Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction, inspired by true events.
The first thing Kemi noticed about Sagamu was the ‘smallness’ and simplicity of the town. She tried to look out for the popular fast food outlets and came up empty. There was no large store in this part of the town. The houses were old, and some of them looked dilapidated. The air was clean, the streets quiet, and the roads good and bad depending on where you passed. It was a rainy day, and as the rain pelted the glass of the taxi she was sitting in, she wondered briefly what the NYSC camp would be like. Her mobile phone was her companion now, she thought, as she fiddled with it, scrolling through Instagram and WhatsApp statuses. It was like a drug that sucked her in and helped her to forget. This was better than alcohol, it had the numbing effect without the metabolic side effects. It would keep her company for the next 30 minutes.
“A ti de be”, the deep baritone voice of the taxi driver’s voice jolted her out of her reverie, as she peered out of the window to look, she was impressed by what she saw. The orientation camp seemed to be living up to its name as one of the best in the country. There was a large gate, and 2 checkpoints, the first one was manned by soldiers, the second by police officers. This should be good, she murmured as she grudgingly moved her box out of the taxi. ” Thank you Jesus!” was all she could manage before she started the journey towards the next 3 weeks of her life.
She tried to remember all the warnings and rumours, the what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos. She wasn’t built for manual labour, and she would use her stethoscope to escape the rigors of, ‘in the sun and in the rain’ activities. As she walked up to the first checkpoint, she wondered why God did not answer her prayer about scrapping this needless NYSC year. Six years in school was already a stretch, then the long (but good) year of housemanship! There were ways around this one year of compulsory service, but none of them appealed to her. People have been known to lie this year away but she would do no such thing, this was better than a life of wondering ‘what if’.
The soldier gave the contents of her bag a cursory glance, and off she went to the next checkpoint. People have been known to find love in camp, maybe this would be her moment, Kemi thought. She quickly dismissed the idea as quickly as it came. NYSC camp would not be in her own story. She was here on assignment, but she could not wait to leave. What the assignment was exactly, she didn’t know, but it would unravel as the days rolled by.
Her heart began to race a little faster as she walked through the gate, there was something she needed but didn’t have yet. Someone in Abuja was on it, but it was still not ready yet. Coming here at this time was a journey of faith from start to present. She was 2 days late.
She scrolled through her email as she walked to the hostel with her box. They had said that no one could help you carry your things, it was part of the training. There was still no sign of the golden document. Across the country, many medical doctors from her school had been sent back because they didn’t have it yet, and neither did she.
The hostel looked neat from outside, but then again, no one had been here in a few months. “Jesus please remember my prayer about good toilets”, she silently prayed and joined yet another queue. Someone’s mom had just brought her to the camp, it was obvious that she was the typical ‘ajebutter’. Her mom literarily helped her do everything, even carry her box. Kemi chuckled as she tried to imagine her mom doing the same. She found the room easily and an official came by soon enough to assign bed spaces. There were about 40 bunks in the room, with barely any space between the bunks. For someone who had never shared a room in her life, this was unbelievable.
Then again, she had to focus on the more important matter of being allowed to register. Kemi nervously gathered her documents together, and off she went with one of her roommates. Kamsi was a Clinical Psychologist with an opinion about everything. Listening to her talk was therapeutic.
” Where is your license?” Kemi stood face-to-face with a stern woman who was obviously not going to budge no matter how much she begged. “I don’t have it yet ma, but I have the provisional one”, she said in a low tone. She looked at her with a disdainful look and handed over her documents, ” then you cannot register”, was her firm reply. As far as Kemi was concerned, there were three options. Grovel and beg until she budged (failed), pray until something happened, or go back home and wait for the next batch. At the end of medical school, all she had received was a handshake and an envelope containing the provisional license to practice as a doctor in Nigeria, and the one year of housemanship earned her the right to the permanent license that is renewed on a yearly basis. NYSC was a mandatory step in the life of Nigerian graduates such as herself, and it was also where fake results and licenses were detected, this was why the woman was so unyielding. Kemi hated to admit it but she was just doing her job.
There was only one plausible option, ‘pray until something happens’. She was not here by accident. She missed the last batch because she had not finished housemanship yet, this date opened up quite unexpectedly and nothing was going to change what God had already done. This woman was stubborn but Kemi was resolute, she was not going anywhere.
At that point, all the energy she had just went through the ground. She was famished and ‘gala and coke’ seemed to be the only likely option. She bought it, found a place to sit. She ate, prayed and slept…still waiting on that email.
Still no email.
©Olamide Akappo nee Oti