This has been an especially difficult episode to write. Apart from the delicate content of the story itself, writing it has been somewhat traumatic. Partially because, I wrote quite a bit of it and then lost it all before I could save it. I hope you enjoy it; most of this episode is true, most just not all.
Love is a hurricane, sometimes it will toss you away like a cheap coin and sometimes it will lend you wings to roam the sky.
“I will leave you soon. When I do, keep going”. Those were the mysterious words I uttered to my friends that morning, and my hasty tone made it clear that I would not spare any time to explain.
Ahead of me, a dozen or so feet was a possibility that simultaneously puzzled and pleased my mind. Had I found the match? The answer to my only, lingering camp regret? The reason I’d stalked around with an anxious, lost look; scrutinizing every face I could find, with a growing sense of discontent as the deadline drew nearer. The deadline that was yesterday. Fiyi had been very disappointed.
Was it her?! Had fate brought me a rare second chance, to right a wrong? My feet pulled me nearer and I scrambled to pick an appropriate opener, anything original, and thought-provoking, laced with a bit of humour would do nicely.
I waited until the last possible instant before slipping into her path, armed with a smile and a witty line.
I have heard it said that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. She was not my enemy of course, but before I could befriend her, I would need razor-sharp, split-second analysis to read her signals and guide my words to the right spots. My plan was supposed to ensure that.
It took her less than a second, to slice through it. A glance that reinforced my earlier conclusion that she was reserved, quickly followed by a confused and irritated look. I panicked and improvised, all my careful preparation melting into a meek “Hi”.
My turn, dumb sentence “I think we’ve met before. Do you remember?”
“You? “ She examines me from head to toe “No I don’t think so”.
“Oh? But on the second day….” Don’t worry, I said nothing about how she shone, just where I’d seen her.
“I was very busy that day” she says, slightly shaking her head. Without warning, she goes on the offensive, half-laughing “Do you want something Mr Corper? Is there anything you’d like to tell me? “
Know that feeling after a test where you crashed and burned? It’s not been marked, none of your classmates know what you wrote but you know, you have no doubt that you failed.
It was not going well. I was going to wow her with my smooth talk, sway her with a sophisticated performance…so why was my mouth wide open and my hand covering it, pretending to yawn.
“I want…can I…will you give me your numb…”
She interjected “That was a rhetorical question. I know what you want, and NO, you can’t have it”
“It was worth a try, don’t you think?” I finally found my voice after she turned me down.
Her sly wink was my sole answer, I stood immobile as she floated away, crushing my dream. Luckily, no one seemed to have noticed our exchange.
It was my last chance, but I was outgunned and outmatched without getting off a single ‘hit’.
My friends were long gone and I hurried after them grinning, and forming a single lengthy thought, surprisingly devoid of sorrow – Interesting : to think that I could be so humiliated. I will see.
Fiyi took the news calmly, he didn’t laugh at me, he didn’t mock me. I hooked up with a former flame from my university days and on some evenings, I’d escort her to Mammy Market or to watch shows in the lecture hall.
The shows were better than I expected, actually they were more like competitions between the platoons in Dance, Drama, a short beauty pageant and a bodybuilding contest. My favorites were the Dance and Drama ones. Many of the platoons put up impressive performances and I had an extra reason to enjoy the theatre section: Tanya. She’d said she was a good dancer, and the shows made that plain enough. I’d go to watch her perform, wait till the end to lend moral support and offer praise or light criticism to my friend.
But the one drama I will never forget was not staged by my platoon, it belonged to another. I watched the scenes that night with thrill and the certainty that the memories would be inerasably inscribed in my memory. It was a dazzling Sango performance, executed masterfully. The costumes were appropriate, the lights had been turned off but the real star was Sango himself. Sporting a massive crop of hair, forcefully staggering, leaping and perhaps screaming at unpredictable points: the actor embodied the image of one truly possessed by the ancient dead god.
What is a song without music, or a sun without shine? Even so the portrayal of Sango could not have been mesmerizing or at all captivating without the key, primal element of…fire. The room glittered with light as fire seemingly flowed from his nostrils at predetermined intervals. The supporting actors put up quite a complimentary dance to tell the tale. When it ended, I willingly, immediately rose on my feet to applaud.
My nights were beautiful, and as the end came closer the days became less torturous. The top soldier responsible for my platoon’s matching training suddenly extended a benevolent offer
“If u kno say, u no fit match. Comot go stand for there. No fear” I didn’t move.
“Oya, if u kno say notin do you, but u just still no wan match, u sef comot” That was my cue, several of us moved away with relief out of the sun to comfortable, nearby seats…and that was more or less, the end of matching for me.
Clarion Call would be incomplete if I did not say any more about the hardy men we were entrusted to. A number of experiences stand out but I will start with the one about ‘my friend’. He was nicknamed “No Police Case” because he regularly told us the hopefully false story of how he was the last born of his parents, but his dear mother had simply lived too long and might have been a witch, so he’d kindly killed her, dutifully killed a cow too for her burial too and there was…no police case. It was a shocking story; one that he usually told in matter-of-fact manner with no smiles or hint in his tone that it was a joke. I call him ‘my friend’, because of a talk we had during a long lecture on a hot day, at the topmost part of the hall.
In truth, it was not a private discussion; I was merely one of the other corpers that he had permitted to sit on the steps. We could not hear a word of the ongoing lecture and soon he made a provocative statement followed by a probing, daring question. I responded. He asked another, and a discussion was underway. I asked of his deployments outside the country, and I got a very limited (not surprising) but firsthand account. At the end of the friendly conversation that covered a number of areas, I decided that No Police Case had not really committed the deed he so boldly announced.
And there was this funny encounter I had during another lecture, this time on the parade field. I was ill, and had to leave immediately. As I approached the two soldiers barricading the road with crossed sticks, they hurled insults and threats at me, promising pain if I came closer but I was really sick so I said nothing till I was near enough to talk without raising my voice
“Good Afternoon Sirs. I am in severe physical discomfort and it is most imperative that I reach the medical Centre just ahead of you quickly. I fear the repercussions might be dastardly if I am prevented or delayed”
“Get out of here! We no fit allow anybody pass. Go back”
“I am sorry but this is not possible, please understand my dire predicament”
“You !” One replied “You go read law for school. You be lawyer, na y u come dey disturb us with ur grammar this afternoon abi? You no fit pass! “
My pain was very real. I made an instant ‘u-turn’.
“Oga abeg no vex, lawyer ke? I no be lawyer o. Look me well. How I resemble lawyer? D tin be say, I don sick since before I com camp and d way I dey feel now, e go good if you allow me go see Doctor”
“sho? But this Camp Director woman, they no want make any corper leave this place but you talk say na emergency abi?””
The sticks parted to leave an opening “Oya go quickly, no look back o, just dey go”.
Yep…I couldn’t belive what just happened. Pidgin can be very handy at times.
I went straight to the clinic room in the administrative block. The corper Doctor on duty had an assuring demeanor about him. He seemed to understand my ailment and prescribed a few drugs that I would need to purchase at the pharmacy in Mammy Market.
After I left, I checked in at the Director’s office and met the same woman as before, she informed me that my complaint had been attended to and I would get a response in my hostel soon. I gratefully thanked her. The lecture had finally ended so I headed to Mammy to find the pharmacy and buy the drugs.
At the pharmacy, a sorrowful, heart-breaking scenario was playing out. It was over swiftly but it’s tragic meaning was not lost on me. It haunted me for days and months after. I met a woman cradling a newborn with the dark Pharmacist dressed in ankara; she was trying to persuade him to sell some drugs for her child at a lesser amount but he would not be convinced. She left and he explained to me that her baby had malaria or perhaps it was typhoid and he had discounted a previous sale to her on charitable grounds but could not do so again.
I inquired how much the drugs cost, and was almost knocked to my knees and brought down by tears. “Ëight-hundred” he said. Eight-hundred naira in total, to cure the little baby of a possibly lethal disease, but it was more than its mother could pay. Perhaps the woman would save the money and return later, perhaps something would be done to help her but it was so very sad that a human life containing inestimable potential could be allowed to hinge and dangle on so little as $5.
He furnished me with a brief overview of the local, pharmaceutical industry he’d operated in since he graduated from school, as he searched for the drugs I required. He soon found them, I paid and I left.
Clarion Call 9 will be the last.
Even if I have to write 2,500 words, I will complete it next week. I have never done anything like this (series) and I can’t thank you enough for staying with me since I started, despite my failings.
Last week, I said I might write of “Lovers and Womanisers, Hunters and Predators”. I think I still want to, seems interesting and that could come during the week before the finale of Clarion Call.