Checking my email immediately after breakfast had become a routine. I had sent out countless job applications and got as many rejections. I had also turned down some invitations to interviews. I hadn’t found what I was looking for. I knew eventually I would have to settle for less. There were bills to be paid, but I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. As I logged into my email account nothing could have prepared me for the mail I just received. I must have read it like 10 times. It was from the human resource manager at Magnum finance. He asked me to call him immediately I got the mail. My job hunt started immediately I knew I was going to London for a 3 months programme. I had resigned from my last job and wanted to do something different. I knew the course would create a world of opportunities for me but I wasn’t even expecting something this big. I remember smiling at myself when I sent them my resume. I didn’t think I would be taken seriously, let alone be invited for an interview. I was sure they would want someone with a lot more experience. Magnum finance was a relatively new company in Lagos but it had been making a lot of waves since its inception. I called him immediately and after a brief discussion, I told him I would be able to make the interview on Monday. I finished my course a week ago and I still had 3 weeks more to spend but with an opportunity like this I was ready to kiss the queen goodbye and head back home. I was home alone, Tega and her husband were at work and their kids were not back from school. I knew she would be disappointed because we had so many things planned for the weeks I had left. She and her husband even wanted to go away for a few days and I was supposed to watch the kids. I felt really bad leaving on such short notice especially after they had been so nice to me. I hoped they would understand. I had to call the airline to change my flight maybe even pay a fee. I wrote a list of things to do, it was Thursday and I had to be in Lagos on Monday morning.
The seat belt sign was on, the pilot was announcing that we would be landing in another 10 minutes. The time in Lagos was approximately 7:35pm. We had experienced a bit of turbulence during the flight; the flight attendants assured us that it was because of the weather and that everything was under control. I was starving as I had only eaten a sandwich before getting on the plane. I decided I wasn’t going to eat the food, the potato and lamb I had on the flight going to London left a bad taste in my mouth. Tonye had warned me about the food served on planes but she didn’t say it was that horrible. I looked around, trying to see if anyone else shared my opinion but everyone I saw was eating away hungrily. Maybe if I was a frequent flyer I would get used to it. The kid beside me must have been about 16 or 17; he finished his plate of rice and curried chicken and kept starring at my tray of food. When it was obvious I wasn’t going to eat it, he summoned the courage and asked if he could have it. I gladly gave it to him. He was a student of Atlantic hall and had been away on Easter holidays. He asked if I had a phobia for flying or if I was a first time flyer. I said it was my second, he said he could tell. I seemed tense and uncomfortable. They served biscuit and yoghurt later and I ate the biscuit and gave the yoghurt to my new friend, Uzo. Who said he had been travelling every year since he was 5. He had 2 siblings who also travelled every year but they never travelled together. His parents said they couldn’t afford to dish out all that money at once. I told him how lucky he was that
he got to travel at all. He didn’t quite agree with me, he said it would be a lot more fun if they all went. The amount of money spent on air tickets by Nigerians is alarming. Most of these airlines would probably run into debt if we all suddenly developed a phobia for flying. Throughout the flight I thought about how I had hoped my first trip to London would be with Rotimi. We made plans, talked about different places, some of which I went to and I couldn’t help wishing things had been different. The plane finally landed and the seat belt sign went off. I closed my eyes to say a prayer but was interrupted by Uzo who was in a hurry to get off. I got up to join the queue but sat down almost immediately to avoid a brown leather suitcase falling on my head from the compartment above me. The owner of the suitcase apologised and I decided to wait till the queue had cleared. I put my bag on the seat beside me and watched as a young mother about my age tried to balance her baby on her hips and carry 2 knapsacks which looked quite heavy. I didn’t have any hand luggage; I didn’t even get around to doing any shopping. I bought a few things but I won’t call that shopping. I got up gave her a hand and walked down the aisle, smiling at the flight attendants and we marched out. I brought out my cell phone and called my friend Tonye, who was supposed to pick me up. After about 5minutes of what-did-you-buy-where-did-you-go which we would still go over again when we saw, she said she was on her way and would call me immediately she got to the airport. The foreigners walked past us and went to their much shorter queue. At home we have to queue for ages and in other countries it’s the same thing. Shouldn’t we be given preferential treatment over there being the foreigners? Unfortunately not, instead it’s the endless questions on how long will you be staying for, what is the purpose of your visit and where will you be staying? I had been delayed at Heathrow airport for an hour after my arrival. I almost thought they were going to put me on a plane back home. I’m considering marrying a British or American citizen. So I would get to beat the queues and embarrassments at airports. Finally it was my turn, the lady with the baby was behind me, I handed her bag to her and stepped forward. The Hausa man at the counter with his strong intonation asked how my trip was and I smiled hoping it would end there and not lead to what did you bring back for us. It did end there and he stamped my passport. I moved on to wait for my luggage. I paid for a trolley and stood behind a young couple. They looked like a couple just back from their honeymoon to me. You can always tell the newly weds apart. My phone rang, it was my mom. I decided not to pick it; this wasn’t the place to answer any of my mom’s questions. She’d want to know how cold it was, if I got on the really big buses and things like that. It was the same questions she asked every time I called home. One time she called me and I told her I was running to catch my underground train, she started screaming asking why I couldn’t just take a bus. She said what if there’s a power outage that I would be stuck there for hours like the time she came to my office and there was a problem with the elevators and she had been stuck for close to 2 hours. I had to explain to her a million and one times that there was no such thing as power failure or NEPA in London. The phone stopped ringing and I sent her a text. Telling her my flight was okay and I would call her as soon as I got home. Home was the flat I shared with my best friend Tonye at Dolphin estate. I could see my red box, it must have gone past me and I didn’t even notice. It went round again and I picked it up and put it on the trolley. I had stayed at Tega’s (Tonye’s elder sister). She was my tour guide, taking me places and making sure I took pictures, we still had loads of places to go to but I had to cut my holiday short. I had one more box; Tega had asked me to give Tonye some things. It couldn’t fit into my box so we bought a small box to put them in. There it was; I picked the second box and moved to a corner to call Tonye. I had been here for about an hour and she hadn’t called me back.
“Hi, Tonye where are you”
“Hey am outside, just got here”
She sounded like she had been laughing. She couldn’t be that happy that I was back, maybe she was. I pushed the trolley and walked out of the airport. Even if I was unsure about where I was, because of the atmosphere in the airport, the noise and crowd outside was enough reassurance that I was back home in “Niger”
I could see Tonye standing beside a tall slim guy. That explained the laughter; she must have seen someone she knew. 80% of the time we went out she always found someone she knew, an old school mate, a family friend, a colleague. Sometimes she didn’t even know where she had met them. They both walked towards me and I hugged her. We had our issues but we always missed being apart from each other.
‘Rolake, this is Tayo; Tayo, Rolake’ Tonye said
Tayo and I shook hands and Tonye continued.
‘Tayo brought me; his car is in the car park’
Tayo offered to push the trolley which I gladly accepted. This was one of the perks of having a guy. You have someone to pick you up from the airport or from work when you close really late or someone to just push your trolley when need be. What else did anyone need a guy for, I had enough money to take care of myself, I could pay my bills and even throw in some occasional cheques for my folks. Except of course to meet certain desires which I had learnt how to take care of and please don’t ask me how. I handed the trolley to him and Tonye gave me this ‘why-is-my-man-getting-your-luggage look’. I gave her the ‘he-offered-to-help-what-was-I-supposed-to-say look’ She just smiled. That was something special Tonye and I shared, we could have a conversation without saying a word. Like last Christmas, Tonye was having lunch at my house and my mom had made pepper soup, which was to be the first course. We usually had a one course meal but my brother-in-law and Tonye were spending Christmas with us for the first time and I knew she wanted to impress them. My mom’s attempt at pepper soup has always been a disaster. She clearly feels she has to justify the name and we end up drinking gallons of water and spending hours in the toilet afterwards leaving no time for the belly to enjoy the meal. We had all learnt from past experiences. She brought the bowl of soup from the kitchen and my dad gave an excuse about how the doctor said pepper wasn’t good for him, my sister had taken her son Ifechukwu to the toilet, just before mummy came to the table. This left Tonye, Paul and I. I gave Tonye a look saying you-don’t-want-to-eat-that, I didn’t want to hurt mom’s feelings because after Tonye had declined, her facial expression changed I could tell she was disappointed. So I passed my bowl to her and she filled it with soup, then Paul did the same. I got up immediately, with my bowl of course and said I wanted to see if the rest of the meal was ready and rushed to the kitchen, Tonye trailed behind me. I poured it straight down the drain telling Tonye how I had just saved her life. We heard Paul coughing from the make shift dinning room. The house didn’t have a dining room so we moved the chairs in the living room and put dad’s working table there, and got 6 plastic chairs. I felt guilty for not warning Paul, one thing was sure, he would never make that mistake again. The rest of the meal was quiet, mom kept apologising, saying it tasted okay to her. Her taste buds no longer had the ability to protest after all what they had been through. My sister was very upset asking every time Paul coughed or drank water if mom was trying to kill him. It was a memorable December 25th.
As we walked behind Tayo I started asking Tonye so many questions at once. She said she didn’t want him to hear us talking about him that she would fill me in on all the details when we got home. My first night and there was already something juicy to talk about. It was definitely good to be home.