Maxwell ignored whatever it was his wife was saying and hurried down the stairs that led to the ground floor of their duplex residence with his leather bag hanging down heavily from his left shoulder. It was already 12:30pm, exactly thirty minutes to the time his flight was scheduled to take off, yet he was still there talking issues that weren’t relevant at the moment with her. He definitely wasn’t going to let her make him miss his flight again this time the way it had happened the last time. He got down from the stairs and walked briskly across the spacious sitting-room on the ground floor, towards the glass door that lead out of the house, and stopped in his track when he heard his name.
“Maxwell!” his wife’s sonorous voice laden with surprise rang from the balcony upstairs. Maxwell heaved a sigh and raised his eyes to her puffy face framed in a halo of wavy black hair. A once charming look distorted by the strain of pregnancy.
“I said when I return,” he stated in a firm voice, crossly emphasizing each word of his statement.
“That’s what you always say,” she said dejectedly.
“Yes, because that’s how it always is,” he retorted, and then let out another deep sigh.
“I’ll be returning by latest Monday evening. Then, we can talk,” he said calmly this time, and then slid out of the house.
Inside his new Toyota Highlander jeep taking him to the airport, Maxwell sat quietly at the owner’s seat at the back worrying over the scuffle he just had with his wife before he left the house. He brought out his pair of dark shades from his side pocket, placed it over his eyes and removed it when it seemed to cast more darkness over his mind. Women, he heaved, reclining more into his seat to ease the discomfort he felt due to the incident that morning with his wife. Traffic along airport road was extremely light that morning, in that sort of way that usually lightened his mood whenever he was going somewhere in a haste. But it didn’t have any nimbly effect on his heavy mood that day. He recalled what had caused their scuffle that morning and shook his head. Just because he had asked her what she expected a grown man like him to be doing at home all the time when she was complaining that he hardly stayed at home, she had gotten offended. Yet she was the same person who would refuse to go to visit her friends with a car twice, same her who would demand for money to buy new clothes for each new occasion. And how was he expected to get money to afford such luxury, by sitting at home and staring into her eyes all day? Women could be really confused, he concluded within him to justify his own actions.
But deep down he knew he had some blame to take too. He was blaming women but he had faults too. He knew quite well that she hadn’t meant her complaints the way he was taking it. He had only chosen to take it that way because he had been pissed. At what exactly? He couldn’t even tell. Then he began to laugh at something he remembered. Back then, when he used to be madly in love with her, how he used to visit his friend whose house was close to hers almost every day just to have a sight of her. During the time they were courting, how he used to fly into Lagos from Abuja almost every weekend to see her. But now that she was all for him and there was no more fear of anyone stealing her away, her complaints were pissing him off. Men too, he thought, and began to convulse with laughter. But for Christ-sake he was on his way to attend a board meeting, and not to witness the start of the love journey of some enchanted couple. He brought out his pair of reading glasses and placed it over his eyes. By Tuesday his official leave would begin. From then on, she would be seeing him in the house for as long as she wanted. With this thought in his mind, he brought out his office file from his bag and began to flip through it.
“Oga, we don reach o!” his driver’s gritty voice startled him in the middle of an analysis paper he was studying. Maxwell looked up first at his driver’s head resting on the seat’s head-rest, its back side protruded and curved like the tip of a kind of local specie of mango, before turning to look out of the window. The funny look always made up for whatever disgust he felt at the brusque tone of his voice. At times the tone made him wonder who was actually the oga; himself or the driver. Without a word, he pushed his file back into his bag and climbed down from the car with the bag slung on his shoulder.
Despite that it was Sunday morning activities had already begun fully at the airport. Inside the departure hall, there were already queues at the ticketing stands. Maxwell waited for the short one at the Dana air stand to disappear before he walked up there. A stunning ebony-complexioned lady clad in red suit sat there in front of a flat screen computer system.
“Please I would like to confirm my reservation,” he said, handing her a white piece of paper while pretending not to notice her well manicured hands as she took it from him.
“Dana?” she asked, raising her large eyes to look at him. Maxwell nodded and looked away quickly even before he could consider if her question was reasonable or not. He refused to be lured into believing that any lady was more beautiful than his wife. The lady placed the paper in front of her and punched a few buttons on her system. For an awkwardly stretched moment, her eyes remained glued the screen.
“Ermm…when did you pay for your reservation?” she asked without turning her eyes away from the screen. Her words came out from her lips a little too fast.
“On Friday,” Maxwell responded, indifferent.
“You booked for flight 9J 992, right?” she asked, shaking the system mouse about on her table.
“Well, I don’t know. All I know is that my flight is supposed to be out of here to Lagos by 1:00pm,” he replied with slight irritation in his voice just as an annoying thought came up in his mind.
“Ermm…because from what I’m seeing here, you didn’t verify your payment before you printed this out,” the lady said, raising her face and the piece of paper in her hand at the same time. For a moment, Maxwell just stood there staring at her large, unblinking eyeballs. The scary thought in his mind grew more apparent.
“I don’t understand,” he finally said. He could feel rage mixed with fear already welling up inside him.
“What I mean, sir, is that you have no reservation to confirm,” the lady said, stretching out the paper back to him. The skin on her stretched hand was toned. Maxwell restrained the urge to hit it away. He removed his pair of glasses from his eyes incase it had anything to do with his hearing. But he knew it didn’t, because he could clearly hear the flirting conversation going on in the next stand.
“But the money was debited from my account!” he raged, slapping his hand against the counter. He felt more anger fizzle out of him following the pain that seared through the bare palm he had hit on the hard surface of the counter. He knew it wasn’t actually the debited money that enraged him, but the fear that he would actually miss the flight. This meeting he was on his way to attend wasn’t one he could afford to miss. It was mostly centered on him; his analysis, results, suggestions…everything. He had planned to leave the previous day but his wife had persuaded him to stay till that morning. And now this had come up. The ticketing lady looked up plainly at him before turning back to the system. She seemed not to be shaken by his attitude, as though she witnessed such regularly. By now, two other costumers had queued up behind him.
“I can see that here sir. I’m sorry I didn’t see that earlier,” she said, after another long peer at her screen. “Let me see if I can make a reservation for you now sir. Please hold on,” she said, and began to punch the buttons on her keyboard. Maxwell ignored her, murmuring and cursing under his breath as he threw angry glances about the filled hall.
“Sir, flight 9J992 which is the next flight out of here is filled. Can I reserve a seat for you on the one leaving after it?”
Maxwell turned a burning glare at her. This time he was sure this lady was dumb.
“Look here this lady, I have a company meeting to attend by 2:00pm. So which one do you want to book for me that’ll get me to Lagos before then, ehn?”
“Sir, I’m Nkechi. It’s boldly written on my tag, and not ‘this lady’,” the lady responded a little naively, still smartly masking her displeasure. She seemed to be the patient, even-tempered type.
“I don’t care what your name is. I don’t know the problem with you women. I said I have a meeting to attend by 2:00pm in Lagos and you’re here flashing me your name tag. What has that got to do with my meeting?” By now, Maxwell could feel the stares of a thousand and one eyes on him as his voice reverberated all over the place. The thought of eventually missing the meeting made his insides several degrees high.
There was slight shuffling in the hall as a security man in sky blue shirt and navy-blue trousers approached them. He walked up to the ticketing lady and asked her what the matter was. But the lady ignored him.
“Should I still make a reservation for you?” she asked Maxwell.
“When is that leaving?”
Maxwell took a long, disgusted look at the lady and walked away angrily.
Back inside the waiting arena, the only empty seat Maxwell could find was beside a woman carrying a howling baby. He went and sat reluctantly there. He was still at fix over what next to do when the announcement that passengers for flight 9J992 should assemble at the departure site blared from the public address system. The thought that he should have been one of the passengers leaving with that flight now heightened his resentment. He was sure his wife was the cause of all this. If only she had let him leave home earlier, at least there would have been time to straighten out all these issues that suddenly arose before now. He was going to give her a good piece of his mind when he got to Lagos.
He later got up from there and walked up to the stand of another airline. The bright smile on the face of the fair lady sitting there gradually vanished the moment she saw his grim countenance. Without wasting any time, he bought his ticket and went back into the waiting arena.
Maxwell looked at his wristwatch after he had sat there for about twenty minutes, and found out he had more than enough time to take lunch before his flight was ready. Since he had already been delayed, the surety that he would have time to have any meal when he got down in Lagos was slim. He got up and made for the exit.
There were just a handful of people inside the eatery he walked into. Most of the tables were empty. He took his seat on one and ordered for a plate of rice which he began to eat as soon as it was served. A talk program going on on the television set inside there stirred up a discussion among a few men sitting behind him which made him feel slightly irritated. He wondered while grown men like him should spend their time discussing irrelevant issues like that of his country.
“The government should stop filling our ears with nonsense. If they want to prosecute the oil cabals, then they should. If not, they should leave us alone and stop feeding the hungry masses such intimidating large figures,” a hoarse, defiant male voice stated grudgingly. At first, it seemed as though he was talking to himself until a softer voice responded.
“Nigeria…do we have a government here? We’re finished, I tell you,”
“Things have gone so out of hands that soon, very soon, even the child in the womb will begin to find other routes to get out other than the usual one,” the hoarse voice said. There was a low hum of laughter. Maxwell didn’t find his statement funny.
“Which is the usual route?” a mischievous person asked.
“I asked that which is the usual route?” This time the laughter was louder. The hoarse voice laughed loudest.
“Even the federal government doesn’t know what he’s saying. There’s yet to be evidence that the transactions into several unknown foreign accounts took place,” a new voice said.
“What are you talking? Is this not Nigeria? There’re evidences already. The government is just keeping mum about it.” the hoarse voice said.
“I don’t agree with you,” the new voice refuted. Maxwell shook his head for these jobless men.
“Where do you work?” the earlier soft male voice asked suddenly.
“I work with the Nigeria Petroleum company, and I…”
“No wonder…no wonder,” the soft voice said conclusively, suppressing the other voice. The discussion had turned into a rumbling of voices when Maxwell beckoned to the waiter to come and collect her money which he had already placed under his plate, and left.
He had just stepped out of the eatery when the loud scream of ‘Jesus’ from an elderly woman rushing out of the eatery next to the one he had just emerged from startled him.
“Plane crash o!” she screamed, placing her fat hands on her head as she ran in the direction of the departure hall. At first, people around just stared at her. Then the loud exclamation noises coming from another eatery near there drew Maxwell’s attention. At once he hurried to the place.
He met most of the people inside there on their feet with their attention focused on a small screen in front of them. ‘Breaking news’ written in bold white letters in a red background was shown on the screen. He didn’t know which transmitting station it was, but he was sure it was a foreign one. On the screen was the picture of a plane that had crashed into a building which was written to be in Lagos, Nigeria. His eyes caught the name on the aircraft; Dana Air. His eyes were still glued to the screen when he slumped.