My bag was so heavy that I kept on dragging it. I didn’t have the strength to carry it because I was famished and didn’t taste even a morsel before leaving home as early as 8 am to catch up with the bus at Plateau Riders. I didn’t make the first bus and ended up with an old jalopy that stopped several times on the road and turned the five-hour journey into 9 hours.
The beautiful and structurally sound building in the Katsina state camp did not lighten my mood. I used the last ounce of strength in me to pull the big bag that contained all I thought I would need for the three weeks I would spend in camp. The annoying thing was that the four guys we met at the car park and traveled together with only had bag packs, which they strapped to their backs, and nothing else.
The guys contributed to my fatigue with their boisterous chatter from Jos to Katsina. They did not know that I was a corps member too, since I didn’t utter a word apart from the phone calls I made in the car. They were lost for words when NCCF came for corps members and they discovered I was one of them. They would later be my friends at the camp. They made camp real fun for me.
Just then, I sighted a woman dressed in army khaki. To say I was relieved would be an understatement. I rushed to her and said, “good evening ma, I am here for the NYSC orientation camp.”
She squinted and looked at me as though horns just sprouted on my head “Oh I see,” then cackled and continued, “You think you are the first graduate to serve abi? Well done madam youth corper. Will you get out of my sight!”
Her words cut, and I winced a little. I was demoralized and felt like going back towards the gate and out of the camp, back to Jos. As if on cue, my course mate whom we were to travel together came into the scene. My heart found its regular beat again. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw her. She walked up to me and took me to her room after the usual banter.
Rachael and I were course mates in school, but we weren’t friends while in school since my only friends back then were my twin sister and my books. We had agreed to travel together when we discovered the two of us were posted to Katsina state to serve. She was at the car park earlier than me, and was fortunate to get the first bus and had a smooth ride. She was in camp earlier and had rested before I got there. The trip was longer than planned and since I had to keep updating my family about the trip, my phone battery had gone off and that accounted for why I couldn’t call her in the first place.
Rachael took me to her room, and we were lucky there was one-bed space left on the top bunk of a Lagos girl. I happily took the space just to be close to Rachael if not, I would be alone with no familiar face around. I kept my heavy bag, and we bolted for the hall so that I can be registered. When we got there, I was thirsty and famished. I decided to get a bottle of Fayrouz so that I can have enough strength to follow the long queue.
I rushed to the makeshift stalls (mami market) to buy my chilled Fayrouz.
The taste was heavenly with the heat, hunger, and thirst. The Fayrouz tasted better than Christmas rice and chicken. One man came in, saw how I was savoring the Fayrouz and he was like, “Sister, you must be exhausted, this one that you are drinking the thing like that.”
I said, “Yes sir (I almost said baba), I traveled all the way from Jos and the trip was not a funny one.” “Me, I am from Kogi and our place is farther than yours, but thank God one is here to start the camp,” he said.
Did I hear ‘start camp?’ I looked at him, and then did a double-take. The man had gray hairs popping out his nostril and he was there not as a staff as I initially thought, but as a corps member. It amazed me that “baba” who was not up to 30 years looked quite old.
I went back, finished my registration, and went to the hostel. I was too tired to eat and so, I went to bed with just the Fayrouz as dinner. I lay down to sleep and that was when reality dawned on me. It’s real that I would spend the next three weeks without my twin sister. That was the first time we were ever separated. We attended the same primary, secondary, and polytechnic together. We were course mates and did everything together. The sad truth was I depended on her for everything; I was like a parasite while she was the host. Even decisions that I should make, I depended on her to make for me.
We were told we won’t make the Batch A mobilization list, it was painful, but we moved on with our lives and completely relegated the issue of NYSC to the background. Only for me to receive a call on a Thursday that our names were on the list and to make matter worse, I was posted to Katsina, while my twin sister was posted to Taraba. The person who did the posting deliberately decided to separate us. I almost had a panic attack.
We were awoken the next day at 5:30 am. For some of us who came in late the previous day and we were yet to get our khaki and crested vest, we were allowed to do so before joining the morning activities. I went and followed through and got my khaki ready for the swearing-in ceremony slated for the next day, Thursday. My eyes flooded when I got my khaki. I remembered my dad was not alive to see me donned in the NYSC khaki. He would have been very proud to see his baby girl in the khaki, but alas, death took him away while I was still in secondary school.
The hours flew by and the swearing-in ceremony came and so was Katsina scorching sun. It was so hot that day and we were to stand at attention on the parade ground under the sun. Few people could not withstand the heat and passed out. I was calling them weaklings in my mind when I heard a voice in my ears, “Let me make you get yogurt,” he cooed in my ears.
Before I could process what was happening, two strong hands swept me off my feet and started running with me to the emergency unit and shouting, “This one too has fainted” I was protesting and trying to wiggle free from his strong grasps when I heard one soldier shouting, “Let this be a joke and you will see how I will skin you people alive.”
Ha! I didn’t want to die. I instantly did what I thought was the best at that moment.
I had to play along. I was rushed to the Red Cross stand. My boots, cap and belt were taken off and I was fanned. I closed my eyes, relaxed, and enjoyed the cool breeze being blown which was a respite from the biting sun. Not too long after, I got the chilled yoghourt and my ‘angel’ whispered in my ears that, “I have kept my promise,” he said.
He left before I could even open my eyes. Till date, I have no idea what that guy looked like. I didn’t get to look at his face before he left. Why did he do what he did? I kept asking myself but I guessed my look caused it. You could describe me as scrawny back then and you won’t be wrong.
It then struck me that sometimes, we don’t even need to struggle much to get some things. The yoghurt, though ill-gotten, came at the right time when I didn’t even expect it.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via email@example.com