The Arrival

We had grown to accept the roaring engine of the truck as the music that accompanied us on what seemed the journey to the end of the world. We were too nervous to hold a conversation but instead listened to the history of delta state as supplied by our driver.
“Those going to Onicha Olona will enjoy themselves. The Villagers are very nice and the hospital is just moderately busy. In three months, you will be so in love with the place, you will not want to leave”,
I saw a wide grin adorn the face of the female corper that was going to Onicha Olona. She turned her head and announced to me in a triumphant voice.
“I prayed to God to give me a place of comfort! Jesus, you are faithful!”
She turned back and continued an endless chatter with the driver. The conversation switched from vernacular to Igbo to English to vernacular to Igbo to English to Igbo to vernacular
… I could almost swear I heard her speak Zulu
The male corper going to Onicha Olona also joined in, when the driver mentioned something about beautiful girls in the village with palm wine flowing on the streets, he took over the conversation, narrating how his house job had been in a ‘dead’ place, this year of service was his year of enjoyment.
I put on my permanent fake smile, one I had perfected growing up around old people that pulled your cheeks and told a thousand tales, as long as you were smiling, they were content. It was working wonders here too but I think I held it for too long because the driver looked at me from his rearview and he turned.
“Corper, you wan shit?”
Oh goodness, I had over done the fake smile.
“Not at all sir, I am alright”.
His eyes were back on the road but he didn’t look convinced. The sound of my phone ringing broke the awkward silence. I had almost forgotten I carried it, because it had no service etched on it like a screen saver. Onicha Olona must be close….The Caller ID said it was my friend Tinapa.
“Hello Hafeez, how your PPA?”
“Oh boy, we still dey road o!”
“Na so e far?”
“we tey for management board. The entire building no get light or photocopying machine. We had to line up somewhere to make it….How your side?”
“Guy na Ezi dem post me, I hear it’s not far from Ebu”
“How the place be?”
“It’s a primary health centre, the man said 30 000, no accommodation. I no fit stay! I say make e reject me! I dey reason say I go crash for your side”
“Guy, I don’t even know what the place looks like yet”.
“Alright, sha holla me when you get there!”
“safe, man’, I said and hung up.
“Onicha Olona”, the driver announced.
The corpers were no longer smiling. I certainly didn’t see any palm wine on the road, and if the two girls walking on the side of the road was anything to go by, the male corper would have to lower his standards of beautiful.
There were huts, like the ones you see in Nigerian home video depicting Sango’s era. Men tied wrappers, women walked bare….okay no, the male corper wasn’t so lucky.
The girl had begun to shed tears. “Jesus, why, Jesus, why? “
The male corper had suddenly gone silent…. And now my smile was very genuine.
The girl raised her head in defiance. “I am going to redeploy”.
The driver smiled.
“The town is still ahead”.
Her smile reappeared. “Jesus, you are faithful!”
Onicha Olona wasn’t so bad after all. The hospital was in the town, which was bursting with activities. It nearly met the definition of town but failed.
The Nurse on duty wrapped the corpers in a tight embrace and led them inside.
Soon, the truck was empty. We were on our way to Ebu.
After a while of driving in silence, we came upon the village of Ezi. I was just thinking that was where Tinapa was, when I sighted him beside a very busty female corper. The driver saw him too in his uniform and parked beside him.
“Hafeez”! He shook my hand through the open window.
“You don see where you go sleep?”
He looked towards the busty girl and grinned widely. “Yes o”!
I smiled too. “Make I dey go my Ebu”
He waved to me, as he receded into the distance. I saw him put his hand over the shoulder of the busty corper.
Tinapa was a sure boy.
We drove for a short while through what seemed a road through the forest of Eledumare till we got to a town.
“Ebu”, the driver said.
I smiled. It wasn’t so bad, all the fuss was for nothing. It was slightly less developed than Onicha Olona but it wasn’t naked savages like I had been expecting.
The truck did not stop. It just kept on going…. Fast.
“I thought you said we are in Ebu”, I reminded the driver. He looked too young to have Alzheimer’s.
“We are… but the hospital isn’t in the town of Ebu, it’s on the outskirts”.
And so it was, we left civilization behind and right in the middle of an assembly of mango and cashew trees, cassava and yam farms, dancing squirrels and blue lizards was the sign board that read
‘Government Hospital Ebu’
My new home.

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Life in Ebu

In the beginning, well…kinda coz that’s where I begin this narration, I was standing in line at camp with the other hundreds of hopefuls wishing they had been posted to somewhere great. I had spent time memorizing the names of all the bad places so I could throw a fit or fake an epileptic attack that would prevent NYSC from posting me to such a place where destiny would be at a stand still.
One girl was already crying as she saw her letter, she was being consoled by her camp boyfriend, who was trying hard to suppress his smile. She had been posted somewhere faraway from him. News that broke her heart, news that made his day. He had plucked her orange, and now he was walking away from her tree.
‘I will relocate!’ I heard her say
‘I don’t think that is wise’, he replies patting her back and avoiding her gaze. My pharmacist friend was jumping in joy. He had gotten Warri! I was happy for him too, that was like winning the lottery.
Oyinbo, my friend, also emerged with his letter trying his very best not to look sad. Before I asked, he handed me the letter. He had been posted to ‘Burutu’. It was where all corpers prayed against. We had heard our share of bad things. I was genuinely sad for him, why did bad things happen to good people? The silver lining was that, it wasn’t happening to me. I rushed a quick prayer to God as I heard my number. I stepped up and the letter was handed to me.

It read ‘Ebu’. I had never heard this one before o! It was certainly not among the prayer point places, good nor bad, I did not know. Oyinbo saw me holding the letter and asked
‘Ebu’, I replied.
He looked confused. ‘Where is that?’
‘I swear its not on Delta state map’, I said opening the map I had downloaded from google on my phone.

We walked into the clinic together. Plenty medical corpers like us were shoving their posting letters under the nose of the clinic nurse aunty. She was the oracle, who told you what fate awaited you.

“Oniocha is okay, not too far from here”, she said handing a letter back to a worried corper.
Oyinbo pocketed his. He didn’t need the oracle. He knew his fate. I proceeded to shove my own letter under her nose. I saw her eyes widen and she looked up.
‘Are you the one going to Ebu?’
My throat suddenly became dry and I could only nod. She held my hand.
“Its not too far from here”, she said handing me the letter. Her tearing eyes told me there was much left unsaid.

“The Health management board have arrived with buses for all corpers posted to state hospitals’ announced a corper at the door. Everybody picked up their luggage and headed in one direction. Oyinbo was still sitting down.
“You are not going?”
He shook his head. “Someone is coming to pick me. I will see you there’. I squeezed his shoulder in goodbye and headed towards the bus.

It was a short drive to Asaba, the brown and old looking building wasn’t what I pictured the health management board would look like. There was an initial reluctance to move. Everyone stood there, but I marched up the stairs, introducing us to everybody till I was directed to the right office. We began the long process of filling forms and photocopies.

“Mummy, where is akwukwu igbo, asked one of the corpers. His question directed at the woman supervising the form filling.
“Not too far from here”, she replied.
“Is there light?” The boy probed further.
“Everywhere in delta has light”
I would come to realize later that she refered to electric cables and not power itself.
The boy had set the stage. Corpers bombarded her with questions about where they were going and she answered everyone. Some got “God has really blessed you” and some got “God will see you through”. When everyone was done, I asked: how is Ebu?
Her eyes widened. “Are you going to Ebu?
‘Yes’, I said.
She avoided my gaze and said ‘its not too far from here’.
‘Is there light?” I probed further
“No where in Delta without light”.
I frowned! Why was everyone refusing to talk about Ebu.

We met with the chairman of the board, we introduced ourselves and our state of origin. Oyinbo had arrived and was looking brighter. I realized I was the only lagosian and so did the chairman.
“Omo Eko! Where were you posted?”
“Ebu”, I said, tired of saying the dreaded word.
He laughed and then burst into a speech of how we should make the best of wherever we were posted. ‘We would drop you off at your various destinations’, he concluded.

Oyinbo was no longer going to burutu, apparently Burutu didn’t need doctors but he still didn’t know what this new place was like. He was the first to leave as he had driven himself there.
“We go dey see”, he said before he zoomed off.
As I am writing this, we still haven’t seen.

“People going to Ebu, Akwukwu igbo, oniocha olona, please enter the truck” announced the secretary. The driver was the last to board. He turned and asked: ‘Who is going to Ebu?’
I raised my hand, and there was that laughter again as he put the car motion.
“You are going to be the last one off”.