The motorized stairs came to a stop underneath the open hatch of the airbus A321 plane, the name of the airline company were displayed boldly in blue italics on the fuselage, since the demise of the Nigerian national carrier in 2003, there had been a boom in the number of privately owned airlines in the country. This was the oldest in a fleet of three owned by a retired Senator and self proclaimed self made businessman; he had bought this particular aircraft from a Russian outfit looking to offload some of its older machines to make room for new ones.
The others had followed after the huge success of the first. The condition of the fuselage belied the true age of the domestic airline, one only begun to see its true age by the condition of its interior; the worn seats and browning luggage hold were the first giveaways but the sound of the engine was good enough to fool even the most seasoned of travelers and most learned professionals in the field. The plane might be old but its owners treated it like a prized possession.
Eager passengers scrambled out from the gate, luggage in tow, rushing to get to on the airplane not because it was final call but basically because it was the Nigerian way; people were always in a hurry to get nowhere, the plane wasn’t scheduled to leave for another thirty minutes but it looked like the passengers could not wait to be free of the automated atmosphere of the airport.
The cabin was a alive with activity, passengers clamored to locate their seats and stow away their luggage, a burly man who looked to be in his early thirties was trying to force his small carry-on into the vacant space in the luggage hold just above, his potbelly hitting the young man seated below the luggage hold with each shove. A rancid smell wafted out from his sweaty armpit causing the passengers below to cringe in disgust.
Unable to take the onslaught in his private space, the man said abruptly, “Oga e don do, make I help you.” An offer the burly man gratefully accepted and sauntered to his seat. “Gosh!! That man smells!” He exclaimed softly, pushing the bag into place. The girl seated beside him giggled.
The engine of the plane continued to purr gently, under the noise of people trying to settle down with the hostesses doing their best to ensure calm in the confined space. Soon the electronic voice of the pilot came over the PAS, cool, calm and collected, reeling out pleasantries and assurances, it was followed by the equally beautiful voice of the Flight attendant, who went on a litany of air safety precautions, while a tall beautiful lady of about twenty five dressed in the white and orange colors of the airline, with jet black hair cascading down to her rib cage and a face fit for the runway stood at the end of the gangway bringing the Flight attendant’s words to life with hand gestures.
The plane was soon taxiing down the runway, the tarmac disappearing under its vast wings; Lawrence watched the dizzying motion with fascination before turning his attention back to his girlfriend Rebecca, whose head was nestled in the crook of his neck. He studied the plane of her face, as the glimmering rays of the sun played on its flawless features, caressing them with its golden fingers. He stared in amazement at how after four years, he was still head over heels in love with her, he felt his breath catch in his throat, it was like looking at the rising sun’s reflection in the morning river in its shimmering beauty.
They were going to get married as soon as they could; Rebecca’s father already had a job lined up for her at a multinational company, while he had an interview lined up with an NGO which had been arranged by the Irish priest, Father O’Connor on behalf of his widowed mother. The future did not look bad at all, they just had to maneuver past the second semester of their final year in the university and the one year compulsory youth service and they would go conquer the world, together.
“You know people will start to think you are about to eat me.” Rebecca said cutting him out of his reverie. He chuckled, as she sat up to look at him.
“I could feel you looking at me.”
“What can I say, I enjoy looking at you.”
“And I enjoy being the centre of your attention.”
She nuzzled his neck and remained there. “Have you heard from Ice Man?”
“Yea, I spoke to him right before we boarded, he will be waiting at the airport.”
“It is really nice of him to invite us down to Calabar. I have always wanted to visit but have never being able to make up my mind about it.”
“And me too.” Lawrence said unable to mask the excitement in his voice.
She chuckled, punching him softly as she did. “I know why you are excited. Big head, you want to go ogle at those half naked girls at the carnival, I am going to rip your eyes out for the duration of the carnival.”
Ever since the inaugural festival in 2004, Lawrence had wanted to catch the spectacle live but could never save enough to make the trip up to Calabar and so he kept procrastinating, until his friend and neighbor Isaac; popularly known as Ice Man invited him down and also paid for both his and Rebecca’s flight ticket, which Lawrence had thought was strange at first because Isaac was a thrift man but Isaac had told him that he had won a huge bet and wanted to spoil him a little for helping him out in the last examination.
Convincing Rebecca to come with him was easy, they would spend a week in Calabar and then travel back to their respective hometowns to spend Christmas with their family. Rebecca’s parents had resisted at first, as expected, her father saw no sense in her frolicking with miscreants and lowlifes especially as the country was at its most trying times. But never deny his precious daughter anything, Engr. Daniel Eze had yielded on the condition that she stayed safe, was in good company and called as often as possible.
Isaac had told them he would be waiting for them at the Margaret Ekpo International Airport and true to his words, he was there patiently waiting, a bottle of soda in his hands. He waved them over when he saw them and walked to meet them half way.
“How was your trip?” He asked to no one in particular.
“It was awesome man. Thanks once again for this.” Lawrence said vigorously shaking the other man’s hands.
“Yes, thanks a lot for this, it was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me in a while.” Rebecca said genuinely.
She had never liked Isaac, something about him struck her as odd and she had let Lawrence know as much and had warned him as such. There were rumors that he was a member of a cult in school and when she had told her boyfriend about it, he had brushed it off and she had never brought it up again. Still she was always uncomfortable when he was around but tried not to show it but she always felt Isaac knew he did not like her and somehow knew the feeling was mutual, which was why she was plenty surprised when Lawrence had told her that Isaac had invited them for the holiday in Calabar.
The capital of Cross River State; Calabar was a port city with a common border with Cameroon, rich with history, some of the older parts of the town still sport old British colonial architecture, including Henshaw Town, Duke Town and the water front area. One of Nigeria’s oldest churches; Duke Town Cathedral, whose roots go as far back as the 19th century was located in the city of Calabar. The city also boasts of a National Museum; which had memorabilia’s from the Nigerian civil war and the colonial era, a World War 1 Cenotaph, the Millennium Park and in another part of the state was the famous Obudu Cattle ranch.
As the Uber taxi drifted through traffic, Lawrence intermittently took pictures with his phone, an excited smile carved permanently on his face, he had read a lot of literature about Calabar and was excited to finally visit. He had already made provisions for Rebecca and him to visit the Cattle Ranch, maybe even go on a tram ride across the vast green scenery he had always seen on the TV. He was mortified of heights but going on a tram ride was on his bucket list and what better time to tick it off than now?
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“I swear you are drooling right now.” Becca stated, bringing her daydreaming boyfriend back to earth, her voice rich with laughter.
Lawrence smiled shyly, his dreamy eyes coming to rest on his girlfriend; he put a hand across her shoulder and drew her closer. His gaze lingered on the slender frame of his girlfriend before it moved to the other passengers; the driver and Isaac, who was unusually quiet and typing away at his phone.
“Baba what are you doing?!” Lawrence asked peering over his friend’s shoulder. Isaac quickly pocketed his phone.
“How far are we from our destination?”
“Not far.” Isaac said offhandedly.
“We should be there in less than ten minutes.” The driver concurred pointing to the phone propped up on the dashboard.
True to his words, the Toyota Corolla pulled up in front of a sprawling, white, majestic work of architectural genius a few minutes later. A simple terrace detached duplex with gold colored cornice trim running around it, a French window that ran almost the length of one wall, gold rimmed columns and front steps, amazing outdoor and garden lighting, a PVC door was set into a pediment finish.
“Whose house is this?” Rebecca asked.
“It’s my uncle’s, he is out of the country and I have been using it in his absence.”
“Wow, it is really beautiful. You have this all by yourself?!” Lawrence exclaimed, to which Ice Man snickered.
“If you think it is beautiful on the outside, wait till you see what the interior looks like.” Ice Man
He was not lying, the interior was heavenly; the exterior of the house belied its real size, boasting of five en-suite bedrooms and an ante room all with porcelain tiles. The staircase boasted of a marble finish with a wrought iron railing, the master bedroom, which Ice Man graciously gave to Rebecca and him, was fitted with a suspended WC and a Jacuzzi, a huge queen size bed that felt soft to touch and feel sat in the middle of the bed, its immediate surrounding covered in the softest carpet Lawrence had ever walked on.
The room had three doors, to let you in, the other led to the bathroom and the other led into a walk in closet that Lawrence thought could have been best suited for use as a boutique instead. One wall had space for enough cloths to last a person two years without having to reuse any, the other side was lined with racks that could hold almost a hundred shoes and in between both walls, was a wall of mirror that went from the ceiling to the floor. The same carpet covered every inch of the floor. Rebecca, who was one never to get impressed, was overwhelmed and could not hide her surprise.
“This guy sure knows how to live!” She exclaimed, her voice trembling with excitement. “Who did you say owned this place again?”
Ice Man laughed and replied, “My Uncle.” A few seconds passed before he took his leave, so they could rest and prepare for a night of hard partying.
When he was gone, Lawrence took Rebecca in his arms, his hand coming to rest on the small of her back, her slender frame pressing into his rigid form. He looked into her sparkly brown eyes and for a brief moment felt as if he was falling into them.
“I can guarantee you before we leave here, you would be pregnant.” He joked.
She shoved him away, hitting him playfully. “My dad will kill us both.”
“Then I would gladly die.” He said, pulling her into his embrace again. Suddenly Rebecca’s face took on a more serious look.
“What is it?”
“What did Ice Man say his uncle did again?”
He could hear the concern in her voice and had wondered too what a man who could build a house like this did for a living.
“He probably is into Oil business or possible a politician, which would explain the opulence. But I will ask Ice next time I see him.” He felt her sigh into his chest, somehow he knew she was not convinced but that had to do for now.