No trains go by here
“You’re sure there is nothing left?” a stout bald-headed, middle-aged gentleman in a Grandad collared white shirt and grey slacks, asked his young daughter. Seated in the back of a silver porsche, he addresses her through a partial opening in the backseat window.
“Gimme a second, imma run up and do a final run-through” his daughter responds, not tearing her eyes away from her phone, her deft thumbs pounding against the iPhone 7+ screen. She quickly exits out of a WhatsApp chat before making her way back again towards an iron-gated passage, where she turns left, towards the female section of the hostel.
Whispered chatter quickly follow behind her as groups of onlooking corpers, momentarily distracted from their games of table tennis, Whot and Ludo, traded stories about what must have led the notorious Ajebutter from Platoon 6 to call it quits and leave camp. Other uniformed corpers who happened to be walking by, would also pause to get a good glimpse of the flashy ride that was hard to miss, parked as it was right in front of the hostel entrance. Not until they noted the bright glare from a large iPad screen in the backseat, would they hurriedly look away, embarrassed to have been caught gaping.
“Ehn? Shey Davido wan lodge with us tonight ni?”
“Sey wetin happen? Davido fi climb bunk?” returns the amiably tall male corper whose shoulder brushes against the rear headlights of the Silver Porsche, as he walks past it, flanked on either side by the two female corpers whom he was accompanying back to their hostel.
Just then Anna resurfaces through the female hostel entrance.
Her father’s driver reaches the car door just in time to hold it open for her to get in and a few minutes later, the silvery grey 2015 Porsche reared to life and was working its way up the steep incline that led up towards the main Camp gates.
“Pretty much everything, I looked around my corner and under the bed like ten times,” Anna reassures her penny-wise Father, a third time. “They can knock themselves out with whatever I may have forgotten,”
“Let’s hope it’s everything indeed, or else you would have one of them, considering herself lucky to be the first to get her hands on your bucket or toothbrush, make a shrine out of it!”
Anna ignores her Father’s remarks and looking up into the driver’s rear-view mirror, “Drive as fast as you can! Get me as far as possible from this hell-hole!”
“Language Madam,” his stern rebuke is not lost in the softness of his tone.
“Sorry, Papa” Anna turns her face away to look out her window.
Her Father mindlessly fondles with the seat belt strapped over his protruding midsection, as he picks up where he had left off poring over a lengthy document on his iPad.
Obinna eyes had remained fixed on the empty spot left behind right where the Porsche had driven off from barely five minutes ago. He hadn’t caught himself as his mind slipped into daydreams of him dappered in an all-white Givenchy suit, cruising behind the wheels of a 2017 G-wagon, with his foot slamming hard on the accelerator. It was a light tap on his left shoulder that drew him back, turning around, he finds Yewande looking up at him, with Fatima, her ‘handbag’ clutching her at the elbow.
“Oga, how far na? Una no go go collect food?” Yewande asks,
Obinna notices the round blue container in Yewande’s hand and the bright orange one in Fatima’s. He also notices that neither of them carried cellophane wrapped balls of eba.
“Oh boy! Be like sey na Jollof dem serve oo!” Obinna’s friend, Cecil, is seated in a white plastic chair, his cap resting on his knee. Up until then, they had both sat side by side in silence as Cecil had been too engrossed with scrolling through his Twitter feed for updates on the circulating rumors of Davido’s arrival. Suddenly piping up, not hiding his excitement.
“Ehen now! Na why I dey wonder why una dey dull yaselves for here” Yewande says.
“Omo e good to be rich o!” Obinna says dreamily. “E get one rich man pikin wey just comot here now now”
“Ah, na she go enjoy pass tonight oo, she go see two meat chop with her rice today ” Cecil jests.
“No be that fine car wey we just see as e dey comot?” Fatima asks, tapping Yewande on the shoulder. Fatima’s pitch is long and drawn out, making her sound as if always on the verge of tears.
“Yes oo, Omo, that car fine weh weh, una see the babe wey enter am? As the window dey tinted, I no even know whether person dey for back or not, shooo! Na so this mumu girl come dey disturb me sey na Davido get the car” Yewande says referring to Fatima, who with a loud gasp and repeated agitated raps on Yewande’s back, had been the one to call her attention to the car, when they spotted it heading up towards the main gates, on their walk back from Mami market, the local food and toiletries market.
“I no know oo, I never see the babe before. She lepaa and she yellow, oyibo yellow. But Choooooi! If I know sey na she wey fi carry this kin moto, omo I for don dey chyke am since” Cecil says regrettably, but Fatima giggles at him, giving him a jovial push on the back which he ducks playfully. His tireless hunt to find his Camp girlfriend always made for a good joke between them.
“Okay oo, abeg make we go chop, we go see for lectures na. Abeg sef, you sabi as we dey do. Save us two seats for back” Yewande remembers the food in her hands and knows she must cut the conversation short to keep a chatty Cecil from keeping them till the beagle rang for them to report back to the parade ground.
The plump body that had lain immobile through a 30 mins deep nap was slowly stirring. Slow and steady came its arousal. First a hand that was tucked under a pillow stretches itself out and then falls limply over the side of a rusty iron bed frame. Then a leg is lifted, propping up on feet planted on the ledge of the bed frame. The smell of hot freshly cooked jollof rice tickled Adaeze’s nose. Her eyes flutter for a few delayed seconds before they open fully. To her left, she sees her bunkie, bunkmate, is still asleep. With their bunks pressed tightly against each other in the cramped room, Adaeze often had to make do with waking up to her bunkie’s leg sometimes on top of hers.
Adaeze lifts the edge of the white mosquito net that formed a canopy about her, to peer into her right bunkie’s corner, dismayed, she finds her awake.
“Cynti, how far now, I told you to wake me!” Adaeze whines.
Cynthia is holding a piece of fish she had just broken off to eat. “Babe, e remain for me to go collect that beagle from soldier dem and blow am for your ear. I called your name, shook you, but you no wan gree. Na so so 20 mins, 20 mins you dey tell me. So me I kukuma left to go and stand in line.”
Adaeze eyes the content of Perpetual’s plate, there was still much untouched rice left.
“Do quick, you know sey na rice, no be eba, e no go finish quick, people are still in line” Cynthia says hoping to talk Adaeze out of shortening the paltry portion of rice she had been served.
Adaeze bends over, scanning under her bed for a nylon bag of reusable ones she had bought at Mami market. She also pulls out a small sachet of Golden Morn and Peak Milk, mixes their contents into a plastic cup, pours in some of Cynthia’s pure water, forming a watery soup.
“You dey imitate your bunkie” Cynthia quipped, referring to Adaeze’s left bunkie who was still asleep. Adaeze turns to peer into her sleeping bunkie’s face, and a knowing grin spreads across her chubby cheeks.
It was then that two of their roomates, enter in together, Yewande in front and Fatima close behind, returning from their trip to the refectory with filled containers of food.
Yewande has on a pair of sunglasses with triangular frames that made her look like a space cadet in a Sci-Fi movie,
“Davido has done it for us today again oo” Yewande announce her entry, jousting her filled cooler up in the air in a mock cheer.
“Yes oo, this rice too make sense!” babyfaced Tina responds to a cheery Yewande, raising her own small green food flask above her head in a mock toast, her back resting up against the wall, seated on the bed right above Adaeze’s, clad in a black camisole and white shorts.
About then, a female soldier dressed in a camouflage round-neck, long-sleeved shirt tucked neatly into green slacks, a cap pressed tight on her head under which her synthetic bob wig was gathered under, lifted the tip of a hollow medium sized bronze horn to her lips, and with the force of an astonishingly strong breath, produces a shrill siren-like sound that closely mimicked the heralding of a tribal dignitary.
“Good Afternoon Gentlemen corps members, please report to the parade ground nooo-oowww!” follows the OBS, the announcement system.
The disdained sound, filling the ears of all present on the 30-acre campground, sets off a chorus of groans, hisses and other expressions of discontent. Those it had caught at a late lunch rushed to empty out the contents of their lunch coolers, risking undigested chunks of rice and fish travelling down the wrong way. Corpers scuttled about in every which direction, some scampering up the dorm steps to fetch forgotten neck tags, caps or charging phones from their rooms, nearly colliding with those leaving their rooms, hurrying downstairs before the soldiers came to chase them down with buckets of water and threats of washing the foul-smelling flooded bathrooms.
“Ewooo! These wahala people” one particular female, cuts to the front of a line of girls making use of a broken shard of glass hanging on the stained wall next to the stairs, as a mirror, she turns around to check her buttocks in the mirror and then dashes down the stairs, leaving the four girls she had obstructed, yelling insults behind her. “Olodo repete!”, “No home training” “Stupid human being”
Another female corper with a short mohawk, dyed in pale gold at the tips, poked her head in the doorway of Room 26 “Please can someone borrow me their bucket?” she asks, on a daring mission to shower, get on her white-on-white, and be at her place on the parade ground in under five minutes.
And just a floor below, a corper from Room 8, Gbemileke by name, had just remembered she had forgotten her Dettol and suddenly springs out of the open shower stall, in search of the girl in Room 27 who had borrowed it.
Ever the first in Room 28 to respond to the sound of the beagle, Cynthia is fully dressed, but she waits in the hallway just outside their door for Adaeze who is finishing up straightening the edges of the torn, faded brown cloth spread across her bed. A large deep depression on the right side of her mattress always kept it sunken into the springboard beneath it.
“Come oo! Where is my comb?” Sade saunters in dripping wet from a hurried bath, drops of water still coursing down the sides of her face from her full head of damp super-coarse Afro. “Room Leader, Abeg oo You go wait small, I’m just coming from the bathroom”. The sound of the beagle had woken Room Leader from sleep. Feeling a gnawing emptiness in her belly, she had gotten up to unlock a small travelling suitcase that was stuffed with Digestive biscuits, cornflakes, groundnuts, and sachets of powdered milk. She pulls out two strawberry Super 2 biscuits and pockets them in her waist bag, returns the padlocked suitcase back underneath her bed and slides on a dusty pair of white tennis shoes. She takes the center of the room, where she always stood when it came time to hurry each room member out so she could bolt the doors behind them.
“Oya ooo… Come and be going!” she chimes her usual jingle, sounding like an overplayed track.
To move out from her corner to join a waiting Cynthia, Adaeze squeezes between the very narrow opening between the edge of her bunk and the bunk positioned awkwardly in the center of the room. Frustrated, she shoves the edge of the obstructing bunk to make room for her heavy-set frame, shifting it further to the right.
Sade pulls on the slightly damp white shirt that had been hung to dry over the wooden edge of her bunk, she gathers her dripping afro into an untidy bun with an overstretched rubber band, that would just have to do for now, she could attend to the beast later on in the evening when she could spare more time to give it the TLC it desperately needed.
Two other roommates, Dara and Sandra, are ready at the same time and depart together, relieving Room Leader who counts down two less roommates to have to hurry out the room.
Yewande had continued on with her lunch, unperturbed neither by the sound of the beagle nor Room Leader’s crooning. Polishing off the last spoonful, she sets her empty food cooler down on the wall beside her bunk.
Fatima too was unfettered, her outstretched legs were perched on the bunk frame next to hers, her mouth full with unswallowed food, as she scraped up leftover grains of rice off the sides of her cooler with a spoon.
“Roomieeeeee, make we begin dey go before those soldiers go change am for us oo” Fatima finally says to Yewande, in between mouthfuls.
“See me na, I don already ready. Na you I dey wait” Yewande responds, putting on her white rubber shoes. Seeing her partner-in-lateness already a step ahead of her, Fatima quickly packs up her cooler and stands to zip up her white shorts.
“How far na, why are these people always pushing this thing!” annoyed, Yewande gripes when she tries to squeeze through what strangely felt like an even tighter narrowing of the space between the bunk sitting awkwardly in the center of the room and Fatima’s bunk.
The bunk screeched as it scraped across the ground, forced left by Yewande pushing it closer towards Adaeze’s bunk. Impatiently, she stomps out of the room, brushing past Room Leader who was standing in the doorway.
Fatima is the last to leave. She pleads with a reluctant Room Leader to wait on her while she ran to the toilet. Even Sade, who had spent ten minutes covering up a pimple on the right side of her nose, with foundation, had left. Returning with a rinsed faeces bucket in hand, Fatima thanks a scowling Room Leader, and hurries down the stairs hoping Yewande had saved her a seat, although she was not at all looking forward to the unpleasantness of having to condole her upset partner.
With the painfully sluggish Muslim girl out of the room, Room Leader walks over to the problematic bunk in the center of the room. She shifts it slightly to the right to even out the opening on Yewande & Fatimah’s side that Yewande had messed up.
“Lord please, no more drama over this stupid bunk for just one day, please?” She mutters an exasperated prayer as she pulls a small padlock through the door lock.
“Bunch of bloody idiots!” Corporal Imaobong paces back and forth in a straight line in front of them, brushing by them so closely that she nearly almost topples the chubby one in the middle over.
“So you think you can take Parade as a joke abi? Good. Today we will use you as examples.”
“Mad…..Sorry Ma, I was having menstrual cramp” a petite dark-skinned girl pleaded with the fiery-tempered soldier.
“Shut up that dirty mouth of yours! you are having cramp and so? If any of us soldiers is having cramp, you think anyone bloody cares? We stand up and do what we have to do, even though we are crying while doing it…..Come if I hear your voice again I will use this thing and flog you” She points a wooden baton at the pleading corper. “And you, is that how they taught you to kneel down in your Father’s house?” the corper in question flinches from suddenly becoming the object of the soldier’s attention and quickly straightens off her hind legs.
The large parade ground was quickly filling up with corpers, fully garbed in white vests, white shorts, and green face caps. Looking down from above, it was a sea of pale green and white. Each platoon was clustered into four untidy rows of fidgety corpers. The Platoon leaders had the unenviable task of getting corpers above the age of being ordered about by their peers, to line up according to height. It was Day 9 so the PL’s were not swayed by sulky corpers unwilling to abandon their spot in line next to their friends to go where their height belonged. Today, State Coordinator was nowhere to be found. Camp Commandant looked at his phone again for the third time just in case he had missed an urgent call from his superior. The officiating soldiers were growing impatient with his repeated orders to “Remain by their platoons” The corpers were growing restless, more and more were no longer standing but were either seated on the gravel ground or leaning against the large posterior cement wall that enclosed the parade ground. Some soldiers had already caught some daredevils trying to sneak their way across the short stretch between the parade ground and the sprawling open field of Mami Market.
Thirty minutes after Camp Commandant had checked his phone for the 4th time, he receives a message alert of State commander’s arrival. The arriving party descends from a saloon car. The State Coordinator, a balding average height man, dressed in a plain green shirt and long flared tracksuit pants, emerges from the backseat, a uniformed First Lieutenant had gotten down from the passenger seat to hold his door open.
Corporal Imabong recognizes the sea-green saloon car before she sees the State Commandant appear from it. They all knew why he had come. His memo about a mysterious meeting to take place that evening, with all Armed Staff expected to be present, reached her room last night by way of Sergeant Francis, who had burst open the door, “12:00pm tomorrow, make yourself available at the State Commandant’s office, if you like yourself, do not attempt to be absent”. The best rumors had it that perhaps another Lance Corporal had been reported demanding a bribe from a corper. Corporal Imabong, uneasy from the thought of another tense meeting whose objective was to denounce bribe-taking, the second livelihood of junior officer’s like her, suddenly lost interest in intimidating the four corpers she had kept kneeling in the courtyard.
“All of you, out of my sight! Go and join your platoons now!” she barks at them. Trembling with mixed relief and fear, they all hurriedly get up from the ground and strut on stinging knees and thighs to join their platoons.
Corporal Imaobong too briskly marches in the direction of Parade ground to her assigned Platoon 2.
Imade’s thick calves were beginning to sting from lifting them in synchrony with the officiating commanders drill commands.
“AT EASE!!” the commander finally allows them a few moments rest to attend to a junior officer, who had been standing a few feet away, waiting to be granted permission to deliver his message. There was to be a volleyball competition the next day, so the Platoon members who would be representing the Platoon in the competition needed to leave the parade ground and head over to the Volleyball Court for training. A small commotion ensues as David, the Platoon Leader tries to hold back the rush of corpers who had broken from their lines to follow the junior officer. David excuses the faces he recognized from the court the day before and shoo’s back the rest. The thought of making an attempt to number herself with the Volleyball team crosses Imade’s mind, those white plastic chairs that were always sitting along the perimeter of the medium sized court would give her legs a break for a few minutes at least. She decides against it when she sees David turn back Yoyin. “No, I know you, you are not among them, return to your line” David forehead wrinkles as he squints against the facing sun. David was a Chemical Engineering First Class holder from Delta State University. What he lacked in build, he made up for with persona. His slight, lanky frame and youthful face belied a resoluteness and sharp-tongue that one did well not to contend with. Even the usually quarrelsome and melodramatic Yoyin does not put up a fight and begrudgingly returns to her place in line.
Imade watches also as Yomi makes his way around the group crowding around David, and whispers something into David’s ear, David turns to see who it is but does not stop Yomi when he walks off in the direction that the junior officer had gone with Platoon 1’s Volleyball Team. Imade wonders what lie Yomi had used, as usual it got him what he wanted. She could barely keep herself from enjoying the sight of him, rounded shoulders slightly retracted back from a well-chiseled protruding chest. Her excitement builds, she finds herself looking forward to another night of free-flowing cheap beer and stolen caresses at Mami market, the second time in a single week that Yomi had favored her as his ‘Mami babe’ She smiled inwardly at the thought of getting another free meal at Mami, so when Parade is dismissed at 6pm, she will dash back to her room on the second floor to change into the particular pair of white shorts that Mary, her roommate, had said “made her hips come out wella”. Three nights ago, when she had worn the same pair of shorts, she had not missed the stolen glances in her direction from the table of six guys dining at the popular “Calabar kitchen’ Her focus tonight would of course be on Yomi, but the more admirers, the merrier.
“Those who have upcoming football and table tennis competitions should be sure they are taking their training with absolute and complete seriousness. There is money involved. If I were you, I will apply myself….you are now all dismissed for your respective evening activities” 6:00pm on the dot, the shrill voice of Camp Commandant speaking into a weakly projecting mic, dismisses the orderly files of corpers. Some pull out their phones from their waist pocket to connect with friends in other platoons, others head towards their respective dorms to retrieve their coolers in preparation for the dinner announcement. While others like Grace from Platoon 4 and Halimat from Platoon 7, quite aimlessly roam the perimeter in search of perhaps a new face to make friends with or a pleasant distraction with which to while away the Wednesday evening.
“Sir, do we head towards Commandant’s office?” Corporal Imaobong inquires of the senior officer from Platoon 1,
“Didn’t we receive the same memo? Or has your clock stopped working?” Sergeant Awilo icily responds before swaggering away towards the small bungalow office that faced the Parade ground.
Corporal Imabong swallowed the curse she wanted to spit back. “Sorry Sir,” she yields instead, with a slight dip of her head. She quickly traces her own steps towards the Commandant’s office, feeling eyes bore through her back and shame from the awareness that a group of corpers had been within earshot of the cold exchange, seeing her, the famed terror of the female hostel, cower before a man who although more senior in rank, was a good two inches shorter than her.
With Sergeant Awilo thankfully out of sight, the ‘Yoruba Squad’ of Platoon 1, like magnets, find one another. They lingered on the parade ground, entertaining one another with stories of “You don hear wetin happen for….” and “You never hear who…” But as the sky darkened into night time, the boisterous group of seven started making their way over to Mami Market. One of Yoyin’s Mami sweethearts from Platoon 5, Emmanuel, joined them, while the rest of the girls followed in the hopes that more affluent, handsome male corpers will make advances and they too may like Imade and Yoyin may go to bed with a belly filled with dinner that had been paid for.
The lights in Room 28 were on and the two wooden swinging doors at the entrance were thrown open. Thankful to have met the doors unlocked, anxious as she was for a reunion with her bed, Imade walks in but finds a disgruntled Yewande, arms akimbo, standing in the center of the room, like a hunter about to decapitate its prey.
“What is my own? All me I am saying is, whoever shifted this bed should push it back to where it was before!” declares Yewande
Imade cautiously skirts around Yewande and Room Leader whose faded purple towel is tied loosely over her bosom, assuming the mediator between a battle-thirsty Yewande and a distraught Adaeze. Stepping one foot on the unoccupied bed beneath hers, Imade hoists herself onto her bunk, the 4th one on the right, counting from the door, from where she gets a good central view of the face-off she had just walked in on.
“Kilonshe…” Imade starts to say, but on seeing it was Mary and not Temi who lay in the lower bunk next to hers, she quickly switches to Pidgin, “Wetin happen, why Yewande dey para?”
“Omo see me see trouble oo, na because of this bunk wey dey this middle, may dem carry am go parade ground abeg, I don tire for this their everyday argument….” Mary fills her in, eager to have someone to exchange side commentary with as the annoying but strangely amusing argument unfolds.
“See! Nobody moved this bunk, the same way it was in the afternoon that is exactly how it is now” Imade says in a hoarse voice, still feeble from her most recent bout of malaria.
“What are you saying? You’re trying to tell me that this space here is equal with you guys own on the other end.” Using her two hands, Yewande tries to measures the width of each opening to make her case. “See now! I know what I am saying,” she says throwing her hand up in the air in exasperation.
Mary goes up to Room Leader, stands on tiptoes to reach close enough to her ear to whisper something to her, “See ehn, I know you want peace, you no too like quarrel like these two yeye people, just do make them carry this bunk go somewhere. Na the only solution be that, if not, this matter no go allow make person hear word for this room” her urgent eyes bulge out from the rest of her face which is slathered all over with a thick black face mask.
“I know, but Promise does not want to move” Room Leader says to Mary in a tone, tinged ever so slightly with defeat.
“Pro gini?” Mary is taken aback. “Please which of them is Promise?”
Room Leader points at the roommate in question and Mary notices for the first time that under the mosquito net draped around it, there is someone seated inside the lower bed of the bunk at the center of the dispute.
“She be winch? How she no go wan comot for this place? She dey cause hazard, ahn. See all these free bunk wey she fi use!” indignant, Mary challenges,
Room Leader moves closer to where Promise is seated, she has to bend her tall frame to meet Promise’s face. She tries to plead with her again. She had least expected Promise, a natural peace-lover, to be so adamant about keeping her bunk in the middle when she could clearly see how much trouble it was bringing to Room 28. Promise had even objected to taking one of the two unoccupied top bunks, and there was only one bottom bunk still left empty.
“Can you take that one?” pointing to the last bunk on the left, counting from the door, Room Leader asks her with beseeching eyes.
“I don’t like that corner; the girls there gossip too much.” Promise declines again, her voice barely above a whisper.
“I would buy you ear-plugs”
“No” she rejects, turning her head away from Room Leader, to stare blankly at a spot on the wall in front of her.
Yewande and Adaeze’s voices were now discernibly a few decibels higher, their frustration palpably growing. Yewande’s veins were now even visible peeking out from the side of her forehead. Cynthia, returning from spreading her clothes on the line in the courtyard, joins the ongoing fray and on Adaeze’s side quite predictably. She couldn’t quite pass off the chance to put, Yewande, the 20-something year old troublesome midget from Ondo State in her place.
“Come, mind the way you talk! I have been keeping quiet, but if you continue to push me, you will not like what I will do” Cynthia smacks at Yewande.
“Big Aunty, please oo, dont think you can use your old age to intimidate anyone here abeg!” Yewande taunts right back
With a deft move that brings her in between them, Room Leader makes a timely interception that blocks Cynthia’s raised hands that were about coming down hard across Yewande’s face.
“Cynti Stop it!” Room Leader calls her to order, the subtle British undertone in her voice, now exaggerated in exasperation. “We’ve had just about enough of this! Adaeze, Yewande & Promise follow me!”
“Leave her, why you stop am now. She for try am, as if I would not have given her times 5!” Yewande badgers on, but is preemptively kept out of the way of a fuming Cynthia by Room Leader who remains planted between the both of them. Her hands clutch Cynthia’s upper arm, steeling her against the tide of anger just waiting for a good few inches closer to Yewande to unleash itself. “Please, ignore her….carry on with your chores” Room Leader says to her, appealing to the matured married woman in her.
Room Leaders turns towards the doors to lead a raucous Yewande, trying to get past the human wall, to spew out more threats in her native Yoruba on Cynthia. Reluctantly, Adaeze and Promise follow behind Room Leader.
“Ah, shooo! Where you dey carry them go? No go report dem oo!” Imade, intolerant of a snitch, pipes up from where she had been lying on her bed.
Pausing by the doorway, Room Leader looks back at Imade with a stern look that seems to say “Shut up and keep out of this”
Imade catches the coldness in her look, gone was the softness she was accustomed to. “Wo, o ko ni ifiyesi mi, me I dey go sleep, make una do comot”
One by one, Room Leader, Yewande, Promise and Adaeze march over a pair of steps leading to another hallway of rooms. RL led them to the area close to the stairs that led to the 3rd floor, right by the railings with a view of the outdoor mobile toilets at the back of the main building, where some of the elderly women cleaners could be seen bending over the large basins they used to wash the corpers’ clothes in exchange for pay. RL knew not what else she could do asides what she often did when Aunt Uju, her schizophrenic aunt relapsed into one of her spells. She would take her out the house and tell her Mr. Max was waiting for them at the train stop, so they had to hurry out to meet him before his train arrived to take him away. They lived in a gated neighborhood along Chevron Drive in Lekki, close to the center of motor vehicle-congested Lagos. The only trains around were all in Aunty Uju’s head. But for her Aunty Uju, the whir of train engines and the screech of metal gliding over steel train tracks were real. “It’s so loud! Did they have to build the station so close to the house?” Aunty Uju would hold her hands over her ears to block out the imaginary sound. But as they walked away from the house and towards the “train station” under a beaming sun and past tidy rows of low-growing tree shrubs lining the pavement, RL would watch as Aunty Uju would take in her surroundings, the warm evening sun against her bare neck, the smell of freshly cut grass, a frightened lizard scampering to hide away in a thick brush, and the sound of the “loud trains” would soon fade into a dull silence. Like the voices in Aunty Uju’s head, each of her disgruntled room members fought to speak at once,
“That bed cannot go anywhere! We have been managing it for the past 1 week. It’s only 2 weeks left, can’t you people manage?” Promise defiantly asserts.
“You’re just saying that because you don’t have to endure passing through that tight space all the time!” Yewande glowers at her.
RL hoped that being away from the object of their disagreement would somehow still the agitated crowd before her, the way the warm sun restored Aunty Vi back to the present when her hallucinations struck.
Mary returned to the room after a quick shower. The girl in line after her was getting impatient so she had to make it uncomfortably quick. RL and the three roommates she had taken with her were still not back in the room, “Babe how far? Dem don settle themselves?” She asks Imade whose Facetime call with her fiance kept getting cut by the poor network connection.
“Abeg, I no know for them. Shebi, I talk sey RL don carry them go report” Imade distractedly responds.
“This RL sef ehn, na so she dey always do! Teacher’s pet! She too dey do pass herself. She come carry this small matter go give them.” Mary says, rather ambivalent about their foreign-trained RL whom she only partly admired for her ability to maintain a puzzling calm through the storms of Room 28 but also finding her preference for the rule of law quite inconveniencing.
“Eh Eh o! Make una leave my bunkie abeg,” Angela, the roommate whose slept in the bed above RL’s cautions them, overhearing their chatter, but the cheeky smile on her face showed she meant it only playfully. “No blame am, na her work”
“Which dirty yeye job! This RL thing na work? Na so — na so — she no dey dey even allow peeh — siin to sleep for room during morning drill! Every other RL dey cooperate. Even sef, — -Eeee, this my friend, eeh, kini oruko re? Nike, tell me sey her RL dey leave dem for room soteeeeeee na by 10am den go stroll comot room.”
“Yeye Yoruba geh!” Mary teases Imade, and how much of an effort it was for her to complete a full sentence in plain English. Imade too laughs and then motions Mary closer, murmurs something into her ear, which causes them to exchange conspirational smiles.
Angela watches the exchange between her two mischievous giggly roommates, longing to be a part of the secret chatter that they always kept only between themselves.
Thereupon, Adaeze and Yewande both walk in, surprising their roommates with how subdued they both appear. Each goes straight to their bedside, Adaeze, with more effort than Yewande, has to tuck her body through the narrow opening on her side. After their return, it was not long before all thoughts of the earlier squabble evaporated, leaving in its place pockets of competing conversations, some about the unexplained congregation of uniformed personnel that clustered around the State Coordinators’ air-conditioned office that evening, another about whose Platoon Leader was more attractive between the two roommates at the far end; Glory and Victoria and an impassioned debate between Imade and Temi, in their native Yoruba dialect.
Everyone seemed to have moved on save for Promise who was in bed by 9:30, an hour before official ‘lights-out’, rolling a pair of prayer rosaries in hand as she concluded her nightly Hail-Marys. Laying under her thin wrapper she thought of her husband back in Onitscha, and of their unpainted concrete house with a view of a small untended cassava farm from its one bedroom window.
“Pro Pro! Pro Pro oo! Nwanne m” Uche, her friend, called from the bunk directly on her right.
Usually she responded eagerly and got up to perch next to the edge of Uche’s bunk, but tonight she remained lying where she was till Uche assumed she was asleep and stopped calling for her. RL had said it was best they got rid of her bunk and that she take the bed at the extreme left, next to Lilian, the grumpy gossip from Nnewi. She would miss being so close to Uche who regaled her with stories of her troublesome Mother-in-Law who visited her and her husband in Owerri, more often than they would like. Promise would laugh each time Uche told the story of when her Mother-in-Law suggested a “good doctor” in the village to “help” with her womb. Maybe it was funny to her because it reminded her of her own Mother-in-Law.
By 10:30pm, the electricity was cut off, blanketing them in piercing darkness. With no prying eyes watching, Promise wipes away the wetness forming underneath her eyes, unable to tell exactly why she could not hold back tears.