The cock’s crow broke the early morning’s serenity. It was the first crow that announced the dawn of a new day but yet the thickness of the darkness made it difficult for one to move around. Most people were still rolling on their mats and embraced by the gentle breeze that escorted this time of the day.
You laid in silence with your eyes tightly closed wishing this was some sort of a dream. In fact, you could no longer differentiate between a nightmare and your current state. You’ve just had the most horrible month in your entire life. Asides the normal strangeness – this mud house with insects boring holes in its wall, this skeleton of a bed you struggled to sleep on because of its hardness, the regular coldness of the ground, the thatched roof which you felt could fall when the rain comes pouring, the hopeless blackout due to lack of electricity, and then the unclean water– one thing you could never get used to were the corpses. You felt you could die within days if you didn’t leave anytime soon.
You tried to breathe but your breath was heavy. Heavy from loss of everything. Baffled by how rail life could be, you now wonder what the essence of life was. This was what they had tried to warn and shield you from. But then your doggedness exposed you to life horrible reality. A reality painted with blood, screams and dead bodies. This wasn’t going to change anytime soon and you knew it. You knew this because the communal crisis were fuelled by blood thirsty government officials who used the village thugs as tools for this misfortune that no respecter of persons. A village chief had been stabbed to death two weeks ago but that didn’t affect you as it when you heard the news of the two corps members who died as a result of stray bullets the previous day. You can’t seem to shake off the feeling that it could have been you.
Now, as the orange sun rose gradually, taking its position in the sky, streaming rays of warmth, you exhaled in relief. This was the only thing you could relate with, the sun– a new day, a fresh hope. Today you looked forward to meeting with the NYSC Local Inspector (LI) assigned to corps members in this community, to request for redeployment. You were still perplexed by the fact that they could send corps members to this kind of place. A village, bordered by thick forests and bushes that harboured dangerous animals, young women still tied wrapper around their chest while the men tied wrapper around their waist and most children walked around naked either because their parents believed they had nothing to hide or they couldn’t afford proper clothes. You were amazed that they still depended on a town crier for information and were still ruled by a king.
You only saw places like this in movies and documentaries but never thought they were real. You know better now. You had been confused when you saw your posting letter with the strangest name you had ever seen. Never did you imagine you would end up in such a backward environment. You had been told that corps members hardly stayed back and you didn’t blame them. The journey to the village was terrifying and exhausting. It had taken close to six hours in a bus from the NYSC orientation camp and an hour bicycle ride from the crossroads to get here. You were then shown a line of huts which they reserved for corps members. The LI had said they were the safest and most conducive set of huts in the village. Another look at it, you concluded there was nothing conducive about the whole place. You just wanted to leave as fast as possible.
Cutting your thoughts was a knock on the wooden door. You were immediately gripped by fear, as you tried to figure out who would be knocking by this time, it was far too early to entertain any visitor. Taking arduous steps to the door, you tried to calm your nerves so they don’t give you away. Lifting your eyes as you opened the door was a broad chested young man whom you assumed could be in his twenties. He flashed a smile as he handed over a letter to you.
“Good morning, Corper. The king would like to meet you this evening. Every other information about the meeting is in the letter,” he said.
You tried really hard to hide your surprise, “he spoke English?” you asked yourself.
He had also brought some food stuff which the king felt you would need. You thanked him and he left. You quickly carried the tubers of yam and the sack containing garri and rice inside. Then rushed to open the hand written letter. You were impressed by the well-articulated piece of writing and wondered if the king wrote it himself. While you were still reading the letter for the second time, you heard another knock on the door. This time you rushed to see who it was but got frightened when you saw a crowd in front of your door.
It was as though the entire village had come to sympathise with you for the loss of your colleagues. Their faces were gloomy but their voices warm. Each person dropped a food crop and fruits in front of you as they sang songs you didn’t understand but knew they meant well. The little children beckoned on you to touch them, the young girls looked at you with admiration, the boys stood afar sizing you up, and the older women took turns to embrace you while the men touched your shoulder. You had never received such hospitality. An elderly man stood as their interpreter and gave the condoling speech on their behalf. In the midst of all this, your heart broke. You marvelled at how much they cared despite their problems and the number of people they had lost as well.
After they had all gone to start their businesses for the day, the interpreter told you it was part of their culture to comfort strangers especially those who have been sent to help them. Having noticed the sudden sadness in your eyes, he said, “not all the people are evil, you see, most of us are good and the land needs you. We hope you stay.”
Before you could say a word, he bid you goodbye. You were left with many items which were too numerous to count and you wondered how you would carry them in. As though your thoughts were being read, you saw ten boys who volunteered to help you take them to your kitchen which was built outside the hut. You thanked them when they were done.
The evening came swiftly and you were properly kitted in your Khaki to meet the king. The messenger was already outside waiting to guide you to the palace. At the King’s palace, you were fascinated by the artistic designs and the orderliness in which they did things. After the king’s speech which made you believe he was the one who had written the letter, the entertainers took over with their popular mourning song and the people sang along. Ending the occasion, the king gave a brief orientation on safety measures to take whenever the crisis broke out, informing you that you had full access to the palace.
As you walked back to your hut, you spotted an old woman surrounded by little children and you stopped to observe. She narrated folktales to them under the moonlight. According to the guard who walked with you, she told stories of the animal kingdom and spoke about the forefathers of the land. He said it was a daily practice aimed at communicating the village’s history to the next generation. You were blown away by such wisdom possessed by these common people who lacked quality schooling yet had a deep understanding of education. You knew they had much to offer.
The first thing you did when you got into your room was to slice the green avocadoes and sprinkled a pinch of salt on them before eating them. Somehow this whole setting – the full moon, sound of rickets, the calmness of the sky– gave you peace. You checked to see if your phone had been charged by your solar power bank and immediately dialled your mother’s number. You knew she would have been worried sick. When she finally picked after two missed calls, you could hear the excitement in her voice. She informed you about her plans to follow up your redeployment. Panic was the only thing you heard in her voice when you told her, “don’t worry about that, I’ll stay.”
Written by Jennifer Chioma Amadi
“We find home in the strangest places…”- JENOMA NOOK
IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER!