I was having a very wonderful dream when the sound of the bugle broke through my consciousness. It was a grating, annoying sound, and the last thing anyone would want to hear so early in the morning when sleep is sweetest. I rolled around in bed, refusing to get up, as everyone around me hustled to prepare before we would be chased out of the hostel. The soldiers and Man o’ War officials thundered through the hostels like there was a war going on, moving from room to room, shouting at the top of their voices and generally scaring and disconcerting more than a few of us. I was the last person to wake up from his bed, and this was to be my ritual till I left camp – I don’t joke with my sleep. I went through the motions with a scowl on my face, ignoring one soldier screaming in my face “Move it!! Move it!! Move it!!” What nonsense!
I got out of the hostel and headed to the parade ground in the midst of other PCMs all dressed up in our white on white. I felt so awkward in the outfit, my shorts were too small and I felt so exposed, my hairy legs sticking out and staring me in the face. It took me a while to get used to the dressing, thankfully the white shirts and shorts I bought were of far better quality and bigger in size. I found my platoon and stood at the back, still confused about what was going on. I was supposed to be asleep for Pete’s sake. The time must have been around 4 am. We were informed of the dos and don’ts in camp, and told that we were still only just prospective corp members until we had concluded our swearing-in ceremony during which we would be sworn in as bonafide corps members. They requested volunteers for the quarter guard; these were the people who would carry the flags and really do the marching during the ceremony. I watched as a few people stepped out excitedly, and I wondered if terrestrial forces were after them.
Why in God’s green earth would anyone volunteer to go through such stress, I wondered.
Damn! I just have to say at this point that my first week in camp was quite horrible, and it really started from this point. My legs were shaking seriously like I wanted to faint. We just stood there, from 4 am till 7:30 am listening to them drone on and on, marching, learning the salutes and other things. As it turned out, there would be morning drills every day (apart from Sunday), as well as afternoon drills that would run well into the evenings. I started to envy those who came to camp with medical reports so that they could be excluded from annoying camp activities such as these. I stared at them longingly as they sat under the canopies with their legs crossed, watching us, while we the suckers were made to stand for such long stretches. In camp, every 6 am the Nigerian flag is raised as the bugle is played, and every 6 pm the flag is lowered to the sound of the bugle. You are expected to stand at attention where ever you may be in camp until the flag is lowered and the darn bugle has stopped playing. It’s amazing being in the outdoors when it’s really dark and witnessing the daybreak as everywhere slowly becomes bright, heralding the arrival of the sun. It was quite an experience for me. One of the camp’s objectives was to instill discipline in all corps members – for those in dire need of it. I was hating everything so far.
After the morning assembly was over, our platoon officer asked us to converge so we could discuss some things. As we were converging, I saw this girl with the sweetest ass walk across (some meters ahead of me) to join the other members of my platoon. It felt like something straight out of a Hollywood movie; felt like she was walking in slow motion, her hair blowing in the wind. I was taken aback. Who is this being that walks with such poise, such grace, such panache; her ukwu (translation: ass) swaying confidently behind her with little or no effort, on such a cold, cold morning? I composed myself as I walked up quickly to get a better view of her face.
To my surprise, it was none other than the stapler girl! You know, from that registration night at the Platoon 7 canopy. The girl with the stapler.
When did this S.U have such a big nyansh (translation: ass)? She had hardly seemed worth a second look that first night. Or is this what she was hiding beneath that unassuming gown she wore? The NYSC outfit somehow had all the girls looking really sexy. The image of her casually walking across the parade ground towards where the rest of our platoon was remained forever seared into my memory. For most guys, there is one defining moment or imagery, that occurs in which we lose ourselves in our desire for a member of the fairer sex. This moment was happening to me right now, and I could feel my heart racing as I walked up to join the rest of my platoon in order to hear what our platoon officer had to say.
Be still, my beating heart!
The platoon officer informed us that there were a lot of activities lined up such as drama, debate, cooking, volleyball competition for ladies, a football competition for guys, Mr. Macho, and Miss NYSC. In the meantime, she urged us to choose a platoon leader who would represent us. A guy stepped forward, nominating himself. Then I saw this really good looking fellow; he was dark, tall, muscular, hunky, with the cutest pink lips I had ever seen. I am definitely not gay, but I had stood there admiring his features. It was the first time I’d ever admired a guy like that.
“I nominate him,” I said, pointing in his direction. We put it to a vote and my nominee won. Needless to say, the ladies were intrigued by him as well. His name was Atela. After discussing, we were to write our names on a piece of paper. I stood strategically behind Nife. She was startled when she turned and saw it was me.
“Hi, you’re that girl from the other night right? The one that gave me her stapler?”
“Yes, how are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you enjoying camp so far?”
“Boring, but then again I’ve always been a boring person,” she said.
“Are you sure? With all I’m seeing you cannot be a boring person,” I replied, subtly referring to her sweet ass. She laughed and I promised to see her later, even though I wasn’t sure when that would be. From there I headed into the hostel to meet my bunkie, Maintenance, who was holding a flask in his hand with his face set like he was going to war.
“Maintenance, what’s up?”
“I’m cool but those soldiers are trying to kill us with those intense drills they’re subjecting us to,” he said, his slim frame shaking with him as he spoke. The hunger was real.
“Don’t mind them. They can only try.”
“They’ll soon chase us out for the swearing-in ceremony so we have to eat while there’s still time.”
“You mean we are still going to stand outside for hours under the sun?” I wanted to die.
“Didn’t you hear when the announcement was made?”
I didn’t hear anything. I never heard anything.
Maintenance turned to Oyo man, “Are you ready?”
“I’m coming just trying to find my spoon,” Oyo man replied as he rummaged through his luggage on the top bunk right next to mine.
“What are they serving today?” I asked. I almost forgot that I was starving.
“Beans and pap.”
Beans and pap! Who came up with such a deadly combination? God forbid!
“You’re not interested?” Maintenance asked, noticing the look on my face.
“If I eat that food, my farts will lead to the deaths of all of you in this room.” No, I wasn’t joking.
I quickly freshened up and headed out to the Mami market to get my khaki that was left with the tailor. I picked it up with disappointment – upon the exorbitant cost, the idiot still did a shoddy job. Next, I went to eat, and as I was eating, they started blowing that darn bugle again, indicating that we needed to start getting for the swearing-in ceremony. According to them, Ambode himself, the Governor of Lagos state at the time, was going to be there.
“Again?” A girl eating beside me cried out in protest, echoing my thoughts.
My legs were still aching from standing for over three hours, I was still unsettled from waking up so early, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, and I desperately needed to find a bed to sleep in. Just then, the soldiers and Man o’ War officials started flooding the Mami market like termites amidst shouts of “Move it! Move it! Move it!” Some people stood up and ran, leaving their food behind. But me, Wayward Pikin, I remained there until I finished the food, then went on to the shoemaker to pick up my jungle boots which had haphazardly been resized to fit me perfectly. Went to the hostel, changed up in my full NYSC uniform, and went outside to join the others.
I felt like an egg being roasted in a frying pan. Nobody told us that this khaki uniform was a great insulator of heat. As we stood there rehearsing, sweating buckets, learning the steps before the Governor and the rest of the people that mattered arrived, I wondered what the point of the whole NYSC scheme was. I finally understood all those stories I’d read where Corps Members would be marching then some of them would suddenly faint. Not everyone was strong enough to go through these rigorous exercises, much less under the scorching sun. A girl in front of me, visibly exhausted, beckoned on a soldier to permit her to go sit under the canopy as her legs were about to give out. He asked for her doctor’s report but when she couldn’t provide any, he eyed her terribly and said “If you want to die, die,” before walking away. It seemed like I’d missed a turn and ended up in Guantanamo Bay!
“Prey preyyyyyyyyy… SHUN (translation: stand at attention)!!!” The soldier addressing all of us thundered. We obeyed the commands as they drilled us on what our responses to each command should be. Suddenly there was a shuffle to my far right as two boys carried a girl who had fainted in the direction of the clinic. Members of the Red Cross ran behind them. The soldier looked at them as they ran off, unimpressed.
“Some of you think you are here on holidays. That is false. We are here to drill you and mold you into something of worth. By the time we are through with all of you, your fathers and mothers will not recognize you. Your boyfriends and girlfriends will ask ‘Who is this?’ You can all see that someone just fainted, right? You haven’t seen anything yet.”
That day, about seven people fainted.
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