In Shao, i was not myself. I had spent six months and could not recognise the pain-striken, sorrow-laden face that stared back at me. I was doing things i never thought i could. I had become inhumane on various levels and i had forgotten my first love-Christ.
It was not enough that i went to church, was part of the Corpers’ fellowship or gathered for prayer meetings on selected days. No. I felt empty and knew that the only way i could be whole again was by reconnecting with my God and going home; Lagos. Too many days i had spent devoid of secretive talk with God. In my mind, i ran to school trying to douse the cloud that made directions seem bleak.My students were my saving grace. At least, there was one thing i had set out to do before service and with every dilligence i could muster, i taught my friends.
Six months into service, i remembered my first quarrel in Shao. It was with a senior corper who was living in the room i shared with my host. They were to leave in two weeks when i returned. My host, Lara, had gone to stay with a batch C corper so the room would not be more congested than it already was.
Grace was her name. She was not graceful. She was the definition of a nagging woman who stood as a test to every generation of men. On firstencounter with her erratic self, i was taken aback and wondered at what extremes a human being could encompass. I am stubborn, i know. I am no saint. But Grace, she was relentless in taking charge of what wasn’t hers and in making sure i understood that seniors existed during service.My first taste was one evening.
That evening, Aminu arrived from Katsina and i went to help him with his luggage. I was making dinner for myself and Grace asked if i would not share some with the tired traveller. How was that my business? Well, i made some extra even though i felt no obligation to do so and packed some for him. I went to his room, gave him the food and he smiled his thanks; asking me tohelp myself to a bottle of Viju milk. In my mind i was like; ‘please, this is just me being nice. Don’t reciprocate this with that.’ I smiled a no and left the room.
I was using Lara’s stove to,cook then. So, i put the locust beans i had bought beside the stove to preserve it. Almost immediately, Grace saw this and in alarm, said iru wasn’t stored that way. Well well. Woman, if my grandmother wasn’t dead, i would have called her to show you how wrong you are. It was surprising that an Igbo girl would teach me how to preserve Ekiti locust beans. I gave her a benefit of doubt and stored it in a container with a lot of salt. The next morning, it was spilling maggots.
‘Grace, this is the method you prescribed. Check out how effective it is.’
‘Really? It must have spoilt already before putting it there. Hmmn. That’s what happens when you put it beside the stove.’
‘Are you serious? Instead of you to just accept that you advised me wrongly, look at what you are saying.’
‘Excuse you! Mschew, you have no right to talk to me that way. You need to understand that this room still belongs to Lara and you have to do it the way she has always done. Your spoilt locust beans is a result of your stubborness.’
At that point, her voice was at a crescendo while i tried whispering so that no one would hear me. But it was useless. I could hear Aminu’s shuffling feet coming towards my room. I could hear words telling me to be calm and I saw myself throwing my precious iru away. From that moment, i wasn’t myself. I kept a grudge against Grace and till the day she left, my heart was not at peace with her.
We had many fights afterwards; her telling me not to spread undies in the room. I had never spread my undies outside; especially not in Shao. I learnt to do that later. We went back and forth on her eating habits and her long beak that wanted to peck at every food i cooked. It was frustrating. The day she left, i heaved a sigh of relief and made plans to put the room in order.
The second person i had issues with was with Mama Amoke. Through the argument that mostly resonated on her part -as i locked my room so vultures seeking for gossip material wouldn’t see who she was referring to- i understood the meaning of being educated in attitude and the dangers of miscommunication. Mama Amoke thought i had called her an illiterate when i told her to let the person who studied electrical engineering tell us the solution to the incessant light problem that caused our floor not to have light while others had.
I didn’t greet her for a month until the landlady called me and said, ‘I know you are a Christian. I know you have been taught well. What do you want this muslim woman to say about our religion? Do what is right.’
That evening, i greeted Mama Amoke. It took her about 10 seconds to get out of the shock before she answered me.
When i had no one like Blessing and the landlady or my mother to caution me, i went on consistent malice-keeping sprees with Aminu. He was good, really good. He would keep malice with a person for days, sometimes weeks and felt triumphant when the other party called him. It was so despicable. Sometimes, i got bored especially during the holidays; tired of beading, reading and cooking and i would go into the room of my sworn enemy defying the consequences. He would look at me and smile with that silly tooth of his and say, ‘yes, can i help you?’ Or frown a fake frown while i looked for something that wasn’t missing. In the end, we would laugh the fight off after prolonged discussions and watch a movie or take a walk through Shao.
Six months in Shao and a new me had been born. A new me who kept malice, quarrelled and lived to see degrading things. Fights were no scarce commodity in Shao. Women married to the same man fought until their shame was exposed to the world. I always had a partner to share these moments with and relayed them in gist-form to absent Blessing. It was a recurrent tradition but i soon realised that death was also a cord that bound Shao together.