We call it Cemetery Lodge because the apartment is opposite the village burial ground. The building is half-circled with bushes so our nearest neighbours are the occupants in the graves. When you sit on the veranda, you will see the tombs in all level of cement-rust: some have sculptured heads of the deceased, some are marked with concrete eulogies, some are rudely unmarked; all lined up among dry weeds and droppings of intrepid goats.
I don’t wish to talk about dead people (not yet). I want to talk about living beings. Corps members. Eleven crazy corps members living in Cemetery Lodge. You have already met one of them—me; you already have the first-hand knowledge of my craze. I will introduce the other ten as we journey this absurd route, starting with the bad ones. You will meet three of them today. Meet Agu.
Corper Agu. Of course this isn’t his real name. Whenever he is high on marijuana or something, he would go about calling everyone agu, agu (lion). So let’s call him Agu. Agu is an ex-convict and proud of it (‘I done spend six months for Aba prison before, so no look me down o’). He got admission in 2003 and is serving eleven years later, and proud of it (‘When I get admission all of una still dey primary school sef’). He teaches physics but knows nothing about physics and proud of it (‘I no know wetin I go teach, you know since wey I graduate? Abeg, no be teach I come teach, na allawe I come collect’). He doesn’t believe in the Church and proud of it (‘Nna leave dat tin; dis people wey carry church for head, na dem do pass; my church dey for my heart; Chineke be my witness sef’)…
Last Sunday Agu knocked on my door, just after dawn. I refused to answer him, but Agu isn’t the type to take no for answer; he kept banging at the door till I yanked blanket off my head and made for the door.
‘What is it?’ I demanded.
‘There is fire on the mountain,’ he said (in undisciplined Igbo) as I grudgingly made way for him to enter. Physically Agu is thin, grey-coloured with a hungry beard-moustache tag team that made a haphazard circle of his sickly lips. He sat on my mattress. ‘Nwannem, there is danger. God told me to warn all corpers. We are not united and there is danger.’ The smell of Indian hemp was overpowering.
‘The division among us will make us suffer. We have to unite and pray. That is what God said I should tell all of you.’ He rose to his feet. ‘Let me see the other corpers. My brother we must be prayerful.’
I suppressed a leer as I nodded. He jammed the door behind him. I bolted it. I made for the window and opened it for fresh air to come in.
A couple of months later I would wish I listened to Agu.
Like Agu, I rarely go to church. Unlike Agu, I am ashamed of it and always made excuses. Today’s excuse was that there was no electricity to iron my clothes.
So I lay on my bed like a dead lizard as expensive shoes matched koy-koy to church. Then someone knocked on my door. I rose to my feet, and made to the door, and snatched it open. It was Micah.
Micah is a graduate of the University of Jos, from Benue but he speaks fluent Hausa; as I equally speak Hausa and we gossip in the language, he is closest to me. But he has a way of creeping into my nerves; his parasitism is not of this world. And someone must have lied to him that he is handsome because he carries himself like a prince. He spends his allowances on clothes and shoes, wasting money and time on Surebet, starving himself, eating my food.
The first time he came to my room he swore, ‘Walahi, I will sleep with all the girls in this lodge. Give me three months. I will lay them one by one.’ That was last month. I haven’t bothered to ask him of his conquests.
Micah was dressed for church. He was wearing a sleeves-shirt tucked inside extremely-penciled jeans over coin-shiny shoes. His awful perfume made me want to shut the door on his face.
‘How far?’ he said.
I hissed. ‘I didn’t sleep well last night.’
‘You won’t enter church?’
‘I don’t think so.’ I wondered what he wanted.
A pause, then he said, ‘Man, wetin you cook?’
Why do Nigerians prefer to beg in pidgin? ‘I cooked nothing,’ I said. ‘But I have garri.’
He shook his head. ‘Today is Sunday. Drinking garri will make the Sabbath unholy.’
And carrying evil in your mind will make it holy, I nearly said aloud. But I let it pass. ‘You fit borrow me fifty bucks?’ I suddenly asked. I didn’t want his money but attack is the best defence. With the way he was positioned, if I didn’t ask him, he would ask me.
‘That is what I was about to ask you sef,’ he exclaimed. I am wiser than you, I leered inwardly.
‘Man, I am so so broke,’ he added. As usual, I thought.
He kept fidgeting on my doorway. ‘Later now,’ I finally said and jammed the door before he responded. I bolted it. I made for my kitchen area, opened the pot of rice, picked up one piece of meat and threw it into my mouth. Life is good.
As I stepped on the passage from the bathroom, my body wet from a cold bath, I heard someone crying. I stopped to listen. The whimpering was coming from Corper Edwin’s room. Corper Edwin is a fat fellow who (as he described himself) is in his last twenties. He is a graduate of that private university where people with more money than brain go to. He always reminded everyone that he is the only son (and last child) of an army general. Edwin is a notorious liar and a criminal gossip. I always tell him this to his face so we are always quarreling. Most corpers’ meetings have broken up with the two of us exchanging tongue-lashes.
I dropped my bucket by Edwin’s door and knocked on the door. No response. I knocked harder. I was curious. Why should a man in his last twenties lock himself in his room and cry on a Sunday morning? I knocked with the patience of Micah and the persistence of Agu, more out of curiosity than concern, till he opened the door. His eyes were bloodshot and wet. He was unclad save for his shorts. He went back to his mattress without a word and placed his pot-stomach on it, and resumed weeping.
‘What is the matter?’
‘I am not feeling fine,’ he cried.
Is that why you are crying like a small girl? I didn’t say this aloud. ‘Have you taken medication?’
He cried harder. ‘My entire body is on fire,’ and he shook with bawling passion. I was tongue-tied. I allowed my eyes swept his richly carpeted room stacked with electronics. Now and again, I will make a banal suggestion, grunt with pity, but really looking for a way to run away without being unfeeling. Then I told him I had to apply cream on my body and left with my freedom.
When I got to my room, I buried my face on my pillow and laughed so much that I soaked the pillow with mirthful tears. It was my first laughter since I got my call-up letter three months ago. I laughed until humour filled my belly like food.
I am heartless, you say? Well, you are entitled to your opinion. In fact, you haven’t seen anything. I wished I had some petrol; I would have gone to Edwin’s room and empty the fuel on his chubby body so that his body will burn thoroughly. Hahaha. This corpers’ lodge is a battlefield. And you haven’t met the female corpers yet.