BY ISRAEL USULOR
The red saloon car glided past Benue Links Motor Park and halted just before Wurukum Roundabout. I was the first to hop down, conscious of the fact that I’m no longer an ordinary citizen. I was now a “corper” or what some of my relatives and close friends referred to as “Government Pikin”. That is what people call new NYSC recruits. Young Nigerians take pride in participating in this one year service which began in 1973. It is a sweet adventure for young people like myself who are eager to explore the country. Indeed, the NYSC thing had entered my head and even changed my behaviour sort of. I began to see myself as a VIP, and I even started to think that the government of Nigeria cared about me. I changed the way I walked, knowing that I had to put up a flimsy façade of a “graduate” who would soon wear the coveted NYSC khaki. The previous day, I had made sure I visited my barber so as to get a clean, ravishing cut off both my hair and beards. I knew I was handsome, I was young and I was headed for NYSC Camp, Ise-Emure, Ekiti State. I felt unstoppable! Nothing beats that feeling.
I flagged a wheelbarrow and instructed the pusher with clean English to cart my luggage into Benue Links Motor Park where I hoped to board a bus to Ado-Ekiti. Ordinarily, and if I was not going to camp, and if I was not claiming to be a big boy, and if I was not seeing myself as a government pikin, I would usually carry my luggage by myself. But, today was different! The boy knew I was a corper and gave me a look that suggested he had seen my type before. He loaded the luggage and off we went. He walked so fast that I had to trail behind. Soon, I lost sight of him and had to search around the park for a long.
Luckily, I caught up with the wheelbarrow boy and retrieved my luggage, handing him a hundred Naira note.
“Thank you corper” he said, wiping droplets of sweat from his forehead.
“Don’t mention it” I replied. I jacked up my Ghana Must Go Bag and moved as fast as I could to the ticketing area. Then it dawned on me that I was late!
The whole Park was in frenzy with young men and women clutching different sizes of bags, moving up and down, all of them with the same motive of travelling to different NYSC camps spread across the country. Some just paced around the glassy floor tiles as if they were stranded. Indeed, many were stranded because there were not enough buses. In fact, there was no direct bus to Ekiti, so I had to quickly dash to High Level an area well known to me from my days as a journalist in Makurdi. At High-Level Motor Park, I was lucky to find a Sienna which was headed for Ado-Ekiti.
“One chance! One chance!”, shouted the agbero who was in charge of attracting passengers to the car. He was smoking a stick of cigarette and thick smoke oozed out of his nostrils as he talked.
“Ado-Ekiti! Ado-Ekiti! One lucky chance!” he announced again, this time in a more resolute tone when he sighted me and noticed I was a potential customer. I hoped it was really one chance because one chance is not always one chance.
“Oga you dey go? Come complete this motor, na Ado straight. If na camp you dey go, driver go drop una for camp gate”
“Yes, I dey go. Abeg, help me carry my bag”, I said, handing him my Ghana Must Go Bag. Luckily, I was the last passenger, the first time in Nigeria that one chance was really once chance. There were two guys and four other beautiful girls. All of us were “coppers”. And we were headed for camp! I sat beside a lady whose body was so cosy. I began to imagine if she was the wife I’m supposed to marry. I was ready for the journey. Many things lie ahead!
I fidgeted and moved closer to the cosy fine lady seated beside me; I wanted it to seem as if I wasn’t sitting comfortably and that I wanted to adjust my sitting posture and that I just wanted to sit comfortably. But that wasn’t my aim at all, I was out for pure mischief. I just wanted to “tap current”. Or feel good, or feel cosier, or both! I can’t kill myself. I’m not a bad person though, it was just Satan pushing me. Ekiti State was far. It was a long journey and one needed to prepare even if it means finding a comfortable chest to rest my head even if it was for only two seconds. But my seat-mate knew my plans but somehow managed to keep quiet. She didn’t push me either, she just moved away.
The Sienna moved slowly, meandering through the city centre, passed by IBB Square, negotiated the High-Level Roundabout, and made a right turn and headed towards Apir and Ikpayongo in Gwer. We were on course, corpers, all corpers going to camp. I felt no police should flag us on the road “because we are copers”, or “government shudren” or “government propati”. To me, being a “coper” was a position of high importance. I can tell many youths who has gone through NYSC felt the same way, at least from the beginning.
Nigerians too tend to respect corpers, even the security agencies. I knew this because at every check-point as we journeyed out of Benue into Kogi and then Ondo, then Ekiti, all our bald driver needed to say was “officer na corpers I carry o!” and we would pass. Drivers too liked carrying copers because it saved them from the agony they go through in the hands of egunje-seeking police officers. If there were only one corper in the car, the driver would make sure he or she sat at the front seat for easy sighting by policemen manning the hundreds of checkpoints dotting Nigerian roads.
At about 5 pm, the Sienna pulled up beside the road; we were in Ado. Everyone alighted. My bum was flattened by prolonged sitting and it hurt a lot. My legs felt frozen. I was not tired, I was famished! I helped the cosy lady with her luggage, hoping to start off something with her. After all, most men don’t offer help to the opposite sex for free, there is always an ulterior motive. I’m not like that though! I’m a good man, which was why I combined her load with mine and conveyed all of them one after the other to the small van that would take us straight to camp at Ise-Emure. I’m still shocked that I did that! How did I carry those heavy bags of hers? Well, ask every man, the presence of a lady you want to woe gives you a certain kind of stupid energy that could make you kill yourself in a bid to impress. “Thank you,” she said with a broad smile as she entered the van. “Don’t mention it” I replied, almost yelling because I was panting, because I was tired because I was stupid because I was foolish because I expected more, something like a peck, a hug.
The driver of the van, a thin fellow with dark lips steered the car away from the park and sped off. I pulled my phone from my pocket and updated my Facebook status: “NYSC Here I Come”. I don’t even know what that means, but I posted it anyway because many people were posting it. It was all part of growing up or part of being young.
Ekiti state is like a small village such that a determined runner can jog around it. So, before long, we were at Ise-Emure NYSC camp. The driver pulled up at the gate. This time, I didn’t help Miss Cozy because everyone must carry their load for security checks at the gate. To your tent oh Israel! Before I entered the compound, I pulled my phone and updated my Facebook status and check-in: “Israel is at the NYSC Orientation Camp, Ise-Emure, Ekiti State”. What was that for? I don’t know! It was part of the fun, or to tell my village people that “I have gone for NYSC”.
I walked into the camp and I never came out until after twenty-one days. So many things happened within those twenty-days and within those walls.
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short stories, writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael, 08104082159 and [email protected]
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