Saturday, June 27, 2015

Preview: Twenty-One Days Post #9

CHAPTER EIGHT: Day four

Friday, 8th August 2014

The day after the Swearing-in Ceremony wasn’t like the other days. The youths in the camp had passed from prospective Corps members to full Corps members. The Camp Director preferred the appropriate term, which was ‘Corps member,’ and not ‘corper.’ But it seemed like she was the only one in the whole of Nigeria who used the former. Corps members had sworn the Oath of Allegiance and vowed to abide by all NYSC rules, which included discipline at the highest level. Any form of insubordination or disobedience was punishable by being decamped and probably missing out on the whole NYSC programme and returning a year later if allowed.

After all the camp training — exercise, drills and man-o-war — Corps members were expected to receive, they were supposed to be able to invade the North, and if a war was to break out, they would be conscripted, male and female alike. Oluomachukwu laughed at the thought of it.

Oluomachukwu didn’t want to get up that morning and report to the parade ground for anything. She was not feeling too well. In fact, she hadn’t been feeling too well right from the second day in camp. She didn’t know if it was the stress, the fact that she hadn’t eaten, the dirt that enveloped the camp or the drinking water that was sold in the camp market. Something was making her sick and she hoped it wasn’t malaria. Her surprise meeting with Kayode had also rattled a lot in her and given her mixed feelings of sadness, anger and guilt, which compounded the way she was feeling at that instant. She picked up the phone and called Okechukwu, but he didn’t answer. She knew he was still in bed, so she sent him a message just to check up on him.

As she lay on her narrow and barely long mattress, she continued to think about Kayode and wondered why he was in the camp. She felt that she should have waited and heard him out, but the way he grabbed her arm scared her. If she had considered listening to him, she changed her mind instantly because of his gesture. When she was even coming back to her room, she had bumped into Dunsin who was going out, and didn’t apologise to her. She didn’t actually like Dunsin, and didn’t still know why.

A few minutes later into her thoughts, Oluomachukwu heard the sound of the bugle, it got more annoying by each passing day. She covered her ears with her hands. About fifteen of the twenty-six girls in her room had already dressed in all white — whether they took their baths or not, Oluomachukwu didn’t know. She just wished that they would shut their mouths and turn off the light, the only light in the room, so that she could go back to sleep.

Oluomachukwu managed to stay back in her bed while the others had already scuttled off, afraid of what would happen if the female soldiers found them in the room. She didn’t care, she slept for another hour until she heard a loud voice. Someone had barged into the room, yelling like there was a fire or even a riot happening. It was a security officer from the Nigerian Police Force, dressed in a black skirt uniform, and welding an iron rod she used to hit the edges of the iron bedposts causing an unbearable noise.

“My friend, stand up,” the woman yelled. “Before the count of three I do not want to see anyone lying down on the bed.”

Oluomachukwu sat up and tried to talk to the officer.

The officer raised her hand. “I do not want to hear anything. You have no business speaking to me dressed that way.” She then looked up and saw Ijeoma climbing down from the bunk. “Ehen, she, I can talk to because she is properly dressed.”

Oluomachukwu had her pyjamas on. She looked at Ijeoma. Ijeoma was dressed in her white shirt and shorts. She looked at the bunk opposite her and didn’t see Nkiru. She hadn’t seen Nkiru the night before and wondered if Nkiru was truly in her room or even in her platoon.“

I can listen to her, but it doesn’t mean I’m interested in her reason for staying back when others are out on the parade ground,” the security officer added.

Oluomachukwu tried to speak again, but she couldn’t hear her voice. She was starting to get sore throat, so she knew it was definitely the water. She told the officer that she wasn’t feeling too well, but the officer shook her head and asked her to get dressed and go to the clinic.

Some girls were still on their beds, probably waiting for the officer to leave so that they would continue to bask in their sweet sleep, but the officer used the iron rod to make louder and more annoying gong sounds on the bed. It was then that Oluomachukwu noticed Oghene.

Oghene hissed and repeated the same words she had said on the first day in camp, “I can’t suffer here.” She had the look of someone who had a plan and who was going to do everything to make the plan work.

The officer pulled out a whistle from her pocket and started blowing it. It was so noisy that everyone got up and left the room. Oluomachukwu rolled her legs over to the edge of the bed, wearing a sickly look on her face, then went to have her bath.

There was a very fat girl in the bathroom who had just gotten there and occupied all the space. If Oluomachukwu had been one second earlier, she wouldn’t have had to wait for the girl. The girl stood in the shower space, not ready to have her bath yet, but also not prepared to step aside for anyone else. She took her time, washing her underwear, then her flip-flop. She didn’t know how annoying it was to watch her do those.

Oluomachukwu looked at the girl — her body was fair, but it wasn’t the colour of her face and arms. All the parts of her body that were exposed to constant sunlight were darkened. Her breasts were big, but flabby, falling down to her stomach like bananas, very fat bananas. Her stomach was bulky and served as a tray to receive the breasts.

Oluomachukwu did not want to look any lower than that; the stomach area was just fine. She watched the girl, angrily, as she washed just one slack underwear for almost five minutes. It was still early, and the weather could pass for an early European winter.

Oluomachukwu hadn’t come to the camp with a towel. It had taken a lot of space in her box so she had to take it out and use a wrapper she had brought back from the UK instead. Had she known, she would have carried the towel along, because morning baths were always a torture. So at that moment she regretted her decision. The wrapper she tied around her body was so thin, it felt like she was totally naked. When she had had enough of waiting, she decided to tell the girl to move it.

“Do you mind hurrying up?” Oluomachukwu said.

The girl didn’t respond. It even looked like she was getting slower by each passing second. There were other bathrooms that Oluomachukwu could have used, but some of them had stagnant dirty and soapy water in them due to blocked drainages. Some of the other good ones were occupied and the empty ones were difficult to get to because the whole baths were flooded. Oluomachukwu wanted to use that particular one where she was, because it seemed not to have any problems.

As she stood there, a girl entered, tiptoeing as she went to use one of the toilets. She was dressed in white shirt and shorts, with her white tennis shoes that left sandy prints on the floor. The girl had a small piece of pink paper pinned to her shirt that read ‘3 ON DUTY.’ Corps members on duty were allowed to go round the camp without being asked questions as long as they said they were going to do some work.

Oluomachukwu had been carried away in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the fat girl was finally done washing her body, but she wasn’t done monopolising the bath. She spoke to Oluomachukwu, snapping her out of her thinking session.

“There’s a girl after me who wants to take her bath,” the fat girl said as she wiped her flabby tummy.

Oluomachukwu looked around, indicating how silly the fat girl sounded.

“She is still in the room,” the fat girl added. She didn’t get Oluomachukwu’s sarcastic hint.   “Well, I don’t see anyone here,” Oluomachukwu finally said something.

The fat girl might not have actually realised how silly she sounded at that moment, but she still went ahead to talk. “She is sleeping, but she would be here as soon as she wakes up or I wake her up.”   Oluomachukwu didn’t care. The fat girl then took her time to finish up, probably secretly praying that whomever she was trying to keep a spot for would show up. When she was done, she left the bathroom in a hurry, and Oluomachukwu figured that she had gone to wake the sleeping girl up, but that didn’t matter. Once the shower space was empty, Oluomachukwu hopped in and started to have her bath immediately. And just as expected, one girl walked up to her and asked if the fat girl had just used the bath.

Oluomachukwu poured a small bowl of freezing water on her body, then yelled before she realised she was in public. “Yes, there was a girl here before me,” she retorted, sounding sarcastic.

“I was meant to be after her,” the sleeping friend said.

“Was I supposed to wait for you to wake up and come over here?” Oluomachukwu wasn’t sure who was more ridiculous, the fat girl who had kept a bath space for a sleeping friend or the sleeping friend who had come to use the space.

The sleeping friend probably took some time to think about it, watching Oluomachukwu as she spoke and as she soaped her body with lather from her black sponge. When she had had enough of the show, she said, “Okay, can I be after you?”

Oluomachukwu could have said “Yes,” and she could have also said “No,” but she was in no place to say either. Between the times the fat girl had gone back to her room and the sleeping friend had come to the bathroom, some girls had come into the bathroom and joined the queue behind Oluomachukwu, also angry at the fact that the fat girl had wasted time. They wouldn’t have been too pleased to know that someone else was coming to take their spot. They, too, would have loved an extra twenty minutes of sleep, while a friend saved them a spot.

With the words that came out of their mouths and the way they sounded, the sleeping girl knew she had only two options: join the queue or go to another bathroom.

*
As Oluomachukwu walked back to the prison ward she called a room, she heard a sound coming from a bathroom — it was the flooded bathroom that stood two doors away from her room. So she wondered why anyone would still want to use it in its state and why that anyone was also moaning in it. The noise was totally distracting.

Girls passed in front of the bathroom, looked at it with scrunched eyebrows and muttered words of bewilderment, before moving on to other things.

Oluomachukwu didn’t move on. She had gone to camp to discover a lot of things and finding out what happened behind closed doors was one of them.

She stood by the entrance, which was a little elevated, wondering how she would enter and look around without getting her feet in the dirty water. More girls went back and forth, each time staring briefly at Oluomachukwu as she stood there calculating what might or might not be, and narrowing her eyes at the moaning sound.

Someone tapped Oluomachukwu on the shoulder from behind. She turned her head around and saw Nkiru.

“What are you doing?” Nkiru asked. “I hope you don’t intend to use that bathroom.”

Oluomachukwu looked at Nkiru and wondered why she had a badge pinned to her shirt when she wasn’t on duty. She then doubted that Nkiru was really in Platoon Seven. “I thought you were in Platoon Seven?”

Before Nkiru could reply to the question, there was the moaning noise again, so instead, she exclaimed, “Oh my god, what is that noise?”

“That is what I want to find out, too,” Oluomachukwu replied.

The rusty door of the bathroom swung open and both Oluomachukwu and Nkiru were shocked to see Ijeoma, Oluomachukwu’s bunkmate walk out. Oluomachukwu was speechless and didn’t want to imagine what had happened in there. She decided not to think too much about it and went about her business as if nothing had happened and she hadn’t heard anything.

***

Oluomachukwu got dressed in her white shorts and white shirt. The shorts were too short for her and had been badly sewn. It packed between her legs and exposed the black tights she wore underneath, so she had to remove the tights. She then made a mental note to buy new shorts from the camp market later in the day. The shirt was transparent, so transparent that she had to wear a black camisole underneath it, happy that she had brought one.

She went down to the clinic to get herself checked. She felt embarrassed because she had gradually started to fall ill right from the second day in camp, and so, wondered how the remaining days were going to be for her.

The clinic was big and wide enough, but jam-packed. It looked like all the doctors in the camp, who were also Corps members, were cramped up in it; one could hardly even tell who the doctors or the patients were. Tables were arranged in lines by the wall and a cabinet that held drugs was by one of the tables. There were also a couple of beds farther into the clinic and Oluomachukwu could see some people sleeping on them. She felt then that she couldn’t have been the first person to fall ill in the camp. The noise in the clinic from talking and laughing was also disturbing.

Oluomachukwu approached one of the tables there and spoke to a girl, but the girl simply waved her away with no explanation. Whether the girl was not on duty or not a doctor, Oluomachukwu didn’t know, so she advanced and spoke to another girl. After she had told the corper-doctor what was wrong with her, which sounded unfamiliar, the corper-doctor gave her anti malaria drugs. Apparently the Lagos State NYSC office had provided anti malaria drugs for everyone in the camp, and it was going to be two pills, three times daily, for seven days.

Before Oluomachukwu left, another corper-doctor, a male, asked her to wait and fill a form. It was part of their protocol to keep count and record of anyone that visited. Oluomachukwu filled the form, and as she was filling in her phone number, the female doctor turned to the male doctor, and said, “Uchenna, you better not try to call her oh. Because that is your work.”

Oluomachukwu stopped, not sure if to complete filling the form. The female doctor looked serious, but the male doctor was smiling.

“Don’t mind Lola,” Uchenna said. “You can fill in your phone number on the form.”

Oluomachukwu finished filling the form, noticing that the doctor, who had beautiful eyes, kept looking at her. When she was done, she smiled at him and didn’t mind the idea of him calling her. Okechukwu had told her not to fall in love in camp, but some things couldn’t be controlled. He had to understand. Oluomachukwu left the clinic and that was the last time she saw Uchenna. She never saw him again and he never called her for once.

By the time Oluomachukwu was going back to the hostel, the morning exercise and drills were over, and it was time for Bath and Breakfast according to the NYSC schedule. When she got closer to the hostel, she saw Kayode waiting by the entrance, but she wasn’t sure he had seen her. She turned around immediately and tried to leave, but saw John, or rather Tracker, walking towards her direction. She was cornered. She made a quick decision and opted for dodging Tracker instead.

But before she could make a move, the strangest thing happened. She saw Dunsin walking out of the hostel, then she went to hug Kayode. She hugged Kayode so tight that Oluomachukwu didn’t know what to think. After the hug, they both walked away, probably to go and have breakfast together, it was uncertain. Oluomachukwu waited for them to leave before she made her move, but someone tapped her on the shoulder just then. She turned around and saw Tracker.

“I’ve been waiting for your call, please.” He sounded desperate.   Oluomachukwu frowned. “I’m sorry, I haven’t bought airtime yet to call you,” she lied.

“Why don’t you just give me your number so that I can call you instead?” Oluomachukwu did not respond, so he added, “I have enough airtime to call, and I also want to invite you somewhere this evening after camp activities.”

The two questions that came to Oluomachukwu’s mind were: ‘Somewhere?’ and ‘Evening?’ and so she wondered where else someone could be invited to in the camp other than the camp market — the parade ground? Under the canopy? The dining hall or perhaps the volleyball court? And what did he mean by ‘Evening?’ Was it a one-on-one romantic stroll in the camp in the birth of the evening? But she did not ask any of those questions. Instead, she asked, “What camp activities?”

“Oh, you were not on the parade ground this morning. They shared an orientation-guide to us and gave us the schedule for the three weeks. There will be inter-platoon social and sports activities, and then contests.”

“Interesting,” Oluomachukwu said, but she knew that she wasn’t going to participate in any. “I hope they aren’t compulsory.”

“Well, our platoon instructors are going to have proper discussions when platoons meet later this evening.”

“This evening?” Oluomachukwu wasn’t sure if it was the same evening he had been referring to when he wanted to ask her out.

“Yes.” Tracker gave her his copy of the orientation-guide. “Here, this is my own Guide, you can keep it. I’ll get another one later.”

Oluomachukwu collected the Guide and started to go through it. “So what are these lectures about? They have security, EFCC, traditional and co.”

“We’ll find out when we get there.”

“So how are we going to have the lectures when we have no classrooms? Or, please, what kind of lectures are we talking about?”

Tracker laughed. “It’s just a general address or speech from people in specific government agencies. I’m guessing we will sit under the canopies. I saw Platoon Three otondos on duty arranging the chairs. It’s after the evening drills that our respective platoon instructors will address us and tell us what we need to do.”

There was a brief awkward silence that Oluomachukwu broke. “So, what are you up to?”

“I’m going for breakfast,” Tracker replied. “It’s bread, boiled egg and tea. Do you want to come?”   Oluomachukwu thought for a couple of seconds, then nodded. “Fine, let’s go.”

“Do you have your meal ticket with you? It is date stamped, so you’ll need it each time.”   Oluomachukwu shook her head. She hadn’t looked at it since she got it and felt it was time to start eating proper food instead of just biscuits and crisps she had taken along with her to the camp. “No, I don’t. I’ll go and get it now, then meet you down here in two minutes.” She finally gave him her phone number before she dashed off.

***

Everyone reassembled on the parade ground for the lectures, and contrary to what Tracker had said, the Corps members were supposed to ‘sit’ on the parade ground for the lectures. Why they did not sit on the chairs under the canopy remained a mystery.

Corps members refused to sit on the ground, especially with their white shorts, so as not to get them dirty. Some used the orientation-guide they had gotten earlier, while others used face towels and scarves. Some shared with others and some allowed others to sit on their lap: girl on girl or girl on boy. Boy on boy would have been a major problem and would have probably led to the boys being decamped or even worse, jailed.

Tracker sat beside Oluomachukwu. He had a flyer that he had received earlier in the morning, but he gave it to Oluomachukwu so that her shorts won’t get dirty. He sat on the ground like that. He would do anything for her. He had come to camp to look for a potential wife, and one of the ways for him to get one, was to groom one until the end of camp.

The Security lecture was kind of interesting. A staff of the Nigerian Police Force came to speak and gave Corps members security guidelines and steps on how to be alert and survive in Lagos, using concrete examples. He started off by greeting Corps members with “Corpers, wii oh,” to which Corps members responded “Wa oh.” And that was how almost every lecture or speech started off in camp. The speaker got an excellent round of applause when he was done, but the female MC was there to remind Corps members not to applaud.

For the EFCC lecture, everyone was moved under the canopy. Apparently an important guest from the Federal Government was coming to address the camp, so sitting on the parade ground was not an option.

The EFCC Chairman spoke on economic and financial crime and corruption, and urged Corps members to be engaged in the right activities and encourage others to do the same. The Chairman left as quickly as he came, then it was time for the Traditional lecture.

Oluomachukwu wondered what it was about. An older citizen — a Yoruba man — came around to teach Corps members how to speak Yoruba language. Clearly, no one was interested. Everyone laughed and made noisy chatters, even when the female MC tried to calm the crowd down. Tracker sat beside Oluomachukwu, but they weren’t saying anything. She got distracted looking around the camp. She then saw Kayode again, and he was speaking with Dunsin. Oluomachukwu didn’t know what they were talking about, but she knew that something was going on between them.

Not too long afterwards, she saw Ijeoma approach, but wasn’t sure if she should talk to her after the moaning-in-the-toilet incident. She dodged until Ijeoma walked past. When her mind came back to the Traditional lecture, she wondered why camp officials were finding it difficult to calm the crowd. It was too noisy, just like a market place.

The voices of the Corps members overshadowed that of the old man who was putting in more and more effort to speak into the microphone. When it was clear that the Corps members had taken it too far, a tall man, dressed in mufti, who was passing by, walked up to the older man and took the microphone from him.

“Please, can everyone be quiet?” he asked, but nobody replied. It wasn’t sure that everyone had heard him and the ones who had heard him didn’t keep quiet. He repeated himself, but nobody answered him, until he yelled, “When I tell you all to shut up, you shut up.”

As he said that, everyone kept quiet, wondering who the man was and why he felt he could yell at everyone.

“The least you can do as Corps members is to show some respect. If you wouldn’t respect this older man here talking to you, you will respect the Camp Commandant.”

Everyone started to murmur. No one knew the Camp Commandant. Some people hadn’t seen him before, some didn’t even know he existed. Oluomachukwu even thought the Camp Commandant was someone else; a hefty-looking man who always dressed in his uniform and cap, and carried a rod or a stick the length of his whole leg. People stood up and stretched their necks to see who the Camp Commandant was.

The Camp Commandant was offended, but remained calm. He even went as far as menacing Corps members for their bad behaviour. He had a top rank in the military and had the power to put an end to all camp activities and send everyone home. He also had the power to prolong camp time and keep Corps members for an extra month.

As he spoke, everyone sucked in what he was saying, with utmost silence. When he was done with what he was saying, he gave the microphone back to the older man and walked away in style. From that day on, Corps members always listened when they were asked to keep quiet.

After the lecture, Corps members were asked to stay back because a special guest was coming to speak to them. It was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that, because it was a visit from the First Lady of Lagos State. If anyone was sleeping, they woke up immediately. Some even stood up to see her as she walked in, smiling graciously and waving like she was a superstar. She might not have been into showbiz, but she was capable of moving the crowd.

She gave a very beautiful speech, then talked about her works and the organisation she owned, which was focused on igniting a passion for learning. When she was done speaking, Corps members applauded her, gave her a long, standing ovation that even the female MC couldn’t stop. She had told Corps members several times never to clap, but this time they were resolved to. A series of young comedians also presented after the First Lady, including MC Pashun who did a great job.

After the surprise visit was Personal Administration and everyone reported to the parade ground and formed in their respective platoons to be addressed by their platoon instructors. Attendance was taken, which involved Corps members writing down their code numbers on a piece of paper that was passed around. As the paper went round, Nkiru came out of nowhere, without her ‘on duty’ badge and put her number down. She told Oluomachukwu that she would see her much later in the room, then took off again.

The Platoon Instructor started to pick representatives. She wanted two platoon presidents, a male and a female, to act as relay between her and the assistant, and the Corps members. They were also to coordinate all Platoon Seven activities on camp. There was a mini-voting session and candidates presented a short speech on why they should be picked as president. Two people were eventually picked, but it looked as though people voted just to get it over with. The speeches had meant nothing to anyone. They all just wanted to move on to other things.

After that, there were nominations for both a sports and a socials representative. The Platoon Instructor also wanted someone for the OBS, which was the Orientation Broadcasting Service. Every platoon was to bring out a representative and between all ten of them, they would take shifts to make announcements to the whole camp. It was the only thing as loud as the sound of the bugle. Then there was nomination for someone, preferably a lawyer, to work in the Justice office. For each sports and socials activity, the Platoon Instructor put one or two Corps members in charge of it. The only challenging thing about the impending competitions was the fact that they were supposed to start in three days’ time, and Corps members were expected to start training and rehearsing, while they were waiting to receive the schedule on Sunday.

Once Personal Administration time was over, there was a Jumat service, and all Muslim brothers and sisters took permission to leave. One Muslim girl, who covered her head with a hijab that got to her ankle level, was cautioned. She was asked to wear only a scarf and cover her head, at most, up to her shoulder level. One’s hijab got to her knee and another one wore full-length trousers instead of shorts and they were both also cautioned. The remaining Corps members, who were not Muslims, were allowed to go and do other things until it was 2:00pm and time for lunch.

As Oluomachukwu turned around to go to her room, Tracker tapped her from behind.“Hi, do you want to have lunch?” he asked.

Oluomachukwu thought briefly and remembered the breakfast she had had — bread so hard, it felt as though it had been baked three days ago. The egg was hard-boiled and it was tough peeling the shell. The tea was another story. It tasted nothing like tea and more like coloured water. The few drops of milk might have added to the colour, but definitely not to the taste. She didn’t know if she wanted to try lunch. When Tracker cleared his throat, she looked at him and nodded. She was going to try lunch.

***

After Lunch and Siesta, Corps members were to report to the parade ground for drills, martial arts and marching. There was going to be an inter-platoon marching contest, so the soldiers assigned to each platoon wanted to make sure that their platoon won. The top four platoons were going to march on the final day of camp, which was the Closing Ceremony, and a winning team was going to be picked and awarded a prize.

Oluomachukwu joined her platoon and they were split into three teams, each led by a platoon soldier. They were to learn the basics in marching and all the commands necessary. Oluomachukwu thought it was interesting, but she had just had lunch, so it was somewhat difficult for her to move and do any form of activity without throwing up her lunch. They had served beans porridge for lunch. It was so watery that she thought she could swim in it. She had also bought herself a plastic reusable bowl with a cover and some cutlery. NYSC didn’t provide plates, cups or anything like that. Corps members were meant to take care of that by themselves.

After marching by 5:30pm, it was time for Games and Sports. Corps members were supposed to participate in games and sporting activities for their own leisure and well-being, and also to practice and train for upcoming competitions. The sports representative for Platoon Seven had already received the schedule and activities from the NYSC admin office. Since it was ready, there was no point hoarding it until Sunday. He needed Corps members for football, athletics, female volleyball, table tennis, and then one more sport that Oluomachukwu couldn’t remember.

Nobody wanted to play any sport, except for football, where there were more volunteers than needed. Also, for athletics, they got just enough as needed, likewise for table tennis. It was the female part that posed a big problem, because basically, all the girls in the platoon didn’t want to do anything. Oluomachukwu wasn’t surprised, because girls normally never wanted to jump or run around when they could just sit down, look and stay pretty all day.

By the time the evening sessions were over, the sports representative had managed to recruit enough guys for all the activities and was still begging some girls he felt could participate. He spoke to two girls, who seemed to be very close, and asked them if they could be standby athletes, just in case he wasn’t able to get any other person to join in. They nodded and dispersed.

***

The camp market in the evening was very interesting. Oluomachukwu didn’t want to go at first because she didn’t know what to expect, but she was glad she did. She went with Ogo, Fadeke and Nkiru, and they met up with Tracker. She had already told Tracker that she was going to be there with her roommates, and he also invited some of the guys from his platoon.

There was a lot to eat in the camp market, from local to intercontinental dishes. There was chicken and chips, fish and chips, sharwarma, kebab, small chops, noodles, pasta, asun meat, suya, and other finger-licking food. There were also drinks — soft drinks and alcoholic drinks — ranging from wines, to cocktails, to beer to hard liquor. There was also music, interesting music that kept people on their feet.

There were these four particular songs: Shoki, Sekem, Shake Body and Dorobucci that were played back-to-back and in that order. The songs had also been played in the morning during exercise and drills, then in the afternoon during lunch break and siesta. In fact, when there was no official address or lecture, all that was heard was music and the same four songs played all the time. And each time the songs were played, people started to dance specific dance routines to them. Those were the songs in vogue in the country and almost everyone knew the dance steps. While Oluomachukwu sat and drank a bottle of Orijin, a boy passed by her table and started dancing when the Shoki song was played again.

Apparently the boy was in her platoon and had been nicknamed ‘Shoki’ from the first day in camp, because he was always dancing to the song no matter where he was and what he was doing, even on the parade ground while marching, he would add some Shoki steps.

The market was sectioned into different stalls, and each stall had their own loudspeaker and DJ. It was sometimes too noisy and distracting, but when all the stalls played similar songs, it got better. Oluomachukwu was chatting with Nkiru, who clearly wasn’t comfortable hanging out with Tracker. So she pulled her up and went to dance in a corner while people watched them.

Just then, a tall light-skinned guy walked up to them and asked to talk to Oluomachukwu. He claimed to be in her platoon and also know exactly who she was, while she had never seen him before. Even while she was dancing with Nkiru, he kept hanging around her, begging her for a chance to dance with her. She found it odd.   Nkiru whispered into her ear, “Don’t mind that boy, he is a player. I know him. His name is Ola.”

Oluomachukwu laughed. “Let me guess, he tried to talk to you as well and ask you out?”

Nkiru nodded. “Not just me. He has tried to talk to everyone in our platoon already and they have all turned him down. I chat with a lot of them, so I know what is happening.”

“Hmm,” Oluomachukwu sighed. “So what do I have to do to get him to step aside? He is standing too close.”Since they both hadn’t eaten, Nkiru proposed that they go towards the entrance of the camp market to buy fried potatoes and plantain. It didn’t stop Ola, or Player, as he was from then on called, from following them. He stood there and waited for them to buy the food, then stood there and watched them eat, still begging for one dance. Oluomachukwu wished that he would go away, then she tried to focus on something else when she saw Kayode from afar. He had seen her, but didn’t approach her or make an attempt to talk to her. Before she could wonder what exactly it was he was doing in camp instead of Abuja, she saw Dunsin walk up to him and sling a hand over his shoulder. It was the first time she noticed that Dunsin had a ring on her finger, an engagement ring, and she knew that Kayode was married. She suddenly felt very guilty and awkward knowing that she was staring at a young woman whose husband she had had something with.

Oluomachukwu looked at Nkiru. “Since you know about everything and everyone in this camp, who is that man, what is he doing here and what’s his connection to the girl that has her hand over his shoulder?”

Nkiru turned around conspicuously, making it obvious to Kayode and Dunsin that they were talking about them. And after scrutinising the couple, she turned back to look at Oluomachukwu, and said, “The man is Mr. Kayode. He is the new Platoon Instructor of Platoon Four, but I don’t know his relationship with that girl. But I can find that out tomorrow.”

“Platoon Instructor?” Oluomachukwu repeated. She had no clue he could even be one since it appeared as though he had a good position in Abuja. “But how are you going to find out his relationship to the girl?”

Nkiru laughed. “Don’t worry, I have my ways.”

The sound of the bugle gingered the air at that moment, its very loud and piercing sound, so close that Oluomachukwu felt the man was playing it right in front of her. It was 10:00pm and time for Lights Out. Both Oluomachukwu and Nkiru hadn’t noticed time go by so fast. They wondered why the Lights Out call was at 10:00pm, and not 10:30pm, as noted on the orientation-guide. It was probably a prepare-for-Lights-Out call, so that people would start making their way to their rooms, then turn the lights off by 10:30pm. No room light was to be seen still on by that time.

The time wasn’t the only thing that Oluomachukwu and Nkiru hadn’t noticed. Player had still been standing around them the entire time they were eating their dinner, drinking what was left of their alcoholic drinks and talking. Oluomachukwu wondered what he was still doing there, because there was no way she could still dance with him. Stalls had started to turn their loud speakers off and the sound of the bugle was louder than any song that played at all.

Oluomachukwu and Nkiru started to walk away, but Player still wanted to take something back with him.

He moved up to Oluomachukwu quickly and tapped her shoulder. “You still owe me a dance,” he said.

“No she doesn’t,” Nkiru replied. “How can you still dance when there’s no music in the whole camp? Or didn’t you hear the trumpet?” Nkiru always called the bugle a trumpet.

“There’s always a next-time,” Player said, then looked at Oluomachukwu. “Please, can I at least have your phone number?”

Oluomachukwu didn’t know what to say. She could have given him her number if Nkiru hadn’t mentioned that he was a player, but now she didn’t want to anymore. Before she could say anything, some angry soldiers showed up out of nowhere, yelling and sending everyone to the hostel. Oluomachukwu used that as an opportunity to run off with Nkiru, without giving her number.

*****
Copyright © 2015 C. M. Okonkwo