Wednesday afternoon, Parade ground, 4:15pm.
“Sir, yes sir!”
“Sir, yes sir!”
“Are you good to go?”
“Good to go, good to go, good to go sir!”
“Are you motivated?!”
“Motivated, motivated, motivated sir!”
On and on we went, commandant and cadet boys. That was our second parade that term but my first. I had cooked up a perfect plan to boycott the first parade which worked out flawlessly; even better than I expected. The second parade was bound to fail as I had heard rumours that the commandants had asked after me but I was nowhere to be found. My missing the second parade would have been tantamount to committing suicide; for rules dare not be disobeyed on military ground.
That fateful day, my fellow classmates dropped their backpacks and quickly dressed up in their parade uniforms – black Chase Deer vests and navy blue trousers turned inside-out that made them look like mad men and cultists at the same time. They all looked alike. As I unpacked to get dressed for parade too, I realized I had washed, dried and forgotten my black vest at home. I searched my box frantically, praying for some miracle, even when I knew it was not there. I couldn’t believe it. I finally settled to wear my orange vest which I had smuggled in with matching green, orange-striped trousers. What was I thinking?
I couldn’t “stab” my second parade. No, I would be dead meat. I finally picked up courage and wore my orange vest as I was already running late. In a rush, I dressed up and ran towards the parade ground; I had forgotten to lock my box which contained my clothing and provisions. With that singular action, I had kissed my “soaks” goodbye.
“Swish!”, “swish!” In a few minutes, I was jogging towards the parade ground. I was already late. I stopped on the track and saluted, “Shun sir! Permission to fall in sir!” No response. “Permission to fall in sir!”, I screamed again, louder and at the top of my voice until my throat hurt; still, no response. “What kind of wickedness is this ehn?” I murmured to myself after shouting the same words for the fifth time! That was when an officer whom I hadn’t taken note had strolled towards me called out.
My heart was beating so fast that I thought it would burst out of my rib cage. “Did he hear my murmur?” I thought. “First, I was late to the ground; secondly, I wore the wrong clothes, I missed my first parade and now this?” Good gracious he didn’t.
Immediately, I fell like a plywood that had been blown by the wind. “Thud!”, I landed with the radius-ulna region of my hand on the sandy ground with patches of brown elephant grass. It hurt badly. I began to crawl towards my fellow cadet boys as that was the custom for latecomers. You don’t jog, you crawl. How cruel.
I quickly found my spot. We lined up according to heights – from the smallest on the right to the tallest on the left. I had about twelve tall boys to my left. I was about six feet four inches.
“Paraders!”, shouted the commandant.
“Sir, yes sir!”, we replied.
“From left to right, take your numbers!”
The last boy, the tallest, had taken his number then he stepped forward, saluted and announced
“Forty seven is the last number on the parade ground sir!”
The next exercise was another warm up. It was stupid. The commandant walked over to the right of the shortest boy and landed a heavy slap at the back of his neck that sent him almost tumbling, three steps away from him. The slap was to be passed.
“Klap!”, “Klap!”, went the sounds of the slaps into the air.
Unfortunately for me, I had just had a recent quarrel with the strong, wicked looking young man (as at that time) on my right, Somto, who later became the commandant. With all the strength Somto had, he landed a resounding slap at the back of my neck that caused my spine to vibrate, paralyzing me momentarily, left me unable to feel that part of my skin and blasting a screeching sound from my eardrums to the pinna of my ears. My blood boiled. My cheeks burned and an instant wave of headache circled my head like the flash motion of the light of a siren. I had to ease off that anger! The parader on my right just had to suffer my fate also.
In seconds, I quickly recovered from the shock and with mental and physical abilities, I sent the whole weight of my body into my left arm. I lifted it in the air and with the forces of gravity and forward thrust, my hand came slicing through the air like blade through fabric; and with the momentum and anger in me, my hand went “swoosh!”
Guess what? I missed! The young man had ducked and I missed!
“Argh!” was all could come out of my mouth. I felt like a time bomb waiting to explode. My legs vibrated so much that I thought I might drill a hole into the ground. What else could I do? Nothing. Lord have mercy.
“Sir, yes sir!”
“One, two”, we saluted.
The parade was drawing to an end. There was one thing left to do – sing our anthem. At the command, we raised our right legs, forming a ninety degrees angle with our femur and fibular; and also the hip joint that looked like an “n” from side view. Then we chorused:
“This kind of training;
That we do;
Makes us stronger;
All through the day”.
Even though I didn’t see how it strengthened us, I had to sing. We sang nonstop till our knees ached. Maybe not all of us but at least mine did. I was getting tired. I couldn’t hold on any longer. I struggled and struggled but down my leg came. I was in soup.
I dropped my head in shame. It was the last exercise and I couldn’t hold on; I had flopped. That wasn’t even the crux of the issue. One, two, three slaps came landing at the back of my neck in quick succession. I jerked and fidgeted. The pain was excruciating. I didn’t know if that was a slap ceremony or a training ground.
“You’re mad!”, “memz!”, the insults all came pouring down. The officers were visibly angry they could have torn me into pieces. It was at that moment that the veil seemed to have been removed from their eyes to see that I was in the wrong uniform.
“Why”, I cried. “Why now?”
“Fall like a mango tree!”, an officer commanded.
I positioned my arms to guard my ribs when I fell. I was midway through my fall when a last slap came down heavy on the small of my back. It doubled the velocity at which I crashed to the ground, my face bumping into my right fist. I fainted. In what seemed like a second, a sudden beam of light flashed again into my eyes. I had been woken up, not with water this time but a kick in my ribs. Then I heard the last command “dismiss!”
With all the strength I had, I ran like a mad dog; like I had never done in my life. Where the strength came from, I wonder. They chased after me a little but I was like a bolt of lightning, faster than they were. My adrenaline was fully pumped. I escaped.
Weeks later, the overall head of the cadet unit, Mallam Tanko, called for a meeting. I had dreamt of myself heading the cadet unit in a few years. We were all instructed to squat on the field so he would address us as he was a short man. I could not squat; my knees wouldn’t let me. I had a knee problem. He called out to me and asked why I sat and not squatted. I tried to explain but even with all the honesty, humbleness and authenticity of my explanation, he said: “you cannot be a cadet boy. Leave.”
I left for good, never to return. It was all in vain.