CORPERS LODGE (TWENTY)

The first CDS meeting after the national elections took place on the last day of April, the top agenda, election of a new CLO. Bako, the chairman of Road Safety CDS group had been mandated by the LGI to conduct the election. But the LGI thought we didn’t need another blood splitting election in replacing a deceased CLO and suggested we amicably deliberate and appoint someone to replace Micah. The CDS meeting began by nine, the LGI was expected half an hour later, which meant the new CLO should emerge before nine-thirty.

Bako met with the other CDS chairmen, Lawrence (NEMA CDS) and Amos (MDGS CDS). They approached me where I was seated with IBK and drew me aside.

‘Micah’s death is a major shock to all us,’ Bako said. Amos and Lawrence made supportive grunts. ‘He was a great guy, he was an excellent CLO.’

‘He was. What’s up?’

‘The LGI asked us to appoint among us a new CLO,’ Lawrence said.

‘We believe you should take the post,’ Amos added.

There was a moment silent. I never saw this coming but my answer was ready. I would never bring myself to take a post that would constantly remind me of, and was in fact, a symbol of Micah’s death, and I hadn’t the energy to lead this mob, nor the patience to stomach the corresponding insult. I told them so. They sighed.

‘Let’s offer it to Chiemeke,’ Bako said. Lawrence explained that Chiemeke was no longer interested, and he wasn’t even in town.

‘This is really a Memorial School office,’ I said, ‘Someone from Cemetery Lodge ought to take it.’

So we offered the CLOship to Dayo. He declined. He was already a Jesus Corpers’ CLO.

We offered the post to Edwin. He said no; no excuse, just no and was going to start shedding tears. We left him.

‘We can’t offer it to Agu,’ Bako said. ‘It’s not meant to be for Memorial.’

‘But we still have six corpers in Cemetery Lodge,’ I said.

‘Who else?’

‘IBK will make a fine CLO.’

‘No, we can’t give CLO to a girl na,’ Amos.

‘A woman cannot rule over men,’ Bako said.

‘Why not? Is it penis you use to run CLO?’

‘Guy, bring your voice down.’

‘Bring what nonsense voice down? You guys are pure misogynists and you call yourselves graduates. You are all eyeing the post. And you can’t even hide your hatred for Memorial.’ My rant was harsh and not entirely true; for instance, the last point was false, Amos was one of those who nominated Micah on election day, and if they hated us they wouldn’t be offering the post to us one by one with genuine sincerity. But I didn’t care about little details, I called them names and began to walk away.

‘Guy, wait! It’s not about us. What if the LGI rejects IBK.’

‘Listen to yourself Bako, how can the LGI reject a fellow woman? It’s not possible.’

‘No one hates women like women,’ Lawrence said.

I hissed.

Amos sighed. They didn’t want to fight me over this because the LGI had warned against drawing blood over this post; arguing this would turn a smooth deliberation raucous, they knew all about my warlord credentials. ‘IBK is not bad sha.’

‘She’s not a snub,’ Lawrence added.

Bako shrugged. ‘What is her full name?’

I told them her name and code number and Bako wrote them down on a jotter he must have been given in one of the numerous uninvited weddings he attended.

‘Mehn,’ Amos said, ‘This is first in history. The girl should be proud of herself.’

‘She should give us a kiss each.’

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘she will kiss me on your behalf.’

‘Criminal!’ And we sealed the deal with laughter. Just like that.

IBK had her body and soul on her phone screen when I returned to my seat. For one crazy second, I wished FG would place a ban on phone games. ‘I want to talk to you,’ I said.

‘I am all ears,’ but her face and fingers were still on the phone.

‘What game has eaten this deep into your head ?’ I tried to remove the irritation from my voice.

‘Guess na.’

‘Candy crush.’

‘Na na; guess again.’

‘Crush candy.’

She laughed. ‘Blockhead.’

‘Our new CLO is a woman.’

IBK turned sharply as though I had pricked delicate skin with a pin. ‘A woman? You kidding.’ 

I shook my head.

‘No, we don’t want a woman CLO o.’

‘She’s a Yoruba girl.’

IBK smirked. ‘Yoruba? What’s her name?’

‘She’s from Ogun State?’

IBK screwed her face as she thought. ‘Ogun State? Do I know any girl from Ogun?’ she bit her lip thoughtfully. Watching those pink lips did a warm jingle inside my belly. I felt a strong desire to kiss her, to get those little little bites that killed. If only a strong wind would blow everyone in here into deep slumber and leave us alone. If only… The LGI came in at this moment and the scrambling and readjusting to seats gave me enough distraction to tear lustful eyes away, and sighed.

‘Talk to me jor.’

Bako asked the house to rise for the NYSC anthem; I couldn’t answer her. We sang.

Youths obey the clarion call,
Let us lift our nation high;
Under the sun or in the rain,
With dedication and selflessness,
Nigeria’s ours, Nigeria we serve.

Then we said the national prayer (second stanza of the national anthem). We got seated.

‘Which girl is the CLO?’ IBK was persistent.

‘You.’

She hissed. ‘Be serious jare.’

Bako briefed the LGI who said something to him. Bako nodded, she began to write. Then she nodded, gave Bako an appreciative smile and rose to her feet. Bako returned to his seat among us.

The LGI welcomed corps members back from the break. She thanked and congratulated them for their brave performance in the elections. She regretted the death of Micah and praised him for the humility and grace with which he handled the CLO post. NYSC already missed him. She went on to say a lot more. Then she came to the issue of a new CLO. ‘On the day of his election, I remember Micah saying that the post of CLO wasn’t a man’s thing, that ladies if given the opportunity could do even better. Today, I can’t think of a better way to reward Micah’s memory than making a woman his replacement.’ She paused for the words to sink; they sank. She continued:

‘I have been working in the NYSC since 1991, some of you haven’t been born then, and I have never seen a female CLO. Isn’t it diminishing, even shameful? I have seen female LGIs of which I am one, I have seen female ZIs, I have seen female state coordinators, but never a female CLO. Why? If a woman can handle the entire corps members in this state, why not being common CLO?’ We listened, sorry, the stark injustice burning us.

‘The post of CLO being very sensitive to corps members, I never singlehandedly pick my CLOs, I consult the corpers. So after careful deliberations with your CDS group leaders, I present to you Corper Adebayor Joyce Ibukun as your new CLO!’

IBK slapped her mouth, sniffling shock. She turned to me. ‘I wee kill you for this.’ I blew her her copyright kiss. ‘Please come up here, Adebayor,’ said the local government inspector. IBK got up and began a shy walk to the front. The hall was evolved in total silence, not even a clap, no matter how insincere, just graveyard silence, very heavy, a clear rejection of IBK. My heart sank. In my quest to retain the post in the Cemetery Lodge, I had picked someone no one cared about as CLO, someone no corper would respect. This was outright humiliation, oh God…

‘Is this Miss NYSC or CLO?’ Corper Sharp Sharp demanded.

‘Everything na double double,’ I said and half of the house chuckled.

‘Boys will no longer miss CDS meeting,’ Sharp Sharp added. The whole house laughed, then began a small clap of applause which became a roar when IBK shook hands with the LGI. A handful of corpers even went out and took snapshots of the brand new CLO.

‘Hip hip hip,’ Corper Sharp Sharp shouted.

‘Hurray!!’ And they sang for ‘She’s a jolly good corper’.

The feeling of relief was so much it knocked breath out of me. I suddenly desired fresh air and began to make for the door. I stopped at the door and turned to steal a look. IBK was about to address us. I held my breath and waited.

‘Corpers wee!’

‘Waa!’

She swallowed. ‘I want to thank you for this. It’s a shock. I never dreamed this… I… I am speechless!’

‘Say you love us,’ Sharp Sharp screamed. ‘Just say you love us,’ the boys began a chorus.

IBK blushed. She opened her mouth then closed it. She bit her lip. We waited. Then, slowly, in a honey voice, she whispered, ‘I love you,’ and the boys went wild. Out of this jungle, Corper Sharp Sharp emerged and grabbed my hand. ‘We must celebrate this, I swear.’

Never had a single corps member owe another so much like I owed Corper Sharp. He had saved me once again. ‘What do you want, just name it.’ I would make him a minister if he wished.

‘I want to eat dog meat. Bingo, bingo!’ he sang.

‘I will get you one full dog.’ The promise was so unexpected Corper Sharp Sharp began to bark like a dog.

‘Corper Sharp Sharp,’ I hailed.

‘Who! Who!’ he barked.

‘Corper Sharp Sharp!’

‘Who! Who!’

‘Idiot.’

‘Who! Who!’

In the over forty years of the National Youth Service Corps, I swear, there had never been a crazier collection of corps members than this. Phew!

Next Week

Two Bottles of Beer in Search of Grace

Chuks walked out of the firm and dragged his feet to Madam Ifok’s beer parlour. The room was empty save for an old man struggling with a chicken lap, seated before a skinny girl trying not to show her disgust. Chuks dropped his file on a chair and sat on it. ‘Big stout,’ he ordered. A dirty maid brought him the drink.

‘I can’t get the job,’ he muttered.

‘Huh,’ said the girl. ‘You talk to me?’

‘I don’t talk to lice,’ he said.

The girl quickly withdrew.

‘Hey, am I gonna uncork the bottle with my fucking teeth?’

The girl came and uncorked the drink with quaky hand.

‘And get me a glass, fool!’

Madam Ifok, a mass of stumbling flesh held together by ill-tailored blouse that revealed tired cleavage and a massive skirt that swayed to a secret rhythm, brought the glass herself. She put the glass before Chuks and placed a fleshy hand on his shoulder.

‘Take it easy bro. You are not the only one carrying Nigeria on the shoulder.’

Two bottles later, Chuks left, ready to meet his comrades. It was just four o’clock, no need to hurry. He crossed Herbert Macaulay Road, dodging beggars, hawkers and the busy idle. Just before the dirt road that led to his street, Chuks grimaced at the sight of over one hundred okada riders. Half of these commercial motorcyclists are graduates, Chuks thought. Now see where they were crouched on their motorcyclists, dry-lips, waiting for non-existent passengers; everyone now prefer to trek, no one has 50 naira to burn on a lift when one can boast of two k-legs.

A little sun can’t kill anyone, Chuks decided; in fact, a little sun is good for everyone—Vitamin K, something like that, he couldn’t remember. So people trek while these okada men starve. Shame, Chuks concluded.

At the alley that led directly to their compound, Chuks stopped to ease himself.

‘Dey no de piss for dia o,’ someone—an idiot child, of course—shouted at him.

Chuks ignored him and poured half a gallon of acid on the wall. He zipped up and began to make away. No one chastised him, talked to him even. No one who had a grain of sense would talk to a red-eyed leopard, no one.

Inside the compound, Chuks stopped dead. Ben, Peter and Ayo stood in the middle of the compound as thugs threw their things outside. He saw the righteous caretaker standing an honourable distance from the eviction party, one hand on his pocket, the other hand directing cigarette to and from black lips. He didn’t appear to see Chuks, in fact as far as he was concerned Chuks was dead and his ghost, invisible.

Some tenants peeped from their windows, helpless, half-entertained, half-warned.

‘What nonsense is this?’ Chuks stabbed the air. No one answered him. His file had suddenly became too heavy for his hands. Not finding a suitable place to drop it, he took fervid steps to the caretaker with the load. The man smelt like he had fallen on a heap of tobacco and refused to get up for two days. ‘Man, stop this. You are pushing us into deep quagmire!’ But he should have known that grammar wouldn’t solve the problem.

His stomach grumbled with undigested stout; it was his fault that this was happening. He had the rent a couple of days back, he had it! But he threw it into the lagoon. A graduate, how could he had let someone dupe him, at his age! Their drinking bucket of water landed on the centre of the compound and broke.

‘Stop that!’

Their only chair landed outside.

Just like grammar, shouting wouldn’t help. Chuks decided to try something, his last shot before the gutter. ‘Which of you have call credit?’ he asked his comrades. They ignored him; they didn’t look at him, but he knew their eyes accused him.

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‘Hey guys, I understand how you feel but I must make this call,’ he urged.

Ben, not bothering to turn, handed over his phone. ‘I only have thirty naira.’

‘It will do.’ Chuks walked to a discrete corner of the compound dialled James’ number.

‘You got the job?’ James asked him.

‘That is not important, Jimmy; we are been evicted from the room!’

‘What do you want me to do? I gave you the rent and you blew it! You blew it, didn’t you?’

‘This is no time for blame, Jim. Listen, the landlord’s wife is your tribal woman.’

‘So?’

‘Call her and plead with her to call her husband and plead with him to call the bloody caretaker and give us two weeks grace!’ It was a long shot even to Chuks.

James sighed.

‘Just do it, bro.’

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