Leaving school is a dream. The intense desire of every student springing from the very first day he gets to school. No matter how zealous the scholar is about schooling, there is always a longing for that afterlife beyond those walls – to more engaging tasks, into another unfamiliar terrain, to conquer new climes and the journey continues. I, too, had nursed that dream of leaving school someday.
Towards the end of my undergraduate days, life seemed more promising. The feeling of being a finalist clung tightly to me as if that was what I would ever be. My friends and I began chattering about NYSC. Will it be favourable? Should we influence posting or should we not? Does it amount to full trust and faith and hope in God for the best if we leave our posting to chance – to God?
At the end of our final examinations, my dear, come and see race within campus, people on the trot to pour water on fellow finalist, others rushing to escape the smear of water aimed at them, a lot more happily drowned in the euphoria, soaked from head to toe, smiling, breathing, running, stopping and running again, getting drunk, singing songs of triumph, dancing to Jay-Z’s song – History…
Now that all the smoke is gone
And the battle’s finally won
Victory is finally ours
History so long, so long…
The fervour remained even while defending our final year projects.
Imagine, in the heat of the excitement, one apparently unlucky mate had to practically pre-order for special treatment from the seemingly lucky friend,
“See, you’ll have to be sending us small cash from your alawi o”
“But you’ll save money so you have something to start off with after service, you know?”
‘I know – ’
“No how, no how, you go still find me something every month nah”
‘No worry. Na so’
Church fellowships and some associations organised send-off ceremonies on behalf of their graduating members, even though some of the honourees knew too well they might need to spend some more semester to deal with a number of issues, however minor. Yet we were eagerly awaiting our mobilization, deployment and service.
The mobilisation would not include us until the results would’ve been out, and on time, and only those who would have been cleared of any debt (monetary or course-wise). So checking of results came with another eager edge, for that would determine whether one was really free of the undergraduate entanglements or would have to buy some more time. And so, in a class of almost 130, 33 made the list for the Batch ‘A’ 2012 National Youth Service Corps. I was not there when the list was posted, but a friend gave quite reassuring news!
Later the following day, I and my room-mate at the time went to check the list. We copied our call-up numbers and headed home, and would have to wait for a month’s time to get the deployment.
To be free from school ties, one needed to have cleared evidently, albeit a cluster of signatories on the clearance form, some with accompanying fees, whether you were owing or not. They gladly considered that as your parting gift – a hundred or two hundred naira, or a little more. So we paid wherever it was demanded, or you could be restrained from proceeding on your clearance. We struggled diligently. Painstakingly, we cleared ourselves of the ties. At the background, efforts were geared at securing favourable postings. Money exchanged hands. Hopes became inflated.
Three days to the posting, expectant youth corps members flooded the school, waiting. The posting did not surface until Friday evening. We loitered about the office concerned, sharing ideas on the prospects and hassles of the scheme and how we would still the storms and birth a new nation. Indeed! When the list was eventually posted, there was a rout as natural in such circumstances. Shouts of delight, from those whose influence on the posting had yielded fruits, while sober moans filtered through, produced by those whose seeds could not germinate, or those who had waited on God to set them on the road to Lagos or Abuja. But who can tell if God did set them on a journey to transform that-other-state? Who can dispose of what God has proposed? Okay, I hate to forget the look on one chap’s face when he came asking if BN stands for Borno! I recall the calmness that overwhelmed him when he was told otherwise. But I was just okay with what I got. It wasn’t bad, isn’t bad and will never be bad. Quote me!
Call-up letters were dispatched on Saturday morning and people began to trace their destinations – home first, then the jungle. I had lingered on fruitlessly to see a friend.
Sunday, March 4 2012, after morning worship, I started out to my home in preparation to travel on Monday to Kogi State, to Kabba/Bunu LGA , to Asaya.
‘Board a bus to Onitsha. Then a bike to Okene/Kabba park. There you’ll see a bus or cab to Kabba, a bike from there to Asaya.’
That was one of my sister’s neighbours. We called him Neighbour – sometimes, Brosbros. He had served in Kogi state some years before. And he was now giving me guidance and direction. I did as he said. Camp was scheduled to open on Tuesday. I left the house on Monday (not that he advised me to do so too), filled with the anxiety to meet the commencement of camp activities. At 8.30am I had arrived at AKTC Park, and paid the fare to Onitsha. I recall I stole a while to gather some personal effects – cream, deodorant, what-else-sef! The cruise began a few minutes after 9.00am. It was cosy, laced with dreamy, funny expectations. The questions fluttered in their characteristic styles. How long would I be on the road? What should I expect when I get there? I was told I would get to Kabba by 4.00pm if I departed as early as 7.00am. I felt I should be in Asaya by 7.00pm at most because I departed by 9.00am. False. Did I account for the delays at each of the parks? Did I create space for the unforeseen? I would rather choose to forget about the ordeal at Okene/Kabba park; men and goods tightly-parked into an old J5 bus, crawling by way of moving – at snail’s pace. The weight of the goods far exceeded that of the passengers, probably that contributed to the ‘overweight’ of the vehicle.
The only grace I had was the other soon-to-be corps member who happened to board the same bus. Judging from the vibrancy with which she dashed in, I knew immediately that she was my peer. So I started a conversation, to suppress my headache-bent thoughts. Before the vehicle departed, she had asked me of the number of copies of documents I had made, and rushed to do same. I promised to hold on to her seat while she was away, and to flash her phone when the car would have been ready to move.
I kept my promise, and, yes, I got her number, too. We conversed sparingly, since her seat was far behind mine, and we instinctively did not want to constitute nuisance for others in the bus by our over-people’s-heads conversation. I got to know she would be travelling to Gombe the following day. Her parents lived in Okene. She was coming in from Onitsha. She had laced my hopes with the notion that I could still reach Asaya by 10.00pm if the bus would go at considerable speed. I hoped that it would on the express. I wished.
‘tana-tana-ding-tang-tana-tana’ was the sound of the vehicle as it dragged along. I watched the mountains and wild shrubs hurrying past us in their relative speeds. I watched with mixed feelings of despair and excitement. Something within was chattering about being shut out from the world for three weeks – it didn’t offer to provide any solution – just there, crowding my thoughts and paving way for an unplanned headache. Soon it became darker. Night had caught up with us on the way. Oh my God! I do not know any jack in this place. How and where would I pass the night? Whatever be the case, I told myself, I must be in asaya this night.
‘Have you reached?’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘When did you leave Uyo?’ those were the questions that fielded from home. I made a couple of calls too to inform some of the family that I was still on the road, uncertain of my arrival time, uncertain of the place in question. Then I made bold to ask the conductor, ‘can I still reach kabba this night?’ what a silly question! The time was some minutes approaching 10.00pm, and kabba was a new ground. Did I really hope to make the journey to kabba that night? I don’t know o. I thought so. He (the conductor) was truthful enough, fair even. He said I wouldn’t want to risk my life and time for such a journey, rather offering in conjunction with the driver, that I could sleep in the bus, and depart at dawn for kabba. That driver bought the idea, or was he the one who sold it in the first place? I do not recall. I was lost in thoughts.
Onyinye, my fellow otondo and one I believed shared my fate, alighted in Okene town and wished me goodnight, goodbye and safe journey. I returned the favour in that order. The bus then went on to drop the traders’ goods at the market, in their stalls. By that time, everyone had alighted, including the conductor. I was left with only the driver and the moving bus under his control. Was I scared? Would you have been? *wry smile*
He drove me to one compound where two small children ran out to open the gate. I didn’t ask him who they were, or where it was. He said he just wanted to drop something there, which he did, and we drove away. We arrived at a filling station. I guess it was a familiar place he often spent his nights, or so it appeared to me. He parked well, told me to feel comfortable in the bus and that he would drop me off at where I would get a cab to kabba the following morning. He went to an open space. I could see people spreading their wrappers and mats out there, preparing to sleep. But I couldn’t feel comfortable. Haba! In a bus? I just prayed the night could varnish in a wink. My mum called a few minutes after and asked me to hold tight to my bag, and make the sleep as conscious as I could. I phoned to tell my sisters and others, to remind them to pray for a brother in need. Then, I drifted off, swiftly.