As my alma mater, the Nigeria Military School celebrates her 66th anniversary this week, I am as usual buffeted with memories of the most significant 5 years of my life. Some memories are painful to dwell on and even now, almost 40 years after passing through the arc of what used to appear to me as its imposing gates back then, they still bring moisture to my eyes. Most are however quite pleasant and I wouldn’t exchange them for another, even in a million lifetimes. And then some are hilarious. I remember some things and laugh out loud, even alone. At the appropriate time, my chronicles of the good, the bad, and the funny experiences of a Boy Soldier will be rolled out. This morning, I remember how I was cured of my lisp. You see, I had a really bad lisp as a child and hissed like a snake when pronouncing the letter S.
I had been sent on a procurement errand by Senior Samuel Samson. I write his name in full because it plays such an important role in this story. Senior Samuel Samson (Whom we will call SSS for short) had sent me to buy 5 Kobo worth of groundnuts from the Mammy market. A quick word about SSS. He was in Form 4 and a real character. Flamboyant ‘Lagos Boy’, he was the ultimate poser. He seemed to glide when he walked and no chicken belonging to the soldiers who lived just outside our lines was safe from the attention of SSS and his accomplice and roommate, Richard. A couple of renegades, they were as anti-establishment as they come. It was not an uncommon sight to see them sitting in front of their room, confidently cooking the remains of an unfortunate fowl that had strayed into Foxtrot Company. Sportsmen both, the sight of SSS in his sparkling white tennis outfit and Richard in his hockey kit (he was the school hockey goalkeeper) swaggering through the lines often inspired admiration in us, the ‘clowns’. If only SSS was as good at sports as he thought he was! But I guess he was more interested in posing than in ever winning anything.
Anyway, on this unfortunate afternoon, I was the ‘last one boy’! For those not in the know, the shout of “Last one boy” was a junior boy’s nightmare. It was a call to suffer. It was also an example of the spirit of fairness that was the code in the lines. When the call was made, usually by a Form 4 or Form 5 Senior who required someone to tend to something or the other, any ‘clown’ within earshot was obligated to run as fast as his legs could carry him to the presence of the caller. You lined up as you arrived and the last person on the line was the ‘last one boy’. If he needed 2 boys, then the call was for ‘last 2 boys’. On this day, I was not just the last boy, I was the only boy! SSS barely gave me a second glance before handing me his 5 Kobo and asked me to run along for his groundnuts. I took off as fast as my tiny legs could carry me. Those who see me now would find it difficult to reconcile how small I was back then. I got SSS’s groundnuts and on my way back to him, my world began to unravel.
I ran into another Senior Boy, this one in Form Five, who simply handed me a bucket to go fetch him some water. He needed to bathe. My explanations that I was on an errand for Senior so and so elicited the worst possible response you want to hear in such a situation: “is he my senior?”. That put paid to further protestations. I trudged off to fetch the bucket of water. Knowing full well I was going to be made to pay for this unfortunate set of circumstances. I delivered Senior Danladi’s water to him just in time to hear the whistles going off for ‘prep’! Prep was never joked with within NMS at that time. You had to go and read. Especially as a Junior Boy. The Provosts were out in force, with their whips herding the Juniors towards the classes for prep. You didn’t wait to explain to them that you had some other mission without risking getting one across your back. I saw Provost Noble heading towards me. He was one of the most feared Provosts. I took off towards the classes, completely forgetting that I still had SSS’s groundnuts in my pocket. Long story short, I had groundnuts for dinner (which I had missed) during prep and put SSS out of my mind. For a season.
The next day was a Saturday and we were chilling in the end-room when the call went out: “last one boy!” We jumped up and ran to the front of SSS, who was about to head out for a game of Tennis (or not). He was in his immaculate whites, complete with headband, thinking himself to be Arthur Ashe at the time. “Which of you did I send to buy groundnuts and he escaped with my money?” Silence. He repeated the question. Nobody answered. He walked through the line, stopping briefly in front of Francis, Bala, Orieme, and myself. The four of us were of similar height and build. He eliminated Bala and Orieme, (Bala was too short, and Orieme too tall) leaving just Francis and I. He knew the culprit had to be one of us. “Which of you was it?”. More silence. I wasn't going to confess, no matter what. It would be easier to serve whatever punishment was coming if I had company. And then the lightbulb went off in SSS’s head. He turned to Francis. “You. What is my name?” Francis went: “Senior Samuel Samson Sir”. He then turned to me. “You”? “Ssssenior Ssssamuel Sssamson Ssssir” I confidently replied.
It was a good thing I did not see the brain-resetting slap coming or I might have dodged it. If I had dodged it, I probably would still be speaking with a prominent lisp up to this day and that would have seriously impacted my abilities to be the Trainer and Speaker that I am today. I guess all things work together for good. The slap came from nowhere. I lost my orientation and the day turned into night. When my eyes cleared, I was sitting in the flower bed a few meters from where I had been standing a few seconds or hours ago. Francis was nowhere to be seen. SSS and Richard were not even looking at me. The most miraculous thing had happened though. I had lost my lisp!!!
Thank you Senior Samuel Samson Sir!!