Days turned to months, which turned to years, and Amaka and Tunde remained separated. They did talk, but their conversations were mostly either about trivial issues that they felt safe talking about, or formal issues that they had to talk about. There was an undertone of sadness during these conversations, a feeling of facing a wall too impossible to scale. And as time passed, their communication became more and more infrequent.
Meanwhile, the dividing issue between them grew deeper; now that Tunde had nothing else to distract him, he spent nearly all his waking time outside work at the rented facility where he worked on his prototype. He had found that the reason for the sudden fall was that the battery had run out of energy much more quickly than he had expected. He had designed an automatic routine to kick in once the battery level dropped below a certain level so that the propulsion system would lower him safely to the ground, but it seems that the amount of energy required to execute the routine was much more than he had thought would be needed.
He was staring out of the window, pondering the problem one weekend afternoon at the facility. In the distance, he could see big heaps of cloud suspended in a deep azure sky. Unbidden, a memory of another day of blue skies appeared in his mind. It was a memory of a girl stretching out her hands, twirling round and round as though she was soaring, gliding…
Then it hit him.
Birds don’t flap their wings non-stop, he thought. They glide for most of their flight, once they’ve attained a suitable altitude. I should be more like a bird; I should find a way of attaching special wings to the suit. The wings should be programmable so that they can modify their shape so as to glide in a particular direction or speed, depending on my altitude and the wind speed. Then instead of relying on battery power to stop me from crashing to the ground, the wings will enable me to glide safely to the ground, even if I’m nearly out of battery power.
A pang of sorrow and regret hit him as once again, he was reminded by her absence of the one person he wanted to share this news with more than anything else. He sighed and got to work.
Things moved very quickly after that. It was as though solving the landing problem had opened up an express lane on the road to building the prototype. The prototype was soon ready, and after successfully demo’ing it to interested investors, he obtained funding to start up his own company; Aeridio Ltd. He then quit his job and hired a team of talented staff to help with the refinement of the personal propulsion systems. And today, they were ready for the test flight of the systems that were going to be sold commercially. A big day indeed.
Another knock on the door, and Stephen poked his head through again.
“Um… you have a visitor, boss.”
“Visitor?” Tunde frowned in consternation. “That’s strange… although we put out a press release and invited some journalists, this is hardly a big news event. Did the visitor say what he wanted?”
“It’s actually a she.”
Tunde’s heart rate started to gallop. She? No. It couldn’t be – could it? They hadn’t spoken for over a month now, and he certainly hadn’t told her of this launch; he hadn’t thought she would want to come.
“She says her name is A-ma-ka,” added Steve, confirming Tunde’s thoughts.
“Send her in,” Tunde replied, barely able to contain himself.
A moment later, Amaka walked in. She looked good, Tunde thought; dressed in the same red dress that she had worn the other day.
“Hi Tunde,” she said, with a hint of shyness.
There was an uncomfortable silence, then Amaka went on, “I heard about the big event… and I thought I would drop by and personally wish you well.”
“Thanks, Amaka. I appreciate it.”
They stood there for a while, then Amaka turned to leave.
“Well, I hope you have a successful test flight,” she said, walking towards the door.
“Amaka, please don’t go… at least, not yet.”
She stopped and turned round.
“For the last four years, you are the only person that I have thought of while working on this project. Even just now, before you walked in, I was thinking about how wonderful it would be to have you by my side as I got ready for take off – just not in this way,” he said with a hollow laugh. “I know that I have been selfish; I know that I don’t deserve to ask anything of you. But there was no way I dared approach you, knowing that I could not give you what you wanted of me because of all this.” he continued, gesturing round the room.
“I can’t explain the hold that this project has had on me. But I promise you, once this test flight is successful, I’m done. I want to be back with you again. Please, think about it, darling. Please.”
Amaka sighed. “The years without you have not been easy, but I’ve thought of nothing but you as well. I’ve been following the work of Aeridio Ltd. since you launched it; you do remember me calling you to congratulate you. That’s how I know of this event.
“I want to get back together, but I have had to deal with the hurt of being considered second best. It will be easier with this out of the way, if truly you mean what you say, but… you’ll need to woo me again like you wooed me after your ‘beautiful heart’ declaration,” she said, with a small smile.
Tunde smiled in return. “Even the fact that you’ve given me a small glimmer of hope is enough for me. Darling, I can’t thank you enough.”
Amaka gave him one final smile and squeezed his hand. Then she said she would be in touch later, and left.
Ten minutes after, Tunde walked out of the building, through the adjoining car park and onto the field to a loud cheer from the assembled crowd.
“OK, folks, let’s do this.”
The crowd gave the countdown, and soon, Tunde was airborne. He could hear the gasps of astonishment from the journalists who had not seen this before. He soared higher and higher, and when he got to a certain height, he stretched his arms out, and sharply flicked his palms upwards. Slowly, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, a pair of large, silver grey membranous wings unfolded from pouches at the back of the suit, and he started to glide. Effortlessly. Easily.
He smiled to himself, and swooshed his arms to the side. Several of the wings’ panels swelled and made slight adjustments to their orientation, and he found himself changing direction, doing a slow U-turn.
In the background, he thought he could hear the sound of a motor. That was strange; the rotors of the propulsion pack had been designed to be as noiseless as possible.
He continued to glide towards the crowd, but to his consternation, the sound began to intensify. He started to lose concentration, and he struggled to keep airborne as his arms jerked out various gestures. But it was no good; the sound was drowning everything else out. It was loud – harsh – discordant – painful. It sounded like the honking of a thousand horns. He screamed and put his hands to his ears, and felt a rush of air as he saw the ground zoom in to meet him.
In an area of Surulere, on a hot and humid evening, complete traffic chaos and disorder has broken out. An angry Toyota Camry driver leans out of his car and cursed at the obstruction on the road.
“Who even allows these people to walk around like this, just blocking traffic and causing confusion?” Car horns hoot and honk as if in agreement, while okada motorcycle riders do their best to snake past.
A passer-by notes the object of the driver’s anger; a barefoot man dressed in a simple shirt and a pair of trousers, huddled in the middle of the road with his head buried in his hands, and a large cloth draped around his shoulders. Curious about this, he asks a bystander about what was going on.
“Oh, that man again,” the bystander remarks. “He lives around here. From time to time, he leaves his compound and starts gyrating” – and here, the bystander mimics the action of turning round and round. “Sometimes, he forgets himself and this is what happens,” he finished, pointing to the chaos.
“Interesting,” says the passer-by.
Just then, a distraught woman runs up to the man; it looks like she has been called out from somewhere. She gently lifts him up, and guides him off the road. The passer-by notices that he limps as he walks, favouring his left leg.
“Who is that?” the passer-by asks.
“Oh, that’s his wife. Someone must have called her; she has told many people about him, so they know that they should call her if they see him misbehaving.”
The passer-by notices that her eyes have special depths of sadness to them. “Hmm… it must be very stressful for her.”
“Yes-o. The story is that the man used to be a very successful engineer. In fact, he used to work abroad in a university. But something happened while he was there; some people say that he had an accident while working on a project. You can see how he walks.”
“Did the accident drive him mad?”
The bystander shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe the accident showed him that the project he was working on was useless, and when he realised that, he went mad. Or maybe someone cursed him. You know how it can be; some of these acada people can forget the world when they are doing their acada work, so if you take away their work from them, they can start behaving strangely.”
“Why didn’t they remain abroad?” the passer-by wonders.
“I don’t know; maybe the wife had bad memories of the place. Or maybe it was easier to look after him here. She’s a nice woman; I live not far from her, so we sometimes meet. But she doesn’t talk much about her husband, other than letting people know that he can wander sometimes.”
The passer watches the couple as they walk together until they turn a corner and are hidden from sight. Then he thanks the bystander, and walks on, musing over what he has heard. In the distance, a kite soars higher and higher until it is lost in the encroaching twilight sky.