You must have heard the expression, “don’t disgrace us, please?” Maybe your mother said it at a family gathering, or it’s your father who said it on the day you told him you want to be an artist. But have you taken the plunge and end up feeling like a real, first-class disgrace. I have done that, and it is like appearing on a live show in a dirty and torn pair of boxers.
It happened in the NYSC camp. I was in a platoon, and they asked for volunteers to represent the group in the debate competition. Oh, well, in secondary school, I have represented my class of eighteen students before, and I thought I could do it. So I volunteered for my platoon. I would lead the debate and win “gold.”
The journey began. Each platoon provided two representatives and was given the questions. I should have sensed trouble when I saw that topic. It does not look like a debate. They asked us to come out to defend it. No one opposed; we all supported. (I know some of my platoons might read this, but I can’t remember what all the platoons defended. If you can, let me know.)
The thing is, I ended up disgracing myself and my platoon — myself, especially.
When we were practicing, my partner told me he is a seasoned debater, but he didn’t want to be the lead speaker. So I chose to speak first as an ogbonge orator that I was. After the debate, we will look like first-class geniuses. Who knows what NYSC would do? Maybe I will get the VIP ticket to serve as the assistant to the governor’s nose, then help him smell better.
Fast forward two days later, we were in the hall and ready for the debate. We were ready. I was ready. Maybe it was the sight of the entrance or the presence of judges, or the sounds of welcoming claps here and there. My partner changed his mind and said he would take my role as the lead speaker.
Who was I to stop him? At this point, I was even doubting if I wanted to be at the front. I couldn’t even spell my name if anyone asked me. I was wearing my full khaki, and the heat in the hall was too much anyway. So I told him to go ahead, please, and he did.
Again, I should have guessed this wasn’t heading in the right direction.
When it was time for him to speak, the judges assigned him five minutes. But my friend seemed to have finished within three or so minutes. Yes, a minute was used for talking about his name, his school, and platoon. The other one minute was used for defining the topic. The next one minute was used to describe the topic very well.
Three minutes down! Two to go.
You might ask now. How many minutes did he use to defend the topic?
Very good question.
I don’t know, or I didn’t remember, or I didn’t care. I froze on my seat like ice cream melting away every second. I was in a dilemma too. I didn’t know what I would say or if I would crumble or become blank after a few seconds. And the hall was hot, an extremely uncomfortable situation.
After he stopped at three minutes, the remaining two minutes could not go to waste, so he did what any wise and seasoned-debater-who-had-represented-his-departments-in-many-competitions would do; he kept his mouth moving.
What was he saying? You might ask again.
I DON’T KNOW. SIR OR MA
I was in my state of mind where the wind was blowing too clearly, and the murmurs in the hall were loud, too loud for you to breathe properly. It seemed we were already signed up for failure. They just needed my contribution to validate it or not.
My partner stepped down after his time was up. After that, all the lead speakers for all the other platoons spoke, then it was my turn. I spoke well, though, but you wouldn’t believe it. So I will not buttress this fact.
I already know you are laughing that I embarrassed myself when I went there. No, I didn’t. The stage actually looked taller when I got close, but I didn’t disgrace myself on the scene. I spoke well.
The disgrace came during the announcement when the judges said in their words, “I will be announcing from the back… The number 10th position is platoon one….”
They clapped for us. Maybe they thought the loser had won the trophy.
Oh, no. It wasn’t meant to be that way.
The Judge had to repeat himself. “I said I am calling from behind. The first name to call is Platoon one.”
So it clicked for the audience: this time, no clapping for my partner and me.
At this point forward was our moment of disgrace. We were sitting in the front of the hall, so if I turned my head to the left, I would see the audience, faces that would mock me, elite and educated folks, clothed in white vests and shorts like white fowls. They would think I was an idiot. It was not like they would even give me money if I looked at their side, so I didn’t. I kept my head straight like the statue at the camp’s entrance.
The feeling of disgrace continued.
After the events, we were asked to take group photos.
“Platoon one, please go first,” one man said.
It sounded different when he said it. It was as if he said, “losers first.”
I was annoyed, but this was just the beginning. The news spread across the camp that platoon one was the loser in the debate competition. I tried to walk around like it wasn’t the end of the world. But randomly, I would walk to strangers having discussions about the debate, and I would try to listen.
“Platoon one are olodo. They are dullards.”
Bro, I had been through many things in my life, like cutting my hands with a knife on the day I was supposed to wash my mum’s clothes or slicing onions and letting the peppery scent get into my eyes while I was in a dark room, or not looking at where I was heading when crossing a gutter. They were painful events, you know. But this was so different because these people didn’t know who exactly represented platoon one. So they talked about it freely like they would never run into me. Now I know what it means to accommodate insults without saying ‘pim.’ No, I don’t wish you to experience it. It was like smiling when someone hammered your fingernails.
The next day, during the training for the match, our platoon commander used our failure as motivation for the parade.
“I heard about our loss in the debate. We can’t afford to lose the parade competition,” he said.
I see eyes looking at me like I was the reason they all had to do more during the match practice.
Throughout that week, I was watching my movement less I ran into another round of insults.
Some of the comedians in the camp didn’t help either. They would ask them to come on stage, and their jokes were like, I want to describe each platoon.
In my head, I was like, Oga, Nah joke we send you oo. Who asked you to describe platoons?
THE COMEDIANS: You see platoon one, dem no dey like debate…. blah blah blah…
I can’t remember… whatever.
ANOTHER COMEDIAN: platoon one think say debate nah match past.
That’s not how to crack a joke, bro. It is really awful.
But people laughed. They laughed as if it were Clint Da Drunk on the stage. No one has good taste for a good joke. Mtchewww.
At this point, I was already counting how and when we would leave camp, and on the final day, I grabbed my bag and promised never to write about this.
I did keep my promise long enough, didn’t I?
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