Now Your Suffering Continues; or something like that.
Recently, a number of my friends picked up their call-up letters to go and answer the clarion call aka NYSC. It got me thinking back to my own service all those years ago.
After days of checking online, I finally saw what I had been looking for. I logged out of the site, took time to sign out on the system – I still had 47 reusable minutes on my access voucher – and hurried home.
“Finally!” I thought to myself. I wanted to skip and run, I wanted to whistle and sing, my insides felt full to bursting; but I just walked in my usual hurried steps. Each stride seemingly measured. It was August break and it had not rained for a week. The earth was parched, and the sun beat down on everything and everyone under the skies. Red dust rose where my feet hit the curb.
I held my excitement inside and showed no emotion as I walked into the yard. My aunt was back from school where she taught, and she had bought okpa. She looked up as I walked in, expectation lining her face. “So?” She asked me, and keeping my face as expressionless as possible, I whispered “It’s out.” “Eh? Ngwa nu, tell me.” I waited another 3 seconds then squealed “I have been posted to Kano!” She did an intricate dance which ended with both hands stretched out, palms facing the skies in thanksgiving to the Maker. Looking at her, you would think it was a scholarship to Cambridge or Oxford she was celebrating, rather than my NYSC call up. I had been checking online everyday for the past three days, sometimes as many as four times a day, but I still had to go back to get the letter from school.
At the motor park, I got on a bus for Kaduna, the first port of call on this my journey to another phase of my life. I had learnt my cousin was posted to Kano too, and I was to meet up with him in Kaduna, stay the night at my aunt’s before leaving early the next morning for the Orientation Camp.
When I arrived at my aunt’s in the evening, it was to find that my cousin had left that morning. Since camp opened the next morning, and registration closed two days later, he wanted to get there early and be first in line when registration opened. I could not blame him – it was his first NYSC (not like he got a second) so he did not want to take the chance of being tossed out of the program for late coming before the program even began.
The next morning I woke up bright and early, bathed and dressed up. There was no packing to do as I did not unpack the night before. I swung my back pack over my shoulders, taking my blue bucket and blue 20ltr Jerry can in one hand, and the Ghana Must Go containing the rest of my worldly possessions in the other, I bade my aunt goodbye and tried to keep pace with my other cousin as we made our way to the motor park.
At the park we made enquiries about transport to Ungogo, the site of the Camp. Not a lot of drivers seemed to know it, but then we found someone who did. His car was a 504 Station Wagon. He put my bags in the boot and tied my bucket and gallon to the boot using ropes that criss-crossed the boot. After two more passengers had joined and we had paid the fare, he sorted the garage (turn) and ‘loading’ charges and we were on our way.
The furthest North I had previously been was Kaduna, even that was for a few days and I travelled at night. So the drive to Kano was an experience for me. Fortunately, I got a window seat on the second row and with face pressed against the window – it was too windy to stick my head out, or leave the window down – I watched the scenery flash by.
It seemed the shorter the plants grew, the hotter the car got – and this was still 8 o’clock in the morning. I saw herds of cattle eating grass, or just loitering; donkeys pulling carts piled high with straw; young boys riding tired looking donkeys; cattle herdsmen engaged in a fierce stick fight – something like Shaolin Monks; and once, a young herdsman drinking milk straight from the udder of a cow. The cow just stood there, stamping a foot or swishing it’s tail to dislodge and chase the flies. At this, I shuddered and crossed myself.
The chuckle I heard made me turn to the passenger on my left. She was dressed in black Kaftan and shawl, just like most of the native women I had encountered earlier, so I did not pay her much attention. I made to look away when I heard “You are not from around here, are you?” Very few things get my attention like the English language. And her’s was spoken with that accent peculiar only to Northerners.
I shook my head in the negative, shifting in my seat to properly appraise her. I could not see much under the hooded veil she was wearing, but what I saw further held my attention. She had a narrow face with almond shaped eyes; a narrow nose that was the right size for her face; her lips were surprisingly full and they seemed constantly curved in a smile. Her skin, the colour of sun kissed over ripe paw paw, was smooth and flawless – almost compelling one to touch; and her eyes danced with mischief. Her face had the serene look I had always associated with the Hausas, but her eyes told a different story all together. They spoke of a child within, wanting to play pranks and do mischief at every opportunity, and when caught and punished, will return to repeat them again.
“That explains a lot then. Where are you from? Lagos?” She continued. “Explains what? Pray tell.” I asked.
“Your nose pressed against the window for one, your surprise at scenes that are quite common-place here, and your knowledge of all the songs the driver’s been playing. You hummed all of them, you know.”
“Since I am that obvious, I guess there’s no need answering any of the questions then,” I flashed her a smile.
“So what brings you to the North?” She asked. ” Let me guess, NYSC?”
“Ma’am you are good!” I said. “Well, the last one was easy, considering where the car’s going. Plus, I am off to serve my father land too.”
My smile broadened as I introduced myself. She told me her name, and for someone who had encountered the range of Islamic names that I have – I attended an Arabic primary school – I was surprised that I had never heard it before. It was as long as it was tongue twisting. Difficulty level: HARD.
“I hope you won’t mind if I called you M until I get used to pronouncing your name.” She looked me in the eyes and held it for just a fraction of a second before saying in that accent of hers, “As long as you won’t mind me calling you Bond.” I thought about it for a few seconds before saying “Hi, my name is Bond. James Bond.” And we broke into laughter.
The journey passed fairly quickly after that. Next thing I knew, I was standing in line in the registration hall. I had met up with my cousin who had finished his registration and collected his kit, he even got me a bunk just above his so all I had to worry about was getting a mattress to sleep on. The queue moved like we were wading in honey, very slowly. Eventually I was done and was going to pick out a mattress from the heap out on the field when I saw them. Actually, saw her but she was in the company of another female.
I veered right to cut across their path, and when I came up to them I said “Hi”.
She had a mild surprise on her face, but the look on her companion’s face read like “Boys sha, they won’t even let us settle down before poaching”. Not having given this any thought before making my move, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind.
“I think I know you from somewhere.” Her friend rolled her eyes, but I carried on.
“I know I know you from somewhere. Lagos. You lived three streets from me before you moved to the Estate. You were the first girl I ever saw to ride a bicycle.” I finished. At each statement her eyes grew wider and wider till I was afraid they would pop out of her head.
“You really do know me,” she said. Then continued with a nostalgic look in her eyes “I remember the bicycle. I was ten then. Sorry I don’t recognise you.”
Something in her voice told me I was about to get blown off, but I beat her to it. Flicking my wrist, I checked my wristwatch. “Look at the time,” I said. “Gotta run. See you around.” And not waiting for a reply, I walked briskly toward the door, the field and my mattress.
PS: If u flipped the page or scrolled lower looking for more, then I beg you to be patient with us a few more months. Helen and I are working on it. The plan is to tell it, all of it, in book form.