She seemed to be the worst affected by the cold harmattan haze of February, 2006, her face white and dry while she occasionally shivered. She had come with the her khaki shirt to add to the usual white T-shirt and shorts that is required for the morning trek, as well as the drills at other times, which appeared to have done little to aid her plight.
At first it seemed she wasn’t going to allow herself to be bothered by him, but then it appeared that she thought better of it and displayed the body language that suggested she was willing to be approached as long as the guy was willing to do the needful, and that needful was exactly what he did.
She welcomed his company, and they both walked slowly behind the jogging and trekking company, while engaging in conversation centered around knowing each other better.
She was born and bred in the East, and graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka with a BSc in Sociology, also in Nigeria’s South East. Her been posted to Jigawa in the Northwest was in keeping with the ideals of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC program. He didn’t mind that her English was heavily laced with the Igbo accent because she spoke very well, had a great sense of humour (or maybe it was the way she talked) and he also enjoyed her company.
By the time they got halfway to the trek, the jogging party were on their way back, passed them over a couple of minutes, and they were right back at the end of the group, as they made their way back to the camp, to rejoin the platoons on the field for further instructions, only that he sequestered her towards the area of the makeshift clinic area, so they can continue their getting-to-know-one-another-better game.
They became an item afterwards, and because she was one of the “marchers” in her platoon, he simply relocated there, seizing every opportunity she was free to talk with her, and afterwards head to the hostel (once his roomies have been conveniently “disappeared”) or clinic by day, or to the mammy market (where everything was on sale for the enjoyment of corpers) when he was free, at night for some booze and music. He found her method of kissing absurd, for she always lingered, appearing to lick the last saliva off his lips when they were done kissing, then go ahead to lick her own lips afterwards, before stopping. All his life, he’d never seen anyone kiss like that, and he couldn’t say whether that also contributed to his always looking forward to being with her again even minutes after just leaving her.
With her around, he totally forgot about the one he left behind in Lagos, which as often as she called, he kept on assuring that he remained a good boy, and not straying. One incident however cast on him a note of suspicion from his girlfriend in Lagos, interestingly it was one for which he had no control and was infact innocent.
He had joined an anti-HIV/AIDS group while in camp and was undergoing training with the other volunteers at the time. He had this Motorola C130 phone he bought in 2004 in Gombe State, Northeastern Nigeria, in the period between graduating from medical school and starting his Housemanship. The buttons were so sensitive that when hard pressed against the pocket of his trousers, any of the numbers on his speed dial could be called when the phone wasn’t locked, or an in-coming call could be picked. On this particular day, his girlfriend called while he was making a presentation, his phone was on SILENT, but wasn’t on VIBRATION, hence he didn’t know when it rang and got “picked” by the tight pocket of his corper Khaki trouser. At the time it was picked, a female volunteer was asking him a question relating to his presentation, and it was this female voice, that his girlfriend heard, howbeit faintly, that she came to the conclusion that it must be the voice of his new catch, and she must’ve come upon them having something “clandestine”, when he mistakenly picked the phone. His attempt to explain what happened met with a brick wall, especially considering that he was innocent of what he was being accused of, though not necessarily innocent when the bigger picture is put into perspective. He was also beginning to get tired of the whole “monitoring” situation with the one in Lagos, he’d been in a long distance relationship once, that didn’t end well, and he wasn’t looking forward for this too to proceed beyond what obtained, and though the NYSC program was meant to last a year, he was looking forward to coming out of it with a new catch, after some random sampling.
He made up his mind to frustrate his Lagos girlfriend, and strengthen the dalliances he was sowing in camp, for beside the sociologist, he also had a great drinking partner in buxom Mimi (with whom he intended to score stuff with in time), Chi (Mimi’s roomie whom he had met when he paid Mimi a visit the first time, but kept him company while he waited before they started getting into each other), and Ginika (Chi’s friend who took the space of the sociologist at the clinic, when she failed to turn up).
Life was going on quietly in camp, with the exercises, treks and drills, even games with the attendant male and female frolicking, until about ten days into the camping period, when tragedy struck. He wasn’t on duty at the camp clinic on the fateful day, so he was among those who heard the subdued thud, from what turned out to be the sound from the fall of a female copper from ropes suspended at a height to adjoining trees, used as part of the drills at the other of the field from where he was standing, scoping butts of female corpers giving their best at the game of volleyball.
Those who witnessed the unfortunate event claimed that she decided to undertake the task to prove wrong those who said she couldn’t do it based on her massive size, and according to them she was sailing smoothly until she slipped, but unfortunately couldn’t hold on tight to the ropes, and fell.
He feared that the way she was handled after the fall may affect her prognosis far beyond what will be done to restore her back to health. He remembered the case of Iginiware George who had collapsed on the pitch during a local league football game, and died minutes after he was removed from the pitch, with doctors who saw footage of the immediate aftermath of the slump expressing dismay at the way one of the medics appeared to tilt his head in a way that could’ve blocked his airway, thinking to probably set his head right, amongst many cases of accident victims, improperly handled by untrained first responders who further complicated their cases (leading to spinal cord injuries) in situations where the accident victims didn’t die. It is no news that the Nigerian public’s knowledge of first aid, and CPR is nothing to write home about, he was particularly pleased when the public TV station, “NTA Channel 5” was streaming the German TV- TRANSTEL’s First Aid short clips on TV, he learnt a great deal from the program before it was pulled off air for the less edifying music and films the lazy producers used to fill in large hours of nothingness and space they had to play with as the government owned station waltzed into decline, in the face of competition from private owned media concerns, and foreign media via cable television, after the deregulation in that sector in the late 1990’s.
The doctors on call at the makeshift clinic, appeared to be fighting hard to keep the crowd away from what he could make out where he was standing. When he later saw his colleagues they told him, that once they were able to stabilize her, they got a car (not an ambulance) to transport her to AMINU KANO TEACHING HOSPITAL, AKTH in the neighbouring state of Kano, a journey of three hours, with some of the doctors accompanying her to help with medical history.
That incident dulled the rest of the day in camp, and all activities on the field seized as corpers walked sullenly back to their rooms in the hostels to reflect on what had just happened. It was in the last week of camp that news filtered in that that female corper did not recover from the comatose state she had slipped into, and had died.