Zaria, Rainy Season, 1996.
I am crouched beneath the concrete ironing slabs,
almost a cube without two sides, adjoining the bath hall
twenty boys had snuck into on a balmy night.
A double dare—furtive communal nakedness, and the risk of
doom for this after-lights shower, in Nigerian Military School.
In the 2-week interview camp (several die here annually),
soldiers have been eager to preview for us pre-teen boys, in our hundreds,
what iron to expect.
There have been push-up drills, and marathons,
and batched scrotal exams. Faces to the left. Cough!
Panel interviews. More running, jogged past by chanting crates of cadets,
gas cylinders on their shoulders. Sit-up drills. Assemblies.
Impromptu assemblies. A choice of
Catholic or Protestant on Sunday.
Masara on the cob after missing dinner in the scramble.
Dorms where they steal your stuff.
And all the while: northern weather a dull knife scraping the limbs white,
and the sustaining hope of selection by our fiat-lords.
It will be all over for them in 3 years but no one, but the CIA,
knows that now.
I am at the end of the hall, in a darkened and damp Stonehenge,
rafters high, indistinct enough to be stars. Some hint,
or premonition, or lookout has scattered our bath party.
No one warns anyone else but suddenly, I am alone and grasping
for a towel, torchlit soldiers shouting down the corridor,
promising hell. I won’t be the one caught and flogged, or shamed, so I,
guerrilla, slip into the adjoining room as they burst in, in manoeuvre warfare.
I am alone, crouched beside a snake-green boot, torch beams
triangulating the room but missing me somehow, no electricity to betray me,
the unknown soldier (there must be about 4 more outside), lone sentry
surveying the ironing room, a cul-de-sac. Who’s there!?
He must be afraid, or eager to ferret out some fun on this shift,
while missing the night’s Mammy Market diversions,
and the bùrùkùtù, or ògógóró of our taunts.
Satisfied that he is alone, he leaves, his squad leaves.
But I never have. I am still there, naked beneath a concrete dome,
shivering and fearing trouble.
Tolu Oloruntoba was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, and practiced medicine before his current work in healthcare management. Some of his recent and upcoming bylines include Pleiades, Bird’s Thumb, Columbia Journal Online, Entropy Magazine, and SAND Journal. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and his chapbook, “Manubrium”, will be published by Anstruther Press in 2019.
This entry appeared in The Limits Issue