Morning salutations are customary at homes, hugs and kisses are never in short supply, but for a vagrant boy on Owen Moore Street there is no home, no hugs and kisses, just sunrise and sunset interrupting his long walk to freedom. I trust that you are well at home, safe and sound in health and mind, and in no way like our mystery boy of Owen Moore. Yes, you longed to go home, who wouldn’t? Life in that vengeful wilderness was severe, and at a minimal dosage of its severity it was a struggle still. I recall seeing you cry a couple of times, I guess my covert glances went successfully uncaught. But your tears cannot be called an isolated case as many a comrade betrayed emotions under the famous severity, I saw most of them, thanks again to my famous glances. It is a good thing that those days are gone now, resigned and perhaps preserved and treasured in the vaults of memory, and it is even better that you are home now in the company of your loved ones; your father-whom you wouldn’t stop talking about in your moments of glee, your mother-a profile in courage, whom you said once slapped a soldier, and your younger siblings; Darrel and Celine, for whom you said you have borne the great weight of being a role model. With a deep satisfying sigh I would say that all is well when all that is bad is well behind us and nothing that can be worse likely awaits.
But what awaits, dear Ewatomi? Or should we start with what is behind us? What really is behind us? ‘Really’ denotes particularity; yes there is an aspect of our mutual past in which I have retained great interest and which my mind has held on to with the pertinacity of an asp. Now I would reveal that the mystery vagrant boy on Owen Moore is none other than my mind made flesh, for it walks to and fro, often times vainly in search of a satisfying course. You would agree that for such a wandering mind to have stayed this long on this particular course of our mutual past shows that this path needs further beating, perhaps a treasure lies further afield.
Recall the night of August 4, the first time we met. It was drizzly, cold and wet as an ocean floor; the vestiges of a very rainy afternoon. I had come into that café just before you. While I sat blowing off steam from my little white cup, I quickly took interest in a fair, voluptuous girl, a bit tall for a lady. Well, not for her fantastic details did my interest move this first time, because she wanted her coffee black-without cream or sugar. Such a rarity it is these soft-I wouldn’t say ‘effeminate’- days seeing people do ‘hard’ things. A cup of coffee, not besmirched, black and hot would not be a soldier’s delight but this girl, who turned out to be you, sat and, as though it was a sweet relish, emptied your cup in three gulps; I was counting. Was that an introduction to feminine guts? I had only been introduced halfway. And the other half soon followed.
Now, though we have since always differed on what he really looked like, I would stick to my favorite adjectives; tall, dark, and a dry smooth face, at best he is a man of moderate ugliness. His entrance was without a drumroll, and much less without a spotlight, but what was strange? It was at the interval of two thunderclaps. I took a better look at his face when the light from the hurricane lamp reflected upon his face. He had what seemed to be a permanent scowl about his face and seemed to chew painfully on swallowed words or planned vengeance. At once I counselled myself to avoid the gloomy fellow. On the spur of the moment my wandering mind scrambled for a choice, to stay with you and your hot cup of coffee heroics or to follow this latest entrant. It was then that you walked up to the narrow counter, where he was standing and ordered for another cup of coffee. He spoke to you with the deepest baritone that have fallen into my ears, it was a sharp reprimand.
“You don’t barge into my space, woman.”
I remember the attendant, a middle age woman, slim as a polar bear and of a brief height, offering apologies on your behalf. But then you stopped her, challenging the dark man’s claim of owning the space. While further apologies followed on your behalf, you were eye to eye with the man, as two lions about to square off over the leadership of an unclaimed pride. This man, we would learn was about the most dreaded human in the camp, and though I still dispute that you had known this before your spat, it was gutsy all the same. His lonesomeness, perhaps with the permanence of a leopard’s spot, his dry and moody demeanor, and that scar above his left eye came about by his experiences at the war front. This I learnt from a source more reliable than beer parlour gossip. Once, said my source, after a bloody day fending off a routine ambush by terrorists at the mountain borders, he was said to have had violent fits of trauma throughout the night during which he would spring up from his sleep and shoot sporadically until wrestled to the ground, or stab the matress with his bayonet until he lost strength. Yes, he was verging towards a psychiatric patient, and why such a character was posted to a camp was beyond all the reasonable options that I juggled in my mind. Of this concern, my aforementioned source would say that law is powerless without a force to implement it. How can anyone possibly put this multitude of youth in order without a frightful man whose details Sergeant Manuel Tameh matched?
So, as I sat in that rusty café with the sugary dregs of my tea still fresh on my taste buds, I didn’t know that I had met the two humans who would most influence my camping; a beauty and a beast.
I hated the reveille, not that it woke me- I was always up before it sounded, but I couldn’t understand the concept of driving us to that chilly parade ground as early as half past three in the morning, under the open sky and the vengeful elements of a wilderness. The reveille was a loud and offensive reminder, and the bugler took the hate. At first, you would recall it was a tall order for those soldiers to ply our civilian ego into shape. A number of frog jumps was enough to convert majority of us into absolute obedience to instructions, but for a few ‘hard men’ I learnt that the infamous guard room played an effective role. In all of that you always showed your disapproval of that lazy administration of justice in which all were made to bear the punishment of a few. I was no less unimpressed with why a notorious noise maker would not be singled out and punished, but rather the whole platoon would go in for one man’s mischief. Long ago, I had been taught that not only is life not fair, nobody ever promised it would be, so despite our hisses and sighs I had to carry on.
Now, it was after a few days that I began to have an extra motivation to show up for the morning parade. It was understandable that for the stress, many a comrade had devised ingenious ways of dodging the parade, perhaps I would have readily joined their ranks but for this extra motivation; the prospect of sharing the same square meter on the parade ground with you. This should not be a big reveal at this point, I don’t expect so, for certainly we have shared bigger secrets and confessions that this should only generate at best a little smile. Yes, a smile, your smile-a thing of beauty-was one of the things I looked forward to each morning. It had no dimples, but a brilliant way of parting each cheek in two; and that to me was cuter than any dimple would have made a woman’s face. You had also a sense of humour which I might have overrated because of my enamorment to you, but I didn’t miss to have a good laugh at your jokes. My admiration of and interest in you peaked at about the end of the first week. By which time we had begun to tag along, going as a pair to almost everywhere. I knew I was not alone in this admiration, your fandom which comprised officials and campers alike increased by the day and I knew I had to mark my territory. But what had I not done? To where had I not gone with you? How else should I mark my territory around you? Maybe it remained to ensure that you felt the same way as I felt about you; an emotional helplessness and vagueness in the absence of the other. I woke up on the first morning of the second week believing that things could only get better but how wrong I was. At first I waved it off as one of those things when I saw him talking with you while we left the parade ground for breakfast. Yes, the rising sun had left upon the couple of you more than just a spotlight. Upon that green deserted field you stood with him for the next half hour, and while he spoke atypically with a courteous demeanor, you uncharacteristically sank your head as a repentant child would who digested soberly the reprimand of the parents. At once I remembered the night at the café; perhaps you had decided to apologize and perhaps he had one or two things to say to you. At last peace was made and there would be no prospects of future vengeance. So I thought but so wrong I was. My discomfort began to grow as our distance grew. Life abhorred vacuum, you had no vacuum because my space was gradually being taken by the most unlikely of persons; Sergeant Tameh. The less people saw of you and me, the more they saw of you and Tameh. And I imagine that many a comrade would have wished to taunt me to my face; how I had been dumped by the most beautiful lady on camp. I tried to convince myself that all was still well between us; who would refuse the invite of a soldier’s company, especially in this camp where such acquaintanceship could save one some stress. But again I was wrong; time after time I could see that you two were very happy in each other’s company. In fact I had never seen you that happy, not at the café with your hot cup of coffee and not at the parade ground over your half-querulous jokes about camp officials. At last I had to concede that Sergeant Tameh had sparked a fire in you, a brilliant fire that flared throughout the campground and till the rest of camping. In an alternate universe and time, I had in my bile thought that Tameh’s would have been a Jurassic romance between two dinosaurs, whoever it was he loved. Now, he had broken through time and space and happened upon my Ewatomi. Life, for me, would never remain the same.