Walking up from the field, the illustrious Mammy Market was set in a small, uppermost north-east corner of the camp. It had little less than one score canopies spread out in all directions, including centre. I think most people went there primarily for food, I know I did and the majority of traders there sold food, and drink. From protein-rich sandwiches, to egusi with gummy semo-vita, spicy, gleamy barbecue, and stripy, ‘exotic’ ofada right up to my personal camp favourite, pounded yam and divine ambrosia soup. If you had money to spend, food was not an issue. But if you had to rely solely on camp kitchen food which was not infrequently ‘flavoured’ with charcoal, other times just wood…you deserve a formal NYSC salute. The ‘hearty cheers way’. I should also add, that Mammy also contained an impressive number of nameless make-shift night clubs.
But I knew little of the pleasures the mysteriously named market offered that day, after all it was only my first. After an adequate, tranquil meal, I returned to my room well before sunset, just in time for the short drama to unfold. All of my roommates had arrived by now, or at least enough of them to validate the swift ‘election’. A tubby, rather dark, friendly guy walked into the room carrying his baggage and inquired who the room leader was as he settled into his bed. We looked at him with amused smiles,”Room leader? Who cares about that. We don’t have one”. He seemed relieved. “From today, make una they call me Firstborn”, he casually declared. The room erupted into laughter. “Firstborn?!” I found it hilarious too but by the time the laughter ceased, Firstborn was the informal leader of the room. He had no power or responsibilities but that was to come.
Before night fell, from my vantage top bunk facing the entrace, I watched another heavily built corper howbeit taller, stroll through the double wooden doors. One thing led to another till he was named, just guess :”Last-born”. If Firstborn was black, Lastborn was white-complexioned. He also gave a succinct, moving one-line speech. Something about us roommates looking after him since he was the Lastborn of the room. Imagine! I am not exaggerating. If “Terminator” were a Nollywood movie, Lastborn’s physique would make him perfect for the lead, eponymous role that Arnold Schwarzenegger played. But this was merely the start of countless episodes of room politics and comedy, some of which, as you will see, I unintentionally became entangled with.
I slept late, woke early, way before I heard what I and some of my pals called,’the trumpet sound’ a daily, peculiar bugle call. I hustled maybe as far as a kilometer before I found bath water. For most of the first week, this continued and we learned the cause. “Rain had fallen days before, and they were still drying the electric cables in the sun ” or so we were told.
Later, I had to go to the field for ‘parade practice’. Basically, there were several circles of corpers with soldiers in the middle of each teaching the fresh ‘otondos’ how to march. Camp can obviously not mould you into a soldier but they will try their very best to instill ‘discipline’ into you. Unfortunately for us, as far they were concerned, discipline is the process of testing for the roasting point of the human brain under the sun while screaming one unintelligible phrase or the other, and raising your legs at precise intervals for hours. Now I was in a circle, under the hot sun, sweating profusely and shouting “Left-right, left-right, left-right!” I couldn’t have felt more foolish. My friend, Christopher was right beside me also trying to learn the motions, and in intense discomfort. So, Christopher made a mistake, I did too. The tall, brown-skinned, soldier with a loud mouth marched up to us, and without warning extended his long stick to bestow a solid, brutal thump on Christopher’s head. “You dis goat!”. It resounded and each of us in the circle briefly stopped marching to stare in shock, especially me. I was next in line. When he looked at me, I kept my face level and waited. Christopher was gingerly rubbing his sore head without a word of complaint. My own response would be quite different, but he did not hit me. He returned to the center of the circle. I observed his departure from the narrow slits that were my rage infused eyes. “Is this what camp will be about?”
“Did we complete degrees just so we could be unjustly oppressed and imprisoned by violent men for three weeks? “As I pondered on such thoughts, contemplating the “nysc problem” and how I would survive it… practice was called off. We were dismissed. I dialed Tanya’s number repeatedly, without success. Maybe camp would have gone differently, if I had reached her.