The story in the lips of everyone in the local government area was that a student slapped a corper, and so other corpers grabbed the brat and beat him to unconsciousness. It was an epic story and Memorial was in the middle of it. For once, Cemetery Lodge was cited for something positive. In fact, the story was taken up on WhatsApp and Facebook, and became a statewide story of bravery and comradeship among corps members.
Phone calls poured in severally, and a handful of corps members came to the lodge to congratulate us for holding our headdress high. They assumed I was the ring leader and shook my hand and said, “Guy, you be baba.” I told them Agu was the baba. Then they would shout “Corper Agu!” and knock on his door, but the Jamaican corper wouldn’t budge. I kept telling them not to bother. Agu was here in spirit and in smoke. “Can’t you perceive the smell of his weed?” They would smile and shake my hand again.
I soon got tired of the whole handshake brouhaha. I was sure some of them must have fingered their poisonous nostrils, some might have sneezed phlegm into their palms, and now they wished to use this opportunity to give me germs. I strongly felt like being left alone, but because I didn’t have the rastafarian confidence to shut myself in, I resorted to a trick. When they began the handshake, I would smile apologetically and say, “Sorry, I just came out of the toilet and haven’t washed my hands.”
The person would snatch his hand from mine, squeeze his face and begin to give me a sharp lesson in primary health education. “You should wash your hands first thing after toilet.”
“Yes sir, but we don’t have water.”
“You should get water by all means!”
And then, Micah would excuse himself, go into his room, bury his face in his pillow and die of laughter. He would resurrect after three minutes, wipe his eyes and come out to the veranda and resume his role of future CLO.
Towards evening, the Yoruba teacher of Memorial came to the Cemetery Lodge. She was in her early forties, unmarried and bitter. And she must have been spending half of her salary on her face and body to endeavour to remain in the eighteen yard box of marriage eligibility.
As soon as she entered the lodge, she told us all to pack our immediate needs and leave the lodge.
“Shey you are asking why. You know that the boy gang them plan.”
“What is she saying?” I asked Micah in Hausa.
“They wan burn this lodge,” she cut in heavily.
“Shey you laugh. Shey you know this children are smoke grass.”
I laughed, harder. The woman left, offended.
“That was rude,” Agatha hissed.
Fisayo eyed me. I shook with mirth. But I stopped laughing when I saw my lodge-mates filing their credentials and stuffing small bags.
“Where are you guys going to?”
“I am going to pass the night at Community,” Fatima answered.
“Come on, you don’t mean to tell me you believe that nonsense yarn.”
“I don’t think anything will happen to our lodge,” Tina said, “but I am going to St Thomas for tonight to avoid stories that touch.”
Then Micah came out and began to lock his room.
“Where are you going?”
Micah came closer. He didn’t want eavesdroppers. “Remember that bank babe…”
Of course I did. (I will describe the ‘babe’ and the ‘bank’ later). “What about her?”
“I haven’t seen her for two days now…”
“Guy, forget her, this is the time Mercy needs you most.”
“But Mercy is spending the night with her pastor’s family.”
I felt like crying. “It’s after six. Are you coming back tonight?”
But we both knew he wasn’t coming back tonight.
Next, Edwin came out carrying his phone and charger and hurrying. He smiled apologetically at me. “I need to charge this. I’m expecting one important call like that.”
“But there was light earlier today,” IBK pointed out.
“You don’t know this my phone. It drinks battery like pure water.” Then he turned to me. “If anything happens, call me.”
“Go to hell.”
By the time darkness wrapped the community like a reluctant blanket, there were just me, Uncle Dayo, Agu and IBK in the lodge. IBK’s logic was: “If they try anything, I will make just one phone call and this village would be wiped out from the map.” Brave girl, she had connections, thence cometh her confidence. Uncle Dayo had the Holy Spirit. Agu had the spirit of ganja. What did I have?
Around nine pm, IBK entered my room, carrying her blanket, pillow and a powerful rechargeable lamp. She had obviously lost her confidence and wanted to sleep with company. My heart began beating violently with promise.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“How am I looking at you?” My voice was husky.
“See, I only came here to pass the night. Don’t get any stupid ideas.”
“What stupid ideas?”
“I’m just warning you.” And she passed by me to the desk, where she placed the lamp. The electricity of her presence was so high, it took all of my self-control not to reach out my hands and hug her.
She lay on the bed and drew an invisible line of demarcation. “Don’t cross this line.”
“No one orders me in my room.”
“Which means you will touch me in the middle of the night?”
“I am not responsible for what I do when I am unconscious in the middle of the night.”
IBK eyed me with bright suspicion. “When Gowon was sleeping here, did you touch him?”
“How could I, an bloody ordinary civilian, touch a four-star general?”
“Then I will go and pass the night in Uncle Dayo’s room.”
My heart stopped beating, but I shrugged as she rose to her knees. “Suit yourself. But if you have ever been observant, you would have seen that my heart always leaps with joy whenever I see you.”
IBK laughed. “So you want to toast me?”
I sat on the bed. “Don’t say anything, just listen for a moment. Listen calmly and you will hear my heart whispering your name.”
IBK laughed again. “How cheesy… Where did you get that line, a novel?”
“Yes, I picked it up from the novel I am writing.”
IBK placed a lovely palm on my shoulder. She was so close to me that, for a deceptive second, I thought she would kiss me. “Guy,” she said, “toast me in the morning, you hear? You love me, I love you too, but there’s no need to hurry. Let the relationship start in the morning.” And she blew me her trademark kiss which melted something inside of me, and went to bed.
Duly frustrated, I heaved to my feet and collapsed on the chair beside the desk. With the rechargeable lamp on, I wouldn’t get any sleep anytime soon. And I couldn’t go to bed now that my hands had been officially handcuffed. I was like a man seated by the Atlantic Ocean and dying of thirst. Very unfair.
To kill time, I decided to read some book. The cruel beauty of Conrad’s novel, Lord Jim, would suit me tonight. But when I began searching among my books, I stumbled on my Good News Bible, and a strong spiritual guilt gripped me. I hadn’t touched this Book this month. I resolved to read a few chapters. Who knew, the angel in charge of the Book of Life might be on a night shift.
Just as I settled to read, my phone beeped with a WhatsApp message from Micah. I opened it. ‘1-0′ was all he typed. My nose twitched furiously. Was there a football match on tonight? What was the fool saying? I switched off my phone and returned to the Scripture.
After reading for five minutes or less, I turned and dwelled on IBK. She was lying in glorious serenity, her beauty shining with angelic brightness, charming everything at sight into honouring her. With great effort, I tore my face from her elegance and returned to the word of God. It was a great thing to see that I was indeed growing in faith. The most beautiful corps member in Osun State was lying on my bed, and I was reading the Bible! If this doesn’t get my name in the Book of Life, I reasoned, nothing else will. But God is merciful and I could almost see an angel writing my name in the Book of Life with a golden pen, and thereafter, he brought out a golden stamp and – Gbam! – he stamped my name.
This was how my love story with IBK began.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu