Em. . .yeah, I guess. The sunset and everything.” Chuks looked at where the sun was sinking beyond the Western horizon. The flatness of the land made it seem as if it dropped out of sight abruptly, just past where he could see, and the sun was going down into where the land ended, painting the whole sandy site in a deep, shimmering shade of gold. He decided Belinda was right.
“Belinda, I’d like to know something. How on earth did you figure out how to couple the bazooka?”
“Oh, that?” she breathed, as if she couldn’t believe he was asking. “Well, I did my research yesterday at home, and tried to learn as much as I could without the weapon. I just thought he was going to ask us to do it. You know Instructor Max.” Segun nodded. Of course the guy knew, he was in the same class as she was. “Even though it turned out I was right, I have to admit, I was still a tad nervous, but. . . ” she shrugged. “I did it, didn’t I?”
“ ‘Course you did, girl,” Segun said and raised his palm. Belinda smiled and they hi-fived, both laughing. “It was impressive to watch, you know, you working away like that. I was proud of you, honestly.”
Belinda lowered her face, but not before Chuks had seen her white cheeks redden. The girl was blushing.
“Really? You did?”
Segun opened his mouth to answer, most likely a reply as sugared up as everything else he had been saying, but he didn’t on account of the uniformed steward, who had been watching everything.
“Come, shey una wan chop, abi una no wan chop?” the woman said. “You talk sey una want food, I gave you food, you still dey stand here. Ehn, brother wey dey toast woman?”
They both looked at the plates they held, as if surprised to see them there. It was Segun’s turn to blush as he muttered apologies and the both of them turned to walk to the circle of students.
The woman shook her head. “Awon omo butter,” she muttered at their retreating backs.
The statement the woman made about toasting seemed funny to Belinda, and as they went, she laughed, and Segun had to smile as well.
Chuks smiled as he watched them sit beside each other. Toasting succesful. He shook his head. Beside him, Shine laughed. Apparently, he had seen the whole thing as well.
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“The guy did well,” he said. Still smiling, Chuks nodded his agreement.
“Looks like your friend and Belinda are getting along very well.”
Chuks turned to see Anne standing beside him on his left, where Segun had been. She sat beside him, raising her white robes clear of her waist, so they wouldn’t get stained by sand and dust. She wore jeans underneath.
“Instructor,” Shine called from his other side. She looked across at him and smiled.
“Hey, Shine,” she said. Chuks adjusted to give her more space.
“I’m happy he finally worked up the nerve to start up a conversation at least. It’s been a while since he wanted to.” He turned to face her, noticing that both turban and tinted glasses were gone, replaced by the usual recommended pair she had, with her hair flowing down around her shoulders. “I like your style,” he said, with a smile. On his other side, Shine and Paul were discussing Segun and Belinda.
“Thank you, Chukwudi,” she said, hitting a long-nailed finger down hard at a spot on her hair. “Don’t mind me, jare, I just wanted something aside from our uniform.”
“So, you and Instructor Max. . . ” he let himself trail off. She was his instructor, after all, and he could understand if he was touching on a sensitive spot by asking.
Anne hissed. “That man has been getting on my nerves of recent. Imagine asking you guys to couple that thing together, as if he taught you how to do it.”
Chuks couldn’t complain. That was just their field instructor.
“Thank you for helping us with those things. I don’t think anybody would have known what to do if not for you.”
“No problem, my students are my priority. Unlike some people I know.” She looked across the circle. “What’s with your friend and Belinda? Those two are starting to look serious.”
Indeed they were. They seemed to have run out of things to talk about and chosen to just stare into each other’s eyes instead. Chuks had to admire Segun. The guy had always been a smooth talker. How he had gone from just discussing the training site landscape to this so quickly was more than he could comprehend.
Brother wey dey toast woman. He had to wonder if Segun had gotten just a PhD in Sociology in Cambridge. Perhaps he had gotten one in toasting as well.
Instructor Max’s return chased away that thought. Chuks had been wondering when they would begin their return journey. They had finished early today, and it was only now getting dark enough to make seeing the faces of his classmates difficult. He set aside his empty disposable plate and picked up his phone from the sand beside him.
From what Chuks could see of the field instructor’s face, he seemed to be smiling. That didn’t bode well. It was just a nearly non-existent smug look, but it didn’t promise a lot better.
“It’s time to go back. Pack up your things, let’s not waste time.”
Everyone did as he said and started packing up. Some even began moving in the direction of the helipad the helicopters had been parked at the last time. Everybody in general were excited to be flying once again.
“Hold on one minute,” he called them back. “If you know you coupled an M20 Super Bazooka today, please step forward.”
The whole place went silent as everyone paused to look at him. The instructor’s roving eyes found Belinda where she stood beside Segun, and she moved away from the cluster of students. What was he up to this time around? Chuks wondered.
The man seemed satisfied. “Good. Now the rest of you, take the trail through the forest,” he gestured at the shadow of the trees behind them in the gathering dusk. “The bus we came with is waiting for you on the other side. Good night to you all. Belinda.”
There wasn’t just grumbling, but actually shouts of protest. Chuks was certain the man meant to kill them. Anne left his side and walked towards him. Belinda, who was already walking to meet him, stopped in her tracks and looked from class instructor to field instructor, unsure what to do.
“Instructor Max, what are you talking about? Our students are supposed take the helicopters back to Star Ranges.”
“And what business of yours is that, Anne?”
Chuks literally saw her vexometer go from green to yellow.
“My business is that as your co-instructor, they are my students as well. If this is one of your challenges to make them tougher, then let me tell you that you are taking this whole training thing too far. You need authorization for this type of thing, and you and I know that never in a million years can you get the management to agree to this.”
“I did not ask your opinion, Anne,” their instructor barked dismissively. He turned to face them. “You heard what I said. Take the trail through the forest. Belinda, let’s go.”
He turned around, and quite disappointingly, that was that.
Anne hissed and reached out, grabbing Instructor Max’s arm. He must have felt very insulted at that, because he whirled around suddenly and raised his hand to slap her. Chuks winced at the slap he was sure was coming, wondering what their field instructor’s iron hand would do to her face. But when his wince was over and his eyes returned to their normal size, it wasn’t to see Anne holding her face, but rather holding a gun, which she pointed at Instructor Max’s chest.
Keziah, the girl in their class who seemed to be deathly afraid of guns, gasped.
“Instructor, no, please. . . ” She covered her mouth and raised her other hand, a silent plea for Anne to put down the gun. Belinda, standing behind their field instructor, looked equally horrified, and she edged away from him, as if she didn’t want any part of what was coming to him.
Chuks didn’t gasp, but his heart was almost in his throat. Why did she even have a gun on her person? Was she really going to shoot him?
Instructor Maxwell looked down the length of the gun pointing at him, then at the face of the person holding it. He took an involuntary step back, looking again at the gun. Something about it made him regain his confidence. Maybe Anne hadn’t cocked the gun, or flipped down the safety switch the way they had been taught if they wanted to fire. Maybe Anne didn’t want to shoot him.
“If you want to shoot me, do it.” And he turned and walked into the darkness, and this time he didn’t stop. Belinda waited a few seconds more, staring wide-eyed at Anne, then turned and hurried after him.
“Thank you,” Keziah breathed as Anne replaced the gun, hand on her chest. “Thank God.”