I listened from my room as they argued about how to divide the bill amongst all the occupants of the building. I knew no one would ask me for any money until they had finished their deliberations. I could already guess who their emissary would be. It would very likely be Data, the yellow girl. She was stand-offish and always prepared to pick a fight or bully her way through any situation when the occasion called for it. I wonder what gave them the impression that I could be bullied.
Later that evening, a few seconds after I got back from my friend’s hostel, I heard a knock on my room door. Whoever it was must have watched me come in. Data let herself in with a small piece of paper in hand. She informed me without much ado that the septic tank a.k.a soak away was full and needed evacuation. I listened to her in silence as she went on to explain that they had gotten quotes from different shit packers and opted for the cheapest. After dividing the bill by the number of rooms within the building what came to my room was three thousand five hundred naira. She asked when to come for the money so as not to delay the evacuation. I just burst out laughing.
Honestly, I did not mean to be rude, but I just wondered why shitting had to be so expensive for an undergraduate like me. I came from a back ground of shot-putting in my secondary school, so shit never cost us anything more than the used black nylon bags. Maybe a few curses sha. On one occasion in my secondary school, some old man barged angrily into the house mistress’ apartment smelling like the toilets we had all refused to use.
He was so visibly upset that he cursed anyone who dared greet him. He cursed our fathers, our mothers our unborn children. He cursed with Soppana(the god of small pox), with Ayelala and worst of all with shit. He proclaimed that the person who was responsible for throwing the shit on him will run mad and end up eating shit. We all took cover. The house mistress pleaded helplessly with him. He wanted her to produce the culprit but that was a tall order. As they spoke, some other girls were doing their thing. So we were all culpable. She pleaded with him to forgive, saying we were all his children. He would have none of that, he took it literally and replied that he knew exactly how many children he had. He did not have disrespectful and wicked children lke the ones in our school. I think at some point he must have realized that he was not going to his hands the culprit, because he cursed some more and left.
On another occasion shit was again to cost us, but again not cash. Red house girls were awoken by the bell to an all familiar smell. One or two people had started to curse again. They thought someone passed air. This one was not air. It was a completely different state of matter. It was semi-solid, very light brown for most part, but had a burnt black edge. Whoever did this very likely did not even clean up her butts as there was no evidence of that. She just did her thing and went back to sleep. As it was still early, one of us suggested that the only way to catch the “shiter” was to check everyone’s panties. That was quickly brushed aside as been ridiculous. So everyone else rained all sorts of curses on the culprit just to prove her innocence.
In the midst of all the wahala, someone had gone to report to the House Mistress. Bad move. Very bad move. Like she was waiting for us to upset her, she came into the hostel immediately. She said she had always known that many of us were ogbanje and that it was absolutely impossible for us to kill her. We should go and kill our mothers at home, first. Then she commanded all of us to kneel round the shit as if to worship the evil stuff. That was the most humiliating, sad, depressing, confusing and irritating punishment I have ever served. The longest thirty five minutes of my life. Now I really wanted to curse the “shiter” but I could not risk opening my mouth right in front of the shit.
I also remembered another set of people whose shit cost them curses. There was this nicely built house in my friend’s neighborhood. It was a block of four flats painted pink and grey whose occupants where all professionals who left the house daily dressed in suits. They were fairly easy-going people who if not for the plumbing situation of their house would not have done anything to deserve the curses they got from their neighbors. Their house had no “soak-away” so whenever they did their business and flushed, everything spilled in the street. Sometimes a rough driver splashed the liquefied sewage on passersby who would end up cursing both the “shiter(s)” and the driver.
Data was visibly upset. She probably thought I was laughing at her. That was not completely true. It was just ironical that shit could cost that much when it was freely given by God. She brought the matter that drove me down the memory lane. Her angry face brought my mind back to the matter at hand. I told her that I was not going to pay that amount just for doing what came naturally.I didn’t want anyone to accuse me of being unreasonable so I went on to explain my reasons to her.
First, I did not really do my major business here. In fact, I tried to do it every where else but here. I shared the flat with some very interesting ladies who made up their minds not to use more than one scoop to flush the toilet which had no working water closet. The size of the deposit which they left there was not enough to persuade them to change their minds as they were too lazy to go to the well outside to get enough water. They would simply baptize their deposits by sprinkling and turn their backs.
It was usually nightmarish for me to rush home pressed to do my business and then find an unsolicited gift waiting there for me. So no matter how hard pressed I was, I would run to my friend’s hostel where I was sure to be able to do my business immediately without first undertaking my usual “ onyenebu nshi” duties.
Another issue was the ratio of sharing. Even if I was inclined to pay for shit that I did not shit, I sure was not going to do it on that bill. The cost was distributed per room and I felt severely cheated. I was the only occupant of my room so I was sentenced to pay three-five while the girls in next room, the baptizing ministers would have to five hundred each, since five people slept there. NO WAY! They should go and redistribute the money per head. And then I might consider paying. But as things stood, no way.
Fast forward, three years later. NYSC camp. I was one of the many girls who had their baths and did their business outdoors and “jejely” flung the stuff in the bush over the fence. It was our own way of preserving the earth. It served directly as manure. I just was not shameless enough to do it in broad daylight. But, I could not think of any good reason to risk my life in the disease infested “rest rooms”. Every day of the first week on the parade ground, they preached and preached on how it was unbecoming for any well brought up lady to have her bath or make her deposits outdoors. I could not care less. I thought to myself “so the guys were not well brought up abi?”
And then one day, I was going to the parade ground, late as usual and I saw all the girls coming back towards the hostel picking up pieces of dirt along the way. I knew it could not be good so I changed course and went to the clinic to complain about an ailment I remembered only then. While one of the male doctors saw through my strategy and was sarcastic, his female colleagues, bless their hearts, were sympathetic.
I was later to learn that the ladies were being punished because one of the soldiers who drilled corps members had been stoned with shit. He knew it was a girl who threw it at him but he could not identify her because it was late at night. There were as many versions of the story as they were bunks in the Girls’ Hostel which is to be expected as 80% of stuff announced on the parade ground went unheard. One version was that while the girl was doing her thing under the cover of darkness, she saw a male figure coming towards her. She shouted at him to go back but he kept advancing. In self defense she threw her stuff, to blind him temporarily while she made her escape from someone who might as well as have had violent intentions.
Another version was that the shot-put of the girls landed on the Commandant’s car car and broke his windscreen. He knew it must have been female corps members who did it because the stuff landed when he was packed on the outer side of the camp fence which was cloest to the girls hostel. Funny thing was that it was impossible to know all the details that were spread i’m these versions if you are not the perpetrator. I wonder how those stories spread so quickly yet the perpetrator was not caught.
*Please forgive the writer if the word “shit” offends you in any way. it is not intended by to be vulgar. The writer just finds other alternatives inadequate to convey the same meaning as is represented by the word in Nigerian pidgin.