Saturday, May 2, 2015

Preview: Twenty-One Days Post #1

Copyright © 2015 C. M. Okonkwo

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

DISCLAIMER

Although inspired by real locations, activities, programmes and schedules, all events and characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living, dead, undead, in the before-life or in the after-life, will be deemed a compliment of the author’s genius.

***   
PRELUDE: Welcome home

Oluomachukwu had vowed to never serve Nigeria by registering for the National Youth Service Corps — NYSC — scheme, which many Nigerian youths had tagged as ‘Now Your Suffering Commences’ or ‘Now Your Suffering Continues’ depending on if the youth was already suffering or was yet to suffer before the scheme.

The few things she had heard about the NYSC scheme were negative. Not even one good comment, one positive feedback or one nice story; not one exciting experience.

However, many years later, as if she had forgotten her vow or she had suddenly gotten amnesia, Oluomachukwu woke up one Saturday morning, and as she lay on her bed, in her bedroom in central London, she decided she would do the NYSC programme, if not for anything, but for the experience... an experience of camping out in a community similar to a boarding school.

She went online immediately and researched on the programme, grateful that the NYSC had a website that was functional and was regularly updated. She saw that foreign-trained Nigerian students had to set up an account first to upload all their credentials and biometric data information before going to the NYSC Head Office at the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja, Nigeria, for verification of the credentials. Oluomachukwu wondered why foreign-trained students had to travel to Abuja for such procedure, and not to their respective State of residence — Lagos State in her case. Only locally-trained Nigerian students had that privilege. Oluomachukwu wasn’t really bothered about it. It was going to be an opportunity for her to visit and know Abuja.

When she talked to her mother about the decision in London, her mother was surprised, or rather shocked, and wondered why she wanted to quit her nice job in the UK for something as ordinary as the NYSC programme. Her mother might have even blamed the impulsive decision on her enemies back in the village or even on native charms, Oluomachukwu wasn’t sure. Anyway, she regarded all the negative comments as a sign to follow her heart. Although people saw the NYSC programme as banal, she didn’t. She wanted to decide for herself.

Oluomachukwu didn’t have a lot of friends, but the few she had strongly discouraged her from signing up for the scheme. They shared their own experiences and also sent her links online where people complained about their terrible experiences in camp — how their personal effects and cash were stolen; soldier brutality; falling ill and every other terrible thing that could go wrong.

Oluomachukwu could have listened to them, cancelled her ticket and called her ex-boss to ask for her job back, but she didn’t. She reasoned that if her friends had already done the programme and survived it, then she, too, was capable of doing the same.

As she packed her bags for Nigeria, she wondered what could be tough about spending twenty-one days in a camp with other graduates, young or old, male and female; what could be tough about waking up by 4:00am and going through vigorous physical activities and drills under the sun and in the rain, under the glaring eyes of army officers trained to instil discipline in a bunch of assumed youths.

Oluomachukwu smiled. Nothing could be tough about finally going to serve her country, even after staying away for basically all her life.

The experience was all that mattered.

***

Oluomachukwu landed safely in Murtala Muhammed International Airport, in Lagos, and felt the heat sting her as though she had just been dropped inside an empty pan that had been placed on an open fire. Given the duration of time she had spent out of Nigeria for her primary, high school and university studies, coming back home felt like she was visiting a foreign land.

The flight had gone smoothly, mostly because she had been asleep all through, only waking up once to eat, and then another time to use the lavatory before drinking a mini bottle of Irish cream she had gotten off an airhostess. She backed it up with two other small bottles of Martini Bianco, then nodded off after that until the plane landed.

At first when she woke up, she was both shocked and embarrassed at the same time. Someone had tapped her on the shoulder to let her know that the plane had touched down. Even the forceful landing of the aircraft hadn’t moved her. The clapping and singing by other passengers to celebrate their safe landing hadn’t come close to stirring her. The pilot’s several announcements must have been like sweet music to her ears, because they didn’t wake her up either.

Because of the way people rushed and didn’t want anyone to join the line in front of them, Oluomachukwu had to wait on her seat for everyone to leave the plane before she pulled out her hand luggage from the overhead compartment. That way she didn’t hit anyone with it.

However, sitting and waiting for others to leave hadn’t been the best idea, because her head bounced from left to right as she fell asleep every little occasion she had. She was thankful that she didn’t know anyone on the plane and it was the only reason why she wasn’t really bothered.

But in order to curb her embarrassing sleep-nodding episode, she decided to stand up instead and wait for every passenger, before preparing to go out and breathe in the stale, hot air of Lagos State.

When Oluomachukwu got to the immigration point, she saw a queue of people in about six lines, which should have only been one line. There were two main immigration points — one for Nigerian passport-holders and the other for foreign passport-holders. The line for foreign passport-holders was empty, but the officer there didn’t call for people from the overcrowded Nigerian passport-holders line. Maybe he felt that it wasn’t his problem, he had been assigned to one desk, so he preferred to sit there idly. It was somewhat obvious that the officer was bored, because sometimes he glanced at his cell phone and other times he glared at the people as they were called to present their passports to the officers that checked Nigerian passports.

The idle officer would look at the confused faces of the people that were called, then at their backs, and finally, at their buttocks.

Oluomachukwu spent about two hours on the queue and when she finally got to the counter, the immigration officer made her wait until everyone had left, because she still used the old Nigerian passport and not the biometric passport. After threatening to send her back to the UK, the immigration officer finally let her go. He might have been expecting some sort of bribe, Oluomachukwu didn’t know, but what she did know was that she wasn’t going to give him anything.

When Oluomachukwu finally got to the arrival lobby, her family friend, Okechukwu, had been waiting for her for hours. He had gotten to the airport very early to avoid the long hours of Lagos traffic and had regretted doing that. His anger vanished when he saw her, having not seen her in years. He opened the trunk of his car and loaded her three suitcases — two massive bags that felt as though they weighed a hundred kilograms each and an equally very heavy hand luggage that could pass for a regular luggage.

Okechukwu wasn’t surprised when Oluomachukwu mentioned that an airline staff almost collected the hand luggage from her while boarding the plane to check it in. It was too big and clearly too heavy for the overhead locker, and the flight was a full one. Everyone seemed to be going to Lagos, and flights to Lagos were always jam-packed, so it wasn’t that surprising.

When they both entered the car Okechukwu closed the door and smiled at Oluomachukwu. He pulled her close and hugged her tightly. “Welcome home,” he said.

Oluomachukwu smiled back at him, but she wished he hadn’t gotten so close. The first and most important thing she remembered about him was the crush he had on her, from their high school days up until about two years ago. She had fancied him too, but not enough to want to date him; she had no idea why she didn’t want to date him.

As soon as she fastened her seatbelt, Okechukwu drove off before the airport army security officer that had been intimidating people at the airport had the opportunity to flex his muscles with them.   They got to Okechukwu’s house after a few hours, had dinner and had a few too many drinks before they called it a night.

*****