There was this law at the NYSC which they sounded vehemently in the orientation camp: whatever happens to any corps member – accident or illness or some other life threatening malady – never, repeat, NEVER call the corps member’s family. Report to the NYSC, who are your family in your service year, and if need be, NYSC themselves will call the corps member’s family.
It was a cool instruction while we were in the camp, but as soon as we rushed and admitted IBK in an Oshogbo private hospital (government hospitals were on strike), the last thing on our minds was calling the LGI, the ZI or the state coordinator.
I stood in the waiting room, scrolling down IBK’s phonebook for her family’s numbers, while Mercy filled me in on IBK’s family. IBK’s father had married three wives; IBK’s mother was late. She had borne IBK and an older brother, who is in show business or something equally crazy. Their father, a wealthy political contractor was closer to his business than his offspring. Indeed IBK had the man’s number saved as ‘Chief Tobias.’ A man whose daughter saved his number as ‘Chief Tobias’ cannot be the first person you call when the daughter meets with some accident.
I scrolled on. Thankfully, I found her brother’s number saved as ‘My Only Bros.’ I called the number. His background was a racket of music and laughter. It was 8pm and he was probably in some club. I could almost smell alcohol. He was in high spirits, until he heard my voice, and then his voice faltered.
“What has happened to my sister?” There was a plea in his voice.
“She was involved in an accident.”
“Oh Christ! Is she hurt? What kind of accident? Can I talk to her?”
It was touching to hear the anxious voice of a man who loved IBK more than I did, who had loved her all her lifetime.
“You can come see her.”
“When – can I make it this night? Osun is not far from Ibadan, you know.”
“I will suggest early in the morning. Does your blood group match hers?”
“He’s coming?” Micah asked me.
I nodded. There were just three of us in the large, cold hospital waiting room. Mercy’s pastor, who had brought us in his car, had just left. I looked at Mercy, who had resumed crying, softly this time. I felt like crying myself, washing my grief with tears, hiding behind its comfort.
“Mehn, you guys made a big mistake,” Micah said.
I looked at him. He was my closest friend, and yet, even he thought I was responsible for IBK’s pregnancy. But everyone should think so. I had spent so much time in IBK’s company lately. But we mostly played ludo, or I read poems to her, or we just chatted. Most times, I got tentative hugs. Once in a while, I stole shallow kisses. No intimacy beyond that.
“You guys really fall my hand,” Micah added.
I nodded. Explanations wouldn’t change anything. I didn’t have the time, anyway; I was thinking about the whole denouement.
I am a learner, I told myself. I was a small player who had rashly taken on the big leagues and dully got injured. Now I was left alone in the field to nurse my injury. The professional players were gone, and I was here to clear the mess, IBK’s mess, like the bellboy. Of course, I knew IBK was no saint. Before I convinced myself I was in love with her, I had seen her as a runs girl. Micah and I had often referred to her as ‘On the Road Corper’, because of her frequent travels all over Nigeria to see ‘uncles’. When I decided she was the one, I wiped out her past records with sentiment and refused to look too closely at her affairs. So I smiled whenever Edwin sang ‘If corper marry corper, dey go born mumu’ and sang back, ‘If me, I marry IBK, we go born better.’ Yes, I saw IBK as a future wife. And yes, I was a learner.
“Mehn, let’s go into town and take something strong,” Micah cajoled, “something that will redden your eyes and calm your heart.”
I stared at my friend. He was trying to help. But I didn’t see the point. What would happen after my eyes returned to its normal colour? My heart would resume boiling? No friend, this was a cowardly way of solving problems.
“How do you see it?” Micah pushed. “We can get a bottle of Magic Moment.”
I smiled, no bro, I would be sober and make my decisions with white eyes, and hold myself responsible, not Magic Moment, if I took the wrong step. But I didn’t say this aloud. Micah took my silence for what it was and left me alone.
That night, I slept on the bench in the hospital waiting room, and all the witches in Osun State came and tormented me. When I slept, they called with grave dreams. In one, a mob of touts came to me, carrying empty fuel kegs. “Does this place look like a filling station?” I demanded. “We are not here for fuel,” they responded. “We want blood.” “What nonsense are you talking about? Is this a blood bank?” “We want your blood account number,” one of them said and charged at me with a dagger and fuel hose.
I shouted and woke up.
“What’s the matter?” Micah asked.
I ignored him. And I tried not to sleep. But awake, the witches came and pressed me on the bench so hard I couldn’t breathe or kick or shout Jesus. After I surrendered to dying, they released me, and I could almost hear them giggling. I sat up for an incalculable time, but as soon as my back returned to the bench, they returned, all of them, and sat on me. I got mad at this and decided to sleep it away. But with slumber came nightmares.
In the last one, I saw myself in a football field covered up to my ankles with IBK’s blood. I was the goalkeeper and the DG of NYSC was about to take the penalty kick. Suddenly the ball turned into a machine gun. The DG metamorphosed into Chiemeke, who lifted the gun and shot at me. The bullet hit me in the rib and I stamped awake with pain.
“What’s wrong with you?” Micah was angry.
I didn’t respond. It was quarter to four. I decided to walk about the remainder of the morning. It was an evil night.
I was standing in a filling-station-turned-motor-park facing the Old Garage roundabout in Oshogbo. I was waiting for a dark Toyota Corolla from Ibadan driven by IBK’s brother. I was disheveled, like something that you would pick up in the bin. But my mind was too far away to care, even too far away to notice that IBK’s brother had arrived and was now standing before.
I only saw him when he said, “IBK’s colleague?”
I nodded at the tall, slim chap in sleeveless jersey, whose large hair was cut in cute punk Gallas, painted a shiny brown. For a brief moment I thought I was staring at the rapper, Phyno. He extended a hand donned with four big rings.
“I am Breeze.”
We shook hands.
“IBK didn’t tell me she has a musician brother,” I said.
He revealed sparkling white teeth in a lazy laugh. “I’m just a DJ.”
“DJ Lord of the Rings?” I sallied.
He chuckled and slapped my back. “You are funny. No, it’s DJ Breeze, Cool FM. Hey, what happened to my little sis?”
I looked at his car. “I’ll tell you on the way.”
One hour later, I lay on a recliner. DJ Breeze was standing by my side. A needle was stuck in the inside of my elbow, and it was linked to a tube conveying blood into a plastic bag. It didn’t hurt and it was almost romantic looking at the beautiful eyes of the young nurse before me. Gradually, my sight began to dim; the nurse developed two more eyes. I lazily shifted my gaze to my hand. I saw two tubes linked into two elbows, and they were drawing more than blood, they were drawing away my eyes. I shut my eyes quickly. Then I felt my head swim. My heart began beating a mad rhythm, but it seemed so far away, fading, fading, as though the organ was gradually being sucked away through the tube. My liver too, and my kidneys, I felt them leaving my body through my veins, filling the blood bag. A sharp tightening overcame my stomach as my intestines began a painful crawl for the tube.
I was losing consciousness slowly, like the fire in a discarded cigarette end. God please! Thousands of people donate blood every second and go away, bouncing like young goats; DJ Breeze had just donated his share and now stood like a soldier. Why was my own case different? This was so unfair. Chukwu Okike, biko… I began to see clearly the stages of life – a child, a youth corper, a Romeo, a martyr, a fool!
A friendly hand descended on my shoulder. I opened my eyes. DJ Breeze was smiling his encouragement. “Thanks bro.”
I tried to nod, but the effort was too much. I felt light, like a leaf of paper. I recalled a story about a woman who once donated blood, and collapsed as soon as the needle left her body; they quickly returned her blood. Chukwu Okike, would you let this happen to your son?
The needle had been removed and the nurse was cleaning the inside of my elbow with an antiseptic wipe. Then she covered the spot with an adhesive bandage wrap, before giving me a beautiful smile. The smile energized me considerable, even though I had to use IBK’s brother’s hand as support when I sat up and brought my legs down. Then I stood up. It felt like standing on drumsticks, but I remained standing. The Lord of the Rings, his hand around my shoulder, led me out of the modern abattoir to the waiting hall where Mercy waited with the largest Five Alive juice packs I had ever seen. I tried to frown, to hide my happiness, but happiness is like an advanced pregnancy, impossible to conceal. I was happy to be alive, to have Five Alive.
While drinking the juice, I noticed Micah frowning at me. You see, this life is a terrible thing. You go to the land of the death and manage to scratch out with your life, and your best friends hate you for that, because of ordinary juice?
“Mehn, we have bad news o,” he finally said.
“What bad news?”
“Edwin just called. Because of your petition, the LGI has announced that there will be an election on Thursday to elect a new CLO.”
“But that’s good news –”
“We can’t contest for CLO with IBK here,” Micah interrupted.
But I wasn’t listening to the boy. I was conducting a mock election in my head and Micah was humiliating Chiemeke. I burst out laughing.
“What’s the matter with him?” the DJ asked.
Perhaps they thought I was crazy. I simply laughed harder.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu