by Henry C. Onyema
It was Saturday, October 1 1960.
Corporal Lami fixed a bleak gaze on the calendar on the wall opposite his bed. Sorrow soaked his heart. He glared at the picture of Queen Elizabeth that took up the first half of the calendar. The young monarch’s smile mocked him. He reined in the unpleasant thoughts raging across his mind. It was not the queen’s fault that he had been excluded from the military band that would serenade Nigeria today.
Lami was one of the best trumpeters in the Queen’s Own Nigerian Regiment as the Nigerian Army was known in those days. The trumpet had attracted him to the military. He had seen the army band display its stuff in Kaduna during one of the Regional Governor’s outings and that was it. Unmoved by his mother’s pleading he enlisted. The army was good to him: he got an education and was posted to Lagos where he distinguished himself with all the brass instruments in the Federal Guards Battalion band. But his favourite remained the trumpet. At every Empire Day or any other ceremony that required the band’s presence Lami won hearts with his virtuoso performances.
In other areas of his profession he was not found wanting. He was already a corporal when some of his mates were still privates. Major Peter Anderson, the acting battalion commander, was impressed. ‘‘You have a bright future when your chaps start running the show,’’ the British officer declared.
But that was no consolation to Lami this morning. Throughout September the country had buzzed with the magic word: independence! At last the struggle was over. Allah had delivered the day of destiny to Nigeria.
The army had been preparing for the big day. The band boys practised till they dropped. Although not all of them would be at the Race Course that day no-one wanted to be dropped. But right from the band commander to the rookies, everyone knew that the Regimental band would be incomplete without Lami. His closest rival, Sergeant Ejike, was good but even he knew that unless Lami died before the big day he had no hope of manning the master trumpet.
But Lami was not complacent. He invented new tricks in his displays with the trumpet and nearly burst his lungs during private sessions.
The list of band members who would perform on Independence Day was displayed on September 28. Lami nearly had a heart attack when he saw it. Ejike passed muster while he was posted to the battalion commander’s office. You could count the number of Nigerian NCOs assigned desks by their commanders. But Lami’s heart was broken.
He glanced at the clock. As he swung out of bed the steady cadence of the band mocked his ears. Race Course was miles away but the whole of Lagos would hear them. The single note of the master trumpet cut through his heart like a sword. Lami could not hold back the tears.
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