Tales from Camp

It was the long vacation break before school resumed in September. My mother had made me go to several rehearsals for me and my province to present at Redemption Camp in Lagos. Now, I was not in the slightest bit interested in the rehearsals or performing or people my age or Lagos but I lived under the dictatorship of my mother and my protests basically went like this:

“Mum, I don’t want to go for the rehearsals, I don’t want to do this at all.”

“Oh, honey, I already paid for the uniform you’ll wear.”

“I told you before you bought it that I didn’t want to wear it. You made that decision on your own.”

“Don’t be rude or I’ll slap your face. Besides, you’ve spent months rehearsing and your friends you have been practising with…”

“I really don’t mind the time I’ve wasted. I’m twelve, and I’m one of the oldest there. They’re all a bunch of babies.”

That was true but the real reason I didn’t want to go was that I was always sidelined for singing and dancing roles because I was objectively bad. I did not like being objectively bad. Also the only church friends I had had recently japaed.

“Oh, sorry baby,”

“So I don’t have to go?”

“That’s undebatable, Joy. You’re going to do the work of God and that’s final.”

Who could argue with doing the work of God, or their fully Yoruba mother as his representative? I accepted my fate with all the acquiescence of Donald Trump forced to become vegetarian. As a subject under this harsh tyranny, I contented myself with loathing glances at my mother when she wasn’t looking. Because if she happened to be looking, I did not want to get one of her exclusive face slaps, you felt those slaps before you even saw the hand coming.

So I landed in Lagos, determined to be as uncooperative as possible. That plan went to shit when they brought out Bible cards. I did so love beating people at games. I lost some, I won some, and it was the only fun I had the whole five days I was in Lagos.

A day into this endeavour, I figured this life wasn’t for me. Our new province had gotten us terrible accommodation. A two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of one of a series of three-story buildings, with no tiling or water supply whatsoever. Twelve of us children slept on a mat on the floor while the four teachers slept on the two mattresses in the neighbouring room. Two children wet the mat daily. You had to admire their consistency.

I, who had never been to a boarding school was forced to carry at least four buckets of water daily from a tap quite some distance away, up three flights of stairs and into the room. One of the buckets was for cooking and the other was for teachers to have their baths. My thoughts rotated between, “Why am I here?” “I hate everything.” and “When I grow up, I’ll live in a robot-controlled mansion where I don’t have to see anyone.”

The teachers mocked those of us that couldn’t carry water without spilling a quarter of its contents. Mummy Alex remarked to me loudly in Yoruba. “Don’t you fetch water in your own house?”

I glared at her while huffing as I struggled to carry both buckets. “No, our taps work” She then suggested I practised carrying buckets from bathroom to bathroom so I’ll know how to carry buckets properly for university. But why? So I could prepare to end up living in worse circumstances? (Side note: even when I did end up in a federal public school hostel, the tap was so close to my room and bathroom that it was barely an inconvenience. Thank God I didn’t take her nonsense advice.)

The next time she saw my mum, she told my mum how I needed so much water to bath and my mother, in turn, regaled me with the story of how she bathed with only one bottle of water when she had her NYSC in the North. But, I digress.

Anyway, I trudged on daily — a choiceless little soldier that I was. Until one Friday night, this ten-year-old child annoyed me. I don’t remember what she did but I was furious. I had been trying to work on my anger issues so I decided to invest that energy into fetching water. I had already fetched my quota for the night but I decided to be aggressively helpful and help fetch water. I took the two biggest buckets and went downstairs, and had some angry thoughts.

We’d had several warnings on how big the redemption camp was and how easy it was to get lost. Given that whole preamble, obviously, I got very lost. I found a tap, filled the buckets and started looking for the way back. Dead end, chain link fence. Dead end, wall. Dead end, darkness. it was dark and I was starting to get scared. My anger was gone and I was very lost. I attempted climbing the chainlink fence but it was harder than novels had made it out to be. I stood in a spot for minutes when a voice called out to me.

“Hey, isn’t that Joy?” A male voice came out from the shadows. Yes, I was Joy.

“It’s Joy.” Another voice came, excitedly.

“Joy is here.” Some voices went on. Yes, Joy was here and very rarely were people so excited to see her.

Somehow, I didn’t question the fact that these grown men knew my name. Maybe it was a result of the years of my childhood where people lied and told me I was a special little girl. I just thought to myself. Of course, these people know me, even though I know no one in Lagos. I’m fabulous like that.

“Joy, are you lost?” The first male voice came. I couldn’t see anyone’s face.

“Yes,” I admitted, smiling into the darkness.

“Joy is lost.” He told the rest. Didn’t they hear me before?

“Go straight, turn left, go right…” he issued a bunch of instructions and I repeated them in my head and thanked him

“You should be more careful, Joy.” Well, I know that.

I followed the instructions and they led right to the building we were staying. I didn’t spill any water and I was quite proud of myself but didn’t appreciate Mummy Alex complimenting me on that.

We presented our song. We lost, which I didn’t care a jot about because I hadn’t put much effort into any of this. I went back to check the buildings where those men had directed me, it all looked different in the day and I had no idea who the men could have been and how they knew the directions to where I stayed. Angels? Typical.

All in all, when my mum asked how the trip was, I remarked that I had hated it and would later regret being so annoying when all my mum wanted was for me to socialize, make friends and make memories. The mystery men, angels aside, I did really hate that trip though.

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