It was an NYSC tradition to hold a bonfire on the last week of camp. Corpers had expressed shouts of joy on the parade ground the day before when the state coordinator announced that lights out would be deferred to 1:00am to allow us enjoy the bonfire.
The morning of the bonfire, Eniola informed me that she would be escaping from camp with a few others to attend a concert in Victoria Island.
“Would you like to come?” she asked.
“How are we going to pass the gate? I don’t want to get an extension.”
If we got caught by NYSC officials while trying to escape, we definitely would be guilty of an offence. I had studied the NYSC Act which was given to us during registration, and the usual punishment for misbehaviour during the service year was an extension of the NYSC duration by three months. However, the duration of the extension was subject to the gravity of the crime committed. Although there were rumours that most people never got punished, there were also rumours that such people bought their way out. I knew I had no connections in high places so I needed to stay out of trouble.
Eniola laughed at me as usual and teased me about being unadventurous. She then informed me that she and her accomplices had greased the palms of the security guards who were on the night shift so they could leave the gates open when they were given a signal, which was going to be a phone call from Eniola. This was to make it look like the gate was accidentally opened, thereby making the guards appear blameless.
“Even if I wanted to go, I don’t have money to buy tickets,” I said.
“I’ve got you covered; my boyfriend is getting us in.”
“Who is your boyfriend?”
“Do you want to come or not, why are you interrogating me?”
“I want to know; is it wrong to be curious?”
“Orafiri, you don’t know him.”
“Just tell me.”
“You are annoying…He is an actor.”
“An actor!” I exclaimed. “Which actor?”
“The villain on the drama series Snakes and Ladders.”
“Huh! Cigar! Are you serious?” I said with excitement, as if I knew him personally.
The focus of our conversation instantly changed to Eniola’s love life, completely forgetting about the concert. Besides Cigar, Eniola had in the past been in relationships with a number of Nigerian celebrities. Eniola’s Dad regularly organised events through his company, which hosted celebrities; likewise he also attended similar events.
This was how Eniola met and socialised with celebrities. She had met Cigar during a movie premiere night, his first successful movie before he commenced his role as Cigar on Snakes and Ladders. Prior to Cigar, Eniola was familiar with a Ghanaian musician, whom she met during an African music award event in Accra, Ghana. The relationship, according to Eniola, was ephemeral due to lack of communication, and the long distance. I listened to Eniola enthusiastically as she narrated her ostentatious lifestyle.
During lectures that day, most Corpers seemed to look forward to the bonfire; as there was a feeling of excitement all around me, it was infectious. I wondered if everyone had some secret adventure they were embarking on during the bonfire just like Eniola and her friends. As the night drew nearer, preparations for the bonfire commenced. Ten canopies were set up representing the ten platoons. Dinner which had been prepared by a selected group of people from each platoon was going to be served at each canopy. The music as usual had been pumped up and the parade ground was gradually becoming a playground. Corpers began to troop into the parade ground to their respective canopies which had all been labelled. As the skies darkened, couples sprung up in discreet areas, group of friends sat around chatting and laughing away, while some Corpers were trying to assist the camp commandants in setting up the bonfire.
When the bonfire was finally alight, people gathered around it keeping a safe distance. Some Corpers were running around the bonfire clapping their hands and singing. A camp commandant started to chant “See how them dey look us,” then the Corpers running around the bonfire chanted after him “like Otondo.” Soon enough all attention was on the Corpers encircling the bonfire with their humorous chants. Some joined in the fun, while others stood around and chanted along. I got caught up in the fun and forgot about my plans to meet Eniola and the others so we could execute our escape. I ran to the hostel to pick my overnight bag and then headed to a tree which we had marked as the muster point.
Our wait time under the tree felt longer than it actually was. We were trying to be discreet so that we did not attract any attention or raise the suspicion of any passers-by. The car that was to pick us up had not arrived so there was no point heading out of the gate. We were six in total, four girls, and two boys. Eniola, the master planner was on the phone expressing her annoyance with the person on the receiving end. My fears of being caught overwhelmed me and I suggested that we abort the plan and rejoin the bonfire. One of the other girls, Funmi, who also shared my fears, agreed with me, while Eniola and the others turned deaf ears to both of us.
Our car finally arrived and it was time for the plan to materialise. Eniola called the security guard but could not get through to him. After a number of tries, she gave up and we decided to walk to the gate hoping that we would make it there before a camp commandant or an NYSC official laid eyes on us…
Ibifaka Ben-Kalio is an attorney who is passionate about writing, photography, and dancing. She is the founder of Swan Lake Studios, a contemporary photography, dance and creative arts studio based in Lagos, Nigeria. Misguided Expectations is her first work of fiction. For more details on where to purchase her book, please visit www.ibenkalio.blogspot.com