The cab pulled to a stop at the curb and a hassled Maimuna stepped out of the back. The back of her maroon-colored blouse was visibly soaked through with sweat. She kept her shoulder-length black hair away from her round face with a simple elastic purple band. The black scarf she had secured around her waist, her black leggings and black sandals completed her hassled mum ensemble. She leaned back into the green and white cab for the sleeping Kamal. Her 7-month old baby didn’t even stir; he could have been dead with three fingers firmly stuck in his mouth while she secured him to her torso in his strap-on carriage. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Miimii struggling to get out of the front passenger seat with a squealing Kayna. Behind the driver, her two-year old son, Kamsi was busily steering his ‘car’ with a CD-plate while making roaring engine noises with his mouth. She waited until she had firmly strapped Kamal on.
“Kamsiyoochukwu!” she yelled, “didn’t I tell you to put back that CD?!”
The boy was startled into dropping his ‘steering wheel’; he immediately turned to face her with a pair of his father’s eyes, puppy-mode activated. She knew the routine – he turned all remorseful with doleful eyes but the moment she looked away, he was off again.
“Come out of the car,” she said, her tone much gentler; she just couldn’t resist softening under those eyes – Onyeka’s eyes.
As if on cue, the second taxi pulled up behind them and Onyeka stepped out of the front seat with Kayne who was squealing just as much as her one-year old twin; separating those two hadn’t made much of a difference so far, they seemed capable of generating just as much trouble individually as they did together. Kayne had somehow crawled up on her dad’s back from where she was yelling ‘peedee! peedee!’, her remixed demand for a piggy-back ride.
While Mama, Zainab and Abdul piled out of the back seat, Onyeka – squealing Kayne firmly stuck to his back – walked around first to the driver of his own cab and then, the driver of the first cab to pay the fares. He was waiting for change when he glanced up and met Maimuna’s gaze. He quickly winked and smiled a huge one. Maimuna couldn’t tell which was hotter, the heat of the Sunday midday sun or the one she felt sizzling through her blood. How the hell did he still do that to her after nine years of marriage?
She looked down to see Kamsi struggling to free his hand from her hold which had inadvertently tightened in tandem with her raging hormones.
“Oh! Sorry, my darling,” she soothed him and massaged his wrist with her thumb.
Abdul came over and tried to help by taking Kamsi’s hand but he shrank away. Again. Maimuna smiled an apology at her cousin and gestured that he instead, help with the bags. By then, Onyeka had gotten the door. Smiling her thanks, she let Miimii go ahead – a kicking Kayna crammed under her arm – before she walked through with Kamsi in tow.
“Come, Onyeka, do you want to break my nose?!”
Onyeka started. Totally enraptured with the ‘view’ as Muna walked by him, he had unwittingly relaxed his grip on the door and almost knocked down his approaching mother-in-law.
“Sorry, Mama” he apologized, a sheepish grin pasted on his face. He opened the door wider.
“As if you’ve not married her already”, Maman Maimuna murmured as she passed through frowning. Her heart however swelled with joy for the love her daughter had found in this sweet young man. Every time she saw the way he looked at her, she was grateful to Allah that she and Baban Maimuna had eventually accepted him as their daughter’s choice.
Onyeka ignored the amused sneers on Zainab and Abdul’s faces as they followed their aunty through. He hoisted Kayne higher up on his back and followed them. He made a short detour to the airport tuck shop where he got a new pack of shaving sticks. Kayne had thrown his last one, which was barely two days old, out the window on their way here. At the counter, he picked up a pack of ‘Batook’ bubble gum; Muna loved the banana flavor.
The big clock hanging below the huge ‘Departure Lounge’ sign said 1:15pm; despite their brief stop at the Dana ticket office to pick up their tickets, they had still made good time. Locating his family at a row of seats close to the check-in counter, he started walking to them when he noticed something was wrong. It looked like Kamsi had spilled something on Muna because she was standing and brushing at her blouse while yelling at Kamsi. Then Mama started yelling at Muna, most probably telling her to stop yelling at Kamsi (she did that often); now, Muna was yelling at not just Kamsi, but Mama also. Then she turned abruptly and stormed away in the direction of the restrooms. When Onyeka got to where they sat, everybody was unnaturally quiet. He put Kayne down and she started to protest but he shot her a look that shut her up; she walked over to join her twin sister who sat quietly in Miimii’s lap. Kamsi was crying into Mama’s lap and she was making soothing noises and rubbing his back. He looked at her and she nodded him in Muna’s direction – she could handle this one. Onyeka only stopped long enough to pat his crying son’s head before he went after Muna.
Maimuna did the best she could to get rid of the wide La-casera splotch on the front of her blouse. She washed her face and was already feeling better when the restroom door swung open and Onyeka appeared behind her. He encircled her waist with his arms, pulled her back snug against him and buried his face in the crook of her neck. She covered his hands with hers and closed her eyes. It seemed like forever before he raised his head and met her gaze in the mirror.
“Should we sell them now?”
She smiled and said nothing, only kept rubbing his arms slowly back and forth.
“No, really. I saw a gift shop on our way here. I could exchange them for some of those brown stuffed teddies you like and be back in less than fifteen minutes. Yeah we’d have to explain to Nd why his precious nephews and nieces won’t be at his wedding but…” He raised a finger to her lips. “Just say the word,” he finished in his terrible Olu Jacob mimicry.
Maimuna laughed then, her signature full-of-life laughter that always sounded like it came from deep within her belly. Then she turned in his arms till she was looking him in the eyes. “Not even for all the teddies in the world” Her own Olu Jacob imitation was even worse.
He smiled that lightning strike of his at her and she could’ve sworn that her knees melted…until he kissed her. Then her knees melted. She lost herself in the stars that rolled over her head and the bells that clanged in her ears; her senses only returned when she felt his warm touch on the bare skin of her lower back. Slowly but firmly, she disengaged. She wagged a finger under his nose and yanked his goatee; he just kept grinning with his hands still around her waist. She yanked harder and he finally let her go.
“You this man sef!” she teased, “You just dey bust enter woman toilet anyhow…wait till they catch you”
“Effico!” he taunted her with the nickname from her university days. “No be today oh!”
She shot him a mock school marm look and turned back to the mirror to finish her pruning.
“Hey, look what I got you” He waved an imaginary wand and opened his palm to show her the pack of gum. The sight of her full-dimpled grin and the sheer joy in her eyes made his heart sing. She opened the pack, unwrapped one of the silver-wrapped gum strips and tore it in two.
“Longthroat…you want some?”
He opened his mouth wide in answer. She giggled and threw one half into his open mouth, the other half went in hers. Stuffing the remaining strips in his shirt pocket, she washed off her hands. With one loose end of the scarf cinched at her waist, she dried her wet hands and face.
Hand in hand, they walked out.
“Dana Airlines, Flight 9J-992 Abuja to Lagos is now loading. Passengers, please approach the counter for check in”
Kemi picked up her overnight case and followed her friends up to the counter. She saw the cute couple hurry back, whatever the man did had worked because the lady who had stormed out in a fit of anger was glowing. The whole screaming episode Kemi had watched from two rows away was forgotten as they picked up their bags and kids and headed towards the same place Kemi was headed with her friends – the Business class check-in counter.
Tina, the fifth in line among her friends was shamelessly flirting with the young man manning the counter. They all knew Tina’s story; she was a ‘bee’ – her own words – switching men like sim cards. If the red tinge that was rapidly crawling up the fair skin of his neck was any indication, the check-in officer was new to such attentions as Tina was laying on. Seyi who was behind Tina in the line together with Debbie, Ng, Minnie and Chioma all fell into audible giggling fits, Kemi couldn’t help joining in. She was still laughing when she felt a series of tugs on her right pant-leg. She turned and saw that it was the little boy, the sweet little thing with an angelic face that had fired his mum into a yelling feat.
Kemi smiled down at him. When he kept tugging without saying anything, Kemi turned around and squatted to face him.
He said nothing, just reached for one of her yarn locks and held on tight to it. Kemi laughed out loud; if this one at his age could appreciate the rarity of natural locks like hers, he was one dude the ladies would need to watch out for.
“Kamsi!” The little hand fell off abruptly. Kemi got a better look at his mum’s face as she bent to face her son.
“What is the matter with you?” she demanded.
Kemi could detect a twinge of the American in her voice, as well as the beginnings of another tantrum on little Kamsi’s face. “No please, I don’t mind” Kemi interjected, “ Really”
Kamsi’s mum just stared at Kemi for what seemed like a full minute and seemingly decided about Kemi’s honesty, she extended her right hand. “I’m Maimuna” she said, “you’ve met my little devil, Kamsi. And behind me, basically the entire family”
Kemi smiled at the introduction and took Maimuna’s hand. “I’m Oluwakemi,” she pointed behind her, “basically all my friends”. Maimuna laughed; she had a very loud and hearty laugh and Kemi liked it. Kemi hesitated a while, unsure of her next move, but she took it anyway. “May I help you with Kamsi?” Maimuna had her hands full with her baby who was getting restless in the strap-on carriage and behind her, every other member of her family seemed to have their hands full with luggage or kids.
Maimuna surprised her by replying without hesitation, “If he lets you, why not?”
Kemi smiled then grasping Kamsi by the armpits, hoisted him up with her as she stood. The boy simply adjusted, grabbed another of her locks with his other hand and settled his head on her shoulder. Kemi didn’t miss the surprised look on Maimuna’s face though, Maimuna obviously hadn’t expected Kamsi to go with her so readily.
Chioma happened to glance back just as Kemi stood up with Kamsi snug against her bosom. “Mother Kemi!” There was a teasing laughter in her friend’s eyes. “Abeg hurry up and marry that your bobo so you can have your own children oh. Shebi na jazz dem do you?!”
Kemi only smiled; Chioma wasn’t entirely wrong after all. She did love children and they loved her back just as much. Whenever she visited her older brothers, she could never get enough of her little nephews and nieces. And she was an instant hit the first time she visited her mum’s school three years ago after years of study abroad. The kids at the school had cried upon her departure; whenever she was back in the country since then, she made good on her promise to visit them. She even taught a few classes. Tunde said it was one of the things he loved about her, the ‘bubbling ocean of motherhood brewing in her heart’, he called it. Since the time she met and fell in love with him, every child she met made her yearn more and more to carry his children. She could ‘see’ them – Tunde’s height, her ebony complexion, his ‘pointed’ nose, her strong white dentition…little Tunde-Kemis.
She was still smiling when she got to the counter and passed the tickets – hers and Kamsi’s – along the tiled top.
“No, sir, just the bag” He was rather young for her to address him in that manner but she felt guilty for her friends’ treatment of him and wanted to make amends. He returned the tickets, having tagged hers, with her seat number. She thanked him and moved on. After she had been screened, she waited patiently in full sight of Maimuna – she might have been allowed to carry the baby but she knew not to rouse the suspicions of an attentive mother.
From where she stood, she counted four airhostesses who were dressed beautifully in bright red skirts and short-sleeved jackets of same color atop white blouses as they piled into the waiting plane, pulling along equally bright red suitcases. Three men stood by the nose of the white-and-red waiting aircraft arguing over something written on a large folded sheet of paper. They all wore navy blue suits with gold strips at the wrists on top of white shirts but only two wore pilot hats; one of the two with the hat seemed to be insisting on something that his other colleagues disagreed on. They didn’t seem to have agreed yet when Maimuna and the rest of her family were through. Kemi preceded them up the stairs of the plane; something in Maimuna’s eyes told her that she had been right in waiting.