The plane was deafening. He could hear loud voices, distressed complaints, of people griped strangely by impatience. His tired eyes searched around. An Indian girl was smiling vehemently at a Nigerian man in his forties, who was about to take the seat beside her. A large Chinese woman struggled in haste, approaching Michael, through one of the plane’s narrow passages. She slumped on the seat beside him. Another woman, in front, before the business class section, nearly dropped off her toddler. The baby whined.
The screen on the back of the seat, in front of him, came on. There was an announcement. In less than fifteen minutes, the plane would be taking off. When the plane took off, not to the best of a piloting skill, Lagos seemed to cough in a strenuous sort of manner that he felt the city’s spittle hit him on the face. The Plane wafted with ease, through the clouds. He looked over Lagos. He tried to look over Nigeria. It was truly in a hat’s shape. Some elevations were coloured with brown dried grasses. Others were coloured with green vegetations that had become platforms for holding some loosened clouds. There were diverse forms of the Atlantic Ocean’s colours on the edges of mountains. The plane slipped over a rolling ball of cloud. He lifted his eyes away from the window, to the woman seated beside him. She had touched him, for support. ‘Why can’t the pilot stop the plane from shaking,’ she complained, not to him exactly. His eyes went back to the window.
When the air-hostess, who was serving breakfast, reached them, he opened his mouth halfway to speak but couldn’t. He waved her off, lazily, throwing his left palm over his ear. The woman beside him requested for juice, coffee, a sandwich and a carrot cake. The air-hostess served the woman and was about moving ahead when the large woman stopped her with a stare of dissatisfaction. The woman wanted to know if the sandwich in front of her was for vegetarians. When the hostess shook her head, smiling, the Chinese woman smiled back.
‘You are sure you want nothing, sir,’ the hostess asked him, narrowing her eyes.
‘Nothing,’ he said, beneath his breath.
She had a necklace that was worth a second look. She reminded him of Tuesday night. He had partly spent the night on Rayleigh’s bed. The hostess, middle-eastern, with light reddish smudges on both cheeks, had Rayleigh’s kind of hips. Wide hips.
‘It’s so funny that all we do is just lie on the same bed, stare at each other lustfully but do nothing other than talk,’ Rayleigh said, resting her head on his chest. Her bra barely covered her breasts. She had her pink night-gown pulled down and resting on her waist.
He played with her hair using his right fingers. ‘I can’t… You know I can’t. I have feelings. But I cannot place you in the circle of women I have had in the past.’
‘Who cares? What is the difference between a woman and a slut?’
‘Stop it, Rayleigh.’
She let her stare emerge onto the ceiling. The back of her head weighed harder against his chest. She lit her cigarette.
‘Don’t worry… I wouldn’t spill ashes on you.’
He sighed. ‘Tensed about tomorrow?’
‘I don’t know. Seems my sister would be re-dying tomorrow… I do not know if you understand… But you see, I have been here in Nigeria, putting all and all into the documentary, investigating, travelling, and filming. The film revealed more than I expected. There are still some unanswered questions, Michael.’
‘You are the reason I am still here in Nigeria. My support is worth it, isn’t it?’ he said.
Halfway through the cigarette, she cut off the burning, turned over and stared straight into his eyes. ‘I am not sure of your desires. Sometimes I think you want me so much and sometimes…’ she stopped.
Of course he had desires for her. Quiet persisting desires. ‘Don’t start this, again,’ he said.
She placed her lips on his for a while and when he didn’t respond, she slid off his body, settling to his side.
He had tried hard not to rebuff her.
‘Do you know that no goddamn racist would ever admit being a racist?’ she asked.
‘Why do you bring that up?’
‘Because I think I am one… Even if my body desires you all night, I remain the beast that I am, having a thing against blacks, as my sister had once spoken of me… No one knew me as well as Kay did. The first day she accused me of having this thing in me, I felt bad. It was on the day she introduced me to her lover, Ruky, who I never had a hint was black.’
‘Are you trying to say something?’ Michael asked.
She laughed. ‘Do you think I am a racist?’
‘I never saw that in you.’
‘Will you help me mother a black baby?’
He adjusted himself quietly to a seated position. His eyes searched her body. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said.
‘Michael, I want to prove Kay wrong.’
He laughed. And lay back on the bed. He closed his eyes, and said, ‘But there are so many black dudes here in Nigeria… So many attractive men…’
‘It’s you I want, Michael.’
‘But the baby wouldn’t be black enough.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘Are you asking for this so I could make love to you?’
Her eyes fluttered as if sprayed with water. He noticed the hunger in her body varnishing as she sighed. ‘Never mind,’ she said.
The question seemed to have been sharpened by his lips and driven fiercely into her. Seated on the plane right now, heading to Sydney, he could clearly remember the stare she had given him in response.
He had left for his apartment, closing the door to her hotel room, afraid she might never want to see him again. He got to his apartment. Shoved the clothes on his bed to the floor so he could get hold of some sleep before dawn, when he would head to the airport to pick up some activists coming into Lagos to see the screening of her film. His cell phone rang. The shadow of the wardrobe in the bedroom fell on him and faded. A car’s engine roared, from outside, and died away, its headlamps, projecting rays into the room briefly, through the window.
What a nice feeling to have left me in, Michael,’ she said.
The night is so good. You made it so pleasant. You made me want to feel like eighteen again, Michael.’
‘Rayleigh, please forgive me.’
‘You have made me realise something about myself. Never mind anyway. I am no longer interested in your goddamn cock.’
‘I know,’ he said.
‘But I may still need your cells. I mean sperm cells. I will talk to a doctor on the Lagos Island about this.’
‘Rayleigh, you should be thinking of the screening.’
‘I didn’t come all the way here to screen or make a film. I came to find out the truth, and re-establish a connection with my sister, again…’ she was almost screaming. ‘Is that okay with you?’
He would give her an answer. But until after the screening, he had replied, and she hung up. He stared at his phone, wondering what her face was like, wondering whether she was still in the pink nightie that barely covered her body, wondering, if she was still in the doleful lying posture.
The plane arrived Doha, after seven hours. After being part of a long queue that saw him book a seat for the next flight to Singapore, he found a seat in one of the airport’s lounges, among some Nigerian sportswomen, all in green and white outfits.
One of them wanted to know if he was a Nigerian.
‘Yes. I got on the six o’clock flight from Lagos, this morning.’
The women exchanged stares. The oldest among them could perhaps be thirty-two. She was full breasted and had no strand of hair on her mildly dark scalp. Her heavily black-pencilled eyes weighed him a bit. ‘Really..?’
‘I was born in Australia. Lived almost all my life in Sydney, though got my skin colour from Nigerian parents.’
‘Your pronunciation of Lah-gos, gave you up… It’s Lagos… Leygos,’ a light complexioned woman among them, stressed.
He joined them in laughing about it. The laughter on his face faded into a smile. He got to know they were footballers, heading for a tournament in Hong Kong. He told them of an encounter with a Nigerian woman at the Nigerian High Commission in Canberra. The skinny Yariba woman spat on the embassy’s floor after realising he was applying for a Nigerian visa.’
‘They made her clean the floor… And she kept cursing in Yariba language…’
Again, the women laughed. It wasn’t Yariba, but Yoruba.
When it was time for him to leave, they made him promise them that he would watch them play Canada in two weeks. He waved at them, heading through Qatar’s customs. He boarded a bus that took a number of people to the arena, where they would board the plane. This time, he was seated next to an Indian man that was probably in his late sixties. There was nothing much to say. The plane carried more people than the other had. The food that would be served smelled good.
He nearly did not notice the takeoff this time. They should have been an ovation like there was when his plane touched down in Warri, from Lagos, during one of his trips alongside Rayleigh. Funny Nigerians. Doha seemed to be a country of light. It was night, and all he saw, below from the height now attained, was a city lightened with different colours.
There was a prolonged applause during the last moments he had spent with her. Applauses by the same citizens that spoke ill and sketched funny images of the lesbian couple killed over nothing. They all knew the killer was the son of influential people that governed their country. There, they all stood giving a tremendous ovation, as tears of loss and of reconciliation came down her eyes. She was beside him all through the screening. She had become the crowned queen of the night. A minister had flown in from Abuja to see it; few senators were present. The ovation meant a lot to Rayleigh. He couldn’t stay there and just watch lest he gripped someone by the throat; lest he gripped her by the throat. Nigeria had puked over his face. Over her face. He went out through that gigantic door as people approached to hug her. The film’s curtain was just folding up. Now in a plane, thinking about it again, with the gag-smell re-emerging. His answer had been ‘yes’. He was going to tell her he was ready to spill spunk in a hospital dish for her sake.
But he wouldn’t stay back and couldn’t smile. An ovation of mockery. He had to run and he was indeed running.
They all got out of the plane in a file. Sydney had Snit, a black hairy dog, sniffing every passenger’s pants and shoes, under the control of a customs officer. The customs officer controlling the dog was a dark skinned Indian man with bulgy eyes. There was also a Hispanic customs woman at the forefront.
The shadows of the passengers seemed to be more united at the far front, ahead of the female customs officer. There was a sudden reaction after Snit sniffed around Michael Merije’s shoes and passed. It turned around. It whined. It jumped. A change of heart of heart in a dog? Snit shook a little strength onto its controller’s fists. The woman in the customs uniform approached the file, asking him to leave the line and follow her.
‘What have you got on you,’ she asked, going through his passport.
’Just myself and my damn luggage filled with books and clothes.’
‘Why did the dog react that way?’ she asked.
He smiled, nodded his head, and said. ‘You guys did well by not picking me yourselves this time. I think your dogs need to be enlightened, too.’
The woman gave him his passport after copying some details. He was directed to move ahead, to the luggage claims’ section. After getting his luggage, he was led into an office, where a man asked him if he smoked marijuana.
He was the only one, of all the passengers that travelled on Airbus A330 – 200, whose clothes and books were taken out of his luggage; whose pants’ pockets were turned out; whose books’ pages were skimmed through; whose privacy on the pages of his diary was violated; whose luggage even in its state of being stripped, had to be intensely scanned.
‘You can go now… You have to understand we do this for security reasons.’
‘Do your job well and stop embarrassing black people,’ he replied, to the customs officer that had done the search. ‘Aborigines own Australia, officer.’
The blonde haired Caucasian officer helped Michael arrange his books and clothes back in the luggage quietly. He then zipped up the luggage and murmured, ‘You aren’t Aboriginal, are you? Have a good day.’
Michael dragged his luggage away, nodding his head. He stopped and looked at himself. Looked around. People walking pass. This was home. He looked at his watch, and quickly found his way to the airport’s train station.
While the rain fell, a song was being played in the train. They were Aboriginal chants. He imagined himself an African arriving Sydney for the first time. How would the song sound to his ears? How would the rain splattering on the train sound to his ears? Familiar. Of course familiar.
This is Mascot
(After two minutes) Doors closing
The next destination is Green Square…
These were words he knew well. But pretending to listen to them for the first time disrupted his thoughts. At Waitara Station, before Hornsby, his boyhood memories sprang on him. He tried to imagine what Kyle looked like, this day, under that thatch of blonde hair.
It was only nine years ago, seated in the dining, in front of his parents, beside Kyle. Michael, who had been impelled to the decisive action of inviting Kyle over, stared at his father, who was staring at Kyle. Michael stared at his mother who was staring at her palms. The blinds of the curtains couldn’t stop the sun’s flaky rays from entering the house, and distorting the colour of the walls.
His father tried, fruitlessly, to convince Kyle on what a penis was meant for… ‘This ugly meaty part of a man’s body with a shapeless head is used to satisfy a woman; used to bear children; and used by man to gain dignity.’ Michael would never forget that day. The next day in school Kyle had returned the birthday present Michael sent a week ago. Kyle would never lay his eyes on him again. Each day after school, Michael would bit his lips. He tried to remember Kyle’s last words to him on the phone – YOU CAN’T CHANGE ME. YOUR FATHER CANNOT CHANGE ME. THIS IS WHO I AM. I DO NOT WANT TO GET HURT.
Nothing had changed on the street he had once lived, where his parents had made hell for a while. The same rustling sound often heard from the rail track situated at the back of the house. The same noises of children heard from the school situated five blocks away. The same brown wooden fence. The neat lawn, his father mowed fortnightly. He stared at the silver door made of wood, with transparent a glass frame in its upper section. It was the same emerald green lace, hanging behind the door, shielding a view. He knocked. Knocked again, before banging. He checked his watch. Both Dad and Mum could still be at the university. Damn teachers. He would go across the road and walk down through the footpath that led to the liquor shop that an elderly Pakistani man ran.
He got a bottle of whiskey and had found a spot in front of the door to his parent’s house to sit. On every sip he took, he tried to imagine what they had thought of him after they found out he had left for Nigeria. Had they tried to even reach him? Could his mother still be suffering from the back pain she lamented about each time he was around, so he could massage them?
It was two years ago since he got knocked out of a relationship that sent him to a hospital bed in Central Sydney. It was two years ago his parents rescued him from that awkward moment. Okafor had come into his life and vanished like the moon did at dawn. He looked at his drink. Almost empty now. He was fast, in as much as he drank with an obscure reluctance. His mind had turned hollow. And he left the drink on his left side on the concrete floor, where he laid his back, with his feet, flat on a step. His head was on his palms, and his eyes, staring at the ceiling over the balcony.
In his dream, he met an ex-lover. Not Okafor. It was Paul who had lost a fight against cancer and had passed away. They were both seated on the platform with their feet in the water. There was a view of the Harbour Bridge from their right, where the breeze came in natural thinness. And the opera house, in its white ghostly facade, at the left.
‘Hey brother, aren’t you supposed to be dead…?’
Paul stared at him, grimly. His eyes had become a little darker. His face, like a glow of coal, with no glint of smile at first. Michael watched Paul lift his hand. Michael allowed the friendly punch hit his belly. The punch tickled… He laughed. Paul laughed too.
The man stared at his son lying in front of the door, beside an almost empty bottle of whiskey. His mind turned blank, and his wife, who was beside him, screamed against the walls of their house. Still, Michael didn’t move. The man watched his wife approach their son, tapping and then shaking his body.
‘Michael! Michael!’ the woman shouted, nodding her head.
When Michael’s eyes opened, the man sighed, and said, ‘He is alive…’ He walked past both of them, barely catching the motherly murmur. He inserted his key into the door and pushed it open. He dropped the books in his hands on the table in the centre of the lounge, and sank on one of the silver coloured sofas, placing a hand on his chin, watching his wife lead Michael into the house. She led him to the dining. Michael sat, and she also sat. He hissed, stood up and joined them.
‘Michael, what are you doing to yourself,’ he asked.
‘I wanted to travel and that was it. I am back and would move out as soon as I find a place,’ Michael replied.
‘Do you know what you put us through?’ the mother asked, ‘It took the police two weeks to tell us you had left Sydney. I was so distressed that I had to go on leave from work, Michael.’
‘What did you go to do in Nigeria, Michael?’ the man asked. ‘Who do you know there? Your mother kept calling her cousins she last spoke to seven years ago to look out for you. It was so funny. With about a hundred and sixty million people in Nigeria, I wondered how the search was going to end up. A cunning cousin of hers even demanded for some money to help in the search.’
‘Dad, I am thirty-three. There’s nothing wrong if I wanted to travel around.’
‘You have a country here. A very good country with a promising future for you as a citizen, and you chase a country of our past. Do you think if Nigeria was better than Australia, your mother and I will be here…?’
‘Are you still into that thing…? That gay nonsense, Michael,’ the mother asked.
Michael looked over the table, licking his lips and opening his mouth to speak.
‘We will discuss that later,’ the man said, silencing whatever Michael had in response. He looked at his wife, and then turned to Michael, ‘Go and have a shower now, and your mother would make something for you to eat.’
He watched Michael walk into the passage that led to his room. He was leaner. He watched his wife, who held a resentful look, follow. The man got away from the dining, approaching the smaller table in the middle of the lounge. He lifted one of the books he had brought home. He opened the first page, and heard his son scream from the room he and his mother had just entered. His eyes found the passage that led to Michael’s room. Michael came out with rage, heading toward the dining.
‘What’s the problem,’ the man asked.
‘The problem is about you, and your mad wife,’ Michael said, looking straight into the man’s eyes.
The man’s gaze met his wife emerging out into the lounge with the same resentful look on her face. His gaze went back to Michael, who kicked one of the dining chairs. The chair sprang against the wall. He watched Michael walking out of the house in the same way he had rushed out of the room. The man, through the open door, saw Michael lift up the almost empty whiskey bottle from the concrete floor. The luggage, which was still standing there, wasn’t spared of Michael’s kick.
‘Michael,’ the man shouted. ‘Who do you think you are? Where do you think you are going?’
‘To hell!’ Michael shouted in reply, kicking against dust. He went back the same way he came before deciding to go and get the bottle of whiskey, passing by the public library. After climbing up the stairs that brought him back to the Hornsby train station, he jumped over an automatic ticket gate, almost tipping over. No one stopped him. His gaze met the stares of some high school girls. He caught a stare of an elderly man, seated on a wooden bench. There were people seated on similar benches, upfront, waiting for the next train to Central. He wouldn’t wait. A train had just left before he came down the stairs. Suddenly there was an approaching train. He jumped onto the rail that was five feet below the spot passengers waited. When he began running in the direction against the approaching train, the high school girls screamed. He ran in patience. This train that would scream racing through Normanhurst, Thornleigh, Pennant Hill, right up to Chestwood would run over his own belly for he was tired of home. If he was indeed home, in Australia, he needed a home in hell. He was puzzled like a kid bullied from school, running home only to discover that he could have been happier pouring tears on his desk and wetting his books. He increased his pace. More passengers were screaming. The sound of the train heightened, like an alarm that had just been triggered. Only the train would stop him. Even the thoughts about the nonexistence of hell, wouldn’t. His eyes caught a full view of the unstoppable train. He couldn’t stop the wall. It was his fear that first went against it, and he slumped down in gloom. The train’s belly didn’t only run over him but forced blood out of him. He wouldn’t see his limbs splitting out in different directions. He wouldn’t see his brain thawing out as gag beside the rail.
NOTE: This is an excerpt of my upcoming novel, ‘Thread of Lies’.