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The LGI was late as usual, so at 1p.m. many of us were yet to payroll. Everyone was anxious to leave before 2p.m. because of the masquerades. We, the Corpers at Aguaba, had not even been aware that the masquerade festivals had begun until we got to the local government that day. I had overheard a girl grumbling about the LGI’s tardiness and how she wasn’t interested in being flogged.
“Masquerades?” I had asked.
“Yes na. You didn’t know?” No way I would know in that back of beyond were my PPA was, I told her. “They’ve been coming out since Monday.” She had informed me.
“I don’t think they’ll flog Corpers.” Amaka had said.
“Maybe, but I’ll rather not risk it.” the girl had grumbled.
“Assuming we knew, we would have gone to the market first.” Zahra had said. “I just hope they won’t close the market.”
We finished with payroll some minutes to 2p.m. and headed to the market, regardless of the threat of being flogged by masquerades. We had shopped for about an hour when we saw people, mostly women and children running helter skelter. A masquerade was coming and it’ll flog any woman in sight, we were told. So, that was how we spent the next three hours, half shopping and half running into shops for safety. We were headed out of the market when we came face to face with two masquerades. It was an open space with no place to hide.
“Make una no fear, they no dey flog Corper.” A man passing beside us said.
We quickly followed behind him, just in case. One of the masquerades turned to us and said something that sounded like Corper how far na. I was utterly speechless. So much for masquerades being spirit. And more importantly, why didn’t anyone tell us, all that time we spent running to safety, that the masquerades don’t attack Corpers. On the bike ride home, we must have met up to 8 masquerades on the way, and only one stopped our bike to ask for money.
“I’m serious. We are just friends.” Amaka insisted.
“Eh. Are you sure?” I teased.
“Don’t mind her. They are just friends, and they are calling each other and exchanging audio messages and pictures as if they can’t spend a minute apart.” Temi said.
“You people should stop na. Can’t somebody just be friends with a guy.” She protested. “I’m not dating Jide. My boyfriend is in Benin.”
Jide was a corps member serving at Obollo-Afor that Amaka liked to pretend she wasn’t tripping for. The chemistry between them was so evident that if care was not taken, she may have cheated physically on her boyfriend with him. She was already cheating emotionally.
“Hmmnn. But you’re tripping for him abi.” I teased further. She gave us a dark look, as Zahra and Temi burst into laughter.
“The way you are hammering this matter, it’s like you’re interested in him.” She retorted. “Maybe I should hook you guys up.”
I laughed in her face. “No thanks. I don’t have time to get involved with a man. At least, not while I am in this jungle.”
My boyfriend and I had broken up two months into the service year. We had been having communication issues just before I went to camp, and it worsened when I got posted to a no network area. It was so bad that sometimes a week passed without us talking. I fought all I could to keep it together, but it seemed like a losing battle, so we just broke it off.
“Are you sure?” she mimicked the tone I had used on her earlier.
“Snake!” Temi screamed and drew Amaka back.
My heart galloped into my mouth as I jumped back, colliding with Zahra.
We all moved back a distance, watching the black thing slither across the path into the bush. Sighting a snake on our way to school like this, is almost a daily occurrence. Each time it rained, they were sure to make an appearance the following morning. However, this was the first time we were seeing a live one. All the ones we had seen on previous days, were always dead – smashed to pieces. Immediately it slithered into the bush, we ran past the place, not stopping until we were a far distance away. Somehow it didn’t occur to us that we may accidently step on another snake as we ran.
Just the previous week, a snake had followed Mama Chima – the mother in the family downstairs – home. She had been offloading the foodstuff she bought at the Eke market from her wheelbarrow, when she suddenly dropped the polythene bag of vegetables and took several steps back, shouting for Chima to come. Chima ran to her, a big stick in his hand. Temi and I stood up from the game of Ludo we were playing and looked down the balcony to find out what the fracas was about.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Snake ke. From where?”
“It’s like the thing enter my bag for market.” Mama Chima answered.
My eyes had widened at the thought of the different things that might have happened, if she hadn’t discovered it. It may have bitten her or even the younger children when offloading the barrow. Or it may have slithered out of the bag and into the house, if the bag had been taken inside without no one noticing. The snake had played a game of hide and seek with Chima until he finally smashed its head minutes later.
On the norms, snakes were not to be killed at will in the Coal city state, especially the green snake and the python, as they are believed to be the ancestors of the people, come back to protect them. In fact, while in camp, more than 4 green snakes were found in the different girls’ hostels and none was killed. However, in our neck of the jungle at Aguaba, the green snakes cousin, with its black scales and triangle head, instead of being revered, was killed mercilessly.