That chilly Thursday morning of February in GUMEL, met the corps members of what will be “BATCH A” for 2006 all dressed up in the new corper uniforms (many of which were ill-fitting, especially for those whose sizes were off the various averages) they had been allotted.
Stern looking soldiers were on hand to whip the corpers in line on the orders of the REGIMENTARY SERGENT MAJOR, RSM. The corpers were divided into platoons according to the registration numbers they had been given hours before, thus those whose numbers ended with “1” were to join “PLATOON 1”, while those whose numbers ended in “zero”, joined “PLATOON 10”, and the others in between.
When they were all set in the ten platoons, they were soon matched into line, while the soldiers, mainly Corporals and Sergents screened the platoons of those with physical deformities, to set them behind the platoons (and for the duration of the camping period were exempted from the rigours of paramilitary training, drills and exercises), they also exempted medics and paramedics who will have to man the camp clinics on roster basis. Interestingly, most of those in the latter category simply elected to not to partake in what will become daily morning and evening exercises, or carefully selected less tedious exercises to partake in.
It particularly gladdened him to hear that medics and paramedics won’t have to partake in every drill. The part that it was optional didn’t even get to him, and had it not been that he wanted to see what it looked like, seeing that it was INAUGURATION DAY, he would’ve simply matched on to one of the halls that had been earmarked for CLINIC space, to join the BATCH B corpers (from the year before) that were on hand to run the clinics before handing over to his set.
Most of the corpers had gotten themselves waist pouches that was on sale by many of the hawkers that had besieged the camp. It occurred to him eventually, that it was a case of HERD MENTALITY as his pockets would’ve still adequately served the purpose for which a pouch offered no extra advantage. The HARMATTAN had come with so much dust and haze, as well as with reduced visibility that he like many others had also elected to have dark shades as part of their itinerary. This was immediately removed on the orders of the, RSM whose shrill “T-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-NSHAAA-A-AN!!!” and “AT-AAAA-A-I-I-I-I-I-S!!”, brought them all to “ATTENTION” and “AT EASE” respectively, before demanding that nothing but the NYSC-approved materials should be found on the persons of the corpers in their platoons, with each soldier in charge of the platoons seeing to it, that his order was carried out to the latter.
The RSM working with the soldiers in charge of the platoons, conducted the drills for that morning for thirty minutes before the CAMP COMMANDANT, an Army Major and his entourage appeared to make speeches regarding responsibilities and obligations, as well as rules and regulations guiding the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC Programme. At the end of the speech The National Anthem was sung, followed by the NYSC Anthem, and the gathering was dispersed to reconvene later in the evening. The first day didn’t feel so bad, but his mind was already made up- No Marching!
He spent the rest of the day, getting to know his roommates better. They were all from the Southwestern part of Nigeria, to his Southeast, as is custom with the NYSC were graduates from the South are posted to the North and vice versa in the spirit of integration, though many Northerners even from Jigawa State managed to organize it such that they didn’t leave their region or state, as many Southerners with “LONG LEGS” also did. Wale studied Accounting at Bayero University in Kano, North West Nigeria, The Barrister (he could never recall his name) finished from Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU Ife in Osun State, South West Nigeria. The third also from the Southwest, studied Computer Science, at a school he didn’t really register. They were fun to be with, and he couldn’t have asked for better roommates, as there was never a dull moment with them around. The Barrister had this way of ending his statements with the “mhe-he-he” of a Goat when he is in his elements, which is almost always!
Lunch was Beans, he didn’t like it but he was famished, so he joined the queue for his portion.
It was as if everyone in his room had been drugged, as they all fell somnolent immediately after eating, that it was not until the Bugle sounded at some minutes before 4pm that they woke from their deep slumber in different states of disuse, got dressed in the all white T-shirt and shorts, with socks and snickers and headed out to the field for the evening drill. He, however walked a different path towards the makeshift clinic in a bid to avoid the exercises majorly, and also to check the roster for what time of the day and night his posting for the week will be. He was startled to find corpers on the field playing at different games, like Football, Volleyball, and the likes, and all of a sudden it felt like fun to be there and not at the clinic, unfortunately he had been drafted for the evening shift and his would-be partner hadn’t turned up, while those for the morning shift promptly abandoned him the moment he turned up.
Except for the few minutes he took leave of his partner who turned up late that evening, to survey the immediate surroundings of the camp (including the MAMMY MARKET, which will become almost his nightly Tower of Refuge, satisfying his need for liquor), he spent the rest of the night at the clinic, attending to corpers, especially the females who had come in with nonspecific illnesses, with the aim of seeing what the medics look like, and he made the best of it, though nothing concrete came of all the intermingling that night, besides just jokes, laughter and some melancholic moments.
He was on his way back to the hostel to freshen up, at about 4am when he saw his roomies heading towards a sea of grassland located to the west of the hostels, with tissue paper in hand. It became obvious to him what was at hand, so he joined them to their destination, armed with a flashlight and with the huge Moon casting some light overhead, he squatted at a position where he could see the many others about their own business too, after scouring the space to ensure that there wasn’t any pest, rodent or insect to spring a surprise on him, he made his mephitic deposits, in what will become a constant “K”, for the rest of the nineteen odd days he will spend at the NYSC Camp in Gumel, Jigawa State.
When the Bugle sounded by 5am, he and his roomies, and by extension almost everyone else in their quarters, were ready. He went to the field with them, to find out what the drill will be about before hopping off for the clinic, regardless of whether he was on duty or not. He was that lazy. Interestingly, they were simply matched off by the platoon leaders (selected the day before amongst the corpers) on the instruction of the RSM out of the camp with the soldiers in tow, onto the road for a jog.
After a few minutes of jogging, he got tired and elected like the few others behind him, to walk, and that was when he saw her.