At first, I thought it was one of those dreams where I have to see people messing up my mind. But it was real, I pulled my phone from under my makeshift pillow. That was my bag, the one with my supplies, and check the time. I was shocked to realize it was four am. Why the hell were these people up so early!!!??? I could not figure it out. Did it even matter really? The house was just too much. Is it that they did not sleep, or they had just woken up early? The noise came from the extreme corner of the barrack block. I tried to eavesdrop on the conversation, which I don’t think was eavesdropping really because they were speaking so loud after all. The story was about the types of women they had slept with.
Awkward conversation to start a day. I was still not sure whether these people had slept or not.
I tried saying my morning graces but it was kinda difficult. I convinced myself that my prayers had reached their destination and went ahead to pay more attention to the conversation that was going on. I don’t know if I took that long to pray (or try to) or it was the conversation that was that volatile. They were already talking about phones. Each was saying what they were using. Makes and models.
“Have you heard we will not be having phones when the training starts?”
“Yeah, I heard that too” said another guy.
“Maybe it is true, or they are lying to us…” “I wouldn’t know”
“Lets wait and see how that will turn out”
“I don’t even care, whether they pick them or not, life will go on”
I was trying to imagine how life would be without people around. Okay. I mean people I was used to. Taking my phone back then would have been no big deal. But now? It would mess me up. Considering this is being written inside a bus on my way home.
I had nobody to text or to keep calling every other now and then. Therefore, I concentrated further in this gadget talk that I cared less about. I wished they talked about girls. I was as a curious as a cat back then. And as if nature had heard me, talk of how somebody bought his girl a phone as a parting gift changed the track if the conversation. This sounded interesting. The group erupted in laughter and others could not believe what they were hearing.
“Ati umenunulia dame simu?!!!” (You bought a girl a phone!)
Everyone burst out laughing again. Stupid thing to say I bet. Under the circumstances.
“Afadhali hiyo pesa ungeleta tukule mikate huku. Naskia utaihitaji kwa wingi.” (You would rather have brought that money here, we eat bread. I hear we will need it in plenty)
So one guy bought a phone for his girl and instead of people congratulating him. He became the laughing stock of the team. Alright. Let me try to understand. This might turn out interesting.
Someone tried to seek an explanation.
“So ulibuy simu… (Silence)… “Sasa. Ulibuy ndio?” (“So you bought your girlfriend a phone (silence)… why did you do that?)
You would have thought this guy was the father.
“Si tuu tukuwe tunaongea…” (“So that we can be talking”)
“Oooohhh. Kuongea. Alafu mtaongea aje na simu zinaenda?” (“Okay, talking, how will you talk and these phones will be taken?”) “Nani amesema zinaenda?” (“Who said they will be taken?”)
I could sense the bitterness in him. From his heroic announcement to this!!!???
Crazy. So… The interrogation continued.
“Ni dame yako, ama wife?” (“Is it your girlfriend, or your wife?”)
One guy from a top bunker shouted. “Bibi Wapi?”
“Hakuna, si ni bibi yangu tu.” (“She is just my wife… Just like that”)
“Okay, sawa.” (“Fine then”)
“Mko na watoto Wangapi?” (“How many Kids do you have?”)
“Bado” (“No kids yet”)
Laughter filled the corner again. And I sensed other people had woken up now but were pretending to be asleep.
“So uko na bibi kwa nyumba, na hujaoa… (silence)… Na hauna watoto…” (“So you have a wife in the house, not married, and no kids”)
“Na uko hapa miezi Tisa…” (“and you will be here for 9 months”)
“Na unamwita bibi…” (“and you are referring to her as your wife?”)
Its like these people had been doing this for their whole life. The interrogation I mean. I figured these were the seasoned bullies we experience through the course of life. There was a certain aspect of rare prowess in how they paused for sickening duration before they dropped these rhetorical questions on this guy. He was also encouraging them on I think. I would have ran out of the room or excused myself for a blunt.
He sounded like a guy who had been tortured for a whole day when he responded with a weak “kwani?”.
These were the very arguments that caused fights. I was so waiting for a day opener.
They did not fight. But I knew it was not over. Instead, somehow the conversation became a debate on how faithful people were. Someone bragged how he had slept with six girls in the last one week and that is how he bid them farewell.
“Kwanza saa hii wataingia box vizuri sana!”
“Haiii. Soldier! Nani hawezi taka kufyekwa na arrme?” “But sio ati wanajua wenzao, Ziii!..” “Wewe nunuliana tu simu. Na saa hii kajohnie kanamconsole tu na tuko na wewe hapa, kaugali na mboga supu tu!” (“Right now would be the best time to hit the jackpot with the ladies. A soldier!!! Who wouldn’t want to get laid by a soldier? Not that they know each other, One girl at a time. Keep buying them phones and maybe Johnie is consoling her right now, and you are here with us eating ugali and cabbage soup in tins”)
To some extent that made some sense. Some… Love is all that and blah blah blah, but enlisting in the military is like working in a cruise ship or travelling abroad. These were nine months without communication with the outside world, and you want to tell me that a lady you met, and fell in love with, no rings, no children, will be waiting for you after those nine months without a change of heart? Nooo… I was excited too when I got that calling letter. Trust me. It is like I had received a new lease of life and wanted to let go of the past. You remember it is only yesterday I was wishing I had a girlfriend who I would have loved to share the boot camp journey with. Now, I was not so excited about the thought of that. Probably I would have bought them a phone as well. Thank God I couldn’t have afforded any of the two.
People started sitting up on their beds; some appeared as if they did not know where they were. Here I was going through the high school experience all over again. I was yet to know whether it would be better or worse. The threats were piling up by the hour. I could not wait to see what we would be having for breakfast. I hear they will be fattening us.