The flight was supposed to depart by 7.30am. Only very few flights depart on the dot. Nearly 99% of the seats in the plane were occupied. People kept looking at their watches. The cabin crew oscillated back and forth. They helped passengers to tuck in their luggage overhead. Babies were crying and yelling on board, understandably so. It was an early morning flight. People had to leave homes and hotels early enough to be able to beat the city traffic, early morning rush and meet the flight. Imagine children being woken up before cock crow for this flight. Sleep distorted. Adults having to shove themselves to the airport. Muritala Mohammed International (MMI) Airport Lagos was on a different level. The experience can be bitter and sweet, traumatic and pleasant depending on one’s disposition towards harassment by law enforcement officers. The moment you step your foot on the airport, you are a suspect. You will be searched thoroughly. No one is against that. People are searched everywhere in the world but it is the agony associated with the search. Your suitcases will be literally digged into. One time a traveler said the experience is like excavating the earth in search of precious stones.
Okpon couldn’t help thinking for a minute how he escaped by the fraction of a minute what would have been an ugly experience. Because of the level of harassment by the so called law enforcement officers, a lady travelling with her baby, had carefully wrapped a parcel and put it aside for disposal in her bag. The custom officers asked her to open the bag and she wouldn’t.
“Madam, open your bag” the customs officer barked.
“Sir, I can’t.”
“Because the content is not for public eyes. It’s private.”
“There is nothing private under the eyes of the law. We have the right to search everything. Open up the bag.” The plump officer snarled.
“No, I will not. The content is not pleasant and could spill”
“Let it spill and in fact…”
The officer grabbed the bag, untied it and dipped his hands into the bag amidst protests of “No, officer, don’t, no, officer don’t.”
The woman tried to grab the bag from the officer but the stronger officer, snapped the bag off her and in the process the contents spilled all over the officer and a few other passengers. I would leave the rest of the scene to your imagination.
Okpon looked at his timepiece, it was 7.45am. He smiled within him and thanked goodness that the content of that spillage missed him. He could recapture all the “whoas, wows, what the heck, good Lord,” and the swear words that went with that singular accident. Hell was let loose in that big departure hall.
People kept on trickling in to the plane and finally, it seemed as if he would have the next seat as well to himself. He was seated in the emergency seat where he had a lot of leg room. A lovely lady dressed in the beautiful attire of emirates airlines came up to him.
“Hello sir, how are you today?”
“Very well thanks, yourself?”
“Very well thanks. Sir, are you physically fit and well?”
Okpon for a moment thought, do I look that sickly that I have to be asked.
“In the event of any incident, we will require your assistance to help us open the emergency door. Will you be willing to do this sir?” The lady went on.
“Of course nothing will happen in this flight.” Okpon responded.
“Yes, we do not wish anything to happen, however in the event of any incident, will you be willing to assist us to open the emergency door?” She was almost emotionless now and like, come on hurry up and give me specific answer man.
“Thank you sir.”
“But, when are we going to take off” Okpon inquired further.
“Very soon sir. We are sorry about the delay.”
Okpon had had a very hectic time in Nigeria. He was emotionally, psychologically and mentally drained. He just wanted to sleep all the way to Dubai. He wrapped himself with the blanket, put on the eye goggles, tilted his seat and slouched. The same pretty lady tapped him on the shoulders.
“Sorry sir, you have to sit in an upright position till after takeoff.”
What a life he wondered. Why can’t the freakin plane take off? After all the early morning rush to get to the airport on time, all the drama, here is he, stuck at the plane. Why couldn’t life be smoother for once? He queried himself.
He took a quick look around the plane. Everybody seemed seated apart from the babies’ occasional yell. People sat in that upright position and dozed off. A voluptuous lady at the other end of the plane was having a heated argument with another guy about space. Their bodies were too large to fit into the space the plane offered. Nobody was willing to move, nobody was willing to swap seats. Everybody just wanted the plane to take off.
Okpon shut his eyes tight in that upright position and took his mind back to the last time he saw his dad. It was such a beautiful moment. He could see his smiles. He could see his frail body sitting on the open terrace and having a glass of wine, chatting with his siblings. The winds swayed the palm trees, the mango trees and the plantain leaves in the orchard next to the terrace of his father’s country home. The birds sang melodiously. The weather was warm and nice. He remembered the hand shake, the warm embrace his dad gave him. He didn’t know that, that would be the last time, he would see his dad. He had gotten sucked into the work life in UK. Procrastination was now his ally. He knew he needed to visit home a little more often to see his dad, yet he didn’t. He kept procrastinating until the man took ill. That was the golden moment to have made a dash down to visit him, yet he continued romancing with postponement. Until he heard that the man had departed to be with his ancestors. At this point, it seemed like he had just been stabbed. He sobbed like a baby. He would do anything to have his dad back again, even for a second, so that he could apologize and shake his hands.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry for the delay in taking off, this was due to issues beyond our control. We will be taking off shortly. We are currently number three on the queue for take off…”
The voice of the captain jolted him out of his mind travel. He turned to his right and here was the most remarkable sight he had ever seen.
She had on a native attire of a big cotton skirt that was bold in colour. She had a shirt that was hand made. She wore a green necklace bead and bead bangles as well. She had on, anklets on both legs and a leather slipper. Her hair was designed in big corn rows. She smelt of earth, mother earth. She had big eyeballs and sharply pointed nose. She had a presence that you could not ignore.
She clutched a bag tightly to her torso. The bag was a wrapper that was twisted and designed to hold belongings. It was afterwards secured by fastening the ends of the wrapper to make it tight so that none of the belongings fell out. She sat there and seemed lost. She kept stifling a sniff. She would intermittently take her forearm to her eyes and wipe it and afterwards place the same forearm on her forehead as if to check her temperature.