You remember that I had had a haircut around this time, so low it was that people wondered why I had to swap my spongy afro for such a mournful head. It was the bald state of mind, a Hebrew scape goat released into the wilderness after the people’s sin had been imputed upon it. Yes, I had this weird custom of letting out my frustration upon my hair, and there was always a liberating sense of emotional newness that I would have thereafter. With my hair gone, I gradually began to let you go, albeit with much struggle.
Out of rock came water, out of something strong came something sweet-Samson’s parable with a bit about thirsty Jews. Like those, for me too, succor came in a hard time within this hard time; yes, those few days when our camp was hit with the scourge of water scarcity and often the closest we came to a morning bath was a technical rub and shine. Before then we prayed for rain to interrupt and abridge our parades, now we prayed for rain for no cunny reasons. I remember this prayer was answered once, though it would seem heaven was not too generous. Of a typical camp evening; long faces and tired legs, people walking lazily towards the camp market, I happened upon a quarrel, a laundry man had in inadvertence misplaced for the second time a comrade’s white shorts. I recall the comrade’s face, for a recent graft he had spent the previous night in the guardroom. Perhaps that and any other thing added to his vexation that night and he was ready to take them out on the poor laundry man. Starving of any recent amusement, I stood around and hoped that things would go from zero to hundred in seconds. However, their little pushing and shoving ended prematurely with the alarm whispers of ‘Tameh Tameh’ by a number of sympathetic onlookers. Yes, Sergeant Tameh was coming, but on a leisurely walk with you. I turned around quickly as my eyes met yours, I swallowed hard and carried on like everyone else. The shop to which I hastened was crowded, many were there to collect their phones-Da Best Charging Shop was literally the best; they had no cases of stolen customer phones and there were less reports of burnt phone chargers. It was there and then that I met Chioma, not for the first time but for the auspicious moment. The crowd had dispersed after a while, I had gotten my phone too and I didn’t leave because she was on a call and somehow I needed to say hi, not wave it, and hear her return it, not wave it too. It was her mother on the other side of the call, and Chioma, moody and complaining about the camp’s numerous discomforts, soaked herself in the comforting tenderness of her mother’s encouragements. The moment she ended the call, a second call came in. At this point I had to sit beside and wait out the call, but not before stealing a covert glance at her phone screen; ‘Ikenna Calling’ it read, and at once I assumed he was her man. A few complaints followed again, and Ikenna, I believe, put across a word or two of sympathy.
“Sam,” she said calmly to me, upon dropping the call, “hi.” I returned her greeting and with more liveliness, but quite embarrassingly at least to me- she immediately sank her head between her thighs, the sides of her head well covered by her hands and a few seconds later began to whimper or sob. Chioma’s cocky lonesomeness had before then been well advertised, but now I would soon see that it was exaggerated. She went on and let it out, cried as though I was not there, the heat had gotten to her engines, and breaking down was only natural. I needed to say something, something nice, something comforting, but at the spur of the moment I did not know what to say. I remember, at last, asking what the matter was to which she gave no reply the first time, rising from her thighs and wiping her tears.
“I am tired.” She yielded after much persistence, unshed tears still hanging unto her voice.
Being a classic gentleman was not exactly my thing, and I was a more terrible failure at motivating others. However, I had a mercantile aspect to my being that was strangely accustomed to compensation, and the prospects of gain had proven to inspire me to fantastic feats. What was there to gain selling hope to this sad girl? What returns would be worth the time and persuasion? Perhaps I could do with her company that night; her company which was quite rare. Perhaps I could regain some pride among many a comrade who gloated at my famous loss to Sergeant Tameh. Chioma, it was debated, had better statistics than Ewatomi. Blessed with a beautiful face complete with a pair of dimples, a pair of long smooth legs brown as caramel that ran up proportionately to perhaps the most amazing hips I had seen in a long time and an upper body that was no less interesting, her only blemish yet was that seemingly persistent aversion to community.
“You know you can talk to me.” I said to her with a rare tone of deep concern, and quickly took her left hand in mine. She leaned towards me in a strikingly snuggly way, and I took that as an invite to cuddly throw my hand over her shoulder. It was soon becoming interesting, moving from zero to hundred in a very short interval. She lamented as I had expected about how she could no longer cope with the camp conditions, and of how she was ready to damn any consequences, and walk out through the gate the following morning. The tears were there again, I could feel them trickling down to my chest, but it was time to get down to now cut-out work. She agreed, though with initial resistance, to my demand for a little walk. And while upon this trek, I waxed poetic, told her to look on the bright side, the silver lining on a dark cloud and its unassuming riches, to endure diligently these fleeting hours of pain, which would soon be resigned to memory and remembered with orgasmic relief. I told her of Mandela’s long walk to freedom, of Rhode Island and the twenty seven years in prison. I could not miss to reference the story of the butterfly, of egg to larvae, larvae to pupa and pupa to adult; of the painful price of change and a golden prize at last. I remember that my last point started with the popular pontification ‘my father once told me’, yes, I told her that situations as this was designed to stretch us, and that a stretched mind, typically inelastic, never returned to its original size. When we got to the chapel, I knew our stroll had come to an end, it was drizzly and beyond the chapel was the female hostel area; the guardroom admitted male trespassers. I had to leave her, and I knew I had not done badly. I had hit her with points I never knew I had, and she would react in better ways than I thought she would. First, she took my phone number, then she made me promise to tell no one that I saw her crying (a promise I have kept till now), and then there was that long Croatian hug, a modest tip to say the least, which made my day.
Funny that a day which started with little promise was ending with unlimited prospects. The pumping machine we were told, had been fixed and there would be water by the next morning. For me there was more to be happy about; long after the bugle had sounded for lights out, I was still wide awake thinking about Chioma and of new possibilities. I would tickle at intervals as I imagined that hug again; her chin resting easily on my neck as though they were made for each other, and her soft giggle as I sank into that warm embrace. When I awoke the next morning, something had returned to me; that former motivation to show up for the morning parade. Yes, this was the ‘morning after’ and I looked forward to more excitement in my new found company. And she did not disappoint;
“Sammy,” she called me slowly and also tugged gently at the back of my vest. I replied with a ‘good morning’ and a sustained handshake, along the duration of which she maintained her smile, her eyes fixed to mine, both twinkling as though in mutual discovery of some personal secrets. The rest of that morning parade, as you would expect was filled with apprehensive excitement for me, and perhaps for her too. We had spoken more with our eyes than with our mouth, yes we had found hope in each other and now our eyes spoke of our desires to remain ‘hopeful’.
From here you will understand the particularity of which I spoke earlier. Chioma and I had gotten on well, though we continued to speak with our eyes and hardly confessed with our mouth the words of our eyes; I for one had seen assumption play a humiliating trick on me; I had underrated the advances of Sergeant Tameh and had assumed that you felt for me exactly what I felt for you-in similar height, length and breadth, I was restrained from believing my assumptions by that recent memory. I had some confidence in my worth to her, especially after my many successes representing the platoon at inter-platoon competitions. I had become a celebrity of some sort, my core fans being the demography of sapiosexual females. I even heard a rumour that I graduated with a first class from the university, one of such rumours to which one replied with proud silence because they served one’s purpose. Against all of these I believed that Chioma would not let this bird fly away while the birdsong was still in play. And yes, she did not, she soon became my number one fan, sitting close to the stage on any of the debate nights, ready with her cheer and meeting me with a hug as I stepped down from the podium victoriously from each round of debate. My self-esteem was at an all-time high and things were going so well for me that I greeted the presence of Sergeant Tameh and you at those nights with little notice. However, your presence became more frequent, though still always with Tameh, I would soon begin to feel a little uneasy. It felt like I was being watched, rather like we were being watched; Chioma and I. And on several occasions, I turned around to see you and Tameh sitting conspicuously close to us. It happened once, then twice, thrice and more, and on a few occasions you had waved at us and said a loud ‘hi’. I recall whispering to Chioma that we were being stalked upon, to which she laughed heartily. In the latter days, you were less often with him, and more often about platoon activities, being the assistant platoon leader. And this new development afforded us the chance to see more often being I too was very involved in platoon activities. I, in Chioma’s company, was now back at stealing covert glances at you, but now for a different reason than I would have done in the first week; I was studying your curious mood, the new zeal with which you now presided over platoon activities, there were fewer jokes, fewer smiles and even when you tried to force it, your smiles no longer broke each cheek in two like it was known to do. I knew something was not right, the Ewatomi of the first and second weeks was not the Ewatomi of the third week. Something was going on, I dared not ask, and even more importantly, I dared not assume.
So, my dear Ewatomi, my mind can’t seem to get off the events of that last week. And of that I am made of questions; what was with you and the perceived surveillance of Chioma and me? Particularly, what was with that mood of which I have explained my observations?