By Stephanie Egberike
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 one to 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.