I thought long and hard but I could not think of a clever, preferably anonymous way of getting to the NYSC authorities to register my suspicions about the ridiculous amount we’d been made to pay so eventually, I abandoned caution and just went for it directly.
The next afternoon, I walked to the admin block, took a deep, deep breath to calm myself and confirm that I really wanted to do what I was about to do. I climbed the low staircase, and went straight to a door at the left. It was open, so I simply stepped through, and asked if I could see the Camp Director. So here’s the thing, there was a woman behind a table in the office, and I knew the Camp Director was female, I’d heard her voice when she announced that we could bring complaints to her…but I’d never seen her at close range.
The dark woman looked up and replied in a friendly tone, “She’s not here. What do you want?”
I started to explain in detail, she was listening to me attentively and somewhere in the back of my mind, I was quietly congratulating myself for being a little brave and coming forward with the complaint, until she told me to put it down in writing.
I was swiftly alarmed, because I feared that I would get singled out and dealt with, for daring to complain.
“Do I have to write my name? I thought just telling you would be enough, Ma”.
“Yes, you need to ” She said, “This is so that we can contact you when the official in question is around, to discuss this” as she handed over a blank piece of paper and a pen.
They want to call me, when the guy’s around?! So he can identify me abi?
I instantly had second thoughts. “Em….actually ma, maybe there’s no need to report this. I should…Let me just go back”
But she smiled knowingly at me, “Didn’t you say you noticed something fishy? “ and assured me that I had nothing to worry about. Reluctantly, I took the seat in front of her, and began to write.
After the first, difficult line, the story flowed freely like an engrossing conversation between long-parted lovers. I wish I had a copy of it to show you, but I think it was a captivating, true-life story. I finished off by very elaborately drawing my signature with a grin on my face, as a cheeky response to the situation I found myself in. If I was going to get in trouble anyway for saying what I saw, I might as well do it flamboyantly, I thought. I thanked the woman for her kindness before I left.
I was deep in thought when I stepped out into the open corridor, my eyes were fully open but barely seeing. Without a doubt, those words would be startling under any circumstances; all my distraction did was multiply the effect. She was right in front of me, not so close we would collide, but close enough that no one else heard her. Even I refused to believe my ears initially. This is maybe the only part of my story that I can never prove to you so I will leave out what she said, and only say that it was unheard-of and mind-blowing.
I returned to my room to rest but Ariya, my roommate would not leave me in peace as usual. See, when I came to camp, I decided to keep a very low profile, only talk to very few people and most importantly, I would steer clear of all arguments and controversy. But hard as I tried, controversy and later arguments, found me.
For many days, I refused to disclose the name of the institution I had attended, responding instead with well thought-out excuses and ploys. If I was asked, I would request to know the other person’s school and once told, say that I was so impressed and awed by the person’s alma mater that I could not possibly name my own tiny and insignificant school for shame. I thought that would keep me out of the spotlight but my plan back-fired. I was too mysterious; it only made them more curious.
To add to my already brewing trouble, the unthinkable happened. My room already had Firstborn, Lastborn, and Treasurer and before it was all over, I too was assigned a nickname.
Firstborn had borrowed my mirror, (I was either the only one in the room who had remembered to bring one, or more likely the only one that let others use it), when he was done, someone else requested to use it. He replied that it wasn’t his so the person had to ask permission from…but he couldn’t recall my name so he told him something else.
The other guy walked from the back of the room to the front where my bed was looking for me.
“Fineboy! Fineboy! I fit use your mirror?”
“Who be Fineboy? My name na Lelouch””
“Lelouch? Okay Lelouch Fineboy” and that was it. The more I insisted I was simply “Lelouch”, the less they used my real name to my frustration. It got so bad that a corper from my school even tried to call me “Lelouch Fineboy” and till today I suspect that more of those my former roommates, remember me as “Fineboy”.
Now back to Ariya, The outspoken guy had promoted speculation for many days that I attended a foreign institution and my silence on the matter didn’t help. Eventually, despite my careful attempts, one of my friends from school was tricked into revealing my university’s name. Since then, Ariya could not say three statements without mentioning my name, usually in a provoking or taunting manner. If he bought oranges, he would loudly announce that he knew he was not like Lelouch who would much rather buy orange juice. If I didn’t go the cafeteria, he would point out that “Lelouch doesn’t need to go there to eat”. When sophisticated girls turned him down in the day, at night he’d complain that it was because they wanted someone like me. If there no water in the hostel, he would question if the hostel officials thought everyone was willing to pay for water like Lelouch must want to. If the sun was very hot in the day, or the night was too cold and the moon was not totally visible, in his eyes I was responsible, and somehow connected to it.
To be honest though, it wasn’t all bad and sad, Ariya was quite charismatic and so humorous that I would often find myself laughing at jokes made at my own expense. Over time, I began to respond more and more, returning word for word as our other roommates laughed. Once, I sincerely suggested that he join the ‘Orientation Broadcasting Service’ even offering to hook him up through a friend so he could supply comedy to the camp. He was that good, but unsurprisingly my other roommates laughed at what they thought were a penetrating, retaliatory diss by Fineboy. At any rate, there was hardly a dull evening in my corner, not with Fineboy VS Ariya. It was just so interesting and the climax was when to our mutual shock, We (Ariya and I ) discovered that we were from the SAME hometown! The teasing continued, but it was lot, lot more friendly and cordial. Like in any good Nollywood movie, someone instantly suggested that it was the connection between the both of us that had caused all the ‘mysterious’ tension. So many events like this occurred, defiantly defying any explanation or justification. Things that were near-impossible just kept happening.
Since I am talking about my hostel, I should also mention the two most valued items in my room which defined the politics. Security Tags, and the Toilet Keys. Security Tags basically meant that you could skip parade for as long as you had it, under the excuse that you were responsible for watching over luggage in the hostel. It was so funny (even at the time,) to see how graduates were struggling to be ‘security men’ in camp, something most of us would ordinarily not consider. The Security tags were rotated till some dudes eventually cornered them and perpetually assumed the role of ‘security’. Luckily for me, they were my pals : Ariya and friends so they at times, lent it to me.
The other item was useful for, well obvious purposes. The Toilet Key that is. By a random twist of fate, when Firstborn required a donation of a padlock, I offered one. He rewarded my gesture by handing over one of the three, ultra-important keys –to a facility that almost 50 guys shared – to me.
I was given a nickname, had access to security tags and for most of camp, possessed a key that was more desired than the keys to a vault. Yes, sometimes camp felt like hell, but I was doing pretty well.
Meanwhile, almost each night, Fiyi would inquire as to whether I had located the girl of my dreams, the one I sought and my answer on that sixth night was still a disappointing “Not yet o”. The only reason I didn’t give up was because I was as stubborn as the girl seemed stunning. I had made up my mind and if I had to go through four thousand corpers to find that one girl so be it. I had given my word. During my prolonged search, I suspect that I personally identified the faces of a huge proportion of corpers in that camp, especially the females of course.
On the morning of the eighth day, one day after the deadline, I accompanied a few friends to the mildly distant cafeteria for breakfast. I think the queue had been too long so we only collected part of the meal with the intent to purchase the rest and left. We chatted, laughed and shared experiences, on our way back. We had only just crossed the small gutter when my eyes lit up and I urgently, enigmatically whispered to my friends “I will leave you soon. When I do, keep going”.
*to be continued*
Expect Clarion Call Eight next week.
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