A day after the unfortunate incident involving the corper that fell off the suspended ropes, life had returned to camp like nothing of the sorts happened. He’d been weaned off the idea of camp feeling like a place he was visiting, to it beginning to feeling like home, and he felt it must be same for others too.
He, like his peers had built, sustained and maintained a daily routine that made life bearably livable. His included the
just before dawn dash into the nearby bush (either from the hostel, when he wasn’t on call, or on his way back to the hostel from the clinic) to heed the call of nature now termed “SHOT-PUT”, in relation to acts of some corpers who “do it” inside small polythene bags, then hurl it as far away as possible, far into the bush in their own way of ensuring their “zone” was kept clean. It reminded him of the story he once heard of a woman whose baby had pooed while on her way to meet an appointment, and after cleaning him up packed the soiled pampers in a polythene bag, but because there was no nearby refuse bin to dispose of it she elected to walk with it till she found one, incidentally that was the period when crime in Onitsha in Anambra State (in Nigeria’s Southeast region) was witnessing a high rate of criminal activities. Some riffraff soon accosted her and snatched the polythene bag from her probably thinking it was cash, as she had just walked past a bank, and made a clean escape with it, to the bewilderment of onlookers who were surprised not at the way the thief executed his act, but at the way the woman smiled before bursting into laughter.
The clearing of the unwanted contents of the bowel was followed by having to queue at the manually powered borehole pump to fetch a bucket or two depending on how important bathing is to one. For him, if he had his way he wouldn’t even bother to have a bath. He grew up envying the goats, who appeared to look even more sexy to the “billies” the more stenchy they smelt, even vowing that if he was going to ever be allowed to have his way on how he would come to life again, he’d ask to come back as a mountain goat in Tibet. Bathing for him was usually brief not only because he detested it, but because the bathroom in this case was located directly opposite the toilet without doors which he could never bring himself to use. Public toilets in Nigeria suffer the same fates of users never bothering to take care of them, as they would their own in their homes, and he had been to many in school, at restaurants and even at airports (before some people were employed to attend to the toilets after each visit by intending travelers), amongst others. Of all these, the toilets in his secondary school was worse than that in his university, and though the university toilets had cleaners who came in to clean them in the morning, he ensured he was always first to go in after they had cleaned, but because they always had their jobs done midmorning after students must have left the hostels for lectures, he planned his time in such a way that he had a light shower, then headed for lectures before finding time during free periods to dash back to the hostel to do “the thing”, followed by a thorough bath before heading back to lectures and the rest of his day. In all these, nothing prepared him for the toilet in the NYSC camp in Gumel, Jigawa State (Northwestern Nigeria), not even that one in the public primary school he attended, for which many times he opted to shit in his pants in the early years than visit. Once he braced himself to peer into the one in his hostel for curiosity sake, he found that some people managed to pile up the “shits”, without any of them bothering to get water to flush their excrement. He could see the layers of different colors and consistency up to five levels. He left from there to have lunch without as much as flinching.
In the early days he would eat what was on offer for breakfast with trepidation, but he had now gotten used to it, that he would even eat those of others who hadn’t yet gotten over been homesick. He also had enough antibiotics to ensure that his gastrointestinal tract didn’t act out, because though he had managed to build a routine for bowel cleansing, it was only a necessary evil in his estimation and not where he would wish to visit more than once daily. Interestingly, at home, in his own space or even in hotels the commode always seemed to be the place where he felt most welcome, where his thoughts flowed freely and inspiration puncture holes into him to his delight.
The early morning drills were now just something he could take his time out to watch, since a particular set of people had been selected to march daily in preparation for the big occasion of the last day in camp. Afternoons were for chasing girls, evenings for sports (not because he played any, but he preferred to hang around the female volleyball team, and seldom watch the men issuing grunts with perspiration chasing the round leather ball around the field), and nights for drinks at the mammy market with the girl of the afternoon or another more pliant, on days when he wasn’t on call at the clinic. He was also part of a cultural display group as the drummer to the dance troupe especially because he was more into plus sized females and these were in abundance there, always willing to rhythmically move to the beats he provided without much prompting. Life in camp was now so much of play than any form of hard work that he could hardly recall ever been in such a situation where he had so much time to play that much.
With so much play, also came laxity, such that one very cold morning when the bugle was blown many of the corpers were reluctant to wake up, or rise from their beds, and the few who did simply worked like zombies to the field, unfortunately that same morning the camp commandant had come on supervision and noticing the scanty field, ordered the soldiers to invade the hostels and flush out all the corpers, and that a roll call must be taken, with anyone not present for the roll call to face disciplinary action. Those present however were made to kneel in the harsh northern harmattan cold of that February morning in 2006 with their arms raised,
wearing just plain white T-shirt and shorts, stockings and low grade snickers. Even the clinic was ordered shut and the convalescing ordered out of it. When eventually they were let off, two hours after with much rebuke and stern warnings, only very few bothered to go have their bath before joining the breakfast queue. Not a few came to that queue with jugs and other containers that were way out of the ordinary in terms of size to have as much cocoa spiced with ginger, that they could manage or coax the dispensers to part with. The bread that came with it was a no-no as it had become hardened and some simply traded theirs for more tea, with those teeth could chew through iron. That early morning beverage, came to represent an idea of heaven for many that morning, interestingly no one appeared to suffer gravely either physically or otherwise from the effect of what happened that morning but as for those whose names weren’t ticked present for the roll call, they had the pleasure of detention in the camps guardroom once they appeared, with sustenance rations handed to them for the duration of the hours their freedom was denied them, while they spent some parts of the day cutting grass under supervision, amongst other dehumanizing acts of punishment the soldiers could fathom. It wasn’t the kind of condition he could wish on his worst enemies. That was how all of a sudden, the camp that was gradually slipping into the laissez faire was reawakened to it’s responsibility, such that by the next day when the bugle was blown, corpers practically jogged to the field, many with their tails between their legs.
He hadn’t heard from his sociologist friend throughout the brouhaha of the past few hours and knowing how she had been finding it difficult to cope with the weather he decided to pay her a visit, and much like he expected she was under the weather and couldn’t keep whatever it was that she managed to eat down. He got her a packet of Lucozade Boost and kept her company as well as going on small errands for her while she recovered. She didn’t have much fat to fend off the stinging cold, and it felt like every exposure was hitting her bones directly, unlike Chi and Mimi who appeared not to have been shaken by all of the drama of the past day, and it was with both that he spent the time at the mammy market later that night “emptying” bottles of Guinness Stout and other alcoholic beverages that their trio could down till their senses became slightly dulled. At that point, the least of his cares was the clinic where he was meant to be on call, and had not picked his phone, the several times his female call-duty partner (whom he was also beginning to grow fond of) called.
When they were spent, he managed to walk them back to their hostels, and though he didn’t meet any of their roommates in the room he elected to leave, for fear he might not be up to the task should he be called upon by either or both of them to perform later that night, besides though he wanted both of them, he’d rather have them separately, under a different condition. From there he went groggily to the clinic rather than his room in the hostel, because one of his roommates had begged to have use of the room that night, the nagging headache that was announcing it’s arrival also dictated that he might need some medication as well, making the clinic the best choice of place to sleep that night. It would be the first time he’d be sleeping on a bed with a spring (all of his years in medical school and during his internship was spent with the bed simply laid on the floor, as it was with his room in camp) in years (the last time being as a kid, before beds made with wooden slabs on top of which mattresses were placed came into vogue) and it felt so good.