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There had been no light for 5 days, and the generator at the lodge was faulty, so Temi and I went to the bar in front of the lodge to charge our phones. Three guys sat two tables away, nursing a bottle of Life each and conversing in Igbo.
“Just pick the call na or shut down the phone.” I said to Temi, when her phone rang again for the umpteenth time.
“I don’t want to pick. It’s that foolish man.” She said to me in Yoruba. “When he gets tired he would stop.”
Temi had this stalker, an old man, who wouldn’t let her be. The man, she said, was an elder in her church at home who was wooing her seriously. He would call her incessantly, asking silly questions and/or telling her about how he wouldn’t be able to sleep if he didn’t speak to her. Temi mostly ignored his calls, but did things that encouraged him to keep calling, like calling him to send her money or airtime.
“Why haven’t you put this man in his place?” My voice was laced slightly with irritation. “Or blocked his number?”
“Ehm. I don’t know how to insult an elderly person.” She replied.
“Insult? Who is talking about insulting him? Just let him know you are not buying whatever it is he’s selling.” I huffed. “Besides, an elderly man who does not respects himself deserves to be insulted.”
“Ehm. Dewunmi, you won’t understand.”
“What won’t I understand?” I thought for a minute to call her on her bullshit, but decided to let it slide. “You know what? Never mind.” I said.
Just then we heard the voice of the town crier.
“Aje! Aje! Aje!” He called out, then proceeded to pass the information. His voice rang out, loud and clear as he spoke in Igbo language. When he finished, I turned to the drinking men and asked for an interpretation of what he had said.
“He said the village masquerades will come out tomorrow.” One of the men said.
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Corper Corper. How far na?” A lanky guy, who had just come in, greeted.
“Fine.” Temi answered him.
He sidled up next to us and grabbed my arm. “Corper, answer me na.” He said to me.
“I’m fine.” I said, with gritted teeth, shaking off his hand.
“Ahan. Why you dey shift your body? Shit dey my hand.”
“No. but stop touching me please.”
“Ehn. Because you went to university you think you are better than me ehn.” I spared him a glance and turned to Temi.
“You are not better than me let me tell you.” He continued to rant and rant, while I ignored him. I wasn’t in the mood to soothe anyone’s ego. Minutes later, the other men in the bar said something to him in Igbo, then he left.
“I’ll show you that this is my village.” Came his parting shot.
“Corper, don’t mind him jare. He’s drunk.” One of the men said to me. I smiled at him and said my thanks.
“Aunty, they will flog you o.” Ify, one of my SS2 students said.
I don’t recall how we came to be discussing masquerades, but my students were of the notion that they would flog me cos I was putting on trousers.
“They won’t.” I assured them. “They don’t flog Corpers. We encountered them at Obollo-Afor last two weeks and they just basically ignored us.”
“Eh. It’s because you were putting on your uniform o. You know the cloth you are wearing now is not your NYSC uniform.” She protested.
“I don’t think that matters.” I said.
I wasn’t the least flustered by their fears. We had been assured by the principal that the masqueraders won’t harass us. I was even contemplating taking a picture with them, if they would allow it.
At closing time, I and the other girls headed home in the company of some students. We joked and laughed as we trekked the long distance. Not long after I made a joke about seeing two masquerades on a bike, instead of them disappearing to their shrine, we came upon 4 of them at a junction. The four masquerades were flanked by 6 men, holding long canes, chanting in Igbo and jumping around. We all fell into silence as we passed by them.
“Corper, una don close?” One of the men asked me. As I turned to answer him, a cane landed on my legs. I and the man turned quickly to find one of the masquerade beside me lifting his cane to deliver a similar blow on Temi.
“What the fuck?” I took three steps backward and looked it in the eye. The man that was standing next to me, got in the middle, shouting at the masquerade to cut it out, that he was not allowed to flog a corps member, but the masquerade wouldn’t relent. Instead it started to flog me and the man together. Temi, Zahra, Amaka and the other girls had fled.
“Dewunmi. Run.” They shouted at me, but I stood my ground.
The other men and masquerades quickly entered the fray and held the offending masquerade off.
“Sorry Corper. Sorry. He’s drunk.” The men kept chanting after me, as I headed down the path to join the others.
“Why didn’t you run?” Amaka demanded.
I shrugged and said it didn’t occur to me. My arm was streaked with welts and my back and legs stung. When we got home, I discovered I had two welts on my back and three on my legs. Pissed as hell, I spent the rest of the day keeping to myself.
The next morning, I informed the others I wouldn’t be going to school till further notice, cos the school could not assure me of my safety. The other girls decided to stay back too. That evening, the principal and two elderly man came to see us at the lodge. Dennis had told him what happened the previous day, so they had come to apologize.
“Corper, we are very sorry for the behavior of that masquerade.” The principal started.
“What that boy did was very stupid and we have come to beg you to please forgive him.” One of the elders said.
“His friends said he was drunk, but we will still punish him for what he has done.” The other continued. “We have a strict rule in this village that the masquerades should not touch school children, teachers and outsiders especially Corpers, and since he decided to break the rule, he will be punished.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just sat staring at them, while Temi answered them.
“Please, we want to beg you not to tell your LI about this incident, because he may decide not to send any other Corper to our village again. We’ll pay for the treatment for any injury you sustained.” The principal said, glancing at the welts on my arms.
“I want to see the boy.” I said.
“Ah. My daughter. It is against our tradition to reveal the identity of a masquerade.”
Zahra squeezed my hands, gesturing for me to let the matter slide. So I told them everything was forgotten, and promised not to inform the LGI.
When they left, Temi asked, “You’re thinking it’s that guy from yesterday abi?”
“Most probably.” I shrugged.