You sang and whistled to yourself as you lathered your body in the bathroom that morning. As you climbed out of the bath tub, your feet slipped and your head hit the hand basin hard. You yelped in pain and went to the mirror to check your face. You saw a lump; the size of a guinea fowl’s egg on your forehead. You were not one to wallow in self-pity, so you went to the freezer to get some ice to put on it. As you entered the room, you hit your right foot against the chest of drawers. This time, you groaned in pain like a bitch dog in labour. You snapped your fingers in a swift motion around your head and threw your fingers backward into the air.
As a child, Mama Agba had told you when you visited her in the village that hitting one’s right foot against a stone or any other impediment was a bad omen and she taught you how to ward off such evils. You smiled to yourself as you remembered all the other things Mama Agba had taught you – when you lost your first milk tooth, she told you to take seven small pebbles and throw it with your teeth over the roof. You remembered how your Mum had always laughed at Mama Agba’s antics and she told you to shout “blood of Jesus” instead when you were scared.
Even with the throbbing pain on your forehead and foot, you smiled to yourself as Fola’s face entered your mind’s eye. You could not wait to get back to Lagos to be close to him. If you had your way, you would have left Abuja at the break of dawn but it was a Sunday and in the Sodeke’s house, everyone had to attend church unless you were struck lame with paralysis.
After the church service, your Mum insisted that you followed her to Mama Sade’s house to choose the aso oke for the wedding. You were reluctant to go and you reminded her that you had to catch a flight at 2 pm but she assured you that it would not take much time. When you got to Mama Sade’s house, she said you would have to go to her shop because she did not bring the fabrics home. At the shop, there was a vast array of fabrics in different colours and your head started whirling in confusion as your Mum presented different ones to you for appraisal.
“Do you like this shade of brown or you prefer a lighter one – say like milk brown?”
“Oh! This green lace is so lovely. I know the colours for your wedding are cream and brown but would you mind if Daddy and I wore green?”
“Wow! I think I love this lilac taffeta also, Ayo what do you think?”
You bobbed your head up and down in exasperation. You knew your Mum could spend a whole day going through fabrics – it was her favourite hobby. So, you decided to go along with all her whims except of course the colour thing. You rolled your eyes at the incredulity of your parents appearing in green at your wedding. You wanted a dream wedding where everything was near perfect. You had attended Tomi’s wedding the previous day and you loved how the occasion turned out. The high side of the event for you had been the reunion with your high school mates. You recalled the joyous hugs and vibrant chatter as you relived your days at Rona Memorial College with Bimpe. You had laughed until tears ran down your cheeks when Bimpe reminded you of the prank she played on Senior Kewe. Senior Kewe was one of the wicked seniors that always punished the juniors for the slightest offences. So, Bimpe had gotten some werepe pods that grew in abundance behind the girls’ hostel and sprinkled it on Senior Kewe’s bed. Senior Kewe had danced palongo on that day as she ran around the hostel; tearing at her clothes and screaming like a banshee.
Your Mum finally decided on the right shade of brown for the aso oke and the cream lace that would be suitable for the aso ebi and you left Mama Sade’s shop with samples of the fabrics to show to your friends in Lagos. You were relieved that you still had enough time to get back home and head for the airport. As you packed your bag, you kept having the feeling that you had forgotten something but you couldn’t place your hand on what it was exactly. Lamide offered to take you to the airport – you knew his offer was motivated by the reward he knew he would get. He called it the big sister ‘raising’ the baby of the house.
You smiled in indulgence as Lamide almost burst your eardrums with Jay Z’s Forever Young playing at its highest din on the car’s CD player. You wondered at the sense of someone wishing to be forever young when old age was a thing of grace and honour in Africa. Or at least, it used to be that way when the words of the elders were regarded as wisdom now they were merely old school lapel. Your thoughts were interrupted by a grating sound and Lamide stopped the car to check what was wrong. When you stepped out of the car, you saw that the right tyre at the rear of the car had deflated. You winced in shock and wondered how you would ever get to the airport on time. Lamide opened the boot to get the spare tyre but to his utmost dismay, he realised it had also deflated. It took almost an hour for Lamide to get a mechanic to fix the tyres and by that time you had only ten minutes to catch your flight.
You entered the airport’s waiting room in a flurry and half-walked and half-ran to the tarmac where all the other passengers were already on board. One of the air hostesses was on the threshold of the air stairs looking out for latecomers when you hopped to the plane. She smiled at you and welcomed you on board. You noticed the gap between her front teeth and her fair skin. You remembered having read somewhere that gap-tooth was a dental defect but in Africa it was a beauty symbol which stole the hearts of many. Your Mum once told you how one of her friends had gone to file a gap between her teeth and lost a tooth instead. What won’t women do for beauty?
You dabbed the sweat running down your forehead with a handkerchief and let out puffs of air in relief. You wondered how you would have explained your absence at work the next day if you had missed your flight. You imagined the scary profile of your boss wagging a menacing finger at you – “Miss Ayo Sodeke, we pay you to give us results and nothing less!” That was the major problem with private owned companies they could sack you at will for the most trivial offence. A lilting voice cooed on the speakers; instructing all passengers to fasten their seat belts.
You looked around at your seat neighbours – there was a middle-aged buxom woman on your left and a young man at the window seat. He gave you a suggestive smile when he caught your glance and you half-heartedly returned his smile. You were known for your amiable nature but you had learnt not to encourage every male attention especially since you got engaged. Men can be so jealous. Your lips parted in a smile as you remembered Fola’s attitude when you both met an old friend of yours. Kingsley had given you a bear hug and encircled your waist in his arm. Fola had thought his arm had lingered too long there. He became more infuriated when you laughed off his jealousy. Like all love fights, it ended sweetly with lovey dovey eyes melting into each other.
Fola was that man you had been waiting for – loving, caring, responsible, a good sense of humour and above all God-fearing. Your Mum had started getting worried when you clocked thirty without leaving your father’s name and house behind. She kept talking in twists and turns about the dream of every mother to carry her grandchildren on her back. You would wink at your Mum and tell her to start back exercises because your first children would be twins. You would burst into rippling laughter as you watched her rub her palms together and utter – Amin Jesu so fervently.
Three months seemed such a long time to wait for your wedding, but if you had waited this long to meet the right man you knew it was such a short time.
Bored with your thoughts, you brought out Bimbo Odukoya’s How to Choose a Life Partner from your bag and thumbed through the book until you found the actual page where you had stopped. You ate the words on the pages eagerly as she gave instructions on how to run a successful Christian marriage built on love and sharing. You could still hear her vibrant voice in your head even though she died years ago. You wondered why good people often died young. Your Mum had often said God takes away the good people before the evil day. Then, you remembered she had died in a plane crash; what an awful way to die.
You watched as the hostess with the gap tooth came down the aisle with refreshments. She asked if you wanted a soft drink or water. You chose to have water. As you munched on the meat pie and took a sip of water, you almost puked – the water smelt badly. You abandoned the rest of the pastry on the tray and closed the bottle – Nigeria and pure dirty water.
You reclined into your seat to resume your reading but you were startled by a loud whining sound in the plane. The gap-toothed hostess raised her eyebrows in askance as she passed by. The whining sound came back again louder and most people stuck their fingers into their ears. You shifted in your seat uneasily wondering what could be wrong. The hostesses were moving down the aisle rapidly trying to reassure passengers; that they were just experiencing a minor technical issue. The hairs at the back of your neck stood up like that of a cat ready to pounce on a prey as you heard the word – minor. You knew minor meant serious in Nigerian parlance and you did not miss the worried looks on the hostesses’ faces as they fought to retain their equanimity.
Then you heard the message that set everybody awry in the plane. The voice sounded urgent and strained. It was a voice on its tether – “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Murtala Muhammed Airport, Dana Air Flight 9J-992, double engine failure, request for emergency landing and airspace priority, 11 nautical miles to MM2…”
The rest of the message was clipped off as a screeching sound replaced the voice of the pilot on the speakers. You watched as the woman beside you became hysterical; shouting incoherently. You stared as she grabbed a hostess who passed by and held her wrist in a tight grasp; she cringed in pain. The woman’s eyes were wild as she continued screaming unintelligibly. You saw the name tag of the gap-toothed hostess then – Hilda. Hilda’s lips were tightly pressed now and her gap-tooth was nowhere in sight. A hard glare suddenly came into her eyes and she wrenched her wrist free and walked briskly away.
You heard a tremulous voice on the speakers giving instructions – “Please, we implore everyone to remain calm. We are undergoing a technical issue and would have to attempt an emergency landing. You will all be conducted towards the emergency exits immediately we are on ground. Please do not panic….”
It seemed something sparked in the plane as the passengers heard the word ‘panic’ – pandemonium was let loose as everyone screamed at the top of their voices; calling on to Jesus and Allah to save their lives just this once and they would be good forever. You listened numbly as the young man beside you promised to resign his job and become a full time pastor if God spared his life. You felt like you were in a 3-D cinema watching horrific events unfold on the screen. Then, the glass on your eyes broke and you realised all at once that you were part of this bizarre movie.
There were shouts of relief as the city of Lagos came into view. The woman beside you burst into virulent singing; “Oghene sue mei….” You felt a sinking feeling in the depth of your stomach as a loud sputtering noise erupted and wisps of smoke clouded the plane. You coughed as the smoke burnt your nostrils and smarted your eyes. You looked out of the window and saw that the plane was flying very low; almost touching the electric poles.
You felt a sharp pain in your heart and started talking to Jesus –
Is this how it feels to look death in the eye? Was this how you felt when you laid down your life on Calvary? Why should I be part of the good people you want to take before the evil day? Am I not too young to die? You know how bad I want to get married and give my Mum the grandchildren to cradle in her arms. What will happen to Fola, if I die? Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit…
You knew then that you needed to have a last talk with Fola so badly. You wanted his voice to be the last one you heard before the abyss of death closed upon you. Many people in the plane had already switched on their phones and were trying to call their loved ones. You turned on your phone and there was a faint signal. You dialled Fola’s number thrice but each time the call failed. You heard the screams of the other people as the plane plunged lower. The phone fell out of your hands as the plane bumped roughly in the air. Your hands shook as you scrambled for the phone under the seat. It was becoming more difficult to breathe as the smoke thickened in the plane.
“P.S. – I love you…”, those were the only words that you managed to type before all became quiet within your soul. You would never know if that text message was delivered to Fola or not. You would never know that Fola jumped up affrighted from his midday Sunday nap the same moment the airplane crashed into the building at Iju-Ishaga. As your heart melted in the molten mass that the plane now was, Fola’s heart pumped quarts of blood.
Call it telepathy or karma – these two hearts were moulded into one forever.