”
There were two staff rooms in the school. One was occupied by just corps members; Agatha, Agu and seven others use this as office. Myself, Micah and Edwin share space with the permanent teachers in the main staff room. Against my better judgment, I followed Agatha to their staff room to say hi to the other federal servants. Agu and Corpers Dayo and IBK were not around. Corper Tina, a slim, fair, tall one asked me if I had small notes to change her one thousand naira note.
I laughed. “I am broke into pieces. Twenty naira is my last card sef.”
“Poor boy,” they teased me.
“Not my fault. As small as I am, both Federal and State Governments are owing me.”
I told Agatha I would come back for the book in fifteen minutes time, and she nodded. “The book will be on this desk in case you don’t meet me in here,” she said.
Outside, my mind flashed back to my shit-packing nightmare, but I shrugged it off. It’s nothing, I told myself. Nothing will happen.
Two dirty SS2 students were waiting for me in front of my staff room. “Sir, we have English now.”
“Is that the good morning you are supposed to say?”
“Good morning, sir.”
Because of the book I planned to read, I told them I was indisposed; we would have English during Literature period, since we didn’t have the latest syllabus Literature textbook. They left. In the staff room, the permanent staffers were talking about their unpaid salaries for three months now. They said everything in raucous Yoruba which made it impossible for me to have peace of mind here, so I got out of the room.
“The book is on the table,” Agatha called as she descended from the stairs of her staff room opposite ours.
Thank God. I rushed to their staff room and was surprised to see the room empty. Every corps member was in class teaching, except me. I felt a stink of guilt but I quickly brushed it away. There was a black hand-bag, dirty notebooks, dog-eared textbooks and John Gray on the desk Agatha shared with Corper Fisayo, whom we called BBC for the vigour she brings to the art of quarrelling. No use going back to my circus staff room; I settled down before the desk and opened the John Gray.
After nearly thirty minutes of reading, I discovered that the book was a sweetly-written call-and-response commentary that would turn everyone who followed it into a breathing robot. I slammed it shut and stood up. I met Tina and Fisayo at the door and Tina called me poor boy. I leered at her back.
Then it happened.
Just before I entered my office, Tina caught up with me and asked breathlessly, “Please o, did you help us see any money in Fisayo’s hand bag?”
“What nonsense money?” I flared.
“Fisayo had six thousand naira in her handbag when we left for class.”
“And why are you asking me?”
“Because you were the last one in my desk,” Fisayo shot in. She was approaching us.
“So that makes me a thief?”
Corper Edwin came out of the staff room and joined us. “What’s the matter?”
“Tell him to give me my money,” Fisayo said, her long lips threatening to kiss her forehead.
I wanted to slap her dark pimpled face, but I managed to keep my cool as Tina explained things to Edwin. Agu and Micah joined us.
“What is it?” Micah asked me in Hausa.
I told him that ‘yen iska mata nnan’ were accusing me of stealing their money because I was reading on their desk.
Micah hissed. “You people should better go and look for your useless money,” he said.
“Micah stay out of this,” Fisayo warned.
“Go to hell!” he retorted.
Agatha joined us. Some permanent staff members came out to enquire what the altercation was. Micah and I walked away; we stopped before the bench under the rows of cashew trees in the middle of the school. I sat down, fuming while Micah hovered about, cussing. We watched as Fisayo explained to the teachers in Yoruba how I took her money.
Agu and Edwin approached us. Agu said, “Guy man, if you know say you take their money abeg just bone, return am; thief man no be work.”
“It is your father who is a thief,” I lashed out.
Agu rushed towards me but Edwin blocked him.
“Thunder fire you!” Agu fumed.
And Micah unlaced his belt for Agu, but I stopped him. “The guy is looking for who go kill am,” I told Micah.
In the distance, Fisayo was telling the vice principal and the English HOD about me and her money. We don’t call her BBC for nothing. At this moment, I would have given anything to lay my hands on her neck… I sighed with frustration.
Edwin came and drew me aside. He began talking to me in bad Igbo. “Nna, we all know that we are broke… And no one is beyond mistake… Erm, see those girls are lousy. Don’t have anything to do with them… So if you saw their money just… erm…”
I walked away from him.
I was lying on my bed, reliving the madness of the morning and hating myself. If only I didn’t care about reading John Gray… If only I went to class to teach English when those students called me… If only I came to school one minute earlier or one minute later, I wouldn’t have met Agatha and the book… If only I didn’t confess to been broke… If only I remained in my staff room and browsed on my phone… If only I stayed at home and damned school today….
So many ‘if onlys’… Too late. Now everyone thought me a thief. Even Micah might think me a thief too; he defended me, yes, but that was more out of friendship than out of belief in my innocence. It was blind loyalty among friends that we northern-raised knew so well. I turned on the other side of the bed and sighed. God, why?
Someone knocked at my door.
“It’s me.” Corper Dayo. The NCCF uncle of our local government. A lodge mate.
I opened the door for him. He wasn’t in school during the lost money fiasco, and he could take my side. Dayo is a good guy; his only problem is that he is too churchy. Micah once said Dayo carries National Christian Corpers Fellowship on his head.
“Man, what happened?”
“I didn’t take their stupid money,” I said.
“If your conscience is clear, you should fear no accusation.”
I sighed. How I wished I could wear my conscience on my sleeves to CDS meetings, to NCCF gatherings, to school, to the market, to the pitch, to sign my PV… God, why? I slumped on my mattress. Would I ever show my face where NYSC is mentioned?
“Those girls are saying you people will go to a native doctor and see who took the money,” Uncle said. “But don’t go anywhere. You are a child of God. Let your yes be your yes. Don’t go near anything fetish.”
I stamped to my feet. Here was an opportunity to clear my name. What was this pastor saying?
“Remember you are a child of God,” Uncle insisted.
Micah later came in after Dayo left and urged me to go. “We are sinners already; one more sin won’t kill us.”
I bought the logic.
All the corps members in the lodge except Dayo made for the native doctor’s house up village. I would go anywhere to clear my name.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu, and blogs at kingkingsley.wordpress.com