Helen had gone back to her school. She stayed a week, but the stay had borne a month hole in my pocket. I owed Micah 3000 naira, IBK 12,000 naira, my personal okada rider 2000 naira for a thousand trips to and fro Ikirun, and Agu one thousand naira for working a miracle on the toilet. Total debt – 18, 000 naira. My monthly allowance – 19, 800 naira. This meant that as soon as I paid my debt, I would have less than 2, 000 naira for the whole month.
But I wouldn’t pay back all the money this month. No, I dared not. I would only pay my okada man, and half of what I owed IBK. If Agu complained, I would ask him to sue; the toilet served Queen Helen, and now served everyone. So why should I pay for it? Micah and IBK might not like this, but I would only apologise. They might say I’d blocked the road for tomorrow. I would say ‘whatever’, because I knew there couldn’t be a tomorrow. If anyone called me and said, “Shey you are serving in Osun?” I would say, “No, I have been redeployed to Borno State, Sambisa Local Government.”
Helen had come and gone, and I was counting my losses and sipping my garri one by one. I remember when we arrived here as Otondo Corpers, how we all boasted about saving 150,000 naira at the end of our service year. But as soon as NYSC blood money began to hit our accounts, we knew better. Nearly half-way into my service year, and I already owed an amount which I would only settle in two months’ time.
God, help your boys!
What if at the end of it all, I saved no kobo and had to hitch a ride home, and stay for months without job, what would I do? Return to asking papa for recharge card money?
My personal debt aside, there are official debts on my head. I owed N2, 000 for NCCF shirt and N1, 000 naira for the welcoming of Batch C corps members presently in camp. There was also the money we paid monthly in our respective CDS groups (used for one useless project or the other) of which I d four months. And don’t forget your tithe; God bless you (and bless you too).
Now, there was this one they called Capitulation at NCCF. This was the donating one full month allowance to God. As we had actually ten working months, and earned nearly 20, 000 naira a month, the payment could be spread over the months, 2, 400 naira per month. Dayo had mentioned this to me and I told him I would seek the face of God first. One good thing about NCCF issues was that nothing was compulsory. People like Agu and Micah hadn’t paid one naira to the NCCF. But of course, they were sinners, and hell-bound. Me, I would not relent. Who knows, the angel in charge of the Book of Life might just pity me and write my name there. With pencil. I don’t mind. Or he would write the name in the NNPC pay list. With pen, of course.
Even though we all knew that any money required from us at NYSC was compulsory, people like me wouldn’t stop kicking whenever dues were mentioned for payment. When the Welcome Committee announced 1, 000 naira, I rose to my feet and spoke glowingly about the beautiful concept of brotherhood, youthful elevated sentiment and gracious hospitality. Then I suggested that the money shouldn’t be made compulsory, it should be opened for free will donation, as people like me could donate as high as 3, 000 naira. The whole corps members clapped, the committee thanked me and said the 1, 000 naira remained, but they would appreciate it if I gave my 3, 000 naira. I sat down, smiling sheepishly, whilst cussing them inside.
Everyone was mad at me when they discovered the principal’s death was a prank. But because they didn’t want to embarrass me while Helen was around, they kept their displeasure bottled up. Edwin had called the principal, but the number didn’t go through. We later learned that the poor man was in Saudi Arabia, performing Hajj. “Is Facebook allowed in Mecca?” I overheard Edwin asking Micah.
Edwin still nursed serious grudges. I am not afraid of him. He cannot do me harm, although the other night, I dreamed he was pricing an AK47 rifle. When I woke up, I fasted six to six.
On the issue of Agu’s pregnant girl, well, I played detective and found out she had run with her pregnancy to Ilesha. I even got a phone number of an aunt. When I get paid, I’d go to Ilesha and bring Jumoke back, so Agu would do the honourable thing. When we came here, the traditional ruler had warned all corps members against putting babies inside their girls. Anyone who disobeyed this would marry the girl or face the wrath of his highness. As a law-abiding corps member, I would ensure that the girl returned to marry Agu. I would be the best man and it would be the happiest day of my life. Agu weds Jumoke. I couldn’t wait.
Meanwhile, the day of the welcoming of Batch C met me in the zenith of my biting poverty. My head was bushy as I didn’t want to get it cut on loan, and I was so thin, since as you know, there is nothing glorious about soaked garri and sugar. I didn’t even want to attend the welcome ceremony at the oba’s palace, but Micah wouldn’t hear of it. Pretty girls would be posted to our PPA, and we had to catch them young – or early, I wasn’t sure which. So he put on a smart shirt well-tucked-in, with shining shoes. I just put on my cap to hide my bushy hair and a long-sleeved shirt to cover the veins that littered my hands like iroko roots. In spite of me, first impressions mattered.
When we reached the venue, the corps members were already there. There were five of them posted to our school and all of them were men. Not one lady. And of the entire twenty-something corps members posted to the village, there were eleven girls and, to quote Micah, only two or three of them would pass in a crowd. I tried to mingle with the testosterone group sent to my PPA and discovered that none of them studied English, none graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, and none of them was from the South East. I hurried up with my rice and Fanta Pineapple, before proceeding to sneak out of the place.
I hadn’t gone far when Dayo called me on my phone.
“Where are you?” he demanded.
“I am going home –”
“Why? Don’t you know that one of them will stay with you?”
“I think –”
But the call had ended. I dragged myself back to the oba’s palace. I saw Dayo in front of the hall with a short, hefty fellow who could only be in his late thirties, standing by him. Why do old men insist on participating in NYSC? I fumed, prepared to dislike the guy.
“This is Corper Kings,” Dayo said.
I extended my hand, a false smile playing on my face.
“Kings, this is Gowon,” Dayo said again.
The smile disappeared from my face like a scrubbed spit. Gowon! The same Gowon who fought my people in the civil war? Oh no! There was no way I would take a Gowon home. But Dayo was looking at me, daring me to say so. To hide my evil intent, I bent down and picked up General Gowon’s bag and quickly turned to go.
Gowon hurried after me, waiting till he was walking beside me before he said, “Dayo say you are speak Hausa.”
Bad grammar, I almost said out loud, but I managed to keep my mouth shut.
“You are speak Hausa now?” he pushed.
“Look, let’s hurry up,” I said with a near-snap. “The place is far.”
“Maybe we should climb bike,” he suggested.
“No, we will take helicopter,” I returned.
Micah and I were squatting in the bush, tissue papers in our hands. We were a few metres apart and as it was dark, we couldn’t see each other. But we could hear each other and feel the frustration in the air. Micah was really aching over the absence of the fairer sex in our PPA. He kept hissing like a snake. I told him to stop so that we would know when the real snake arrived. He hissed again.
“That corper staying with me is a nonsense guy,” he complained for what could have being the umpteenth time.
“What did he do?” I asked.
And he hissed in response. If he was hosting a female corper, she wouldn’t be nonsense.
“What will our guests eat tonight?” I asked.
“Do I know?” was his reply.
“I have garri,” I said. “What of you?”
“I have sugar,” he said.
“Twenty naira for groundnut,” he said.
I sighed when I realised where his answers were leading to. “See, man,” I said, “we can’t give our guests soaked garri for dinner.”
“We can only give them what we have. You have garri, what were you expecting me to have – egusi or ogbono soup for eba?”
I sighed. Micah was sounding like me and I was playing his role.
“See,” Micah continued, “we can only love our neighbours like ourselves, not more than ourselves. You taught me that. And moreover we are better than Agu who would probably feed his guest marijuana.”
I laughed. “The corper I pity most is the one staying with Edwin. If Edwin and his six months pregnancy mistakenly lie down on his body, the guy is dead.”
Micah chuckled as he began making out of the bush. I hurried up with my excretion and joined him on the pathway.
As we walked home, my conscience kept flogging me. New corps members, fresh from twenty-one days in the hell called camp, kept under our guidance for few days – and we feed them with soaked garri the first opportunity we had. I could imagine what Uncle Dayo would say if he heard that we fed our guests garri. He might say, “Haven’t you read about it? On the last day, God will tell you, ‘I was a Corper and hungry, and you gave me garri soaked in water!’”
That judgment day, phew, would be terrible. Terrible. Personally, I don’t think the likes of Agu should be judged. They should just proceed to hell with a wrap of weed in the corner of their mouths. But God wouldn’t send anybody to hell without a fair hearing. And these hearings would take a heck lot of time. To save time, I believe God would have to create two judgment lines—one for corps members and the other for normal human beings.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu, and blogs at kingkingsley.wordpress.com