“This is the final boarding call for all passengers going to Lagos!” the voice of the female automaton blared from the loudspeakers of the public address system.
I looked grudgingly up from the page of my Vince Flynn novel, dragging my attention from the point where Mitch Rapp had been about to blast yet another Middle Eastern terrorist to hell where there won’t be any fifty virgins waiting to receive him. I glanced round as the line shuffling past the check-in counter trudged on faster than it had been before. That was the final boarding call for my flight and these people are still crawling forward as though they had all the time in the world, I thought with some asperity. Right in front of me was a young boy, roughly my age, clad in the de rigueur low-slung jeans over his nonexistent buttocks, his boxers peeking out from beneath his slim-fitting T-Shirt. With his Mohawk haircut and earphones strapped over his ears, he completed the image of nearly every youngster in Nigeria – an image I didn’t particularly like. I don’t know why this male fashion sense was so in vogue, but I wasn’t impressed by it at all. The memory of the blistering tongue-lashing I’d given to one such shabbily-dressed guy who had accosted me in the Mr. Biggs in Wuse 2 yesterday lifted my lips into a small smile. After my putdown, I’m sure he’d think twice about approaching another girl dressed like a Lady Gaga groupie.
“Here, Junior, this is for you. And Chichi, this is for you,” a wheezing female voice said behind me.
“Thank you, Aunt Brenda!” a couple of childlike voices chorused.
I looked behind me to see a tall, heavyset woman with a heavily made-up face and fat fingers bedecked with several flashing rings. A chainmail of heavy necklet was hung around her neck, and her breath was heavy and sonorous, as though she was going to drop any second. I shook my head derisively; all these ornamentation just to prove what? That you’re some hotshot socialite with boatloads of money to spend? Well, at least, she was spending some on the two teenagers surrounding her, judging from the wads of cash she had just handed over to them. Their mother – I assumed the other woman, who had her hands around the shoulders of Junior and Chichi, was that – thanked Aunt Brenda, and shepherded her wards away from the line.
“Oh, thank God, the line is finally moving!” a harried-looking young lady gushed as she dashed to my side, attempting to edge into the line in front of me.
“Hey! You’re not supposed to cut into the line like that!” Aunt Brenda wheezed irately behind me. Some passengers crumbled behind her. Ear-phone boy and a couple of people before him looked back to see what the commotion was about.
The harried-looking woman flushed with abashment as she turned to speak. “Madam, I was here. Ask this girl. I just went to buy something outside.”
“Is that true, young lady?” a rotund man with sparse hair and graying goatee groused at me from behind Aunt Brenda.
As if I would let a total stranger cut into the line before me. These people sef! I stifled a sardonic hiss and answered, “Yes, it’s true. She was in the line before me.”
More grumbles. Aunt Brenda wheezed some more. Ear-phone boy moved forward. Harried-looking girl stepped in. The line shuffled forward.
“Welcome to Dana Air Flight,” the security agent said with a beam at me when it got to my turn. “Have a safe flight.” And she waved me forward.
Just my luck, I thought with an indelicate frown etched my face as I paused to gape at the person seated beside me in the Economic Class section of the airplane. Aunt Brenda, with her gasping, wheezing respiration and garish bling-bling. On the other side of the aisle, harried-looking girl was getting settled on her seat, dusting out the console before her and buckling her seatbelt. Seriously?! We haven’t even taken off yet. I was about to open my mouth to politely – real nicely – ask her to exchange seats with me. The last thing I needed was this obese woman’s asthmatic breath cascading over my shoulder and keeping me awake for the entire forty-five minute flight. Then Ear-phone boy sauntered down the aisle, paused beside her and squinted at the seat numbers stamped on the compartment above her.
Oh no, please, don’t – don’t –
And he did, plopping down on the seat beside harried-looking girl. The two of them exchanged an awkward smile of strangers running into each other, and he gave her a quick onceover, interest sparking inside his eyes. Fantastic! Just gru-ate! As much as I hated having Aunt Brenda for a seatmate, I’d much sooner let her gasps and wheezes become my lullaby than endure the overused overtures and facile lines that ear-phone boy was bound to plague me with if I should exchange seats with his harried-looking girl. Further ahead, beside a window, I spotted goatee man snapping open an edition of Punch newspaper and losing himself in the voluminous pages.
Finally it was time. And the pilot’s voice floated out through the address system. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We would like to welcome you onboard this Dana Air Flight to Lagos. Flight duration is around forty-five minutes and we are expecting a fairly smooth flight today. Please, follow the following instructions to ensure your safety during this flight. Endeavour to switch off all electronic devices and gadgets. Put on your seatbelts; you may unbuckle them after we have ascended into the air. And when you need the attention of any host or hostess, there’s a button beside you; press it and someone will be right with you…” As the litany of instructions sailed across the length and breadth of the cabin, I switched off my attention and buried it back inside the pages of my novel, journeying together with Mitch Rapp down the terror-ridden streets of Saudi Arabia. Occasionally, the words of the pilot sneaked into my consciousness – in case of emergency…oxygen masks…heads between your knees…
I’d flown like a gazillion times. Who needed to hear these sef? I turned a page and returned to Mitch Rapp’s side.
As a presage to what happened, there should have been a dark whisper in the wind. Or maybe a deep chill in the bone. Something. An ethereal song I could hear. A tightness in the air. Some premonition written somewhere.
It was the screeching sound that jolted me out of my nap. I opened my eyes slowly, blearily, and that was when all the screaming tumbled into my consciousness. Aunt Brenda’s beady eyes were opened wide with terror and her mouth was making a squealing sound, the kind you hear from pigs about to be slaughtered for a festivity.
What is going on?
What’s with all the screaming?
And why is the plane moving as though we were getting slammed by a cyclone?
“Blood of Jeeeeeezuz! Blood of Jeeeeezuz!” someone kept chanting frantically.
“We’re going to crash!” another person bellowed.
Sleep fled instantly from my eyes as I jerked up and looked quickly around. Everywhere around me looked as though a small whirlwind had passed through it. The doors of the luggage compartments above flapped open with loud banging noises and the different bags and carryon items stashed inside them had blown out of their confinement, strewing the entire cabin. The screeching sounds came from the body of the plane as it whistled with violently-jerky motions through the atmosphere, bit after metallic bit peeling off from its framework. Passengers held on to their seats with deathlike grips, their faces in different contortions of stark fright and overwhelming terror, their mouths peeled open to let out varying ululations of mounting horror. Harried-looking girl was the one who kept on screaming for the blood of Jesus as she fumbled frantically with the buckle of her seatbelt.
I hadn’t fastened my seatbelt!
Realizing that, I jerked upright and snatched at the leather strip on the side of my seat. I yanked it forward, my trembling fingers searching for the buckle on my side. Even then, the plane gave a sharp tilt, bucking forward; the leather strip slipped from my fingers as I was thrown forward, my derriere lifting off my seat. A scream of terror ripped through my mouth as I felt myself getting thrown off my seat, but something grabbed at my back, stopping short my perilous flight forward. Aunt Brenda’s hand yanked me backward and plopped me down on my seat. Harried-looking girl was not so lucky; she let out an earsplitting shriek as she was jerked out of her seat and was airborne, pitching forward and tumbling down the aisle.
“Father God – into your hands I commit my soul – God, please save me!” Goatee man blubbered on his seat, his hand repeatedly moving over his chest in an erratic pantomime of the cross. “Father! Please – commit into my hand – your soul – God…save me…!” His mantra was cut rudely short when the entire wall of the plane beside him was ripped apart with a jarring, cacophonous sound. His utterances turned into a bloodcurdling scream as the unfriendly strong air current reached in and rived his chair violently, tearing out both passenger and airplane chattel through the jagged opening. The serrated metal tore at his skin before he was out of the plane, airborne, careening into the clouds outside, his voice fading out into an echo.
The horror of what I’d just witnessed washed over me, turning my insides cold. And I got hit with the absolute reality that we were going to die. It dawned on me as cold and as precise as when one of the Vince Flynn terrorists looks into Mitch Rapp’s eyes and realizes that the legendary CIA agent was going to kill him. Aunt Brenda must have realized that too, because in a wheezy voice suffused with tears, she gasped, “Young lady…what’s – what’s your name?”
I turned to her. Her doughy face was tear-streaked, the heavy makeup she’d been wearing running in scattered rivulets over her features.
“Adaeze,” I managed thickly. My eyes burned and a thousand emotions roiled inside me, surging up and spilling in the form of tears, fat globules that blurred my vision and tracked flyaway paths down my cheeks.
Aunt Brenda managed a watery smile. “Adaeze…nice name. Beautiful name.” And she reached out her hand to grip mine on the handrest. “God be with you, Adaeze…” Her words dissolved into a choking sob as her expansive body heaved with emotion.
“God be with you too…” I was crying now. The tears flowed faster.
And the plane plummeted speedily, carrying us all, to a certain end.
My name is Walter Uchenna Ude.