The Lance Corporal’s Door

One breezy evening in December of last year, we—wives and mothers of Block 072—were in an unspoken agreement to keep watch of the Lance Corporal’s door. It was our duty. To know. We had no need for secret cameras and small-small recorders like the ones we see in Oyinbo films. But nothing happens in this barrack without our knowledge. We are the light of the barrack.

So, that evening, we watched. We started out as a collective sentry: every woman perching at the foot of her veranda with an alertness masked by small talk. But our children returned home. Hungry. Petulant. We needed to get up and put pots and pans to use before they began a crying fest.

The woman of Room 02 was the first to get up. She left us outside and headed to her kitchen, but she came back with a tray of beans. She adjusted her stool to face the Lance Corporal’s door directly and began tracing her fingers on the tray of beans we all knew she had picked yesterday. We got the cue. We dispersed. When the woman of Room 07 came back outside to pound pepper, the woman of Room 02 went in to put her beans on fire. When the woman of Room 07 carried her mortar in, the woman of Room 05 came out to fan her charcoal stove. She fanned, it glowed, it flamed, but she did not go in to bring out a pot until the woman of Room 10 opened her door. The woman of Room 10 came out to drain the water from her parboiled rice, but she had to make herself stay outside until the woman of Room 05 came back out. She must have hesitated before we heard her calling out to the woman of Room 09, the same woman she called a bush rat yesterday, to spare her a bulb of onion. We were tactical. Dinner must be served, and importantly, the Lance Corporal’s door must not creak without our knowledge.

There are four other women on our block—the women of Rooms 01, 03, 08, and 12. Three of the four sat outside that evening too, far away from us. The woman of Room 01 sat on a plastic chair on her veranda. A new issue of the Christian Women Mirror magazine covered her face so that we could only see the tower of her brown turban. The woman of Room 03 was clipping the nails of her four-year-old boy. Mother and child sat on a long bench in front of her room as mother hummed a tune.

The woman of Room 08 was inside her room. That one, she was something we couldn’t explain. The only time we saw her outside was when she needed to dry her laundry. Or when she wanted to go to the market. Or when she called her only daughter back inside after hearing the girl’s titter mix with the laughter of our daughters, leaning out through her mosquito netting with a veiled head. You would think there was something outside her room that had promised to swallow her. Tsk! Even on days when there’s no light, and hell feels so close to us, and everyone on the block is hawking their skin to the available air outside, the woman of Room 08 stays indoors.

The woman of Room 12 was at her annoying best. It was a good thing her room was the last on the block because it helped us ignore her. At least, to an extent. Every other evening, she came out with a phone bigger than her palms and laughed, and scrolled, and purred, and scrolled, and laughed. She and Edna—her eldest daughter who no longer greeted us because promiscuous officers were lying to her that her pancaked face was beautiful. “Come and see this video on TikTok!” she’d say. Or, “Come and see this dress on Instagram, shey it will fit me?”


As we were saying, we have to know everything. Sometimes, it may take time for us to dawn on the truth, but, as light, we will surely see the end of darkness. We have had our noses on the Lance Corporal long before our husbands and the other bachelor-soldiers caught a whiff of his case. Why? Because we can tell that an egg is rotten among many good ones.

You see, the only similarity the Lance Corporal shared with his regulars was that stint of predictability. We knew the 68th Regular Recruit Intake for their wild behavior. If the Soldiers’ Club was silent by 8 p.m., then most of them weren’t off duty. If there was a case of loud music keeping a block awake through the night, the culprit would be a 68th Regular. In most brawl scenes you would find at least two 68th Regulars in the ring. They overwhelmed the barrack. Some of us said they were the most united regulars in the Nigerian Army. They were always in clusters, bantering away and reveling in passionate camaraderie. But you see the Lance Corporal, he was the irregular 68th Regular.

Before the Lance Corporal became the subject of barrack talks, you could tell where to find him at different times. Aside from his office hours at the Documentation Department, the routine PT, and any other assigned duty, there were only three, maybe four places to look for the Lance Corporal: Corporal Zabrang’s place at Block 023, the sports complex where he took walks or watched Zabrang win tennis games on a spree, behind the door of Room 06 of Block 072, or on his veranda polishing his boots and responding to our curious greetings. He was not like any young soldier we knew.

David Akanle was what we later discovered to be his name. But we called him Bachelor-Bachelor. Unlike most of his regulars and most soldiers, we had not seen him bring a woman home. So we spoke:

—Fine man like that no girlfriend? You sure say no be men him dey do?

—I no think so o. The man too innocent for that kind thing.

—Abegi, no be by face o.

—Maybe na Reverend Father him wan’ be.

—Na which church him dey go sef?

—Me I never see am go church before o.


—Even mosque e no dey go.

—Na wa o. Some people just dey like stagnant water. Front dem no go, back dem no go.

Whatever we thought of the Lance Corporal, we still admired him. If not for anything, for his meticulous personal grooming. When we kick out the smelly football boots and sweat-soaked jerseys of our teenage boys, we tell them, “Can’t you be like Bachelor-Bachelor? Is he not a man too?”

Our younger children loved him. He’d buy them bananas—apples on rare occasions—on his way back from the office, at least twice a week. He also allowed them to watch Nickelodeon in his room, a practice some of us initially discouraged until we needed the children to be our eyes inside his room.

We knew that the Lance Corporal and Zabrang’s closeness was not pure. But Zabrang also had a girl he held by the waist all around the barrack. So, some of us swore that the Lance Corporal and Zabrang did things only men and women should do in bed, and that Zabrang only had a girl as a means of casting off suspicion. How else could one explain the closeness between the Lance Corporal and Zabrang who is a 62nd RRI Corporal? The rest of us, who could not imagine two men together, believed there was nothing between the Lance Corporal and Zabrang. They must be very good friends. After all, some people don’t take seniority so seriously to the point of losing friendships.

Wait, don’t mistake our divergent opinions for disunity. We were all committed to finding out the truth. It’s just that we understood that many roads can lead to a market. Whether something fishy was going on between the two men or not, we just knew something wasn’t right.

One evening, Zabrang came to Room 06 hoping to pull out Bachelor-Bachelor to the sports complex. But there was a padlock on the Lance Corporal’s door. Zabrang’s confusion surprised us. We knew that Bachelor-Bachelor wasn’t home. We saw Zabrang stroll into Block 072; he greeted us, and we answered with an emphatic chorus. We thought he knew that his friend wasn’t in. He should have his keys, we thought. But he stopped at the Lance Corporal’s door with a forehead full of wavy lines.

—Oga Zee, you no know say your friend no dey?

He shook his head.

—Really? Call am na.

—He no pick? Ah-ahn!

—Maybe him don already dey field dey wait you.

Zabrang left for the sports complex. When he returned to find the padlock still on Bachelor-Bachelor’s door, we were already having dinner with our husbands and children inside. Thank God for the woman of Room 07 whose husband was stationed for duty at one of the state’s sectors. She came out to meet Zabrang and spoke with him. But, as she told us, she did not see when Bachelor-Bachelor returned home. The next morning, after our husbands’ click-click boots marched to work, and we waved our children to school, we piled our dirty clothes into buckets, the stained dishes into bowls, and drew close to Room 07. As we washed, the woman of Room 07 told us what we needed to know about Bachelor-Bachelor and Zabrang.

—E be like say them dey fight o.

—E possible. Maybe Bachelor-Bachelor dey vex say Oga Zee dey follow that Patricia girl.


—Oga Zee tell you anything yesterday?

—E tok o. E tok full ground.


—E say make we dey help am watch Bachelor-Bachelor.

—As how nau?

—He say Bachelor-Bachelor fit don get issues for office wey e no wan tell am. Especially with that Iron Lady Officer.

—Hmm. Na wa o. But Bachelor-Bachelor sef too dey do things like person wey be suspect.


—Yesterday I ask Oga Zee if the two of them be brothers sake of the way them too tight.

—Watin him tok?

—He fest laff. He tok say e don know Bachelor-Bachelor tey tey, before them join army.

From the mouth of the woman of Room 07, we learned how Bachelor-Bachelor and Zabrang used to be Barrack Boys. They initially did not want to be soldiers. But being a soldier was the easy option for boys like them who must be men at the earliest. They managed to get National Diplomas, and it was during the academic program they met; boys with similar aspirations, they stuck to each other. But when agendas refused to agend, they found themselves applying to join the Nigerian Army. Zabrang got in first and Bachelor-Bachelor enlisted three years after.

We were proud of her, the woman of Room 07. The amount of information she was able to collect for us in one night was impressive. We continued washing in silence, each one of us aware of what the other woman was thinking: what then was the issue between the two good friends?

The silence swirled around us like a big balloon full of water until the woman of Room 02 poked at it:

—I been hear something about Iron Lady o.

—Ah, the Iron Lady! That one na everyday we dey hear her tori. Watin she do again?

—Ehm…E concern Bachelor-Bachelor o.

—Ah! Seriously?

▴ ▴ ▴

We called the Captain Iron Lady. She came to our barrack in October last year with turbulence finely tucked in her camo. She was supposed to be calm after the storm, her round yellow face made us think so, but she turned out to be the big storm after the small one.

The Captain came from Abuja after Major Zayyannu, the former Finance Officer, died in an air crash. Some of us said that the late FO was going to stash monies that were our husbands’ bonuses in his foreign home when he crashed and burned. Until the Iron Lady came, we couldn’t stop talking about his death. But the Captain became the acting FO and made herself the center of everyone’s talk. “I have come to make things straight.” We heard the only female soldier on our block imitating the Captain’s foreign accent. We could see a mix of worry, envy, and intimidation beneath the mockery. We would later see the same in our husbands. We would learn that she had asked every department to submit their financial reports for the last six months. And there was a five-day deadline.

That week, a chill came upon our barrack. Even the Soldiers’ Club behind our block played its evening music at a humming volume. Our husbands came home with files filled with papers. They would spread the papers on our center tables, punch numbers into calculators, and eat the end of their pens. When we asked if they were ready to eat, they would raise their heads to ask us what we had just said. By the time we were repeating ourselves, their heads were back on the papers, their hands punching calculators. We would leave them alone.

Our children could not play around the block because their voices suddenly took on a crashing-cymbal effect. At any sound of a child, our husbands would cuss the mother who could not control them. The Captain had turned the barrack downside up.

That Small Girl—that was what we heard our husbands discreetly call the Captain—was just a few years older than most of our firstborns. If we had married earlier or done the do earlier, we would have her mates as daughters. They hated her. So did we, but not from the beginning. At first, we were amazed at how the Captain, a woman, could make our husbands shiver with mere commands. To the extent that we briefly thought of our husbands coming back from work and taking commands from us: Get me what to eat. Iron my blouse, I have a party tomorrow. Have you helped the children with their homework? But we soon snorted away the tickles it formed in our bellies, the excitement of a still-birthed aspiration. And then our stomachs, emptied of dreams, began to churn in distaste. The Captain had started to overstep. She would give our beloved husbands extra duties for mix-ups as little as greeting her with a “Sir” instead of “Ma.”

—Who she think say she be sef? Abi she think say na only her be the female officer for Nigeria Army?

—Na that her yeye English dey deceive her. She go dey tok with nose like person wey no dey shit.

—Them say after NDA she go London for Masters. Na where she go copy how to tok like person wey beta sun neva mamah.

—Make she come dey go where she come from abeg. When the original FO go come sef?

—I no know o.

On the day our husbands submitted the financial reports, Bachelor-Bachelor returned home late. He was chosen to submit his department’s report even though it was the chief clerk’s job. Our husbands will not tell us why, but we knew that it was because the Lance Corporal could speak the swee-swee English of the Captain. They believed he would be able to wriggle through any discrepancy, confidently.

When it was past closing hours, after the bugle had gone off and Bachelor-Bachelor was yet to return, we began to fret. The sun had become a mash of sinking orange clouds when we saw him returning home, looking stressed and sweaty. Our husbands asked what the problem was, and he said everything was sorted out. Why did he take so long? they asked. He had to explain some miscellaneous expenses, he said. But we saw how hard it was for him to keep a smile or look them in the eye. Bachelor-Bachelor got into his room and came out a few moments later, changed into one of those shirts our sons called vintage. He wore it over black chinos. As he walked past us with a pair of brown noiseless leather slippers, we told him to buy us oyoyo when he was coming back. He smiled. That was the day Corporal Zabrang came to the Lance Corporal’s door and met a padlock.

So, when the woman of Room 02 told us that she heard something new about the Iron Lady and that it also concerned the Lance Corporal, we knew we were about to hear the confirmation of our fears: Bachelor-Bachelor had fallen into the merciless hands of the Captain.

▴ ▴ ▴

It couldn’t be. Bachelor-Bachelor and Iron Lady? We asked the woman of Room 02 how she happened on the information, a thing we usually don’t ask ourselves. We saw the disappointment flash in her eyes before she told us she had overheard Edna tell her mother that the Captain and the Lance Corporal were holding hands beside the Officers’ Mess at night. That Edna girl. How sure was she that it was Bachelor-Bachelor she saw? And what was she doing around the Officers’ Mess at night? We looked toward Room 12 and we saw her on the veranda with her earphones plugged in. We wanted to call her and say, “Tell us what you saw,” but we wouldn’t stoop so low. Besides, we knew other ways of confirming the truth.

▴ ▴ ▴

It was true. And we were not surprised when, days after our discovery, the Lance Corporal was locked up in the Guard Room. Our husbands said his offense was insubordination. We understood that it was disrespectful to delegate a task given to him by an officer to another person. But we knew it was more than that. Did we not say the male officers would pick on our Bachelor-Bachelor? Why would a major specifically ask our Bachelor-Bachelor to ascertain the numerical strength of senior students in the Command Day School? Was that not supposed to be for someone from the Education Corps? How was our Bachelor-Bachelor wrong for asking for help from the staff of the school?

We knew that the Captain was trying hard to get him released, but since the officer who had locked him up was her senior, it would take more than issuing commands to secure his release. Plus, her days were numbered in our barrack. A Major would report in a few days as the new, original FO.

After the Lance Corporal was locked up, the story of his relationship with the Captain filtered throughout the barrack. And we, the women of Block 072, took special pride in telling everyone what we considered to be the original version of the story. It was a time for us to shine among the other women of the barrack.

As we said, we are the light of the barrack, but we, the women of Block 072, were not alone. We also had truth-seekers like ourselves in other blocks—Block 001, Block 104, Block 052, everywhere! Even in the Officers’ Quarters. But this very story originated from our block, so we had to be the front-liners, the source of all the details. At other times, we have been at the mercy of the women of other blocks for bits of the trending gist, but now, look at us, we control the narrative.

So, imagine our surprise and embarrassment when it was from the mouths of women from the other blocks that we heard that the Lance Corporal and the Captain were not just frolicking, that they were intent on getting married. Stop joking around, we told the other women. So, you did not know? they asked. And we smiled at them and said: it is not everything the ear hears that the mouth speaks.

But marriage? What was wrong with Bachelor-Bachelor? Which man in his right senses would marry a woman superior to him? The Captain must be using juju, we concluded. But we needed to hear and see for ourselves.

So we went to Zabrang and asked him to take us along when next he was going to visit the Lance Corporal at the Guard Room. After all, he was our neighbor, and we would like to see how he was faring. We were sure he also needed some properly cooked food accompanied by a cold bottle of kunu or zobo.

The Lance Corporal looked nothing like someone who had suffered when he met us at the Guard Room reception. We knew it was the work of the Captain. His face was still that smooth one we knew, and his demure smile remained intact. Even though we went to see and hear, we could only see because none of us could ask the Lance Corporal if he truly wanted to marry the Captain. But we saw that he had no shame. We were expecting to see a man who had gotten himself into something as unlikely as courting a superior officer, but we saw a man who knew what he was doing and felt no remorse. We dropped our flasks and coolers and said a prayer for his quick release as we were leaving, but his response was that of a man who wasn’t in a hurry to be free. We always knew Bachelor-Bachelor to be odd, but not to that degree.

Corporal Zabrang walked us out of the Guard Room, and it was from him we eventually heard. He mentioned something about Bachelor-Bachelor and Iron Lady growing up together in a barrack somewhere in Lagos. He was very stingy with the details, but we understood that our Bachelor-Bachelor and Iron Lady must have had something going on before life put them on different paths.

We walked home that day contemplating what we had just heard. This thing between Bachelor-Bachelor and Iron Lady might not be a sudden madness after all. Who would believe that our Bachelor-Bachelor was once on the same level as the Iron Lady? But then, Bachelor-Bachelor should know that things have changed. He should forget about her and look to God for his own wife.

Then the woman of Room 10 said she was sure that the relationship was cruising through a cul-de-sac.

—Kul di watin?



This is why we like to speak to ourselves in pidgin. It is not all of us that know what cool sack means. Pidgin offers us a smooth conversation devoid of condescending bumps. So we were slightly angry before the woman of Room 10 explained that there wouldn’t be any marriage between the Lance Corporal and the Captain because such wasn’t allowed in the Army. We were almost certain it was true. But we dispersed without giving her the satisfaction of agreeing that she knew more than us.

When our husbands came back home that day, we asked what would happen if a commissioned officer wanted to marry a non-commissioned officer. They smiled because they knew why we were asking. Then they told us that one of the pair would have to terminate their military service. Ah! we said. So the Captain would retire because she wants to marry the Lance Corporal?

But they looked at us with something that looked like approval marinated in disappointment and shook their heads. And then they told us the foolish boy was willing to step down and become a househusband.

▴ ▴ ▴

Our husbands would not lie, but what they told us didn’t make sense. So, on that breezy December evening when the Lance Corporal was released, we had to make sure to watch each of his steps. We knew that the Iron Lady was finally leaving the barrack that day, so we needed to see if the Lance Corporal would up and leave with her.

After the Lance Corporal entered his room that evening, we, the women of Block 072, sat in front of our rooms and watched. His door remained shut, and we heard almost nothing from his room up till the time our children came home and forced us to cook. We converged after we had made dinner, and none of us, during our individual sentry shift, had seen the Lance Corporal come out of his room.

It was a chilly evening, but after serving our husbands dinner, we brought out our portions to eat. The other women stayed outside too, except the woman of Room 08. The woman of Room 01 was no longer covering her face with a magazine, the woman of Room 03 wasn’t humming any tunes, and the woman of Room 12 wasn’t browsing through social media. Together we stayed out in the cold, each woman recognizing that desire to discover the Lance Corporal’s decision in the eyes of the other, until our husbands started to ask if we no longer had rooms to sleep in. We finally went in knowing in our hearts that the Lance Corporal had come to his senses.

It was Saturday the next day, and, as usual, the Lance Corporal left his door open while cleaning his room. This time, he was cleaning for too long. The door remained open until midday, swinging to the rhythm of the harmattan breeze. It was an opportunity. We would go over to his room and ask why he had left his door open for so long. Did he not know that’s how rats creep in? And then we would ask if the Captain arrived in Abuja safely. Just to see the way he’d respond, how his eyes would move, how well the juju had washed away.

So we went over to his door. When we peered into his room, our eyes cut through space. When we called out his name, our voices bounced around the naked walls. There was nothing in the room, save for a desk our children told us he sat at to read big books while he let them watch SpongeBob SquarePants.

Shedrack Opeyemi Akanbi (he/him) is a writer and dreamer from Nigeria. He holds a history and international studies BA from the University of Ilorin. A 2022 resident at the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora (LOATAD), he was a finalist for the 2023 Kendeka Prize for African Literature. His writings appear in Chestnut Review, Roadrunner Review, Popula, Olongo Africa, and others.