Previously on Corper’s Lodge…
I sat with one buttock in the middle row of an overcrowded classroom full of corps members, fighting to remain awake without forfeiting my sanity. It was the third and final day of a most tasking INEC ad hoc staff training. Today, boredom stood in the stuffy room like a malicious debtor. There were five classrooms in all and I was (un)lucky to be in a classroom full of Batch C corps members, mostly from our rival CDS Area. The facilitator, a tall fellow whose head was buried in a flat cap and eyes hidden behind moon-shaped goggles, babbled on, his voice hitting my body like blows, weakening me, dragging me to oblivion, though it sounded like a cry from the neighbouring village.
The more I fought sleep, the more the lecturer rambled, discussing RAC Centre, accreditation, authentication, collation, Form EC1A, Form EC17, Envelope EC 50B, Envelope EC 50F, Envelope this, Form that… And some corps members were taking notes!
Nonsense! I wouldn’t bother my brain with the cramming of hundreds of forms. On the Election Day, which was a week away, I would take the manual with me to the polling unit. Let these fools cram their heads off. I had more important things on my mind. I was too busy moping. Why would INEC fix election on Valentine’s Day, the day I’d set aside to go on one knee and ask IBK to marry me? It must be pure jealousy on Jega’s part. Otherwise –
I looked up. Who? The lecturer was referring to me. The whole class was staring at me. My heart lurched.
“You are sleeping,” he accused.
“God forbid,” I countered.
I stood up.
Was that all?
“Tell us the use of Form EC 25A.”
My heart stopped beating and saliva dried off my mouth. I felt confidence leaving me like anxious smoke. I was hearing of this form for the first time. What on earth was it? How was I supposed to know?
“We are waiting for you.” The man turned the pressure on.
I cleared my throat. “Form E6…”
“It’s Form EC, not E6,” interrupted a skinny yellow girl, and the class roared with laughter.
I was humiliated. My face was a burning beef.
“Form EC 25A,” the man chuckled. “He was sleeping all through. We are waiting for you, oremi.”
“I will tell you about Form EC 25, but I won’t stand here while some little girl that resembles fine art drawing insults me, before I do something that Oshogbo…”
My voice was quickly drowned in a mass of challenges, protests, abuses and counter-abuses between the know-alls and the small vociferous know-nots. A cow even charged towards me and was held back.
It took more than four minutes for order to be restored.
“We are not here to quarrel,” the coordinator said, his nose red with suppressed frustration. “All of you are corps members. There is no seniority here, abeg.” He turned to me. “Calm down, calm down. Now, tell us the use of Form EC 25A?”
I fixed my eyes on the fool who’d dared to come after me. “Thank you sir, I will answer your question, but some of these corps members mobilized from Oshodi Motor-park should grow up because…”
My last words were consumed in a frenzy that lasted for nearly a quarter of an hour. Two corps members nearly (or pretended—to impress the girls, what else?) came to blows. When order was finally restored, Form EC 25A was forgotten.
Around two o’clock, the lecture went on recess. I hurried out. I was looking for the Local Government inspector. I had a petition for her. I saw the woman leaning on her joy-and-sorrow car; she was hiding behind dark glasses and half her face was covered with her Chinese phone, so I couldn’t tell if she was in a good mood or not. But I wouldn’t be held ransom by her mood, like yesterday and the day before. It might be easier to see one naira equal one dollar than see this lioness in a truly approachable mood.
“Good afternoon, Mummy.” I flashed my bravest smile.
She lowered the phone, and lifted her brow, yes?
I gave her the thick file envelope I was holding very respectfully, as respectful as I could be.
Her forehead crowded with suspicion as she tore the envelope and brought out the sheaf of papers. “What is this?” She counted the papers—17 pages. She began to read.
‘PETITION ON THE INDENPING CRISIS OVER THE APPOINTMENT OF CLO
Copied to: NYSC Ikirun Zonal Inspector,
NYSC Osun State Coordinator
Osun State Commissioner of Police
AIG of Police in Charge of Zone 4
His Excellency, the Governor of Osun State
Director-General NYSC –
The LGI went mad. “Are you mad?”
“I beg your pardon –”
“Beg me nothing, you fool! How dare you copy this letter to the governor and the police? Are you crazy! With this CLO matter, am I not in charge? How dare you insult my office?”
“Shut up, you nonentity!”
The whole local government of corps members, plus the non-corps members, would-be ad hoc staff, INEC personnel and hawkers were watching the movie featuring the LGI as the actor and I, the boss and villain. IBK, my IBK, she shouldn’t see this!
“Seventeen pages of petition, what nonsense! Why didn’t you write a textbook and copy it to the President and commander in chief? Get out of my presence! Petition ni, copied to ko!”
I was thoroughly humiliated. And if it were possible, I’d have asked God to take me home at once, just let me go home and sit at the right hand of my Father. But it wasn’t possible. I obviously had work to do for God on earth. So gathering all my strength with the arrogant determination of eyes that rarely cry, I began to walk away. I was now certain Micah wouldn’t smell the CLOship.
As soon as I came down from the motorcycle, I made straight to the bush beside Cemetery Lodge to pee. The eternal humiliation of the day must have made me ill because my urine was the colour of unripe mango juice.
I heard a sound which intruded on my humiliation. I looked up. A boy of twelve or thirteen was squatted in the bush, chuckling at me. How dare he see my manhood? How dare he shit in my backyard? Violent anger came rushing into my head until I was dizzy with murderous rage. In this boy, I saw the imp that had engineered my woes throughout today.
I grabbed a stick and lurched at him. He stood up, mid-shit and fled. I chased after him. The boy had the body of an eight year old plus an extensive bow-legs; it would only be a matter of seconds before I caught up with him and beat the daylight into his ancestral darkness.
But hard as I ran, I couldn’t breach the five feet advantage the boy had at the commencement of our bush Olympic. I summoned more speed power, tearing through the bush like a mower. Thorny leaves scratched at my naked arms and face. I cared little for that. Soon I would get the reward of my labour.
Suddenly the boy snapped into the bush by his right. This caught me unawares and I only stopped after a few paces more. By the time I joined the boy in his track, he was eight feet ahead.
A burst of energy saw me reduce this gap within seconds. But when I got an arm’s length from him, he suddenly jumped to the left and I sped past like an express train. When I retraced my steps, he had gained another eight feet advantage. I chased. My chest and belly, not used to Usain Bolt, protested. I ignored them. But my speed had slackened so much, I couldn’t gain on the brat. I ran on, I would beat him on the endurance track.
Gradually, anger gave way to common sense. I began to see the picture clearly – two mad boys running in the Osun jungle, happily grazing the grass of idiocy. For all I knew, we might have crossed the border to Ekiti State.
But I couldn’t bring myself to give up on the chase. How could I, a graduate, in the ripe side of twenties, fit, in jungle boots, chase a malnourished boy with bow-legs and barefooted, and fail to catch him. Even if we cross the border into Togo, I would not give up–
My foot hooked into a ringed thickset of dry grass. I shot six feet above the earth and crashed my chest on the ground. I lay where I fell, philosophically still, breathing through the mouth like a dog on heat. Slowly I decided today was a day made in purgatory and handed out by Sisyphus himself. I picked myself up and made for the lodge where a major shock was waiting for me.
I saw Mercy and Micah still dressed in their NYSC regalia sitting in the veranda.
“Where went you?” Micah asked. As I don’t respond to silly questions, I kept quiet. I made to pass them. “We thought you were in IBK’s room with her.”
My nose reacted furiously. Why was Micah always tormenting me with IBK? Last week, he said that IBK might be pregnant because Mercy told him she was vomiting. Then yesterday, he said that IBK might be heartbroken as Mercy reported that she had been weeping all night. What had I done to Micah? Was it a crime to love my neighbour as myself? I decided to tell him my mind.
But Mercy’s words stopped me cold. “IBK didn’t attend today’s training. She was crying when I left her in the morning. Now she has locked herself inside and won’t open the door to my knocks…”
“And her phone’s been ringing out to our hearing, but she won’t pick up,” Micah added.
My stomach turned cold with intense foreboding. I rushed to the door of the room IBK shared with Mercy. I slapped at the door twice. “Babe… Honey?” I called.
There was no response. I hit harder.
When she didn’t respond, I slammed the door with an angry shoulder.
“What are you doing?” Micah demanded.
I slammed the door again.
“Stop it na!” Mercy cried.
I slammed again. The door protested violently but held.
Mercy grabbed my hand. “You can’t do this!”
“Don’t touch me again,” I hissed at her.
Other corpers had begun to gather.
“What’s happening here?” Agu asked.
I didn’t have time for any rastafarian this moment, and then, upon a second thought, I turned to him. “I need you to help me break this door.”
“You can’t break our door just like that!” Mercy shrieked in protest.
“Agu’m,” I spoke softly to him in the Onitsha dialect he loved so much, “break the door. I will take the blame.”
Agu took two steps back, then charged with brute force and smashed his sole on the door. It instantly crashed open.
I stepped in and my life hit an evil fence. Lying on the floor was an unconscious IBK. Her skirt, legs and the floor around her feet were covered with a thick pool of blood. I grabbed at the fridge by the door to keep my giddy balance.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu