I Remember When I was a Soldier

People calm their nerves in different ways, I calm mine by looking good. In fact, I dare say my beauty is directly proportional to my nerves. That is to say the more nervous I am, the more made up I look. I might not be intellectually ready for an exam, but best believe I’d be physically ready, a girl has to win some way.


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“I remember when I was a soldier” , we have all sang that song at a point in our lives. The difference between I and the rest of the world, is that for me, it is actually true. I really can remember when I was a soldier. I can see your upturned lips and the sneer gradually forming on your face, I can see your look of disbelief, all you doubting Thomas’ of the world. Yes, I did it, I was a soldier and no, it doesn’t matter for how long and at what rank. The most important thing is that despite the odds, the skepticism, the obstacles thrown my way, I did it. Pushed by the greatest motivatorsof all time, the ones that help you put things into perspective and weigh your options, the ones that do away with your pride and compels you to do that which was to you, formally unthinkable: FRUSTRATION and FEAR

Like most of my life stories, this one too started with my sister and her ever present, fact finding system. I didn’t get admitted into a tertiary institution that year, and after spending three months at home, that I had overstayed my welcome was no longer news. I could do all the chores, go on all errands, not make a sound, and yet, still manage to annoy somebody. It was like the mere sight of me irritated them. After another episode of “Khulthum can never do anything right”, I was in the room sulking when my sister joined me. She didn’t acknowledge me even though I greeted her, but then what else was new. In her presence, I could almost convince myself that I was invincible. That is why I was surprised when she casually asked, without taking her eyes off the screen of her system, if I wanted her to fill in an NDA application form for me. Without thinking I said yes, at that point I would have agreed to a tour of the Sambisa, if it meant going away from home and not seeing my family for a while. Not to talk of the embarrassing fact that at the time I barely knew what NDA stood for, and was not really in the mood to be called stupid for asking.

With the guise of going to take care of a sick sister, I escaped from home to Kano. To say I forgot all about the NDA form would imply that I knew of it existence. So you can imagine my surprise when my sister called to say the 69th regular course entrance examination was that weekend and that she had chosen the Bukavo Barracks as my exam center. I think I would have understood better if she had spoken Chinese. I can’t recall all I did that day and the days after, as they are now blurred and mashed together. I only know that I ran around, dredging up all information available on the internet about the Academy, which was not much I must confess. I tried to find their past questions, met a guy online who said he could get one for me if only I paid. I decided to take a leap of faith on humanity and sent the money, let’s just say, gravity won that round. After stalking the NDA portal, getting duped, searching in vain for anyone who had written the exam before, I was as prepared for the exam on the D-day as I was on the day my sister told me of it.

People calm their nerves in different ways, I calm mine by looking good. In fact, I dare say my beauty is directly proportional to my nerves. That is to say the more nervous I am, the more made up I look. I might not be intellectually ready for an exam, but best believe I’d be physically ready, a girl has to win some way. I wore my sister’s gown that day, ‘borrow borrow’ does make one look fine. She’s taller, so I had to wear slightly high shoe. With my head gear duly tied, my makeup ready face – and as an after thought, my pen- I was ready for the exam. In retrospect, I should have known what I was getting myself into.

For all of you waiting to hear the story of my downfall, you’re in luck, for I did fall, literally face first into mud. How did I get there you might ask. You see, on getting to Bukavo barracks, the crowd was unbelievable, it took me a while to notice that unlike most crowds this one was arranged and unnervingly quite. I later discovered, after walking around like a lost sheep, that people were queued according to their states. There were very few girls, non of whom came dressed in a ball gown. So, guess who stood out like a sore thumb. Uniformed men were everywhere, after trying in vain to find my state, I summoned up courage and asked one for help. He looked at me thoroughly and asked, “amariya, you sure say na here you dhe come?”, you can imagine my embarrassment. Long story short, I spent hours on that queue.

After a while, a soldier who must have thought he was doing us a favor, asked everyone to seat on the ground. The dirty ground fa! Ground with sand heated by the sun and caked with saliva. In any other circumstance I would have protested, but there’s something about a soldier’s voice that instills humility in a person. By the time they asked us to stand up, your beauty had begun to resemble the beast. Sweat had messed up my makeup, sand and dust were all over my body, my head tie had fallen off was now carelessly draped on my head. I followed them as we walked in a perfect line to the class allocated to our state for the exam. What they forgot to mention was that the class was almost a mile away, we walked and walked. It was like anytime I thought its got to be here, we make another turn. As if things weren’t bad as they were, my heels broke. I just bent down (holding up the line to the annoyance of grumblers behind me), removed the shoes, placed them under my armpit and kept trudging along.

I can’t even remember how I wrote that exam, when it finally started. All I know is, I was ready to get that day over and done with. By the time they let us out of the classroom it was already 5pm, it is imperative to note that I had been there since 7:30am. So I was worried that my sister might have gotten tired of waiting and left, and was in a hurry to see whether or not she did. Maybe it was vanity, maybe it was the desire to look less of a mad woman, but I would never fully understand what compelled me into putting those darned heels back on.

By my rough estimates hundreds of people turned up for the exam, having finished the exam at the same time, we were all headed towards the only gate we were allowed to go through. There inevitably was a hold up, with lots of pushing and shoving and I was caught right in the middle of it. After calling for order to no avail, the soldiers resorted to using their whips, in regular Nigerian parlance; koboko, on the crowd. This drove the crowd even more wild, with everyone trying to run away. Though I was being pushed, shoved and hit, I was in survival mode and gave as much as I got. I was almost out of that madness, when I caught a soldier through the corner of my eye, raising the whip somewhere close to where I stood. Knowing the whip could get me at such proximity, I savagely pushed the guy in front of me in a ruthless bid to get away. How was I to know that my shoe would choose that moment to give out? How was I to know that there was mud right in front of me? How was I to know the extent of pain and shame I would feel, as I fell face first into the mud.

I would have been trampled on, had it not been for the soldiers who came to my aid. I had mud all over my face and dress, people were staring at me in pity, my whole body ached, but holding onto my pride (as it was the only thing I had left) I refused to cry.

It seemed, I think, even fate knew I had had enough, because as soon as I got outside I saw my sister. She was stunned, stood there just staring at me. After a while she opened her arms, I ran into it and the dam broke open. I cried out my frustration, my pain, my anger, my embarrassment and she cried right along with me. Right there by the road side, for God only knows how long, with people looking at us, we cried.

In my quest to becoming a soldier, best believe that wasn’t the last time I was pushed, hit, insulted, embarrassed, in pain and frustrated. I would have liked to say it was the last time I cried, it wasn’t. but at least it was the last time I cried so shamelessly.


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